Things you will need when starting a saltwater aquarium.

Dec 20, 2003
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#1
well, ive noticed alot of people coming on here with no clue at all as to what you will need to start a saltwater tank, so i hope this will help anyone that reads it, and maybe it could be stickied so people would be able to access it whenever they want without digging through old posts. i will try to make this as helpful as possible, and if i forget anything then please feel free to add something to the list.

Tank - bigger is better, most people prefer long deep tanks as opposed to short, thin and tall tanks, you have more room to aquascape and fish will enjoy the extra lateral swimming space.

Stand - you want to make your tank look presentable, so you will need a stand, most people like stands big enough to put smaller tanks in for a sump or a refugium, also its nice to have a place to store all of the food, treatments, and other things that will be scattered about.

Hood/Lights - if you are using the original hood for your tank, it will probably not be enough light to keep corals, it may however be enough light if you are looking to set up a fish only tank. there are retrofit kits available that you can squeeze a couple compact flourescent light bulbs into that you could use for lowlight corals. there are also light fixtures available that have the compact flourescent light bulbs all in 1 fixture and you can order legs that will fit your tank, so no hood is needed except for a glass barrier between the tank and the light.

Salt/Water - this one is kindof a no brainer, you are going to need salt, and water for the tank. for most brands of salt they require about a 1/2 cup of salt to every gallon of water, RO/DI (Reverse osmosis/Distilled) water is preffered over tap water, as tap water may contain elements that can harm your tanks ecosystem. remember to follow directions on the salt, different manufacterers vary with their amounts and times needed to mix salt.

Hydrometer/Refractometer - Hydrometers and Refractometers are used to measure the salinity of the water, hydrometers are cheaper and less reliable (you will more than likely have to takeseveral tests to determine the correct salinity) and refractometers are more expensive but they are alot more reliable, however, from time to time you will have to have them calibrated.

Test Kits - you will need some sort of test kit for testing the different levels in your tank. most test kits come with a way of testing for ammonia, nitrates, and nitrites. you will also need to test for PH, and calcium levels.

Heater andThermometer - most climates would need your tank to have a heater, most tanks should be between the 76-80 degree range (farenheit)

Substrate - sand or crushed coral, most people will choose sand over crushed coral. the reason is crushed coral can, over time, disrupt your levels and cause swings. another option is going bare bottom, no sand or crushed coral at all. alot of people have used this method with great success but it is not as popular as having a substrate.

Live Rock - live rock is rock taken from the ocean, that is, well, live! it has small organisms and other creatures living on it that eat various sediments and wastes in the water, and act as a biological filter. there are many different styles, sizes, and locations to get live rock from. live rock needs to be cured on arrival if you are ordereing from an online retailer. if you buy live rock from your LFS and they have had it in their tank, it should already be cured, and if you dont have it out of water for more than hour, your cycle and curing process should be minimal.

Protien Skimmer - a skimmer is sortof like a filter. it mixes air and water to produce a foam, the foam is then overlfowed into a collection cup where you can dump it out. the foam contains nutrients and wastes in your aquarium. a skimmer is not needed but is generally considered a necessity for a reef tank.

Power heads - a powerhead is a small submersible pump used to create currents in your tank. you will need to have a decent amount of current to prevent 'dead spots' in your tank, these places that get no current may be overrun by cyanobacteria. most corals and fish appreciate a good current.

Optional Equipment:

Digital Camera and/or Good Scanner - i wanted to put this at the top of this list, but it is not neccesary to keep a succesful SW tank, but if you need and ID on something and need to ask for a 2nd or even 3rd opinion, pictures are worth more than a thousand words, and it is another way to show off your tank.

Calcium Reactor - a calcium reactor is generally not needed unless you have a large tank with lots of corals. CO2 is injected into a tube that contains material that is rich in calcium (pretty much crushed coral). with the addiciton to the CO2, the PH is lowered to about 7, at this PH the calcium dissolves into the water and the water is then added to the system with a large amount of calcium added.

Sump - a sump is a seperate tank, generally attached to a Refugium (see below). the sump contains a return pump, water from the tank flows into the sump/refugium via overflow and then is pumped back into the tank. sumps are a good way to add water volume to your system.

Refugium - a refugium is generally attached to a Sump (see above) and is a safe place to produce amphipods and copepods and house beneficial algae that you may not want in your tank. generally considered a 'safe house' there should be no fish or predators in the refugium. a reguigum is also a good place to hide equipment like skimmers, heaters, and other misc. things you may not want cluttering up your tank.

Quarentine tank - or 'hospital tank' , is used to house new fish before adding them to your main tank, or to treat sick fish/corals.

Thick wallet - SW can be expensive, well, it IS expensive. smaller tanks can be made on a budget, you can get alot of good equipment that has been used by other people that are getting rid of their tanks, you may even be able to score a whole setup for cheap from someone who is looking to get out of the hobby, but i think it would be more fun to build your own system.

Patience - patience is key. a good quote that i read somewhere goes like this 'nothing good ever happens fast in a saltwater aquarium' the person who said that is absolutely correct. allow 4-6 weeks to add fish from the start of your tank, less if the rock is cured. use your test kit to tell when ammonia and nitrates are at 0.


i tried to make this an un-biased and informative as possible, no 'i did this' or 'this worked for me' because i feel that is not a good indication of what is good practice of a saltwater tank.

if i forgot anything or made a mistake please feel free to add on to the list or correct me. i hope this helps!

-David
 

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1979camaro

Ultimate Fish
Oct 22, 2002
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#2
looks pretty inclusive to me...i would include a book in there of general information, one of fish, and one of coral/inverts as one of your optionals. Also, I think patience is at the top of the list. How about test kits?
 

Dec 20, 2003
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#4
aaah i knew i forgot something, i was mowing the lawn the other day and i was making up a mental list.

edit: test kits and 'break in' time for tank added. sorry im not familiar with any good books. i there are a few out there but i have not read them, if someone knows the titles and authors of good worthwhile books feel free to post them
 

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Lotus

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Aug 26, 2003
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#6
"The New Marine Aquarium" by Michael S. Paletta is a good starter guide, and has lots of good practical advice, as well as a checklist of what you need for a tank. It has lots of good tips.

"The Conscientious Marine Aquarist" by Robert M. Fenner is another basic handbook. It's a little more in depth.

You can usually get a package deal on Amazon for $40 for both of them.
 

1979camaro

Ultimate Fish
Oct 22, 2002
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#7
the fenner book is great for conceptual understanding, the paletta book is a bit more current as far as equipment and technique...there is overlap between the two but i think having both is worthwhile
 

kool_sk8a

Large Fish
Oct 20, 2003
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#9
Great post phantomfe3! I am thinking of setting up a s/w tank so this is really helpful thanks.

A book which i find very helpful is "Questions & Answers manual of the marine aquarium" by Nick Dakin it gives good advice and covers all areas.

btw has this post been stickied yet? i think it should be.
 

dbacksrat

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Jun 3, 2003
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#11
just to show those of you that are considering setting up a sw tank how much it costs: $300 for 29 gallon tank, stand, and canopy w/ 20 watt light at petco
$346 for equipment ordered online (food, filters, etc--i could have gone cheaper, but i wanted my tank to be successful)
------------------
as of now i am saving $150 for live rock as we speak
i hope to ask for a compact flourescent retrofit kit (2x 55 watt) for christmas ($65, not including the bulbs)

this is an extremely expensive hobby--i havent even considered a Q tank yet

i got the tank and stand for my bday in march and it still doesnt have fish it yet--hopefully they will be added around christmas

be sure to research a lot--TFH Publications has some good books out (dont know the names though)
 

1979camaro

Ultimate Fish
Oct 22, 2002
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#12
of course...im assuming the tank was only 50 and you an do without the light that dbacksrat got cause you are likely to not use ikt anyway...canopy is obviously optional...and a cheaper stand is available...i think you could get the tank/stand for about 125 if you dont want it all pretty like...but yes, still not a cheap aspect of fish keeping
 

dbacksrat

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Jun 3, 2003
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#14
same here s. reef--in order to complete my tank i'm going to have to get a job--i guess its time to enter the real world

sorry to be off topic though--before you buy fish, be careful: some stores have certain policies with their saltwater fish
places such as petco have no guarantee that sw fish you buy will live, but some places online have a 10 day guarantee for most sw livestock
 

TurbineSurgeon

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Feb 27, 2004
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#16
A couple of things I would like to add:

Saltwater tanks are somewhat less forgiving than their freshwater counterparts, not to mention that instead of losing a $2 tetra, you could be losing a $50 coral or fish. Research is essential here, and I strongly feel that there is just too much that needs to be understood with saltwater to be able to get it in little bits and pieces on the internet. I think a good book such as those mentioned above should be on the mandatory list, even before the tank itself.
 

wayne

Elite Fish
Oct 22, 2002
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#17
Instead of losing a single fish its pretty easy to take down the whole tank, especially if its small.
You can do saltwter for less money than this, but the cheaper it is the more understanding you need of whats going on.
Cheap, easy, successful - pick 2 of these 3
 

Lotus

Ultimate Fish
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Aug 26, 2003
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#19
The way I figured it, getting a couple of the most recommended books was kind of an investment in the tank. It's easy to spend $40 on the wrong equipment or fish if you don't know or understand what you're doing. Having a book to help you through it will probably save a lot of money (as well as some of the oceans' treasures) in the long run.
 

FiSh15

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Mar 28, 2004
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#20
i was thinking about turning my 29 gallon planted tank into a sw tank. i pretty much have most of the equipment except a protein skimmer and all the other sw stuffs. i was just wondering what are the recomended readings for ph, etc....