GETTING THE TANK READY

Written by Katherine Barrington Published November 18, 2013
Getting the tank ready. Creating an ecosystem. Running the tank system.
Getting The Tank Ready

The tank needs to be washed with unsalted water and a non-abrasive rag or sponge. Now you will need to:

  • Set-up the display stand remembering to leave room around the tank perimeter for maintenance purposes and power outlet accessibility
  • Before setting the tank onto the display stand put in some type of cushion-like material
  • Make sure the stand is balanced to prevent tipping
  • Once the tank is set and leveled off put in any devices needed to operate the system, but don't plug them in just yet
  • You can add unsalted water to the tank and filtration devices.
  • At this point you have the option of adding an aquascape, as outlined above, which is a technique of incorporating certain natural and non-natural ingredients i.e. rocks, decorations, plants, to the tank to impart an impression of a natural ecosystem. You can also add a background to the tank as a decorative touch if you like.

Wet Testing


For the first day or two the tank system will be operated without the addition of livestock. This is called a wet test and it allows you to make sure that all of the equipment is in good working order and that the tank structure is solid. For the period of this time you will need to:

  • Perform a wet test by starting all the equipment and allow the tank to run for 24-48 hours. During this time, check for leaks, trickling or other loss of water, temperature with and without lights on, adjust and fine tune the heater(s), as well as make up the saltwater mixture per the manufacturer's instructions.
  • If using a protein skimmer, at this time no waste will be produced until salt and organic matter are added to the tank, but you can check for bubble production, and if using a counter current skimmer, test the air pump operation.

After the wet test has been completed measure the height of the tank water. This is to ensure it remains at a sufficient level while all devices are functioning. This needs to be done while the tank is still full of water and all devices are still active.

If necessary you can add additional water to reach the correct height. Once the water is at the ideal height, mark an area on the external surface of the tank with a permanent marker. You now have an indicator in the event that you need to add more water in the future.

Mixing Sea Salt

When selecting a sea salt mixture choose one that has a similar makeup as salt naturally found in seawater and one that contains as little contaminants as possible. Make sure that it includes all natural trace elements plus high calcium and magnesium concentrations to promote optimal growth for your fish and invertebrates. It is additionally important to make sure that it contains no nitrate, phosphate, or ammonia to minimize aggressive algae growth.

You will need a fairly large container to mix the sea salt mixture correctly. If you have a very large tank, you will need a good size container or you will have to mix it in the tank itself before starting the system up. Use a large mixing utensil such as a large spoon or paddle of some type and mix the sea salt according to package directions. It is mixed with ordinary tap water and stirred until fully dissolved.

Pour in the sea salt mixture letting un-dissolved particles settle on the bottom of the container. Adjust the specific gravity of the filter to the desired salinity, if needed. Turn off the pumps and heater while pouring the mixture in the tank or mixing it in the tank directly.

Hydrometers

Hydrometers are instruments that are used to measure the specific gravity of a fluid such as saltwater.

Example - Taking the measurement of the saline level or salt content in water.

Taking the time to test your saltwater aquarium water whether it is a fish-only or reef tank system is a very important part of maintenance, as it gives you an analysis of the condition or quality of the environment your marine inhabitants are living in. Top off the water level to make up for evaporation and keep the specific gravity at the desired salinity by adding freshwater to the "fill line" when needed.

Creating an Ecosystem
Selecting a Substrate

Substrates are surfaces where an organism grows or is attached and therefore is an essential element in any tank structure. It offers an aesthetic appeal, but also serve other functions such as providing places for fish to burrow, stabilizes pH levels and hides the filtration system.

Substrate provides living space for beneficial microbes, alkaline reserve and more for a system. There may be behavioral benefits for your livestock and it looks good in the tank as well. Although substrates can fulfill a biological function as well, it is not absolutely necessary to maintain a successful marine aquarium. Most aquarists however do prefer some form of substrate in their tanks or filters. When choosing your substrate, plan ahead to what your tank will be in the end (FO, FOWLR, Reef). Each substrate material has its own pros and cons. Some materials, such as crushed coral and Aragonite, are good sources of calcium, which is an element required by corals. Others are good for a wide variety of sand sifters and other substrate cleaners.

Aragonite is just one type of substrate that is used in salt-water aquariums. It has many benefits such as, it is an organic mineral that provides calcium, which some invertebrates need, comes in a variety of textures and works well with live rock, live sand, and a number of filters.

Helpful Tip: If you slope the gravel so it is higher in the back and on the sides, any waste and other matter will automatically slope downward, making it easy to siphon off while cleaning.

Live Rock/Sand

When talking about live rock, it is a misconception that the rock itself is alive. What makes it live are the many forms of micro and macroscopic marine life that live on and inside of it. The rock itself is only made up of the calcium carbonate skeletons of long dead corals, or other calcareous organisms. The use of live rock immediately introduces into the aquarium numerous algae, bacteria and small invertebrates that contribute to the overall quality of the aquarium water. Live rock has just as much, if not more, surface area for bacteria than a trickle filter. Since live rock in the aquarium contains various types of bacteria, algae and corals, waste products such as ammonia, nitrate and phosphate can have a number of fates. Algae and corals growing on and in the rock readily assimilate them. Ammonia can also be quickly converted into nitrate by the bacteria on and in the rock. The algae and corals can either absorb this nitrate, or bacteria in close proximity to the nitrate-producing bacteria can denitrify it.


Live sand is loaded with beneficial bacteria that break down nitrogen-based waste produced by tank inhabitants. Several types of worms and crustaceans found in live sand are also beneficial and are used by many fish as a natural food source. The grain size of live sand ranges from fine (sugar size) to medium grade. The recommended amount of Live Sand for an aquarium is 1 to 1-1/2 pounds per gallon, depending on the desired thickness. For a sand layer of 2 inches, 1-1/2 pounds per gallon will work well.

Macroalgae

Caulerpa is macroalgae that falls into the green algae group. It grows in various shades of bright green colors, as well as different forms and shapes - some growing tall, others growing as mats. With over a hundred of this species found in tropical and temperate waters worldwide, two of the most common forms popular with aquarists are the Feather and Grape varieties. Macroalgae uses runners and roots for anchoring themselves in place, deriving their nourishment (nitrates & phosphates) from the water by means of absorption through their blades or fronds.

The feather-like blades that extend from the branches that grow upright from the rhizome (runner) can easily identify the Feather species. The Grape species are identified by the characteristic miniature round grape-like clusters that form on the branches that stem upright from the rhizome of these plants. Another form of Caulerpa is the Razor type, also known as the Razor Ribbon. They are recognizable because of the razor-like appearance of their blades.

Corals

While it has become easier than ever to find exotic corals from online retailers, the biggest challenge is in handling and acclimating these delicate creatures to an aquarium environment. But with a careful touch and the right approach, experienced aquarium hobbyists can enjoy a beautiful living reef in their own aquarium. A pair of Aqua Gloves or disposable gloves is highly recommended when handling all corals, and will reduce the possibility of irritating the coral. Always handle all corals with a gentle touch in order to minimize the chances of damaging the specimen.

Corals are highly adaptive to different lighting conditions, but some are more sensitive to change than others. It takes time for a coral to acclimate to its new environment, and care must be taken to help it make the adjustment.

When determining the final placement of coral in your aquarium, research the lighting and water flow requirements carefully. Pay particular attention to the coral's aggression toward other inhabitants within the aquarium as well. Then you can place the coral in an open space within the rockwork. Don't forget to allow room for future growth.

Running the Tank System

Shut down all tank devices and draw out the water. Fill the tank back up with the saltwater mixture. Key points to remember include:

  • If the mixture was blended in a separate receptacle you will need to add saltwater to the tank and filtration devices
  • Avoid any un-liquefied fragments that have settled to the receptacle floor
  • Restart all tank devices and allow them to operate for a few days
  • Protein skimmers will deliver oxygen to the water and augment gas replacement
  • The technique for in tank saltwater blending is identical to that of using a separate receptacle except you need to operate only the devices required for mixing.
  • Once the saltwater is blended add some to the filtration devices and run the rest of the devices as mentioned above.

Over the next few days while the tank is in operation you will need to check the following:

  • Water temperature (keep between 72-79 degrees)
  • Salinity, adding water to compensate for any that is lost during vaporization and to regulate specific gravity (measure salinity (specific gravity) with a hydrometer. Adjust salinity to the desired level. Adding salt or water as needed can do this. NOTE: Recommended specific gravity is 1.021-1.023 for marine fish and 1.021-1.024 for marine invertebrates.
  • pH levels (pH Up raises the pH of your tank, making water more alkaline. This is good for African Cichlid tanks. pH Down lowers pH levels making water more acidic. This is good for egg-laying fish and certain live plants. So basically pH levels will depend heavily on the type of fish you plan to have in the tank. Check with your local pet store regarding the proper levels once you purchase your fish. 
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