Fish Tank Set Up: Tips for Starting Your Saltwater Aquarium

Gone are the days of the boring goldfish in a small glass bowl. We’ve entered a time where we can bring the most amazing aquatic life into our own homes.

In the U.S. there are about 700,000 saltwater home aquariums. With a saltwater tank, you can have your own ocean ecosystem!

But, to ensure proper care of your fish and other living species, it’s important to set up the tank properly.

Saltwater species can be fragile. One mistake and you could have a tank full of dead fish and coral.

Keep reading for tips for fish tank set up for a saltwater aquarium.

1. Buy a Tank

The bigger tank you can purchase, the better. When choosing a tank, go as big as your budget allows.

Of course, you’ll also want to ensure there’s a safe location for the tank in your home.

Bigger tanks are ideal because they hold the most water. The more water in the tank, the more stable the water. This means that if something goes wrong, the effects are much slower.

At a minimum, buy a tank that holds 30 gallons of water.

2. Choose a Tank Type

When looking at tanks, you’ll find tree main types.

Fish Only

The simplest type is a fish only tank. These tanks are crafted to hold fish and nothing else. For saltwater aquariums, these tanks are the least desirable.

Saltwater ecosystems need more than fish to be sustainable.

Fish & Live Rock

The second type of tank is fish only with live rock. This tank is home to fish as well as rocks. The rocks are home to living things, such as bacteria. This is a food source for some of the live stock in the tank.

Rocks also serve as the main filtration system in the tank.

Coral Reef Tank

The third type of tank is a reef tank. This tank includes fish, rocks, as well as coral and anemones.

Use this tank if you want less fish. Corals need pristine water to survive.

Coral tanks are the most advanced type. Certain corals require specific lighting.

When combining fish and corals, it’s important to ensure compatibility. Some fish will nip at the coral for food. In turn, this can damage and kill the coral.

Fish that are safe for this type of tank include:

  • Clownfish
  • Angelfish
  • Gobies
  • Mandarinfish
  • Dragonettes
  • Surgeonfish

Before jumping into a coral tank, master a fish and live rock fish tank set up first. Then you can move onto a more advanced system.

3. Choose a Tank Bottom

The bottom of your tank is an important part of the ecosystem.

One option is to create a shallow sand bed. This requires 4 inches of sand or less. Shallow sand beds are ideal for tank inhabitants that dig and burrow.

Another option is a deep sand bed. These are usually around 6 inches deep. While not as visually pleasing, deep sand beds help with tank filtration.

Deep sand beds should be shifted every so often. This helps to break up any issues brewing beneath the surface.

Last, bare bottom tanks are also an option. These are best for corals that need high flow rates. Sand and high flow rates don’t mix!

4. Buy Lighting Equipment

Lighting is an important part of a saltwater tank. The type of lighting you need depends on the type of tank.

Standard florescent lighting can be used in a fish only or fish with live rock tank. A coral reef tank requires much stronger lighting. Since corals rely on photosynthesis, you need to provide as much light as possible.

A coral reef tank needs reef supporting LEDs. You may also need T5 lights or metal halides. Research the corals you plan to have in the tank to determine lighting needs.

5. Determine Filtration Needs

Filtration is needed to keep the water clean for your live stock.

If your fish tank set up will be fish only, you’ll need a filtration system. These systems sit on top of the aquarium, draw water in, filter it, and then release it back into the tank.

With live rock and coral reef tanks, you don’t need a filtration system. The nitrogen cycle that bacteria undergoes will keep the water clean.

For each gallon of water, you’ll need 1.5lbs of live rock. Live sand can also be used to filter the water.

Invest in a protein skimmer to remove organic compounds. If left in the water, these compounds can turn into harmful nitrogenous waste.

For the best results, get a skimmer for at least double your tank’s capability.

6. Create Water Flow

The purpose of a saltwater aquarium is to mimic as real of an environment as possible.

The ocean is known for its flow and currents. During the fish tank set up process, creating water movement is a must.

Movement is needed for many reasons including:

  • Bring food to the live stock
  • Remove sedimentation and waste
  • Provide a natural environment

Without water flow, your fish won’t flourish. And coral are more likely to suffocate because of excessive sediment in the tank.

The easiest solution for creating a current in the tank is to use a wavemaker system. These systems use controlled powerheads to produce marginal water flow.

7. Water Set Up

A saltwater tank can’t be filled using tap water. Tap water contains all sorts of chemicals that are harmful for fish.

It’s best to use reverse osmosis deionized (RODI) water. You can purchase RODI from an aquatic store. Or you can use a RODI unit to remove impurities in the water.

Aside from water type, water level is also important. As water evaporates, the salt level in the tank increases.

Top off the water with fresh RODI water to maintain a proper balance.

Your Go-to for Fish Tank Set Up Information

Successful fish tank set up requires a lot of time and effort. With the tips above, you’re off to a great start for a saltwater aquarium.

Want to learn more in-depth knowledge about setting up an aquarium? Want to read product reviews before purchasing?

If so, Aquatics World is the resource you need. We provide all sorts of aquarium information. From fish guides to tank cleaning, we’ve got you covered.

Got a question about maintaining a tank?

Contact our team today. We’re happy to help!