Saltwater Fish Aquarium Setup: 101

A Complete Guide to Setting up a Complex Saltwater Aquarium

Forget the goldfish you got at the fair, click here for a complete guide to setting up a complex saltwater aquarium. It’s not as difficult as you might think.

Keyword(s): saltwater aquarium

Saltwater tanks were around long before Dory helped find little lost Nemo. They’re still enormously popular today. In fact, a 2014 survey by the American Pet Products Association estimated that around 1 million households had a saltwater aquarium.

Starting a saltwater tank – and the subsequent upkeep – used to be quite intense. Today, advanced tools and equipment make it easier than ever. How can you do it? Here is your guide to saltwater tank setup.

Saltwater Aquariums vs. Freshwater Aquariums

The fish in saltwater aquariums come from the ocean. However, our oceans contain many environments, with different combinations of salt, minerals, temperatures, oxygen levels, and depths.

As a result, a saltwater aquarium setup must “recreate the conditions of the environment where the inhabitants have originated”.

All of the equipment needed for a saltwater tank is designed to simulate the original environment.

Choosing Saltwater Fish

Aside from the equipment, you’ll need to determine what kind of saltwater fish to buy. This can actually be a challenge. The reason many choose saltwater aquariums has to do with the great variety and colors of fish.

Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing fish for your saltwater aquarium.

  • Size of the tank
  • Gallons of water needed
  • Nature of the fish (Are they aggressive? Do they need hiding places?)
  • Type of food needed
  • The original environment of the fish

Here are 7 popular saltwater fish options to consider.

Clownfish – We have to start with Nemo. Clownfish are among the most popular saltwater fish. Aside from the recognizable coloring and pattern, they are easy to maintain and feed. This makes them ideal for beginners.

Blue Tangs – You also want a “Dory” for your aquarium. Tangs come in a variety of colors, including blue and yellow. Tangs are also hardy and resilient.

Damselfish – Keep in mind that larger fish require more water. More water means you’ll need a bigger tank. Damselfish only need 30 gallons of water.

Dottyback – This fish will also be fine in 30 gallons of water. Be sure to have plenty of hiding spaces, as they can be aggressive with other fish.

Coral Beauties – These fish are a good choice if you have a larger tank (70 gallons).

Butterfly Fish – You can find many varieties of Butterfly Fish. Each requires a different diet so be sure you find out what they can eat.

Watchman Goby – Gobies are popular for beginners as they can eat almost anything you’d find in a regular pet store. They are not aggressive and will get along with other fish, which is not the case for all varieties.

You might also choose to add invertebrates to your tank, along with fish.


Aquarium Setup Checklist

Here’s a list of everything you’ll need for a saltwater aquarium.

  • Tank
  • Lighting
  • Skimmers, filters & filtration system
  • Powerheads
  • Live corals, rocks & substrates
  • Sea salt mix/Saltwater mix & hydrometer
  • Heater & thermometer
  • Air pump & air stones
  • Test kits, additives & supplements
  • Maintenance tools & supplies

Once you have everything on the list, it’s time to start the setup.

Setting Up Your Saltwater Aquarium

Setting up a saltwater aquarium takes some work, but the results will be worth it. Let’s go through the steps needed to set up your tank.

1. Choose a Location

Keep the tank away from direct sun as heat can affect the water temperature. Changing water temperature is bad for saltwater fish. They get stressed and can even die. Extreme cold is bad, too.

So, be sure to place the tank away from windows, doors, heating vents, and air conditioners. You’ll also want to make sure you have enough electrical outlets in order to plug in everything. Saltwater tanks usually need at least four outlets.

2. Weight Restrictions

If you live in a multi-floor building or an older house, make sure the floor can support a fish tank. A 55-gallon tank weighs around 460 pounds when it’s filled. Upper floor apartments or condos may have weight limitations so check with the management.

3. Setup Time

  1. Clean the inside of the tank. Even a brand new tank can contain dust or other contaminants.
  2. Set up the tank and make sure it’s level. The water should be an even distance from the top on all sides. If the tank is unbalanced it could fall over.
  3. Keep enough space between the tank and the wall so you have room to fit the filter and other equipment.
  4. Fill the tank one-third of the way and then stop to check for leaks. If there is water beading along the bottom edge or running down the sides, you could have a problem.
  5. Set up the filter and protein skimmer, but don’t plug them in yet.
  6. Rinse all of the décor and other substrates before placing them in the tank. This is where you can add live corals to add drama and beauty, as well as hiding places for the fish. Even sand should be rinsed in premixed saltwater.
  7. Fill the tank the rest of the way and then add your water conditioner or additive. Add commercial marine salt until you get the right hydrometer gravity reading. For “fish only” aquariums, the reading should be 1.020 – 1.025. For aquariums that have fish and invertebrates, the level should be 1.023 – 1.025.
  8. Place the heater and thermometer in the tank, but don’t plug them in yet. The thermometer should be on the opposite end from the heater to get the best reading. Top off the water in the tank and then wait 20 minutes. Now you can plug in the heater and protein skimmer. You want the water temp to reach between 72º – 78º.
  9. Wait 24–48 hours for the water and temperature to stabilize before adding your fish.

Enjoy Your Saltwater Fish Aquarium

Now you are ready to enjoy your saltwater aquarium. Don’t forget to add live corals to the tank. Chaos Aquaculture has a wide variety to choose from, including LPS (large polyp), SPS (small polyp), softies, and mushrooms.

You might also choose one of our beginner Frag Packs containing a variety of different corals. Place your order today to get started.

1 thought on “Saltwater Fish Aquarium Setup: 101

  1. […] setting up your aquarium. However, there’s far more to the process of establishing flourishing saltwater aquariums than we can talk about […]

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