Setting up a Saltwater Aquarium
Setting up a Saltwater Aquarium

Setting up a Saltwater Aquarium

marine aquarium setup
Marine reef aquarium setup

Setting up a saltwater aquarium requires specific knowledge since the ecosystem in a saltwater aquarium differs a lot from that of a freshwater aquarium. Saltwater aquarists do however agree that a saltwater aquarium is highly rewarding and the extra time used to research the specific requirements for a saltwater tank is definitively worth the effort. You will be able to house a wide range of fish species that can not survive in a fresh water aquarium, and the marine fauna offers extremely beautiful species displaying fascinating behaviors. Saltwater enthusiast will sometimes even create miniature marine ecosystems that do not only include saltwater fish but corals reefs, crustaceans, saltwater plants and anemones as well. It is even possible to keep squids and octopuses in saltwater aquariums, but this requires a lot of devotion and expertise and is usually only achieved in public aquariums or by the most dedicated saltwater aquarists.

If this is your first saltwater aquarium, you should ideally choose an aquarium that is 55 gallons (200 liters) or larger. In a small aquarium, it will be harder to maintain suitable water quality and construct a functioning balance. Even a large saltwater aquarium will require vigorous filtration and frequent water changes, but it will at least be somewhat easier to manage than a small saltwater tank. The chemistry is more balanced in a big saltwater aquarium since the large water mass will function as a buffer against dramatic changes in water quality.

When you have determined the desired size, you must also choose between glass and acrylic. Both materials are common in saltwater aquariums and both of them have their own advantages and downsides. Acrylic is stronger than glass and will provide better insulation, but is on the other hand more susceptible to scratch marks than glass. Glass is harder to scratch and will therefore stay clear for a longer period of time, but when it breaks it really breaks. Glass is typically less expensive than acrylic, but will usually require a more powerful heater since the insulation is poorer.

The next step is to arrange a suitable location for your saltwater aquarium. Choose a spot where there is enough room for your large saltwater aquarium and where the temperature is as constant as possible. If you place the saltwater aquarium in direct sunlight you will probably encounter algae problems later on. Never begin to fill your saltwater aquarium anywhere else than on this spot, since a full aquarium should not be moved. It will not only be extremely heavy for you to move; it can also break due to the additional pressure on the glass when moved around. Aquariums are designed to stay put and are not mobile when filled. Saltwater weighs roughly 8.5 lbs per gallon; a 55 gallon aquarium filled with water and maybe even gravel is therefore not suitable to move around.

When you purchase equipments it is important that they are suitable for saltwater use. Never place anything in the aquarium that is not saltwater proof. If you place aquarium decorations that are unsuitable for saltwater in your aquarium they can leak harmful compounds into the water and harm or even kill your fish. It is also important that the aquarium tank itself is properly clean before you fill it with water. Do not use any type of soap or detergent when you clean the glass or acrylic, since left over residue will pollute the water. If you must use some form of cleaner, you can add one capful of pure bleach to 10 gallons of water and wipe the aquarium with. If you clean a tank with a bleach solution it is important to rinse it with water with a stronger concentration of dechlorinator.

There are three basic forms of saltwater aquariums: Fish Only, Fish with Live Rock and Reef System. For beginners, the Fish with Live Rock option is usually the best choice. You can change the setup later and eventually set up a complete reef system. You choice will affect the required amount of filtration and water changes. Some forms of coral will also require strong and varied currents to survive since they can not remove their own waste products.

Just as with a freshwater aquarium, there are three different types of filtration that can take place in a saltwater aquarium – mechanical filtration, chemical filtration and biological filtration. During mechanical filtration, the water will be pushed trough some form of filter media, ideally the live rock and gravel in the tank. Detritivore organisms live in the sand bed and among the live rock. They come out at night to feed. Avoid using filtration pads such as sponges or foam in saltwater aquariums as they easily can turn into nitrate factories, something to be avoided. Chemical filtration will take care of smaller compounds, such as dissolved chemicals. A chemical filter will often contain carbon, since carbon can bind several types of toxin. The third type of filtration is biological filtration. Biological filtration is performed by bacteria that convert harmful waste products into less harmful compounds. You need at least two different types of bacteria in your aquarium. The first type will convert ammonia produced by the fish metabolism into nitrite, and the second type will then convert the nitrite into nitrate. Live rock, sand and gravel are good homes for beneficial bacteria. Protein skimmers are also common in saltwater aquarium, since protein skimmers offer vigorous biological filtration.

You should never use ordinary kitchen salt in your saltwater aquarium. Purchase aquarium salt from a fish store and follow the instructions from the manufacturer when you mix it with water. It is important to understand that water will evaporate from the aquarium, but the salt will always stay. If you allow a lot of water to evaporate without replacing it, the salinity will increase and harm your fish. Evaporated water should therefore never be replaced by salt water. A hydrometer is a very good purchase since it will make it possible for you to check the exact gravity (salinity) of the water.

When you have filled the aquarium with salt water, decorated it and installed all the equipment you need to cycle the aquarium, just as you would do with a fresh water aquarium. When the cycling is finished, you should add very hardy fish to begin with. Damsel fish is a common starter fish in saltwater aquariums. Do not add more than two specimens a week during the first weeks.

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