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Before Investing In A Saltwater Aquarium Know The Basics

Chickie Maxwell

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Saltwater aquariums can be beautiful additions to any home. There are many colorful fish choices, as well as plant and coral options. These setups take a bit more work than freshwater aquariums. They can also be more costly. Before deciding if a saltwater aquarium setup is something to invest in, be sure you know the basics of requirements and maintenance.


Saltwater tanks should be at least 50 gallons to start with. Saltwater fish need about three gallons of water per inch of fish. As an added plus, larger tanks allow more room for error. This is good for beginner’s who are likely to make mistakes. A stand is also necessary to keep the tank off the floor and away from dust.

Nitrate Filtration

Fish produce toxic waste, which can then produce the deadly toxins ammonia and nitrate. Biological filtration systems are a must for saltwater aquariums to process the toxic waste. Many beginners make the mistake of introducing too many fish into a tank before the nitrate cycle has been established. This cycle stabilizes the water and ensures proper filtration for a tank full of fish. Cycling can take four to six weeks.

Type of Tank

The best tank for beginners is a fish-only setup. This setup includes only fish and other saltwater invertebrates. Live rock in addition to fish is a common setup, but becomes more complicated. Reef tanks are the most desired type for many enthusiasts. These have big, live corals along with fish and invertebrates. These systems are the ones that are notorious for their difficulty.


A saltwater aquarium contains high amounts of saline in the water. This salinity must be maintained with consistent monitoring. A hydrometer is necessary for measuring the saline content of the water. Large fluctuations in salinity are damaging to the fish. Commercial salt is available for use with saltwater aquariums. Common table salt cannot be used.


Natural reefs maintain a temperature of between 72 and 79 degrees. The temp in a home aquarium should be kept within this range and remain as consistent as possible. The water will need to be warmed using an aquarium heater. These are submersion heaters that temperature controls that can be adjusted. Larger tanks need a heater with a higher wattage. A good rule of thumb is five watts for every gallon of water in the tank.


Tanks that contain only fish do not require any special lighting, although most people include some lighting for viewing. Saltwater tanks that have live rock or reefs need to have lighting with proper spectrum and strength. Without the proper lighting, the system will die. Lighting should be provided for 10 or 12 hours every day.

Compatibility and Ecosystem

One of the attractions of a saltwater aquarium is that it is a small ecosystem, where all components work together and balance each other. The fish and invertebrates must be compatible, as with any tank environment. Some fish are more aggressive, and may bully or even eat other tank mates. It is the owner's responsibility to ensure all elements of the ecosystem are in harmony.

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