Challenge Day 1: Analyze your tank

Day 1:

Welcome to the first day of the 31 Days to Build a Better Saltwater Aquarium Challenge.

Your First Challenge

Your first challenge is to analyze your tank. Use every test kit, gizmo and device at your disposal to create a baseline and diagnose what your tank needs the most.

Don’t go out and buy new kits today—just use the tests you already own. After you get the results, be sure to write them down.

Do you accept today’s challenge?

If so, please go run those tests now and come back. I’ll enjoy a cup of coffee while I wait.

Albert B. Ulrich III

Ok, welcome back. What do your numbers tell you? Are there any water parameters that are sub-optimal?

…maybe your salinity has drifted, or perhaps the temperature is low or high?

Is your calcium low?

Are you nitrates high?

In addition to running the tests you have available to you, I also want you to spend a moment or two today observing your tank. I know, you probably look at your tank all the time–after all, that’s why you have one, right?

Observe your tank with a critical eye. What are the strongest aspects of your aquarium—meaning, what is working very well? What are the weakest aspects of your aquarium—what isn’t working well? What are the opportunities you have to improve the tank? What are you not prepared for that could potentially devastate your tank?

You know your tank better than I do (of course). While my goal is to inspire, give good advice and to challenge you to improve your tank, you are the one who knows what will make the best improvement to your aquarium.

Determine what the best things are that you are aware of and that you can do today to improve your saltwater aquarium. If you don’t have time today, hold onto that thought–because you can do that task on a day where you don’t want to take the challenge.

Thanks for taking the challenge. I look forward to connecting again tomorrow for Day 2.

What did you decide on? Be sure to share what you’re doing in the comments section, so we can follow along and benefit from your advice and experiences.






22 responses to “Challenge Day 1: Analyze your tank”

  1. Robin

    Water temp 75.4 salinity perfect phosphates high fish happy, fairy wrass needs to go( he’s a bully) combating red and green Alge

    1. Robin, thanks for the comment and for participating in the challenge. Sorry to hear about the algae. Hoping we can help make a dent in it during this challenge!

  2. Dave

    Maybe I’m an idiot buy I can’t find the downloadable PDF for the tracker

  3. Hi Dave,

    Sorry if I made that complicated. I didn’t mean to. If you click on the link above (or this one) there is an option to register–you’ll get the resources in a follow up email once you register

  4. Yvonne Galloway

    Biocube 29
    Started August 2015
    Temp. 77.3
    SG. 1.024
    ph. 8.1
    Alk. 9dkh
    Cal. 480
    Nitrate. 5
    Phos. 2
    Mag. 1150

    ATO with kalkwasser

  5. Leslie

    The biggest issue I appear to have is my Alk always stays around 7 dkh…and when I have tried dosing…things die. I can keep nems, inverts, mushrooms, and soft corals…except zoos, those just die BUT palys do well. LPS are doomed in my tank except for 1 frogspawn that is doing great! It makes me crazy! Looking forward to the next 30 days!!

  6. Susan

    I have been on autopilot and I’m starting to see some issues start showing up. So, I’m so excited to start this project.

    90 gallon
    pH 8.2
    Nitrate 0
    Phosphate 0
    Salinity 1.022
    dKH 214
    Ca 400
    Temp 76

    1. Welcome to the Challenge!!

  7. Dave

    40 gallon breeder
    started @ April 2015

    temp 78.5
    pH 7.8
    sg 1.023
    Nitrate 0
    Calcium 430
    Alk 10.7
    Mag 1440
    Phos 0.00
    Running ULN system trying to battle a small Bryopsis problem
    Really need to upgrade my sump
    Bad sump design is making it difficult to maintain an even SG.

  8. Teresa

    90 gal reef tank started May 2016

    temp 78.5
    pH 8.2
    sg 1.025
    Nitrate 0
    Calcium 420
    Alk 7
    Mag 1480
    Phos 0.08

    Currently the fish, and coral are doing great, but had a bad case of dinoflaggelates, that took like 4 months to completely get rid of. Hoping to make sure I prevent things like that in the future from getting out of control.

    1. Teresa, thanks for joining in on the challenge. Your water parameters look good. Let’s get those phosphates down a tad and I think your tank will stabilize so you don’t get a return of the dinoflagellates!! Thanks for participating.

  9. David Ross

    Thanks to this challenge, I noticed my calcium is a little low at 360. I had a Kh score that seemed high … maybe 13 -15? I think this was calcium hardness or something. Should I be concerned? I’ve read that optimal kh is 9 or so. I’m working at bringing my calcium up. I was only relying on the salt mix to hold calcium up, and it wasn’t doing it.

    1. Susan

      If you have a full aquarium, fish, inverts, and corals, you will need to add calcium. Corals need calcium to grow and I think some inverts need it also as their shells grow. Monitoring is important to ensure adequate levels.

      1. I agree with Susan that you will probably need to add calcium to keep it up, although 360 isn’t that bad. Your hardness is high. Are you dosing anything else?

  10. Andrea

    Ammonia, nitrite, nitrate at 0.
    T: 78,8*F
    PH : 8.0
    Phosphate: 2.5, the equivalent of a nuclear bomb…
    Following the move of the aquarium and its livestock and adding live rock purchased from someone who was closing his tank, phosphate got released after the PH dropped below 8.0.

    Now I have to find a way of getting the phosphate down… Didn’nt move for a week. :c( Any tips?

    1. Andrea, thanks for taking the challenge and for posting your parameters. Your phosphates are high. If you’re pH is falling, too, that is something to watch. You don’t want to see big swings, because any swing is a big swing. are you using the same salt mix as the previous owner? Challenge days 7 and 8 can help with high phosphates if you want to jump ahead there

  11. Conrad Noto

    I need to try this 30 day challenge in all honestly I rarely test anything at this point. I test when I’m setting up a tank, every 6 months or so thereafter. I do monitor and inspect everything daily.. every fish, nem, coral etc.. they tell you, show you if they are unhappy. If I see something that looks odd I test everything. I suggest people get to know what is in their tanks better, habits, norms. People who own Hippo tangs for instance know they will lay down on there side.. some do it more, some less, but normal. New Hippo tang owner will post in FB groups.. ” What is wrong with my new hippo tang” Always amazed me when people post pics of their fish covered with ich, velvet or excessive fin rot, holes in them, flesh peeled off. These things do not happen over night, Do they only look at their fish once a week? I take about 15 mins 2 times a day to look at and inspect each fish, go thru 240gal tank, see what is open, closed, feeding, not feeding. Going to try this Challenge, can’t hurt 🙂

    1. Thanks for taking the challenge!

  12. John

    Hi, I wish that I had known about this challenge sooner. My tank is a 90 gal reef ready tank. From the top lights 6 bulb t5 with 3 ati coral plus 2 ati blue plus and a ati purple plus. 60# crushed coral substrate. 75# live rock in the tank and another 15# in the sump. 3 power heads, 2 hydro 850s hooked in to my reef keeper controller and a jaecod 3100 gph turned down to 30%. The sump is a 40 breeder diy three chambers, first rock rubble and filter sock. Next is skimmer, reef octopus classic 150, next is return chamber with 750 gph pump. I have a dual carbon gfo reactor. And tunzi ato. My livestock is a blood orange hybred clown, a bangai cardinal, coppor banded butterfly, yellow tang,foxface, juvenile koran angel and a diamondspot jawfish. Assorted snails hermit crab, sand siftingstar. My parameters are, temp 78° alk is low at 6 dkh cal is 420 mag is 1320 ph is 8.0 nitrates 0 phosphates 0 PH 8.0

    1. John, sorry I missed you when the challenge went live, but welcome to it here, nonetheless. Sounds like an awesome tank. I hope you enjoy the challenge.

  13. Terry

    Hi! Hope this challenge helps with ongoing algae problems I am having.
    I have a 90 gallon Seapora reef tank with corner overflow, Eshopps R100 Refugium Sump with Sicce Syncra pump (714 gph), Bubblemagus 5 skimmer, 6 bulb T5 lighting with 3 Zoomed Actinic, 2 10,000k, and one super daylight bulb. 1 Hydor circulation pump (1500gph), 1 Fluval circulation pump (750gph). 5 stage RO/DI unit with 3stage TDS meter. Product water is 0 TDS.
    Parameters are as follows:
    Temp. 76.6
    Salinity: 1.024
    pH: 7.9, but fluctuates to as high as 8.2
    Ammonia: 0.008
    Nitrate: 0.0
    dkh: 10.2, a little high from dosing too much one time
    Calcium: 500, again, a little high from dosing too much one time
    Magnesium: 1290
    Phosphate: 0.0
    I dose the tank with 10ml of Vibrant for reef aquariums twice a week, and Seachem Reef Plus once a week.
    My biggest issue is Algae. Hair algae on overflow and a couple of rocks. It is also in the gravel in spots. In the last couple of days I have been getting diatoms and some cyano bacteria on the gravel.
    I don’t think I am overfeeding. Fish every 3 days, corals twice a week.

    1. Thanks, Terry and welcome to the challenge! I’m curious about the ammonia. What are you using to test that? That’s a precise and low level. what are the units there?

      Good luck. Looking forward to your success.

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