Saltwater tank made easy

22 Dec

I set up a Saltwater tank 4 years ago,  I started with 2 Ocellaris Clownfish which are still alive, a Royal Gramma who is still alive, and a Blue Damsel, who died of old age. I recently added a Dwarf Lionfish who is doing great. I have bought NO other fish.

I have not had any smashing success with the invertebrates. Little hermit crabs would live a few months , then disappear, Feather Duster worms also faded and died. My worst choice was to try a Bubble-tipped Anemone and it also died a slow death. Currently there is a healthy population of snails, micro tube-worms, and various other worms and “bugs”.

Saltwater can be expensive, VERY expensive. But my saltwater tank is not. Essentially it is the same as a freshwater setup, with the addition of a Protein Skimmer, which is essential.

I do not have “reef quality” lighting. I do have two fluorescent bulbs over the tank, which I would call strong freshwater lighting. The bulbs I have are 10,000K and 6,700K, which is enough to grow the plants in my tank but would never be good enough for live corals. If you want live corals and anemones in your tank start reading, a lot, on other sites about those subjects. If you want a tank with a few healthy fish and some nice green plants let’s keep going.

Locally I can get rocks that are limestone. The bedrock in this part of Iowa was once in an ocean and this limestone is full of fossil coral and shells, really neat stuff to look at. A few of these rocks in the tank looks great but also serves to help keep the pH of the tank around an 8.0

Our city water is also high pH, at least 7.8, which is also perfect for African Cichlids by the way. But back to the saltwater, I just use a little sand on the bottom of my tank, about an inch deep, but you should probably buy a bag of shell-based substrate that is made for a saltwater tank to keep that pH in line.

Then you get the salt mix. Any brand name salt mix will work. You need a hydrometer to measure “specific gravity”, which tells you the salt concentration. Try to set yours close to 1.022. Add salt to make it higher, add water to make it lower.

Of course you have a heater, right?  Pretty obvious.  Set it to at 78F. Don’t go below 75, and 80 is wonderful.

I wish Skimmers worked in freshwater too, but they don't.

The Protein Skimmer. I use the cheapest kind you can buy, an air-driven skimmer. Mine is called a Berlin-type skimmer. It uses a regular aquarium air pump and a wooden air stone.  It pushes micro-air bubbles through a narrowing passage, then the air bubbles come out into the top chamber and expand and “fractionate”, they burst into separate components and the fish pee (and other proteins) stays in the skimmer.

Google “Protein Skimmers” and read about them, decide what you want. My cheap skimmer cost about 35 bucks a few years ago, plus the air pump, tubing, adjustable valve, I must have 60 bucks in the skimmer. You can spend hundreds if you want. I did see a Skimmer, similar to mine, at PetCo recently for around 50 dollars.

You can see the bottom part of the Protein Skimmer.

You need a filter. In my 35 gallon tank I am currently using 2 side filters with cartridges that slide in and out, just like in a freshwater tank. These filters claim to pump about 150 gallons per hour. I don’t use any carbon in the filter but you sure can.

I was using only one side filter but when I added the Lionfish I figured he was adding a large biological load to the tank, which is to say he eats and poops a lot.

Time to give away some Caleurpa. See the little Lionfish hiding at the bottom right.

I keep two types of aquatic plants in my saltwater tank for the same reason I like plants in my freshwater tanks. They are natural filters. They take waste and turn it into “leaves”. One of the plants I have is a type of Caleurpa, which is truly a “macro-algae”, an algae with big leaves. The other plant is called Chaetomorpha, which looks like a blue-green scrub pad.

The Chaetomorpha is the plant on the far left.

I’ll write a separate post about the Caluerpa because there are some issues that people have with using it but I like it. I have not had the problems that I have read about.

The real reef experts in the Saltwater community use Caluerpa and Chaetmorpha in their “refugiums”. A refugium is a tank that is connected to their main tank and used to filter their water. In a way, my main tank is a glorified refugium. I like it. It’s cheap. When I want to do corals someday I’ll buy the expensive lights and filters and…wait a minute, I ain’t gonna do that.

What else do you need? Ah yes, PATIENCE. Set up the tank, run it for weeks with no fish. If you can, borrow a handful of  sand/gravel from someone’s saltwater tank. That will speed up the process. Your tank has to “cycle”. Read all about it.

When I set up this tank  I used some Mollies to cycle it.  Buy a pair of Mollies, keep them in a small tank or bucket and add a little saltwater to their tank over the course of several days until they are in nearly full-strength saltwater, then add them to your tank.  In my case, the Molly Mom had babies in the tank and it took me weeks to catch them when I finally got my Blue Damsel. I started with a Blue Damsel because they are tough and only cost 4 bucks. You can leave the Mollies in the tank or take them out and slowly convert them back to freshwater (or preferably brackish water but that’s another subject!).

This Balloon Molly was born in my saltwater tank.

If your ONE fish lives a month, add another one or two. It should take you months to stock your tank, not days , not weeks, but MONTHS.  PATIENCE!

I have had this Royal Gramma for 4 years.

Feed them good food, make 20% water changes every month, monitor and understand the skimmer, which means empty it and clean it so it functions properly.

If  you can take care of a  freshwater tank and understand your fishes behavior, you can easily do the same with Saltwater.

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One Response to “Saltwater tank made easy”

  1. itjustencouragesme January 14, 2012 at 8:18 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your experience with a basic saltwater setup. Will definitely be going in that direction one of these days.

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