Here is a quick rundown of some of the necessary equipment and the recommended steps one will need when first setting up a marine aquarium. You will need the following:
- An acrylic or glass tank with the capacity that is relative with regard to your house space, budget and level of commitment to the project. For the average hobbyist there is no need for huge tanks, although an aquarium with enough space, let’s say about 100 liters, is recommended. Remember, these are marine creatures we are dealing with here, they are used to swimming in big open waters, so let’s give them some space to move. A lid should also be provided, made out of glass or plastic, to prevent the evaporation of water.
- A base of wood or angle iron of good strength, so as to be able to accommodate marine aquarium.
- A thermometer is essential for gauging the water temperature of the system (very important because some species are quite sensitive to temperature fluctuations and require constant warmth) and it is accompanied by a heater (preferably water-proof) which helps regulate the temperature. Sometimes in the summer temperatures can rise significantly, and the lighting provides additional heat so a chiller is used to lower the temperature to a satisfying level.
- To select a type of substrate to be introduced, the preferred ones are aragonite sand and live sand .
- To artificially salt the water, the amount of salt to be used depends on the size of the tank. We need to use a device that is called a hydrometer to measure the salinity per liter of water as we are adding salt to the tank.
- Equipment for measuring the levels of various chemicals in our aquarium, such as the pH value, ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, calcium…
- Power heads, for circulating the water in the system, preferably two. A switching or variable-voltage system (wave-maker) can be used in reef aquaria to simulate the movement of the ocean. A popular model (albeit a little on the expensive side) is the OceanProp 15000, it is designed for silent operation, so it is handy if you want to relax while looking at some corals and fish because it won’t make a lot of noise.
- A proper filtration system is the essential part of the system, Aqua Medic Riff 500 is a good choice of marine aquarium filter made by a reputable company. Having a sump is also recommended.
- A good protein skimmer is an irreplaceable component of an aquarium, simply because its function is to remove the waste generated by marine system – keeping the tank nice and clean, and keeping everything inside alive by preventing the accumulation of decomposable material which would prompt the rise in ammonia levels. Aqua Medic makes some good skimmers, although the C-Skim 1800 is a personal favorite and the price is pretty reasonable considering what you are getting in return (it is better in the long run than constantly changing the salt water).
- Source of lighting To choose an adequate source of lighting for the specific life forms you wish to have in your tank. Generally the MH (metal halide) light is introduced with HQI (hydrargyrum quartz iodide) bulbs and Power Compact with actinic spectrum (many corals require a deep blue or actinic light spectrum to survive). Another option is the LED lighting which has lower power consumption than the traditional methods and doesn’t heat up as much.
- Live rock, to assist with the nitrogen cycle, it is the fastest method of achieving optimum ammonia, nitrate and nitrite levels for introducing some hardy fish as the first inhabitants.
- Some patience, as it will take several weeks for the aquarium to be suitable for the majority of fish and invertebrates.
After we have decided on a specific type of aquarium and purchased the necessary equipment and chosen a suitable location for proudly displaying our aquatic slice of heaven, we can then move on to assembly and installation of the system. The whole process can be completed in several relatively easy steps:
- Choose a suitable location – some place with a consistent temperature, where it won’t be in the way all the time, but still visible enough from a common sitting area.
- Find an adequate surface to put it on – choose a sturdy wooden table (no Ikea table is going to hold a 100 liter aquarium) and it is better to first place a base, for instance several inch thick styrofoam, then adjusting the tank and the sump (which will hold a lot of the filtering equipment) can be placed out of sight (e.g. a compartment in the table)
- Install the protein skimmer – take the skimmer and put it in your sump, or on the back of if you have a tank that will accommodate this mounting method.
- Adjust the water circulation – install the pump that will bring water from the sump to the tank, also all the additional power heads if you have them (one in the tank – submerged, one external).
- Place the heater in the slump
- Fill with water – use your hydrometer to get the right salinity, use good quality aquarium sea salt, and purified water (Reverse Osmosis).
- Add sand and run the pumps – a couple of inches of sand are recommended for optimum performance.
- Add live rock
- Wait for tank to cycle – this will take several weeks
- Start adding marine life – you should start of with small hermit crabs and other cleaning creatures, and then gradually add more exotic fish and corals or other invertebrates.
Image Courtesy: Microsoft