Setting up Your First Marine Aquarium

Freshwater aquarists often have hopes to one day keep marine fish. Marine aquariums take more time and cost more money, but are worth the effort.

Many aquarists enjoy their freshwater fish, but always have their eye on marine setups. Marine aquariums are the ultimate symbols of aquarium hobby. Once a hobbyist has mastered freshwater tanks, he wants to try his hand with saltwater. Here are same tips to setting up your first marine aquarium.

Initial Setup

Everyone wants a beautiful reef setup, full of corals and the most colorful fish the ocean has to offer. Marine aquariums take a certain amount of skill though, that even the most seasoned freshwater aquarists can have trouble mastering. The best thing to do is take it slow.

Though nano reef tanks are gaining popularity, the best tank size for a beginner marine aquarium is 20 gallons or more. With any fish tank, the larger the volume of water, the harder it is to spoil the water chemistry. Anything less than a 20-gallon tank will most likely be too hard for a beginning saltwater aquarist to master.

There are a few items that are completely essential for a saltwater fish tank. These items are a test kit that includes a high-range pH tester, as water will need to have a pH value of 8.2. Enough crushed coral to cover at least 3 cm of the bottom of the tank will also be needed, as this substrate buffers the water to the desired pH. A marine buffer that stabilizes the pH at 8.2 will need to be purchased as well.

A protein skimmer is not necessary at first, but always a good thing to have running in the tank. Adding live rock to a saltwater tank (1 lb per gallon) is the best way to introduce beneficial bacteria that will form the biological filter of a marine aquarium. These bacteria can eventually release harmful secretions that will build up in a saltwater tank, secretions that will be removed by a protein skimmer.

A regular filter, plus a power head filter must be running in the tank, in order to create a strong, ocean-like current. The water should be heated to 25ªC. Once the tank is set up, it should be left to run for at least 3 weeks before any fish are added.

Adding Fish and Invertebrates

Marine fish are much more sensitive than freshwater fish. Even the slightest imbalance can wipe them out. It usually takes 6 months to 1 year until a saltwater fish tank is cycled to the point where most fish will thrive. Until then, it is wise to start with hardy, inexpensive fish.

Damsels are the best choice for new marine tanks. They can withstand less than ideal conditions, and are the cheapest marine fish that can be purchased.

The ratio of fish per gallon in marine tanks is much different than for fresh water aquariums. Where the rule of thumb for fresh water tanks is 3 cm of fish per gallon, it is 3 cm of fish per every 5 gallons in marine aquariums.

When first adding fish, the tank will go through algae blooms. The first bloom will cause the tank to be covered in brown algae. This algae will eventually burn itself out, and green algae will begin to form.

Once green algae begins to grow in the aquarium, invertebrates can be added to help keep it under control. For a 20 gallon tank, 5 blue leg hermit crabs, 10 astrea snails, and maybe a serpent star fish will form a decent clean-up crew.

Starting a marine aquarium takes time and patience. Never try to rush it, or add fish to the tank before it is ready. The time and patience spent on a marine tank pays off though, as saltwater fish tanks are the crown jewel of the aquarium hobby.


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