A beginner’s guide to marine aquarium setup and maintenance

Published by : Jay O on 28 May 2020

Setting up your first marine aquarium can be an overwhelming experience. On one hand, your excited and can't wait to setup and fill up, but on the hand, you may feel that you’re out of your depth. We can tell you no one ever became a professional aquarist overnight, everyone had to start somewhere. Here at Ocean Marine Aquatics we want to provide you with information from our own knowledge and experience to help and support you in setting up your marine aquarium. 

A beginner's guide to marine aquarium setup:

When you purchase your first marine aquarium you can either set it up yourself or you can hire an experienced aquarist to set it up and, or maintain it for you. Most aquariums come with essential lighting, pipework, protein skimmer, water pump and sump included. If not, you'll require each of these items for a successful start-up. We would also recommend a powerhead or wavemaker to circulate the water in your tank.

How to start a beautiful ecosystem

You'll need to either purchase natural ocean saltwater, enough to fill your tank. The most common brands are: Nutri-Sea and CaribSea. If you prefer you can buy formulated marine salt (common brands are Coral Pro and Tropic Marin) and mix it with 100% purified (RO) water. Note it is important that you add the salt as per the manufacturers instruction. The salinity should be 35 ppt, specific gravity should measure 1.0264 and the conductivity 53 mS/cm. You can always use a fractometer or refractometer to measure the salinity and adjust accordingly.

Good to know

You will be required to allow the tank to cycle for up to 6-12 weeks prior to adding any marine fish and, or coral. This method lets natural bacteria to form and grow. For a speedier process (3-6 weeks) you can cycle with live rock, live sand and bacterial additives.

A beginner's guide to marine aquarium maintenance:

You'll require the right cleaning tools

Be warned, never use soap or household detergents to clean your marine aquarium, they leave toxic residue. It is important and essential to use specialist cleaning tools for saltwater aquariums. You can purchase this from Reef King Aquatics or any other aquatic shop.

You'll need a bucket

Having a good bucket at hand reach is very common among aquarists. You'll require a bucket that hasn’t accumulated any toxic residue and need at least one bucket to begin with. The size of your bucket should be enough to hold at least 5 gallons of water to measure and mix the saltwater. We would also recommend a small-medium-large bucket (for aquarium use only) for the transfer of livestock and ongoing maintenance.

A gravel vacuum is good to have

For the initial setup, you will not need to use a gravel vacuum for substrate sucking but eventually you will, and it's better to be equipped and ready. Part of your maintenance routine will be to clean the gravel or sand bed. Algae and excess food or waste or other debris is accumulated over time. Failing to clean the gravel or sand bed can lead to a very dirty tank and cause high nitrate problems that you’ll want to avoid. 

Algae scrapers, scrubbers, mitts or pads

Often, algae can build up on the glass surface. By using a scraper, scrubber, mitt or pad can help you tackle this.

A thermometer

It is always a good idea to keep an eye on the temperature of the water in your tank. Purchasing a thermometer can help you do this. 

Water test kits for your insight 

You will notice that marine aquarium fishkeeping and reef keeping is a complete science. There are various types of water kits that can be purchased to measure a number of different things including phosphate, nitrate and nitrite, calcium, ammonia, PH, carbonate, iron and general water hardness. You may think you can get away from doing this, but we highly recommend that you do as the quality of water in your marine aquarium can reveal a lot about its health.

You can supplement over time

Let's face it having a marine aquarium can be an expensive hobby, but I'm sure you will come to agree that it's worth every penny. Your initial expense will be high, but over time it will be less and less. The beauty of it is that you can accessorize over time with additional commodities that will make the maintenance even more easier and further feed your appetite for your aqua hobby. Supplements may include: a chiller, a heater, a dosing pump, LED lighting and moonlit emitters, and, or any other marine accessories and special equipment you tank may benefit from since the initial setup. 

A note from the editor:

We hope that you have found this guide useful, if you require further information please feel free to contact Reef King Aquatics.

We would like to wish you every success with your marine aquarium.