A Complete Guide to Marine Fish Keeping

Marine Aquarium System

INTRODUCTION

Setting up aquariums at home as a piece of decoration has been a very common practice. This, not only enhances the beauty of our room, but adds life to our room also. If you think more in depth, this small piece of decoration can be categorized into a number of types depending on the differences in set-up and constitution. A ‘Marine Aquarium’ is a type which has to be decorated with marine plants and animals. This again can be further subdivided into the following types;

o Fish Only (FO)

o Fish Only with Live Rock (FOWLR) and

o Reef Aquaria

Marine fish keeping is entirely different from the other types as this involves more knowledge and study. An extensive knowledge is required regarding the composition of water, its chemical properties and the adaptability of the inhabitants of a marine aquarium.

To start with, let us first discuss the very first step of installing a ‘Marine Aquarium System’ which includes the major components that are essential for a marine aquarium.

Major Components of a Marine Aquarium

The very first thing required for the installation of a Marine Aquarium is a sound knowledge of all the major components of it. The usual volume range of Marine Aquariums is from less than 80 litres to over 1200 litres. The major components of a Marine Aquarium are;

o An Aquarium, made of glass or acrylic

o Filtration Equipment

o Proper Lighting

o Aquarium Heater and Refrigeration Devices

The material of the aquarium should be preferably made of glass or acrylic. Glass is used mainly because of its holding strength, transparency and inexpensive too. Also, glass has a remarkable feature of distributing the total pressure within the whole aquarium. However, acrylic can also be used as an alternative to glass as it is light weight and can be moulded very easily to give varied shapes and sizes. In addition, it is scratch resistant and provides a much better electric insulation, although its price is a bit higher.

The filtration set up of a marine aquarium is much more complex compared to other freshwater aquariums and includes physical, chemical and biological filtration as well. The most commonly used filtration equipments are; Wet and Dry Filters and Protein Skimmers. A Protein Skimmer is a device which is used to remove organic compounds from the water before they are further broken into nitrogenous wastes. Protein skimming is an important process of filtration as this is the only method of filtration where the organic compounds are removed physically before they are decomposed – thus improving the water property. Some of the marine aquariums also contain a Refugium or a Sump. A refugium is a small container, or more likely a small aquarium which is laid beneath the marine aquarium and is connected to it by a water pump. A sump however contains a number of chambers, each of which is filled with its own filtration material.

Lights play a major role in marine aquariums, so proper lighting is very much essential in this case. Although, it is advised to set a cyclical lighting arrangement in order to stimulate the day and night, but it varies depending on the type of inhabitants of the aquarium. For a typical ‘Fish Only’ type, intense light is not required. But in case of aquariums containing invertebrates, an intense light is preferred. The most commonly used lights are; Fluorescent, VHO Fluorescent with very high intensity, Compact Fluorescent, LED and Metal Halide. Although there are a lot of variations regarding this sources of light, but all this technologies have its own advantages and disadvantages. The two most important factors that should be taken into consideration while selecting a lighting arrangement are; wattage and color temperature. The wattage of the lights may vary from tens to several hundreds, depending on the type of lighting used. Color temperature, on the other hand, is nothing but the color of light emitted by the lighting system. Color temperature >5000K has proved to be best for growing plants in marine aquariums. A 10,000K lighting system throws a bluish-white radiation which affects the colours in fishes and corals. A much higher spectrum, say 14,000K and 20,000K produces a deep blue radiation, like that of under the sea and creates a similar environment.

A Marine Aquarium temperature should be maintained at 24 to 28 degrees Celsius, which is similar to the natural environment of the marine inhabitants. In cases, where the aquarium temperature is less than this desired temperature, an ‘Aquarium Heater’ is used. On the other hand, if the temperature is greater than desired, a refrigeration device known as ‘Chillers’ is used to lower down the aquarium temperature.

Set-up the Marine Aquarium – 1st Part

Once you are ready with all the essential components of a Marine Fish Tank, the second major step is the setting up process. It is a lengthy process and might take 4 to 8 weeks before you can actually add any marine life into the set-up. The major steps included in the set-up process are;

o Deciding the aquarium size and location

o Arranging the essential aquarium equipments

o Setting up the aquarium with all the equipments

o Adding previously mixed saltwater to the aquarium

o Curing of live rock

o Adding the substrate

o Monitoring the water thoroughly and allow the tank to cycle.

o Adding marine fishes.

So let’s discuss all the major points by step.

Aquarium size and location: The size of the aquarium varies with the type of marine fish you would like to keep. This is because the size and growth of marine fishes varies from an inch to about 12 or 18 inches. It is always better to avoid smaller tanks as this requires frequent water testing and greater maintenance. A perfect place to set up your marine system is in that area where the external sources such as windows or heater vent hardly affects the light and temperature of the aquarium. Last but not the least, the stand should be strong enough to hold the total weight of the aquarium.

Essential aquarium equipments: It is advisable to list down and arrange all the essential equipments required for setting up a marine aquarium before the set-up process so that you do not miss out a single. The first thing you need to decide is the type of filtration. A combination of live rock as a biological filter and protein skimmer as a method for mechanical and chemical filtration is perfect in this case. Arrange the live rock, sand and a power strip. Live sand or aragonite based sand, especially from caribsea is the best choice. You can also use crushed coral as a best choice, but avoid using sandbox or playground sand as these are harmful for your marine life.

Set up your aquarium: Avoid using soap or detergents to wash the tank as the soap residues prove to be harmful for marine fishes. Wash it up with water only and fill it up with fresh water for smoke and leakage testing, if any. Drain out the water once the test is done and the next step is to fix a background. It is advisable to paint the background as there are no chances of salt creep getting in between the background and glass. The painting should be done at the outside wall of the backside and not in the inside wall. A black background is ideal for marine tanks as this enhances the color of the fishes. Alternatively, you can also use deep blue as this helps in creating an illusion of water depth. After the tank has been left for a day in order to allow the paint to dry off, install the heater, filter and protein skimmer. Do not forget to use a drip loop on all the power cords and check back the aquarium electrical paths.

Set-up the Marine Aquarium – 2nd Part

Add pre-mixed saltwater: You can use most of the commonly available mixtures, unless you are setting a reef tank. Take a 5 gallon bucket, fill it up and remove the chlorine and chloramine using suitable additives and medicines for Aquariums.. Then slowly add the salt mixture to the water at room temperature with constant stirring. Once you are sure that the whole salt mixture has dissolved completely, test it with a hydrometer or refractometer. Once the specific gravity reaches between 1.021 and 1.024, the water is ready to be added into your aquarium. Make sure to allow the water to circulate for about a day or two by turning the aquarium on.

Curing the live rock: Though quite expensive, but live rock falls under the essential part of Marine Aquarium. This is only because live rock is considered to be the best form of biological filtration. Depending on the shape of the rock, the period of curing may extend from 1 week to 2 months even. After draining some water out of the aquarium, place the live rock in the middle of it with the powerheads aiming at the rocks. You need to brush the rocks every after few days regularly, but do not forget to turn off the power in the tank. You may use new rubber kitchen gloves or brush with plastic bristles to scrub and remove the dead organisms in the rock. Now siphon the disposals and fill the tank with previously mixed saltwater. Do not forget to put a powerhead and a heater in the mixing container in order to mix uniformly and keep on testing regularly to ensure that the tank is cycling. One smarter way to understand that the live rock is cured is that when the tank stops smelling bad. The tank water should be free from ammonia and nitrite, so do not miss out to test it at regular intervals.

Adding substrate: once the curing process of live rock is completed, you need to prepare your aquarium for the substrate layer. For that, first of all drain out some water to make a space for the sand and then turn off the aquarium power. Take a large bucket, say about 5 gallon and pre-mix in it about 2 gallons of saltwater. Add the sand in the pre-mixed saltwater and keep on stirring. By constant stirring, the dust and unwanted particles will rise up which you must drain out carefully. Also drain out some saltwater from the mixing bucket and then with the help of a ladle or something like that add the clean sand to the aquarium slowly. You might use a powerhead for blowing off, if any sand particles get into the live rock. So, finally the marine tank set-up process seems to have come to an end. Now at this stage, the only thing that is advised is to allow the tank to settle down. For another few days, keep on monitoring the water parameters without disturbing the tank much.

Set-up the Marine Aquarium – 3rd Part

Monitoring the tank: Once the aquarium is ready with all the essential components, it needs a standing time of few days to settle down. During this phase your most important task is to constantly monitor all the delicate parameters so as to ensure a perfect environment for the marine fishes. The monitoring includes;

o Checking the temperature of the aquarium water

o Checking the specific gravity of the aquarium water

o Checking the pH balance of the aquarium water

o Checking the ammonia level

o Checking the nitrite level

o Checking the nitrate level of the aquarium water

o Checking the carbonate hardness level of the aquarium water

All the above parameters should be perfectly within the desired range. A little disbalance in any of these above parameters can be a threat to marine life. So, it is advised to perform this monitoring process very carefully. Any imbalance if noted, must be rectified and brought to normal level before the addition of marine fishes.

The temperature range of the aquarium should be between 75°F – 80°F (24°C – 27°C) and the specific gravity should range from 1.020 to 1.024. Moreover, the pH reading of the aquarium water should be between 8.0 to 8.4. Note that the levels of ammonia and nitrite content in the aquarium water should be 0. In other words, there must not be any trace of ammonia and nitrite in the aquarium water. However, the nitrate content of the water should be around 20ppm or less, especially for the invertebrates whereas, the carbonate hardness range is 7 – 10dKH. The water we use daily is generally rich in phosphates, which must be taken care of. Presence of phosphate in the aquarium water increases the chances of some of the undesirable algae growth. While even a small amount of copper in the aquarium could be a threat to snails, shrimps, starfishes and other invertebrates – though not harmful for fishes. One of the most important points to enhance water quality is to keep it in motion. A moving water is perfect for gaseous exchange so that it remains oxygenated and as a result good for the health of the fishes. The best way to keep the aquarium water in motion is by using a powerhead. Also, the pumps play an important role in driving out excess of carbon dioxide from the water, which may result in low pH otherwise. It is advised to keep the levels of salt, calcium, alkalinity and temperature stable. Allow a standing time to the aquarium water so that the water chemistry comes to a stabilized state which is very important.

A quick highlight of the water chemistry:

– Temperature Range: 75°F – 80°F (24°C – 27°C)

– Specific Gravity Range: 1.020 to 1.024

– pH Range: 8.0 to 8.4

– Ammonia Level: 0

– Nitrite Level: 0

– Phosphate Level: 0

– Copper Level: 0

– Nitrate Range: 20ppm or less, especially for the invertebrates

– Carbonate Hardness Range: 7 – 10dKH

Set-up the Marine Aquarium – 4th Part

Adding Marine Fishes: Once the water chemistry comes to a stabilized state and the tank is totally cycled and ready, it is the perfect environment to add marine life into your Marine Aquarium System. Marine species not only includes marine fishes, but also anemones and other marine invertebrates. Maintaining saltwater fishes involves a lot of behavioral understanding, additional skill sets and knowledge. This is because the marine fishes in general are physiologically different and are less adaptable compared to the freshwater species. All you need is a stable environment and some special treatments and conditions – no other extra pampering is actually required to maintain the fishes. Compared to freshwater aquariums, a saltwater or marine aquarium supports a wider range of extraordinarily beautiful fishes. Some of the most popular saltwater fishes are Damsels, Lionfish, Clownfish, Triggerfish, Blennies, Butterfly fish and marine Angelfish. Among a wide range of marine fishes certain species like Clownfish, Wrasses, Anthias and Marine Betta throws a vibrant color to your aquarium. Once your marine aquarium system is ready, it is advisable to start with the popular sturdier marine fishes and Damsels are perfect for such cases. Damsels, unlike other popular marine species are much more sturdy and also less expensive compared to others.

However, one thing that should be kept in mind is that Damsels are a bit aggressive in their nature and so are not friendly with many of the other marine species. For another six months keep your marine aquarium on some of the few hardy marine fishes and do not miss out to keep a close eye on the conditions of the aquarium water. If everything goes well and well balanced, after approximately six months or so, try adding some of the hardy invertebrates. Among the hardy invertebrates, you can start with adding of soft corals, algae’s, shrimps, anemones, starfish and urchins. You can also fill your marine aquarium with some of the other popular creatures like worms and sponges. After the successful addition and maintenance of these invertebrates and after about one to two years, you can start considering the comparatively sensitive invertebrates such as stony corals, clams etc. In an advance stage, you can even house your marine aquarium with somewhat larger invertebrates such as jellyfish and octopus. So by now, you could well guess that a marine aquarium is capable of housing a much wider range of creatures than you could actually imagine in case of freshwater aquarium.

Last but not the least, a healthy and spacious environment is required for the healthy growth of the marine fishes. In order to provide a healthy environment, never ever overstock your aquarium, which is a very common practice among beginners. Another very common mistake that should be avoided is overfeeding of the fishes that may lead to poor quality of water and even sickness leading to death of your aquarium fishes. It is always advisable to feed your marine fishes in small amounts so that it all gets eaten up, thus preventing the water from getting poor. Keeping aside all the technical points, one major job should be to check your aquarium fishes and invertebrates – their health and movement. Any signs of illness if noted, it is advised to check your water conditions, look for the symptoms of the disease and then consult your marine aquarium retailer or Internet books for advice.