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Related FAQs: Marine System Components, DIY Gear 1, DIY Gear 2DIY Gear 3

Related Articles: Marine Filtration, Mechanical, Physical & Chemical, Reef Set-Up, Water/Seawater, Tanks/Stands/Covers, Size Doesn't Always Matter! Thoughts on the Desire to Create Bigger Marine Aquariums By Scott Fellman, Electrical, Light, Light Fixtures, Canopies, CoversHeating, Marine Substrates, Aeration, Circulation. Plumbing, Controllers

/The Conscientious Marine Aquarist

Marine System Components

Bob Fenner

A mud-filter mechanicals set-up.

What type of 'gear' does it take to keep marines alive? At it's most basic, just a chemically unreactive container and seawater. No, I'm not being a wise-n-heimer. My old boss back in the sixties, Earl Kennedy (nickname Lollipop) used to maintain systems in the Philippines sans anything else. In a like manner, contemporaries Rodney Jonklaas of Ceylon and Lee Chin Eng in Djakarta, Indonesia describe having success with saltwater. All these folks kept healthy fishes and invertebrates in 'bare' tanks; without heaters, filters, pumps, meter/dosers... How'd they do it? Low density stocking of healthy specimens, in relatively large (stable) aquariums, with lots of coral rock, live and otherwise. Oh, and lastly, good, clean seawater and lots of it for frequent partial water changes.

For mere mortals like you and I, keeping a marine system in our office or home, the range of beauty and utility of tanks and environmental control gear is ever-expanding by comparison. Following is a checklist of major components in most contemporary saltwater set-ups. These are elements of most kinds of marine systems; which is a necessarily broad statement to make. How many types of marine aquaria are there, and functionally how many functional scenarios for providing a viable captive environment?

Marine System Components

A) Tank-  

Made from chemically inert materials, usually glass and silicone rubber, or acrylic. The larger, more stable, the better. A squatier, wide and flat, shape versus tall and narrow ("show") configuration allows for better gas diffusion, homogeneous thermal control, and "living space".

B) Lighting-  

For looks and the health of livestock, photosynthetic and not. This can be a very (the most) expensive part of your set-up to purchase and operate; and the most dangerous.

C) Substrate-  

Typically a silica, coral or other carbonaceous (dolomite, shell, marble) 'gravel'; intended double duty agent as an attachment site for beneficial microbes and water chemistry ameliorator (try saying that fast ten times).

D) Water-  

No joke; natural or synthetic seawater is an obvious necessity. Some test gear for checking on physical and chemical parameters is useful, instructional for keeping tabs on what's going on in your system.

E) Adjuncts to Water: 

An important area of understanding with marines as they do "drink like a fish" unlike their freshwater brethren. Including things as vitamins and minerals, sugars (!), tonque-twisters like kalkvasser...

F) Filtration-  

encompassing circulation and gas exchange. Basically and fundamentally excercises in removing and converting livestock wastes and by-products. Taking a look at the hobbyist magazines, there are many better mousetrap tryouts. Power, inside, outside, under tank models; chemical filtrants, Ultraviolet, ozone, skimmers... What do they do? Do you have to have them? Not to worry; all will be revealed.

G) Temperature Control-  

Water is the standard for specific heat, taking in and giving up more energy per weight than any other substance. The oceans and life from them appreciate small and gradual changes in temperature. We need to mediate thermal shift in our tanks; with system size, placement, use of thermostatic heates, and/or sometimes chillers.

H) Aquascaping-  

Not just for your enjoyment. Living organisms need physical breakup in their environment to show natural behavior and to avoid bullying, including by you.

There are maybe as many combinations of marine equipment components as there are set-ups; certainly as many as there are saltwater book and article writers. This should not, will not confuse you. Keep two things in mind: 1) Marine aquarium keeping is still some part science, a portion art, and the remainder voodoo, 2) The difference between a 'fish only' to 'fish and invertebrate' to 'reef' set-up is a function of water quality (kind of good, better, best) along with lighting, circulation...

Perhaps a retro-anecdote will serve to re-enforce these points. In the dark salt ages of Robert P.L. Straughan (the 1950's and '60's) in the U.S. a "miracle" technique for success with marines was discovered. By setting up a new system with calcareous substrate and an undergravel filter, introducing some fishes and waiting a few weeks, the aforementioned livestock would... die. Most people would drain the tank and take up hamsters; but luckily for us, some lazy aquarist just waited.

If you were patient and held off dumping and cleaning the whole thing out, you could re-stock the system and voila (!), magic; the new critters would live/survive unlike their predecessors. Skipping ahead to these enlightened times (Ha), we now know that those Neanderthal marine aquarists experienced the dreaded Nutrient Cycling run-in blues; and now with our modern filters, bacteria cultures, test kits et al. we don't have to hold off to stock our systems; well, sort of. Anyhow, time has marched on and we do have a better understanding of what goes on in captive systems.

Nowadays you can scarcely count the many types of marine aquariums. We now have coldwater (versus tropical) systems. These are self-explanatory; they deal with cool-water organisms and therefore require a water-chilling mechanism. Tidepool tanks require vigorous circulation and maybe even periodic aerial exposure. There are many sub-specialties of reef tanks, catering to certain types of life and/or biotope.

In Summary:

Marines are no harder or expensive to keep than discus or other advanced freshwater systems. "Secrets" of success are the same; proper set-up and maintenance with a watchful, knowing eye on your livestock.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Cox, Tom. 1976. Another look at the natural system for marine aquaria. The Tropical Breeze, bulletin of the San Diego Tropical Fish Society, May 76.

Jonklaas, Rodney. 1960. Keeping Marine Fishes- "The Lazy Way". Tropical Fish Hobbyist, 12/60.

Kloth, Thomas. 1979. Try a marine aquarium. Freshwater & Marine Aquarium, 8/79.

Lichtenbert, Joseph. 1993. Growing pains, advice on that first saltwater system. The Pet Dealer, August 93.

Tullock, John H. 1992. Why Keep Marines? Aquarium Fish Magazine, Jan. 92.


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