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Newbie Guide to setting up a Marine Tank

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Like what we do in life, if we fail to plan, we plan to fail. Out of all the potential problems that can occur in our aquariums, many can be avoided if we have plan ahead. Keeping a successful Marine tank require the same philosophy as well and knowledge is the key in the success in this hobby.

Always take your time when designing and building a new aquarium system.Before committing or buying your fish tank, firstly decide what kind of system do you want to keep ? This would enable you to plan you tank setup with the equipments you need and your budget ect..

Using only high quality well-built equipment, starting with the aquarium itself. Buying your tank from a reputable tank builders who craft their aquariums with the proper glass/acrylic thickness suitable for your tank system will make alot of different with years to come.

Making sure all your slip PVC joints are glued correctly; use Teflon tape on all threaded connections. A small leak can become a big problem if it is not attended to ect. Check the volume of your sump to ensure it will hold excess water in case the power fails and your return pumps shut off as you do not want a flooded living room .

There are basically a few system in this hobby ;

1) Fish Only tank are the simplest and easier to start a marine tank, but it can be upgraded to a more complex system if you decided to keep more dedicated species.

2) Reef Tank - Require more dedicated care and planing in the equipment and tank design setup in order to tackle the Ammonia, N02 , P04 and N03 in the system .

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Do as much research as possible on this hobby to determine what you want to keep and the basic need to sustain it. You can find many information on this hobby in Books, internet or here in SRC . Preparing a checklist will help you to determine the equipment you need and the budget you need for your first aquarium setup.<

The checklist should consist of some of the basic key reefing equipments as follows;

-Tank size

-Thickness of glass ?

-Sump Tank

-Types of aquarium glass ?

-Types of Aquarium stand ? ( Wood / stainless steel )

-Placement of tank in the house ( Do consider factors such as; ease of access for tank maintaining , nature sun light , viewing angle, temperature , power point ect..

-Types of lighting

-Types of Skimmer ( In-sump / Out-sump )

- Chiller

-Live rock

-Sea water or Salt Mix ?

-Aquarium substrate ( Live Sand / fine sand / bare bottom / Deep sand bed or crushed coral chips ) ?

-Filter media

-Aquarium background

- Pumps

-Power head - Wave maker

Protein skimmer ( The most important equipment in the hobby which you cannot miss )

Test kits

- Algae scrubber

- Fish net

- Clean buckets for changing of water.

-Aquarium thermometer

-Quarantine Tank ?

-Saltwater Hydrometer or even better a refractometer to check water salinity ?

- Piping and valves.

- Fluidized reactor

- Calcium reactor

- De-nitrator

- Chemical filtration media ( Active carbon , P04 remover media, N03 remover media ect.. )

- Ozone 03

- Optional but definitely recommend getting a Reverse Osmosis or RO/Deionization filter for the make-up water.

- Power Strip

-Power consumption of equipment ?

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Setting up your Aquarium , stand and equipments.

This is one of the most fun and also tiring stage which many reefer like and dislike. If you want to wash your new or used tank, wash out your tank only with fresh water only! Do not use soap or detergents, as soap residue left behind will be harmful for your saltwater fish and corals. you can test your aquarium for any leakage by filling it with fresh water to check for leaks. If it passes the leak test, drain the fresh water from the aquarium.You can start to affix your tank background at this time. For marine tanks, a black background can help the fish colors stand out more. Deep blue is another popular color choice and it can help create the illusion of depth.

Next you can start fixing up your equipment in your sump tank to test it's functionality and any leakage from the equipments with fresh water before filling the tank later with saltwater.

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After determine using Sea water or Salt mix for your new setup, you are now ready to add saltwater into your new tank. Using Sea water will help to shorten the cycling time but salt mix will contain more parameter for your tank.

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All of the marine salt mixes out there are made slightly differently, and there is always much debate as to which salt mix is the best. Unless you're considering a reef tank, most of the commonly available mixes should serve you fine. You'll soon develop a salt mix preference after you've worked with them for a while or You can do some research in the market before your purchase.

If you are using tap water for mixing salt mix, do remember to remove the chlorine and chloramine in the water using de-chlorine products.Read the directions on the salt mix package carefully and then add the salt mix slowly to room temperature water. Stir it well and test it with your hydrometer or refractometer to determine the salinity you wish to achieve.You can start to turn on your pump or wave maker to start your tank circulation.

Suggested Salinity reading

1.019 - For a fish only tank but some fish may get stress over time and loss it;s nature color.

1.021 ~ 1.022 Marine fish only with corals

1.022 ~ 1.023 Fish and corals from tropical Asia country.

1.024 ~ 1.026 Fish and corals from Hawaii / Fuji ( Pacific water )

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For many fish tank hobbyists, aquascaping can be one of the most enjoyable parts about setting up a fish tank. Decorating your aquarium can be quite fun, but coming up with a good aquascape is not just about making the tank look nice.

You should also take into account the tank's future inhabitants when figuring out what you need to do to provide the tank with suitable place for the fish to hide, swim around in the open and glass cleaning. This is where you get to exercise both sides of your brain to try and come up with something that is not only nice to look at but something that is functional as well.

The great part about live rock, aside from the biological importance of using it, is that you can use aquarium silicon sealant to shape the rocks into any type of design you desire. We now have a new term - "rockscaping". You can also use a drill to create small holes in the rock and use pvc pipes to hold them together to make columns or archways. The rockscaping possibilities are endless. Another thing you'll probably need to do is place the rock directly on the tank bottom and not on top of the sand. Sand burrowing species could get injured or worse if you place the rock on top of the sand.

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For this reason, you are probably going to treat your live rock like gold once you get it, because it is the most important form of biological filtration in your system, you need to and let it cycle in your tank before adding anything into your tank. The curing process can last anywhere from 2 week to 2 months or more depending on the quality of the rock when you get it.

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Prior to adding Substrate into your tank, make sure you clean it with fresh water unless you are using Live sand. Start adding of Substrate slowly into your tank and gently use your hand to flatted the sand bed .Alternatively you may use a plastic cup, ladle or something similar to add the freshly cleaned substrate to your aquarium.

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Your tank might turn cloudy but it should be clear after a few hour.

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"Cycling the tank" is the most important aspect of this hobby and it means that you are establishing a bacteria bed in your Biological filtration in your system to remove the toxins that the fish's metabolism creates. There are right and wrong ways to do this, and several things you can do to slow this process (which you don't want to do). There are two steps to cycling, but you don't have to do anything special for either of them.

Nitrogen Cycle

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Firstly, your Biological filter will grow a culture of bacteria that digest ammonia and turn it into Nitrite N02 , then your filter produces bacteria that digest Nitrite N02 and turn it into relatively harmless Nitrate N03. You could cycle your tank with a small number of fish or a pcs of unwanted prawn meat to kick start the cycle.

A fully cycled tank will read Ammonia 0,Nitrite 0,nitrate under 40ppm and under 20ppm or lower is best. If your using fish that you want to keep and they start showing signs of severe stress you can do a major water change to remove the N03 in the tank.

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The actual time the cycling takes can vary a lot as temperature,ph,whether or not you use gravel,filter media from an established tank and other factors can play an effect on how fast or slow a cycle will finish. Generally, it take about 2 ~ 4 week to complete the tank cycling progress.

The Idea Water parameter for a Marine reef tank should be ;

· temperature: (24°C - 27°C)

· specific gravity: 1.020- 1.024

· pH: 8.0 - 8.4

· ammonia: 0

· nitrite: 0

· nitrate: 20 ppm or less(especially for invertebrates)

· carbonate hardness: 7-10dKH

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Once your tank cycling is completed, you may start adding of fish / corals into your new tank. However, patient is the other key to success in this hobby. Start adding only One or two fish at a time, and leave it for another 2 week or more during your next addition.Not only you are endangering the live stocks in your tank by stocking too fast, you may risk the danger of your tank crush for not having enough time for your system to stabilize itself with enough bacteria culture.

If you have the means, setting up a quarantine tank will come in handy. Marine specimens are mostly wild caught and not used to being kept in captivity. Their journey to a dealers tank is usually much longer and much more stressful for them. Stressed out fish will usually come down with some kind of disease if they don't simply die from the whole journey to your tank. Thus having a simple quarantine tank will help to prevent diseases spread to your other tank mate as well as training it to feed before releasing it into your main tank.

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You may have invested valuable time and money researching the habitat requirements of the fish and corals you wish to house, and naturally you want to protect this investment by executing a The purpose of acclimation is simple: the water that the fish or corals are packaged in has different temperature, pH, and salinity parameters than your aquarium. Fish, and especially invertebrates (including corals), are very sensitive to even minor changes in these parameters, so proper acclimation is the key to ensuring their successful relocation.

Also by adding a couple saltwater fish at a time, it gives your filtration system the time needed to take on the increased biological load that the new fish introduce. Your new fish probably wouldn't eat any food on the first few day in your new tank and notice for any bully or diseases for your new fish .

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Selection of Live stocks

Most marine fishes in the trade are collected in the wild, and undergo various ship / plane and cars transportation before reaching our local LFS. The largest portions of mortalities can occur during post shipment, related to the stress of transport and handling, and due mainly to osmotic dysfunction, impaired immune function and stress mediated disease.

Often many hobbyist encounter fish not eating , diseases and eventually dead within one week of purchase into their own aquarium and some eventually gave up the hobby thinking that this hobby is difficult without knowing the real cause of the death.

However with some simple check and observation during your next purchase, this will greatly reduce the causality rate of your new fish . Below are some tell tale sign in the fish appearance and behavior to look out for in a healthy specimen when you make your selection of fish during your next LFS visit.


    The eyes should always be bright and clear and normally set in the head, Bacterial infections may slowly show up as grey cloudy film or light misty appearance over the eye. Fish with sunken eyes, that look to small for the socket is not a good sign and normally show signs of poisoning.


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      There should be no evidence of injury around the mouth, an injury around this area has the potential for the saltwater fish to not eat and may cause fungus or bacterial infections.


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      The fins should have good shape with no rough or jagged edges. Signs of poor fins is fayed or ratted which can be a tell tale sign of ammonia burn from collecting and poor water quality or just fighting with other fishes, again this can lead to bacterial infection of other fish diseases.

      Skin & Scales

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      The skin and scales should be smooth and well colored. Indistinct, discolored blotches on the upper sides are usually a sign of an internal disease, especially if associated with rapid breathing. Uplifted, raised or missing scales are also a bad sign.

      Abdomen (Stomach)

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      The abdomen or stomach should be well rounded and context in a healthy looking fish, when a fish starts to loose body mass the abdomen will become concave (sunken in) Feeding becomes an important part of the well being of any fish and if eating well should allow to get over fish stress and other minor issues.

      Selection of Corals

      Corals in the trade are mostly hand picked from the ocean, and knowing how to choose a good pcs of coral for your marine tank will help you build a healthy and vibrant aquarium.

      Selection of a reputable LFS which has a good reputation which take good care of its fish and corals is a good place to start with. Notice the condition of the tanks in their shop and their livestocks, and they should be clean with clear water, and the fish and corals should appear healthy as well.

      Before buying, consider which type of coral you want to buy for your tank, as your tank conditions will limit your choice due to your fish, equipment and lighting ect. Some corals need different amounts of light and water flow and also have different feeding requirements ect. Do some research or ask the LFS before you buy.

      Look for coral that open and fully extended. A closed coral may just be stressed, or it can also be a sign that it isn't healthy or that there are bad conditions in the tank water.If you can afford it, get a prophylactic treatment dip for your corals before bringing it into your aquarium .

      All corals are very fragile, and make sure to handle the coral very carefully once you've chosen a coral to purchase. Corals transfer best when they're mounted on something, usually a small piece of live rock,so if the coral isn't mounted, you should mount it yourself with either epoxy or gel before you place it in your tank.

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Fish Compatibility

Once you have done your aqua scaping , cycled the tank for a couple of weeks, and are now ready to populate it with fish and corals. However before buying any fish or corals which pleases your eyes, please do some research and study on the compatibility of the types of marine fish and types of corals you are buying as these marine creature vary in their need for companionship and living !

Populating your aquarium is not exactly a straightforward matter. you could simply dump all and sundry into the tank, then hope those fishes will behave well with each other. But more often than not, you will see fish nipping at your corals or fighting at each other or sulking in a corner of your tank.

Fish vary in their need for companionship, and some do well with company; other can be downright anti-social. It is thus very important to select the right mix of fishes for your aquarium.

Feeding habits can also cause problems, bearing in mind that carnivores may attack other fishes, so if you have one in the tank, the other fish must be at least of the same size or larger, or else the little ones may end up as food.

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Source : thereefshop

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Aquarium Maintenance

Regular maintenance is an ongoing responsibility that no self-respecting aquarist should shirk. Over the long term, your consistent effort will be rewarded with a healthy aquarium that's resilient to outbreak of diseases and beautiful tank.

Below are some of the recommendation to your tank maintain

The Daily regimen


While it may be true that most fish don't need 3 meals a day ( Some might even go without food for days), the recommendation is to feed them two small meals over the course of the day, once in the morning and once in the evening ect. If twice a day feeding routine is not feasible because of work commitments or other reasons, once a day would be fine too.

As a rough guide, feed an amount that the entire tank population can consume in two to three min will be just enough. Overfeeding will leads to uneaten food, which in turn will pollute your water and may result in other problem like stress and diseases to your live stocks.


Take some time to observe your fish every day. This is the precious window during which you can detect problems early. Watch carefully for abnormal behavioral or signs of illness which show poor water condition. Watch your fish while you eat, to see if your fishes are acting normally to it;s daily diet.


Check and clean your skimmer cup if the skimmate is full. Top up the evaporate water in your tank with 'treated fresh water" i.e RO/DI water or least water treated with anti chlorine. Dosing of addictive which is required i.e ;trace element, vitman C, Ca,Mg, ect..

The weekly stuff

Once a week, do a partial water change of between 10% ~ 15% of the total tank volume. Such regular change help to keep ammonia and nitrite , nitrate , Phosphate low, and renew the water's supply of trace elements, ca, mg and other minerals in the water. Testing your water parameter weekly will also help to determine how much water your need to change and the supplement you need to add into your tank.

Check and clean your skimmer weekly to maintain the performance of your equipment, and clean your tank glass of any algae.

Once a month

If you have a gravel substrate, vacuum it thoroughly every month. Vacuuming helps to remove waste and debris that have accumulated on the tank bed, and also help to remove potentially harmful pocket of gasses that may have built in the substrate over time.

If time allow, dismantled and clean your pump and wave maker to prevent calcium deposit being build up ,and to maintain your equipment in tip top operating condition.

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