Marine Aquarium – Big Is Better?

Not too long ago I had the pleasure of visiting Dubai, a warm and modern country. It boasts the tallest building in the world, the biggest shopping mall in the world and within the mall the biggest aquarium in the world. Without a doubt an aquarium like that is well out of the running for ordinary marine aquarists unless converted into an unusual house!

It is a very natural thing to lean towards ‘big’. Size tends to hit the eye and initially impress, particularly for those who have little technical knowledge. Often the space available for an aquarium is dictated to us by any area left after more essential items such as furniture have been accommodated.

Big aquariums in the home marine aquarists’ world are eight and six footers, eight being really big. Few can stretch that far with available space and it is more likely to come to medium, meaning three and four footers. Then there are the smaller sizes meaning two and less.

So if there is space for a bigger aquarium there could be much shiny eyed excitement. Things need to be slowed down though. What is this actually going to mean?

It’s pretty obvious that a large aquarium is going to hold more seawater than a smaller one, no science there. This means that there is more to heat (or cool) and more to circulate. The reef that is going to be such an important part of the system is going to be bigger. Etc.

The brakes need to be applied, hard. An aquarium shouldn’t be bought because it will fit the available space. Activate thought processes!

With a bigger aquarium seawater needs to be circulated and this means more powerful pumps and maybe more of them. The seawater also needs heating, this means higher wattage heaters. A thermometer will be needed – hooray, no problem there. The protein skimmer will need to have a higher capability. The lighting needs to be adequate bearing in mind the aquarium could be deeper. The reef will need more live rock and livestock…..oh, stop going on, we get the picture.

So there is much more to consider than the space available. The purchase cost of all the equipment and livestock (including live rock) is not going to be cheap. Choose a large size aquarium by all means, but don’t buy it until the cost of purchase of everything has been calculated. The cost could be a surprise. If it is too high, downsize and re-calculate. If it isn’t, look into the future.

When the system is running seawater changes are required weekly, the recommended amount is 10% of the net aquarium gallonage (a rough estimate of net gallonage can be made by taking the gross gallonage and subtracting 15% from it). The majority of aquarists use manufactured sea salt and this needs to be purchased. One cost needs to be checked very carefully – electricity. All the equipment that maintains circulation, temperature, lighting, heating etc uses electricity. Add the wattage of each piece of equipment together, then divide by 1000 this gives kilowatts, it could be a ‘point’ something or a number ‘point’ something. The cost per kilowatt will be known, multiply it, this is the hourly cost. Multiply by twentyfour, this is the daily cost and so on. But wait! Not all equipment runs all the time, for example lights and heaters, potentially two of the most heavy demands. Divide the answer in half, this is not accurate but is accurate enough to indicate cost. At the very least, check the cost of running the heaters and lighting (some lighting systems are more expensive than others).

Man at the back, please stop yawning! There is one more thing to consider. When the aquarium is new as is the aquarist, maintenance is also new and different. There is the viewing glass to clean, equipment to check and maybe clean etc. With a big aquarium there is more area to clean, more seawater to prepare. Will this become a chore? Will it likely be missed, ‘I’ll do it later’? Consider the weeks, months, years ahead and buy a smaller aquarium if there is any chance of …..well, not bothering. Having a marine aquarium is an undertaking to maintain and protect the livestock, also to get great pleasure and satisfaction from its beauty. This won’t happen if maintenance is inadequate, which will negate the investment.

If all is well, if the total cost of buying the aquarium, buying the equipment, buying the reef rock, in time buying the livestock, the running cost, the onward maintenance, if all of this is acceptable then off to the shop or on to the internet! If downsizing has been required and the cost is now acceptable then likewise.

If downsizing has been necessary then perhaps the additional space could incorporate a set of bookshelves, the books including some on marine aquariums. Or perhaps there could be a cupboard to hold test kits, food etc. There’s always something.

It is a massive mistake buying an aquarium without an overall cost check. As already mentioned, size hits the eye and is usually the first to impress. However, as size reduces more and more detail comes to the fore and there is interest and more individual beauty to be seen. In other words, interest and beauty are there in all marine aquariums. There just doesn’t need to be any nasty surprises in the earlier days.