Maintaining Marine Reef Aquarium Important Aspects in Maintaining a Marine Reef Aquarium There is something fascinating and relaxing in having an aquarium in a home. Like a fireplace’s warm glow and bright colors, the colors that are emitted from an aquarium can be just as warm and even more colorful. From the slow and graceful movement of the fish to the frantic feeding frenzy, an aquarium is different each time it is viewed. Although a freshwater tank can be full or color, it does not come close to the fiery colors that are present in a marine aquarium. Unfortunately, all the color and life that a marine aquarium holds is much more fragile and not as easy to keep as a freshwater tank. Therefore, the marine aquarium requires a plethora of devices working together and at optimum levels to maintain a successful tank.
Items like protein skimmers, ultraviolet filters, sump filters, reverse osmosis units, and even wave-makers are just a few of the devices that are required to properly maintain a marine aquarium. With the exception to a properly constructed tank, nothing is as important to the marine aquarium as the water within the tank and the lighting given its inhabitants. Since water is the medium that the aquarium inhabitants must live in, it is the most vital component in any tank. The quality of the water used will directly effect how successful the aquarium is. The chemical balance of the water must be watched closely. If the salt content varies too much, or harmful chemicals build up, the water will kill the inhabitants of the tank.
Since fresh pure sea water is not readily accessible, the easiest water source for the majority of hobbyists is the faucet. However, the tap water that comes from the local water treatment plants may be safe for human consumption but is most likely toxic to marine life. Water treatment plants remove most of the harmful chemicals, but the water delivered is anything but pure. Often this tap water contains high levels of phosphates and nitrates that can be harmful to aquarium inhabitants. Also, copper may leach from pipes, and it is deadly to marine invertebrates (Goldstein 8).
This leaves very few options for water to the hobbyist. One of the last, and probably the best option for obtaining a pure water source is by using reverse osmosis water. Reverse osmosis is a process of filtering out pollutants from water to create a purer form. Mr. Dakin who has written several books on maintaining a reef aquarium describes osmosis in his book as “a natural process by which selective molecules in an aqueous solution can be pass through a semi-permeable membrane, while the movement of other molecules due to size, shape or other reasons is restricted” (20). Once water has been allowed to flow through this membrane, purer water can be collected from the output of the filter.
Once enough of this water is collected, the hobbyist can fill the aquarium and begin to plan on his or her next step, the salt content. “Although ocean water tastes like water with table salt (sodium chloride) dissolved in it, it is a lot more complex than that” (Friese 33). Pure sea water contains a vast amount of dissolved chemicals. It contains everything from sodium chloride to trace amounts of silver and gold. Although the inhabitants of a marine reef aquarium are not going to be effected if the water does not contain gold, they will not live long if all that is added is table salt (Friese 33). Marine salt mixes contain a similar collection of elements that are found in natural seawater. There are many different brands of aquarium salt available to the hobbyist, and each one has its own following of people that will swear by its use.
Any brand available will work since it is very unlikely the inhabitants will be able to tell the difference. However, what is more important than the brand of sea salt is the amount that is added to the water. Water in the open ocean contains around 34 parts of dissolved inorganic materials for every 1000 parts of water (Friese 34). This is where the marine reef inhabitants live and thrive. For the hobbyists to have their inhabitants live and thrive, they must strive to keep the water in their tank as close to this as possible. Instead of using a microscope and attempting to count particles, the most accurate way to do this is by using a hydrometer. A hydrometer measures the specific gravity of the water, or how dense the water is.
The higher the concentration of dissolved elements in the water, more commonly referred to as salinity, the denser the water becomes. Salinity will also change with a change in temperature, and most hydrometers are calibrated at a specific temperature. Since this calibrated temperature will most likely be different than the temperature of the water in the tank the hobbyist must read the hydrometer with care. The best way to get an accurate reading is to chill a sample of the aquarium water until it reaches the calibrated temperature of the hydrometer (Friese 35). As awkward as this can be, it will give the hobbyist the most precise reading possible without obtaining $400 plus testing equipment.
Now that the aquarium has been filled with water and a correct amount of salt mix has been added, it is very tempting to add fish. This would be a costly mistake. The aquarium at this point is sterile, and the filtration systems that are connected to the aquarium are only removing debris from the water. Whether the aquarium has one filter or 100 filters connected, all they are doing is cleaning the water. Without the proper bacteria introduced in the tank the inhabitants would quickly die from their own byproducts (Shimek 63).
The easiest way for the hobbyist to introduce bacteria is by adding live rock or live sand. Live rock and live sand are nothing more than rocks and sand from an established aquarium. The bacteria that live in these materials will quickly multiply and spread throughout the new aquarium. This bacteria makes up a biological filter that removes waste byproducts in what is known as the nitrogen cycle. The nitrogen cycle is basically a three-step conversion of harmful products in the tank to products that are somewhat beneficial. The first step in the nitrogen cycle is to convert ammonia in the tank into nitrites. Just as trees and plants ingest carbon dioxide to produce oxygen, animals that consume protein for food produce ammonia as waste products.
Ammonia in a marine reef aquarium is extremely toxic to the inhabitants if they reach levels of .0002 grams per liter of water (Shimek 63). Levels even lower than that will cause stress to the inhabitants, which makes them susceptible to diseases. Some of the bacteria that live within the filter media and throughout the aquarium digest ammonia as food and expel nitrites (Madison 41). Nitrites are not as toxic as ammonia, however they are still toxic to the inhabitants. So the second step in the nitrogen cycle is to get rid of the nitrites. Other bacteria within the aquarium remove nitrites …