Are You Ready to Make the Leap to Saltwater? - Aquarium Forum
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Are You Ready to Make the Leap to Saltwater?

Youíve no doubt seen beautiful marine or autolinking image tanks in restaurants, hotels, online, in movies and on television. Maybe youíre already a veteran autolinking image tank owner and starting up a saltwater tank has always been your dream. Whatever the reason, keeping a saltwater tank requires building some basic knowledge, the willingness to research, investing in good equipment and equal measures of commitment and care.

Choosing a Tank and Stand

Believe it or not, purchasing your tank is likely to be one of the least expensive necessities, although its size can affect the type of filtration system used. For example, a separate sump and protein skimmer should be used on tanks larger than 55 gallons, while a hang on the back (HOB) system is fine for a smaller tank.

A low, long tank is usually a better choice than a deep, narrow or oddly-shaped one because the first type of tank offers the largest surface area. Shorter tanks also allow a higher level of light to penetrate the surface of the water. Donít be hesitant about going large Ė itís easier to create a more stable environment and usually needs less attention than smaller tanks.

Itís imperative to choose a stand specifically made to support the weight of a filled tank, which includes the water, rocks and other in-tank additions and the substrate.

Tank Types

The type of tank you choose to maintain will affect not only your livestock (fish) choices, but whether or not you can include live rock, corals and anemones. There are three main types of saltwater tanks.

Fish Only (FO): As implied, these tanks only contain fish, making it the least desirable (or interesting) type of tank. Theyíre basically little more than a simple tank containing a variety of compatible fish that wonít grow too big for the tank.

Fish Only With Live Rock (FOWLR): These tanks hold both fish and live rock, named so because bacteria and other marine creatures live in and on the rock. Live rock serves as the main filtration inside the tank, but itís also a food source for some of the livestock. Again, compatible, appropriately-sized fish only.

Reef Aquarium: In addition to housing livestock and live rock, these tanks include corals and anemones. However, because corals need exceptional water conditions to survive, the number of fish in these tanks is necessarily fewer than those in a FOWLR tank.

Starting a reef tank takes a great deal of research and dedication due to the involved and delicate balance of light and water conditions that must be monitored and maintained.

Tank Location

Where do you plan to set up your system? Resist the urge to place it in front of or across from an exterior window. Although rare in saltwater aquariums, direct sunlight can lead to an algae problem, which is difficult to control (weíve all seen those green swimming pools). This may seem like a tall order, but the best location for a tank is along a wall thatís well clear of all types of heat sources, both natural and manufactured.

Keep tank maintenance and easy access in mind when selecting a location. A clear area close to the kitchen would be ideal, because itís a guarantee that you will be spilling water. Having a mop nearby will be convenient.

Finally, donít forget the aesthetic benefits of having a saltwater tank in your home. Try and position the tank so you have the best view possible without making maintenance a herculean effort.


An FO or FOWLR tank can use standard florescent lighting fixtures, as long as theyíre the right size for your tank. A reef tank with corals needs stronger lighting because like plants, corals rely on photosynthesis. This means they need light similar to natural sunlight to survive. There are countless factors involved in choosing the correct lighting for tanks that include corals, so a professional should be consulted on how to select the best lighting.

Stocking the Tank

Patience is important when setting up a saltwater aquarium, especially when it comes to the residents. You must take things slowly; research and plan what to put in your tank. The stocking of fish, corals and invertebrates must be done in an informed and gradual manner over several months in order to ensure the survival of all.

Youíre asking for unneeded expense and trouble by going out and buying living things without a clue as to the needs of each one. This can not only put a strain on your expensive equipment, itís pretty much a death sentence for the fish and invertebrates you were in such a hurry to buy. Incompatible species may attack and kill each other while damaging the delicate corals in the process.

Weíve barely scratched the surface on what it takes to make that leap into setting up and keeping a saltwater tank, but any effort is worth bringing a part of the ocean and some of its beautiful creatures into your home, right? The point is, making the leap to saltwater requires some extensive research, professional assistance and patience.

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