Saltwater Fish Tank Setup – The Basics

Picking the Right Location

OK, you’ve bought all of the right equipment for your saltwater fish tank setup and brought it home. Now what? The first step is to pick a suitable location for your new fish tank. There are a few general guidelines to follow here. The fish tank should be in a room with a stable year-round room temperature. Don’t place it near heater vents or radiators or an air conditioning unit; you want to keep the fish tank temperature as consistent as possible.

Don’t place it in direct sunlight or it will quickly grow huge amounts of algae which, although not harmful to the fish (some fish and crustaceans enjoy dining on algae) it can be unsightly and difficult to control. You’ll want to place it in a room that has frequent human traffic, not only so you can show it off but so that the fish will become used to people.

If the fish tank is tucked away in your bedroom or study where you only visit infrequently, the fish will become sensitive to movement and will hide whenever anyone enters the room, and what good is that? Lastly, make sure the floor can support the weight. If you’re not sure on this one, check the structure under the floor to make sure. If you don’t check, don’t say I didn’t tell you so.

Basic Assembly

One of the first things you’ll want to do is a visual inspection of the tank. Inspect all of the seams to make sure there are no breaks or imperfections in the sealant that joins the glass panels of your tank. If there are, they are easier to fix now then after you’ve filled the tank with water.

Tanks are checked for leakage by the manufacturer, but it’s never a bad idea to do your test and fill the tank with tap water and let it sit for an hour or so before your final setup. Of course, you’ll have to empty it before you install the filters, gravel, etc.

Now, with your tank empty, place the under gravel filter in the bottom of the tank and attach the riser tube. The riser tube should reach nearly the top of your tank but needs to allow enough room for the pump head so that it doesn’t protrude above the top of the tank. This tube is easily shortened with a sharp knife or razor. Use caution when cutting the riser tube to the proper length.

Once this is done, thoroughly rinse the substrate material (crushed coral or dolomite) with fresh water to remove any residual dust. The easiest way to do this is to pour the substrate into a clean bucket (one that has never been used with cleaning materials) and to run water into the bucket, stirring the substrate vigorously until the water overflowing from the bucket runs clear.

Then, evenly distribute the substrate across the top of the under gravel filter. You can attach the pump head to the riser tube now or you can wait until the tank has been filled. I usually wait until the tank has been filled nearly full before adding the remaining equipment (mechanical filter, heater, etc.) since they only get in the way.

Water Preparation

Water preparation for your saltwater fish tank setup is simply mixing the needed amount of dechlorinated tap water with the appropriate amount of synthetic salt mix from your local pet shop. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for whichever salt you chose. The specific gravity of your mixture should be between 1.0220 and 1.0275. Use a hydrometer to get an accurate measurement.

Now, begin filling the tank with your prepared saltwater solution. You can place a plastic bowl in the bottom of the fish tank and pour the saltwater into it to avoid excessive splashing and disruption of your gravel. Fill the tank until it is about 3 inches from the top. Now is the time to add your remaining equipment including the mechanical filter, heater, pump head (unless you’ve already attached it,) and any other accessories and decorations you plan to add to your tank.

Finishing Your Saltwater Fish Tank Setup

Assemble the mechanical filter according to the instructions that should be included with it. Attach it to the back of the tank in an appropriate location. You will normally need to fill the filter reservoir with water before it will function. Install the tank heater per the manufacturer’s instructions. The ideal temperature for a marine fish tank is between 70-73 degrees Fahrenheit.

Install any remaining equipment or accessories that you have for your tank. Plugin the pump head and mechanical filters and ensure that they are functioning properly. Plugin the heater and adjust to the appropriate temperature. Fill the tank to the desired level, usually about 1 1/2 inches from the top. Install the tank hood or cover and lighting. You will now want to let the tank run for at least 24 hours to ensure all equipment is functioning and there are no leaks.

During this time you will want to verify the specific gravity (salt content) of the water and adjust as needed, as well as adjusting the heater to achieve the desired temperature. Remember, water temp changes very slowly, so wait at least several hours before each adjustment.

That’s it! Once the salinity and temperature have stabilized to the desired levels you’re ready to consider adding some animals to the tank to begin the conditioning process.

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