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Fish Tank Forum • View topic - Setting up a Saltwater Tank
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Setting up a Saltwater Tank

New to saltwater or still thinking of moving onto it.

Setting up a Saltwater Tank

Postby Mick » Sat Apr 03, 2010 10:08 am

When venturing into the world of keeping a salt water aquarium it can often be daunting when you are browsing around trying to find information, there seems to be so much to take in all a once but this is not the case. Below is a brief guide as to how to set up your first salt water aquarium and the order in which to take the key steps. Hopefully this well help out any future fish keepers who wish to take the final step towards their ultimate goal of keeping marine fish in their home.

Planning
The first step is always long and careful planning, keeping a salt water tank is something that should never be rushed. There is a great deal of knowledge on the web and in reference books available for you to study, go on the forums and ask any questions you may have, it is better to be pre-armed with the knowledge than to set up the salt water tank just for it to go horribly wrong once it is up and running. Research the fish you would like to keep, this will give you a good idea of how large the aquarium should be and also take into account when planning how much of a budget you have, not just for the tank and fish but also for the equipment required for running the tank at its best. When working out your budget don't plan on buying cheaper equipment, you cannot cut corners with a salt water aquarium, cheap equipment is not reliable and you will need to replace it with more suitable models at the end of the day anyway. Also take into account the amount of time that you will need to spend maintaining your tank, if you have a busy lifestyle it may be that you will not be able to spend those precious couple of hours required, keeping marine fish or invertebrates is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.

Which set up should I go for?
There are basically three types of salt water set up:-
Fish Only
Fish only with Live Rock (FOWLR)
Reef Aquarium
Suggested water parameters can be viewed by clicking on this link

Fish Only
Fish only set ups are what they say, you are planning your tank around keeping species of fish in there and more often than not external filtration with some rock for décor. In a fish only set up the rock does not have to be Live Rock if other means of filtration are used.
FOWLR are set ups where the fish are still the dominant feature but Live Rock is added to act as the filtration system, this is often preferred as the Live Rock gives a much more natural feel to the tank.
Reef aquariums are mostly set up by experienced keepers that have moved on from fish only set ups. Here you are creating a mini reef in your tank, Live Rock is the filtration method used and water flow is paramount to keeping your corals healthy and the Live Rock filtering efficiently. Often Reef Aquariums use shallower tanks as the lighting needs to reach the bottom levels of the tank.

The tank and equipment
At this stage you should know which set up you have decided on and worked out your budget, now is the time to shop around for the equipment required so that it is all at hand ready for the set up. Basic equipment required at this stage is a protein skimmer, a good lighting system, filtration if required separate to the Live Rock, a quality heater, lighting timer,powerheads, a quality marine salt and a refractometer or hydrometer. Assuming you have already purchased your tank move it to the preferred site away from windows so that sunlight cannot hit the glass and ensure that there will not be too much human traffic passing in front of the tank through the day. Place a layer of polystyrene between the tank and cabinet unless it is designed to be a floating tank on the cabinet and get the spirit level out to make sure that everything is level. Clean the tank thoroughly with either sterilising solution or white vinegar, after cleaning make sure that the tank is rinsed out well. At this stage fill the tank with water from the mains to check for any leaks. Leave it for a few hours as some leaks may not be obvious initially, once we are happy that the tank is level and no leaks are present, the tank can be emptied ready for our salt water mix. If you are using an alternative filtration method then now is a good time to connect it and sort out the pipework, do not turn it on until there is water in the tank. This is also the perfect time for adding any background you wish to use whether it is a purchased one or simply by painting the back of the tank.
Now for the fun part, we need to add the salt mix. There are two ways of doing this, we can either mix the salt in a bucket and add to the tank or we can fill the tank with reverse osmosis (RO) water and then add the salt. If you are mixing in the tank it is a good idea to add your power heads to get the water flowing, this will help the salt mix quicker, if mixing in a bucket keep stirring well until the correct salinity is achieved. Remember that it does take a while for the salt to dissolve, always leave a bit of time before checking the salinity levels before adding more salt. Place the heater in the tank and let it run for 24 hours so that you can monitor the temperature and adjust as required.

Adding your Live Rock
The Live Rock should always be added before any sand goes into the tank, to protect the bottom glass of the tank use egg crate or similar to prevent extra pressure from protruding edges cracking the glass. The Live Rock should be of a high quality and preferably pre-cured, this does cost more but will speed up the overall cycling of the tank. Play with the rock until you are happy with the way it looks, aquatic milliput or cable ties can be used to secure it for the more bizarre aquascaping. Do not place the rock too close to the edge of the tank, not only can this restrict the water flow around the rock but it will also make the tank maintenance a lot harder when trying to keep the glass clean.
Once you are happy with the way the rock looks, the sand can be added to the tank. Try to use a smaller grained sand, 1-2 mm is perfect, any larger grained sands can trap toxic gases. It will need to be washed first , this can be done by placing it in a bucket and rinsing through with clean water. Keep changing the water until it is clear and all dust has gone. Carefully tip the sand into the tank, I normally place the sand in a plastic bag and slowly pour it out of a corner, this can help with keeping the water clear. A 2” depth of substrate is fine, to seed the sand add a small amount of live sand, it is not necessary to add live sand for all of the substrate, ordinary sand will seed itself over a period of time.
Live Rock in the saltwater aquarium can be viewed by clicking this link

Creating the water flow
All salt water tanks require a decent water flow in them. Using power heads will circulate the water around the rock, in reef tanks the water flow tends to be higher as this is preferred by many corals . What we don't want is the water spiralling around the tank, the water flow needs some turbulence and this is created by placing the power heads in the corners of the tank angled towards each other so that their individual flows cross. It is always better to have a few smaller power heads than trying to create the flow with one large one. You may notice a small temperature rise in the tank when the power heads are switched on, this is heat from the heads themselves so adjust the heater slightly to allow for this.

Lighting the tank
So everything is in the tank we can now add some lighting, depending on which set up you are going for affects the lighting required. For a FO set up the lighting is not too crucial but for reef set ups it is paramount to use the right equipment. I have always used T5 lighting for soft coral tanks without any problems, if you are planning to add hard corals or the tank depth is above the standard then it may be worth considering using a metal halide (MH) system to give the extra light required. It is also crucial to use a timer with the lighting, you need to replicate a natural 24 hour period of daylight hours when you set the timer. Corals especially rely on the lighting forming a regular pattern in their lives, they will open up at the same time of day and also close at the same time everyday.
Lighting your marine aquarium can be viewed by clicking on this link



Protein skimming and filtration
If you are using another method of filtration besides the Live Rock turn it on now and add the protein skimmer to the tank. There is a debate as to whether a skimmer should be used during the cycling process but in my experience they take a couple of weeks to bed in properly and this is the perfect time to do this. The skimmer will probably pull out a lot of gunk initially but this should settle down over time. Always keep the collection cup clear by emptying it every day. Now everything is in place in your tank and you can start to prepare it for your live stock.

Testing your water
You will need to test your water on a regular basis so invest in a reliable testing kit. Salt water testing kits differ from tropical water testing kits as you will need to check the calcium levels, magnesium levels( in a reef set up), as well as testing for ammonia, nitrites and nitrates. Some test kits may not contain these so you may have to purchase these separately. If you used fully cured Live Rock you may find that after a few days there is no reading for ammonia or nitrites so you can start to perform small water changes to reduce the nitrates, if the Live Rock was not full cured then the tank must be cycled in the normal process.

Once the tank is cycled and the water results are normal then you can start to add your live stock slowly. With salt water tanks you must take your time when adding fish or invertebrates, always check that the tests results prove that the water is ready for any new additions.

As mentioned above this is only a brief guide to setting up your salt water tank, all of the above points will be discussed in greater detail with future articles being added to this site.

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Mick
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