Don’t Waste Money On A Marine Aquarium

Oh – that really could sound wrong. Waste money on a marine aquarium! Never a waste, it’s a hobby that is absorbing, exciting and educational.

What I’m actually on about is that money can be wasted on equipment and even on the aquarium itself. The marine aquarium, be it fish only aquarium or a reef aquarium, is dependent on electricity and this energy is not cheap. Let’s have a look at one or two things that might be costing money for no good reason.

Most aquarists have, strangely enough, already got an aquarium. However, in the initial consideration stage of setting up, it is a good idea to do the research and work out the running cost of the proposed aquarium. Once the aquarium has been theoretically chosen, the equipment needs can be listed and the cost of the items totaled. If the items are electrical, then the cost of running them can be easily worked out by totaling the overall wattage.

In the first instance, at the very beginning of the project, simply buying an aquarium because it will fit the space available is not a good idea. A bigger aquarium needs more heating, more lighting, and more seawater including that for routine changes. Last but not least it needs more of what it’s all about – livestock. So by choosing an aquarium size that is relevant to the available budget in addition to the available space could save future problems, such as corner and cost cutting to save money. This does not bode well for future success.

As said, most aquarists have an aquarium in place. It is possible that money is being wasted nevertheless.

What about lighting? If the system is fish only, why are metal halides or a bank of T5 fluorescent tubes being used? These, particularly metal halides, are expensive to run. On a system such as this two T5’s or even T8’s will do. What lighting ‘on’ period is being used? A period of 6 hours or a little more should be sufficient as there aren’t any corals to worry about. Of course the aquarist can leave the lights on for 8 hours or so if desired. Are the lights on when the aquarist is at home? The fish are there to please with their lovely colours and the lights are required for this to be achieved.

The reef aquarium, fish or no fish, is a different consideration. The corals need light of sufficient intensity and spectrum. Without this they will not do well. As said in the previous paragraph, lighting is expensive to run; therefore it can be critically examined.

Whether metal halides or fluorescent tubes, or a mixture, are the lights being changed too regularly causing extra expense? Usually the case is they are not being changed regularly enough! However, check the recommendations for the expected life of the tubes/bulbs provided by the manufacturers and keep a notebook so the change time can be accurate, not guessed.

Even with corals, it is possible to restrict the lighting to a lower period. Often it is recommended to run lighting for 12 hours, based on the tropical day. However, the intensity of lighting over the aquarium is constant*, whereas in Nature it is not. As the sun drops lower towards night, or climbs after dawn, the penetrative power of the sunlight decreases and rises respectively. It is only at full strength between about 9am and 3pm. Instead of 12 hours, the lighting could be reduced to 8 at full strength, with ½ hour before lights on and after main lights go off when only the actinics are on. This gives an approximation of dawn and dusk. A lighting reduction such as this represents a substantial saving over time. Remember though, that nothing should be changed quickly. If it is intended to reduce the lighting then a 15 minutes weekly reduction should be made and the corals watched for any adverse reaction.

Heating the seawater is another area for consideration. The first question is – are the livestock protected? If one heater is in use and it should fail in the ‘on’ or ‘off’ position, obviously the seawater could overheat or cool down. Why not use two heaters each rated at ½ the heating requirement of the aquarium. If one should fail, the other will either reduce the cooling of the seawater sufficiently until the aquarist notices the problem, or switch off because the other heater which is stuck ‘on’ is also maintaining the temperature. Using two heaters will help protect the livestock which does represent a large potential saving. Ignoring the fact that life is involved, livestock represents a very substantial outlay and the last thing wanted is that they die of cold or overheating.

Still considering heating, what temperature is the seawater kept at? Clearly the temperature should not be too cool – 75 deg F is the usual quoted minimum. Some aquarists run at 80 deg F or higher. It is accepted that some of these aquarists are advanced and are maintaining the high temperature for a specific purpose, but for the majority of aquarists there isn’t any need. 77 deg F is a good temperature which doesn’t cause problems with fish or corals. Reducing the temperature again means a good saving over time as the heaters will not be on so much. As with lighting, changes should be gradual. A reduction of 1 deg F weekly should not cause any problems, but watch the livestock.

Having heated the seawater to the required temperature, it is obviously desirable to stop the heaters coming on again too quickly because of heat loss. The rate of heat loss is related to the location of the aquarium. In a centrally heated room the loss will be slower than in an unheated room. Whatever the situation is, the loss can be minimized. Make sure, if the aquarium is just being set up, that there is a good amount of insulation for the aquarium to sit on. This is often required anyway to make sure the aquarium structure is properly supported. A 2 inch (circa 5 cm) thickness is not too much, and hiding it from view is straightforward. Similarly, the non-viewing sides of the aquarium could be insulated. If the insulation is of the solid type then the side against the glass could be painted and used as a backdrop. It is easy to fix in place and hide from view.

The point of keeping a marine aquarium is to enjoy all that it represents, and not give more hard-earned money away to another party without good cause.

  1. A lot of helpful information on this site.
    Thanks for your effort.

  2. Glad that it’s useful.

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