Sunday, March 18, 2012

Setting up a saltwater aquarium

A decade ago saltwater aquarium was a touchy proposition. Saltwater fish often died with no apparent explanation.

The technology is much better today. We know that most of the problems with saltwater aquariums were caused by an excess of nitrites. Today we have better filters and protein skimmers to handle the buildup of nitrites.

If you decide to venture into the world of saltwater aquariums, try to find a used one first on Craig's list or in the classifieds You will save a lot of money and pick up some extra hardware and supplies in the process. You might even get some free fish, too.

What will you need to get started?
  1. Start with a small aquarium about 40 to 75 gallons
  2. A stand with door is recommended so you put away food and other supplies
  3. You will need a filter
  4. A protein skimmer
  5. A light: different types of light are needed for reef tanks so if you set up a reef tank, you will need a halogen with supplemental fluorescent lights. If you are not setting up a reef tank, fluorescent lighting will be fine.
  6. Power strip
Other recommended items
  1. Wave maker pump that recirculates water in the tank
  2. power strip with timer to turn aquarium lights on and off
  3. algae remover: an internal or external pump with a UV lamp. As the pump recirculates the tanks water, the UV lamp kills the algae.

Reef tank or standard aquarium?

Reef aquarium with filter on right and wave maker pump on left

A standard aquarium would have saltwater aquarium sand in it and perhaps a few decorative items.

A reef aquarium would be populated with live rock arranged to look something like reef in the ocean.

Rightardia has a reef tank in the office which has a lot of invertebrates (inverts) in it: cleaner shrimp, hermit crabs, emerald crab, a porcelain crab , an anemone and soft mushroom corals. Reef tanks are a lot more interesting than plain Jane salt water aquariums.

Unlike fresh water aquariums, there are few plants that will survive in most salt water aquarium.

Choice of fish

Buy fish when they are small and most will co-exist together fine. Fish that play well together are blennies, clown fish, tangs, royal grammas and basslets. Thee are many other as well.

You also want live rock that contains inverts such as corals and coralline algae. These make the reefs attractive and also help control the aquarium's chemistry. It also gives the fish some hiding places that fish need.

After you arrange the rock, fill it with saltwater and let it set for at least a week. Examine to rock after a week with a magnifying class. You will probably see things growing on it. Then add fish.


Feed the fish small amounts of food twice a day. I use a small electric coffee grinder that mixes dried mysis shrimp, flake food and crab meal up. The fish are small and will not be able to eat food that is too large for their mounts.

If one of fish is not eating after a week,try a different food. The blenny wouldn't come out until we used flake food and the basslet likes crab cuisine.

Rightardia recommends you change one-third of the salt water at least once per month. If the tank starts to suffer form evaporation, add only distilled water. If you add salt water, this will increase the salt concentration in the tank over time.

You should only add saltwater when you purge salt water form the tank.

Pay attention to the protein skimmer. You want a trickle of water going through the skimmer. If you have too much water going through the system, the waste tank will overfill.

If the skimmer is not siphoning, bend the air tube or put you finger over the air hole to restart the siphon. Watch the skimmer closely. It has be emptied about every other day. An overflow could have a bad effect on you inverts.

That's about it. We recommend you hire someone to do monthly saltwater water changes. Otherwise, you will be visiting an aquarium store and be hauling home 10-15 gallons of saltwater per month to change out the water.

Also, any buckets you use for your aquarium, should only be used for your aquarium. Household chemicals like soaps are deadly to saltwater and freshwater fish.

A 40-75 gallon reef tanks is affordable for most families and the colors of saltwater fish are amazing . Freshwater fish have more muted camouflaged colors, but that's not the case for salties. If you have an anemones, watch it closely. It's the canary of the tank. If the chemistry gets out of whack, the anemone will show the stress first and it time for a water change. If the tank is losing too much water to evaporation, immediately add distilled water and check the protein skimmer to see if it needs to be changed.

That's it. Salt water aquariums are a lot easier to maintain today.

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