Plug And Play Or Do It Your Way

Marine aquariums are supplied in all sorts of sizes and shapes. Even if there isn’t one that will directly suit the aquarist’s needs it is straightforward to have one manufactured.

So once the aquarist has decided what size of aquarium is required for the space available (remembering that the larger it is the more expensive it will be to run) all that is required is to go and get one.

There is a choice at this point as the usual bare aquarium, possibly with stand and matching hood, has an alternative, this being the ‘plug and play’ aquarium.

The ‘plug and play’ aquarium has strong attractions. There is a good choice of such aquariums available, some large and others being small nano types. There is probably more choice in nano aquariums than the bigger ones. Whatever the size, the major attraction is that they are complete. The system will be housed in an attractive enclosure. All the required heaters, protein skimmer, pumps, circulators, lights and possibly sump are included. This means that the aquarist does not have to research and pick particular models as the correct capacity devices are provided.

Even though the devices mentioned above are included the aquarist should do some research if a novice. As said, there isn’t a need to worry over the capacity of various models. However, it is certainly a good thing to know why there needs to be a protein skimmer, circulators etc for the seawater. With a reef system it is good to know why specific lighting requirements have to be met. Understanding the basic operating principles of the system will stand the aquarist well. There will be operating and maintenance notes provided, but why are the devices there at all? This needs to be known.

The ‘plug and play’ system will still need seawater of course! This is very straightforward and the aquarist needs to know the guidelines for specific gravity (SG) and temperature for fish only and reef systems. Also aquascaping is required, so research will show how much live rock should be purchased. The manufacturer’s manual will advise the gallonage of the system without rocks, sand etc. Manufacturers seem to assume, understandably, that the bio-filtration will be live rock, but if inert rock and canister filtration are to be employed the canister filter will need to be purchased. Live rock is the better choice.

Most aquarists obtain bare aquariums. As said, these may be supplied with a cabinet and lighting hood. From then on the aquarist has to make all the choices. Should there be a sump? If so a return pump is required that will pass the system seawater through the sump adequately. The aquarium will need to be drilled for the supply and return pipes. There needs to be heaters that are capable of maintaining a stable temperature. There need to be circulating pumps to move the seawater adequately. A protein skimmer is a must, and it is essential that the device has the capacity to adequately deal with the total seawater gallonage. Lighting should be appropriate and adequate particularly for a reef system. As with the ‘plug and play’ aquarium, the gallonage when empty will be known – the amount of live rock required for the whole system needs calculating. If inert rock is to be used, a canister filter that can adequately process the bio-load it faces needs to be obtained. As above, live rock is the best choice.

So the aquarist who puts a system together from a bare aquarium has the biggest job. It is with these systems that money is often wasted, often because the aquarist attempts to save money during construction. A prime example of this is the protein skimmer – one is bought that seems fine, but as experience grows the shortcomings are seen and another is purchased. It would have been better and cheaper to have obtained an adequate one in the first place.

The advantages for an aquarist who builds a system are first on price (not that it will be cheap, but cheaper). Second it is most likely, when researching the requirements of the system, the reasons why the various devices are present and hopefully also how they work will be understood.

The advantages for those who purchase a ‘plug and play’ system are that it is almost ready for use and there is no requirement to research the equipment capacities required. The aquarist as said will find it advantageous to understand how the various devices work. Required maintenance information for the equipment will be supplied. The aquarist will also need a well stocked wallet, particularly for the larger systems.

Whichever route is followed, provided equipment is satisfactory, livestock needs to be selected carefully, again research is essential. Ongoing maintenance of equipment, high quality seawater and (for a reef) lighting is also a must.

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