It can take quite a time setting up a marine aquarium system. There’s the initial thought of ‘What do I want to keep, a captive reef or fish only?’ and that’s the easy decision.
Then questions arise such as finding a suitable location for the aquarium, how big will the aquarium be, does it need a sump, what about lighting, what about heating, what about filtration, what about a protein skimmer? And more. It is then realized that deciding what type of system to keep was definitely the easy bit!
Setting up the system will have been easier for those who have a wallet fat enough to purchase a ‘plug and play’ aquarium. Fair enough, though they too have a few problems on occasion when the system is in operation. Overall the systems are good, but there does need to be a protein skimmer upgrade here and there, or the seawater circulation boosted occasionally.
My own preference has always been to set up a system from individual components, I find it more interesting and enjoyable, and the system then becomes ‘mine’ – a good job really, the price of the ready-made systems of interest would have been too expensive.
Anyway, after much research, checking and obtaining advice the job is done. The aquarium stands there full of seawater with a biological filter ready to be prepared.
So off it goes again: research into fish, corals, maybe a shrimp or two, hermit crabs and the like. This takes a while as stocking needs to be done slowly, but again eventually it is done.
The aquarist now has a learning period, for example how often does the aquarium need calcium or an alkalinity boost? What is the evaporation rate? Is the pH at the right level and stable? Is the presence of ammonia and nitrite permanently undetectable? How fast does nitrate rise? Is enough seawater being changed weekly? Is the skimmer operating properly, along with the rest of the equipment? Are the livestock healthy? Is feeding being done properly, or is it overfeeding? You get the idea.
Before too long the aquarist knows it all, the nitrate trends, the efficiency of the bio-filter, the feeding requirements of the livestock, the efficiency of the skimmer and the rest.
Time to relax more and enjoy the view. Routine maintenance doesn’t take long once needs are fully known and some efficiency experience has been gained.
All being well, the fish will display their true wonderful colours as will the corals. The fish only system or captive reef will show the full potential. The aquarist can indeed be proud of the success and has earned the enjoyment.
Will this success last? Well, why not, provided interest doesn’t diminish and routine maintenance is completed. There is a potential problem in this success though.
The first danger is that the aquarist doesn’t notice a reduction in seawater flow from a sump or filters caused by the slow choking of delivery pipes with deposits, or a reduction in seawater circulation because of inlet blocking on the powerheads and other similar occurrences.
If routine maintenance is done properly, as has been envisaged, then this may well be picked up.
There is a second danger from success, and that can be from the natural growth of livestock. In a fish only system the bio-load is likely to be at its maximum from the start. It shouldn’t be theoretically, as growth should be taken into account. However, often it isn’t and the aquarist purchases as many beautiful fish as the stocking formula will permit. No problem there, but what of growth? First of all, larger fish will eat more and the overall metabolism will place a greater load on the biological filter. Can the bio-filter cope? Let’s hope so! Then larger fish could decide that they want larger quarters. The ones available are already occupied, so aggression increases. Smaller and/or more timid fish could fear to come out into open water and the stress could be dangerous to their health. In this scenario the aquarist will need to make new decisions but in reverse this time – which fish could go?
In the captive reef there are less fish but growth of the fish can still occur. Hopefully aggression over a lack of accommodation will not become a problem as there is a full reef and, as said, less fish. However, though there are less fish – the aquarist again stuck to the recommended formula – it is possible the reef could become ‘overloaded’ relative to seawater quality. It is much less likely that the bio-filter will fail to cope, particularly if live rock was used to construct the reef.
Considering the captive reef again and seawater flow. This has already been mentioned in relation to equipment and seawater delivery. Corals also grow, and can grow to a large size. They then are capable of altering seawater flow. Corals that require strong flow may receive a much weaker one, or a coral that requires moderate flow may receive weak or no flow at all. The corals will start to lose their spectacular appearance, not instantly but slowly. Polyp extension could be less. Eventually it will be noticed. What is needed is careful pruning to ensure that flow rates remain at optimum levels everywhere. Pruning will give the aquarist the opportunity to grow on new corals from the parts removed (called ‘fragging’). Whether ‘fragging’ is done or not, the pruning products could go to another aquarist or a retailer. Pruning corals can achieve another purpose, and that is to reduce the shadow that one coral has thrown over another because of growth.
These potential dangers are not bothersome though. They are easily dealt with and only require the aquarist to look critically at the reef or fish only display and note the various situations. The aquarium is being looked at in entirety and in detail anyway, that’s where so much pleasure is derived, so noting an overgrown coral or a growing fish isn’t really anything extra.