saltwater aquarium is one of few places on earth captivate our senses as do coral reefs, the “rainforests” of the sea. In the last few decades keeping colorful reef fish and invertebrates in aquariums has become possible for home hobbyists. New technologies and techniques make it easier than ever before to re-create a reef ecosystem in miniature in your living room or den.
But before you decide to embrace the saltwater aquarium hobby, you should give some serious thought to the undertaking.
A saltwater aquarium requires investing a considerable amount of time and money as well as making the effort to learn about marine organisms and their biology.
If you hope to achieve a deep sense of accomplishment watching the ocean’s denizens behave in your den as they behave on an authentic reef, considering these factors first is a must.
Just as getting a dog or a cat will change your daily routine, getting a saltwater aquarium will alter your life.
For example, you’ll need to make arrangements for care while you are away.
Depending on the length of your stay, this can range from asking a friend to come in and feed the fish to hiring a professional maintenance service to cover an extended trip.
On the other hand, fish don’t need to be taken out for a walk, paper trained, or taken to the vet for shots.
They don’t bark at night or dig in your neighbor’s flower beds.
Some fish will learn to recognize your approach at feeding time, but they won’t bounce around joyfully, obviously thrilled that you’re home from work.
Watching an aquarium can soothe jangled nervesand provide a sense of accomplishment not unlike that artists feel toward their creations, but if you are looking for companionship, you won’t find it in an aquarium.
I mention time commitment first because neglecting maintenance chores inevitably leads to problems.
As a former aquarium store owner, I was called upon repeatedly for help in rescuing a saltwater aquarium tank from crisis. Almost invariably, the root cause of the difficulty was neglect.
When water conditions deteriorate, so does the health of the tank’s inhabitants.
Water conditions usually do not decline precipitously overnight, nor are they due to being a couple of days late on a scheduled water change.
Rather, small episodes of neglect or oversight lead to gradually declining water quality.
Problems literally accumulate over time, until the fish become stressed in trying to cope physiologically.
Then, bang! A weakened fish develops a parasite infestation. Within days, every fish in the tank is affected.
saltwater aquarium health
To keep your saltwater aquarium inhabitants healthy and happy, saltwater aquariums require regular and consistent maintenance.
The time required to maintain your aquarium depends on the size of the tank.
For example, if you have a 30-gallon tank, you’ll need about an hour each week to perform routine maintenance, which includes testing and recording water conditions, feeding, cleaning algae off the glass, cleaning the exterior surfaces of the aquarium and its cabinet, and carrying out safety and performance checks on the equipment.
In addition to weekly maintenance, about once a month, you need about 4 hours to remove some water and replace it with freshly prepared synthetic seawater.
The time for weekly maintenance plus the monthly major water change equals a full workday. A larger tank will require more time.
If you plan to make this an important family project, the family should decide if that much leisure time can be spared from other obligations.
If you and your family can manage a regular schedule of feeding and maintenance, an aquarium may be just the project you’re looking for.
Ask yourself, “Can we commit the time”
Average Time Commitments
Following are the time commitments you need to make for small-, medium-, and large-size aquariums :
- For a 30-gallon tank, plan to spend 4 hours for weekly maintenance and 4 hours for monthly maintenance.
- For a 75-gallon tank, plan to spend 6 hours for weekly maintenance and 6 hours for monthly maintenance.
- For a 150-gallon tank, plan to spend 8 hours for weekly maintenance and 8 hours for monthly maintenance.
for this, and will we keep that commitment in the future?” If you answer yes, you greatly improve your odds of success.
With proper care, an established aquarium can provide enjoyment for many years.
Some saltwater aquarium fish can live to be 20 years old, spending their entire adult lives in the confines of a tank. Others have natural life spans much shorter than this.
Invertebrates, too, vary in longevity from a year or two in the case of some small shrimps, to virtual immortality in the case of a coral colony.
You may replace several fish or other animals over the course of time, but the aquarium system itself can be perpetuated indefinitely when required maintenance is carried out on a timely schedule.
I have actually had saltwater aquarium owners complain to me that the cost of synthetic seawater prohibited them from carrying out a proper schedule of water changes.
These individuals fail to take into account that the cost of replacing a tank of fish due to unhealthy water conditions greatly outweighs the cost of making water changes.
As with any other aspect of life, there are both wise and foolish ways to save money (or spend it, for that matter) on a saltwater aquarium. Let’s consider some of the wise ways.
Initially, you can expect to spend around $1,000 for a basic saltwater aquarium that will look
good, function properly, and enhance your living space. Larger, fancier systems cost considerably
more. Consider the differences in initial cost between a 30-gallon basic saltwater aquarium
system and a 75-gallon minireef system (see the following two tables).
basic saltwater system
The basic saltwater system would be a great choice if your primary goal is entertaining and inspiring the kids.
Clownfish, for example, can live to be over 10 years old, and a single specimen could spend its entire life in your aquarium, along with a few hardy, interesting invertebrates.
However, although clownfish make great pets, an aquarium intended to enhance the look of your living room or den needs to be larger than 30 gallons.
The 75-gallon minireef system is large enough to provide a healthy environment for a variety of colorful and interesting sea life but is small enough to be manageable in an average home, both in terms of space and available time.
saltwater system Recurring Expenses
Certain items in your aquarium will require regular replacement.
Recurring costs such as these can eventually add up to a greater expenditure than the aquarium itself.
I’ve listed in the following tables items you’ll regularly need to replace each year so you can get an idea of the yearly costs you’ll face with your aquarium.
70 gallon saltwater aquarium system yearly upkeep costs
If you’re considering a larger system, keep in mind that you’ll also have more to replace (for instance, the bigger the tank, the more seawater mix you’ll need).
You can get an idea of the yearly costs from the following table.
aquarium reef2reef Environmental Considerations
The majority of coral reef organisms seen in aquarium shops are collected from wild reefs, and when done appropriately, such collecting appears to have little impact on the reef community.
In fact, aquarium harvesting likely does less damage than food fisheries do because a small amount of multiple species of fish are harvested as opposed to harvesting a large number of a single species.
However, although it may have more of an impact on your wallet to purchase environmentally friendly items for your aquarium, you should keep the following environmental considerations in mind when deciding what to include in your aquarium:
Live rock : Removing pieces of the reef2reef structure itself has obvious implications.
The amount of live rock harvested for the aquarium trade remains quite small in comparison to, say, the damage sustained by the reef during a hurricane.
Nevertheless, many areas that formerly supplied live rock now prohibit its collection, and live rock “farms” have been created as a result. Buying live rock from farms has less environmental impact and usually costs no more than traditionally harvested rock.
aquarium Poisons :
The use of poisons, particularly sodium cyanide, to stun fish and make them easier to collect affects not only the coral reef environment, but also the health of the collector and the survivability of the fish collected. Cyanide also damages many other organisms besides the targeted fish, and the long-term impact of this on the reef2reef could be significant.
Bottom line: Avoid buying fish that may have been collected with cyanide. I will discuss how to do this in chapter 6. Buying marine fish that have not been collected with cyanide discourages this deplorable, destructive practice, although the same fish may cost twice as much.
reef Invertebrates :
For a truly natural-appearing aquarium habitat, invertebrates generally form part of the living community.
Many more invertebrates come from wild reefs than from hatcheries, and in most cases, the impact of their removal is small.
This alone has made the invertebrate tank attractive to many.
Further, unlike the vast majority of marine fish, captive invertebrates often reproduce themselves, leading to a dynamic, naturalistic aquarium as unique as a work of art.
The pros and cons of “reef2reef” aquariums (those emphasizing a variety of invertebrates) and “fish-only” aquariums (emphasizing fish, with invertebrates as a secondary, utilitarian component).
Buying captive-propagated invertebrates is often less expensive than purchasing the same species harvested from the sea.
Anyone contemplating a saltwater aquarium should be sensitive to the potential for environmental damage from unsustainable collecting of wild fish and invertebrates. Rest easy, though.
You can avoid contributing to the problems by gaining a little understanding, using common sense, and enduring a little extra trouble and expense for the sake of the environment, saltwater aquarium.