Having enjoyed a snorkeling trip or even just seeing a great fish tank at the mall or the zoo makes many people think of setting up a saltwater aquarium at home. Having a little personal ocean to meditate at home is quite possible, but there are a few maintenance chores to keep in mind.
Preparing an Ersatz Ocean
Your tank must start with absolutely clean water. This probably means a trip to the store for bottled water. Fill up the tank completely with clean, chemical-free water. Keeping a saltwater aquarium is not an instant gratification hobby. For the first few weeks, you can only keep one or two fish, until your water is ready for more.
Next, the ocean has got to be salty. There are many choices for saltwater aquarium salinity. Sea salt from the grocery store is probably the easiest choice; but aquarium stores also stock salt mixes with many different minerals. The salt you choose depends on what you want from your saltwater aquarium. Should you spring for slow-release, long lasting salts? Or is maintenance easy and enjoyable enough to add more salts regularly? Study the plusses and minuses of each salt before you decide.
The next thing to think about is the nitrogen cycle. The real ocean keeps itself clean; but even in the largest home saltwater aquarium, your water needs help. The first step is putting your new, clean, salty water through the nitrogen cycle. For six weeks, you must leave only one or two fish in your tank as bacteria from the air will start to make its home in the water. These bacteria are important because they change fish waste into inert chemicals. The bacteria are clear and clean, but you must wait for them to grow.
Changing the Water
Water evaporates out of a saltwater aquarium, even if you have a cover over it. When water evaporates away, it leaves salts behind. So at least once a week, check the water level in the tank and top it off with more of that clean bottled water when it gets low.
Once the nitrogen cycle has started, and you are keeping your water level correct, you still need to replace about half of the tank’s water every month. Filters and good bacteria alone cannot keep the water as clean as it needs to be. So scoop out dirty water and replace it with clean water regularly. At this point, buying bottled water is probably cumbersome. So keep a bucket of water under your tank; as it sits, the chemicals will break down, making it appropriate to use in a saltwater aquarium.