Owning a Saltwater Aquarium Part 4

(Part 4 in Life Aquatic’s Series of Owning a Saltwater Aquarium)

Maintaining a Marine Aquarium

So now your aquarium is up and running and you have suffered through the 6 weeks or so of waiting while your tank has cycled. Now you can just sit back, relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor right? Well yes and no. You certainly can sit back and enjoy the little slice of the ocean that you have created, but there is a bit of work that needs to be done moving forward to keep your aquarium healthy and in tip-top condition.

A common question people ask is “Isn’t keeping a saltwater aquarium very difficult and a lot of work?” The answer is no. It is neither difficult nor a lot of work, in fact no more work than a freshwater tank, however unlike freshwater which is much more forgiving, saltwater requires a level of commitment in the form of doing the minimal amount of work that is required, and doing so regularly and consistently. If these basic chores are delayed or neglected, your aquarium and its inhabitants will not grow and prosper and even may not survive.

The main maintenance chores required are some general housekeeping and regular partial water changes. Here is an overview of these chores:

Daily (Time Required: 1-5 minutes):

Look into and around the tank and make sure everything is in order. There are no dead or sick or missing animals. There is normal water flow and circulation. Glance at the thermometer and make sure it reads in the 76-80 degree range. Make sure that all the equipment is operating properly and there are no leaks or other plumbing issues.

Feed your animals. For many, feeding is one of the most enjoyable parts of keeping a fish tank. Feeding can be done several times daily, once daily, once every other day and in some cases, several times per week. The frequency of feeding depends on your schedule, but more importantly the feeding behavior and requirements of your residents. Some fish require many small feedings per day; others are content having one or two large meals per week. Remember, we are trying to mimic their natural environment so it is important to research the needs of your animals and offer the type of food and the frequency of feeding based on their normal behavior in the wild. Be sure to offer a variety of foods so you are sure to give each animal what they need nutritionally but DO NOT OVER FEED! Over feeding is the #1 cause of algae growth, poor water conditions, fish illness and death.

Every Few Days or as Required (Time required: 1-5 minutes):

It is normal for your tank’s glass to continuously develop a haze of algae or calcium deposit. This can easily be kept under control by dealing with it every day or two before it becomes unsightly and more difficult to remove. We carry algae magnets which clean the inside and outside of your glass at the same time without getting your hands wet and even go around corners! Cleaning your entire tank with an algae magnet takes about 1 minute.

Check your water level and replace any evaporated water with fresh, if possible tank temperature, non-salted water. (When salt water evaporates the salt stays in the tank so only use regular water to replace same). If you wait too long to replace evaporated water, the salinity in your tank will change. It will slowly rise as water evaporates and quickly lower to the proper level when you replace the water. Accordingly it is better to replace your evaporated water, at least weekly.

Every Two Weeks (Time Required: 30-60 minutes):

Every two weeks you must do a partial water change. This is the major maintenance chore required if you choose to maintain your tank yourself. Mark it on a calendar and make it a part of your normal routine.

Here is the procedure for performing this service:

Mix up the appropriate amount of saltwater (as described in Part 2 of this series), hours or even days in advance. Raise the temperature of the saltwater mix to approximately 78 degrees either by starting with tank temperature water or setting up a heater in your mixing vessel the day before service. Thoroughly clean the inside of the glass with your cleaning magnet and with an aquarium safe scrub pad, get into the corners and areas of the tank where the magnet can’t reach, to remove any undesirable build-up of algae or calcium deposits. If your tank is a fish only tank or fish only with live rock (FOWLR) and you have a course, crushed coral substrate, you will need to clean the substrate with a gravel vac. Please ask us about how to use these handy vacs. If your tank is a reef tank or has a fine sand substrate, no maintenance of the sand bed is required. Clean or replace any filter pads, sponges or other mechanical filtration.

Depending on the type of chemical filtration media utilized in your tank and when it was last replaced, you may need to remove the old media and replace it with new. Or Turn off or unplug all circulation pumps, protein skimmers and heaters in your tank. The lights can stay on.

Drain out, about 20% of your tanks water volume. This can be done with a drinking glass or pitcher, if the tank is small enough, or with a piece of vinyl hose leading into a bucket positioned below the water level of the tank. The water can be easily siphoned out with this set-up by holding one end of the hose in the tank under the water surface and the other end of the hose in your hand. Simply lower the hand held end of the hose and your head below the level of the tank end of the hose and give a quick “suck” on the end of the hose. Quickly move the hand held end of the hose to the bucket and the water will begin siphoning out of the tank. You do not need to get a mouthful of water doing this. Just suck on the hose enough to pull a little air out of the tube and gravity will take it from there. For those of you who are still opposed to this method, we do carry siphon kits which easily hook up to your sink, up to 50’ away, and use your sinks water pressure to start the siphon.

Once 20 % of the water is drained out, dispose of the old water and add the newly mixed, tank- temperature water to the tank. Pour the water over your friend’s outstretched hand or an upside down dinner plate so as not to disturb your tanks décor or sand bed. Hold back on adding a little of the water until you turn on your circulation pump. Plug in or restart all of the previously unplugged equipment.

With the pump now running, top off the tank to the proper level.

Wipe the outside of the tank down with freshwater and dry with a soft cloth.

NOW you can sit back and relax….(for two weeks anyway).

There, now that wasn’t so bad was it?

If you really don’t think you can spend the 30-60 minutes every 2 weeks doing this chore, please consider having us come in and do it for you. It’s a much less expensive alternative to neglecting it and ultimately losing your precious friends.

A few additional notes:

It is actually better to do smaller, more frequent water changes such as 10% every week or 5% twice a week. Doing so actually reduces the Nitrate level in your tank more so than the 20% every 2 weeks that we recommend. This logic, however does not work in the opposite direction. In other words, don’t think you can do a 40% water change every 4 weeks or100% every 10 weeks. (In fact, other than dealing with certain catastrophes, you should never change more than about 30-40% of the water at the same time as you will be disposing of too many of the beneficial bacteria residing in your water. This will lead to a mini cycle of the tank which will put undue stress on your tank’s inhabitants.) Also, don’t ever completely remove your filter or empty your filter chambers and thoroughly clean them. This especially applies to bio-balls, if you have those in your filter chamber. You should NEVER clean those as a large percentage of your bacteria population reside here. They may look gross, but that is what’s filtering your water. Similarly, don’t take out your gravel or substrate and “thoroughly” clean it. Again, doing so will reduce or eliminate much of the beneficial bacteria that you were so patient to “grow” in the first place. Cleaning the filter and non-sand substrate is okay, just not too thoroughly.