The Red Sea Max Nano is one of the best beginner tanks because it is an all-in-one style aquarium meaning you get all of the most critical components neatly packaged together.  Its easy to assemble, looks great, and is small enough to place almost anywhere in your home. 


As a first time tank owner, it is important to keep your eye on the prize which for most of you will be surviving that first 12 months without any major setbacks in the aquarium.  While the quality of your gear plays a big role in your long-term success, the habitat you create inside the tank and the livestock you choose is equally if not more important than the gear you choose.  After all, the whole point of a reef aquarium is to bring a thriving slice of marine habitat into your home.

A mixed reef tank refers to a tank that contains fish, coral, and inverebrates  - for the most part its referring to the mixture of soft, LPS, and SPS coral in the same aquarium. As a beginner, this approach can be quite attractive since you get a little taste of everything and in order to be successful, it is absolutely critical to select hardy coral species and be conservative with your fish stocking.

Less fish = less waste = easier to maintain suitable water quality

Hardy corals = more forgiving in terms of water chemistry

Live Sand
Aquascaping Nano Tank

Aquascaping and Sand

Upon assembling your aquarium, the very next step will be creating the habitat and in a saltwater reef aquarium this means sand and rock. It is important to think about the specific fish and corals you plan to keep when choosing your rock and sand because this is the very foundation of your habitat that should be tailored to suit their needs.

Live sand is best for ensuring a quick cycle and you won't need any more than 1-2" of sand across the bottom.  For rock, take a minimalist approach because it tends to look nicer after your corals have grown in and also makes it easier to keep the glass from of algae and ensure ample water flow throughout to aquascape.  2-3 rocks stacked and glued together will usually do the trick and always leave at least 2" buffer zone between the rocks and glass so you can easily pass an algae cleaner over the glass walls without bumping your aquascape.

Auto Top Off Reservoir

Auto Top Off

An ATO is incredibly handy and will automatically replenish your aquarium with freshwater that is lost due to evaporation on a daily basis.  Without an ATO, you water level will fluctuate as water evaporates and salinity will not remain stable. You will need to have space for a 2.5 - 5 gallon container or reservoir stored near the aquarium which will hold the fresh RO/DI water. 

Place the ATO sensor in the pump chamber of the aquarium and connect the plumbing as directed; we really like the Reef Breeder Prism ATO because the single sensor mounts magnetically and is pretty small so it won't crowd the back filter chamber with bulky float valves and extra wires.

Power Center & Temperature Control

WiFi Controllable Power Strips are highly-recommended because they make it easy to turn your equipment On/Off without having to touch the plugs or wires.  Take the time to securly mount the power centers and secure all of your equipment wires out of the way so they won't get tangled into an unsightly nest.

A temperature controller is also going to be important for maintaining stable water temperature. This will manage your aquarium's water heater and notify you if water temperatures begin to fall outside of suitable range. Use a reliable water heater connected to a controller that is set at 75°F - 78°F. 

Adding Fritz Turbostart

Seawater & Cycling

You can purchase saltwater from your local fish store for the initial filling of your new aquarium. Eventually, you will want to setup your own RO/DI Tap Water Filtration System at home so you can produce 0 TDS water. You can then use this RO/DI water to fill your top off reservoir and mix your own saltwater using dry salt mix

A new aquarium needs to cycle which can take some time if your starting from scratch.  If you can get a hold of established biological filter media, you won't have to wait. Dropping a bag of media into a friend's aquarium at least 4 weeks ahead of time will allow the media to colonize with bacteria, then transfer that media into your new tank and you can add livestock right away. Otherwise, be sure your tank goes through the proper cycle process using bacteria in a bottle.

Adding Corals

Adding Corals

Adding corals right away is a great way to increase diversity in a new aquarium but be mindful of water chemistry.  You must maintain stability and be sure to keep up with a regular water exchange schedule to keep those corals healthy and thriving.   

Choose hardy corals and place them accordingly amongst your aquascape. Soft corals generally pefer the bottom, LPS in the middle and SPS corals up toward the top of the rocks. Remember, corals are not like fish in that they you can add quite a few corals at the same time with out any worries of excess waste or ammonia.


Beginner Corals

  • Soft Corals - Mushrooms, leathers, zoanthids, Xenia
  • LPS Corals - Frogspawn, Acans, Candy Cane Corals
  • SPS Corals - Montipora Capricornis, Birdsnest, Digitata


Adding Fish

One of the best pieces of advice we can give new hobbyists is to be very conservative when choosing fish. Stick to small hardy fish, preferably captive-bred, and you are going to be much less likely to experience frustrating problems with water quality.

In the small Red Sea Max Nano, you should set a limit at 2-4 small fish and don't add them all at one time. Give it two weeks in between fish additions to allow the tank time to acclimate to the additional nutrients.  

Read more: Top 20 Saltwater Aquarium Fish for Beginners

Adding Copepods

Copepods are the little miracle workers of your aquarium, these tiny little crustaceans play a major role in the ecosystem and will help reduce waste and detritus, prevent problematic algae and pest outbreaks, and serve as a natural food source for your fish.  Live copepods can be shipped to your door and they will establish a sustainable population in your tank based around the available resources. Adding copepods early, just before adding your first fish abd before turning on your lighting for the first time is a great way to reduce nasty algae outbreaks that often occure in new aquarium. 

Its best to add a variety of different pod species and Algaebarn has some great copepods mixes. You can't really add too many copepods but one container is all you really need to seed the aquarium. Using live Phytoplankton to feed the copepods regularly will help support a healthy population and further support the biodiversity within your reef. When adding pods to your tank, do it at night and turn off the pumps for about 30 minutes which gives the pods time to settle down into the subtrate. 

Red Sea ReefLED Lighting


Coral are photosynthetic so you will need an appropriate reef tank light to sustain the corals.  The Red Sea ReefLED 50 is the perfect size for this small aquarium and will provide appropriate lighting for Soft Corals and LPS throughout the entire aquarium. The AquaIllumination Prime 16HD is also a great choice.  Both of these lights are easy to setup using an app on your phone and provide you with presets so you want have to struggle creating a successful spectrum and schedule. 



DO NOT OVERFEED - This is one of the most common mistakes made by new tank owners.  If anything, err on the side of caution and be conservative with your food offerings. The fish should eat ALL of the food you add to the aquarium; even one pellet of wasted food that is sucked into the filtration or settles down into the sand will contribute to poor water quality.  

That in mind, nutrition is the #1 most overlooked aspect of fish health. Choose foods that match your fish's natural diet and use a variety of different foods to ensure balanced nutrition. 

Corals appreciate being fed too and our very own Reef Chili Mixed with Brightwell Aquatics CoralAmino is a very popular combo that can be target fed directly to your corals 1-2 times each week. 

What About a Clean Up Crew?

Clean up crew invertibrates can be added as you start to see algae grow in the aquarium because this primarily what they will eat.  Some of these small critters will clean up leftover food and detritus but the ultimate goal is to have them manage nuisance algae.  As soon as you start to see algae show up, start introducing clean up crew animals. 

Learn More: Clean Up Crew All-Stars