Saltwater aquariums are beautiful additions to a home. They are tranquil and have a unique landscape that differs greatly from those of freshwater aquariums. The fish available for saltwater tank tend to be be larger and more vibrantly colored than their counterparts, making them even more desirable. Setting up a saltwater aquarium is challenging but it doesn’t need to be overwhelming. It’s only moderately different from setting up a freshwater aquarium. The entire process will take six to eight weeks.
Location, Location, Location!
Find a place in your house where the aquarium doesn’t get direct sun. Your aquarium lights will provide all the lighting needed for an aquarium. Direct sunshine will make algae grow quickly and can kill fish by overheating the tank. Fish are also used to sun coming from above, not the side so you may not see them as often. Put your aquarium on a stand that is very strong. A small aquarium can be put on a strong table or shelf but larger aquariums can weigh thousands of gallons so buy a stand that is reinforced for the weight.
Buy an Aquarium
Larger aquariums are actually easier to keep than smaller. This may seem illogical but water fluctuations are smaller because of the large quantity of water. It is also harder to overstock a large tank – overstocking leads to excessive fish waste and poor water quality. Buy the largest aquarium your budget will allow. Wide aquariums are better than the new tall ones. They are easier to maintain, the fish have more air surface at the top and the fish prefer to swim side to side instead of up and down.
Substrate is the type of material you put on the bottom of your aquariums. Sand is the most common substrate with saltwater aquariums. Two inches of sand are a good start to the aquarium. The sand should be sterile — without any chemicals and purified — and rinsed to remove any dust. Smooth it out over the bottom of the aquarium.
Add the heater, filter, hood and lighting to the aquarium. The installation will vary depending on the type of equipment you have, but most heaters stick to the back of the aquarium with a suction cup. Hoods attach with two pins at the back, and lights are built into the hood. Use full-spectrum lightbulbs that are available at your pet supply store. Filters vary quite a bit. Some rest on the back of the tank and suck water out and pour it back in. Others stick on the inside of the tank.
Place a plate on top of the sand and slowly fill the aquarium with water. Stop once it is one-third full. By pouring water onto the plate you stop the sand from being disrupted by the force of the water. Add dechlorinator to the water according to the package instructions.
Make the Saltwater
Buy a salt mix and prepare the water according to the package’s instructions. The saltiness of the water is measured by the water’s gravity with a hydrometer. You want your water to have a measurement of 1.021 to 1.024. A low reading requires more of the salt mix. If the reading is too high you need to add more water. Continue adding water until the tank is full and the water has the desired reading.
Run the Aquarium
Now it’s time to turn on your aquarium’s equipment and let it run. This will let you know if there are any problems with the equipment and allow you to set the temperature of the tank.
Live rocks are rocks brought from the ocean that have live bacteria and other microscopic life in them. They work as a biological filter and help keep the aquarium in balance. You can find these at your local fish store. Add as many as desired.
Cycling the Aquarium
Cycling your aquarium is an important step that too many people skip. By cycling the aquarium you build up the good bacteria that will help balance the fish waste in the tank. Start cycling your aquarium by adding 1 tsp. of ammonia to the tank every day. Ammonia is the waste that your fish eliminates so by adding it to your fish tank you mimic the waste of the fish. If you do not cycle your aquarium properly your tank will not be able to handle the addition of fish and your fish will get sick or die.
Use a liquid test kit to test the aquarium every two days. Test for nitrites, nitrates and ammonia. Keep a record of these numbers. In two to four weeks you will see a spike in these numbers and then they will taper down to zero. Continue cycling the tank for two more weeks to ensure there is sufficient bacteria.
Start adding fish to the aquarium a few at a time. Choose hardy fish that won’t be affected by any water changes. Damsels and clownfish are common first additions. Let the new fish adjust for a few weeks before adding a new species. Continue stocking your tank this way until it is fully stocked.
Just because your tank is cycled doesn’t mean it will always be balanced. Test your aquarium weekly to catch any problems before your fish get sick.