Photo: Bob Mars | Freeimageslive

If you have traded in a  fishbowl for a freshwater tank, you'd probably be thinking about taking the next step: A saltwater marine aquarium. A nice looking aquarium with a good mix of fish and corals sounds just about right perhaps? 

Called a community reef tank, this underwater world can be filled with saltwater fish species like Clownfish, Goby and Tangs. With an aquascape lined with corals and rocks, it would look good in any corner of a room.

Ready to take the plunge? Before you do, take a look at the items needed and a bit of basics to help you along the way.

Decisions, Decisions  

 With an aquascape lined with corals and rocks, it would look good in any corner of a room
Photo: PxFuel
Consider the layout when laying out the substrate: Levelled or raised in some areas. 
Photo: C Lovelidge | Unsplash

The first thing you'll want to do is to plan your setup. Besides finding a right corner for the tank, determine the type of tank and the required dimensions. One of the secrets of a successful saltwater aquarium: Bigger is always better.

What type of fish do you want? Will you be getting live rocks? Or perhaps just corals? Make these decisions before moving on, as this will influence the rest of the tank.  

Give some thought to the lighting system too. Proper lighting is vital as corals are photosynthetic creatures and need light to survive. Check with the guy in the store (when you finally head to the store) and get one suited for your idea of a marine aquarium.

Now comes the shopping part. All-in-one aquariums are a quick and easy way to get started. A DIY requires you to buy each piece of equipment separately and then assemble it as best as you can. 

For those just starting out, the all-in-one is a straightforward way to go. Alternatively, you can start building your aquarium with just a tank and a powerhead to create flow and build up your equipment from there.

Before going any further, be sure to clean your tank and equipment, even if it is brand new. Once everything is clean, check your tank for leaks. Fill it with a couple of centimeters of water, come back later and look for signs of any leaks. 

More Choices Ahead  

It's now time to fill your tank. The very first thing to go in would be your substrate. By now, you would have decided on exactly which type of substrate to use – soft sand or crushed coral. 

Whichever one you choose, you'll need about 20 – 45 kgs of substrate in a 190 ltr tank to fill about 2 -5 cm of the bottom of the tank. Rinse your substrate to ensure you get rid of any dust particles. 

Once you're pouring the rest of the substrate in, think about how you would like to arrange it. Would you like it consistently levelled, or would you prefer to have some areas raised?

Water, Water Everywhere

Flow is an essential part of a healthy tank.
Photo: PxFuel
Test the water in the tank. 
Photo: PxFuel

You're now ready to add water to your tank. Saltwater is made by mixing reverse osmosis de-ionised water (RODI), and aquarium salt. 

You can also use solutions to treat your water. You'll also need to add salt mixes, which you can purchase from pet shops. Once that's done, add in some de-chlorinator, and you're good to go.

After fitting in a filter, it's time to show off your creative side with plants, driftwood and more corals.

Check the powerhead at this stage. Flow is an essential part of a healthy tank and depending on the size of the tank, consider if the powerhead is creating sufficient water movement in the tank.  

Your tank is just about ready, but it is not entirely safe for your fish yet. You'll need to cycle the tank to build up bacterial cultures to detoxify the wastes created later by your fish. 

One way to cycle the tank is to use ammonia. Another preferred method is to use live rocks as these hold already developed cultures of bacteria. Live rock also plays a role in a tank environment as they provide ample shelter or places where the animals can hide, sleep, and avoid potential problems.
Then to find out if things are working in your favour, test the water in the tank. Without testing, it's challenging to know what's going on inside your tank. Aquarium test kits are relatively inexpensive, and every time you test your water, you can correct any imbalances in water chemistry.

So far, this entire process would have  taken anywhere from three to eight weeks. 

Underwater World  

It's finally time to add some livestock! Start gradually with corals, invertebrates, then fishes. Add them over a few weeks or, even a few months. 

Some fish can be sensitive to water conditions. As such, it's best to acclimatise them to the water in your tank first. Keep an eye on them to ensure that they still swimming merrily. And remember, not all creatures are compatible with each other.  

Also, don't overcrowd your tank, as you might find yourself having to start the nitrogen cycle all over again. 

Now it's time to sit back and enjoy your exquisite underwater world.

By Melissa Especkerman



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