Originally Posted by uplift
I am researching saltwater aquariums because I am looking into finally getting one for myself. I will start off with the minimum and I am looking for some general advice in starting one. Any advice or suggestions to where I could get more information would be greatly appreciated.
This is what I have been reading:
Try to get 1 to 2 pounds of live rock per aquarium gallon. At least. There is no such thing as too much live rock in the average marine tank.
It often takes 4 to 8 weeks before you can add any marine fish safely to your marine aquarium setup.
Change the 4 - 8 to more like 8 - 12, depending on the quality & density of live rock you purchase. The important thing to remember when cycling is that each tank will cycle at its own rate and you should be tracking its progress via water testing until you have completed the cycle. Once complete, 1 or 2 fish, depending on the size of the tank, should be added at a time. Beyond the first fish, all new fish should spend 2 - 3 wks in quarantine before going into the main tank.
Saltwater Hydrometer or even better a refractometer Refractometer is more accurate and worth the investment. If you choose a hydrometer please find someone with a refractometer who can calibrate it for you. Most hydrometers are off to some degree, it has to do with the temps during manufacturing. Some of them are off by enough to make it the difference between life and death of the animals.
Aquarium filter (not absolutely necessary if running with adequate amounts of live rock, but nice to have if you need to use a mechanical filter or activated carbon, etc.)
Define filter? Your live rock is a filter, then there are hang on back filters, canister filters, wet/dry/sump, etc etc. Marine systems tend to function primarily on biological filtration, but mechanical filters can also come in handy at times.
Replacement filter media like filter floss and activated carbon (if you get a filter) Be careful about running carbon long term in a marine tank. If water changes are often enough, a good skimmer is used, enough live rock is present, there are not many reasons carbon should be needed. When it comes to marine tanks, the filter media you are most likely to need would be a phosphate remover.
Multiple Powerheads (2 or 3)
Heater - be sure to get one large enough for the size tank you're getting
Saltwater fish food Food should not be selected until you know what animals you are feeding. Most marine fish have quite specialized diets in comparison to their freshwater cousins.
Aquarium vacuum For a marine tank work with manual hoses and vacs, nothing that hooks up to the sink. You will need to control the amount of flow coming out of the tank if you should choose to vac the substrate for any reason. Generally, a marine substrate does not get a regular vac such as would be done in a freshwater tank. Between bacteria, clean up crews, and other "critters" living in your sand bed, there shouldn't be much need for gravel vacs. Gravel vacs can come in handy if the tank gets overfed, or something dies in the tank, but a standard siphon hose can work just as well for these things without the need for the vac.
It is also a good idea to have a good size length of airline tubing on hand for cleaning. As live rock breaks down the rock will turn to a powdery type substance, and will begin to fill pockets in the rock. This can affect water chemistry long term and should be removed when the build up gets to be noticeable. Airline tubing makes this job much easier than a typical large siphon hose.
Let me add to your list here a bit if I may...
A good quality skimmer is important, especially if this is your first time working with a marine tank. Marine animals are much more sensitive to fluctuations in their water chemistry and the water quality. A skimmer helps leave a lot less room for deadly (and expensive) mistakes.
One of the most important tools you will find you need is a quarantine tank. The size of this tank should be chosen based on the species of animals you decide to keep, but beyond the first fish/animal to go into your tank, quarantine is a must have. Most marine animals are still wild caught, vs their freshwater cousins that are now primarily captive bred. This leaves a lot more room for illness and disease to come into your tank. Many of the illnesses/diseases/parasites that marine fish come in with are not easily detectable until in a more advanced stage, which can take weeks to present itself to you. Treating marine illness is also more difficult and complicated than many of the common freshwater problems, the animals are much more sensitive to the medications and the stress.
Components for the quarantine tank should include filtration, heater, small amount of live rock and some kind of artificial decor for the fish to find shelter.
Substrate... I suggest sand as it will offer you the widest variety of animals that can thrive in your tank. Live sand is more beneficial than dry arragonite sand, and the sand bed should be approximately 4 inches deep for most animals. There are some who warrant a bit more and some who warrant a bit less.
Test kits! These are a must. For a marine tank expect to need on hand at all times, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, carbonate hardness, calcium, and phosphate. These are your standard tests for marine situations, and if you post with questions or problems, water test results are one of the first things you will be asked to provide. Logging exact numbers when you test can help keep track of changes as your tank progresses.
Mixing vat with power head & heater for premixing the salt water. This is also a must. For a marine tank all water for water changes must be premixed, at least 24 hrs in advance of using it, with a power head to circulate it and help dissolve the salt completely, and a heater to bring it up to the same temp as the tank it is going into. Don't forget your thermometers for tank and mixing vat.
Another vat for RO/DI water supply. Whenever water goes into the tank spg/salinity should be checked to see if you need to add fresh water (RO/DI) or saltwater. Water evaporates, salt does not. This will fluctuate your salinity at a constant rate, and if not watched carefully can reach lethal conditions quickly. I never suggest using tap water in a marine tank for many reasons. There is just too much in the average tap water to use safely in most marine tanks.
Ample supply of RO/DI water. Depending on the size of your tank, it may be most practical for you to consider installing an RO/DI unit for your home. Large tanks that require larger water changes can be quite difficult to maintain if the water is purchased by the gallon, not to mention the expense. With any tank over 55 gallons the RO/DI unit typically pays for itself in the course of the first yr or so. This will raise your water bill, as these units have a large amount of waste water output, but the benefits outweigh this expense, and this expense doesn't compare to that of purchasing water if you are using it in large quantities.
With smaller tanks, if you choose to purchase your RO/DI water, its a good idea to find out the tds in the water, and to test the water each time you purchase it (before using it for the tank). Places such as grocery stores who sell RO/DI that you bottle yourself from their unit, are not known for keeping their filter cartridges replaced as frequently as they need to be for a marine tank. Prebottled RO water is often more consistent, but should still be monitored to avoid problems in your tank.
Once you have done your water testing you may find you need to add liquid calcium, possibly pH buffers, trace elements, etc to your clean water supply before using it, or may need to dose the main tank. Be prepared for these expenses up front and be sure to test frequently. As rock, substrate, and animals go into the tank these levels will fluctuate, and as fish grow and the tank matures, these levels will fluctuate further... its always good to expect to need these things at some point in your tanks lifetime so it doesn't catch you off guard. Which animals you choose will also determine which of these additives you are more likely to need and how regularly you may need them.
Sorry for such a long post, but I tried to make sure I didn't forget anything important you will want when you begin.
Once you know what size tank you will be working with let us know and we'll help get your through the set up phase. If you have more questions, please, by all means... ask. In case nobody else has yet mentioned it to you, bigger is always better and easier, so work with the largest tank you can accommodate and afford.
I hope this all helps.