It was puzzling and a bit of a battle to get to the prepared aquarium position – what size aquarium, what lights (will there be fish or corals as well), what bio-filtration, what if any additional filtration will there be, what pumps for circulation (will the water move enough), will there be a sump (is a sump needed), if a sump what about the sump pump, what goes in the sump?… and on.
The new marine aquarist has done the research for the above and has got to a successful conclusion. It took time but here’s the livestock. Doesn’t it look great! Now it needs to be kept that way.
Looking at some comments on the internet and reading some marine books it seems the task faced by the new marine aquarist is to obtain a specialist doctorate! This isn’t the case of course, as keeping a marine aquarium is quite straightforward but can be confusing. Temperature, pH, buffering systems, phosphate, nitrate, ammonia, nitrite, redox potential, gilvin, carbonate hardness, alkalinity, copper, silicon, nitrification, denitrification, trace elements, salinity, reverse osmosis, foam fractionation, ultraviolet radiation, carbon and on… the list seems endless. Some of the terminology is closely concerned with other terminology. However, there isn’t any need for deeper knowledge to begin with it can safely be kept quite simple.
The task facing the aquarist is to keep the livestock in good health, by doing this there will be enjoyment and not disappointment. Knowledge will grow on demand as experience itself grows.
The livestock are in the aquarium, or are in the process of being slowly introduced. This means that the biological filter is sufficient for its task, the lights are as required as are the heaters, the seawater pumps are adequate for the livestock and seawater gallonage – well, all of this type of thing has been decided and done.
The need now for the aquarium is basic maintenance. This includes cleaning the viewing glass of algae, keeping mechanical filters efficient and the like. The major effect on the livestock though is seawater quality.
When the seawater first goes into the aquarium it is first class being clean and just as required. However with livestock present and in the confines of an aquarium it deteriorates. High quality seawater is the number one requirement for both fish and corals (corals need correct lighting, this is a close second). So it follows that a major part of maintenance is to maintain seawater quality.
The first in the list is stable salinity. The aquarist will have discovered the required salinity range for the livestock and applied it, but this could change because of ‘salt creep’ and perhaps evaporation. So by the use of a simple hydrometer the salinity is easily checked. This check is best made after a routine seawater change, the guideline for this change is 10% of the net system gallonage weekly. The new seawater should be heated to the aquarium temperature. Any alteration to salinity should be done very slowly so as to not adversely affect livestock.
Temperature is next, this one is easy. The heaters employed should maintain an acceptable temperature even with a small variation because of thermostat sensitivity. Simply check the aquarium thermometer.
The next check is pH. This gives the level of alkalinity of the seawater, but as far as the test is concerned the aquarist only needs to complete a daylight test (lights on) and note that it is between 8.0 and 8.4 and stable.
With a new aquarium the biological filtration is obviously also new. Because of this it could be unstable and still adjusting to the bio-load. The bio-filtration deals with two dangerous items in the seawater, ammonia and nitrite. Therefore these are tested for and the result should be zero. The bio-filtration produces a third unwanted presence and this is nitrate. Nitrate is not dangerous as are the aforementioned two but in excess can cause problems. One cause of excessive nitrate is overfeeding, a common beginner’s error. The guideline for nitrate in a fish only system is less than 30ppm and in a reef less than 10ppm. The level should be as low as possible.
If corals are present then it could be a good idea to test for calcium. Why ‘could’? There are some aquarists who keep soft corals who never test. They carry out regular routine seawater changes and the corals are fine. Calcium is being supplied with the new seawater (routine seawater changes could supply sufficient calcium for a particular demand, but this cannot be just accepted as more could be needed). With hard corals calcium should be tested for. The level should be around 420 to 450 ppm (parts per million) though some aquarists maintain around 480ppm. The new aquarist may prefer the generally more forgiving soft coral varieties. Calcium is used by other aquarium inhabitants if present such as snails etc. A reasonable calcium level doesn’t do any harm.
So there we are – six necessary tests with maybe another needed. The tests are quite simple and quick to execute. Keep the seawater quality high and the health and colours of the inhabitants will reflect it. Tests should be completed very regularly with a new aquarium, particularly ammonia and nitrite. Once stocking is fully completed and tests show that all is acceptable for say a further month then weekly testing can follow.
If any test shows a disparity then it needs investigating. Finding out how to make a correction becomes easier as time passes and the aquarist develops a ‘feel’ for the aquarium and the different requirements it has.
After some time if the marine aquarium bug really does bite it is unlikely that the initial simplicity will remain. When topics are read curiosity rises and a ‘maybe I could do that’ thought is generated, more knowledge develops and, well, it’s good. Above all else, the livestock should always be the number one consideration.