The Well-Kept Marine Aquarium

From Microcosm Aquarium Explorer

Jump to: navigation , search

A reef tank maintained by the author. Carl DelFavero

[edit] What Is A Well-Kept Marine Aquarium?

[edit] Saltwater Tank Maintenance Basics

By Carl DelFavero

The well-kept marine aquarium is an aquarium with thriving inhabitants and bright, crystal clear water. It is an aquarium reminiscent of natural ecosystems. The well-kept marine aquarium is one in which the fish and invertebrates live long and healthy lives, perhaps even exceeding their expected life spans in the wild. It is an aquarium that has an almost magical power to draw focus to itself, to captivate and, often, mesmerize people.

Even its owner and caretaker has to look at it with pride and amazement. The well-kept marine aquarium inspires discussion and inquiry. Perhaps it also fosters envy among those hobbyists who aspire to success but have yet to achieve it.

The well-kept marine aquarium is far easier to accomplish than you may imagine. It’s all about the ocean.

When I was a boy I used to walk for endless hours on the sugar-sand beaches of northern Florida. I explored every tide pool and jetty. I watched the fish swim in and out of the rocks in water so bright and clear it almost looked like crystal. I loved the ocean. I never wanted to leave it and when vacation was over each summer I would protest bitterly. I wanted to take the ocean with me, the creatures, the tide pools, all of it! I either wanted the ocean in my house or my house to be at the ocean. I still frequent those same beaches and sit on the same jetties. Only now, I make my living “Putting the ocean in people’s homes and offices.” I still love to lose myself while watching fish swim in and out of the rocks, but now I can do it at home, hundreds of miles from the closest ocean.

Bringing a piece of living ocean into your home is now a possibility for any marine aquarium owner. Let us not, however, forget that is still all about the sea. To bring the ocean home, we should emulate natural processes and ecosystems in every way practical. We should try to match the tropical ocean’s water chemistry, temperature and clarity. The closer we tune our aquariums to natural environments, the more they will resemble the incredible beauty of those environments.

[edit] Mimicking the Sea

The most common properties of natural seawater need to be a part of our working knowledge. They may seem bewildering to beginners, but in time they easily become a set of virtually automatic targets for every seasoned marine hobbyist. Remember, these are the properties we are going to emulate in order to create our well-kept marine aquarium.

The test kits or devices you will need to determine the water quality in your own aquarium are readily available at any good aquarium store. Many of them can be found in ‘multi-kits’ with several different test kits bundled into one package. If cost is an issue, most serious marine aquarium stores will test your water for a minimal charge or often even for free. Just ask around. I have listed the water parameters that are most important to us below. For each, you will see the name of the test, the units by which it is measured and a “Goal” for which we will strive.

In a section called “Testing and Water Parameters” I go into much greater detail about doing these tests and how to correct any result that does not match our goal values.

These are so vital, they are worth repeating. When we see unhealthy or failing marine tanks, chances are excellent that one or more of these measures is seriously out of line.

One thing to remember: our fishes and invertebrates are totally dependent on us keeping their water clean and healthy. The following measures let us know how closely we are to meeting their needs.

[edit] Salinity or Specific Gravity

Natural seawater is about 1.026 times denser (heavier) than pure water. Hence, we say that natural seawater has a specific gravity of approximately 1.026. Specific gravity is usually noted without units. Natural seawater has a salinity of about 35 parts per thousand (ppt). Salinity is usually measured in parts per thousand (ppt).

Our goal is a salinity of 35 ppt or a specific gravity of 1.024 - 1.026.

[edit] Temperature

Over the years I have tried many different temperatures for my marine aquariums. I have maintained some as low as 72°F (22°C) and others as high as 84°F (29°C). While different animals from different parts of the world seem to do better at different temperatures, I have found that a temperature of 77°F (25°C) seems to work best for the widest variety of specimens. Temperature is most commonly measured in degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius.

Our target temperature is 77°F (25°C).

[edit] Ammonia

Ammonia is a toxic compound. Even low levels of ammonia will stress or kill your tank inhabitants. The ammonia content of natural seawater is essentially zero. We must maintain a measurable ammonia level of zero in our aquariums. Ammonia is commonly measured in parts per million (ppm).

Our goal is 0 ppm ammonia.

[edit] Nitrite

As with ammonia, the nitrite content of natural seawater is essentially zero. Even low levels of nitrite will stress or kill your fish. A nitrite level of zero in our aquariums is essential. Nitrite is also commonly measured in parts per million (ppm).

Our goal is 0 ppm nitrite.

[edit] Nitrate

Once again, nitrate levels in natural seawater are essentially zero. While nitrate is not nearly as toxic as ammonia or nitrite, it is still an indication of below-optimum conditions in the aquarium when higher concentrations are present. Keepers of large, carnivorous fishes that generate substantial amounts of waste may have trouble keeping nitrate levels low. Nitrate is usually measured in parts per million (ppm).

Our goal is 0 ppm nitrate, but 5 ppm or less is acceptable in all but reef aquariums.

[edit] pH

In lay terms, pH is the measure of how acidic or basic the water is. pH ranges from 0 to 14 where 7 is said to be neutral. Any value below 7 is acidic and any value above 7 is basic. A pH of exactly 7 is neutral. The pH of natural sea water is mildly basic and ranges from 8.0 to 8.4. pH is noted without units. The tendency, over time, is for the pH in a marine aquarium to drop, or become more acidic. We must work to prevent this.

Our goal is a pH of 8.3 to 8.4

[edit] Alkalinity or KH

In terms of the marine aquarium, alkalinity can be considered as the ability of the tank water to maintain a stable pH. The lower the alkalinity, the less stable the pH. Alkalinity is measured in milliequivalents per liter (meq/L). Our goal is an alkalinity of 3.0 - 4.0 meq/L

Calcium The average calcium level in natural seawater is about 410 ppm.

Our goal is a calcium level between 400 and 450 ppm.

[edit] Phosphate

The amount of phosphate in natural seawater is essentially zero. We should strive to keep our phosphate levels as close to zero as possible to prevent problems—including the blooming of nuisance algae and the failure to thrive of corals and other delicate invertebrates. Phosphate is commonly measured in parts per million (ppm).

Our goal is zero phosphate.

[edit] Other Factors

Two other keys to life for marine aquarium inhabitants are oxygen and light.

There are test kits and instruments to measure dissolved oxygen, but very, very few aquarists bother to use them, for the simple reason that most properly set up systems do not suffer from lackof oxygen.

Light intensity is crucial for many invertebrates, but the use of light meters is not part of the usual regimen of even experts.

From: Aquarium Keeping and Rescue