by Justin Norman
Introduction One of the most common issues you will find in this
marine hobby is issues of water quality. Some people seem to feel that the
handling and attention to water chemistry in a saltwater aquarium is too
daunting and overly complicated for anyone without a degree in Marine Biology,
but this is just not true. The basics can be understood by anyone willing to put
forth the time, energy, and effort to learn the methodology, and in this article
I hope to outline these stated concepts, in an effort to make entry into this
wonderful past time easier for the masses. Furthermore, an understanding of
water chemistry, and how to handle it is paramount to success in this hobby.
Thoughts on Water Chemistry – When you're dealing with a captive
aquarium, whether freshwater or saltwater, tropical or cold water, the chemical
makeup of your water is always an issue. While its not necessary to know the
exact measurements of every soluble element found in your water source, having a
rough idea of what is in your water and at what concentrations is in general a
Good Thing (tm). This information will generally be provided by your local water
provisioning municipality upon request. The information on what they treat with,
and add to, the water supply however is not always telling of the water coming
out of your tap. You can take this analysis further, and have a private expert
examine your water and give you a breakdown of its composition.
beginning to mix saltwater with your source water, there are important things to
test for at the source. You want to test for any traces of ammonia, nitrate,
nitrite, or phosphates, as well as for pH. The most common way used by hobbyists
to avoid pitfalls of source water, is a water purification system such as a
reverse osmosis unit or a cation/anion deionization unit. If using such a
system, it's advisable to test the level of total dissolved solids with a
reliable TDS meter. The closer this number is to 0, the more pure your water.
Water coming out of an RO unit should read between 5 and 30PPM, based on your
source water, with water out of a cati/ani unit or a RO/DI unit should read 0.
If you are purchasing your water from an external source, such as a local fish
store or a purified water provider, it is still advisable to test for TDS
content before using any such water.
When it comes
to salt water itself, one should always remember the caustic nature of
saltwater, especially the unnatural artificial salt mixes we use. While these
mixes are really the best solution to a long-term conundrum of the hobby, when
they are freshly mixed up, they are extremely caustic and can even harm your
marine charges by their caustic nature. There is a simple way around this, and
its by mixing your saltwater prior to use, and allowing it to stabilize and find
equilibrium before adding it to your tanks. This is truly the underlying
importance of creating a water holding system to fit your needs.
Holding Systems – One indispensable tool of the conscientious marine
aquarist is a system of holding tanks for treating, preparing, and storing new
water. This setup can be as simple or as automated as your desire, or budget,
allows. You can have a simple setup consisting of a couple trash cans dedicated
to the storage of fresh and salt water, equipped with air stones or powerheads
to keep circulation going, or you can dive into the realm of float valves and
large Rubbermaid tubs. The decision is largely up to your budget and your
allotted space, but an important rule of thumb to adhere by is to be able to
have at least 1 complete water change for all tanks under your care at hand at
all times. This allows you to be prepared for the worst, as well as providing
your aquatic charges with the best.
A helpful tip afforded to me recently by a friend is that when looking for
containers for a water holding system, do look for local Culligan dealers in
your area. Their water softener salt storage bins are readily available from
them, are cheap if not free, and come with a supplied float valve.
issues when considering placement of your water holding systems are oxygen
exchange and temperature. You will want to store your water at as close an
approximation of the temperature in your tanks as possible. A degree higher or
lower won't be of great detriment, but the higher the temperature of your water,
the lower the levels of dissolved oxygen, and adding warmer water with too low
of a dissolved oxygen content runs the risk of driving out existing oxygen in
the aquariums existing solution. The solution to this problem is simply by using
an appropriately sized aquarium heater to raise the temperature of your make up
water while storing and circulating.
water circulate, aerate, and 'age' for a few days to weeks before use, it will
allow the water to reach an equilibrium between dissolved oxygen content and
carbon dioxide content, as well as giving newly mixed saltwater a chance to age
and complete its internal reactions. Freshly mixed saltwater has far more
caustic and corrosive properties than that of aged water, both to equipment and
livestock. After mixing saltwater, it is also a good idea to test your new
source water for biomineral content, such as pH, calcium and alkalinity, and
adjust accordingly. Buffering your water beforehand will help allow for less
maintenance in the display tank, and more stability for your aquatic charges.
out your water holding system, it is equally as important to plan around your
water source. Are you going to be purchasing water before mixing each time? Do
you plan on investing in your own RO unit? Make sure that you have space
allotted for such an addition, and proper water input and drainage in the area.
If you ask around with advanced marine hobbyists, you will find that most would
consider the investment of an RO unit to be quite possibly the central key to
success. Owning your own RO device means you are always able to produce pure
water when necessary, with no tedious trips or bucket lugging involved. The $150
you spend on a water purification system now will likely be saved in a year,
based on current gas costs and per-gallon water costs alone.
Evaporation and Management: One thing I've often heard complained about
in relation to owning a saltwater aquarium, is the endless tedium of freshwater
top-off. So many people allow this top-off to go remiss, affecting the stability
of their tank, and potentially adversely affecting their aquatic pets.
Freshwater top-off is absolutely essential to the stability of a tank,
for as water evaporates, the specific gravity begins to creep up. This is where
automatic top off systems come into play.
Don't want to spend the money for a commercially available auto
top-off solution? There are many do-it-yourself solutions to be found with a
simple Google search.
several commercially available systems for automatic top-off, by such
manufacturers as JBJ and Tunze. They all serve the same ends, to simplify your
maintenance routine without sacrificing quality of life. These solutions can
also be used to dose such supplements to the display as kalkwasser, or the
alkalinity half of a two-part solution such as B-Ionic.
Conclusion: Maintaining a beautiful saltwater aquarium doesn't have to
be rocket science. With attention to basic details, and an understanding of the
factors involved with your water chemistry, a balance may be easier to strike
than you think. A personalized system for preparation and storage of saltwater
can simplify your maintenance routine and in turn makes your tank more
enjoyable, and leaves more time to enjoy it. These few tips I've shared here are
what I feel have been the key to mine and others success.