A saltwater aquarium is one of those things that most people would have a hard time to say no to if it was something that didn’t require any maintenance. Even seasoned aquarists who have kept freshwater tanks for years shudder at the idea of a saltwater or reef aquarium as they feel it is infinitely more complicated to maintain. While it is not as easy as keeping a freshwater aquarium, it is not as difficult as people often make it out to be.
If you are just starting out or already own a saltwater or reef aquarium, then what you need is to know the step-list of cleaning and maintaining such an aquarium so you can see just how accessible it is. It does take a bit of work but at the end of the day, it is all well worth it.
Establish a routine
This is the part that people probably associate with all the assumed complexities of saltwater aquariums. There is a lot going on in a saltwater or reef aquarium and everything has to stay in proper balance for everything to stay alive and thrive. This might seem like a big deal but if you set and follow a routine, it is not that difficult. It is like owning a car. You have to remember to add fuel every once in a while, do some regular checks and take it for regular maintenance. The routine for a saltwater aquarium is even simpler, just that it has to be followed diligently. The routine can be broken down as follows
- Daily stuff
- Weekly stuff
- Monthly stuff
- Half-yearly stuff
Let us look at each of them in detail.
These are the little things you have to do every day to ensure that your aquarium is healthy and that its inhabitants are living a trouble-free life. A lot of problems arise in saltwater or reef tanks because the symptoms of trouble are not identified on time. Don’t worry though as this does not involve any rocket science. All you have to do is take a careful look at the tank and all its inhabitants and look out for anything out of the normal. This could be fish behaving erratically, corals losing color and getting bleached, etc. If you see anything out of the ordinary then investigate it immediately before it turns into a serious issue. More often than not, it can be fixed quite easily. Apart from this, feed your fish every day and check that all the equipment attached to the tank is operating properly. You should also equip your aquarium with a thermometer and check that every day to ensure the temperature is within the safe range for your tank.
This is where things get a bit more serious. You will need to have a testing kit with you so you can check out the levels of various chemical components in the aquarium. This is something that is especially important if you own a reef tank. Stuff in these tanks tend to be delicate and irrespective of whether you love testing or hate it, you have to test the water diligently. There is no way around it. The good thing is that with testing kits readily available for everything, the entire process can be over in a matter of minutes. So, what are the things that need to be tested I hear you asking? Here is everything you need to test.
- Testing pH: pH plays a very important role in a saltwater aquarium. The salts added to the aquarium water increases pH and makes the water alkaline which is how it should be but over time through natural processes that occur in the aquarium, the pH decreases and this can be harmful especially if you have corals in the aquarium. pH testing strips are available and you have to ensure that the pH stays between 8.2 and 8.4. If it is high or low then a water change with appropriately prepared water should fix it.
- Testing Calcium: This is another very important chemical component of a saltwater aquarium and is an important part of keeping the corals happy. Calcium needs to be tested every week and it has to be replenished accordingly. When corals grow, they use up the calcium and that is why regular testing is necessary. Keep in mind that replenishing Calcium will affect the pH. All the testing should be done at the same time so you can get a fair idea of what you have to do.
- Testing Ammonia and Nitrite: These are chemicals that build up if the bioload suddenly increases or something dies and is rotting away. These chemicals should not be present at all and if they are present it means that the nitrogen cycle is disrupted or something is majorly wrong and needs to be fixed immediately. Check for a malfunctioning filter or a dead fish and you might have to rehouse the fishes somewhere else temporarily until the nitrogen cycle is back on track if it gets too high. Usually, this never happens in a tank unless a lot of fish are added at the same time.
- Testing Nitrates: Nitrates can be present but in low quantities. It is the end product of the biological filtration via the nitrogen cycle. Too much nitrates mean that the biological filtration has reached its max and the water needs to be changed. Anything above 25 mg/l should be remedied immediately.
- Testing Phosphate: This is an optional test and only needs to be done if there are corals. Phosphates are a by-product of metabolism and don’t affect the fishes but the corals can have difficulty getting established and thriving if too much of phosphates is present. The exact safe value depends on the type of corals you have.
- Water change: This is something you will have to do once every two weeks and the water change should be roughly around the 10% mark. This is very important as too much water change can disrupt the water chemistry drastically. If it is a small tank then the water change needs to happen every week. It is also important to follow the water change schedule ardently. It goes without saying that the water used for the water change should be prepared in advance and correctly.
This is where things get a bit more in-depth. Apart from everything we have already mentioned you will have to do a bit more. The first thing you need to do is clean out the filter media. This might not be the most attractive thing to do and possibly why many people tend to shirk on this but it is absolutely vital. Make sure to have plenty of paper towels and rags around so your sink does not get very messy. Do basic maintenance on the protein skimmer. Clean the aquarium cover as there will be a build-up of salt and other residues. If you use carbon filtration then replace the activated carbon once every two months.
This is like spring cleaning for the aquarium. This is where you take out all the equipment and clean everything to avoid the build-up of salt residue and coralline algae in it. White vinegar is your best friend here. Take out all the equipment that is submerged under the water and soak it in white vinegar. The soaking period will depend on the amount of residue on it. After it is all cleaned up, thoroughly wash away the vinegar by rinsing it all with water repeatedly. Another thing to do, checking the lighting system to make sure everything is working fine. Lights are an integral part of a healthy reef aquarium and it is imperative that they are providing enough light. Replace anything that needs replacing.
I will admit that all of this seems like a lot of work but if you consider the timeframe then it is not that big of a deal. Think of it this way. Everything mentioned above is distributed over six months which means that the day to day effort required is minimal. When you consider the outcome of all this – a healthy and simply awesome aquarium, it is well worth it.