Wandering around a zoo a beautiful reef aquarium is seen. It looks wonderful and it is big. Much too big for the home. But would it be as good in a smaller aquarium? ‘Hmm’ is the thought. Or maybe a friend has such an aquarium and it is beautiful too. He assures that special super-brain knowledge above ordinary is not required. Again ‘Hmm’. Very unsure.
A super-brain is not required, that’s for certain. There is a requirement to learn of course, especially if an aquarium has not been kept before. There is a sequence in consideration, a sudden decision should not be made. Or if the decision to have an aquarium is made, there is a sequence of further considerations that need to be followed.
The first in the sequence is, if there is a partner, to ask their opinion. Where could it go, will it enhance the decor, and the inevitable question, how much will it cost? To answer the cost question research is required.
The first answer required is size. Aquarium sizes vary and there is a large choice, some very big and some quite small. The aquarium shouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb but fit in with the furniture generally. Also when filled with water an aquarium is heavy and must, repeat, must have adequate support. This support could be a very robust cabinet with a flat surface at the correct height, or a specially made aquarium cabinet complete with storage area below. A trip to the local store should answer the design and cost questions.
Purchase a modern aquarium hobby book which should give questions and answers on requirements and dangers. Make sure the book is up to date, being fairly recently written. Check the internet and find one or two forums where answers can be found or questions asked.
The aquarium size can also be checked online and in store. The cost can be obtained at the same time of course. So now the cost of the very basic requirements are known but of course this isn’t the end.
When in the store check what the aquarium gallonage is. This will be for the empty aquarium of course. Also check the cost of various sizes of sea salt packages. The salt required will be the most when the aquarium is first filled. Ongoing maintenance requirements will be less. Ongoing maintenance includes lowish percentage (around 10%) seawater changes, usually weekly.
Now on with the list. Home reef aquariums are heated so a heater is required, or better, two at half the required power each (if one fails the other will help protect life until a remedy is applied).
The seawater temperature needs to be known so a stick-on thermometer placed as instructed (under the water) is required. Some use an external thermometer, but for a check the internal seems more convenient.
Still seawater needs movement so internal pumps are required. Simply, one at each back corner works. If they are too powerful and could damage the corals they can be directed at the front glass which will break the flow into smaller currents. Again, advice is obtainable for the power required.
To help keep the seawater in good condition a skimmer is required. These can be separate from the tank or hang on the edge. A skimmer generates bubbles, loads of tiny ones which carry undesired substances out of the seawater into a container. Different skimmers have different capacities, advice can be obtained (or read) for the size required.
Next, to check the seawater quality test kits are needed.The main ones needed are nitrate, nitrite and pH. These are readily available and easy to use, coming with clear instructions. Seawater quality is the number one requirement in the aquarium and this doesn’t change over time.
The number two requirement, particularly with corals, is lighting. Fish of course need light for ‘night and day’. Many corals need particular light to survive, so if corals are to be kept just sticking lights above the aquarium won’t do. Fluorescent tubes used to be very popular but technology has provided a terrific alternative, LED lights. Unlike fluorescents, LED’s don’t need changing fairly regularly, they can last up to 50,000 hours in use. They can be obtained in plate or tube form with bulbs fitted, just make sure they are suitable for corals.
The aquarium needs to be suitable for sea life and this means supporting the bio-life. This can be achieved by either using bio-filters or so-called live-rock. Live rock is considered to be the best, it already has the supportive ‘bugs’ in it. Bio-filters require activation, not difficult. Everything comes with instruction sheets. Having correct support for the bio-life is very important.
Then comes the decoration – as said ‘live rock’ acts as a bio-filter and this could be used – excellent and very good decoration. Research will indicate how much is needed for the aquarium net gallonage. Some aquarists use sand, some don’t. This looks natural but ordinary sand cannot be used, it should be sand destined for a marine aquarium. It’s generally available.
That’s the basic list. More equipment is available, one that is not considered absolutely essential but many use is an RO (reverse osmosis) unit. This is for filtering tap water through carbon and a micro filter to produce highly purified tap water for use when topping up evaporation losses and mixing salt water for a partial seawater change. It can of course be used for the initial aquarium fill but this needs patience, the water output from the filter is usually at drip speed. This ensures that mixed-in pollutants don’t get into the aquarium. The partial seawater change is usually completed weekly and is nowhere near the size of the initial first mix, often around 10% of the aquarium seawater.
Ok, that’s the list which will indicate the general overall cost. There is one more check that should be made – excluding the livestock. Electricity. If possible add up the wattage of the equipment being considered. Lights and heaters are not on continuously so divide this wattage by two before adding to the list, it will be reasonably accurate. Most electricity bills are paid by kilowatts used (1000 watts = one kilowatt). The total wattage could be lower than a kilowatt, or a bit more. This figure will permit a reasonable estimate of the aquarium’s electrical running cost to be made.
This list provided does not cover everything about starting a marine aquarium, but does cover the basics. As said, a good modern book, the internet, the local store and other marine aquarists can provide information.
The secret of success, as with most things, is research and preparation and so it is with the aquarium. There are other things that need to be considered, such as not overstocking the aquarium with fish (sometimes seen with a beginner), before stocking making sure the aquarium is ready and mature for the life forms, and others. It could look quite off putting, all this checking. It means however that there aren’t any nasty surprises as time progresses. The final secret of success is with the aquarist of course. The number one requirement is patience: always do the required ongoing checks and maintenance, very easy and usually trouble free. There is a responsibility for aquarium life, the same as for a dog or cat, they should be cared for properly so that nasty surprises don’t occur. The major requirement for an aquarist is patience.
The reward of course is that the aquarium slowly naturalises, all the life forms, fish, corals and anything else have a ‘home from home’, and the aquarist has achieved a most beautiful ‘natural’ part of the living reef world giving a feeling of accomplishment and peace.