Adam Blundell M.S.
Are you thinking
about setting up a salt water aquarium? If so, I hope these pointers will
help guide you along the journey.
Step 1- Why do you want a salt water aquarium?
It is important for
all hobbyists to answer this question. Is it a love of marine life?
Are you attracted to the hobby by those often colorful and elaborately-colored
fishes? Is the motion of soft-bodied corals appealing to you? Or is
growing stony reef-building corals your goal? Maybe you simply enjoy
watching an Anemonefish wiggle around among the tentacles of its host
anemone. Whatever the reason, it is important to know why you are getting into
this hobby, as that will pave the way in terms of what equipment you will need
to provide that habitat.
Step 2- Look at
All too often new
aquarists jump right into this wonderful hobby. They buy a filtration
system and lighting set up before they even know what they plan to keep.
Just as frequently, many aquarists will purchase and install their lighting
systems, only later to discover they do not like the color or intensity.
This can be avoided by simply looking at several tanks a head of time. See
what looks good to you! When you see a tank that you envy, ask the owner
what types of lights they use, do they have a skimmer, what additives are they
using, etc. Only by seeing different set ups can you identify what you hope to
Step 3- Know
what your animals need.
From step two you
should now know what you want to keep. Now is the time to make a list of
what you want to keep, and what those animals need to not only survive but to
thrive. For example, if you really like clams and stony reef building
corals, then a high-power lighting system (like metal halides) is going to be
needed. Also, if you like large carnivorous fish, your filtration system must be
able to keep up with the waste produced from those fish.
Clams (left) are beautiful, but
require intense light. The tank on the right not only uses a
combination of metal halide and fluorescent lighting. Making good
equipment choices at the time of set up is expensive, but saves money
that might be spent on costly upgrades.
Step 4- Make a
Don’t let a lack of
foresight be the demise of your aquarium, as it often is for many hobbyists.
For this reason, I highly suggest you consider the following: how much
you can afford to spend on this aquarium, how much room you have for it,
how much time you are willing to invest into maintaining it, and what animals
you are going to keep. Be realistic here and you will be thankful later.
The bigger the tank the more room for error, and the more animals you can keep.
Not just more in terms of the total number of animals, but also more in terms of
the number of animals to chose from. Lots of fishes are suitable for 200
gallon aquariums, but only a few would be well suited for a 10 gallon aquarium.
However, larger aquariums are often more time consuming, and are certainly more
expensive. Gather all the information you can ahead of time.
Step 5- Start
slow and get help.
There is no use in
getting lost in the woods when you have a tour guide. Local pet stores,
aquarium clubs and societies, online discussion forums, magazines, and books are
a plenty in this hobby. Be sure to get help in setting up your system and
learning how it works. Remember, it takes time to grow a reef tank; it
doesn’t happen quickly. When you have questions, look around and ask.
Know that it will take time to establish live rock, algae cycles, and most of
the time corals are easier to keep than fishes.
A beautiful, fully stocked reef tank
takes time! It may take months to make a work of art out of a canvas
of glass, rock and sand.
Step 6- Learn to
live with it.
As surprising as it
may seem your tank will look ugly at first. This happens to all new marine
aquariums as they cycle through their initial filtration phase. Your tank
may go brown, and then green, and then red, and then just look junky. It
happens. Consequently the one coral you really want to keep may not live.
You may struggle to raise the prize fish you originally intended to acquire.
It's okay; just learn to love whatever is working for you. Remember, not
only is this a hobby, but we are keeping living ecosystems. Special
efforts should be put forth to enjoy and appreciate what we are keeping,
whatever it may be. It takes time and patience to turn a glass box full of
rock into a beautiful, thriving reef tank.
Adam Blundell M.S.
works in Marine Ecology, and in Pathology for the University of Utah. He is also
Director of The Aquatic & Terrestrial Research Team, a group which utilizes
research projects to bring together hobbyists and scientists. His vision is to
see this type of collaboration lead to further advancements in aquarium
husbandry. While not in the lab he is the president of one of the Nation's
largest hobbyist clubs, the Wasatch Marine Aquarium Society (www.utahreefs.com).
Adam has earned a BS in Marine Biology and an MS in the Natural Resource and
Health fields. Adam can be found at