When considering setting up a reef aquarium, it is important to get a starting list of items that will be needed to properly set up the aquarium. There are many items that are needed for a tank to be properly set up and some that are not needed, but are nice to have for the tank. We will start off discussing items that are a must have and then discuss some items that can be used to make the tank function better or create a more stable environment for the fish.
Must have items:
- Tank and stand
One of the first decisions needed to make is what size tank you are going to set up. With the better understanding of proper husbandry of a reef tank and the advancement in technology almost any size tank can be a reef tank. People are now keeping small tanks under 20 gallons, referred to as nano-reefs to aquariums in excess of 1,000 gallons. There are two main factors to consider when choosing a tank: 1) Space available to put the tank and 2) Your budget.
It is usually recommended to go with the largest tank that will fit both in the space allotted and the budget set for the tank. Although larger tanks are usually more self sustaining, one should not overspend their budget on a larger tank and then sacrifice on “cheaper” equipment. The components are needed to properly set up a reef tank are just as important, in not more important than the tank itself.
In addition to the tank, a strong stable stand or base will be needed to support the tank. A gallon of freshwater weighs a little over eight pounds and saltwater will weight slightly more. A fifty gallon tank will weight in excess of 400 pounds in just the weight of the water. An unstable stand or base could cause the tank to crack or break causing an obvious mess.
- Lighting system
A majority of corals that are kept in a reef tank are photosynthetic and require simulated sunlight to survive. Although we will not go into depth how this occurs in this article, it is important to know that corals contain algae called zooxanthellae in their tissue. The zooxanthellae photosynthesis and feed the corals. If the proper light is not given to the corals, they will not thrive in our tanks and will eventually perish. There are two main types of lights available that hobbyists will use to light their tanks. The first is fluorescent lights and the second is metal halide lights.
Within the fluorescent lighting, there are three types of lighting most commonly used: Very High Output (VHO); Power compact (PC); and T5 High Output. VHO lighting has been a staple for reef tanks for many years. VHO bulbs look exactly like a normal fluorescent bulb but run at a higher wattage (and require a special ballast). For example a standard four foot fluorescent bulb will run at 40 watts, but a four foot VHO bulb will run at 110 watts. VHO bulbs will come in a variety of lengths from 24” to 72” and in a variety of color spectrums. By using multiple bulbs over a tank, the aquarist is able to provide a high enough wattage of light for the corals to thrive.
PC bulbs differ from standard fluorescent bulbs in that they hook into a single endcap instead of two endcaps like normal fluorescent bulbs. Also instead of a single tube, a PC bulb will have two bulbs that will run parallel to each other coming out of the single socket. The two bulbs will be connected opposite the endcaps by a small glass tube. One of the unique features of these bulbs is that manufactures are actually able to have each tube the same spectrum or different spectrums. When one tube is one color and the other tube is a different color, this is commonly called a 50/50 bulb. PC bulbs will come in a variety of lengths and wattages from about 6 inches and 9 watts up to 48 inches and 130 watts. Like the VHO bulbs, using a combination of PC bulbs will allow the aquarist to provide a high enough wattage for keeping corals alive and thriving.
T5 bulbs are one of the newest lines of lighting that are being on a reef tank. These bulbs are similar to VHO bulbs except they are much thinner bulbs. VHO bulbs are classified as T12 bulbs. The T in both of these is referring to the shape of the lamp, T stands for tubular and the number (5 and 12) indicates the diameter in eights of an inch. The T12 bulbs are 1 ½” or 38 mm and the T5 bulbs are 5/8” or 16mm in diameter. The smaller diameter bulb allows for a higher output from a smaller bulb. At this time there are not as many varieties of bulb color temperatures available, but this is changing as more and more hobbyists start using T5 over their reef tanks. UPDATE: T5's have become more and more popular and due to this there are many different fixtures available along with many different types of bulbs. These lights have proven to be one of the best types of flourescent fixtures for a reef tank. They are now recommended more than any other type of flourescent lighting for both supplemental or stand alone fixtures.
The staple for lighting a reef tank though is still using metal halide (MH) lighting. Unlike fluorescent lights that spread light over the full length of the tube, metal halide bulbs emit their light from a single point. This allows for a more intense light that can penetrate deeper into the water.
There are two types of metal halide bulbs available to hobbyists, single ended and double ended bulbs. As the name suggests single ended bulbs have a single male threaded end that will screw in to a socket, similar to a standard light bulb. With in the single ended bulbs there are two different sizes available, medium base (or standard household light bulb size) and mogul base (larger in diameter than the medium base). The single ended bulbs are available in a wide variety of color temperatures (Kelvin ratings) and most commonly come in 150, 175, 250 and 400 watt. Double ended bulbs do not screw into their fittings rather they slide or snap into two endcaps (made of ceramic with metal contacts). Double ended bulbs also come in a wide variety of color temperatures and are available in 70, 150, 250 and 400 watt.
A single metal halide lamp will light an area that is approximately two feet by two feet. A tank that is 24 inches long will require one metal halide lamp and for every additional two feet in tank length another metal halide lamp should be added. When you know the number of bulbs needed, you will also need to know what wattage lamps to go with. A generally rule of thumb for single ended bulbs is for tanks under 18 inches deep use 175 watt lamps, for tanks between 18-24 inches deep use 250 watt lamps and for tanks over 24 inches deep use 400 watt bulbs. For double ended lamps the general rule of thumb is for tanks under 18 inches deep to use either 70 or 150 watt bulbs, for tanks 18-24 inches deep use 150 to 250 watt bulbs and for tanks over 24 inches deep use 250 to 400 watt bulbs. The reason for this is that double ended bulbs will have a higher PAR value (in layman terms, intensity or brightness) when compared watt per watt to single ended lamps.
Another consideration when using MH lamps is the Kelvin rating (color temperature) of the bulb. Metal halide lamps will come in a variety of colors from greenish yellow (low K value around 5500K to 6500K) to a crisp white with a hint of yellow (medium value around 10000K) to a bluish white color (higher value around 20000K). There are a number of different Kelvin rated bulbs available between the 5500K to 20000K ratings to allow the aquarist to find the color they like best for their tank. So what color is best for your tank? This varies from person to person. If you like the look of a crisp white tank, bulbs around the 10,000K range are your best bet. If you like a more blue color in the tank, then a bulb above 14000K is generally your best choice. It should also be mentioned that the Kelvin ratings will have an effect on both the color and the growth of corals. Lower Kelvin rated bulbs will give you quicker growth in your corals, but will not bring out the best color in them. Higher Kelvin rated bulbs will usually give you brighter colored corals, but the growth will be slower.
One last note on metal halide lighting that should be mentioned is that many people will use supplemental lighting in combination to metal halide lights. In addition to the metal halide bulbs, they will add fluorescent actinic lighting to the tank. The first benefit to using the supplemental lighting is that the actinic lighting can help corals and fish look more colorful. Actinic lights will help fluoresce the pigments in the corals and fish almost making them glow in the tank. This is especially true of greens and reds in corals and fish. Another benefit to using supplemental actinic lighting is that is can help wash out the yellow color from lower Kelvin rated bulbs. One last benefit to the actinic lights is that it will allow the aquarist to have dawn to dusk lighting. Dawn to dust lighting is the ramping up in intensity of the lights over the tank. Using timers the aquarist can have the actinic lights come of fist, similar to when the sun first starts to rise in the morning. Then the metal halide lights will turn on along with the actinics simulating midday. Then the metal halide bulbs shut off leaving just the actinics on similar to the sun setting. This will give a dawn to dusk effect for the tank.
So what is the best lighting for your tank? This will depend on the corals you would like to keep. Generally speaking for most soft corals, mushrooms and most LPS corals such as hammer, bubble and brain corals any of the fluorescent lighting options will work excellent. If you are more interested in keeping SPS corals, such as acroporas and montiporas and also keeping clams metal halide lighting would be your best choice.
- Filtration System
Setting up a filtration system for a reef tank is probably one of the easiest components of a reef tank. For a reef aquarium there really only needs to be two main components; liverock and a protein skimmer. Liverock is rock that has been harvested from the ocean in tropical locations such as Fiji and the Marshall Islands. The rock is very porous and will act as a biological filter for your tank. People will disagree on how much rock to use in a reef tank, but generally it is recommended to use anywhere between ½ to 2 pounds per gallon of water. It is also important when putting the rock in the tank to make sure water can easily circulate around the rock. Low flow areas or areas of no flow will allow debris to accumulate in those areas. The settling of the debris can lead to unwanted algae growths.
In addition to good quality liverock in the tank a high quality protein skimmer is also needed. A protein skimmer will remove organic pollutants before they breakdown, which in turn will help to keep higher water quality for your fish and corals. There are different styles of skimmers available with the most popular styles being venturi (pulling air into the skimmer to create bubbles), downdraft (forcing water at high flow rates through bioballs to create bubbles) and spray injection (spraying water mixes with air to create fine bubbles). All three of these styles of skimmers work very efficiently. When choosing a skimmer, you will want to find the one that fits in your budget and the space available.
Although there are other components to filtering a reef tank that can be implemented such as the use of a refugium, ozone and a UV sterilizer, they are not must have items and will be discussed under the optional items.
- Heater and Thermometer
Most saltwater fish and corals that are kept by hobbyist are from tropical regions, therefore need warm water to survive in our aquariums. Most corals and saltwater fish require a stable temperature between 76 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit. The use of a heater or multiple heaters will be able to help keep the temperature from getting to low.
There many different types of heaters available by different manufactures. The first two types of heaters include submersible heaters and non-submersible heaters. Submersible heaters, like the name implies, are able to be completely submerged underwater including the cord going into the unit and the temperature dial. The other style of heater, the non-submersible heaters, will hang on the back of the aquarium with part of the heater (the glass tube) submerged in the water and the temperature dial and cord completely on the outside. Generally speaking the submersible heaters are the preferred choice for marine aquariums. They tend to be more accurate and more dependable than the hang on the tank heaters.
Within the submersible heaters you will find two different styles available, glass and titanium. The glass heaters use a heating element inside a sealed glass tube to warm the water. The titanium heaters use a titanium rod that is submerged in the water for heating. Both styles are very efficient at heating the water.
- Salt, hydrometer and/or refractometer
Obviously to make saltwater, you need salt. There are many different manufacturers of synthetic sea salt that one can purchase. This synthetic salt is mixed with conditioned tap water or better yet purified (such as reverse osmosis or reverse osmosis/deionization) water to make up saltwater for your aquarium. Although the manufacturers will let you know how much salt to put in per gallon of water, you will still want a way to measure the actual salt content in the water. By using a hydrometer or a refractometer you are able to find out how much salt is in the water. Ideally most saltwater tank will run best with a specific gravity of 1.020 to 1.025 or a specific gravity of 26-33 ppt with most keeping the specific gravity closer to the 1.025 range.
Although the hydrometer will be less expensive than a refractometer, it also tends to be a little bit less accurate especially as it gets older. Salts and residue will eventually start to build up on the hydrometer that could alter its readings. A refractometer will be one of the best ways to measure the salt levels in your tank.
There are a few different schools of thoughts on putting sand in a reef tank. There are the people who believe that sand is needed in the tank and others who feel that sand can be harmful in the tank and prefer to put nothing on the bottom of the tank. This is a decision that you will have to make on your own after you have done your own research on the topic and decided which method of thought you belong to.
- Test Kits
Testing the water in a reef tank is of the utmost importance. Corals and other invertebrates can be much more sensitive to water conditions than fish. Also corals will pull nutrients and compounds out of the water to aid in feeding and building their skeletons. By testing the water you will know if and when certain supplements such as calcium need to be added to the tank or when you are due (or overdue) for a water change.
So what are the most important tests to run on a reef tank? For starters there are the basic four that should be run on all aquariums, especially newly set up tanks. Those tests are for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and pH. Ammonia and nitrite should read zero all the time. If either of these levels are high in a well established tank, something is wrong with the biological filter or the tank is overcrowded or is being overfed. This can be counter acted by adding more fully cured liverock (or replacing some older liverock with newer liverock), reducing the bioload in the tank, cutting back on feeding and doing a series of water changes in the tank.
Nitrate, the byproduct when ammonia and nitrites are broken down should also be at zero or very close to zero. If your tank is getting elevated nitrate levels this is usually caused by overfeeding of the tanks inhabitants and/or poor husbandry (i.e. lack of water changes). Overcrowding of the tank can also cause excessive amounts of nitrates also. Again the best way to correct this problems is reduced feedings, reduce the bioload if overcrowding is an issue and performing water changes.
The pH of a reef aquarium should run between 8.0-8.5 and usually will vary some through out the day and night. If the tank is experiencing low pH levels all the time, this usually is caused by low oxygen/high carbon dioxide levels in the tank or high amounts of dissolved organics. Some of the best ways to counter act a low pH in the tank include performing water changes, increasing the circulation in the tank or adding a refugium (to be discussed later in this article) to the tank. If a low pH is only being noticed during the night time when the lights are off, dripping kalkwasser (also called limewater) during the evening can help combat this. Kalkwasser has two benefits to the aquarium. First it has a very high pH (right around 10) which can help raise the pH in the aquarium and second it will also provide calcium to the water for the corals.
In addition to those tests there are three other tests that are very important to run. The first test is for phosphates. High levels of phosphates in the reef aquarium can cause excessive and nuisance algae growths within the aquarium. Phosphates can be introduced into the aquarium many different ways including from your tap water and the foods that are fed to your fish and corals. The use of a tap water filter (reverse osmosis or reverse osmosis/deionization filter), limiting feedings and the use of a phosphate removing media can help reduce or eliminate phosphates.
The last two tests that should be run on a reef tank are for alkalinity and calcium. Calcium and alkalinity along with pH play a key role in your corals ability to utilize dissolved calcium in the water to build its skeleton. If any one of those levels are excessive low or high the corals will have a more difficult time using the calcium from the water causing undo stress on the coral. This stress can lead to loss of color, slow growth, weakened immunity and even death in some cases. Ideally the alkalinity should be around 7-10 dKH and the calcium should be around 380-450 mg/L. Having the tank running at these levels and with a pH around 8.4-8.45 will produce ideal conditions for the calcification by corals.
- Food (for your fish and your corals)
There are a wide variety of foods available for your fish including flake, pellets, freeze dried and frozen foods. Different fish will have different dietary needs, so you will want to research (hopefully before you purchase the animal) what type of food your fish will require. From there you will be able to choose the appropriate food for them. Variety is the best option for your fish also, so keep different types of food on hand and mix up their diets daily.
The corals in your tank will also enjoy some direct feeding of foods in the proper size range. Large polyp corals such as brain, hammer and bubble corals have feeding tentacles that are able to catch food of almost any size. Foods such as shrimp, scallop and fish can make great treats for the corals. Other corals like SPS corals and clams do not have the ability to catch and ingest large food pieces, but are able to feed on food of small particle sizes. These small particle sized foods include phytoplanktons and oyster eggs. It is highly recommended to feed your corals to help fulfill all their nutritional needs. But as with any foods, you will not want to overfeed the tank as that could lead to elevated phosphate and nitrate levels.
- powerheads/water movement
Saltwater fish and corals come from areas where the water is in constant motion. It is a good idea to try to simulate this within the aquarium. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is through the use of powerheads. A powerhead is simply a water pump that can be placed in the aquarium to create water movement. The use of multiple powerheads positioned in different areas of the aquarium can also create random and chaotic flow. Another benefit to the increased water flow is it will cause debris to stay in suspension in the water column allowing the filter to trap the debris. One last benefit is that the extra water movement will allow for better gas exchange between the aquarium and the atmosphere. By aiming one of the outputs of a powerhead towards the surface of the water, it will allow carbon dioxide to be released from the water into the atmosphere and oxygen to enter the water from the atmosphere.
If the thought of having powerheads through out the aquarium does not sound appealing, many people are now using closed loops systems to provide water movement in the aquarium. The advantage to a closed loop is there are no pumps placed inside the aquarium. Holes are drilled in the sides or bottom of the aquarium and bulkheads are used to hook up tubing to these holes. One or sometimes two of the holes are used for an intake. These intakes are then plumbed with PVC piping to an external water pump. The other holes will be used to return the water back to the tank from the output of the pump, again plumbed with PVC or vinyl tubing. Besides not having powerheads in the aquarium, the external pumps can also provide higher flow rates than submersible powerheads.
These should probably go under the necessary items needed, but with all the information that can be found on the internet, it will be listed under optional supplies. With that being said, I still feel everyone should own at least one book. Some good topics for books to own include ones on the general care of a reef tank, such as Natural Reef Aquariums by John Tullock or The Reef Aquarium Vol. 1-3 by Charles Delbeek and Julian Sprung, ones about the fish themselves, such as PocketExpert Guide: Marine Fishes by Scott W. Michael or World Atlas of Marine Fishes by Rudie Kuiter and Helmut Debelius and finally ones about corals (including care and identification) such as Aquarium Corals by Eric Borneman or Corals A Quick Reference Guide by Julian Sprung. Many hobbyists will bring along a fish book and a coral book, such as Scott Michaels and Julian Sprungs book when they shop for their fish and corals. That way if they aren’t sure if a fish or coral are a good choice for their tank, they can double check if it is suitable.
2) Reverse Osmosis (RO) or Reverse Osmosis/Deionization (RO/DI) tap water filter
Although there are a few lucky people with water that is very pure straight from the tap, the majority have moderate to high levels of dissolved solids (measured as Total Dissolved Solids) in their water. The use of a TDS meter can let you know how good or bad your water is. Ideally the TDS readings should be as close to zero as possible. The use of an RO filtering system can remove 98-99% of all pollutants and using an RO/DI filter can remove 99.9% of impurities from your water. This can be very important to the overall health and success in your aquarium.
Two of the main nutrients that can be found in tap water that can cause some concern are nitrates and phosphates. Both nitrates and phosphates can cause excessive algae growth with in the aquarium. By eliminating these nutrients before they can reach your tank, you are able to reduce the chance of excessive algae growth.
During the summer months overheating of the tank can become a concern. Even though fish and corals can tolerate warmer temperatures, constant high temperatures can stress the fish and corals leading to diseases and/or death. Also the warmer the water the less oxygen it is able to hold. If your tank temperature gets above 82-84 degrees Fahrenheit, a chiller might be a good investment for your tank.
4) UV Sterilizer
The use of an ultraviolet (UV) sterilizer can also be very beneficial to the overall health of your fish and tank. When properly set up a UV sterilizer can help reduce the risk of parasite outbreaks, such as ich in the aquarium. Also the sterilizer can help prevent the outbreak of free floating alga in the tank. Free floating alga is more commonly seen in freshwater tanks, but can also happen in saltwater environments also.
Sometime people will have a difficult time keeping the water in their aquarium as clear as they would like it to be. Despite doing water changes and using carbon they still find the water has a slight tint to it. This is where the use of an ozonizer can help out. An ozonizer will help clear up the water to almost look like the fish are floating in air while swimming through the aquarium. Basically ozone will help to raise the Oxidation-Reduction Potential (ORP). With higher ORP levels, dissolved organics in the water that cause the discoloring are able to get broken down more efficiently.
The best way to introduce ozone into the aquarium is pumping it into a protein skimmer that is made of ozone safe materials. Ozone can actually deteriorate some plastics and acrylic, so caution must be used when introducing ozone to the aquarium. It is also suggested to use a controller to monitor the ORP in your aquarium. The controller will turn off the ozonizer if the ORP levels get too high. Lastly ozone can be harmful to humans and animals if levels get too high. The use of carbon to absorb any ozone that escapes the system is a good precaution to take.
As mentioned before, marine fish and corals enjoy lots of water movement. One way to increase the random and chaotic patterns of the powerheads in the aquarium is to use a wavemaker. A wavemaker will turn on and off the powerheads allowing for different flow patterns depending on which powerhead is running. One caution about using a wavemaker on powerheads is to make the powerheads you are using are suitable for use with a wavemaker. Certain powerheads, such as the Aquarium System’s Maxi-Jet powerheads work well with wavemakers while other brands “freeze up” due to the constant turning on and off by the wavemaker.
7) Electronic controllers
There are many items sold for a reef tank that can make our lives simpler. Electronic monitors and controllers fall into this category. As mentioned earlier testing of your water is very important, but it can be time consuming. Although there are not monitors for all the tests we run, there are monitors for some of them. The most popular monitor or controller used on reef tanks is for reading the pH of the aquarium. There are also monitors for reading calcium levels, salinity, ORP (oxygen reduction potential, generally used when running ozone on the tank) and temperature. Some controllers can even interface with your PC and record values for you and alert you to problems. The monitor and controllers use probes that are place in the water to read the values of the tank and then are displayed on their screens.
8) Calcium Reactors
Reef tanks that contain high levels of calcium demanding corals and inverts require a constant supply of calcium in the tank. Corals like acroporas, montiporas, euphilias (such as frogspawns and hammer corals), brain corals and any coral with a hard skeleton will constantly be pulling calcium out of the water to build their skeleton. For small tanks the manual additon of a calcium supplement may be enough to keep up with the demand. But for larger tanks, the daily additions simply may not be enough to keep up with the demand. A calcium reactor offers a simple and convenient solution for maintaining calcium and alkalinity in your reef tank. After the initial setup, the calcium reactor requires minimal maintenance. A calcium reactor is almost a necessity for tanks heavily stocked with stony coral where calcium and alkalinity demands are high. It is also a great addition for those looking to boost the growth of coralline algae on their live rock. Calcium reactors provide a steady supply of calcium by using CO2 to dissolve media in the reactor and, thus, releasing calcium into your water. The effluent released also acts as a buffer to stabilize pH.
A refugium is a body of water separate from the main tank but on the same water system that acts as a refuge for micro-organism and alga free from predators. There are different ways of setting up a refugium, but there are three main goals people are trying to achieve when using one. One of the goals is nutrient export, mainly phosphate and nitrate removal. Nutrient export can be done two different ways in a refugium. First is the use of algae’s such as caulerpa or chaetomorphia in the refugium. The algae will feed off the phosphates and nitrates in the water helping to reduce their levels. Secondly some people will add a deep sand bed (DSB) to the refugium. A properly set up and maintained DSB can help reduce nitrate levels in the aquarium.
A second goal of a refugium is a place where micro-organisms such as amphipods and copepods can live and breed free from predation. Keeping a healthy growth of these organisms will help feed your fish and corals. When the amphipods and copepods breed, they release eggs into the water column that the corals can feed on. Also some of the eggs will mature in the main tank and the fish can then feed of them as they grow.
A third benefit that a refugium can have is to help stabilize the pH in the aquarium. During the night time the pH can drop in the aquarium due to algae in the main tank respiring (taking in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide). The releasing of carbon dioxide will lower the pH in the tank. By running the refugium lights opposite the main tanks lights, or running the refugium lights 24/7 the algae in the refugium will utilize the carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. When the algae in the refugium photosynthesize they will turn the carbon dioxide into oxygen helping maintain a stable pH.
10) Return pump
If you are using a sump that sits below your reef tank, you will need a return pump to push water back to the main tank. There are a few considerations when choosing the correct pump. The first decision to be made is do you want an external or submersible pump? Both have their advantages and disadvantages to them.
A couple of the disadvantages of the external pumps include that they will require a little extra plumbing from the sump and you will want to make sure all seals are leak-free to avoid any messes. Also external pumps usually cost more than submersible pumps. One last disadvantage to the external pumps is that they will require more space next to the sump. If space under the tank is limited, this could pose a big problem. Some of the advantages of the external pumps include they will have a wider range of flow rates available for all sized aquariums. Also most external pumps transfer very little heat back to the water allowing for a cooler running tank.
Submersible pumps also have some disadvantages such as they will transfer heat to the water as a means of cooling themselves. Another disadvantage of the submersible pumps is that they are limited in the flow rates available. Although there are some that have a higher flow rate, many times these pumps are quite large to be placed in the sump. Some of the advantages of the submersible pumps include ease of plumbing them into the systems and the less likely chance of the pump causing a water leak. One last advantage to submersible pumps is that they come in a wide variety of flow rates for even the smallest reef aquariums.
Another consideration when choosing a return pump is the flow rate for the pump. The first item you will need to find out is what flow rate your overflow will handle. If your pump is too powerful for your overflow, you will risk the chance of overflowing your tank. You will need to match up the overflow’s flow rate to the flow rate of your pump. For example if your overflow can handle 1200 gallons per hour (gph), you will want to get a pump that will be pumping a maximum of 1200 gph to the aquarium. A generally recommendation for a reef tank is to have a turn over rate of approximately 10-20 times the water volume per hour. For an average 50 gallon tank, this would equate to a flow rate of 500 to 1000 gallons per hour. If your overflow can only handle a small amount of this flow, you can use powerheads or a closed loop to help increase the flow in the tank.
The Good and the Bad of equipment
Using high quality equipment will go much farther in your success in keeping a marine aquarium. Saving a couple of bucks here and there might look good on paper, but when the potential for that equipment to fail is higher are you truly saving in the long run? While there are exceptions, generally speaking you get what you pay for in this hobby.
Research is your friend in this hobby. With all the tools available to hobbyist now, there is no reason anyone can not find out everything they want to know about the quality of a particular piece of equipment. Using all the resources available to you from the internet, to the customer service reps at Marine Depot, to your local fish club you will be able to find out everything you want to know.
It is very hard to find anything that can compare to the beauty and the diversity of life on a reef environment in the wild. Although we may never be able to completely duplicate a natural reef in our home, we can certainly set up our own small piece of the reef in a glass box. In this hobby it seems bad things tend to happen fast and good things tend to happen slow. Just remember to go slow, research your purchases and have patience. You are likely to hit some bumps or set backs in this hobby despite all the research you have done. With time, these bumps and set backs will disappear or become less frequent and the tank will get to where you want it. Patience truly is a virtue in this hobby. Now go enjoy your new tank!