Week 23: Clean-up crew, how many do I need? | 52 Weeks of Reefing

Today on BRSTV we are going to clean up this
tank Hey guys my name is Ryan, welcome to another
week of the BRS 160 where every week we do our best to help you guys, members of the
reefing community enjoy your tanks and find new ways to explore the hobby. We do that
by following the set up and progression of this one hundred and sixty gallon reef tank. Today we are going to add some new livestock
to the tank with the primary focus being on clean-up crews. We are going to share some
information on the purpose of a clean-up crew, different approaches to this, details on some
popular livestock choices and a few tips you probably haven’t considered before. Before we get too far we need share some disappointing
news. The fire fish we added in a previous week didn’t make it. It is always difficult
to know why some fish just do well, doubly so in a situation like this with a large well
cycled tank that has constant ammonia monitoring, no aggressive tank mates and obvious signs
of illness or parasites on the fish themselves. End of the day we couldn’t identify anything
wrong with the system , we did a one hundred percent water change to provide us a bit of
peace of mind and added fang and sir chops a lot to the tank. Some of you may remember
fang and sir chomps a lot from the how to set up a saltwater tank series we did back
in two thousand eleven. They have since received well deserved names from their desire to bite
any hand that enters their domain. These little guys have been with us a long
time and made the rounds here with a handful of different tanks here at BRS. Their current
owner just moved to Florida so it just seemed like it was meant to be that they become the
star of the show in the BRS160 as well. I think all of us, the brs team, brs community,
fang and sir chomps allot have come a long way since 2011 and I’m pretty excited to
see them in here even though I know it means I am going to get bit quiet frequently. So on to today’s topic with clean-up crews.
What exactly is a clean-up crew’s purpose in the tank? The name suggests and common
perception is adding livestock which is going to help keep your tank clean by eating algae,
detritus or other unwanted pests. Reefers also simply like adding diversity
to the tank with crabs, stars, shrimp and snails however these two contradictory desires
are really at odds with each other in ways most reefers don’t fully understand. I think it is really important to point out
the break in the road here between attempting to maintaining a healthy population snails,
crabs and other cleaners in the reef tank that have a side benefit of keeping algae
and other pests in check and attempting to use them as for the sole purpose of algae
control because the clean-up crew methodology is commonly seriously misunderstood and more
often than not results in the exact opposite results the reefer intended in both of these
cases. We are going to look at this from two vantage
points starting with how to introduce, build and maintain a clean-up crew in a brand new
tank as well as from the vantage point of using them to help contain and reduce an existing
outbreak. Let start with a newer tank’s clean-up crew.
In this case most reefers would add snails, crabs and other livestock because they want
to maintain these cool little critters long term as well as keep algae and other pests
at bay. Here is the thing it is all too common for companies or even other reefers to promote
tank cleaner packages which have a strong potential to have the exact opposite effect
of killing the creatures you are taking care of as well as polluting the water and promoting
nuisance algae growth. This is primarily because clean-up crew packages
common to our industry often state that you need two to three hundred crabs and a hundred
plus snails for a tank like the BRS one sixty. While a lot of reefers including myself have
followed that advice at one point or another many reefers have learned from that experience
and wouldn’t do it again because the survivability of that many new tank inhabitants is not very
high. In this case if we added upwards of four hundred
hungry little mouths to the tank and maintained the only source of food which currently is
just half a cube a day of frozen Mysis we feed the fish. You don’t have to be a marine
biologist to understand that a brand new tank and a small amount of food like this is not
going to be enough to support that type of population. Especially those that are highly
dependent on fresh algae growth. The few pieces of Mysis the fish don’t eat
will likely be scavenged by lucky members of the clean-up crew, the pieces that are
not found as well as the biological waste from the fish and other creatures that eat
the food will breakdown into nutrients like nitrogen and phosphate critical for plant
or algae growth. The new algae growth will go on to feed some portion of the four hundred
critters you just added but most are going to starve in this environment. So here is the conundrum. This half a cube
of food, including everything it breaks down into and resulting additional food sources
is not even close to enough nutrients for these four hundred little critters. So to
help make sure these guys stay healthy you are either going to have to start adding more
food and or reduce water changes to let the nutrient levels rise and support more algae
growth as a food source which is absolutely counter initiative to trying maintain a low
nutrient tank and fend off algae. So what happens if you don’t feed them appropriately
and just let them fend for themselves? Well then the four hundred little mouths that are
supposed to be preventing the spread of algae in your tank start to become nutrient source
for the algae growth they are supposed to be preventing. If the snails and crabs are
unable to locate food in the tank they are going to start eating each other, particularly
the crabs going after the snails, as well as consuming fat and protein stores within
their own bodies to survive. Consuming themselves or each other produces
unwelcome nutrients as waste very similar to if they were consuming actual food. If
you don’t plan on keeping them alive , More or less each one of them are little nutrient
batteries for the tank, as they slowly starve to death they add nutrients from eating themselves
or each other to the tank. Eventually many die of starvation at which point basically
all of the nutrients this organism has ever has consumed and stored in its tissue is broken
down and released into the tank feeding more algae growth. There are some additional lesser known elements
here. Many of these critters simply do very poorly in the aquarium. Margarita snails almost
always have very short lived lives because they come from cooler waters and don’t do
well in warm aquariums. Popular turbo snails can also have a fairly
short life span in the aquarium if they are collected from subtropical locations like
the shores of California, there are Mexican variations of turbo snails that do much better
but it’s difficult for the average hobbyist to know where they come from. There are all kinds of star fish, crabs, snails,
cucumbers, shrimp, urchins and other critters that just don’t do well in the aquarium,
even more so when there is heavy competition for their only food source or they are under
attack from other hungry tank mates. When they die they will result in increased nutrients
in the tank and promote algae growth. It is pretty hard to count every crab and
snail but I would say a vast majority of reefers who add hundreds of these little critters
when they start a brand new tank in hopes of preventing algae growth end up with a small
fraction of them alive in a years’ time and a lot of unwanted nutrients and potentially
algae issues. Even if you are ok with that, consider your
clean-up crew disposable elements in the tank and buy refill or replenisher packs to replace
the dead ones you absolutely should consider how many nutrients all these corpses are adding
to the tank and how that might really be the cause of many of your issues in the first
place and not the solution. End of story everyone has their own opinion
on this type of thing and how many snails and crabs you need that is based on our individual
experiences but I will say the advice that you need one to two hermits and one snail
per gallon of reef tank is not based on keeping these things alive or maintaining a low nutrient
tank that naturally prevents algae growth to begin with. the fact that most of huge packages like this
also sell replenisher packs right next to them tend to indicate that that everyone understands
that most tanks are not going to support this many mouths naturally or the livestock included
in the kit has a very high mortality rate. Net result is while these months might scavenge
a lot of algae and keep the tank clean but it isn’t a good method of reducing nutrients
added to the tank which is the larger cause of the issue or real fit a mindset that everything
in the tank is really a pet and member of the household. Fact is livestock is going
to die on occasion but a lot of them were going to die in the wild as well so we don’t
need to overwhelm ourselves with guilt but we should try and treat the animals well and
at least attempt to keep them alive. Regardless of your position on that if you treat the
tank with respect you will likely be a more successful reefer in general. So if one snail per gallon is too many for
a tank, particularly a brand new tank with no algae and very little nutrients, what number
should we shoot for? Well keeping in mind that these guys are not supposed to be the
primary component of algae control. They are really supposed to function as secondary component
to an overall plan to prevent algae which has to include proper feeding, husbandry,
solid maintenance like water changes and skimmer upkeep. If the only barrier preventing you from having
a major algae outbreak is you have an immense amount of mouths just barely eating algae
faster than your tank can produce it I can guarantee you are going to run into some pretty
major issues sooner or later. So with that said we are going to make a recommendation
that is much closer to one snail per ten gallons of water. Keep in mind that if you have a
robust system that gets fed a ton your tank might support more but the concept should
be to match the amount of snails to the amount of available food. I also don’t think a simple rule like that
covers the entire picture. We need to think about habitat and type of food source as well.
For instance trochus snails spend a lot of time on the glass or rock surface which makes
that their primary habitat and algae, diatoms and cyano their primary food source. Nassarius
snails spend most of their time stirring things up under the sand eating detritus, waste and
uneaten foods. Cerith snails can be found all over the tank but most often on top of
the sand or substrate eating cyano, diatoms and algae. So I would try and get a mix of
different snails that spend their time in different areas of the tank. So the big question is so the one snail per
ten gallons means total snails or specific to each type of snail. Well keep in mind that
these are basically rules of thumb so a really established tank that gets fed a lot could
likely sustain sixteen of each type of snail in this one hundred and sixty gallon tank.
However with a brand new tank like this I am probably going to start with a third to
half of that and increase the volume as I increase the food source. So what about small hermit crabs like the
blue leg? I think it is a judgment call here but I’d likely shoot for the same volume
of with one per ten gallons. The thing about hermits is while they do go after certain
types of algae , cyano and various waste in the tank when that food supply is scarce they
are very likely to kill other tank mates like snails or in rare cases even go after certain
types of corals. As they grow they will also absolutely kill snails for their shells. If you want to keep hundreds of hermits in
the tank you have to replace the snails frequently and likely increase the feeding substantially
to maintain a proper food source for that volume of tank inhabitants. In more cases
than not the few hundred you add will dwindle to a more stable number, probably closer to
that one or two per ten gallons. Outside of that there are a ton of little
critters like various stars, shrimp, other crab types, sea slugs, urchins and cucumbers
which can all help keep the tank clean as well. For the most part I’d say they are
all optional and id add them to the tank more because you are interested in keeping it in
the tank rather than what it can do for the tank. Couple notables, urchins in particular can
be really effective at removing stubborn algae patches however they tend to drag a lot of
corals around and the spines are super painful if you ever get stuck by one. Emerald crabs are a great idea because almost
all of you are doomed to encounter bubble algae at some point in your reefing career.
Emerald crabs can often keep this issue at bay and you may never even know you have bubble
algae. Like other crabs if they don’t get enough to eat they will likely go after other
livestock. Same thing can be said of peppermint shrimp,
some species will eat aptasia and a good idea to have in the tank prior to the problem rather
than after. They may just completely prevent an issue no one wants to deal with. However
if there isn’t enough food they will also go after tank mates and in some cases corals. Lastly all kinds of fish should be considered
part of your clean-up crew as well. Tangs, rabbit fish, dwarf angles, and bennies are
aggressive algae eaters. I have seen many cases where a single tang is effectively hiding
a nutrient issue in a tank because they are so aggressive about finding and eating all
of the algae in the tank… I personally think fish like tanks are likely the most effective
member of the clean-up crew. Be aware that all of these options have the potential to
nip at or even eat corals if you let them go hungry long enough and once they have a
taste for corals it’s over. Sand sifting gobies are one of the coolest
ways to keep your sand turned over, clean and free of cyano or detritus. I will say
they do not do well in newer tanks, and by don’t do well I mean will probably waste
away and die if there isn’t an established microfauna population in the sand or a significant
amount of food or waste is not present in the sand. For instance we have a thriving
diamond back goby in the clown harem tank but that tank had been up for a year before
we added him, there is a ridiculous amount of food added to the tank every day, and thirty
fishes worth of waste settling out in the sand. One last piece of this I want to add in as
a component of your clean-up crew is a healthy microfauna population like copepods and amphipods
will process waste throughout the tank and many reefers theorize consume algae before
it has a chance to take hold or spread. I can’t confirm this claim but I do see it
as one of the many advantages associated with maintaining a thriving refugium designed to
increase micro fauna populations. Ok time to move on to the second vantage point
associated with using a clean-up crew to help with an established algae outbreak. You can
absolutely use crabs, snails, fish and sea slugs help with your problem but only if you
acknowledge that this isn’t a cure and the reason you are having this problem is because
you are likely feeding too much food, not exporting enough waste with water changes
or skimmer or you are over lighting the tank with intensity or the wrong spectrum. These
are the real causes on most cases. The clean-up crew is just treating a symptom of the real
issue. That means once the critters eat all of the
algae or available food source in the tank you need to remove them before they die and
release all those nutrients back into the tank. That means give them to a friend, try
and get some credit from a local fish store or even just give them back to the store for
free when you are done with them. As unattractive as giving them away for free sounds it’s
better than letting them die, producing nutrients and feeding an algae growth issue you just
solved. My best advice for anyone trying to fight
an active algae outbreak like this is physically remove as much as possible by hand to get
the organic matter and nutrients out of the tank permanently. Killing algae or letting
it get eaten may help with the visible issue but the nutrients are still in the tank. After removing as much as possible by hand
we suggest a string of five or six large thirty percent water changes a couple days apart
which basically removes one hundred percent of the water and then take a long hard look
at your feeding, lighting and maintenance habits. If that doesn’t work try some nutrient removal
medias like GFO, a large but temporary clean-up crew or try something new like a more permeant
approach to maintaining a ultra-low nutrient system like Zeovit which almost never has
major nutrient or algae issues. So what did we do with the BRS160? based on
the what described above we added a few hermits to each rock pile, six or seven cerith snails,
about the same nassarius snails, and around ten astrea snails split up between the glass
various rock piles. I will say if they had been available I would
have picked up trochus snails rather than the astreas because the BRS team here has
had more success with them. This photo is a demonstration Chad produced of how trochus
snails perform verses the popular turbo species of snails from Mexico. Trochus also can flip themselves over fairly
easy and we have seen them successfully reproduce themselves in an aquarium environment which
makes them cooler as well. Soon as I see trochus available at my supplier I will probably swap
out the astreas with trochus and give the astreas away. We also added a single emerald crab to each
rock structure. Not only will they keep the bubble algae away Chad also maintains a tank
with emeralds he uses to clean frags up and those photo is an example of what they do
to the frags overnight which is pretty amazing. We also added some peppermint shrimp as a
general scavenger as well as to keep aptasia at bay. While we were at it we added some
fun elements with a couple pom-pom crabs, some blotchy anthias and a Randal’s goby
with his friend the candy pistol shrimp. Tank is really starting to come together.
I hope you were able to pick up something valuable related clean-up crews today. If
that’s the case give us quick thumbs up and subscribe so you don’t miss out on next
week’s episode. Week twenty four chemical filtration.

100 thoughts on “Week 23: Clean-up crew, how many do I need? | 52 Weeks of Reefing

  1. Excellent video as always! Ok so let's say that I need a couple of snails for my established 10G tank. How do I go about to prevent any pests from entering my tank? I'm currently dealing with Aptasia, already got rid of those pesky flatworms and have hydroids. So I'm trying not to add another nice pest!

  2. I never had much luck with firefishes myself either. That said I might know why but in general they seem to be very fragile

  3. how much time shud i keep any invertebrate for drip acclamtion??
    i usually keep my new fishes for drip acclamtion in a broad bucket… shud i keep invertebrates in the same bucket or another one??

  4. I'm looking to buy a clean up few this weekend and would like to buy some snails crabs shrimp and a star fish how much of each should I invest per my 55 gallon tank

  5. Thanks. This must be the best info I ever found. I'm not totally new to this and what I just heard just confirms what I figured out over time. The most valid advice so far.

  6. Do you recommend quarantining your clean up crew? How would you do that? And how would you treat/notice any pests etc? Thank in advance! 🙂

  7. several years ago I had a reef aquarium that crashed and it was within 3 months of setting up the tank. My emerald crab started to eat my coral and didn't know why. I even asked my fish store and they didn't know either. After watching BRS, I now know why. If you want to keep a cleanup crew permanently and not remove them because they seems cool to have, what you do when you run out of algae?

  8. Love this series. I'm buying my first home in a month and can't wait to get a saltwater setup going. I've some 350 gallons of mixed freshwater tanks but always wanted to do a reef once I have a bigger (and permanent) fish room. What's a good size for starting? I was thinking around 200 gallon with a big sump- making it easier to have consistent parameters in a larger water volume.

  9. I suggest even if you don't have an algae problem keep a small clean up crew ( very small like a snail per 20 or 25 gallons) that way if you mess up the nutrients the tank will still look good

  10. you need to take a breath or a pause in-between talking. it's way to monotone…or hard to listen to..this is just my opinion

  11. I have a Zebra Moray Eel in my 120 gallon reef tank. Do you think I should have crabs in my clean up crew or would the eel probably eat them?

  12. my trochus reproduced while i was on vacation. but when i had astreas they actually where better at algea removal.

  13. I have to ask about the goby being added at this time. In this video, and in one of the previous ones it was stated to add such fish at a later time to ensure the tank is established and has plenty of food. So why did you go against that and add one already?

  14. I have a pair of wheelers gobies and pistol shrimp trio. I ordered an emerald crab however i'm wondering if it is going to be a pest. Any suggestions ?

  15. What is that at 6:20? The round ball? I recently(days) started my 16gal, used water, sand and some scraps of live rock from a huge tank move. I found two that are bright orange(a bit colorblind) and .25" diameter. Close up it looks to have patterns in the color.

    Any info would be great. They're super bright colored and I hope they grow into something nice. Thanks

  16. Do you have any advice on sea slug or nudibranch care? Everyone i talk to says theybare just tank nukes but i really want to add one to my tank when i start it.

  17. 1 snail. 6 blue red crabs. .. good enough for a 110 gal.. no issues. . Fishes and corals still alive. 5yrs plus. Under great skimmer and water change 1 every 3 weeks .. 2 volitan 1 yellow tang.. stars and shrimps

  18. Can a simple guy like me buy animals from usa?
    I really love that invertebrates, but i cant find him to sell on my country, and if i can buy, did them survive?

  19. Hey Ryan and BRS, awesome video as usual. I have a question about the timing/order of all of this. Brand new to hobby, but we went all-in with a 180G tank and 75G sump (~45G water). We are following what you did for the ULM tank – we added Bio-Spira and have phantom-fed the tank for 10 days, and plan to stock it this weekend with macro algae and the pod/phyto packs from Algaefarm. Question is when to add the first fish livestock, clean-up crew, and the order of doing it. The first livestock to the tank were going to be a Clown pair. After that – I'm lost. Do I add the clean-up crew right away? Do we wait a week or more? Should I wait a week after adding the macro algae and pods before adding the fish/cuc? Seems like you dropped the cuc right in with the clowns. You guys are great, thanks!

  20. Just FYI fish of hex has copied your clean up crew video like word for word copied might wanna look into that hate to see all you alls hard word get diminished by people who want to copy you I don’t mind them copying you but word for word down to the tee is a little much for my blood have a great day love your content

  21. Great video. That's a nice looking aquarium and stand. What's the brand and model? How much is something like that?

  22. Astraea snails suck, once they fall game over. Nerite have done awesome in my tank and very hardy, turbos rock but they will knock over everything lol

  23. I would do somewhere around the order of 20 snails and hermit crabs so as to keep the competition to a minimum.

  24. So are snails more effective when it comes to cleaning rather than hermit crabs or so? I have a 20g, should i add 2 snails and thats it ?

  25. Firefish are active and happy until they are frightened and goe into shock..I found its best to use Damsels as first fish then remove them to add more mild mannerd fish.

  26. I have 1 turbo and 3 hermits for my entire 35 gallon. they've been alive for a long time now and my tank stays fairly clean!

  27. Would scrubbing a rock in a tub of Rodi / freshly changed or even new saltwater to remove stubborn hair algae or algae's in general a good idea? Or do you think that it would cause any type of nutrients spine once added back?

  28. I ordered 3 blue leg hermits from live aquaria, they sent me 15. It’s a 13 gallon tank. Luckily there’s plenty of algae for them lol.

  29. Having some truble with a lather corl any tips when the my blue light is at 80% it will shrink up and when the light is down low or off it sprouts up ? Love the videos can't weight for the next one thanks kc

  30. I experiment my coral with blood just to see what happens the results are amazing.you can use pig blood as well.so far only my blood.

  31. Do saltwater snails reproduce like freshwater snails? I had 1 snail on a plant wasnt thinking and thought maybe it would eat the algae a month later i had millions of snails lol -.-

  32. Can you trim the plant life or algae in your refugium and place it in the tank for the crabs and snails to eat. Or will this cause more issues?

  33. One Trochus and one Nassarius snail in a 20g. They’ve been in the tank for a year and they’re doing great. This single Nassarius is enough to eat any flake falling on the substrate. I rely more on my Collonista Snails for algae control and Bristle Worms for detritus removal more than my Snails. Free CUC is the best CUC.

  34. Your presentation skills are fantastic and your flow is also very well done. I love your videos because they allow me to more successfully pursue reefing, as well as to learn to speak better with my large crowds at work. Thank you!

  35. Thanks for all the awesome info you all share in the reefing community, this coming from a new person to the saltwater reefing life!

  36. Not sure if you reply to comments on older videos, but:

    I’m setting up an aquatop 24 gallon the friday after this coming friday. I want to add a tuxedo urchin, either a porcelain/emerald/pompom crab, a nassarius snail, and some kind of shrimp i can’t decide on. Is this too much for a newly set up tank? The aquarium i work at has ultra premium live rock with tons of possible growths for them to feed on, but if this isn’t enough for all of them, are algea pellets a solid supplement? Until the tank produces more food source and aswell as the fish of course.

    And an edit i’d like to add: these aren’t to control any sort of algea problem i foresee as i’ve dealt with plenty of tanks in my life but an inexperienced in salt. But yes, they are all purely for my interest and I want them to live.

  37. I have a 32-gallon BioCube that has been up and running for 2 weeks. They told me to put two per gallon, so I have 64 Mixed crabs and snails.
    I don't have any fish yet so I've been feeding a little bit.
    But it looks like a fight club in there!!! Everybody's fighting and killing each other!!! I now know not to do that again!!

  38. I was thinking, for my 32 Coralife Cube, 5 Nessarius Snails, 5 Hermits, and an Emerald Crab. Now that I've watched this, I know that I need to tone it dow a wee bit. I know two species of fish I'm planning to keep would help with algae control. So now I'm thinking 2 Nessies, 2 Hermits, and an Emerald Crab.

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