Ask the WWM Crew
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Up-keep of aquariums is the number one reason given by non-aquarists for not going into our hobby. Who can blame them? The typical stereotype of having wet-pets is pure drudgery; siphoning endless amounts of water onto the floor, messy feedings, removing stinky dead livestock, having to conduct laboratory level testing and water adjustment, total tear downs and scrubbings of tanks and decor...
Those of us "in the life" know that this isn't the way it is or has to be. Properly set-up aquariums are remarkably trouble and maintenance-light, compared with companion animals (dogs, cats). The larger and more self-adjusting a system is, the less you have to do with it.
Maintenance and operation of your marine set-up(s) should follow a logical and regular pattern. There are daily, weekly etc., checks, feedings, adjustments that can and should be reduced to a systematic checklist of aquatic activities.
This Section gives you my philosophies and details of what generally is done to keep a typical marine system up and going.
Every Time You Look At the Tank:
Check Your Livestock:
Are they behaving "normally"? This is your best chance at discovering and evaluating what's going on in the system water quality-wise. Check that all your livestock is "live"; how's their color, locomotion?
Depending on the type of life/system kept, once daily, twice or more frequent offerings of food are made. Try to schedule these times with your own opportunities for timely observation of the system. Feedings are the most telling chance you have of seeing whether all the stock is okay, eating, and not being harassed by tankmates.
In this 'modern age' many aquarists take the heating mechanisms of their systems for granted; don't. Though the heaters of the 90's are a far cry superior to anything we had in decades past, they do still fail. Check your thermometers.
Just a quick, look-see that airstones, power heads and/or pumps are functional.
Get in the habit of checking on and emptying the collection cup of your fractionator daily. You wouldn't be amazed, knowing how funky the glop in the collector gets, to find how many problems it getting back into the system has caused. Dump and rinse the cup before it overfills or spills (YUCK).
The skimmer is such an important tool for preserving water quality that it's functional operation should be one of your chief concerns. Are the stones bubbling optimally? Is the collector doing about what it should? You will become so familiar with the results of feeding and timing of the rhythms of your system that you'll be able to anticipate volume, foaminess... of the collectant.
Water Quality Parameters;
After the system's been up and running for a few months, routine checking of ammonia and nitrites is generally overlooked; unless something seems amiss. Nitrate as an end product to oxidative cycling of ammonia should be checked at least as frequently as water change intervals.
pH and alkalinity of the system, likewise, some people get away with on the same schedule. Take note; if the pH is slipping or nitrates on the rise on a weekly basis, you should be taking corrective action to reduce, change feeding, add buffering capacity, increase water changes...
Specific gravity or salinity however should be checked and adjusted at least weekly. Some folks use only de-ionized, R.O., or even distilled water for this... Tap water is just fine; there are more "impurities" introduced from the feeding, life, decor... than from the mains water.
All sponges, wet-dry media including trays and spray bars, should be inspected for clogging, excessive filthiness and rinsed, replaced as necessary. Chemical filtrants use and change is a matter of manufacturer specification and user preference. I strongly encourage the use of polyester bagging of individual units of chemical filtrants, and the rotating out of some of the existing bags with the addition in of the new, rather than a complete change out.
Other Filter Maintenance:
Do your pump motors require periodic cleaning, lubrication? Some of the most popular fluid-moving pumps utilize a water-cooling feature, a narrow conduit that feeds a small amount of pressurized water back through the drive mechanism. Dear Reader, and fellow utility subsidizer, many of these pumps suffer an early death from this "tube" being ignored. You want to save some real money and hassle? Please read through all materials that come with the mechanical components of your system, and add their periodic checks and maintenance to your system maintenance schedule.
If you have one, should be inspected, their lamps or sleeves and outside cleaned monthly.
While you're disrupting the system and it's occupants, this is an ideal time to wipe down the top, light fixture(s) and inside/outside the viewing panels (front, et al.). Remember, wear your dedicated rubber gloves, and no ammoniated cleaners around the tank.
At most once a month, at best more frequently (our service company used to change water weekly). These water changes a grand opportunity to vacuum part of the substrate (or bare bottom), sump(s), change filter media, "clean", rearrange some of the decor and possibly move livestock. Replacement of water is done with pre-mixed, stored seawater (Section 3) D)) of the same temperature and specific gravity.
Frequent partial water changes are beneficial in so many ways, and to some folks controversial, that we'll devote an entire Section to them. There is no more economical method to ensuring and maintaining adequate water quality control than water changes. Period.
Chemical adjuncts such as all-in-one additives, vitamins, minerals, "feeding, growth stimulants", all other supplementary chemical additions. If you're going to use these, utilize them only as directed, and only on a regularly scheduled basis. The best time to do this is in concert with water changing. I am convinced that most chemical adjuncts are placebos, that is, have no discernible beneficial effects in otherwise un-crowded non-driven marine set-ups.
I am concerned more with the poisoning effects of continually pouring these materials into a system has. Most are ridiculously low in concentration, but they may grow in concentration with repeated mis-use. I know it's the Madison Avenue, gotta-buy-something mentality that drives westerners (including myself) to "get involved". Therefore the suggestion to "add supplements if you must" only during times of dilution by water change.
Yes, the heaters; they should be carefully checked for cracks in their glass housings (and exchangers if used), and particularly for their plug/connectors. Fires caused by marine aquaria are split about fifty/fifty between lighting and salt intrusion in heating electrics. Mount your extensions vertical or inverted (facing down) to prevent salt(water) entry and check and wipe clean the wires on a monthly basis.
Check Your Log:
Review your written notes of when you acquired your livestock; how much have they grown. Do you have a photograph to compare color patterns? Maybe you can add one more organism...
More Than Monthly:
Fluorescents, ultraviolet sterilizers, even metal halides have effective lifetimes. Don't be fooled by the "apparent" luminosity (brightness) as a measure of their function. Once again, read and follow the manufacturer's recommendations for rotation/replacement of lamps/bulbs. In your log, or better still with a "grease" pen, mark on the fixture, lamps when they were installed. Most u.v.s and "standard" output (non H.O. or V.H.O.) fluorescents are good for @ six months, but your use may very well vary...
Especially the calcareous elements of the system, coral and shell skeletons, substrate for gravel and filter media, live and non-live "base" rock contribute to pH buffering and biological filtration as a function of surface area and solubility. Much of this potential is "used up" through use, as the tank "ages", foods are processed... Angularity and easily soluble materials diminish with a consequent loss of alkalinity and shorter beneficial effect of water change. What to do? Periodically add, switch out, replace some of these materials. Cleaning/Replacing Decor Especially the calcareous elements of the system, coral and shell skeletons, substrate for gravel and filter media, live and non-live "base" rock contribute to pH buffering and biological filtration as a function of surface area and solubility. Much of this potential is "used up" through use, as the tank "ages", foods are processed... Angularity and easily soluble materials diminish with a consequent loss of alkalinity and shorter beneficial effect of water change. What to do? Periodically add, switch out, replace some of these materials.
You can scoot the existing gravel over and add a new third, or just add a few pounds of it to your filter/sump.
Check your plumbing, fittings and valves for rotting and salt "creep". Replace drying, discoloring water and air hose as they lose elasticity. I've witnessed whole system lost for want of a few dime's worth of tubing.
Are your air-valves leaking? Many do; most can be "repaired" with a little silicon grease or "rubber" (Silicone (tm))
A system of routine operation and maintenance is a hallmark of a conscientious, organized aquarist. There's no need to run yourself ragged; make a list and keep it with your aquarium log for when you added/removed livestock, any behavioral observations, and your approach to system up-keep. Use the above headings to formulate your own schedule, and stick to it. Cleanliness is not sterility, but your livestock and you will appreciate the short time, homeostasis, and regularity that come with a systematic approach to tank maintenance.
Campbell, Douglas. 1980. Marines: their care and keeping, parts 3,4. FAMA 2,3/80.
Emmens, C.W. 1985. Aquaristics in perspective, part 4; setting up and maintenance. FAMA 9/85.
Keith, Randy E. 1980. Long term maintenance of the marine aquarium. FAMA 5/80.
Kipper, Horst E. 1986. The optimum marine aquarium; ten golden rules for keeping fishes and invertebrates. Today's Aquarium 2,3,/86.
Tullock, John H. 1992. Routine tank maintenance; this is the key to success with marine tanks. AFM 5/92.