Tips You Need to Know About Keeping a Marine Aquarium

With so many colorful saltwater fish species like Tangs, Clownfish, and Angelfish, and many different types of corals, marine aquariums give fishkeepers the opportunity to create exquisite underwater worlds. As with freshwater aquariums, you have choices for saltwater. You can decide on a fish only aquarium, a FOWLR (fish only with live rock), or a reef aquarium. The biggest difference is the reef aquarium will contain live corals and other invertebrates. All saltwater aquariums require different care and maintenance than freshwater tanks, so if you’re considering setting up a saltwater tank for the first time, here are a few tips to get you started.

First, choose a tank for your marine aquarium. We recommend a slightly larger-than-average tank to comfortably house your aquarium inhabitants, so they’ll be less affected by sudden changes in water parameters that could be more harmful to them in smaller tanks. A volume of 50 gallons (190 litres) or more is a good starting size. If you are setting up a reef aquarium with live corals the wider the aquarium, the better.

Ensure that your marine or reef aquarium receives enough light, as many corals rely on zooxanthellae (algae) that grow inside them. The zooxanthellae within in the coral provide oxygen and other materials to the coral. As the algae needs sunlight to grow, the corals also need sunlight. Aquarium lighting can be a major source of heat that can raise the aquarium water temperature too higher than desired levels. LED lighting emits less heat than many conventional light sources. LED lights are compatible with most reefs and corals in saltwater aquariums, and is a great choice for high efficiency, lower power consumption, as well as minimal heat transfer to aquarium water.

Saltwater aquariums today are primarily tropical meaning warmwater. The species of fish and corals selected (for instance, Clownfish, Angelfish, and Tangs are all tropical saltwater fish) will need an aquarium heater. Most of the corals available for reef aquariums are from tropical conditions as well. In this case, select a heater that is conducive to the size of your tank and is easily adjustable.

Saltwater aquariums require specific conditions for corals and fish to thrive. We recommend purchasing the API® SALTWATER MASTER TEST KIT, which will enable you to test for high levels of pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate to keep your water parameters safe for your tank’s inhabitants. If you’re keeping a reef aquarium with live corals, additional parameters should also be monitored. The API® REEF MASTER TEST KIT tests calcium, carbonate hardness, nitrate and phosphate parameters, all of which need to be maintained at the appropriate levels for corals to thrive.

Keeping a refugium is generally a good idea for naturally removing nitrates and phosphate in your reef aquarium. Refugium is normally setup near the main display aquarium and is typically a smaller tank kept apart from the main aquarium but shares the same water supply. In the refugium macroalgae or even larger aquatic plants can be grown, depending on the space and light sources. As plants grow, they utilize nutrients in the water such as nitrates and phosphates. Aquatic macroalgae normally selected for a refugium can be harvested from time-to-time removing the nutrient they have accumulated. A few of your options include Chaeto and Caulerpa (grape, prolifera, Mexicana) which are easy to care for and grow quickly. Even Mangroves can be grown depending on the setup. Chaeto and Caulerpa grow in tangled masses of green plants and are commonly kept in a refugium. The name refugium stems from its ability to protect organisms that would not be able to survive in the main system (food, animals, bacteria, or photosynthesizers). Another benefit of keeping a refugium is microorganism such as copepods can grow and populate. As the copepods multiply they will be swept by currents into the main tank and will provide a food source for corals and fish.

Once you’ve set up your marine aquarium and are well-stocked with the proper equipment, it’s time to sit back and admire your efforts! Marine aquariums make a colorful and fun addition to any household or personal space, so enjoy and don’t forget to share your tank pictures with us!

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