I’ve Read It All, But…

…I need a very basic list of needs for the basic marine system.

There are a lot of individual items about setting up a marine aquarium in the blog and article areas on this website, but nevertheless flicking around locating topics for a beginner who has little idea of the basics could be confusing. So an ‘in a nutshell’ list could be of help. We’re told it will be anyway, so here goes!

Remember this is basic. At the end I’ve put article locations which could be of use.

What could be at the top of the list? I suppose the logical start is the aquarium, the glass or acrylic box that will hold the captive marine world. Personally I would always go for glass as it is less likely to scratch, but it is an individual choice. Most aquariums are purchased ready made, but there is a check to be done before this. Once the ideal size for the space available has been decided, check the running costs. Buying the biggest aquarium that will fit could end in disappointment if the running costs are prohibitive. Note the difference between running costs and setting up costs. Even if the cost of setting everything up can be met, the ongoing cost of electricity may be heavy, depending on lights, heaters etc used.

Once the aquarium has been decided, is a sump required? A sump is recommended as it increases the net gallonage of the system and gives an area for additional filtration that could be useful once the aquarist has experience, or before. Equipment such as heaters could be placed in there keeping them out of view. A sump usually sits below the aquarium, either directly or to one side. There isn’t a necessity to have a sump and it isn’t part of a basic set-up, but it is arguably better to have one from the start than fit one later. If a sump is to be used, ensure the aquarium is drilled for the overflow (usually by the retailer) before the aquarium and sump are taken home. Also, a pump to return seawater to the aquarium is required, and the pump should be able to move around three times the system net gallonage per hour.

It could be that the aquarium is supplied with a cabinet. If so, great, but make sure the sump will fit into the lower cupboard if that is the intention, and that there is sufficient room above the sump for maneuver. If a cabinet is not supplied, there are cabinets available for standard size aquariums. If the aquarist is a good DIY’er, perhaps this could be another project (remember that an aquarium full of seawater and rocks is very heavy).

So the aquarium (and sump) is decided and the cabinet style and colour have been approved. Essential basic equipment needs consideration now.

The first will be required by nearly every system, and that is the aquarium heating. The livestock that are going to be kept are most likely tropical, so a temperature of between 75 deg F and 80 deg F is required. This is easily achieved by using combined thermostat/heaters. These are generally available in various wattages. The thermostat is on the top of the tube shaped equipment and the heater at the bottom. They are submerged and when the thermostat detects the required temperature the heater is turned off. It is best to have two units, each rated at one half the wattage required to heat the whole system. This is to help guard against the danger of one heater failing, giving time for the aquarist to notice and protecting the livestock to an extent. The guideline wattage requirement is to allow 2 watts per gallon for the whole system (so it includes any sump). This is for a normally heated room – if the room is unheated and gets cold then double the wattage. So the normal wattage requirement for 50 gallons in a normally heated room will be 100 – in a cold unheated room 200. Divide the requirement by two and purchase two heaters of that wattage, that is in the example given two at 50 watts each or two at 100 watts each.

There is a piece of equipment that should not be overlooked by any beginner aquarist, and is used by the majority of experienced ones. This is the protein skimmer. It removes dissolved organic matter and is of great benefit in the maintenance of high quality seawater, which is a very high requirement for a successful system. These units can be obtained as hang-on or stand alone types so one can be chosen to suit circumstances. The hang-on ones are normally placed on the side or back of the aquarium. Stand alone types could sit alongside the aquarium (not so easy sometimes) or next to or in a sump, if one is to be used. Manufacturers are better at describing their products ability nowadays and the gallonage that can be serviced is more believable. When obtaining the skimmer, ensure that it can deal with the total system gallonage. If there isn’t one to match the system gallonage purchase the next larger size (not a bad idea anyway).

The next requirement for the basic system is a bio-filter. ‘Bio’ stands for ‘biological’ and it is an absolute essential. Without an adequate bio-filter then the system will fail. The filter, or life support system, can be supplied in two ways. The best way is to use live rock, which is not only decorative but comes with pre-loaded (by Mother Nature) bacteria. However, a basic system could use a canister filter; there is a drawback concerning seawater quality (this is easily and routinely overcome and will not be gone into here). The canister filter should be capable of servicing the total net gallonage of the system, so a check needs to be made of the manufacturer’s recommendations. The canister filter media will not come with bacteria, this will need a kick start, but again is easily achieved.

The requirement next on the list is lighting. Marine system lighting is a subject in itself, but suffice it to state that two fluorescent tubes will be fine for a fish only system, and for a reef system a bank of fluorescent tubes or metal halide bulbs (often plus fluorescent tubes) will be needed, dependant on the types of corals being kept and also on the depth of the aquarium.

Seawater movement is important for the health of the livestock. Two powerheads are basically sufficient, one outlet set against the other to create chaotic or random seawater currents. The basic guidelines for the strength of the circulation are: for a fish only or soft coral reef, ten times the display aquarium (exclude any sump) gallonage per hour, and for an SPS (small poly stony) system twenty times the display aquarium gallonage (exclude any sump).

Finally, something that is quite important – salt! There is clearly a need for this and dry salt in various quantities is available. It has already been stated that high quality seawater is very important, so along with the dry salt test kits should be obtained. Basically, they should test for pH, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. The seawater should have a stable ‘saltiness’, so a hydrometer is also needed.

We could go on but will stop there. It is meant to be basic and the above will provide a basic system. In time additions will be made by the aquarist and also changes in procedure as experience grows.

Article Locations.

‘Beginners’ :

‘Which To Choose, A Small Or Large Aquarium.’
‘A New Seawater Aquarium – It’s Exciting But Check Running Costs!’
‘Guideline Basic Seawater Parameters For The Reef Aquarium.’

‘General’ :

‘Locating A Marine Aquarium.’

‘Aquarium Equipment’ :

‘The Aquarium Hydrometer.’
‘The Canister Filter – Any Use In The Marine Aquarium?’
‘Is A Protein Skimmer Actually Required?’
‘Sumps, Should I Use One?’
‘Which Is Better, An Acrylic Or Glass Aquarium?’

‘Lighting’ :

‘Aquarium Lighting – What Are Your Options?’


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