Filling your Aquarium with Water
1. Lay your substrates: Substrates range from coarse to fine, and come in different colors. What you decide to use depends on what you and the type of fish you keep prefer.
2. Fill with Salt Water and place live rock (it’s best to build caves with live rock)
*Live rock allows denitrifying bacteria to form (a natural biological filter) as the water settles.
*Adding Microbacter (a water supplement) speeds up the denitrifying process, improves your biological filtration and rapidly improves your water quality and can help you decrease the time needed for this cycling period (which allows you to add fish sooner to the tank).
3. Let sit for at least 3 days with filter and/or sump running
4. Check ammonia, nitrates and salinity (or a full water test depending on the type of rock purchased). It’s possible that your tank will need to go through these phases for weeks before settling to accurate water parameters to sustain fish and coral.During this period the poisonous waste is being converted into a nontoxic substance that benefits your aquarium—you will know when you’re water gets to this ideal condition after numerous water changes and accurate water tests. (purchasing live rock that’s already cured will speed up this process tremendously).
If you purchase your rock online, during shipping, there is a period of die off on the rock which is essentially poisonous to fish. It puts off tons of nitrates and ammonia, which is exactly what you do not want in your aquarium water.
All rock must be 100% cured before you can add fish. This is one huge benefit to purchasing live rock from your local fish store, which saves your 4-8 weeks of time curing your rock in a separate aquarium from your livestock.
This graphic shows the denitrifying process of harmful bacteria:
Building Your Community
The first question to ask yourself is whether or not you want to keep corals. Corals add, among many other things, beautiful colors to your tank. They require proper lighting, filtration, and water flow, as well as specific water parameters. Coral Reef aquariums also thrive with a protein skimmer (which constantly cleans the water). While Corals bring exquisite life to your marine aquarium, there are many types of fish that are not reef safe because they eat corals or invertebrates. Tropical fish are classified as reef safe, caution (keeping with coral), or not reef safe. At the bottom of this chart you can see which fish are reef safe with Corals.
When deciding the types of fish to keep in your marine aquarium, it is important to keep in mind the full-grown size of the fish, and how much space it needs and can share. A general rule of thumb: you need 2 gallons for every inch of full grown fish. The full growth size of a fish, its activity behaviors, and its feeding/waste production are some of the most important factors to consider when choosing the fish you keep. For instance, some fish are extremely finicky eaters, such as the Mandarin Dragonette which often only eats copepods (copepods are essentially like a bug that crawls around on the rock).
It’s just as important to choose types of fish that are compatible with each other. Generally, unless you have a very large aquarium, its best to only have one Tang in your community. Damsels are another fish that don’t do well in an aquarium with their own kind. Most schooling fish, such as Chromis, prefer to be in odd numbers of 3 or more. It is beneficial to have some sort of bottom-dwellers in your aquarium (i.e. Goby or Jawfish) because they help stir up the sand, keeping the water clean of leftover food. Many types of fish don’t get along with one another, so it’s important to understand the needs of each type of fish in your tank (fish compatability chart). At Coastal Reef we aim to be an ongoing resource to our customers to help answer any questions or issues with sltwater aquariums, especially with regards to building a compatible and productive reef community. You can stop by our store in Wilmington, NC, call us at 910-792-6003, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need help with any aspect of reefkeeping.
Other Resources about starting and keeping a saltwater aquarium: http://www.fishlore.com/saltwaterfish.htm
www.carolinafishtalk is an online forum with hundreds of Saltwater enthusiasts who can help answer your questions and discuss the hobby.