A Simple Guide for Beginning A Saltwater Aquarium
For many of us, the idea of having a saltwater aquarium has been a dream wished for but never realized. The practice of keeping saltwater animals has been described as an impossible task left to only the most experienced hobbyists. In the past, some would argue this statement may have been true. However, with recent advancements in both technical equipment and theory, many amateur and beginning aquarists are having greater success in the marine hobby than they ever dreamed possible. Even with the latest advancements in technology, a critical factor for success is the dedication of the hobbyist. This dedication involves, in large part, an understanding of what is needed to make your aquarium function and thrive. This understanding takes patience, desire and guidance in a hobby where there are as many differing opinions and ideas as there are hobbyists.
This guide has been assembled to offer suggestions and guidance to the beginning saltwater aquarist. It is based on our many years of experience, and those of our successful clients. We hope you find this information helpful. We invite you to explore our online store and allow us to assist you in any way that we can.
The subjects covered in this guide are:
- Starting out the right way
- Where to begin in this vast hobby
- What to Buy
- Selecting and caring for your first fish
- Acclimating Your New Saltwater Fish
- Some thoughts from former beginners
Starting out the right way
Learning the basics of aquarium keeping is essential for success, no matter what kind of fish you choose. Learning the basics of filter operation, maintenance, and the many chemical reactions that happen in aquariums, helps give an overall view of what is occurring inside those glass walls and can help minimize mistakes before they occur. Every beginner can benefit from time spent learning about the hobby before they buy. We spend time each day assisting hobbyists who have acted too quickly and are experiencing problems that could have been avoided by slowing down and doing things right from the start. Beginning with a good book can give you a quick tutorial, as well as a permanent reference when questions arise. Two excellent books that should be in every new aquarists library are: The New Marine Aquarium, by Michael S. Paletta, and The Conscientious Marine Aquarist, by Robert M. Fenner. You may find these under books from the home page.
Where to begin in this vast hobby?
In order to properly assist in your saltwater creation, we must first discuss what will be kept in the aquarium. Fish, corals, crabs and anemones all require slightly different levels of care, and knowing what is compatible requires great expertise. We will be happy to explain the differences between fish-only aquariums, live rock based systems, and coral reef systems so that you can make the proper decision on what and what not to keep in your aquarium. Our experts have years of experience helping people entering the hobby at a skill level appropriate for the individual and to assist them as they grow in the hobby.
Decide early on what you're going to keep in the aquarium. The most common and logical place to begin is with a fish-only aquarium. Keeping marine fish is the best and easiest way to begin in the marine hobby. You will find that costs are not significantly more than a well-equipped freshwater aquarium and it probably uses equipment that you may already be familiar with. In reality it's not that it's more difficult, it's just different.
What to Buy?
A good filtration system combining biological, mechanical, and chemical filters. Reef aquariums should include protein skimmers or ultraviolet sterilizers. Live rock and live sand are not required for a fish-only tank.
Home Aquarium Test Kit. Most quick test kits are designed to test levels of nitrate, nitrite, hardness, alkalinity, and pH, in parts per million (ppm). The following levels are acceptable and will help you determine if you water is safer for introducing fish: Nitrate (0-40) Nitrite's should remain at (0) Alkalinity (180-300) pH (8.0-8.4).
A quality thermometer and submersible heater, especially if you reside in the more northern regions of the country. A steady temperature of 78-80 degrees is recommended.
A hydrometer. This device measures the salt content of the water in the aquarium. Freshwater has a specific gravity of 1.000. Natural seawater has a specific gravity of 1.025-1.026. A specific gravity of 1.020-1.023 is suitable for most aquariums.
A bacteria culture liquid conditioner. Essential for cycling the aquarium. Liquid Bacteria are added once the aquarium has been prepared, i.e. dechlorinated, heated and/or chilled, and salted to the proper level. Once bacteria are added to the aquarium and allowed an ample cycle time, you're that much closer to having a successful saltwater fish only tank. This period can range from a few days to a week or more, depending on the method used. After the cycling period and testing your waters parameters and feeling confident about the results, you may now proceed to your favorite local pet store to pick the first lucky candidate. If you'd like as an added safety measure, you may have your water tested, by bringing a sample with you. Most pet stores are more than happy to test your water before purchasing a fish! Don't forget to ask how your nitrates, nitrites, ammonia, ph and salinity levels are. These are vital.
To begin a saltwater fish-only aquarium you will need the following:
- Aquarium & Appropriate Aquarium Stand
- Marine Sea Salt Mix
- Hood with fluorescent light
- Water Conditioners such as Bacterial Starter
- Mechanical/Chemical/Biological Filter
- Substrate depending on filtration
- Submersible Heater or Chiller for larger aquaria
- Home Test Kit
Optional Equipment Recommended For Reef Fish Tanks:
- Protein Skimmer
- UV Sterilizer
- Calcium Reactor/CO2 Injector
- Circulation Pumps/Power Heads for tall or long aquariums
- Wet/Dry Sump Filter
Our complete Aquarium Set-Up packages from quality manufacturers offer a perfect all in one aquarium addition to your home or office. We think they are a great value and a perfect way to begin your saltwater marine fish aquarium hobby. We are constantly searching the market assuring you the latest and best equipment available. See our online store for set ups and other products to help get you started.
Selecting and Caring for your First Fish
Before any fish are added to the aquarium it's imperative the environment first be prepared properly. A great starter fish for more large aquariums is the damselfish. They are small, hardy, disease resistant, and enthusiastic eaters. As our store grows we will eventually sell and ship live goods to choose from our online store.
Fish for beginners to consider include certain species of:
- Clown/Anemone Fish
- Cardinal fish
- Certain Wrasses
- Fire fish
- Marine Betas
Some species within the above families attain a large size and may become aggressive towards other species later on. (However reporting's from hobbyist of marine aquariums have proved some rules have been broken on occasions, by successfully keeping species together that were once thought of as never co-existing together in an aquarium). These are some of the neat things you have to look forward to as you advance in this hobby.
Fish for beginners recommended to wait on keeping include:
- Large Angelfish Species
- Butterfly fish
- Rabbit fish
- Sweet lips
- Most Puffers
Most of these fish are suitable only after the aquarium is completely cycled (3-6 months) and the basic feeding, observation, and maintenance skills have been established and mastered. But don't worry, with time you will have refined your techniques and be well on your way to keeping a large variety of different species. Remember start small, learn as you go and grow big with your fish. Don't forget to have fun in your new exciting hobby!!
Fish for expert/advanced hobbyists only:
- Moorish Idols
- Regal Angelfish
- Most Anthias
- Most Sharks
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