My daughter beat cancer so I'm building her an aquarium... a little help please!


Reefing newb
My daughter was diagnosed with leukemia three years ago. Ever since she saw Nemo, she always wanted to have a tank with Nemo and Dory in it. For the past three years, she's been fighting her illness off. Due to time constrictions and money being tight, we couldn't afford a sea water setup. To begin with, I know nothing about aquariums. My daughter (who is now 12) did ALL the research on Internet on her own last year and wrote a lot of notes for me to look at.

Yesterday we learned she was in remission. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how OVERLY excited and happy we are. She'll be able to come home in a month. I immediately told my wife I wanted to set up an aquarium before she returned, and my wife had the same idea before we had even exchanged our idea. We can afford it now, we have been saving for this for some time. Our budget is 4000$ for everything, including corals and fishes and tank. It's not very high but I understand it should be sufficient to get something nice.

I read my daughter's notes again and have questions. I don't want to ask her these questions since it would spoil the surprise. She would know immediately what I was preparing. She's the smartest kid I know By the way, I know the aquarium will never be ready to receive fishes in a month as it takes longer for the ecosystem to prepare, but even then, she will be very excited to know Nemo and Dory will be here soon.

The only thing I already have is a 5 stage RO filter to make my own RO water (which is not to be included in the budget). I was planning to make my own salt water, buy fishes and corals locally, but I order the lights, tanks and other things online as there are better deals to be found.

I was looking at a Red Sea Max 250 at first because it seems to come with everything, but I was wondering if such a system really came recommended? We have an empty 5'x5' space we made in the living room for the aquarium. After we have it we plan to have a library built around it.

Ultimately (and I know it's her ultimate dream because she wrote it in pink and bold) she'd like to have seahorses in the tank. She wrote they can breed under the right condition, but that they require more experience to handle. She also wrote sea horses cannot co-habit with every species, but she needed to research the topic more.

Are clown fishes, surgeon fishes and sea horses capable of co-habiting? What about those blue and yellow emperors? She loves those too.

Basically I'm still in the planning stage of budgeting and listing everything I need so when I order I know I'll have everything I need. I just want to make sure I do not mess it up for her!

I thank you very much for your assistance! :)

Gabriel Hoffer
Welcome aboard! And wow, what a story! It is so great that your daughter is getting well. I am so happy for you guys.
As for the tank, the all inclusive set ups like the Red Sea are ok. I have no idea how well the skimmer works (don't they have an inclusive skimmer?). However there are cheaper ways of setting up that work just as well if not better. I bought my reef ready (which means the tank is drilled and has a built in overflow) aquarium on craigslist. Read up on sumps and saltwater systems and decide what would be best for you.
As far as your fish selection, no, unfortunately seahorses can only be kept with very few other species of fish that also eat very slowly and wont pester the seahorses. clownfish and surgeonfish can go together but not with the seahorses. Also, most surgeonfish need a very long aquarium to thrive. Aquarium Fish: Tropical Freshwater Fish and Saltwater Fish for Home Aquariums is a great resource when looking at the requirements of individual species of fish and even coral if you go down that road.
Welcome to the site! And WOW! Congrats on your daughter's remission!! That's definitely a good reason to celebrate!

Time is of the essence -- I suggest you get 2 or 3 good pieces of live rock and some live sand from the LFS to speed up the cycling process. Even if you get those, you'll still have to wait a week to account for die-off from the rock, but still faster than a normal cycle.

Definitely refer to the site chichi mentioned --- they are a great guide to what fish you can and can not have for your tank size. I suggest to stick with it.

Some buying guides for the clownfish, get some bigger sized ones, so they'll have a better chance of surviving...last thing you want is for the fish to die not long after your daughter gets home.

Your 66g tank will allow you to have maximum 6 or 7 fish, so plan it well, and start with the most docile fish first. Also take into account if a fish is reef-safe or not. Most Angels I believe are not reef safe.

I would suggest against a seahorse tank at this point, because you are in a time constraint to properly set one up. But when you're ready, we have a few seahorse experts here that can give you all the information to start with :)
Yes I was reading up on blue tangs and apparently they need a MINIMUM of 180gallons to thrive.. *gulp*

I was thinking looking around and it may be more economical to buy a refugium (or tank? what's the difference?) like 72x18x30 inches and then get the components separately? There is a shop 15min from me (reefsolutions) that has a huge selection.

How many fishes could I fit in a 110g tank like this?
ReefSolution Magasin En Ligne: 72X18X29 150 gal. Noir Aqueon Overflow

The thing is, I'll have to figure out everything else I need and write up an Excel sheet to sheet how much it'd cost.

Thanks for your help, I will check out those sites!
So is it a 110 or 150? It says 150....if so, you can get a lot of great fish with that :D Typical rule of thumb is 1 fish per 10g...but also taking into account each individual fish's needs (meaning no sticking a tang in a 10g, even if it's the only fish LOL )

We have quite a few Canadians here....I'm sure they'll chime in to let you know of other LFS's near you besides that one.

Remember, don't rush the livestock! You can put a lot of corals in, but with fish, you can only add 1 or 2 (maybe 3 in a large tank -- I've done that) at a time, and wait several weeks or a few months before adding more to give your tank time to adjust to the new bioload.

A refugium is just a place you put algae like Chaetomorpha in so it grows and keeps your nitrates down. It can hang on the back, or typically placed in a sump (making sure it doesn't get sucked into your pump).
There are other tangs that would live in a 110gallon A yellow tang and a kole tang come to mind. The only thing about tangs is that they can be aggressive and should be some of the last fish to be added.

Id say try and get the tank cycled and a clown or two in there and go on from there, there are many beautiful saltwater fish to choose from and I bet your daughter would love that process :) You dont even have to have corals right away, you could start with a fowlr (fish only with live rock) and get the lights (these can be pricey) and corals at a later date, just make sure you pick all reef safe livestock.

Glad to hear the little one is doing great :)
So I could just get tank, some live rock and fishes and be on my merry way? No need for sumps and skimmers? Or are these assumed to be automatically included when we say "tank"?

I see you are from NS, so hello :) Do you have a favorite online store in Canada?
I only deal with local ones in Halifax, and my local pets unlimited when I have to. Im in sydney so any shipping past that cost me Wayyyyyyyy too much :)

Ive also dealt with a vendor from moncton, but given his mostly dead livestock and rude attitude, I will most likely never deal with him again.

You could get the tank, sand and live rock and get it started, but for a big tank like that you will want a skimmer. I know you can get a hob (hang on back) skimmer, but im not sure if you can get one for that size tank. I only have a 55g that I run with just water changes, but someday I will get a skimmer.

The fishies will have to go in after the tank cycles though, that usually takes about 4 weeks or so. youll need some test kits to monitor that cycle.

You can also buy mostly dry rock to save on live rock, I got mine from a canadian site Eco-Reefer, The finest marine rock in Canada! and loved it. You can get dry sand from them as well. Just use a few pounds of live rock to seed the dry rock.

Even if the tank isnt fully cycled before your daughter gets home she can come with you to pick out the clowns, if you get two make sure one is bigger then the other or they will fight :) Best of luck
If you have your heart set on certain fish, then you can plan your tank around that. I got a 125 because I wanted tangs.

I agree it would be great to shop for fish and corals with your daughter. So get your tank and equipment, and start your cycle. by the time she gets home, hopefully the cycle will be done and she can go shopping with yoy, which is the fun part. I think she would appreciate that part.

Don't forget to budget for lights. LED's are great but expensive, but metal hallides might have cime down in price.

When you are ready for fish, make sure to pick brightly colored fish and have the lfs feed them before you choose one, to make sure they are eating. Also avoid small babies. olser fish tebd to be sturdier.
This would fit too and it's 180gal!
ReefSolution Magasin En Ligne: 72x24x24 180 gal Perçée avec 2x CORNER-FLO et Durso

I'd really love it if I could get a blue tang because Dory and Nemo are really her favorite pairs...

I'm gonna look around your wonderful forums for some guides because even if I get a 180 gal tank I'm quite sure I'll be needing a lot more material!

You have touched many hearts, most of us know someone who has beat one form of cancer or another.. congrats... we feel your joy. So you will be getting lots of help!!

The tank in this link is a "drilled" tank and accommodates a sump below where the return pump, skimmer, and "sea weed" (actually cheato) lives. The pump, sump, and skimmer would be additional expenses. That type of system requires live rock to work naturally. There are ways to save money on the live rock (LR). Another way to speed things along is if you can get a few gallons of water from an up and running reef tank to add into your first water fill. I suggest you purchase several pounds of "dry rock", this is LR that has been dried out. Add a few pounds of LR to that so seed the tank. Dry rock is usually ordered on-line, maybe someone on the forum from your area knows where to get some... so this is their chime to post that information.

A drilled tank is by far the best way to go... so "someone" did their homework. AND.. IMO.. Nemo and Dori are perfect fish to add to the tank as first fish.. I'd add one Nemo first. then later Dori... then next either a smaller or a larger Nemo.. but not the same sized. During that time you can be adding the clean-up crew.. snails, hermits, pods.. don't worry we will get you up to speed.

How about you give us the first name of your daughter so we can be more personal and warm with our help.

Sort through the posts and I'm sure you will have "plenty" of information.

I suggest you leave the sea horse tank for her to have as a project later, after everyone is more versed into the eco and technologies.. sea horses and most reef fish generally require two different set-ups, and sea horses tend to be more difficult than is recommended for a first tank.... and... don't need to be as big.

To help us.. with fitting your budget.. would your budget be able to upgrade some things later in some cases? .. this is a factor forum members can consider as we recommend lighting. It comes in all price ranges. For fish only and no coral at first you can save a fair amount off the budget on lighting. At a later date when you are ready for coral, upgrading the lighting may be necessary. To get this up and running quickly, I highly suggest you go fish only for now. When running coral on that sized tank lighting could easily get over $1000.

So, for YOUR homework, you would be wise to search this forum for information on live rock, skimmers, clean-up crews, and sumps... to get your brains up to speed. Then.. ask questions... help is not going to be the problem!
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Another suggestion... and I think may be a good one!
Seek (maybe someone on here is a member, hint, hint) a local reef tank club and tell them your story. I'm betting my hat you will get LOTS OF HELP! and very possibly LOTS of free stuff. :D

...If that connection happens you have an excellent chance of pulling this off to the "blow her mind" level. :bounce:

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Another suggestion... and I think may be a good one!
Seek (maybe someone on here is a member, hint, hint) a local reef tank club and tell them your story. I'm betting my hat you will get LOTS OF HELP! and very possibly LOTS of free stuff. :D

...If that connection happens you have an excellent chance of pulling this off to the "blow her mind" level. :bounce:


I would have to agree with Randy on this one. If you find a reef club, I am willing to bet you will receive a ton of help and some free stuff. I know if something like this went on in our club here in DFW, we would take donations, either equipment or money and provide it to this sort of cause.
Hello and Welcome!

Just to clear up a few things, water has very little of bacteria in that process the fish waster, so adding it wont speed your cycle, but the more live rock you get, the faster the tank will cycle. The vast majority of bacteria is in the rocks.

Second, get the clown fish at the same time. If you get one before the other, there is much greater chance of the new fish being bullied to death. Like mentioned, get two that are different sizes, but make sure they are the same species.

Other than that, +1 to everyone!
Hey guys,

Thanks a lot for your help! I spent two hours in the aquarium store yesterday eyeing the selection.

My wife would prefer we got an L shapped aquarium in which each leg measures 4 feet rather than get one long aquarium of 8 - 6 feet. Problem is, I can't seem to find them. Only corner tanks I saw were circular.

Joining a club had not even occurred to me and I don't even know if they exist but I will check it out for sure.

Still plenty of reading for me to do!