Simple Aquarium or Super Aquarium?

It seems to be an easy guess that most aquariums bought will come under the ‘simple’ category. New aquarists will be advised what is required – the simple aquarium – and it probably will not be until very much later when considerable experience has been gathered that more advanced ideas might surface.

So what is a simple marine aquarium? It has nothing to do with the livestock, it’s the equipment. The starter is of course the aquarium itself, the box without which there will be a bit of a problem! Some aquarists place the aquarium on furniture which needs to be sturdy because of the weight of aquarium and seawater. Best of all, in my view anyway, is to put it on a stand which can be purchased at the same time as the aquarium. This provides cupboards below in which various articles can be stored and electrical outlets placed. Then comes the essential equipment, the basics that are required to maintain the livestock. This includes suitable fluorescent lighting and controllers plus timers, heater(s), often two circulation pumps, a properly sized protein skimmer which can be either hang-on or free standing, and a stick on the glass thermometer. There are other basic requirements of course, such as sea salt and basic test kits, these are ongoing requirements which need new purchases from time to time.

An aquarium properly set up with the basic equipment as above and correctly furnished and stocked will, subject to satisfactory ongoing maintenance, be quite sufficient for a successful marine aquarium. It will bring satisfaction and great interest to the aquarist. There aren’t any statistics available, to my knowledge anyway, but most marine aquariums are based on the ‘simple’ description.

‘What about the sump?’ would be an immediate question for some aquarists. The sump is not a basic requirement – there are a lot of aquariums that are successful without one. Having a sump does not place the aquarium into the ‘super’ bracket either. However, a sump is highly desirable if it can be accommodated, below in the cabinet is a very good location. It does demand a pump to get the seawater back to the aquarium after it has overflowed down and provides additional gallonage which is good for seawater quality (the additional gallonage is not used in calculating fish load). The sump can also be used to accommodate some equipment thus removing it from the display aquarium. So a sump is not basically necessary but definitely desirable.

Ok, that’s the ‘simple’ aquarium what’s this ‘super’ bit? What changes the aquarium into a so-called super aquarium? The super aquarium is when the aquarist spends a considerable amount of money obtaining electronic monitoring equipment. A straightforward example is the thermometer – the ordinary one is replaced by an exterior version with a probe in the seawater, a digital readout thermometer. What’s the advance in that, the thermometer is still displaying the seawater temperature? There could be more accuracy but that’s it really. Another example of electronics for the aquarium is the external heater controller, again where there is a probe in the seawater. Another example is the pH controller and another the ORP controller. The super aquarium could also have an advanced LED lighting array instead of fluorescents, there is a good argument for LED’s.

So why does the aquarist spend money on electronic equipment such as those given as examples? The only real reason, for the amateur aquarist anyway, is personal interest and desire. Desire is the same as having that sporty car rather than the ordinary one that can get to places just as well in safety and comfort. Some aquarists with this electronic equipment have it stacked inside a cabinet – open the door and there are a load of numbers available so it can be said that seawater testing is easier and less test kits are needed. Some other aquarists just want the aquarium to look very modern and extra exciting, they have the electronic equipment on view with the generated numbers giving some impression of advanced science. Whatever the reason this electronic equipment is purchased for it isn’t a waste of money provided it makes the aquarist happier and feeds a genuine desire and as long as the livestock are properly maintained and remain the central interest.

There isn’t any reason why a super aquarium fully equipped with electronics shouldn’t be purchased or a basic aquarium fitted later with electronics if the buyer has a fat enough wallet. It certainly doesn’t do any harm to the livestock if all is set up properly. Ongoing maintenance such as partial seawater changes is still required. The aquarium glass still needs cleaning. The electronic equipment needs to be checked from time to time to ensure the readings are in fact correct.

The simple aquarium is the one for me, with a sump if desired. Simplicity aids success. There is a requirement for the same ongoing maintenance and perhaps a need for more routine testing but is that difficult? No. The livestock remain the central pillar of the whole thing. Marine fish and corals are beautiful and that is enough.


  1. Yes simple aquariums are the best. Of course adding components will make things more stable which is ideal in the aquarium.

  2. Stability is definitely a high desirable in the marine aquarium but I could question whether electronics will help towards stability, unless the answer is that a check is faster and more simple thus making the check more likely to be done.

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