SALTWATER AQUARIUM CARE BASICS; Fish, Nano, Reef
Please note that due to new information and methods being developed/explored, that there is no one best way to set up a marine/reef aquarium, so I would be cautious of anyone who states as such (in my experience these persons are generally closed minded to new research such as in aquarium Redox, which generally makes their opinions less than helpful in keeping a healthy marine aquarium).
For beginners, a small aquarium such as a Nano Reef can be difficult, as many problems can accelerate in an aquarium this small. For this reason I recommend a first marine aquarium to be at least 40 gallons (although I know of many aquarists who have started with smaller aquariums and have been successful!)
 FILTRATION, Including Substrate and Live Rock;
Good filtration is a must for a successful marine aquarium. There are many different filters available too.
Filtration is also performed by Live Rock, so please read more in the section about the Berlin Method (Live Rock) further down in this article.
*Canister filters are excellent for their capacity, but can these filters can become what are sometimes called "Nitrate factories" if not set p correctly and/or rinsed very regularly (once per week unless de-nitrification or nitrate absorbing media is used such as Matrix or Purigen).
A few Canister Filters I recommend are the SunSun, Eheim, Filstar, and the Magnum (for certain applications).
In fact, because of this "Nitrate Factory" tendency; Canister Filters should not be used for delicate Marine Reef tanks as sold "out of the box".
To improve on the “nitrate factory” aspect of these filters do NOT use bio balls or ceramic filter media, rather I prefer to add products such as SeaChem Matrix and/or volumes of cure live rock crumbles/rubble or volcanic rock to my canister filters.
For higher flow rates I recommend larger crumbles (to provide less penetration of oxygen into the live rock so as to insure anaerobic bacterial growth). 2-5 centimeters is what I have generally used in live rock rubble size (smaller sizes are best for slower flow rates such as 150 gph, while larger sizes are best for higher flow rates such as 500+ gph).
When loaded up with Matrix, Live Rock Crumbles, and/or Volcanic Rock as well as serviced regularly, your Canister filter should be perfectly fine for Marine Reef Aquarium Use!!
Please read the canister filter section of this article: Aquarium Filtration; Canister Filters for further information.
*Matrix; For the removal of Nitrogenous Waste, including Nitrate
*Purigen; Controls Ammonia, Nitrites and Nitrates
*SunSun Aquarium Canister Filter; HW 402B, HW 303B & HW 304B
*Rena Filstar XP aquarium filter systems
*Wet/Dry filters are good, but as most are designed, these are usually are poor mechanical filters and can become nitrate factories as with canister filters.
*Sump systems with live rock, plants, and sponge filters work well.
*Sponge; The benefit with the use of a Sponge filter (such as in a sump, in place of bio balls or simply as a stand alone filter) is the ease of rinsing, which if rinsed regularly, will nullify any possibility of becoming a nitrate factory and will increase your aquariums ability to bounce back quickly from spikes in wastes (resulting in very undesirable spikes in ammonia).
*Protein Skimmers employ a chamber with a column of fine bubbles. Surface tension attracts organic waste to the bubbles & carries it through the column (this is called foam fractionation); then it is "skimmed" into a collection cup.
Let me add one point about protein skimmers is that although protein skimmers are a useful tool in marine and reef aquariums (a tool I recommend too), they are not essential for all marine aquariums, especially fish only tanks.
Finally as to Skimmers, since they work via foam refraction on organic proteins in the water, they will not collect much foam in a new marine aquarium, so do not get discouraged if yours does not work well in the first few weeks after initial setup.
*Fluidized Sand Bed Filters; These filters are an excellent compliment to Protein Skimmers, especially when no other bio filters are utilized.
*Hang on back filters (HOB) are very limited for saltwater aquariums, but can be used too, especially if combined with other bio filters (in particular de-nitrifying bio filters) and Protein Skimmers.
The Internal Wet-Dry Filters such as the ReSun BF100 might be a better choice than a HOB if you are considering one for their simplicity.
*Ecosystem mud filtration is effective for nitrate removal (due to the large colonies of anaerobic bacteria), they can be simpler to use than a protein Skimmer in my opinion (although Ecosystems do work, I believe they are over hyped for fish aquaria).
*Power Heads along with wave makers (for more high tech reef tanks) are an excellent addition (& IMO a necessary addition when live rock is used as a major source of bio filtration) as these can add valuable cross currents and can be directed in ways that make for tidal zone like circulation. Many such as the Rio 1000 Powerhead, Pump are quite versatile and fit many small to medium saltwater tanks well.
For larger aquariums and especially sumps, the Rio 1700 Pump, Rio 26HF or especially larger pumps are also useful especially for sumps, or unique applications such as the one pictured here at this site: “Water Return Manifold” (sometimes referred to as closed loop system, although this is not my definition, a better definition is just that; a water return manifold).
*Wave Makers/Controller can be a good idea if you have sensitive corals that live in tidal zones.
These energy efficient pumps have come down much in price from the originals, first with the Hydro Koralia, then with the slightly better designed and better price/value Seio Propeller Pumps (see the picture to the left).
Please see my full Aquarium Filtration article for MUCH more information about filters:
MORE ABOUT LIVE ROCK AND THE BERLIN FILTER METHOD:
The Berlin Filter method as I apply it is the use of cured live rock (A) In the tank, or (B) In sumps or other filters.
Back to sand, for a reef marine aquarium I highly recommend a deep sand bed of at least 3 inches, with 4-5 inches preferred. For fish only, 2-4 inches works well in most aquariums.
On top of the fine sand I recommend a layer of #3 crushed coral for improved nitrification and better waste control, not to mention easier vacuuming.
Here is a very helpful online sand/substrate calculator:
More about live rock:
You may also create your own using rock high in calcium carbonate (coralline rock), or even dead coral skeletons by placing them under healthy cured live rock for a couple of months in a healthy aquarium (reef set ups are best for this). It is important to use very porous rock for the proper benefits of live rock.
An important point as to live rock, is to soak and “swish” your rock around in a bucket of de-chlorinated freshwater for 5 minutes. This has worked well for me and kills Oodinium pathogens and many (not all) creatures such polychaete worms (AKA Bristleworms) will fall out for your removal. Creatures you want to keep that fall out during this process can be simply placed back into the main aquarium. This has worked well for me over the years at minimizing disease risk and introduction of undesirables.
Nitrate & Phosphate Removal Filtration;
(A) Mud Filters, Deep Sand; As mentioned above, Mud filters can be very useful for Nitrate removal as are deep sand beds or even a DIY deep sand bed “filter” in which you can use a bucket or another small aquarium.
(B) Live Rock Crumbles, Matrix; Also as mentioned above; a lot of cured live rock is extremely helpful for nitrate removal, this should also be used as live rock crumbles in wet/dry, canister or similar filters in place of bio balls or ceramic media which tend to promote high nitrates. Volcanic Rock can be substituted for live rock crumbles/scrap.
(C) Protein Skimmers; these devices remove protein based organics before entering the nitrogen cycle, thus never allowing nitrates to form.
(D) Use of products such as NPX BioPlastics that promote anaerobic bio activity that in turns greatly lowers nitrates and phosphates.
This product works by promoting Anaerobic zones to develop within the pellets, resulting de-nitrification there-in.
As well, when "churned" in a Fluidized Filter or Reactor, bacteria develop on the pellet surfaces and slough off, then these bacteria can be removed with a protein skimmer or serve as planktonic food for corals, clams, sponges and other filter-feeding invertebrates.
(E)Use of Synthetic Adsorption such as products like API Phos-Zorb or SeaChem Purigen.
(F) Plants or green algae such as Caulerpa algae (although Caulerpa Algae is now regulated in many areas) or Green Gracillaria directly in the aquarium or in a DIY Refugium/Mud Filter or Algae Scrubber.
(G) Pre-Filters such as ATIs "Filter Max" on filter intakes; these are easily rinsed and remove organic matter before it can go thru the nitrogen cycle.
(H) Improved cleaning methods such as where by as much decomposing organics are removed. The use of battery powered sludge removing vacuums such as the Eheim Sludge Remover Gravel Vacuum is very useful, especially in tanks without deep sand beds.
A 6,400K to 20,000 K Daylight bulb is a start for most basic marine aquarium applications.
For more advanced reef keeping you will need to consider the power compacts, the T-5, HO T5, the Metal Halide, the even newer LED, SHO bulbs, or for small tanks, the T2 lights (T2s are not suggested for advanced reef tanks).
My latest study with Red Slime Algae really showed me how much these LED lights can do for an aquarium.
Lighting is a VERY complex subject, deserving a full article, so I STRONGLY RECOMMEND reading this extremely in depth article for vastly more aquarium lighting information from basics to complex:
If you are keeping reef tank with Photosynthetically sensitive corals, another important point that is often missed is specimen placement. I would move corals as high up in the water column as possible, this especially important with SPS corals (short polyp stony corals) where placement on the rocks directly under your lights is even more essential.
I should also note that with SPS corals in my own experience, placement low or even in substrate that I have observed the corals getting “eaten away” by bacteria from the bottom up; while this is an anecdotal observation of mine (as other factors were not tested in a controlled scientific study), it is still consideration in coral specimen placement. The bottom line is that you can have the best lighting system that money can buy, but poor placement of specimens can make it all for not.
Finally do not inadvertently block your light by having dirty salt covered bulbs, or even by placing a glass top between your lights and aquarium water. A glass top is OK for most fish but often can block essential light energy necessary for corals.
 TEST KITS;
An ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, ph, Hydrometer, and KH (Alkalinity) test kit are all important. For reef aquariums a Calcium and Magnesium Test Kit are also highly recommended.
 WATER CHEMISTRY;
Start with a good marine salt and mix it to a specific gravity of 1.019- 1.024 for fish (although there is some controversy as to whether fish should be kept in a slightly hyposalinity environment, my admittedly less than scientific records on this subject seem to indicate a slightly lower incidence of some parasitic diseases).
Use Reverse Osmosis (RO) water to top off with for evaporation to prevent potential buildup of nitrate or other elements from tap water or even well water. If tap water is used (which again I recommend avoiding), use water conditioners such as “Prime” to neutralize the chlorine, chloramines and heavy metals. For much more about tap water please see this article:
What Salt Mix to Use?:
What I can tell readers is both from experience (but this is subjective) and some of the science behind synthetic sea salts for aquarium use.
General Marine Aquarium Water Parameters to maintain:
Please note that there are differences for actual ocean parameters such as alkalinity (KH), this is due to the fact that the marine aquarium is a closed system and this can be depleted quickly, so a higher alkalinity “reserve” is necessary.
A few more water chemistry tips;
*Be patient with the cycling process. There are several methods, but adding CURED live rock will help jump start this process. You can add small amounts of food every day before fish are added to help stimulate the formation of aerobic bacteria.
*Change water regularly especially in areas of waste accumulation, this will help maintain low nitrates.
*Please note that with Reef tanks in particular, keeping exacting water parameters is more essential than with fish.
Another product that is useful, especially for reef keepers is Sea Chem Reef Builder (which is similar to Marine Buffer except Reef Builder does NOT raise pH, and is aimed more for the needs of a reef aquarium). Generally I would recommend this product for alkalinity and other important minor elements when pH is not a problem.
Kalkwasser is a popular method for pH stabilization and alkalinity however I personally do not recommend it for beginners. If Kalkwasser is added to your aquarium too fast it will be converted to carbonate ions which ties up Calcium your inhabitants need. With proper drip or vinegar methods it will convert to Bi-carbonates allowing for the necessary Calcium.
A better method in my opinion, also originating in Germany is the "Balling Method" developed by Hans-Werner Balling.
Most of the coralline algae, which secrete calcium carbonate need not only bio available calcium but other trace elements in the proper balance which is why a complete buffer such as Sea Chem Marine Buffer should be used to adjust alkalinity.
*Complete diets will also add some trace and minor elements as well as water changes and aragonite substrates.
Amino Acids for Corals
Calcium Reactor/ Advanced Methods
For more advanced reefs you may want or need to add separate elements such as Strontium, Iodine (Iodide), Magnesium and Calcium.
Another more simple alternative to a calcium reactor (albeit not as effective) is the use of a Fluidized Filter employing Oolitic sand media.
*If fish and other marine inhabitants do not have proper trace and minor elements, their health will suffer.
 UV STERILIZATION;
UV Sterilizers are in my opinion, not essential, but based on 35 years of research and hands on tests, they are VERY important, and in fact is a tool I was rarely without in with my contracted marine aquarium customers.
Even with smaller aquariums (Nano Reefs, etc.) a UV sterilizer is still a good idea.
Heating is a rather simple subject that I will not go into any detail other than refer to this "Aquarium Answers" article that discusses "Types" and provides a few reviews as well:
For cooling in summer, as with the Freshwater Basic article (cooling/heating), these same principles apply:
 NEW FISH AND INVERTEBRATE INTRODUCTION:
The best way to acclimate your new fish, corals or other delicate marine inhabitants is to place your bag in a bucket, then open a VERY small area so as to insert an air line tube.
 COMMON ALGAE:
Here are couple of commonly encountered algae in marine aquariums, especially with live rock. Both are forms of Macro Algae, the top being grape Caulerpa while the bottom is the fast growing (and illegal in some states) taxifolia. However the taxifolia is an excellent source for food for many fish from Dwarf angels to tangs as well a great Nitrate Sponge that is useful in Refugiums.
Although not the problem or scourge that red slime (Cyanobacteria), Filamentous Hair Algae can over take an aquarium in short order and is an indicator of high nitrates and phosphates. Although I consider green algae growth generally an indicator of a healthy marine aquarium, normally I recommend less problematic algae such as the Macro-Algae.
 PROPER FISH FEEDING, including species specific diet;
Do not over crowd a marine aquarium.
Of coarse a basic fish food is but a starting place for proper feeding, especially among the diversity of marine fish commonly kept.
It is also noteworthy that many invertebrates kept, such as anemones and corals have specific dietary needs. So it is important to find these our BEFORE purchasing any individual new specimen.
Many Fish need specific foods in their diet for long term health, here are just a few:
*Angels from the Genus “Centropyge” such as Flame Angels and Coral Beautys need marine algae in their diet.
*Butterfly Fish from the Genus “Chemon” such as Copperband Butterflies need small foods such as mysis shrimp, FD or frozen shrimp, and fresh or frozen clam. However, even though many will eat these foods in captivity, many butterflys only truly thrive with live coral to pick at and be at least a part of their diet.
*Trigger Fish from the Genus “Balistoides” such as Clown Triggerfish require Urchin in their diet.
*Mandarin Dragonets (also called Mandarin Gobies)
Feeding is the problem with Mandarins. Amphipods and copepods (small crustaceans that inhabit the sea floor) are the best diet for these fish if they can be cultured in small broken live rock piles. Some will take foods such as frozen brine shrimp and bloodworms.
• Try feeding roe, or fish eggs. These can be obtained at Asian markets under the name of flying fish eggs. They look like the orange little balls on sushi rolls.• Create a "pod pile" of small chunks of live rock in a corner. Pile the rubble up so fish cannot enter and spray the area with minute bits of food to herd the pods into the safety area to feed and reproduce.
For more about copepods and other pods:
* “Pods, Delicious and Nutritious”
Also from the author of this previous article, cultured ocean pods:
* Aquacultured Copepods for the Hobbyist
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 STARTER FISH TO ADVANCED FISH & INHABITANTS:
Here are a few livestock suggestions:
For a basic article that has more about different beginner fish/inhabitants (also advanced fish/invertebrates), along with pictures, please see this article:
 Poisonous Marine Pets;
Foxface and Lionfish produce a neurotoxin that attacks the nervous system, so does the Stone Fish and the Blue Ring Octopus (as well as the Black Widow Spider).
Here are marine animals of note:
Box Fish, Trunk fish, & Cowfish:
 MARINE ICH (Cryptocaryon irritans) TREATMENT;
Your medication options starting with the strongest are:
 MARINE OODINIUM (Amyloodinium Ocellatum);
This disease (or infestation) is also called Coral Fish Disease and saltwater Velvet.
This article is aimed at giving out good, reliable and tested information to help the reader make informed choices (not just popular/anecdotal) as I have used many different methods in my maintenance business over the years and have tested the differences.
Saltwater Aquarium Poll
This is a basic article, if you are interested in SW, please read/ask/learn as much as possible. Also find a good LFS with good advice.
Avoid internet sites, LFS, and books that say their way is the only way; this usually is a bad indicator of closed mindedness that results in new research being ignored.
Aquarium Information; The Internets Premier aquatic resource -My expanded article site; A great source for current aquarium information that is updated regularly as new research becomes available.
AQUARIUM AND POND ANSWERS -Questions answered from aquatic forums; from Tap Water, Fish Baths, Dips, Swabs, Do Fish Drink?, to use of Carbon in Aquariums, Fish Parasites and MUCH more.
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