Feb222009
Setting Up Your Saltwater Aquarium
Written by Eugene



Saltwater aquarium set up takes time but it is exciting adventure. It usually takes 4 to 8 weeks before you can add any saltwater fish safely to your saltwater aquarium.I know it is disappointing to wait too long before you can start putting fish into your saltwater aquarium, but you wouldn't want to risk losing them.

Saltwater fish are quite pricey. So I would say that patience is the key!

Before setting up a saltwater aquarium, think about these things first:

STEP 1: Choosing your Location, Aquarium Size and Aquarium Stand

The first step in saltwater aquarium set up is choosing a location that is nowhere close to natural lighting sources. Close to windows, entrance that has a clear door where sun rays can come in and patios are a BIG NO!

Intense sunlight can produce excessive algae which are a beginner aquarist's usual problem. A cooler room temperature that is well-ventilated would be the best. Choose a large enough location for your aquarium. Set up a level and well supported area for your aquarium and stand and is highly preferred. Make sure to leave enough space for electrical connections and other equipments as well as around the aquarium for maintenance and cleaning. Properly selected aquarium will help in a successful saltwater aquarium and set up will be a breeze. It's not as hard as it may seem. The first requirement is a proper glass tank! It's a mistake to buy a small aquarium "just to get started." My suggestion is to get the largest aquarium you can afford.

It's actually better generally for first timers. But make sure it will fit your space and of course your budget. Larger aquariums are more forgiving of beginners' mistakes and provide a much more stable environment. If you buy a small aquarium, I'm pretty sure that you will just upgrade to a bigger one later on. Surface area of the aquarium should also be taken into account in aquarium set up. Oxygen enters the water and, more importantly, noxious gases such as carbon dioxide escape into the air at the water surface. So the larger the surface area, the more efficient the exchange of gases will be. Another important consideration in aquarium set up is the shape of the aquarium. There are now too many unusual shapes to choose from in addition to the usual rectangular shape. From hexagonal to octagonal, bow-fronted and even trapezoidal aquariums are available.

But they all have their problems. They can be difficult to light, the saltwater fish may find it hard to establish territories or even swim properly or make viewing distorted and are harder to clean. The surface area could be compromised by an unusual shape. Next is choosing something to stand it on. Choose a sturdy stand that is capable of supporting the weight of a filled aquarium. If you don't follow this simple step, you are likely to have a huge mess or worse, a broken aquarium if it hits your floor. Make sure that the aquarium will fit perfectly on the stand you chose.

 STEP 2: Prepare and set up your aquarium

So you chose the perfect location and you bought your perfectly large enough aquarium with matching stand. You can't wait to fill it up with saltwater fish, live rocks and other inhabitants you can think of. But wait! There are few more things lined up in aquarium set up before you can do that.

Make sure you clean your aquarium with freshwater and a soft cloth or sponge. Remember not to use any kind of chemical cleaners. Rinse it thoroughly and make sure all residues are washed out. You can now pour the sand or gravel, whichever substrate you've chosen to use into the bottom of the aquarium followed by your saltwater. Then, you can either buy a pre-mixed saltwater, ready to use for your saltwater aquarium, or if you plan to use filtered water or the tap water at home make sure you get a sea salt mix.

Follow the set up instruction on the manufacturer's label on how to properly prepare your water using the sea salt mix. Tap water will have minerals and additives that are not good for your saltwater inhabitants. Your tap water contains substances that are toxic to your fish.

When you have your dechlorinated water ready, fill aquarium 1/3 full. Measure the specific gravity of your saltwater. It should measure 1.025. Install and start all the other equipments such us lighting, heater, and filter and let it run for a day. During this test run time, check for leaks, set and adjust the heater(s) to the required temperature, check and balance out the salinity of the water if needed, and test all the equipment to make sure everything is working properly.


STEP 3 Aquascape

Aquascaping your aquarium means decorating your aquarium. Possibilities are endless. There is no correct or perfect set up of decorating your aquarium. It is up to you on how you will make your saltwater aquarium attractive. Have fun and be creative. Here is a simple "how to" tips on aquascaping a saltwater aquarium.

Adding live rock as part of your aquascape is a plus. Live rock is important to your saltwater aquarium and inhabitants.

One importance of live rock is that fish will adjust better to their new environment because it is similar to their natural habitat. Live rock also becomes a biological filter of your saltwater aquarium. It provides the beneficial organisms for proper water management and so that you can enjoy your saltwater fish and other inhabitants for a long period of time. Another advantage of live rock is that it acts as a home for corals and other invertebrates and can be used by shy or frightened fish as their hiding place. You can get a live rock that are already cured and ready to be placed in your saltwater aquarium. If you have an uncured live rock, then it must be properly cured to create a healthy environment.
 
Ammonia, which is a toxic compound and pollutant are released into your saltwater if you don't properly cure your live rock. This will compromise the health of your aquarium system. Most live rock will be fully cured in 1 - 3 weeks. By then, it will be safe to add to your saltwater aquarium. Curing your live rock may be done in any type of plastic container that is suitable in size to fit the amount of live rock you have or inside the newly set up aquarium. Getting as large of a water container as you can is recommended, but curing inside the new aquarium is best overall.
 
STEP 4 Cycling
 
Once you have aquascaped your saltwater aquarium, the next step in saltwater aquarium set up would be allowing the aquarium to cycle.

You have to be very patient when your tank is in cycle. New aquariums don't have the necessary bacteria for your inhabitants to thrive and survive. This is why your new aquarium must be cycled. Cycling is the process of establishing and maturing the biological filtration. Typically, new aquariums can be cycled in 3 to 6 weeks.
 
But for fully cycling your saltwater aquarium, it will really depend on factors like:
 
(1) The amount of ammonia being produced during the cycling period;
 
(2) The efficiency of the biological filtration
 
(3) Whether liverocks or live plants are used in the process.
 
If you don't know much about this process, it can contribute to livestock loss. So understand what it truly is and learn the proper steps to take for a successful saltwater aquarium. First you need to establish a source of ammonia to establish the system. The usual method is adding one or two hardy fish, such as damselfishes. The waste products they produce are the initial source of ammonia. Most of these hardy fish can tolerate ammonia but some don't. This method is cruel in the extreme! It will be easier and less cruel to use on the commercially available maturation fluids.
 
Just follow the manufacturer's instructions. Add the maturation compound to start nitrification. Ammonia level will rise and reach its peak then declines, while bacteria continues to multiply until they are undetectable during testing. The by-product of ammonia is nitrite. Nitrite levels will rise until the number of bacteria has increased to the point at which they break down the nitrites faster than it is being produced. Measure the nitrite levels with a nitrite test kit after a period of time.
 
The end product of this process is nitrate. Nitrate is not toxic to the fish but high levels of it can produce problem to your aquarium. You can recognize the increase of nitrate when there is an algae outbreak to your saltwater aquarium. You can then control algae reproduction by constant water changes and chemical filtration. It will also help you in managing your cycle without losing any of your fish. Testing your water parameters regularly during this time will prevent problems in your saltwater aquarium.
 
STEP 5 Make the Necessary Adjustments
 
While you are doing the water change and tidying the tank up to get it ready for the first few new or additional pieces of livestock, it's a good time to make any aquascaping changes you desire during this step of the set up. When you're done and the system is restarted, let the tank run for a day or two to allow it to settle out. During this run time check and make adjustments to parameters of the aquarium water that may be needed, such as the temperature and salinity.
 
STEP 6 Add some new Livestock
 
Once the tank has been cleaned up, it is ready for some new saltwater fish. The biggest and most often made mistakes at this stage of a newly cycled aquarium is that one tries to cram too much into the tank too quickly or all at once. It is important for you to be patient and go slowly on this set up to prevent causing problems from overloading the saltwater aquarium.

Whether it is fish, corals, or invertebrates, you should only choose and add 1 or 2 into the aquarium at a time. After your selection has been placed into the tank, you need to allow the aquarium's nitrifying bacteria base to adjust to the additional bio-load. This means you DO NOT add anything else at this point of the set up, and over a week's time you should test the aquarium water daily for any appearance of ammonia and possibly nitrite. Zero readings will show you it is safe to add the next 1 or 2 pieces of livestock. Better yet, even when the test results are showing zero, wait another week or two before continuing on.

Eugene enjoys blogging about aquariums.  Read his latest posts on his blog, Aquarium Lore.
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