First things first, DO YOUR RESEARCH make sure that you are able to handle all of the time and money you are going to put into this project. They are expensive, take a lot of time, they are messy, and are pretty much impossible to move once they are set up, so only start once you are 100% sure you don't have to mve it to a different room, or to a different house.
There are a lot of tanks out there, from super iny one gallns to the huge 10 million gallon ocean tank in Atlanta, Georgia.
You may think that the recommended size for a beginner reefer is a smaller, nano tank (less than 50 gallons in display tank) because they are smaller and easier to manage. But this is not true. Since they are so small, there is greater risk of the nutrient levels in the water to spike to dangerous levels, since there is less water. But the mega tanks are also not good, because they need a lot of water (obvously) and are VERY expensive. Therefore, a recommended tank size for a beginner is 50 to 125 gallon tank.
You may think this will be expensive, but just waut until the dollar per gllon week at your local pet supply shop.
Also, try to get a tank with a suitable sized stand to it. If you are getting a tank that comes with a wood stand with literal twigs for legs, but there is a 100 gallon tank on top, don't get it. You can also buy a stand online, but the necessary tank size specifications can be a pain to do.
After you got your tank, its time to look for the rocks that will be the foundation for your design.
First, you will have to choose a kind of rock to use.
here are some of the cheapest and most common rocks on the market
After that, you will have to decide on how much rock to use.The general rule fo thumb is one pund per gallon in the display tank, but this isn't always true.
This i because all rocks have a different density. For a much lighter and larger rock like pukani, try to use 1 pound per 2 gallong. For something more dense like reef saver, you can use 2 pounds per gallons of display tank water.
Next, you will have to determine which kind of rock to use; live or dry
After your rock is done curing, you can now begin the aquascape :)
Many beginners don't really know how to make a really good aquascape, so they end up with just a wall of corals. Though that can look good in a well established tank, it is better to create a good aquascape.
To do this, segment the front of the aquarium into 9 seperate segments, by using something that can be removed easily, like tape. You'll notice that the tape makes a plus sign at 4 different points, so try to make the focus point of your aquascape at one of those points, espetially at one of the bottom ones.
Now that you have a design for your aquascape, now build it. Lay the rocks onto the glass bottom of the tank, and work your 2way up. If you pick a rock like pukani that has a lot of rubble, you can use that between the different rocks to make a more seamless look. To make the scape more stable, you can use certain types of super glue to glue them in place, ore, for bigger aquacapes, you can even drill holes and use plastic rods to hold them together.
You also want to make sire it is stable. You can test this by tapping the rocks, as if you were a large fish eating algae off the rocks. If they don't move at all when you do this, the rocks are probable stable enough.
It ay not lok like it, but the sand in your tank is a filter. It contains good populations of bebeficial bavrteris that turn toxic compounds into other less toxic chemicals.
It is important for ALL reefers to use live sand. It contains already a good population of beneficial bacteria, so your tank will cycle faster.
there are also many different sizes of sand. There are some that have a grain size so small that the smallest movement of water sends it all up into the water, while you can also buy coral rubble. It is recommended to get a fine grain sand that doesn't lifr intot he water easily, so there is less surface area for algae to grow, and it is easier to get the algae put of the sand.
It is recommended to have at least an inch of sand on the bottom of your tank, so fish poo and leftover food can slowly make its way to the bottom of the sandbed out of sight where it can them be processed by bacteris.
Now that ou have your sand, you can put it into the tank. Just dump it into the tank and spread it around the base of the rocks. Again, you will want to test the roks for stability.
When most people think of a filter, they think of a particulate filter, where the water passes through a foam like think, filtering out the solids in the water. Or perhaps even a carbon filter, getting rid of the toxins in the water. However, many people are confused when they see a filter section of a saltwater aquaium, as there is few to no traditional filter. This is because most fo the "filtration" is dont by bacteria, decomposing toxing to other, less harmful substances that can be more easily taken out bu other "filtration" methods, like a protein skimmer.
This is the MOST important piece of equipment that cleans the water. Without one, it will be very hard to maintain a good tank, let alone any at all. They produce a lot of bubbles, which form a biofilm of thing like bacteria, which take some toxic compounds along with them. The bubbles then travel up a tube where they spill over and pop into a cup, taking the toxins with them.
A filter sock is really the only "tradiional" filter in a reef tank. They are basically just fancy and expensive socks. They filter out large particulates like leftover food and fish poo that ake it through the tank. They are a part of keeping the water crystal clear.
These pieces of equipment are a bit strange. They look like a bottle full of rocks. That is sort of what theya are. Some people only run a carbon bac whch filters out toxins. But GFO is also good, as it removes the chemicals that algae needs to grow. However, GFO has the tendency to form a rock if it is on its own, so it is often mixed with activated carbon to keep it from forming a rock. This is a carbon/GFO reactor
A refugium is a very simple filter for a tank. It is a sectioned-off pert of the tank, usually seperate from the min display tank, that houses variuos kinds of algae and inverts that can clean the water even more. The algae absorbs the nutrients in the water that algae needs to grow, limiting the amount of algae that can be seen in the display tank. A refugium can just be a box with holes in it that water passes through, but it can also be a second disply tank, with beatutiful purples, reds, and greens of different kinds of algae, as well as other creatures like bristle stars. There are also some corals that are thought to absorb nutrients like invasive algae does, like corals from the Xenia genus, that can also, theoretically, be used to clean the water in a refugium. Refugiums are also used to lessen the pH spikes that happen in the water at night. This happens because there is no photosynthesis f algae in the tank when the lights are off, causing the pH of the water to go up. To counteract this, people put a refugium with algae in it, and turn on the light given to it at night, so photosynthesis is still cleaning the water 24/7
Rememmber when i said that a protein skimmer is the most important form of filtration? Well, I lied. It is actually bacteris. Bacteria does what other technology cant do; get rid of the toxins in the water. All other expensive forms of water purification that can do this? yup, they are based off bacteria. Without this bacteria, it would be near impossible to maintain a good reef tank. In fact, it is almost impossible to have a tank without this bacteria. They are present in everything that we put in the tank. They can even come from the AIR!
After all of this is put into consideration, you may think it is time to put some fish? Wrong. The tank has to cyle first. This is to make sure that there is enough beneficial bacteria in the tank to keep a fish alive. If you set up a tank that is under 15 gallons (don't do this unless you have at least 1 year of having good water parameters and never any problems, or you have no other choice) you can dump in a jar of this bacteria, and you can add your fish then. However, if you have more than that, you have to cycle the tank with the lights off and all the filtration on for at least a week, then you can add your clean up crew and your first fish