You don’t have to wish that you were Ariel to be surrounded by beautiful tropical fish or coral. You can easily create a beginner saltwater aquarium, and we’re going to tell you how!
When you are shopping for your saltwater aquarium kit, you are going to want to do a decent amount of research first. Your research should start with what kind of fish you’d like to get.
Some fish will remain less than a few inches when fully grown, while others can reach up to 18 inches! Once you know what type of fish you’d like, you can then choose the size aquarium you will need. Typically, a 40-gallon saltwater aquarium for beginners is the perfect starting off point.
Once you know the size of the aquarium that you’ll need, you’ll want to make sure you have a spot where the temperature and the light of the tank isn’t going to be changed by windows or HVAC vents.
You also want to make sure you have a spot where the floor is sturdy enough to hold a full tank of water – they can get really heavy (a 40 gallon fish tank can be as heavy as 450 pounds!).
Before you can set up your aquarium, you will want to rinse it out with plain water. DO NOT use soap or detergent because any residue left behind from your cleaning chemicals are going to harm your fish.
Once your aquarium has been rinsed out, you will want to fill it with fresh water and check for leaks. If it doesn’t leak, you will want to drain all the fresh water and attach the protein skimmer, the filtration system, lighting system and heater.
Now is when you will want to attach your background. Make sure the tape runs all the way across the top of the backside of the background.
This will prevent saltwater from seeping between the background and the glass. Alternatively, you can paint the outside of the back wall. If you are going to get brightly colored fish, painting the back wall black will help the fish stand out.
After background has been put in place (or the paint dries), you will want to add your pre-mixed saltwater. People often debate over which mix is better, but unless you’re opting for a reef tank (most beginners will not choose this), you can go with whatever you find in the store. However, you want to make sure you are using a sea salt mix, not regular salt from, say, your kitchen.
To make your salt water, you will want to follow the directions on the packet carefully, then you will want to follow these steps:
Drain some of the water from the aquarium and turn off the power. You can now add your substrates. This can be gravel, sand, pool filter sand, larger rocks and any plant substrates you may like. If you have a live rock, you will want to remove any loose, organic debris from the rock by rinsing it in a small bucket of prepared saltwater.
It is important to note that for the next month, you will need to change half of the water in the tank once a week to ensure your rock has been cured properly. While you are performing the water change, make sure you siphon any loose organic matter and test for ammonia and nitrite to ensure the levels are at zero.
At this step it is also worth looking at adding some algae to your tank, you can do this the traditional way by purchasing live rock or a using an alternative like coralline algae in a bottle.
With your aquarium all set up and everything is in place and working properly, you will want to do a nitrogen cycle. To do this, you will want to purchase 100mg pure ammonia and ammonia test kits.
Add about 4 ppm of ammonia to your water. Add something from an old aquarium (it can be some rocks or decoration) and add it to your clean tank. This will help bring good bacterial colonies to your tank, which is going to speed up the cycle.
Now you just have to wait until the ammonia levels drop. You will want to check the levels every couple days. Once it drops to 1 ppm, you will want to add more ammonia until its back to 4 ppm.
Do this about 3 times, total. All the while, you will want to keep an eye on the nitrite levels. When these begin to fall, then you’re nearing the end of the cycle. If the nitrite levels are high, do a 50 percent water change.
When the ammonia and nitrite levels reach zero, now you can start adding your saltwater fish. You should only add one or two fish at a time. This allows the filtration system to acclimate to the extra biological load the new fish create.
Once you’ve established your tank and want to add new fish, you will want to give the new fish time to acclimate to the tank. You will do this by pouring the new fish and it’s water into a 5-gallon bucket. Then add about 1 cup of aquarium water to the bucket every 10 minutes. After an hour or so of this, you can add your new fish to its new home.
You will need to keep your new tank clean and tidy and regularly change the water cleaning out any unwanted nasty's the filter has missed. Purchasing a gravel cleaner is always a good idea and can help sustain a healthy environment for your new friends.