Marine aquarium: Set up and care

We’ve all sat in a dentist’s waiting room, or Chinese restaurant, admiring the majesty of the aquarium, you might have thought about keeping your own. As Mark puts it, “Some people watch their fish tanks like they would watch the telly, it can be just as entertaining.” But which aquarium is best for the beginner?

The three major types of aquarium available are tropical marine aquariums, tropical freshwater aquariums and cold water tanks. “The great thing about keeping a fish tank is that it is entirely your own making, so you can really put your own stamp on it. But first you have to decide what kind of tank you want to keep. For absolute ‘newbies’ I would always recommend a tropical freshwater fish tank. It teaches you everything that a marine tank does and requires much of the same equipment, but can be a good deal easier to keep,” says Mark.

The basic difference about a tropical marine tank is that it’s a saltwater tank, whereas the typical tropical tank is a freshwater aquarium. This may sound like an obvious statement but marine aquarium salt is a far cry from the salt you might see on the dinner table. It also contains a complicated list of minerals and other ingredients that are essential to a healthy tank.


How to get started

“Everyone who starts with a marine aquarium started off as a beginner. As long as you do your research on the type of fish you’re keeping and have learned how to keep the equipment then you should be alright. But there is tonnes of information out there and a very rich aquatic community, so it’s always a good idea to ask questions,” says Mark.

Building the tank

Above: Mark flexing his muscles with the new tank

The idea of a quick and easy aquarium that you can simply plug in and pour the fish into is a tempting idea, but as Mark puts it, a big part of creating your own tank is the chance to make it your own, which would basically be lost if a tank included absolutely everything you need.

It can also be a tempting thing when you get your aquarium going to add every kind of fish that catches your eye. When asked how many fish can reasonably kept Mark had this to say; “It all comes down to experience. Ideally the beginner wants to keep similar types of fish together so you can keep the water to their requirements, but the number you keep can also depend on available swimming space and the quality of filtration. Just remember that the more fish you have, the better your filtration needs to be to deal with the excess fish waste. Also be sure to stay away from more fragile fish that will need a lot of attention, but feel free to expand your collection as your confidence and experience grows.”


What to put in your marine aquarium

“Look at the fish first. Decide what you want and then do the research, they are what make the tank and will effect everything,” says Mark.

Whatever your choice of fish, your marine tank will have some minimum requirements, in terms of equipment to support your marine fish. In addition to your choice of marine fish tank you will also require a skimmer, live rock, either synthetic or ‘natural’ salt, your own choice of substrate, a high quality water filter and pump (power head) and finally the optional extra of a sump.

Marine Tank Interior

Above: Installing the essential equipment.

“Most of the essential equipment you require for a marine aquarium is included when you purchase a marine tank, but you will usually need to a purchase water treatments and your own choice of substrate separately,” says Mark.  He adds that the reason that a substrate is not usually included is because it is such an important aesthetic choice.

When it comes to choices of substrate between sand and gravel, Mark is clearly a fan of the natural white coral sand. “White coral sand looks amazing in a marine tank, but is also a natural way to keep a regular pH level within the marine aquarium”, says Mark.


Essential accessories for a marine aquarium

If you should decide that the marine aquarium is the tank for you then it is important to get the right equipment so you can get off to the right start. “After you decide that you want to keep saltwater fish the next step is to get the right tank. A good marine tank for a beginner is the Red Sea Max 130D, since it includes everything you need to get started in terms of equipment”, says Mark. He also likes this tank for beginners because of the smaller size, reliable fluorescent lighting and crystal clear glass, which allows you to clearly view your exotic new fish.

A UV steriliser will expose controlled levels of UV radiation to the water and thereby kill off any potentially harmful organisms that may be living in the water. Although a UV steriliser is not an absolute essential to your equipment list for a marine aquarium, it is advisable to help keep your fish at their healthiest. It is an ideal way to kill any floating parasites in the water without using chemical water treatments.


Lighting up your marine aquarium

Learning about marine aquariums also involved understanding the importance of lighting. But when examining the shimmering beauty of the Swell marine aquarium you can understand why presentation plays an important part in the aquarium.

When selecting your lighting for the marine aquarium there are three main options to choose from. Mark says: “Marine lighting is really about making your aquarium look its best. I personally would use the LED lighting, since it has a very long life span, is very cheap to run and has the added benefit of creating that really attractive shimmering quality in the aquarium that you usually only see in the natural environment.”

Alternatives to the LED lighting are the metal halides and T5 light bulbs. Just be aware that when using both light bulbs they will give off a good amount of heat and as such a chiller may be required during the summer months.


Installing your live rock

So, is normal tap water suitable for my marine fish tank? You might think so, but the type of water that comes out of your tap has been specifically treated with chemicals, for safe consumption by humans. Mark says: “Water chemistry plays a big part in the marine aquarium so you need to be careful with it. I always use an RO unit (reverse osmosis unit) to prepare water for my marine aquarium, as it removes the nitrates, phosphates and silicates from the water”.

Installing Live Rock
Above: Getting creative with live rock.

“Over the period of eight to 10 weeks the water chemistry of a new tank will stabilise, but the best thing to do is introduce live rock into the new aquarium and get the filtration started”, says Mark.

“When installing your live rock I always use my hands to position the rock and get that extra bit of control, but you can also use planting tongs for the smaller pieces if you don’t want to get your hands wet”, says Mark.

A great way to get creative with your marine aquarium is to use adhesive putty, like D&D Aquascape Construction Epoxy, to aid in the construction of the live rock. This allows you to securely fix the rocks in place without fear of movement once the aquarium is set up.

Mark is also quick to point out that live rock is a great way to introduce soft corals into your aquarium. “You never really know what kind of soft corals will be living on the live rock that you get, so you have the chance of getting something really special. But before you install your live rock I would highly recommend curing the rock by soaking it in salt water for a few days”, says Mark. According to Mark this is the ideal way to ensure that no pollutants are being introduced to the aquarium that could potentially encourage the blooming of algae.


What type of water to put in your aquarium

Marks sums this up as this, “When water has been put through a reverse osmosis filter to be made suitable for use in a marine aquarium it is basically too sterile to support the fish, who in their natural habitat have water rich in minerals and other beneficial ingredients. Introducing live rock into the aquarium puts beneficial bacteria back into the water and helps it to mature to a habitable state.”

When adding new water it is always advisable to make use of a refractometer to examine the salinity levels of the water, and then introduce the new water to the tank bit by bit.

How to introduce fish to your marine aquarium

There are many differing opinions on how best to introduce fish to a marine aquarium, Mark says: “Whenever I’m adding a new fish I always like to acclimatise it slowly to the temperature of water and general conditions of the tank, in order to keep stress to a minimum. Take a few cups of the aquarium water and pour them into a bucket, then float the fish in the bucket for about ten minutes, then add more cups at ten minute intervals. Eventually you can release the fish from the bag into the bucket and then from the bucket into the main tank.


What else is living in your marine tank?

Mark has also taken charge of the marine aquarium here at Swell HQ, a large Red Sea Max S-500 . In addition to his own choice of marine fish he has also introduced a small army of tank cleaners, including hermit crabs and turbo snails, to help out with the cleaning and removal of algae.

“The hermit crabs and turbo snails are my own clean-up crew. They live in the tank, with the hermit crabs eating the excess food that may have been missed by the fish and the turbo snails devouring the algae”, says Mark.

Algae is also an important point to consider when choosing a marine aquarium. As the quality of water within the tank matures to become richer in nutrients, your corals and fish will thrive, but unfortunately this can also result in the unsightly presence of algae. “Water treatments are the only sure-fire way to treat an algae infestation”, says Mark.

Coral Growth

Above: Flourishing coral coming along nicely.

Taking care of your marine aquarium might seem like a lot of work, with a certain amount of money and time needing to be regularly invested. But if you find the thought of having a piece of the deep blue sea right in your living room, then you will see that the rewards of creating your own underwater kingdom are well worth the effort.

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