Setting up your saltwater aquarium

The Aquarium

513 S. Woodlawn

Wichita Ks. 67218


(316)262-2418

Setting up your saltwater aquarium:

A step-by-step guide

  1. The first thing you need to decide is where are you going to place the aquarium. Ideally, this will be along a wall, in an area of the house that you already spend quite a bit of time in. Direct sunlight can promote algae growth, and sometimes alter the temperature of the tank, try to avoid putting it in front of a window, but if you must do so, make sure you tape a background on the tank to block as much light as possible.
  2. If you desire to have a background on your aquarium to either block some light, or hide the wall and cords, you need to put this on now. It is much easier to install when you are able to pull the tank away from the wall and get behind it. Cut your background to fit the back glass area, hold it in place (sometimes this is a two person job!) and tack it in place with small pieces of tape. Once you are satisfied with the positioning of the background, go back and tape all four edges of the background to the tank using clear packing tape. Make sure you seal all of the edges completely, so that salt or moisture does not creep between the glass and background later. Do not use scotch tape for this process, as it will not hold up.
  3. Before adding any water to your tank, the next thing you need to do is determine how far away from the wall you need to be in order to accommodate the filtration system that you have chosen. It is best to go ahead at this time, and configure the filtration, so that you know for sure that you have plenty of room for everything.
  4. Once you have your tank in place, we can go ahead and add some salt mix. It is best to start with about 75% of the amount of salt that you ultimately will need. In other words, it is easier to add salt later if we are low, than it is to remove salt if we started with too much.
  5. Now that we have the salt mix in the aquarium, we can begin to fill the tank up with water. If you can, use the garden hose to fill your tank, the water pressure from the hose is very useful in helping to mix the salt as you fill it up. If you are using buckets of water to fill the tank, stop occasionally and stir the water in order to get the salt to dissolve. Don’t fill the tank completely to the top, leave it approximately 2-3” low at this point so that we have room for our sand or crushed coral (substrate).
  6. If you are using either dry reef sand, or crushed coral for your substrate, you need to rinse it with tap water thoroughly to remove most of the coral dust that is in it. The better you rinse the substrate before adding it to your tank, the quicker the tank will clear back up!  Once you have it rinsed, you can go ahead and put it in the aquarium. Note: If you are using live sand, do not add it at this point!
  7. Once you have put the substrate in the aquarium, you can go ahead and finish filling the tank with water. This is also a good time to de-chlorinate the water if you are using tap water.
  8. Now that you have the salt, water, and substrate in your tank, and have the tank completely full, it is time to start filters and heaters. If you are using a hang on the back type power filter, you will need to take water from the aquarium and fill the filter box full, this will help to “prime” the pump. Sometimes you have to continue adding water for a few minutes in order to get the pump completely primed and allow it to rid itself of any air pockets. Suction the heater in place; give the heater a few minutes to adjust to the water temperature before plugging it in, so as not to crack the glass heater. Set the thermostat on the heater to about 77-78 degrees.
  9. Let the aquarium circulate overnight so that we have the salt thoroughly mixed, and give the filter time to clear the water.
  10. Check the salt mixture (salinity) with your hydrometer. Ideally, the salinity will be a little low at this point. We can begin to adjust it towards our goal by adding more salt. Our ultimate goal for the salt mix is about 1.022. The best way to add salt is to put some water from your tank into a pitcher and make a concentrate by stirring in more salt. Once the concentrate is blended well, you can add it to your tank, and check your salinity again. Make sure you give it 10-15 minutes to mix with the tank water before checking it. Continue to do the process until we have met our goal.
  11. After about 24 hours, check your temperature, and adjust your heater if needed to achieve about 77-78 degrees.
  12. If you have live sand or live rock, you may add it now. We always want to make sure that the water has been de-chlorinated, the salt mixture is correct and the temperature is correct before adding live rock or live sand.
  13. If all of your conditions remain stable and correct for several days, you are ready to get some starter fish for your aquarium. We normally recommend damsels for this purpose, as they are cheap and tough!  It is best to get one damsel for every 10 gallons of tank water.
  14. It will take your aquarium about 6-8 weeks to get established (cycled) after adding your starter fish. The only thing that you can safely add to your tank during this period would be more live rock. If you are using a substantial amount of either live rock or live sand, the cycle process could take less that 6-8 weeks. It is best to purchase test kits so that you can monitor the ammonia and nitrite readings very closely at home.
  15. It is best to set your aquarium light up on a electronic timer. This will help you have a consistent light cycle for your tank daily. Initially, it is best to have your aquarium light on for about 6 hours a day. We can adjust this to 8-10 hours per day after the tank has cycled. A new saltwater tank has a tendency to grow lots of diatom algae (brown, rusty looking algae) and by minimizing the amount of light; we can minimize the amount of algae. The brown algae phase is common, and although a nuisance, it is not harmful or permanent. Keep the brown algae stirred up, and wiped off of the glass, and allow the filters to collect it. Normally, the brown algae will disappear completely by the time your tank has cycled.
  16. Keep in mind, that each aquarium is a little different. The average time to cycle the tank is approximately 6-8 weeks, however you will know the cycle is complete when your ammonia and nitrite readings are zero. Basically it works like this:  you add starter fish and feed them, they create waste which causes ammonia readings to become elevated for a few weeks, then good bacteria grows and multiplies in your aquarium and the ammonia is neutralized and converted into nitrite. The nitrite levels begin to elevate until a second bacteria colonizes within your tank (again taking several weeks) and now the nitrite is converted to nitrate. The nitrates are the final bi-product in this nitrogen cycle, and they will always be present. You simply need to keep them at lower levels by performing monthly water changes. In a healthy cycled aquarium, the ammonia and nitrite will always be zero, and will take care of themselves.
  17. Be patient, and enjoy your new aquarium. Feed your starter fish modestly, only once a day. Resist the temptation to add any other animals to your system while it is cycling (this includes crabs or snails etc.)  Continue to test your water about once a week. If you have any questions or problems, don’t hesitate to call or come see us. Good luck!

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