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    Your First Fishes and Corals

    Written by: tHEcONCH


    After your tank has cycled thoroughly it is time for one of the best moments in setting up a new tank – adding the first livestock. By now you will have had plenty of time to decide what fishes or corals you want to keep as you watched brown diatoms grow in your tank, and then green hair-like algae, then red cyanobacteria all come and go from your tank. You will have researched their needs, and you will have styled your rockwork accordingly. You will have tested the water to make absolutely sure that there is absolutely no ammonia or nitrite remaining in your tank, and after that you will have done a substantial water change (at least 50%) and confirmed that your tank is a stable 26 degrees with a specific gravity of 1.025 – 1.026.

    Now test everything again. You must be absolutely certain your tank is ready – if in doubt, wait.


    A new tank is a hard environment for any fish or coral. Because it is new the populations of beneficial bacteria that process waste and excess food aren’t particularly large and they grow slowly at the best of times. Certain small creatures that some fish rely on for food won’t be present in large enough numbers or even at all. Corals are particularly sensitive to changes in the chemical values of your water so the first fish or coral into your tank must be hardy enough to not just survive, but not suffer as your tank continues to mature. 


    Because they are tolerant of less than ideal lighting and water conditions some good first corals are:


    Xenia - Xenia are often the first corals to colonise new habitats in the wild, and are thought to absorb nitrates – one of the common waste products in a new tank. Some pulse their tentacles open and shut.


    Mushrooms (Coralimorphs) - Mushrooms are reasonably hardy and tolerate lower levels of light than most corals. They come in many colours and textures, and are relatively cheap (although some others are very rare and expensive in New Zealand)


    Green Star Polyps (Pachyclavularia) - A very hardy, colourful, and adaptable coral that will grow over both rock and sand, green star polyps are reasonably priced and often available.


    Because they are reasonably hardy, not too territorial, and not too expensive good first fish are:


    Chromis – Although not the most hardy fish, Chromis are very colourful, active, and one of the cheaper marine fish available in New Zealand.

    Clown fish – Clown fish are colourful little characters and relatively hardy, especially captive bred specimens. Contrary to popular belief they do not need an Anemone to survive, and will often adopt a piece of Xenia of even a power cord instead. 


    Poor first fish choices are:

    Damsels – although often recommended because they are cheap and hardy, all Damsels are aggressive, territorial, and almost impossible to re-home. Don’t be tempted. 

    Mandarins, Butterfly, and Angel Fish – although staggeringly beautiful, all should be avoided as a first fish as they are simply not hardy enough and may require good populations of live food, and / or perfect water conditions. Wait until your tank is at least six months old, or in the case of Mandarins and Copperband Butterflys at least a year. Regretably the hobby is littered with stories of novice keepers who ended up killing all of their fish because they were just too impatient. Don't be that person.

    Poor first corals include:

    SPS (Small Polyped Stoney) corals – sometimes called ‘coloured sticks’, these corals require exacting conditions to survive.

    LPS corals. Although some LPS (Large Polyped Stoney) corals may be suitable if you have a good understanding of water chemistry, and particularly calcium levels, many are not – talk to other reefkeepers before selecting an LPS corals.


    There are a couple of good ways to introduce livestock to your tank. The easiest and most common is to float the bag in your tank for about 10 minutes so that the water temperatures equalise, then carefully open the bag every few minutes and add a little tank water to the bag each time. Once full, tip the bag up and let the fish swim out or carefully place the coral into position (you’ll know where, because you will have researched it and know if it needs low light, high flow, etc). The problem with this method is that you can inadvertently add all sorts of things into your tank from the shop’s water. A better method is to use a new Tupperware style container and carefully place your livestock and shop water into it. Tip out a little shop water every few minutes and add back a little water from your tank. Once you have exchanged virtually all of it carefully lift out your livestock and place it into your tank. Rather than a net use a glass or similar to catch your fish. 

    Don’t feed straight away – wait until the next morning, and when you feed just give a minimal amount of food. It is very important to but keep a close eye on your water parameters over the next week or so, because the introduction of livestock can cause your tank to ‘mini-cycle’ as the added waste products from the livestock and food exceed the beneficial bacteria’s ability to process it – be ready to do substantial water changes if you detect even a trace of Ammonia. 

    Remember that corals and fishes are living creatures. Whichever spark your interest be sure to do plenty of research before you buy so you know what they need to survive - they are far more interesting alive than dead.

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