Some of the most popular scenes of the hit Disney movie Finding Nemo were the scenes in the dentist’s office. Eight fish (two from the ocean, five from pet stores, and one off the Internet), each from a different species, band together to plan escape from a saltwater aquarium.
While the camaraderie between the aquarium fish is fictional, the appeal of saltwater aquariums is not, which is why you see them in dentists’ office around the world, as well as in other workplaces and in private homes.
Your decision between a saltwater (also known as a marine) or fresh water aquarium mostly depends on whether you want freshwater fish (e.g. goldfish) or saltwater fish (e.g. clownfish).
Freshwater aquariums are easy to maintain, support for a high fish capacity, and allow you to buy cheap fish.
On the other hand, there is a great appeal in creating your own oceanic environment, complete with everything from sea horses, coral, exotic saltwater fish.
Saltwater aquariums are both a responsibility and a lot of fun. Children (and adults) can learn responsibility through regularly checking the water quality and health of fish in an aquarium.
In addition, aquariums can provide a soothing atmosphere in your home or workplace, and saltwater aquariums in particular can also provide a learning experience for children and adults alike.
Choosing and Buying a Saltwater Aquarium
The main difference between all aquariums, whether saltwater or freshwater is whether they are made from glass or acrylic. Traditional glass aquariums are cheap and easy to clean. On the other hand, acrylic (e.g. plexiglass) aquariums are stronger and easier to see into than are glass aquariums, and they come in multiple non-traditional shapes and styles.
Most glass aquariums have the traditional rectangular design, but acrylic aquariums come in cubic, cylindrical, and octagonal shapes, among others. Many people opt for a glass bowl or vase, but these items are too small to serve as saltwater aquariums.
In general, saltwater fish experts say that the bigger aquarium you have, the better it is for the fish but the more difficult it is for you to maintain. Saltwater aquariums are generally larger than freshwater tanks and regularly range from twenty to fifty-five gallons.
When you choose the size of your aquarium, consider the type of fish you want, as well as the weight of the aquarium itself. A twenty-gallon tank, for example, weighs more than two hundred pounds, so make sure your table, counter or aquarium stand can support that weight.
Some people prefer the expensive option of putting saltwater aquariums against, or into, a wall. As long as you make sure your wall can support the weight, placing a large tank against a bearing wall can add support for your tank.
Look for aquariums at pet stores, on the Internet (acrylic aquariums only), and at garage sales.
At pet stores, however, you can likely purchase a pre-assembled aquarium, complete with filter, pump, thermometer, and anything else you might need. This package deal adds significantly to the price, but it makes set-up much easier.
Saltwater Aquarium Set-Up and Supplies
Before you place fish into your saltwater aquarium, clean the aquarium and the area where you will set the tank. You can clean your tank with diluted bleach (one teaspoon of bleach and five gallons of water) as long as you thoroughly rinse the aquarium afterwards.
Place your aquarium in a common area, near an electrical outlet and away from direct sunlight.
Next, install the aquarium’s filtration system (the best filters offer biological, chemical, and mechanical filtration) according to the owner’s manual and lay aquarium gravel inside the tank.
You’ll also want to install a heater, air pump or powerhead, and protein skimmer, and to keep a chemical test kit on hand.
Finally, don’t forget the fun and colorful supplies, such as plants, hideouts, and large rocks. Have fun decorating your tank, and just make sure that nothing in your tank is made of metal, as metal objects will rust.
The only other thing you need is the saltwater, and all you need for that is water, salt, and a hydrometer. Gradually mix salt into dechlorinated water (approximately ½ cup of salt per gallon of water) until the hydrometer displays a salinity reading between 1.020 and 1.025.
Maintaining a Saltwater Aquarium
As the number one cause of aquarium fish deaths is the poor water quality, your number one aquarium responsibility is maintaining good water quality. Unfortunately, saltwater aquariums are particularly difficult in this regard because you have several factors to monitor.
Test the water approximately every two weeks (but not immediately after adding water or fish) to check ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, salinity, and pH levels. Some fluctuation is normal, but contact a pet store if you need to adjust chemical levels.
To increase the pH level, however, simply add a tablespoon of baking soda, and to increase the salinity, simply add some salt.
You may need to add salt, but it is far more likely that your saltwater will be too salty. As water evaporates, leaving the salt behind, you will need to add dechlorinated water to replace the evaporated water and reduce the tank’s salinity.
Fortunately, besides water, you will only need to add iodine and calcium to your tank, and the pet store can give you specific instructions on adding these chemicals.
Once a week, you should replace ten percent of the water in the aquarium, using dechlorinated water, and every few months you should make a large water change of at least twenty-five percent of your water.
Keep a saltwater mix on hand so that you can easily move the fish at this time or at a moment’s notice. Whatever water your fish are in should be between seventy-five and eighty degrees, as this is the comfort zone for most saltwater fish.
In addition to watching the water quality of your saltwater aquarium, you should also regularly clean the tank—both for your sake and for the sake of the fish.
Scrape algae off the interior cover and walls of the aquarium using an algae scraper, scrubber pad, or razor blade, but don’t use soaps on any interior walls and be especially careful with acrylic aquariums.
For the exterior of the aquarium, try an ammonia-free glass cleaner.
Finally, check the aquarium’s filter pads and test its alkalinity on occasion. You should also remove the gravel, shake out any small debris and clean it using gravel cleaner.
Each of these actions can be a hassle and you only need to do them on occasion, but your fish will appreciate it if you keep them (the cleaning and the fish) in mind.