Marine Aquaria/Printable version

Marine Aquaria

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For the new Marine Aquarist Edit

So you are thinking about the hobby of marine aquaria? Obviously "marine aquaria" is somewhat ambiguous considering that there are many configurations that may still fall under the category of reef tanks. From the miniature "Nano" set-ups to massive systems in excess of one-thousand gallons, there are as many variations in the hardware and technique as there are in types and configurations of the livestock that are kept.

That being said, it should be a primary concern of yours to determine up front what your intentions are in the mid to long term with your aquarium. Unless you have a surplus of time or money, deciding up front and planning how to build your aquarium can make the difference between success and failure and, by extension, satisfaction or frustration. Simple decisions like whether to choose a particular type of protein skimmer or test kit can make massive differences over time in your enjoyment of the hobby.

It is important to study up so you can make knowledgeable decisions. Many mistakes can be made simply by not knowing any better. By doing a little research into the hobby you can avert disaster. This book gives an introduction to the marine hobby.

Types of Marine Aquaria Edit

Strictly speaking, a marine aquarium is purely defined by the amount of salt in the water. If your aquarium has water as salty as the ocean, it can be considered marine. There is no other prerequisite for the aquarium to be considered marine. You can have fish from a single region of the sea or you can have fish from all over the world. It makes no difference. Obviously, the term marine in the aquarium hobby is still quite a broad term. There are a number of configurations of marine aquariums, including Fish Only, Fish Only With Live Rock, Reef, and Nano.

Fish Only, shortened FO, refers to keeping an aquarium with only fish. Perhaps there may be some sort of decoration, but you are only keeping fish. FO is often the set-up for fish that will eat invertebrates, damage coral, or do not live in reef habitats. This set-up is by far the cheapest way to go.

Fish Only With Live Rock, shortened FOWLR, is a set-up where fish are kept with what is known as Live Rock. Live Rock will be discussed in further detail later, but it is basically rock with living organisms on it. Because of this, technically you are not keeping Fish by themselves. In a FOWLR aquarium, the aquarist may also add some other invertebrates. However, Live Rock has a price tag, and so FOWLR is generally more expensive.

A Reef refers to housing coral. This may or may not include fish. Keeping a reef is by far the most expensive configuration of marine aquaria. Many extra costs go into housing corals besides the corals themselves. On the other hand, housing a reef can be extremely rewarding as it is an extremely beautiful way in which we can mimic nature on our own homes.

The Nano configuration only refers to the size of the aquarium and nothing more; a Nano can be an FO, an FOWLR, or a Reef. There is no solid distinction, but a Nano aquarium is a relatively small aquarium. Because of their small size, Nano aquariums are more difficult to maintain and are virtually an experts-only area.

Still, there are other categories.

A species aquarium refers to having only one species in the aquarium. This may be optimal in many cases, either if the species of interest is extremely delicate or requires very specific parameters, which is the case for housing most seahorses. On the other hand, a species tank may be the set-up if the species poses a danger to most other organisms that would be placed with it, such as sharks.

A community aquarium refers to having a range of species in an aquarium, and is much more common than a species aquarium. It adds another layer of difficulty in having to figure out what organisms are compatible with each other, but it can also be more rewarding.

Marine Science 101

To be a smart reefkeeper and make intelligent decisions, it is quite helpful to have a good understanding of some of the science involved. This section will give an introduction to some of the science to help give a better understanding to reefkeeping.

Water Chemistry Edit

When you look at clear water, do you ever stop to think about what's in it? Even that bottled distilled water or spring water isn't pure; there's usually something else in there. Having a good understanding of what's in water will help you understand better the environment within which aquatic organisms inhabit.

pH Edit

pH is a variable that measures how acidic or basic (also called alkaline) a solution is, in terms of Hydrogen ions (hence the H in pH). The deep science of pH is not particularly important, but an aquarist should at least understand the basics (pun not intended), as the pH of the environment has a great effect on the organisms.

pH is a scale usually from 1 to 14. The lower the number, the more acidic. Conversely, the higher the number, the more basic. A pH of 7 is said to be neutral; this is the pH of pure water. Seawater is approximately a pH of 8.0-8.3, so it is basic.

The pH of a solution can change. If a substance makes the pH become lower, it is said to be an acid. As you have probably guessed, a substance that makes the pH higher is called a base. If your pH is changing in some way, you can bet that some sort of acid or base is playing a role, depending on which the direction your pH is changing. We can use this very same property of being able to change pH to help control it and stabilize it at a pH we want.

Salinity Edit

Salinity is the measure of the amount of salt in water. Of course, in the marine hobby, salinity is quite important. Salt balance is very important to all organisms; if you've ever seen salt put on a slug, you'll know why. Fluctuations in salinity can be quite dangerous, especially to simpler organisms that are not able to regulate their own salt balance. However, even fish can only take changes in salinity to a certain point.

The salinity of seawater is measured in a number of ways, including percent or ppt (parts per thousand). However, in the aquarium hobby, the most common way to express salinity is by specific gravity, which compares the density of substances to freshwater. Because density is temperature dependent, specific gravity readings are usually given for 25°C. Freshwater has a specific gravity of 1.000, while saltwater is about 1.021-1.025.

One final note is that salt does not evaporate. Therefore, as water evaporates over time from your aquarium, the salt remains, and therefore the salinity of your aquarium will increase slightly. It is important to keep adding freshwater to the aquarium to make up for evaporation.

Hardness Edit

Hardness is a measure of mineral content. There are two types, General Hardness (GH) and Carbonate Hardness (KH). These systems were developed by the Germans, which is why these acronyms only loosely correspond to the words. If water is high in these dissolved minerals, it is called hard. If the concentrations of minerals are low, it is soft.

General Hardness is a measure of calcium or magnesium ions in the water, and its units are dGH, or degrees of General Hardness. 1 dGH corresponds to 10 mg of calcium oxide or magnesium oxide in 1 L of water.

Carbonate Hardness is a measure of carbonate or bicarbonate ions in the water, and its units are KH. A degree of KH corresponds to 17.83 mg of (usually) calcium carbonate per 1 L of water. The units are in terms of calcium carbonate, but calcium bicarbonate also exists in water commonly, though each ion only counts half as much towards hardness as carbonate does.

Hardness can have an effect on the ability of pH to change; both carbonate ions are effective as buffers to keep pH basic. With a good level of hardness, the aquarium will resist shifting towards acidity. It is also important to keep the hardness steady and high as many shelled organisms such as molluscs build their structures from the hardness in the water. Soft water means that their shells will not be very well developed.

Dissolved Oxygen Edit

As most of the organisms we care about keeping are indeed dependent on oxygen, dissolved oxygen is important.

Oxygen moves between the water environment and the atmosphere through the surface. Therefore, the more surface area your aquarium has, the better. Oxygen transfer can be improved even further by water movement.

Nitrogen Edit

Nitrogen refers to the nitrogenous wastes given off by organisms. The main ones of concern to us are Ammonia (NH3), Nitrites (NO2), and Nitrates (NO3). Ammonia is the most toxic, nitrites are the second-most toxic, and nitrates are much less toxic. In the marine aquarium, ammonia and nitrite should not be present at all. Nitrates may be present in Fish Only tanks as many fish are not as sensitive to nitrates, but the best would be to have very little or not to have any nitrates, especially in aquariums containing invertebrates.

See more about Nitrogen in the Nitrogen Cycle below.

Phosphates Edit

Phosphates are a necessity of all organisms and are a basic part of many important molecules. However, the problem arises when there are excess phosphates in the water, which may lead to unwanted algae growth. This algae can be unsightly, but it can also grow other surfaces and grow over organisms which you may want. If the algae dies in the tank and decomposes enough, there will be less oxygen available due to the effect of this decomposition.

Total Dissolved Solids Edit

Ecology Edit

Nitrogen Cycle Edit

The Nitrogen Cycle describes the changes in nitrogenous compounds in the environment. Because many nitrogen compounds are toxic, it is important to know something about this cycle. Luckily, these nitrogenous compounds are converted to less and less toxic forms through this Nitrogen Cycle. We shall simplify the Nitrogen Cycle.

If you start with your organisms, they release a compound known as ammonia as waste product or a product of decomposition. Ammonia is quite toxic and quite dangerous. Luckily for us, there exists a process known as nitrification by bacteria convert these waste products to less toxic forms. These bacteria live in aerobic conditions and benefit from the presence of oxygen. First the ammonia is converted to nitrites by Nitrosomonas; this compound is still toxic. Next, nitrites are converted to nitrates by Nitrobacter or Nitrospira. Nitrates are much less toxic compared to ammonia and nitrite. In an environment with a healthy colony of these nitrifying bacteria, ammonia and nitrites will reach 0.

However, as you guessed it, this leads to a build-up of nitrates. When it reaches higher levels, nitrates can become dangerous as well. The best way to remove nitrates is through water changes. In some aquariums though, another process exists as part of the Nitrogen Cycle to help reduce nitrates.

Denitrification is the process by which nitrates are converted back to nontoxic Nitrogen gas. This is also done by bacteria, but unlike nitrifying bacteira, denitrifying types of bacteria only live in anaerobic conditions without oxygen. In the marine aquarium, this means either a Deep Sand Bed or a Live Rock, both which shall be discussed in further detail later. Both of these house anaerobic pockets that allow these bacteria to survive in your aquarium. They can contribute to removing nitrates from the water.

Plants are also able to take up nitrogenous compounds, removing them from the water. Plants are not generally popular in the marine aquarium hobby, however types of macroalgae are available for this job. In using macroalgae to reduce nitrates, to actually remove the nitrogenous compounds from the aquarium means to "harvest" the algae every so often.

Carrying Capacity Edit

No matter what the environment is, there is a limit to the number of organisms that can live there. In ecology, the maximum number of animals a region can maintain is called the carrying capacity. This holds true for aquariums as well.

You cannot put too many animals into too small of a space. Eventually, the point will be reached where the animals produce too much waste or use up the resources available. In the aquarium, this usually shows itself as producing too much waste, as resource availability is less of an issue as food and such can be added daily. When too much waste is produced, the tank will be polluted and certain other organisms, usually unwanted, may start to grow, such as algae.

The environment is also limited by the amount of physical space available. You can only squeeze so many animals into a space before they begin to feel uncomfortable from not having enough room. This is especially true for fish, and less true for some of the invertebrates such as corals, which in their natural environment often live relatively close to each other. By not having enough room to itself or not having enough room to swim, an animal may become stressed. Some animals may be territorial, reducing the number of other animals that can be kept in the aquarium.


In the reefkeeping hobby, many people take great pride in being able to bring in the ocean's denizens and have them living happily in their own homes. All the time, hobbyists strive to make their aquariums as natural as possible to mimic the natural habitat. However, one can never forget that you are keeping organisms in a place that is unnatural to them. The only way we are able to do this effectively is through the range of gizmos and gadgets invented to help make the job easier. In this section we shall discuss the technology and equipment that should be considered.

Keep in mind that the title of "equipment" is a vague one; this section will also discuss other non-living elements such as decor.

Housing Edit

There are a number of options to house your planned occupants in. Throughout the ages, fish have been kept in bowls, aquariums, ponds, and just about anything else that can hold any bit of water. Choosing what sort of container you wish to house your fish in is an important decision. However, for the purposes of marine aquaria, the aquarium is the most common choice.

Aquariums Edit

Aquariums come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. What's the right one for you? There are a number of things to consider, such as volume, shape, footprint and surface area, and material. All of these variables play a role in deciding what sort of aquarium you should get, as well as others such as cost.

In terms of volume, bigger is almost always better. In the ocean, mobile organisms are not restricted by having walls around them, and are free to move just about wherever they please. Fish, just like you and me, feel stressed in an environment that is too small for them; especially if you wish to keep more fish or larger species of fish, a larger tank gives you more space to work with. It is easy to overcrowd an aquarium that is too small. Another point about volume is that the more water there is, the more water exists to dilute any substances in the water. These substances may be waste products from your organisms, uneaten food left over, or some sort of accident. Having more water in your aquarium gives you more leeway in a lot of respects. In many ways, having a larger tank makes it easier as you can make a few more blunders and not have disastrous consequences. For this reason, small marine aquariums are actually more difficult to maintain; such aquariums are known as "Nano" Tanks or Reefs. There is no black-and-white division between "Nano" Tanks and your standard sizes, but beginners should avoid an aquarium of 20 gallons or lower. The beginner reefkeeper should consider a mid-sized aquarium of around 55 gallons. In the situation of aquarium size, there are very few situations where bigger is not better for your fish.

Aquariums come in all sorts of shapes. The standard aquarium shape is rectangular. However, other shapes exist as well. The most common other styles seen are hexagonal, where the base is a hexagon rather than a rectangle, and bowfront, where the front pane of the aquarium bows outward. Of course, the aquarium can also be custom-built to any shape specification. For the most part, shape of the aquarium is merely aesthetic, but the footprint, or surface area, is also an important factor.

Footprint and surface area are important to consider. The footprint is the amount of space that the tank's stand will take up on the floor. The surface area in this situation means the surface area of the water in the aquarium. In most aquariums, these two are just about the same. Of course, the footprint must be considered for looking for a proper location in the house to see if a fish tank will fit. However, the surface area is also important for two reasons. One, the surface is how gases such as oxygen enter and leave the water. Therefore, with more surface area, you get better gas transfer and therefore you can house more animals. Another reason is that many fish spend more time swimming horizontally than vertically; this means that the more surface area you have, the more swimming space is available. Because of these reasons, if you are comparing two aquariums of the same volume, you should opt for the one that has more surface area, as it will provide better gas transfer and more capacity for organisms overall.

Material of the aquarium can make a difference as well. Today's aquariums are normally built out of either glass panes bonded with silicone or acrylic. Both types have their advantages and disadvantages.

Glass is cheaper, more common in many standard shapes, and does not scratch as easily as acrylic. However, acrylic does not bend light in the same way as glass, giving a much better view of the inhabitants; for this reason, acrylic is common in many public aquariums where the aquarium wall must be very thick and so the bending of light would make it more difficult to see the organisms. Also, acrylic is less prone to leaking. This is because glass is bonded together by silicone (and visibly so, if you find silicone an eyesore). However, the seams of acrylic aquariums are bonded together by acrylic; in effect, an acrylic aquarium can be a single piece of acrylic, making it stronger. Acrylic is also lighter than glass. Acrylic also can insulate the water better than glass can. On the other hand, acrylic is often more expensive and scratches more easily (though the scratches on acrylic are much easier to fix than scratches on glass). Also, though acrylic is less prone to leaking and breaking than glass, water will cause acrylic to bow out; the stand must support the entire bottom surface of the aquarium, instead if just the edges for a glass aquarium. The choice is up to the hobbyist.

Ponds Edit

Ponds are much rarer in the marine hobby, but they do exist. A pond is usually considered to be housing that is on or sunk into the ground; usually, you are not able to see through the sides of a pond. Therefore, for a larger volume of water, a pond can be cheaper and more feasible than an aquarium. For species of animals such as stingrays or sharks that can be viewed well from above, a pond is a possible choice.

Water Quality Edit

Filtration Edit

Filtration is a method or process by which system inputs are transformed or exported from the reef tank to help maintain livestock viability. There are many types of filtration methods, including Mechanical, Biological, and Chemical.

Mechanical filtration refers to passing water through some sort of filtration media that will strain particles out of the water. Chemical filtration refers to using some sort of chemical or substance such as activated carbon to pick up or remove substances from the water. Biological filtration refers to using bacteria, like those important to the Nitrogen Cycle, to help remove some substances from the water. Many filtration systems have some combination of two or all three of these methods.

Protein Skimming Edit

Protein Skimming is a water purification method where large molecules such as proteins are actually removed from the aquarium before they have the chance to break down. It works by creating a foam or a froth, similar to the action of waves at the shore.

Deep Sand Bed Edit

A Deep Sand Bed, sometimes shortened DSB, is a form of biological filtration. A sand bed that is at least 4" deep is considered a deep sand bed. It functions by having an extremely high surface area near the upper layer of sand, which serves as a living space for aerobic bacteria that will convert ammonia to nitrites and then to nitrates. However, because the sand is deep, oxygen will not reach the lower layers, forming anaerobic pockets. In these pockets, anaerobic, denitrifying bacteria will form that allow for the conversion of nitrates into nitrogen gas.

Reverse Osomosis, Deionized, and Diatomaceous Earth Edit

All of these are different ways of purifying water before you even mix the salt. Tap water is relatively impure, and to make sure we have the very best water, there are several purification methods available. Many people actually swear by using such pure water to mix their salt with, as it can help prevent many problems.

Water Movement Edit

Although often filtration provides a source of water movement, in the case of marine aquaria it is often not enough. Proper water movement is accomplished through the use of either powerheads or special machines that simulate waves.

Temperature Control Edit

Most of the organisms in the hobby do not live in room temperature conditions. The general majority of organisms originate from tropical locations, and a minority come from coldwater habitats. It is important to maintain the correct temperature so that your aquarium inhabitants are comfortable.

Heaters Edit

The aquarium heater is necessary to maintain an aquarium at tropical conditions of about 75 degrees Fahrenheit to 82 degrees Fahrenheit (24 °C to 28 °C). It is a simple glass or plastic tube containing coils of metal wire that heat up when electricity runs through it. A thermometer is built into the heater so that it shuts off at the appropriate temperature. Aquarium heaters are labeled for wattage. A general guideline is 5 watts per gallon; this can be achieved with either one heater or with multiple heaters. For many smaller aquariums, one is enough. However, having multiple heaters is a good idea in many situations, especially for larger aquariums. One, it allows you to spread out the sources of heat in the aquarium so it is not concentrated all in one spot. Secondly, in the event a heater fails or malfunctions in some way, there are other heaters to back it up.

When placing the heater in the aquarium, one should try to place them horizontally or angled in some way near the bottom of the aquarium, rather than vertical. To understand why, think about convection, or the phenomena of warm substances rising. If a heater is placed vertically, warm water at the bottom of the heater rises up and stays next to the heater. However, if the heater is placed horizontally, warm water will rise up away from the heater, allowing the heater to be more efficient. Because it is better to have the heater placed horizontally in this way, submersible heaters are a better choice than heaters that hang onto the edge of the aquarium.

Something else to consider is safety for your organisms. As a heater, one should expect this apparatus to get hot. However, sometimes organisms will touch the heater for just a little to long and burn themselves. This is especially a problem for softer-skinned organisms such as stingrays. There are some options for this. One is to purchase a heater guard; you merely put the heater guard on the heater tube so that the organisms can't touch the tube directly. Another option is to place the heater in the sump. Having the heater in the sump has the advantage of not only being out of the way of your aquarium inhabitants, but also being out of sight.

Chillers Edit

Unlike the commonplace heater, the chiller is a more expensive piece of equipment, but necessary if one is considering keeping coldwater species.

Lighting Edit

Fluorescent Edit

Normal Output Edit

Very High Output Edit

Metal Halide Edit

Monitoring Gadgets Edit

Thermometer Edit

Temperature is one of the many important factors that needs to be monitored. A thermometer can be placed anywhere in the tank, but keep in mind that if circulation is slow, the temperature is likely to be different in some areas of the aquarium. The thermometer can also be placed in the refugium.

Thermometers can come as a sticker that attaches to the outside of the aquarium. Though convenient, these thermometers can be more inaccurate.

Hydrometer Edit

Refractometer Edit

Test Kits Edit

Decor Edit

Substrate Edit

One of the considerations for the marine aquarium is what to put on the bottom of the tank. In some cases, some people opt for a bare-bottom tank without a substrate, as this can be easier to clean. However, such a set-up is less natural, and so most aquarists decide to put some sort of substrate in.

Crushed Coral Edit

Crushed coral has been the traditional substrate for marine aquariums for years. The degree to which the coral is actually crushed can vary, but otherwise they are the same. Because crushed coral is made up of the limestone skeleton of coral, it has the advantage of raising the hardness of the water, which helps resist pH decrease.

Coral Sand and Aragonite-based Sand Edit

Coral sand and aragonite sand are both about the same. Like crushed coral, they both contain elements that help raise the hardness of water. Unlike crushed coral, though, the sands are much finer. Hey

Live Sand Edit

Sand sold as Live Sand is usually a coral sand that supposedly contains bacteria or other living organisms in it, similar to rocks sold as Live Rocks. The sand itself is not alive, but it contains living organisms. It has the advantage of already harboring the bacteria necessary for good biological filtration on top of being able to raise the hardness of water.

Rocks Edit

Live Rock Edit

Maintenance Equipment Edit

There are times when the aquarist themself has to get down and dirty to keep the tank running smoothly, and here are some of the tools of the trade.

Gravel Vac Edit

The gravel vacuum is a contraption that uses the concept of siphoning. By starting a siphon of water from the tank to another location, the gravel vac begins to suck up water and whatever is nearby. This is useful to help clear the substrate of particulate matter.

Gravel vacs come in numerous styles. One of the most common forms is a gravity-driven siphon, in which water is pulled from the tank to a bucket or something else that is lower than the aquarium. Another is a Venturi-driven siphon, which works by hooking up to the sink with a special attachment; by turning on the sink, a vacuum is created in the tube which sucks the water from the aquarium. Other, less common forms include hand-pumped or even battery-powered.

Gravel vacs, as somewhat hinted by the name, are mostly only effective in mid-sized substrates. Sand can be sucked away by a gravel vac, making them less effective if the substrate is sandy. Also, if there are a large number of rocks, the gravel vac can have a hard time reaching around to tighter corners.

Algae Scraper Edit

Algae scrapers are items used to scrape away algae, usually off of the aquarium glass.

Algae scrapers also can come in a variety of forms. One form is a scraper on the end of a long stick, slightly reminiscent of a window squeegee and serves approximately the same purpose: to clean glass. However, the other option is the magnetic algae scraper, in which the aquarist handles a magnet on the outside, and another magnetic scraping piece follows inside the aquarium. There are even magnetic algae scrapers that float in case the magnets somehow get too far away from each other, making retrieval much easier.

One must be careful with algae scrapers and acrylic, as particulate matter such as sand caught in the scraper can cause scratches.

Extras Edit

Tried and true, here are a few things that aren't sold at your local fish store that just might come in handy.

Eggcrate Edit

In the marine hobby, when we say eggcrate, we're not talking about the cartons eggs actually come in, nor are we talking about bumpy foam pads. What we mean by eggcrate are eggcrate grilles that are often used for air vents and fluorescent lights; plastic that forms criss-crossing lines.

So what does eggcrate have anything to do with marine aquaria? Well lots. In fact, it can be the very foundation of a reef, pun intended. Eggcrate is placed underneath the rocks and buried in the substrate. By having eggcrate, you spread out the weight of the stones over the bottom pane of the glass.

You can purchase eggcrate at a hardware store.

Turkey Baster Edit

No, it's not Thanksgiving. A Turkey Baster is actually a useful tool in the hobby. Using a turkey baster, you can suck up some small stuff without disturbing too much of the tank. On the other hand, you're able to target food or anything else at a certain organism without it having to float all over the tank. The ability to target with a turkey baster can actually become quite handy. Of course, don't use a turkey baster you're going to use for food with your aquarium, and vice versa.

Toothbrush Edit

The quintessential cleaning tool, a toothbrush lets you get into those small places that is difficult to reach with just about anything else. Keeping an old toothbrush handy can help you out in a tight spot.

Setting Up

Setting up the aquarium is not as simple as it seems. The process is a little more than "Just Add Water."

When setting up your aquarium, it is important to take several factors into account. You will need to consider a proper support for the tank's weight, the nearby environment, and traffic.

Tips if you have a used aquarium Edit

Before setting up a fish tank, you should test if for leaks, especially if you received it second-hand. Simply find a location where you would not mind if it leaked, then place newspapers on the ground. Place your tank on the newspapers and fill it up with water, and let it sit for some time to make sure it doesn't leak. Judging by what area of newspaper gets wet, you can judge where the leak is.

Location Edit

As previously mentioned, the proper support for a tank is necessary. If you are placing an aquarium on something not built for aquariums, you should make sure that the structure is able to support it. Keep in mind, water weighs 8 pounds per gallon so a 100 gallon tank weighs over 800 pounds! An actual store-bought aquarium stand is the safe way to go, and can often be bought in color and wood to match your furniture. Aquarium stands are expensive for a reason. Don't be an idiot like me and think you can go buy wood and build your own (unless of course, you really do know what you're doing). Thrift stores and garage sales are good places to look; get something of a sturdy material, like metal. If you are selecting a stand for a 30 gallon tank, ask yourself if you could picture a sumo wrestler safely standing on it.

You should also consider the floor that you are placing your aquarium on. First, as you will be performing maintenance in the area, you should expect some water to be spilled, but even if you don't, if the tank leaks the disaster is smaller. Secondly, especially if your tank is larger, you must think about if the floor structure is strong enough. Try to place the aquarium perpendicular to the support structure of the floor so that the most beams can share the weight.

The nearby environment includes other things such as lights, windows, radiators, and such. Anything that emits light too close to the aquarium may disturb the organisms as you turn them on and off. Radiators and other sources of heat or temperature change may effect the temperature of the water. Windows are an especially unwise place to put an aquarium. Though corals need bright light, sunlight can contribute to algal growth. Also, warm or cold air from the window can also effect the aquarium.

Another factor to consider is traffic around the aquarium. Fish may be frightened by the moving around of people near the aquarium. It is best to locate the tank in a place to reduce this stress. On the other hand, putting the aquarium in the corner of the house you never visit isn't the best idea either.

Some aquarists actually place their aquarium in the wall, like a natural picture. Though it is a very good effect, there must be some room behind the wall to give access to the aquarium. Also, it means cutting a hole into the wall, which should be considered if you plan to sell the home later.

Putting it together Edit

Now, you've got your tank in the perfect position. Now you can actually start putting stuff inside!

To set up the tank, build from the bottom up. Place stuff that goes under the substrate down first. This can include an undergravel filter or eggcrate. Both of these things are optional, but if you have either, they should be placed first.

Next, the rocks and decorations are placed down. Make sure that they do not wiggle or budge, otherwise they will be more prone to accidents. Some people like to silicon their rocks together to make sure they don't budge, if their rocks are not live and wet. We put the rocks down before putting anything else down to make sure that they form a good support structure, lest your natural monument collapse on you.

After the rocks are all set in place, the substrate is put in, and then all of you equipment that hang onto or attached inside the aquarium. This way you can make sure everything is right without having to get too wet. After everything is in place, it is time to put in the water.

Use a plate or other solid surface and place it on your substrate or rocks. Pour your water directly on this plate. By doing this, the force of your pouring won't kick up the substrate.

Congratulations, your tank is now set-up! But even so, you're not finished yet.

Cycling Edit

As talked about in the Nitrogen Cycle section, control of nitrogenous wastes is very important. This can only be done with bacteria, and if you just set up your tank, it's probably relatively sterile, which is not quite what we want if we want the nitrogenous wastes to be controlled.

These bacteria can be obtained in a number of different ways. One is live rock or live sand, both which house plentiful bacterial colonies. Another is a variety of products on the market that claim to have these such bacteria in solution, but the dubious claims of these likely snake oils should be taken with a grain of salt. The third is to get some substrate from an already up-and-running fish tank; this could be sand, gravel, or a piece of dirty filter pad. Or ask your friend to save you some dirty water the next time they clean their tank. The fourth is to let your tank sit, and eventually it will seed itself.

In all of these situations, it doesn't do any good for the bacteria if the aquarium has no ammonia; otherwise, these bacteria will starve. In the case of the live rock or live sand, it actually perpetuates its own cycle as organisms off of the rock can die, decompose, and thus produce ammonia. However, in the case of using any sort of product or letting the aquarium passively gain bacteria, you must provide this food for them.

To provide ammonia, there are two main methods besides using live rock and sand. Another is to provide another organic ammonia source, such as a living thing, usually a fish. The fish will produce ammonia that will allow the bacteria to feed; however, if you are allowing your tank to gain bacteria on its own, the time it takes for bacteria to grow to a level that can keep the ammonia safe for this fish may be too long. However, this is a viable option, especially if one uses a relatively hardy species that can withstand higher ammonia or worse conditions, such as a Damselfish. Some people frown upon cycling with the use of fish as the fish experiences some stress as the bacteria build up to handle the ammonia.

Another method to add ammonia to the tank is a method known as Fishless Cycling. In this case, the aquarist uses straight ammonia; ammonia can be found at a dollar store pure. When trying to find "pure ammonia", one should make sure that the ammonia contains no other substances than ammonia and water. A lot of cleaners contain chemicals such as surfactants (that make bubbles), dyes, coloring agents, fragrences, and a whole range of chemicals that you do not want in you aquarium. "Pure ammonia" is clear and smells quite bad, but for a fishless cycle it will do the trick. This ammonia will provide food for the bacteria without endangering a fish. Just add a couple spoons a day of ammonia to the aquarium to allow the bacteria to feed. Never add ammonia to an aquarium unless there is nothing living inside of it, because, as mentioned before, it is poisonous to most living things other than nitrifying bacteria.

After a couple weeks of this, cycling will be complete, and the aquarium should have built up a sizable colony of bacteria that can handle the waste products of the future inhabitants of your aquarium and make sure the nitrogenous compounds are converted to less dangerous forms.

Aquarist Responsibilities

The tank isn't going to run itself. A marine aquarium requires a dedicated hobbyist for proper care. Often an aquarium and its inhabitants can be mistaken as just a decoration or a piece of furniture, but it is much more than that. A dynamic state of being, an aquarium is always changing, and you have to keep up with it to make sure it stays on course.

Regular Observations and Testing Edit

It's important to keep up with your aquarium. Observe the tank often so that you know if something is going wrong or if there is some sort of change. If you just let your aquarium sit in the corner without watching it, something is likely to go wrong under the radar.

Part of these observations include keeping tabs on all your organisms. Are they all present? Are their behaviors normal? Are they exhibiting normal coloration? An answer of no to such questions may point to some sort of problem which you couldn't have caught without observation.

Further analysis and observations can be made through test kits mentioned in the equipment section. Although sometimes your animals may not show symptoms, there may be an impending problem that can be found through regular testing of the aquarium with test kits. Often, with a test kit, one can find what important factor of the aquarium is not what it should be in the event of a problem. The use of test kits help us to keep the aquarium's conditions within the ranges of tolerable conditions that the organisms can handle. How often you do tests depends on the aquarist and the system, but weekly is a good idea for a beginning aquarium before its conditions have stabilized.

Keeping Clean Edit

After some time, eventually your tank isn't going to look quite as clean and sterile as it did when you started.

Often, algae will grow on the surfaces of the rock and the tank glass. Though they pose no actual danger to the animals, they can be an eyesore. Many people purchase hermit crabs or snails to do this job, but in some situations these cleaner organisms are either not enough or not an option. Therefore, it's the responsibility of the aquarist to keep the aquarium clean so that it remains attractive through regular cleaning. Watch out for chemicals that claim to kill algae, as they are often very dangerous to invertebrates as well; such chemicals are often not recommended.

Another problem that arises is salt creep, the effect of salt starting to form crystals on certain surfaces. In anywhere that saltwater sprays or an object isn't always submerged, eventually salt is going to start creeping. Areas to watch out for especially are places where Hang-On-Back systems spill into the aquarium. This salt should be cleaned to keep the tank looking nice. Also, as the salt is leaving the tank, keep up with salinity tests to make sure that it isn't going down.

Water Maintenance Edit

Water is extremely important to maintain as it decides how well your organisms will do.

As your aquarium runs, eventually water is going to evaporate, lowering the volume of water in the aquarium. This will make all the dissolved substances more concentrated in the aquarium and is also less attractive. Because salt does not evaporate, it is important to fill the tank up with freshwater to replace the evaporated water. Many people have built systems where the freshwater is replace automatically and over time, but you must remember to maintain this system to make sure it is working properly.

Every so often, it will be necessary to do a water change, which means to take out water and replace it with more saltwater. This is important to help remove waste products, pollutants, or other substances that just can't be removed through the nitrogen cycle and other processes. This may be weekly, biweekly, monthly, or even longer, depending on the type of system you have, the capabilities of the filtration system, and other variables. When doing a water change, it is important that the saltwater to be put into the tank is already mixed before adding it; never add salt directly to a tank with living organisms, because if the crystals touch something it can disturb or stress them.

Quarantine Edit

When purchasing a new organism, it is often a good idea to quarantine them in a separate aquarium. A quarantine aquarium doesn't have to be fancy, just enough to house an organism temporarily. There are several advantages to using one.

First and foremost, if the animal is already sick and you didn't know, it's disease will not be passed onto other organisms into your main aquarium by accident. Also, in a quarantine tank, you can treat a disease in isolation without worry about the effect of the disease or medication on other animals.

A quarantine tank also allows you to keep an animal in isolation for other reasons. It will allow the animal to relax in a situation where it doesn't have to immediately compete and interact with other organisms. An animal can overcome the stress of being moved from the store. For example, in some cases, some animals will stop eating due to the stress of being moved. In rehabilitating the organism, it is much easier to get it to eat if other more comfortable organisms aren't competing with it.


Yellow tang- Edit

Physical description: Varing in size from 1/4" to 8", bright yellow fins and body are the trademarks of the yellow tang. Small, tightly packed scales on the body give the fish a velvety appearance. The sharp spines near the tail are used for defense and as an anchor in the rocks when sleeping.

General information:

The yellow tang is a grazing fish with a diet of almost anything that is green (ie. alge, grass, lettuce...). It is not unheard of for the fish to eat meat. Even though this fish is generally an herbivore the tang has been known to eat shrimp and other smaller animals. This varying diet may even include excrements from other fish. This small fish is very territorial; especially in the presence of another tang fish. The yellow tang is also in the sergeant fish family.

The tang fish does not require a lot of space in which to live. But please take in mind when using the tang in an aquarium that it needs a constant flow of water. Not much but some, it helps the fish stay in shape and keeps the fish in good health.

Special anatomical, physiological or behavioral adaptations:

The short snout has evolved for the specialized task of grazing on algae which grows on rocks. The mouth and surrounding skin has toughened to withstand the impact with the rough reef surface. Like other fish in the sergeant fish family they have a number of small spines protruding near their tail. The spines near their tail is how they got their name, also commonly called the scalpel fish. As mentioned above the spines on the tail serve dual purposes as a means of defence and as an anchor while sleeping

Comments about the yellow tang of the Fort Worth Zoo:

This has become a very popular fish in aquariums as of late. There is only one other tang that is more popular, the purple tang. They are eazy fish to take care of and will add plenty of color to any environment. But anyone who wants to add the tang to their aquarium should be forewarned that the tang is prone to ich. An external parasite that can eventually kill the fish. Almost every tang contracts this parasite at one time or another.

Personal Observations:

This seems to be a calm fish in regards to others in my observations, except to other tangs. They also are extremely quick and dart from place to place, never hovering in one place too long; at least the males always seem to keep moving. Their striking color makes them a fun and interesting fish to watch. It has also been said that people who own aquariums with colorful fish lead less stressful lives.

Further reading Edit