Guide on How to Set Up Saltwater Aquarium

By: allenjessop
So, you are wondering if a saltwater aquarium is for you. Most people believe that marine aquarium keeping is infinitely more difficult than freshwater. Not so. The simple truth is that saltwater fish and invertebrates are not necessarily more difficult to keep, they just have different requirements than freshwater fish and are a bit less forgiving when it comes to mistakes. The key to fully understanding this section is to understand the basics presented here.

With the outstanding assortment of beautiful saltwater fish to choose from, it is no wonder that so many hobbyists dream of maintaining a marine aquarium. This guide is intended to answer many of the questions a novice marine aquarist may have, and to provide some basic guidelines for selecting and caring for saltwater fish and invertebrates. In addition, we hope that every saltwater hobbyist will read several good, current books on the subject.

Reef Tank and Fish Tank: What is the Difference ?

There are many different ways you can set up an aquarium depending on what you would like to keep and what interests you most in the hobby. Accordingly hobbyists tend to put names on the different types of aquariums that can be set up because they have similar general requirements depending on the classification of tank.

Fish Only Tank
A Fish Only Tank is a tank that is dedicated to keeping fish, without any sort of corals, anemones or clams. They can contain some mobile invertebrates mainly for helping keep the tank clean. This set up is easier to set up and less costly then a reef tank. This type of tank can be classified into two different areas as well, fish only or fish only with live rock.

Reef Aquarium
A Reef Aquarium contains a lot of life with the main focus being corals or anemones. This type of system generally contains a huge variety of species that require an extremely specialized setup. The needs of the corals or anemones take priority whereas fish in these tanks are considered secondary. Although we generally classify all tanks with corals in it as a reef tank, there are still different types of reef tanks such as softy, LPS (large polyp stony) and SPS (small polyp stony) tanks. These three tanks also have different requirements as well.

Here is a brief summary of some of the different equipment requirements for the two types of tanks.

RequirementsReef TankFish Only Tank
AlkalinityYesOptional
Canister filterNoOptional
Calcium reactorOptionalNo
CalciumYesOptional
HydrometerYesYes
Intense lightingYesNo
Live RockYesOptional
Live SandOptionalOptional
NitrateYesOptional
Protein SkimmerYesYes
RO/DI waterYesPreferable
SumpPreferableOptional
RefugiumPreferableOptional
Kalk DripperPreferableOptional
pHYesYes
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