Print Page | Close Window

An affordable reef aquarium & Reefkeeping Tips

Printed From: Utah Reefs
Category: Main
Forum Name: General Discussion
Forum Description: Posts that don't fit in any of the other categories.
Printed Date: July 19 2018 at 7:04am

Topic: An affordable reef aquarium & Reefkeeping Tips
Posted By: Mark Peterson
Subject: An affordable reef aquarium & Reefkeeping Tips
Date Posted: November 26 2005 at 11:23pm

(Reefkeping Tips > Please scroll down for the list of links to helpful forum discussions)

The affordable way to set up a Reef Aquarium is not a secret. Professionals have been using these methods for years. Even if your reef aquarium is already running, reading this information will help with understanding and may just save you from making some of the common and costly mistakes.

My fellow hobbyists, A-lo-ha Hug
I certainly made plenty of mistakes. I'm definitely no expert but I feel a need to share what I have learned over the years, since my first reef aquarium in 1993. Since then I have seen and/or maintained over 500 reef aquariums and helped countless other hobbyists way back to the 1995 founding of this wonderful WMAS. Hug

This initial post describes how to set up a lightly stocked reef aquarium according to the best biology available. It's all about the biology. so if you aren't fascinated by living things, stop right here. This hobby may not be for you. Wink

The Reefkeeping Tips at the bottom of this OP and posts further on in this thread describe other important time and money saving ideas.
Living in Utah provides access to practically free sand and rock. Cleaning Utah sand and rock is covered in the next post. Locating and collecting Utah sand is covered in a post a little further down and many posts and topics written in the years since. On the second page of this thread there is a map to the location where clean white Oolitic sand can be found. Do a search and/or ask in a new topic for hobbyists that would not mind sharing their extra sand and rock. Over the years, many hobbyists have tried but without proper collection and cleaning they have failed to have success with this sand and rock. Utah sand and Utah rock is available in SLC so there is no need to take a chance on finding the wrong stuff. Call/text Mark at 808-345-1049

The principles and methods described next apply to setting up any reef aquarium whatever type of sand and rock is used. Setup involves the use of four living components: LS, LR, LW, and Macroalgae. Setting up a reef tank in this way can actually skip the common waiting period; the traditional "cycling" you may have heard or read about. Simply put, the "cycle" is the processing of pollution that comes from dead and dieing things decomposing in the tank. The principles of biology used in the steps below mimic the creation of a world as recorded in Genesis. Science fiction calls it "Terra-Forming" It will practically avoid the pollution cycle, cleaning pollution as quickly as it forms.

This considers the use of live components. Next is an explanation of each:
LS = Live Sand. The sand isn't actually alive, there are bacteria, algae, worms, and other critters living in and on the sand.

LR = Live Rock. It's called "live" because bacteria, algae, worms and other critters live on and in the rock. 

LW = Live Water. Bacteria, algae, invertebrate larvae and other microscopic life are suspended in the water of an existing, healthy reef aquarium.*

* Bottled Bacteria in a liquid suspension is now available for supplementing the live bacteria of LS, LR, and LW and when used in conjunction is a very good thing.

Macroalgae = Types of plant-like algae which absorb waste. Caulerpa and Chaetomorpha (pronounced "kaulerpa" and "kate-o-morfa") are common macroalgae in the hobby. Here is a link to a thread with pics of many common Macroalgae, both the good ones  and the bad ones  Types of Macroalgae (with pics)" rel="nofollow -

These four live items compose 70-90% of the filtration of a typical reef aquarium. In effect, these are the most important components of aquarium filtration. The greater the quantity of these components used in set-up, the sooner the tank can be ready for coral and fish.

Though slightly abbreviated, here are steps for setting up reef aquariums. I have used this method since around 1999. The method has been used for dozens of my own tanks and by countless hobbyists. If you have any questions along the way, don't hesitate to call. My phone number (as of this edit) is 808-345-1049.


1. Place 1/2 - 1" of screened and washed Oolitic Sand (refer to next post for Utah Oolitic Sand cleaning instructions) in the bottom of the tank. Caution when placing Oolitic sand: A big wet clod of sand can easily slip out of a bucket and crack the bottom glass of an empty aquarium.

2. Fill with LW to just cover the new sand. To prevent stirring up the sand, set a bucket lid or dinner plate on the sand and pour the water onto the lid/plate.

3. Add wet LS from an established reef tank for an additional 1/2 - 1" of depth on top of the Oolitic sand. If that much LS is not available, use rinsed CaribSea Special Grade Reef Sand or larger particle sand and as much LS as possible, even if it's just a few cups. Add LW to just cover the sand and place the LS in several small depressions. Completely covering the Oolitic sand with larger particle sand is useful because otherwise Oolitic sand can cause quite a dust storm when water is added and pumps are turned on. It can take up to 2 weeks for a biological film to begin holding the Oolitic sand together so it's not so dusty (inadequate rinsing sometimes leads to a dust storm of fine particles that take up to a week to disperse by sticking to the biofilm on other surfaces).

4. Add several more inches of LW.

5. Place previously prepared Utah Aragonite Rock/Lake Bonneville Tufa Rock (LBTR) as base rock (refer to next post for info regarding this rock). Try to set the bottom pieces on edge pushed partly into the sand for stability with second level pieces straddling the lower rocks. This ensures water flow over as much exposed sand as possible. Look in this thread a few posts down for some aquascaping tips:" rel="nofollow -

6. Add more LW and newly mixed saltwater to fill the tank at least 3/4 full.

7. Place selected pieces of LR, preferably kept submerged when moved from another hobbyists tank, on top of the first and second tiers of LBTR. If it was not possible to transport the LR submerged, or if the LR was purchased from the LFS, be sure to twist turn and shake it to get all possible air out of the pores. (Air kills marinelife, thus requiring many weeks for decomposition/cycling/recovery. See the Reefkeeping Tip below on how to best move LR.)

8. Finish filling the tank with LW or freshly mixed saltwater and pour in some bottled bacteria. There are many brands. All are good products for supplementing bacteria in addition to that already living in the LS, LR and LW.

9. Place Macroalgae in the aquarium. Strands of Caulerpa and/or clumps of Chaetomorpha Macroalgae are usually available free from hobbyists in the WMAS on this forum. Various well lit positions in the tank are best for Macroalgae. The use of Macroalgae is part of the key to setting up a livable tank as quickly as possible.

10. Place and plug in the pumps. Position water flows to push water up from the bottom up to create a surface water rippling effect. This roiling or rippling effect aerates the water. Aeration gets air to the coral and fish so they can breath. Leave the top of the tank open as much as possible so it can breathe. (This is also called "gas exchange".)

That's about it for day one. Leave the lights on as long as possible, all night if possible. We want algae to grow immediately to filter the polluting Nitrogen compounds (Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate) produced by bacteria as decomposition begins. Regarding the lights, here's a good thread explaining why the lights should be ON:" rel="nofollow -

DAYS 2, 3 & 4 

Add a few soft coral frags.

DAYS 5, 6 & 7

If the coral frags have been expanding and showing polyps, add a few Snails, and a Hermit Crab or two and a couple Green Chromis Damselfish or even saltwater Mollies. The number of snails hermits and fish added at this point depends on the size of the tank and the amount of LS, LW, LR and Macroalgae used.

More snails should be added over the coming weeks as more soft algae begins to grow on rock and glass. Golden brown Diatom algae and sometimes Dinoflagellate algae are first to appear. This is a normal part of new tank growth. Regarding the numbers and importance of Snails and Hermits, see the related thread here and linked below in the Tips section." rel="nofollow -

This is a good start. More coral and fish can be added in the following weeks, but be cautious of adding fish and stony coral too quickly. Fish are water polluters. Coral are water filterers, but sensitive coral of the stony variety can die easily in a new tank (0-6 months). Anemones are also water polluters, sometimes even worse than fish. An anemone should not be tried for at least 2 months.

Water changes for the newly set up aquarium are really no different than for an established and more mature reef aquarium. Simply put, a water change of 10% each month is sufficient for any properly set up and moderately stocked reef aquarium. There is much said, mostly by newer hobbyists about more frequent and/or larger water changes, but you will find that the more experienced hobbyists do ~10% water changes every 1-3 months. I believe that the key is to utilize sufficient biological filtration (LS, LR, and Macroalgae) to lessen the need for laborious water changes.
Cleaning the water of polluting Nitrogen compounds is as easy as leaving the lights shining on the algae 24 hrs per day for a few days or a week. This is as effective and definitely easier than doing large water changes.
Another important point is to learn the chemistry of the Reef Aquarium; Alkalinity(Alk), Calcium(Ca), Magnesium(Mg) and Nitrate(N) levels. These water parameters are equally as important as Temperature and Salinity. I recommend checking these parameters weekly through your LFS or by the purchase of test kits. If using the LFS, be sure to ask for the actual numbers. Don't accept their response that "everything is fine". More on this, in later posts, including how to make Alk and Ca additives from household items you may already be using for other purposes.

Please feel free to ask questions here and feel free to copy, print and utilize all of the information contained in this entire thread. It's my 2 cents worth of contribution to the hobby that I have loved and lived since 1993.

One parting comment for posterity: Let us be thoughtful. Smile We need to know husbandry information before we bring it home, because asking the question after the organism is having trouble in our tank is less than responsible. I am speaking to myself as well. In September 1993 when I got into this hobby, I kept a list of the stuff I bought and the stuff that died in my 55 gal. Eighteen months later I was a lot smarter but carried so much remorse that I stopped keeping the list. I had gone through almost $2000 worth of animals and what did I have left? Two clownfish, a Yellow Tang, a Six-line Wrasse, snails, hermits and an Ugly Green Haired Mermaid." rel="nofollow -
Thanks to the formation of the WMAS and thanks to LeRoy Headlee of GARF, my reef was saved, I stopped killing so many animals and actually started farming marine animals.  ../SeaStar/wmasSeaStar02Feb.pdf" rel="nofollow -

I am so thankful for the WMAS. I'm grateful to be one of it's six original and last remaining founding member from 1995. O
ver the years, I took the time to visit hundreds of hobbyists, welcoming them to the club and picking up tips from them whenever possible. I also helped maintain over 200 reef aquariums while working for Mountain Shadow Marine, the largest marine aquarium maintenance company in the intermountain west. 

Smile Mahalo for reading. I hope this helps. Feel free to call or text me at 808-345-1049.

Mark Hug


How to add images to posts in this forum:" rel="nofollow -  (the only non-reefkeeping tip here. Embarrassed

The BobsReef Method of having a nice reef, quickly Smile" rel="nofollow -

Solving Nuisance Algae Problems:" rel="nofollow -" rel="nofollow -
Red Slime/Cyanobacteria of many colors, how to eradicate it:" rel="nofollow -" rel="nofollow -

How to prevent an algae bloom, Herbivores vs. Carnivores ; fish, bugs and worms:" rel="nofollow -

How to grow "bugs and worms"
 to aide in feeding Carnivores and Coral and prevent an algae bloom:" rel="nofollow -" rel="nofollow -

Importance of Snails and Hermit Crabs" rel="nofollow -

Best Reef Snails" rel="nofollow -

Heaters and water Temperature, what's best?" rel="nofollow -

ATO (automatic top-off) ? Best unit?" rel="nofollow -

Beautiful Algae, the good and the bad:" rel="nofollow -

Alkalinity and Calcium - Temperature and Salinity, The importance of" rel="nofollow -
Discussion about the chemicals above, treated as food Smile" rel="nofollow -

Adding new fish, Fish Training and the Miracle of Garlic Oil to keep fish free of disease:" rel="nofollow -
Garlic Oil - Best garlic and treatment directions:" rel="nofollow -
What if using a few different types of Garlic Oil has not helped? What next, UV Sterilizer or a skimmer with Ozone?" rel="nofollow -
The final attempt to keep fish disease free if nothing else has worked: 
Quarantine/Hospital Tank - awesome thread explaining why and how" rel="nofollow -

Clownfish - Confused Can they get along?" rel="nofollow -

Sand bed depth, etc." rel="nofollow -

How to keep the sand bed looking clean and white:" rel="nofollow -

Can I use the dry rock and sand that came with this aquarium?" rel="nofollow -
Best treatment of dry rock before re-use:" rel="nofollow -

Moving the tank (read entire thread):" rel="nofollow -
Moving LS without causing another pollution cycle:" rel="nofollow -
Moving LR without causing another pollution cycle:" rel="nofollow -

Quiet that drain:" rel="nofollow -

Secrets of an easy Refugium" rel="nofollow -
Avoiding a tank crash -" rel="nofollow -
The "Poormans Wavemaker" an excellent, efficient and low cost way to move the water around." rel="nofollow -
Aquascaping tips
How to make it look natural and beautiful. Also, how fish can be happy so they run for cover instead of jumping out of the tank:" rel="nofollow -" rel="nofollow -
Catching Fish the easy way:" rel="nofollow -

What if the electrical power goes out at my house?" rel="nofollow -

How to eradicate pest Flatworms:" rel="nofollow -
How to control pest Aiptasia Anemones and get Peppermint Shrimp to eat Aiptasia:" rel="nofollow -
and another Aiptasia discussion with a great hobbyist tip on eradicating Majano Star" rel="nofollow -

Here is the best source I have ever seen for identifying little critters we find in our tanks:" rel="nofollow -  
Quick Reference list of How to's:" rel="nofollow -

Pictures of just a few of my Reef Aquariums:" rel="nofollow -

Our Coral Greenhouse below ground level passive solar heat/cool project:" rel="nofollow -

Last but not least - Comments about Utah Rock/LBTR and Oolitic Sand" rel="nofollow -

Reefkeeping Tips, & quick, easy setup tricks:
Pay it forward - become a paid WMAS member

Posted By: Mark Peterson
Date Posted: November 26 2005 at 11:24pm

Utah has two resources that are perfect for setting up marine/reef aquariums. Oolitic sand and Lake Bonneville Tufa Rock (LBTR). See the pics below. But these free resources do not come ready to use. They require first the finding, then the collecting and then cleaning prior to use.[edit June 2013: sand and rock is now available in SLC. Call/text Mark at 808-345-1049]

1. Oolitic Sand

If dry, screen with a window screen or something similar to remove sticks, rocks, bullets, etc. Then rinse in tapwater about four times until the rinsewater turns from tan to a clear gray. Rinsing smaller amounts at a time is usually easier because of it's packing density.

2. Utah Aragonite Rock/ Lake Bonneville Tufa Rock (LBTR)

Blast it on all sides at the carwash with the high pressure spray in the Rinse setting. Squeeze the handle. Try to blast off at least 95% of the lichen and moss from all surfaces. Placing the tip of the wand about 3" from the rock surface will get the toughest stuff. Blast all holes. There is dirt in some nice holes that cannot be opened up unless blasted by the high pressure spray. When it's done the clean LBTR is pretty much sterile with very little organic material to cause pollution. Large quantities of clean LBTR cause no problem in any tank, new or old.

Above is how LBTR looks after picking it up off the ground. Below are a couple pics of LBTR in a tank that has been set up for 16 months. But for two exceptions, all the LR seen in these pics is 16 month LBTR. Can you find the exceptions?

The backlight in these pics is the bright morning sun. This tank is directly in the sun of an East facing window.

Reefkeeping Tips, & quick, easy setup tricks:
Pay it forward - become a paid WMAS member

Posted By: Mark Peterson
Date Posted: November 26 2005 at 11:29pm

Now that you have read how to set up your reef aquarium, it's vital to know something about the water conditions that ensure a healthy aquarium. After Salinity and Temperature, the three most important water parameters for a Reef Aquarium are Alkalinity (Alk), Calcium (Ca) and Nitrate (NO3).

In my opinion, the best test kits for Alk and Ca are made by Salifert. The kits that test for NO3 are all basically the same, but over time you can see the effect of NO3 in the water by observing the condition of the coral polyps, so eventually you may be able to see at a glance that Nitrate is low, just by observing the coral.

Alk and Ca are components of reef aquarium water that become depleted as marine organisms live and grow. It is necessary to replace these components as they are used. 

Nitrate is the third of four stages of what has been commonly labeled as the Nitrogen Cycle. It is not something to be replaced like Alk and Ca, but instead, Nitrate must be removed or preferably decomposed by the living components of a healthy reef filtration system. Because a high level of Nitrate is harmful to invertebrates such as coral and the plethora of water filtering organisms, it is the third important component of reef aquarium water chemistry. To discover more about the four stages of Nitrogen in the reef aquarium do some research on the Nitrogen Cycle. (Because of the methods described here, in your research it is okay to ignore the concepts that say aquariums must go through a long 4-8 week "cycle". )

Adding Alkalinity

This is usually not necessary for a few months after setting up this Oolitic Sand and LBTR tank. But when testing indicates that Alk is at or below 8 dKH, it's time to start adding Alk. See a post below, regarding making your own incredibly inexpensive Alkalinity additive.

Adding Calcium

This is usually not necessary for a few months after setting up an Oolitic Sand and LBTR tank. But when testing indicates that Ca is below ~350 ppm, it's time to start adding Ca. See a post below for the way to do this, again affordably.

Removing/Reducing Nitrate

This should occur as a natural process in a tank that has been set up according to the instructions in the post above, utilizing all that live stuff. If NO3 testing indicates levels of Nitrate have risen above 25 ppm then it's time to slow down, excercise patience and let the algae and nitrate reducing bacteria catch up to the available supply of Nitrate. (24/7 lighting really helps here.) Nitrate is a molecule called NO3. It is one Nitrogen atom with three Oxygen atoms bonded to it. Algae uses it and denitrifying bacteria break it down. Bacteria use the Oxygen for respiration which releases the Nitrogen from the molecule. The Nitrogen dissolves into the water and then moves out into the air at the water surface. This is one of the reasons for the emphasis on not covering the top of the tank with the traditional glass panels and for providing plenty of water movement/circulation. (Things that you may have already heard about, but if not, it would be a good idea to discover.)

Reefkeeping Tips, & quick, easy setup tricks:
Pay it forward - become a paid WMAS member

Posted By: Suzy
Date Posted: November 27 2005 at 10:29am
FE+, NO3 & PO4?

Posted By: Mark Peterson
Date Posted: December 14 2005 at 6:00am
I hope this information is helpful to you. Feel free to call the number below to get immediate answers to any and all reefkeeping questions.  Keep reading.... 

Reefkeeping Tips, & quick, easy setup tricks:
Pay it forward - become a paid WMAS member

Posted By: Mark Peterson
Date Posted: February 15 2006 at 10:39pm

Directions to Utah Oolitic Sand and Lake Bonneville Tufa Rock. On page 2 of this thread is a nice arial pic/map, so keep on reading Wink)

1. The sand is easier to find than rock. Here is a link to the Utah Geological Survey website which first led us to the sand." rel="nofollow - ic.htm  The directions on that site mention a stop sign. There is no stop sign but there is a sign pointing left to Broken Arrow Salt. Turn left at that road. 

Unfortunately, the sand dunes disappeared from the south side of the road. Not to worry, there is plenty on the opposite side of the road where the dunes continue to the north. Here is a pic looking SW at the vanished dunes!

Below is a pic, in the winter, of the north side of the road exactly opposite from the location in the pic above. Collecting sand can be fun any time of year, but not right after a heavy rain.



Edit> Please see the Reefkeeping Tip above for my comments about Utah Rock/LBTR.

There are several spots. The closest place is almost exactly north of the sand collection area. Rather than turning left toward Broken Arrow Salt, continue a half mile or so to some trails off to the left that run through the dunes to the West. (Oolitic sand dunes!) Follow these 4x4 trails to the mud flats. Digging with a shovel in the mud along some drainage ditches once revealed LBTR, but over the years it has all been removed by hobbyists.

Other LBTR has been found along the terraces left by Lake Bonneville at various spots on the slopes of Stansbury Island, on the West slopes of the Oquirrh Mountains toward Tooele and further out I-80 at the exits marked "Lakeside - Military Exit" and this:

(This is the sign you would see if traveling from Wendover.)

Reefkeeping Tips, & quick, easy setup tricks:
Pay it forward - become a paid WMAS member

Posted By: bbeck4x4
Date Posted: February 15 2006 at 10:48pm
hey and I though I was going too fast at three weeks for a seahorse tank, 

my first tank a little more than a year ago took 10 weeks following the advice of a lfs.

glad I found this site when I did


Family Portraits /Google trusted Photographer for Google Maps for Businesses

Posted By: aquablue
Date Posted: February 17 2006 at 2:29pm
my seahorse tank was a 3 day project, day 1 was basic setup lights, filter,  sand, rock and water, day 2 was circulation, day 3 was seahorse adding.. but it was a cheat cause it was live sand from my big tank, water from my big tank, and LR from my big tank.

29G Rimless BioCube | DIY LED
12G Nano Cube | DIY LED

Member of GCFB

Posted By: invision
Date Posted: February 18 2006 at 12:57am

Where do I find this rock and sand in utah?

I live in Ogden.



29 Gallon Saltwater with Eclipse 3 hood/filter/lighting.
Also Just setup a 10 gallon for pods

Posted By: Rhine Lenhart
Date Posted: February 18 2006 at 9:16am
Originally posted by invision invision wrote:

Where do I find this rock and sand in utah?

I live in Ogden.



Mark is usually the best source he is the sand and rock..

But i'm sure other replies will follow.


55 Gal Reef.
30 Gal Fuge.

2007 presidency

Posted By: Mark Peterson
Date Posted: February 18 2006 at 10:18am
The addition of supplements is very common in the hobby. The first and most important supplement to consider is dripping Kalkwasser at night as top off. This supplement is not only a good source of equal amounts of Alk and Ca, it also has the added benefit of stabilizing pH. At night when photosynthesis switches off, algae becomes an oxygen consumer and Carbon Dioxide producer. This drop in pH is a common cause of stress, disease and sometimes death of fish, nor is it good for inverts, including coral. Kalkwasser is a long standing proven method for keeping a well maintained reef aquarium.
If the tank has enough growth that Kalkwasser cannot add sufficient Alk and Ca, the second supplements to consider are a 2-part solution of Alkalinity and Calcium. The surprising thing to new hobbyists is that these supplements can be made at home with some ordinary household products, Baking Soda and Ice Melt. Here below I have written about how to do it and here is a link to an article by the hobby "guru" of chemistry Randy Holmes-Farley" rel="nofollow - . These are the most important and yet the easiest supplements that will do the most good for a reef tank. I highly recommend it.
The third and final method of adding Alk and Ca is the "Calcium Reactor". So called because it is a semi-automated way to give the stony coral the Calcium they need for skeleton growth. It's not an accurate name but it has stuck so we use it. A better name would be the "Carbonate Reactor". It adds Calcium and Alkalinity by dissolving Aragonite, the same substance we use for sand! The resulting Carbonates in solution are pumped into the tank at a rate set by the hobbyist. This is the most complicated method of adding Alk and Ca and is practical only for those tanks with a large percentage of stony coral. It's downsides are cost, the inadvertant decrease of pH, the complications of setting and continual monitering of several flow rates and the need to bump up the Alkalinity periodically with the Alk side of the 2-part solution.
There is one thing to consider, the more we ignorantly mess with the chemistry of our tanks, the worse they fare. A water change is always the safest way to reduce any excess.
Making and adding Alkalinity and Calcium to the reef aquarium
Alkalinity: 4 parts Baking soda and 1 part Soda Ash/Washing Soda. Soda Ash is made by baking Baking Soda in a glass baking dish at ~400 for an hour or so. Dissolve as much of this as will dissolve in purified water, then add it regularly along with doing Alkalinity testing to be sure of dosing the right amount. The desired range is 8-14 dKH or it's equivalent in meq/l or ppm.
Calcium: Dissolve as much Calcium Chloride (Peladow brand ice melt or CaCl2 from a chemical shop) as will dissolve in purified water. Dose it separately from the Alkalinity additive. Mixing the two together or adding them to the aquarium where they can mix too soon is ineffective and forms solid Calcium Carbonate in a chemical reaction typically described as "snowing".  But dose this Calcium additive on the same schedule as the Alkalinity, using an amount based on the need as determined by Calcium testing. 350-450ppm is the desired range.
Determining the correct amount to dose: For example, taking a 100 gal tank, I would start by testing the Alk and Ca levels. If either are out of the desired range, I would add  ~1/4 cup of the needed component solution, then test the next day to see what difference it made, if any.  Then adjust the dosage accordingly, testing and watching the levels daily (or weekly if you are lazy like me) until I had figured out about how much to add to replce what the tank is using.
Tip: Dosing at the same time as feeding, helps keep it fairly regular and consistent.
Tip: Reef aquariums can handle it if the dosage moderately exceeds the levels of the desired range. Simply stop dosing for a few days and let the tank take care of the extra through natural processes. If a large amount is accidentally added (dang kids) a partial water change can help alleviate a problem.

Reefkeeping Tips, & quick, easy setup tricks:
Pay it forward - become a paid WMAS member

Posted By: dpdecaro
Date Posted: March 05 2006 at 11:45am


I was wondering if i should switch my  sand out i have in my little 18 gal nano reef. I just went and bought some play sand from sutherlands and put in there. I have had success with this sand in my bigger tank back home but is is a gray ish color. I have not seeded it yet. I put a couple piece of lr i bought from bird word (really expensive) but nothing else. If i should switch is there a possibility that some one could get some for and and some dead rock i could maybe buy from them. THanks for the information. I wish i saw this thread right after i moved down here.


Posted By: Mark Peterson
Date Posted: May 19 2006 at 9:31am
Play sand is usually silica. It is not made of Calcium Carbonate. Calcium Carbonate is the same thing as LR from the ocean. Utah Oolitic Sand and LBTR are Calcium Carbonate. This is essential to the proper functioning of a reef aquarium.
I usually have lots of Utah Oolitic Sand and LBTR at my place for anyone that wants it. All I ask is a little gas money to help with my next collecting trip. Simply call the phone number below to arrange a visit. I also have LS, LW, LR and Macroalgae. I give it away in reasonable quantities, sell it cheap in larger amounts.

Reefkeeping Tips, & quick, easy setup tricks:
Pay it forward - become a paid WMAS member

Posted By: griffith
Date Posted: May 19 2006 at 9:40am
Hey Mark,
Thanks for the great info.

Posted By: Adam Blundell
Date Posted: May 19 2006 at 9:43am
Play sand is usually silica. It is not made of Calcium Carbonate. Calcium Carbonate is the same thing as LR from the ocean. Utah Oolitic Sand and LBTR are Calcium Carbonate. This is essential to the proper functioning of a reef aquarium.
I'm still not convinced of this.  I think silica sand, legos, tufa rock, anything can be used well in an aquarium.  Jon doesn't think that aragonite even dissolves in our tanks (but I think it does).  Regardless, who cares?

Club Barbecue

Posted By: jfinch
Date Posted: May 19 2006 at 12:08pm
I agree with Adam about silica sand.  And I still don't think aragonite sand dissolves to any apprecable extent Tongue.

Jon" rel="nofollow - What I've been doing...

Posted By: Adam Blundell
Date Posted: May 19 2006 at 1:25pm

You see Jon here is the problem.  You and I disagree on the solubility of aragonite and the conditions of our sand beds.  Unfortunately I know that you are smarter than I am.  Therefore I don't usually bring up this topic because I know I must somehow be wrong. 

But don't tell anyone.Wink

Club Barbecue

Posted By: jfinch
Date Posted: May 19 2006 at 2:16pm

It doesn't really matter anyway... in the end it's just an academic discussion.  If your sand dissolves enought to keep your calcium and alk at desired levels then good for you.  Otherwise, use some other method (bionic, kalk, calcium reactors, etc) to supplement your dissolving sand.  I know in my system, my sand does not dissolve.  I've got the same amount of sand today that I had 2 yrs ago.  But maybe I don't have  a deep enough sandbed :shrug:.

Jon" rel="nofollow - What I've been doing...

Posted By: Mark Peterson
Date Posted: July 09 2006 at 5:49am
I agree. It seems to me that sand and rock may dissolve, but not fast enough to keep the stony coral growing like most of us want. We see a much healthier aquarium and much faster growth of Coralline algae, stony coral, clams and even soft coral when Alk, Ca, and Mg are supplemented according to needs as determined by testing.
But I cannot believe that a tank with Lego's for substrate would do as well as one with Aragonite/CaCO3 sand.
Note: a post above has been edited to provide info regarding making your own Alk and Ca additives and how to determine dosage. 

Reefkeeping Tips, & quick, easy setup tricks:
Pay it forward - become a paid WMAS member

Posted By: Redrock
Date Posted: September 06 2006 at 4:45pm
I am so ready to make the trip out west to gather some sand and rock. Old Lake Bonneville, who'da thunk it?
Hey I wish black lava rock was a good base rock substitue, I know where VERY MUCH of this stuff sits.

Posted By: dlongmore
Date Posted: November 09 2006 at 11:40am
Just made a trip out to get rock this last week and wanted to add some details to the discussion on the location. Including gps coordinates and a detailed map. The gps coordinates for the site we went to are (40 48.677' N and 112 32.119' W). The distance from 11 (turn off to broken arrow salt)  to 10 (turn off to dig site)  is 1.4 miles and from 10 (turn off to dig site to 9 (dig site) is .6 miles. Here is the a detailed picture. Enjoy.

Posted By: sukie
Date Posted: November 09 2006 at 11:54am
Nice area picture!

------------- - My Blog

Posted By: Mark Peterson
Date Posted: February 27 2007 at 6:54pm
Having fun being married in St. George. Big%20smile HeartHug
No more sand and rock collecting trips. Cry missing my "fishy" friends.
PC Pond builder has a nice LFS  here called umm... Artistic Aquariums. Drop in sometime. Smile
My new number is 435-669-0131 Smile

Reefkeeping Tips, & quick, easy setup tricks:
Pay it forward - become a paid WMAS member

Posted By: Jhamb
Date Posted: March 01 2007 at 9:15pm
WHOA!!! you move to st george?

I am definitly coming to get some free advice!!!

Called "the living art aquarium" BTWWink




Posted By: KludgeGuru
Date Posted: August 16 2007 at 9:02am
I just created a short tutorial with pics on cleaning Utah Sand.

I thought it would be nice to have a link to it from this thread: -


48x24x30 150g Suspended Reef
24x20x30 60g   FOWLR

Posted By: Mike Savage
Date Posted: August 16 2007 at 9:23am


Posted By: john hill
Date Posted: August 17 2007 at 10:39pm
this site rocks just wish I would have found when i started

out with the large and in with the nano

Posted By: brinton
Date Posted: September 10 2007 at 3:01pm
Thanks for the help finding the sand!  I'm working on my first tank this week! 
I didn't however find any LR.  I dug in the mud flats for a while.  Anyone have any to spare or trade for some LS?
And also just wondering if anyone has any suggestions on cleaning this sand.  What is a good way to do this?  I have screened all the sticks, roots, etc out.  Ultimately I don't want to lose the sand to my drain!

Posted By: Jamison
Date Posted: September 10 2007 at 3:38pm
Try this - -

Educate. Inspire. Conserve.

Posted By: Mike Savage
Date Posted: September 10 2007 at 3:42pm
Welcome Brinton!


Posted By: Kynneke
Date Posted: May 15 2008 at 1:52pm

Posted By: Newbreefer
Date Posted: May 24 2008 at 8:38pm
so once you've found the site with the sand and rock do you have to dig around for the rock or are they just kinda laying on the surface? i may be going monday to look for some. also to introduce this to an already established tank do i just need to make sure it's good and clean like described in the first few posts?

Posted By: Mark Peterson
Date Posted: May 26 2008 at 7:52pm
It's Monday already!
We used to find good rock just lying on the surface. Now it has to be dug up.
Cleaning is very important, but once the rock is thoroughly cleaned  with high pressure wash, it is sterile and almost unlimited amounts can be added to a tank, new or old.
The sand can be scooped up from the dunes on the way to the mudflats.Smile

Reefkeeping Tips, & quick, easy setup tricks:
Pay it forward - become a paid WMAS member

Posted By: Newbreefer
Date Posted: May 26 2008 at 10:50pm
thanks mark, i actually picked up 4 bins of it from Adam here in the forums who is relocating to NY soon. My concern with using the pressure washes is... dont they recycle the water they use? so don't i have a risk of contaminating the rock with soaps and such?

Posted By: Mark Peterson
Date Posted: May 27 2008 at 11:03am
I don't know about recycling, but the rinse cycle removes soap from the car so how could it leave soap in the rockConfused... I've never had a problem with this and I've done tons of it. I set the rocks against the side wall of the car wash, run down the line, turn the rocks, and repeat several times turning the rocks in between to get all the mud out. Prepare to get sprayed with mud as you go close into the holes in the rock.

Reefkeeping Tips, & quick, easy setup tricks:
Pay it forward - become a paid WMAS member

Posted By: Yindar
Date Posted: August 08 2008 at 6:54pm
Hello all,
Just heard about this awesome site from a new friend I have met in my area.  I'm starting a 210 gal tank and like others, wished I had known about this information on LBTR.  Would have saved me mega $$.  But live and learn.  Just made a trip and picked up around 400 to 500 lbs of the stuff.  The directions given for the Exit 62 between Salt Lake and Wendover were very good.  You can take a left at the fork in the dirt road instead of heading straight up, that is gradual incline instead of taking that straight up steep incline to the top.  You'll know you are on the right track if you pass a smassed up TV.  I was mind boggled myself.  Who would ever take a TV that far out just to trash it.  Wasn't shot up or anything.  At first I couldn't see the LBTR, seems most of it on the south side of the outcrop has been taken.  Thought I was in the wrong spot for a while there.  But found that a lot of it is on the north side of the outcrop and there is quite a good amount still left.  Can also find more up the road (east)(or take a right at the top of the platoe/steep incline)  and the next incline.  But if you come across some cement in the shape of an arrow, then you've gone to far.  Past that cement pad I didn't see any. 

Posted By: Mike Savage
Date Posted: August 08 2008 at 8:18pm
Welcome Yindar!


Posted By: Mark Peterson
Date Posted: August 10 2008 at 12:55am

Since we started collecting LBTR about 7 yrs ago, we have moved from spot to spot in search of the best stuff. That location once had a truckload of very choice, very porous pieces. Sounds like you came across some good stuff on that same hill where we probably removed 10 tons of it over the years.

 Looking south toward the freeway exit
Me with some old friends.
LBTR was so plentiful in those days that it was always doing things to get itself noticed "pick me, pick me..."
This is a prime piece that I still have not put in a tank. It's too fine to be used.

Reefkeeping Tips, & quick, easy setup tricks:
Pay it forward - become a paid WMAS member

Posted By: sterling18
Date Posted: December 31 2008 at 9:20am
Man, this thread and Utah is a blessing to our hobby.

Posted By: 1fishkeeper
Date Posted: December 31 2008 at 10:30am
Sterling18, This rock is some of the best for use in a tank.  Get what you need then just seed it with some LR.  You cant even tell that it came from the desert at all. 

"In time of peace sons bury their fathers, In times of war fathers bury their sons" King Croesus (575-546 B.C.)

Posted By: Mark Peterson
Date Posted: November 07 2009 at 2:08pm

Update regarding collecting Utah rock and sand.

The Utah Oolitic Sand is still available in the dunes west of the gravel road that runs along the west of Stansbury Island. Some people have used sand collected from the dunes south of the island on the east side of the road where the 4-wheelers play. That sand is not as clean and has flecks of black silica. It's okay to use but why not drive just a little further up the road to get the sand that is all white?
The best rock has all but disappeared from the places identified in this and more recent threads. All that is left in those locations is heavy stuff, twice the weight of the good rock. The good rock is still available. For the lightest and most porous Utah Rock, the good stuff, Smile please feel free to contact me by PM or at the phone # below.

Reefkeeping Tips, & quick, easy setup tricks:
Pay it forward - become a paid WMAS member

Posted By: chk4tix
Date Posted: December 15 2009 at 2:17pm
Has anyone been out this way since the big storm?  How deep is the snow out this way?  I would like to make a run out there on Friday.   

Original Crappy Reef Club Member #2

Posted By: fishoutawater
Date Posted: December 15 2009 at 9:04pm
If you could wait til Sat. maybe we could carpool?

Posted By: robyrob
Date Posted: June 18 2010 at 10:16pm
Found these today thanks mark for the info ;) looks like LBTR can someone confirm the pics for me just to be certain. If so I found a ton of it out by the mud flats. Dunno about the sand though, it just seems too fine of grain for me. I still need to wash it, maybe it will clear out the really small grains. Oh if you go out there watch out for the nude tanners lol. I think its some nudist colony developing out there, I would leave the kids at home.

my 14g bio cube: -

Posted By: chk4tix
Date Posted: June 18 2010 at 10:21pm
Well the sand out there is REALLY REALLY fine sand.  I put it in my 150g when I set it up.  However with my BSJ and other sand diggers it has become a pain. I always have sand in my water colum.  If I ever get the ambition to do so, I think I will switch it out.

Original Crappy Reef Club Member #2

Posted By: robyrob
Date Posted: June 18 2010 at 10:26pm
hmm maybe i will too. I was thinking i could buy some medium grade and throw it in there too, but i dunno

my 14g bio cube: -

Posted By: utahwatertoys
Date Posted: March 20 2011 at 10:26am
Is this information on where to get rock and sand still current?
I'm thinking of getting some this next weekend

Posted By: phys
Date Posted: May 27 2011 at 1:53am
hopefully it is, i may be going out there this saturday (5-29) to collect some.

Posted By: AceMan
Date Posted: January 10 2012 at 10:40pm
How was the luck of those that when looking for LBTR in 2011.  I'm putting together a 64 gallon 1/4 circle corner reef tank, and was told about the rock from a friend.  I'm probably looking at going out in a fiew weeks, if anyone has some good directions on where some might be found now days any help would be appreciated.

Posted By: Soehl
Date Posted: April 25 2012 at 1:32pm
Looks like I need to take a tour of Utah to get some free stuff!!  lol  I never thought of getting sand like that before...

180 Gallon Mixed Reef
Radion Pro LED
75 Gallon Elite Sump/Refugium

Posted By: rsay4654
Date Posted: June 22 2012 at 6:56am
Originally posted by Redrock Redrock wrote:

I am so ready to make the trip out west to gather some sand and rock. Old Lake Bonneville, who'da thunk it?
Hey I wish black lava rock was a good base rock substitue, I know where VERY MUCH of this stuff sits.
I have used tons of lava rock in my eef as base rock?? Its worked for me and a few other down here for years.

Posted By: Mark Peterson
Date Posted: November 13 2014 at 9:13am
I never saw nor answered the 3 year old post above about that rock. Just fyi that rock is nothing like the stuff I have and sell. 
Yes, Oolitic Sand is very fine. I don't recommend "sand throwing gobies" anyway so a layer of fine sand underneath courser sand makes for an awesome biological filter and a good provider of Alk and Ca.

Here is a pile of good looking Utah Rock:

Reefkeeping Tips, & quick, easy setup tricks:
Pay it forward - become a paid WMAS member

Posted By: Mark Peterson
Date Posted: November 28 2015 at 7:35pm
Another update to the list of Reefkeeping Tips:

What if using a few different types of Garlic Oil has not helped? What next, UV Sterilizer or a skimmer with Ozone?" rel="nofollow -

Mark  Hug

If fine Oolitic sand is flying around in the water, it is probably due to one or more of the following conditions:
- extra fine particles were not properly washed out before use
- water flow is too fast directly over the sand 
- insufficient time has elapsed for bacteria to build up a sticky sort of biofilm
- a layer of at least 1/2" of larger particle sand was not used over the top of the Oolitic sand

Reefkeeping Tips, & quick, easy setup tricks:
Pay it forward - become a paid WMAS member

Posted By: Mark Peterson
Date Posted: January 02 2016 at 8:49am
New thread added to the Reefkeeping Tips:

How to grow "bugs and worms" to aide in feeding Carnivores and Coral:" rel="nofollow -

Mark  Hug

Reefkeeping Tips, & quick, easy setup tricks:
Pay it forward - become a paid WMAS member

Print Page | Close Window