Aquarium - 50 Gallon Hex Saltwater Tank

Build log for 50 gallon hexagonal saltwater fish tank.

Welcome to our aquarium page. I thought I would log this adventure and hopefully it'll lead to some quality pics. Follow along and enjoy a laugh at my expense.


We managed to get We managed to get an aquarium for free (thanks Jim!). Well, kinda free. If you've ever owned one, you know the rest. I didn't get pics of the original condition, so you'll have to trust me on that. This is a 50-55 gal. setup that was used for saltwater. Came with a cabinet as well. After some consideration, we (I) decided to try for a saltwater setup.

The Beginning...

After picking up the tank and stand and associated scattered parts, I look at it the next day in the light. I think it sat in his garage for 10 years. The silicone was dried out and very dirty. There was no pump and it came with all sorts of weird looking parts. So I begin by starting research on this subject to see what I really might be getting into. I must day, I'm impressed by the amount of quality information available in the internet. Most things, I really have to dig, but aquarium information is plentiful. Good sign?

My first job is to attempt to evaluate and clean up what we have. I grab a razor blade and start scraping silicone. Not too bad so far. Next, I head for the LFS (Local Fish Store seems to be the going lingo, so we'll go with that). Got to give a short background, we went into Aqautic Exotics on Main st (s.r. 580) in Dunedin a while back, mainly on a field trip for Mia and they had tons of stuff. Fish, tanks, etc.. I head there 1st, apparently they've changed ownership or something. The store is now less than half the size of what it was and there were dead fish in a few tanks and whoever was there in charge, didn't seem particular interested in helping out. Off we go.

The next morning, I grab a list off of Yahoo yellow pages and hit the road with Mia. First stop is a place called Countryside Aquariums. We go in, there is a young guy, and I start popping questions. I must give props to Countryside Aquariums. The guy patiently answered every one of my questions without pushing any sales on me at all. I had to tell him not worry about me when other customers came in. The aquarium came with a sump, which I've never used. I took all the parts with back to the store the next day, he showed me how to assemble everything and walked me through how to get it started. Bought a 500 gph pump and some hose. Started the search for tank grade silicone at Home Depot. Everything that said pure silicone, stated not to use for aquariums. The people at Home Depot seemed pretty clueless and ended up recommending something that was $10 a tube and for boats. The day or so, I go by ACE hardware, they had someĀ  - just for aquariums. So I begin the silicone repair.

After letting it cure for 2 dayAAfter letting it cure for 2 days, I decided to fill the tank and do a leak check. One itty-bitty leak. Better than I thought to be truthful. Moved on to setting up the sump and figuring that out. Only took an hour, but I finally got it. If anyone reads this who is setting up a sump for the first time - either get anti-siphon valves in your "return" plumbing or drill 1/8" or so holes just below the waterline so when the water drops below the holes, the siphon is broken. When you turn of the power to the pump, the tank drains back through the "return" lines. I know this because I quickly had 10 gallons of water overflowing the sump very quickly. Good thing it was in the garage.

The Construction & Lights...

I determine in my travels around Google, that I need to build my own canopy. The plastic hood that came with the tank is broken and only holds one T-12 size fluorescent lamp. From what I've learned, if I want any corals or the like, I need light. Lots of light. I'm thinking not quite a reef, but I'd like to have some corals eventually. So I start planning on getting 4 or so lights. I learn about retro kits to put in the canopy. T5s, T12, VHO, Compact Fluorescents, Metal Halides, etc. Way too much info. I find one, go with T5s order and move on to building the canopy.

I do a little research , nothing really but putting some wood together. Now's a good time to reveal that this is a "hex front flat back" tank. So I measure it out and buy some 1 x 6 select pine. We decided I needed to sand and refinish the cabinet too. So I sanded it, cleaned it and started staining. About 2 sq. inches to go and I knock over the stain can. Dark walnut - all over the garage. Great. The next day I look at the sump, it's 1/4" too wide for the cabinet. I grab some plywood and put a shelf inside the cabinet to hold the sump (it didn't have a floor or shelf). Then decide to widen the doors. This is really starting to turn into a project. y. I quickly discover a protractor is a useful device to have around the garage. The "hex" corner may be 90 degrees total, but not 2 45's. Go figure. I then decide midstream that if I go with a retrofit kit for lights, I should have a little extra room. I return the 1 x 6 and get 1 x 8s. I start measuring. Twice. Three times. Time to cut. Now I find out my miter saw only cuts up to 6" boards (insert scream). I decide to test my measurements on some 1 x 3's I have laying around. Perfect! I call Jeff, who's the only guy I know who really knows what he's doing when it comes to wood. He's got a killer table saw. I did look, decided spending $300-$400 on a table saw was not in the cards, especially since I have a boat crossways in the garage and I'll use it like twice a year. Jeff hooks me up, we spend a hour an change cutting. I'm in business. Pick up some Gorilla glue for wood (good stuff!), and start gluing everything together. After some dry time, this thing is rock solid.

Today (2/7/09 - about week 3), we hit the LFSs and find a new one in Oldsmar Fish and Other Ichthy Things. Very cool stuff. My 1st impression is "wow", they have like 5-6 people working on a Saturday, that means there busy, which means they must have good stuff. They do, lots of coral and fish and the prices look great. I must confess, I'm still stunned by the price of freakin' rock (live rock). $4-6/lb for rock is ridiculous, but I guess it's a must have for salt water aquariums. At least it keeps getting cheaper the more I look. We (I) stain the canopy today and I put the finishing touches on the plumbing. Filled up the tank again for another run for several days this time. Runs much quieter with vinyl hose instead of pvc. Also hooked up the blue LEDs on the 1 x 3 over the tank for coolness factor/nightlight. Mia loves it. We're expecting lights on Tues. and hopefully we'll be looking at starting cycling next week.
Finally got the lights and decided after several minutes staring at the tank how to do this. You see, the tank does not fit 4-48" lights due to the hex front. Somehow I overlooked this. With the width of the light posts and reflectors, it's going to take up almost the entire width of the tank. Now I'm stuck on how I'm going to feed the fish. I call the place where I ordered from and got an RMA for them and ordered a new kit that has the ballast separate from the lights, and also ordered 2 36" lights.

I get the new light stuff the next week (mid Feb), and get 2 1x6s and start mounting the end caps and wiring it up. Out the lights in, plug it in . It works! These are extremely bright. I go to put in the hood as a test, guess what, yes the 48's are 1/4" too long. They're actually 46's. Also discovered, there's very little room for the moonlight LEDs. I'm thinking of trimming the ends off of one of the reflectors, because the reflectors (they sent 4 for 36's) are 34" or so long and the power cord between the 2 LEDs are 24". Of course. So, I now also realize that the lights should be phased on and off. Too much of the bright whites (10k) can spur algae growth. Can't have that. I hit Fish and Other Ichthy Things on Saturday (2/14) and get them to order me 2 ballasts that on Saturday (2/14) and get them to order me 2 ballasts that should handle what I need. Guess I'll try to return the 4 46's and the Icecap 660 ballast I'm now doing nothing with. I go ahead set the 2 1 x 6's I got to hold the lights to glue together and then pre-drill holes for the wiring.

The Startup...

2/21/09 - The new ballasts came in last night, went and picked them up, 2 bags of sand and 45 pounds of live rock. Spent the evening wiring the new lights. Got up today and moved the tank into the house. Re-plumbed very carefully (still feel like I've forgotten something). Put a couple of gallons in and "installed" the sand. Looks like it was just short of what I'm looking for, so I grabbed a few pounds of the old crushed coral that was in the old aquarium to top it off, actually looks like a nice mix. Started stacking the rock, made 2 piles, looks ok by me. Some of the rock really looks like it has some nice coralline growth already, we'll see if it lasts. Finished topping off the water and fired it up. No leaks - good to go.
Move on to the lights while the filter works on clearing the mud I made from dumping the sand and playing with the rocks. Quickly discover the 1 x 2 "ledge" I had made for the light board is set 1/2" to high. Luckily, I didn't use a lot of glue and it was on top of urethane, so it wasn't o hard to undo. After an adjustment, looks like that'll do the trick. Brought the lights in and fired them up, we have enough light now to read in the back room. heat - drove up the water te2/23/09 - Decided the ballasts kick out too much heat - drove up the water temp by several degrees. Took some computer power cords so I can have a disconnect if I need to take the light tray out. I'll mount the ballasts to a board to mount to the back of the stand. Rewired and tested, looks good so far. Water is clearing up fine. The owner at the LFS suggested I use vodka to help cycle the tank. We've tried, so far my ammonia is 0 and nitrites appear to be 10 or so (from vodka dose?).

2/27/09 - Dropped a dead shrimp in on Monday. Read an article about fishless cycling. The dead shrimp is supposed to cause an ammonia spike. Read an article last night about how this method can cause some mold on the rotting shrimp carcass and it's supposedly bad. Got up this morning and removed shrimp carcass. Already have ammonia anyway. Most the rock was in good shape to start with, probably don't need a big cycle. Got some ammonia registering along with some nitrite. Decided to lower the height of the LEDs to get a little better coverage. contemplating using the Icecap ballast I haven't put up for sale yet. Just a thought though. to be the water quality2/28/09 - Mia and I went to the causeway and caught a hermit crab to be the water quality tester for the tank. Good sized one too. He did a few laps around, re-arranged the rocks a little to allow room to get behind them.
3/1/09 - Mr. Crabs seemed not terribly happy with his new digs. He consistently tried to climb his way out. I decided to set Mr. Crabs free and hit the LFS for some tank hermits and some snails. Ammonia is a 0 and Nitrites are just barely registering. Got 10 blue leg hermits and 10 Nerite snails. Turned them loose and they started cleaning immediately. No visible algae anywhere, b. Turned them loose and they started cleaning immediately. No visible algae anywhere, but apparently there's something to eat, they've been going at it all day. After setting the new cleaning crew loose, Mia and I set Mr. crabs loose back in the wild. Bet he had seconds thoughts about his attitude too, he just went from a nice cozy, clean tank at 77 degrees to 59 degree water with Egrets hovering around.

3/3/09 - Everyone is still alive. Three crabs have already changed shells. Mia and I got out the shell bucket and found a few shells so hopefully we don't have any homicides in the tank over shells. Did our first water change. We'll see if everyone's still alive in the morning. If so, we'll get a shrimp to join the crew and maybe Saturday, our first fish. Mexican Turbo snail and a Skunk cleaner shrimp. Tried to acclimate the shrimp and snail over 2 1/2 hours. The shrimp died that night.
3/5/09 - Tried to acclimate the shrimp and snail over 2 1/2 hours. The shrimp died that night.

3/5/09 - Took some water to the LFS and had them test it. Ammonia + Nitrite is at 0 and nitrates are at 20ppm. Ph is good too. The owner thinks it was the nitrates. I think it was a half dead shrimp to start with. He never really showed any kind of energy.r changes (PWC) and the nitrates are down to between 5 & 10 ppm. Also have been doing extensive reading about how bio balls are really not used anymore with a live rock system. So I've been removing a handful everyday.
Got a new shrimp and 10 more hermits along with 2 more snails. The Mexican snail hasn't moved off the left rock pile since he moved in, figured I should get some for the other pile. The new crabs are busy digging in the sand and making a mess. Also removed the rest of the bio balls today. now I'm battling air bubbles recalculating. Starting to try to work on a DIY sump out of a 10 gallon aquarium. A skimmer is in our future I suppose.

3/10/09 - The shrimp is still alive! We're now battling an outbreak of brown algae. I guess the crabs aren't keeping up. My nitrates are around 10ppm, which according to most sources, is ok. I'm working on a DIY protein skimmer (I'm not ready to come off $150, plus I don't really have room under the cabinet).

3/15/09 - The algae seems to have settled down after a major water change. Still present, but? Anyway, decided to get the water tested for phosphates. The nitrates appear to have dropped to barely readable. Took to the LFS and said it barely registers. So what is the algae growing on? Anyway, she said it's probably ok to start with a couple of fish. I decided a couple of hey live until Weds. or so, maybe add 2 or 3 more. They like groups and they don't get real big. Several of the hermits have now changed into new shells. Good thing we kept several from the last few shell hunts at the beach. Keeps the snail homicides down. I can't find but 10 at a time on a good day. I did vacuum the sand the last water change, maybe I buried a couple, who knows. Got another bag a of sand to add some depth and tried remove some of the crushed from the tank. Made a mess, but looks much better. Only added half the sand. Also added 3 more of the Astrea snails (tot. of 5 now). The other 2 hadn't moved off the pile of rock they started on a week ago, so, I figured they must have enough to eat. I decided the DIY protein skimmer wasn't the way to go and I found one that should fit in the cabinet. Once that comes in, it help clear up any nitrates I have left. Most likely, I'll have to build a new sump.

3/16/09 - Brown algae is slowing down a little, but not fast enough for my taste. Stopped by the LFS on the way home and got 4 more Astrea snails, 5 red leg hermits and 5 left handed hermits. Also got 3 olive snails. They're sand diggers, so hopefully, they'll get under and get some cleanup done. I got the different varieties of crabs to try to cover the different algae's. The red legs are good sized, so they should dig sand pretty good. Decided to pick up the 3 chromis they had left while I was at it.
We now have 23 snails (10 nerite, 3 olive, 1 Mexican turbo and 9 Astrea), 30 hermit crabs (20 blue leg, 5 red leg and 5 left handed). After I put the fish in the tank, theWe now have 23 snails (10 nerite, 3 olive, 1 Mexican turbo and 9 Astrea), 30 hermit crabs (20 blue leg, 5 red leg and 5 left handed). After I put the fish in the tank, the original 2 were on one side behind some rocks, the 3 new ones started checking things out, when the 2 groups saw each other, it was like a magnet. Hilarious. They clearly don't seem as nervous now and they are freely cruising the tank top to bottom, side to side. When the lights go out at night, they disappear real fast though.
3/17/09 - Got the protein skimmer today. Damn thing was 20". Could of sworn it was advertised as 16". Tried it out, the pump is loud. Can't be right. What else, right? The fish have figured out the feeding and the red legs seem to know exactly when the food is dropped. They scoot to where it hits the bottom real fast. The shrimp is noticeably more comfortable now, he/she/it changes rock piles at will now. It also comes out when the food drops and even grabs a bite or two when he can get in through the crabs and fish. Fun to watch.

3/18/09 - The cleaning crew appears to finally be making a difference. The brown algae (diatoms?) is considerably less. Actually noticing a little green algae starting. This is what's supposed to come next from what I've read. The snails have turned into lawn mowers. The Astrea snails go through brown stuff like it's crack. Apparently, I just didn't have enough of them. The Nerites don't seem to make much of a dent, but they can get in the smaller crevices. None of them, except the olives touch the sand though. The red leg hermits definitely made a good addition. They're going through the sand pretty good. Sat and watched one tonight tear through a path of algae on the sand the size of a half dollar. The fish seem pretty happy, they've even seemed to gain a little color (or I'm seeing things). The pump for the skimmer is shot, sent of an email to the place I got it from for an RMA and new one. We'll see hot that goes. Par for the course I suppose. Starting to imagine a new sump setup to fit the skimmer without sending bubbles back to the tank.

3/20/09 - Turns out the impeller assembly for the new skimmer is garbage. For the record, I don't think much of But also, cool, makes me feel like things are progressing in the right directio customer service. The tank is starting to look much better. The shrimp molted. Weird, I was wondering why it was hiding in the rocks more than normal. But also, cool, makes me feel like things are progressing in the right direction. We are now cultivating green algae, but doesn't look too bad (yet). Haven't seen many signs of new brown algae. Ran the chemical tests last night, everything looks great. The olive snails appear to be doing a great job on the sand. Actually managed to count 24 crabs. Ever since we got to 20, I've never been able to find them all, but 24's the closest I've come yet. The live rock is really starting to show some color now. More purple, some yellow, orange and green is starting to show.

3/24/09 - Told Aquarium guys the impeller assembly needs replaced on the skimmer, they're going to send one right out. My opinion has improved. No sign of brown algae lately, looks like we've moved on to green. It's not too bad, just some on the glass and little here and there on the rocks. We look to have a bristle worm in the tank. I see there are many mixed opinions about having them in the tank. Something else that eats the bad stuff, it stays for now at least. Still don't have clue of what I'm going to do for a sump with the skimmer. Probably going to have one custom made ($$$). Got a clownfish today and somehow managed to get a deal, "buy one clownfish, get 5 coral frags for free". Of course the clownfish was $70. But we got some corals. We got 2 ricordea mushrooms. A green and an orange. Also got 1 zoanthids and then two other things. I think one is a green pipe organ and the other appears to be a whisker coral. Really have no clue. We'll have to wait until they acclimate and become happy to get a better idea of what they are so I can look them up. Figured they were only $10 each (on avg.), so we'd give it a try and see what happens.

4/19/09 - Been a while, thought I'd update. We have now added a new fish. We now have a Royal Gramma. Very nice addition color wise. Since the last update, we've discovered we have some kind of "pods", they're some sort of tiny creature that's apparently good for the tank. Turns out the gramma likes them too. We've also discovered many brittle stars. Looks like at least 8. They tend to show up when we turn the pump off to feed everyone shrimp. Some new worm showed up too. Have no clue what it is. The feather duster population is also growing quite nicely. Haven't put the skimmer in yet, we've run 4 weeks at 0-0-0 on the nitrogen cycle tests. Algae seems to be well under control.
We've also added a new coral - a torch coral. It's really fun to watch the coral wave in the current. The Whisker coral appears to be growing 2 new branches.