20 October 2018

Setting Up a Salt Water Aquarium: A Guide

There are many components to beginning and maintaining a healthy home saltwater tank. For the benefit of a complete walkthrough, it is best to start at the first step, deciding which size tank should be employed.

Even for an entry level tank, it is suggested that one start with a 20 to 50-gallon tank, as smaller tanks are oddly enough harder to care for in some circumstances. In addition to this, biological concerns will come in to play regarding filtration, reef considerations, and air flow. Most saltwater fish also prefer longer tanks to taller or box shaped homes. When stocking a tank with fish, it is paramount to take into account the nature of the specific fish type and its own biological needs that many differ greatly from others. Many fish require dense hiding places or substrate setup that is imperative to its health. Tank size is a large factor in compatibility as well, given that some fish are aggressive and territorial. A general rule for stocking fish in saltwater aquariums varies from the standard set for its freshwater counterpart. When deciding capacity for a given size tank, oxygen and nitric factors are the most important. The general rule of thumb is to keep no more than three inches of fish per square foot of surface area given that there is a small amount of dissolving oxygen in saltwater environments. There are of course more scientific ways of calculating an exact “biomass carrying capacity” involving the chemical concentrations of the water mixed with the parameters and fish type for added exactness.
            There are a number of options available in filtration, the main methods split into chemical filtration, mechanical filtration, and biological filtration. Biological filtration is the process of using beneficial bacteria growth that convert ammonia and nitrite into nitrate. During the initial tank cycling, uneaten food or artificial bacteria become ammonia. Then it is cleared out for nitrite and nitrate. It’s imperative to cycle a new tank before adding fish. Live rocks and plants as well as substrate can sustain a small amount of fish on its own. Most saltwater tanks can be maintained with a protein skimmer and the help of biological filtration.
 In saltwater aquariums, chemical filtration refers to activated carbon, foam fractionation, or molecular adsorbents. Activated carbon removes molecules by absorbing or adsorbing them. Foam fractioning, or protein skimming, works much like the foamy connection between ocean and sea. By collecting foam through the skimmer, proteins and other carbon-based molecules are removed before they are fully developed. The main benefit of this tool and other chemical filtration methods is that it reduces the need for frequent water changes, though they are still required. These methods are best used in tandem with other filtration systems to achieve the most beneficial result.
Mechanical filtration is the most widely recognized form of filtering an aquarium, especially freshwater. Using a large pump or sump, waste will be removed from the water and into the filter pad. One disadvantage to this type is that it has no bearing on the levels of nitrates or ammonium as well as the inability to filter gravel or substrate. Frequent pad changes can also become costly, however mechanical filtration is necessary for most setups. Among mechanical filters there is a versatile array of options. Canister and corner filters are basic cleaners that are common in low-tech setups. Power filters, wet-dry filters, and sponge filters are widely practiced as well. Sponge filters use porous sponges to remove biohazards. All in all, there is a great deal of information surrounding filtration, and it is best to research and monitor a tank to understand what is the best option for your home tank.
Salinity can be represented as the concentration of sodium ions in parts per million. It can be measured with an instrument referred to as a hydrometer. Another method is by utilizing a refractometer, which can be helpful when measuring water gravity. The typical range of salinity for water gravity is 1.012ppm to 1.024ppm. Salinity is usually increased through evaporation, a means of the water cycle. It is a good idea to keep a small and prepared stock of premixed saltwater in the case of hastily needed salinity. Installing a sump that decreases the effects of evaporation can also improve the enthusiast’s experience with saltwater fish.
Saltwater life, especially so in a reef tank, are particularly sensitive to pH readings and poor levels can kill or sicken an otherwise healthy fish. A reefless system should be maintained at a pH level of at least 7.6 to 8.4, but reef systems must be kept higher (8.0 to 8.4). pH stands for the power of hydrogen, where the number represents the correlated alkalinity or acidity of the water. A pH above 7 is alkaline or basic, whereas below indicates an acidic reading. 7 is generally agreed upon as a safe neutral position. A tank can easily lean towards acidity through the buildup of harmful waste or increased levels of carbon dioxide. This also relates the general “hardness” or “softness” of water. The most accepted way of battling undesirable conditions is by performing routine water changes to stabilize the tank. It is also important to remember that sudden changes in adjusting pH, even if done so to remedy a poor reading, can be extremely harmful if performed too quickly. Stress is a huge factor that determines the health of a fish.
Most saltwater fish fall into a tropical or less tropical category, making temperature a key factor in maintaining an aquarium. Most water heaters however are quite inexpensive. Even if one is living in a correspondingly suitable environment, heaters can help stabilize the temperature within the water. When stocking an aquarium, the preferred temperature of a fish should be researched before purchase to confirm the compatibility of the fish to your tank. Many fish species have radically different preferred temperatures. It is accepted that a temperature range between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit is suitable for most fish. However, may reefs are accustomed to a higher oceanic temperature of about 83 degrees. This is another instance where careful monitoring of the tank will allow for more informed observations as to the effects of temperature. Other factors to consider is the rates of aeration that are dependent upon temperature.
In terms of aeration, circulation is the key to achieving a healthy balance. Adding oxygen is useless if not done in a manner that will be shared with the tank. It is easy for added oxygen to simply diffuse into the water without a trace. To prevent this from occurring, use a filter system that circulates flow effectively. Many live rocks can act as excellent filters, but cannot aerate or circulate the tank. For this, mechanical filters are preferred. Small bubbles are preferred to large bubbles, as it means more oxygen is actually reaching the water and being diffused.
Lighting is yet another aspect of the home tank that must be perfectly attuned to the demands of the specific stock. Tanks with fish and live rock can utilize the work of regular output fluorescent lights, whereas tanks that also include clams or coral require more powerful lighting. Using high power lights on a tank without corals can cause algae to grow rampantly and out of control. Small cube shaped tanks can use more compact lighting systems that are designed for nano tanks. Many lighting options for saltwater tanks are designed to mimic the sun and layer the tank accordingly. When considering these options, be sure to understand the effects of wattage and difference between higher and lower wattage bulbs. It is also recommended to take into account the amount of heat that certain fixtures can give off, as it can affect the water temperature. One of the prime variables that should influence your choice of lighting is how deep the aquarium is. Taller aquariums will necessitate more powerful lighting. When stocking a tank with fish, be sure to create dense hiding places or darker covers for fish that may require these conditions.
The fishless cycling when preparing a new tank is one of the most misunderstood or mistakenly performed aspects of fishkeeping. As touched upon earlier, the nitrogen cycle plays a key role in the health of the tank’s fish. By keeping the parameters of the chemicals in a tank in balance, you can be sure that the fish will live longer, be more active, and look more attractive to the eye. In saltwater aquariums, cycling is preferred to take place over about a month long period, or at least two weeks with the expectation of larger water changes. Each aquarium is different, so there is no specific right answer concerning the time frame. Testing during cycling is expected for the best feedback. Ammonia levels are only to be high during the actual cycling of the tank and not any time after. It is dangerous to fish. The best ways to introduce ammonia into the tank is by adding fish food (with no fish of course) or by letting the live plants decay. After about ten days or so, other bacteria should appear that will convert ammonia into nitrite molecules. Nitrite should continue to rise at a steady rate until about 25 days into the cycle. At this point, the rate will fall and eventually the production will end. Again, these molecules will be converted, this time into nitrate. This healthy bacterium will make the tank habitable for fish at safe conditions and is the end result of the initial cycle. Periodic water testing and water changes as well as effective filtration systems will ensure that optimal levels are maintained.
Fish selection has been grazed above, but remember to research the fish of interest before purchase as they may not be compatible with your tank’s parameters or the previously established tankmates. Some fish are notably territorial or aggressive. Many smaller fish are also fin nippers and will tear at larger fish. The nature and temperament of a fish may differ wildly from others, given that they are usually found in a vast ocean! The size of the fish may come into play as well given the carrying capacity of a tank. The nature of a population such as its tendency to school with other members of the species or shoal amongst its own kind is beneficial to the fish too. All these factors as well as others including temperature, air flow, and even the rate of the current can alter the long term happiness of the chosen fish.
There are many types of algae that are actually beneficial to the tank. Many use biological components to maintain the chemical balance of good bacteria within the tank. This is why live rock and plants are so common in saltwater setups. There is however bad algae that can raise ammonia levels and must be cleaned. Hermit crabs and snails will happily eat away at unwanted algae.
Illness and fish may best be avoided by reducing stress in the tank and maintaining safe pH levels and chemical makeup, though sometimes infection is inevitable. A varied and fulfilling diet can also benefit the health of a specimen.  One of the most common plagues that bother fish is fin rot. This tears away at the sensitive fins of stressed swimmers. It is a bacterial infection that is caused by poor water conditions and can be remedied by hospitality and destressing, though some damage may not be reversible. Others include fungal and viral infections. Ichthyophonus disease, or simply ich, is especially contagious amongst fish and can wipe out a tank with ease. This targets the internal organs of the fish and dismantle it from the inside. There are of course a number of diseases to which symptoms vary much in the way that humanity suffers from a wide array of plagues and inconveniences. It would benefit any aquarium keeper to research these such devastations and become well informed owners to best take care of your pet.

In conclusion, while the upkeep on a home saltwater aquarium may appear toilsome, it is rewarding and can be obtained with relative ease through careful understanding of the functions and nature of the hobby. While caring for an aquarium properly can sometimes be seen as expensive, it is all the more rewarding to keep happier and healthier fish. This guide should act as an introduction to the basic concepts that will guide an enthusiast to a successful start on his or her journey into marine life.

“3 Types of Saltwater Aquariums.” Live Aquaria, 2018,      www.liveaquaria.com/article/223/?aid=223.
“Aeration and Circulation in Saltwater Aquarium.” Saltwater Aquarium Online Guide,     2009, www.saltwater-aquarium-online-guide.com/aeration-and-circulation.html.
“Fish Tank Lights – Saltwater Aquarium Lighting.” Fish Tank Lights - Saltwater Aquarium Lighting, 2018, www.saltwateraquariumlighting.com/.
“Marine Aquarium Chemical Filtration.” Petcha, 2018, www.petcha.com/marine- aquarium-chemical-filtration/.
“Saltwater Fish Diseases and Treatments.” Saltwater Aquarium Online Guide, 2017,             www.saltwater-aquarium-online-guide.com/fish-diseases-and-treatments/.
Barrington, Katherine. “Salinity Requirements in a Saltwater Aquarium.” Rate My                        Fishtank, 30 Nov. 2013, www.ratemyfishtank.com/blog/salinity-                             requirements-in-          a-saltwater-aquarium.
Hanson, Dennis. “7 Aquarium Filter Types You Should Know.” Home Aquaria, 8 Apr.    2014, homeaquaria.com/aquarium-filter-types/.
Hauter, Stan, and Debbie Hauter. “5 Easy Ways to Regulate PH in a Saltwater       Aquarium.” The Spruce Pets, 20 Apr. 2018, www.thesprucepets.com/saltwater-        aquarium-ph-control-2924058.

Hauter, Stan, and Debbie Hauter. “What Is the Nitrogen Cycling Process in a Saltwater    Aquarium? The 3 Components and Phases of the Nitrogen Cycle Process.” The                        Spruce Pets, 20 May 2017, www.thesprucepets.com/what-is-the-nitrogen-    cycling-           process-2924241.
Hauter, Stan, and Debbie Hauter. “What's the Ideal Temperature for a Saltwater    Aquarium?” The Spruce Pets, 7 Sept. 2017, www.thesprucepets.com/tank-    temperatures-and-limits-2924175.
Sharpe, Shirlie. “Using Activated Carbon in Your Aquarium.” The Spruce Pets, 25 Mar.   2018, www.thesprucepets.com/activated-carbon-in-the-aquarium-1380929.

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