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Author: Leslie Tsen (B.S.) Ecology, Evolution & Natural Resources. Wildlife Conservation
The ocean has some of the remarkable sights to behold. From the unique filter-feeding mechanism of a gigantic whaleshark to the harpooning cnidae of diverse coral species for prey-capturing purposes; from the cryptic (camouflaging) nature of many seahorses to the ballooning mechanism of pufferfish for defensive purposes, the underwater world is a vast ecosystem with many extraordinary creatures constantly interacting with one another. While you might not be able to house something as big as a whaleshark in home aquaria and watch it filtering in tons after tons of shrimps and planktons (it is illegal anyway without exclusive permit), mimicking a small part of the ocean right in your living room is perfectly achievable. Imagine waking up into a 8 feet-long reef tank with many stunning fish, anemones, stony corals, and cleaner shrimps, your day will be starting off perfect. Be warned though, for setting up a big marine tank like this requires a lot of dedication and proper planning beforehand, as the routine maintenance can be both costly and tedious depending on the species of organisms that your system is currently housing.
Careful planning and framework drafting are crucial to the success of any projects especially a big one like this as they help to establish a goal-setting protocol throughout the entire project period. Not only will such protocol help you to save time by allowing each stage of the project to be carried out systematically one after another, it also helps to keep track of budgets and monthly expenses without causing you to pay for unnecessary equipments. Here are some of the few aspects that should be considered:
Depth matters. Since nitrifying bacteria requires oxygen to survive, sand depth must be less than 2 inches to allow sufficient oxygen to enter through proper water circulation. Denitrifying bacteria thrive best in anoxic zones, and these can be created by making a deep sand bed of at least 4-6 inches thick.
Grain size matters too. Coarse grains are less compacting thus promotes water circulation; these will be more appropriate to be used if one is to culture aerobic bacteria. Fine grains of less than 1mm have little spaces for water to travel through thus excel in creating anoxic zones; these will be suitable for culturing anaerobic bacteria. Many species of sand-sifter preferred fine grains because they are easy to dig, but fine grains are also very hard to vacuum during maintenance because they mix easily with water. Coarse sands trap detritus very easily, house less bacteria than fine sands (fine grains have more surface area), but can be cleaned easily with just an underwater vacuum.
Live or dry does not matter. Live sands are basically wet sands containing live bacteria. While it might shorten the cycling period, the added cost that comes along might not be worth it. Plus, you will be paying more for less sand since water is quite heavy. Given enough time, dry sands added to a marine tank will eventually become “live”.
**Note: Evaporation affects salinity! To keep track of the rate of evaporation, draw a line at the side of your aquarium to indicate current water level.
Now that you have read through some of the basics and are familiar with the general ideas of how each of these equipments and water parameters comes into play in the overall system, we can proceed to the actual setting up part.
We recommend rinsing your substrates thoroughly with dechlorinated and dechloramined water before pouring them into your tank. If your substrates contain big chunks of coral and rock, be very gentle when pouring them in to avoid cracking your tank. If you planned to put in big pieces of live rocks, be sure to lay down at least a layer of few inches thick fine substrate such as sands to help with distributing the weight. Do note that your live rocks should not be left out of the water for too long. If you have to work on other things, put the live rocks back into a bucket of treated saltwater. Once you are satisfied with the internal hardscape placement, you can proceed to work on the sump tank.
You can imagine a sump being a water processor of some sorts whereby the water coming from the main tank is first aerated, filtered, purified, and then buffered before it gets stored in a reservoir and later pumped back into your main tank. One of the biggest benefits of using a sump tank is that the water in a sump will effectively buffer the main tank above it, thereby maintaining a more stable water quality.
Since our goal is to set up a 8-feet coral reefs aquarium with a maximum capacity of 1350L (8 ft x 2.5 ft x 2.5 ft), we will be needing a really power filter. We recommend using filters with a filtration power of at least 5 to 10 times the size of your aquarium for any types of setup. A hang-on-back filter will usually be sufficient to support your entire system if you are building a smaller size marine aquarium, but since our tank is quite large, we will be using a wet/dry trickle filter with at least a 6750 L/H water pump. For an aquarium of this size, the trickle filter is usually incorporated directly into the sump. We will be layering varying sizes of sponge and filter floss in our filter to trap debris as well as strategically placing bio-balls and bio-rings immediately after them to house nitrifiers.
A wet protein skimmer (submersible) will also be added to sump after the trickle filter to strain out dissolved organic substances through bubbling. The filtration power of your skimmer will depend mostly on the size of your main tank irregardless of your sump’s size. Try to aim for a skimmer that has at least 5 times the size of your main tank. We will be using a calcium reactor to supplement calcium into our reef system. The placement of a calcium reactor does not matter, but you can place it in the sump with all other equipments so that maintenance can all be done at the same spot. The calcium reactor will be connected to a CO2 injector to regulate the amount of calcium released. A nitrite/nitrate reactor will also be installed to rid the water of excess nitrite and nitrate.
You can put in your filter, protein skimmer, heater, calcium reactor, and other reactors. In addition to that, you can also connect your chiller (DO NOT submerge a chiller unless it is submersible) to sump water or simply dose other macro or trace elements here.
Once the sump is set and ready, you can begin to treat water with dechlorinators and salt-mixes. If you took out the live rocks at the beginning, this will be a good time to put them back in. Gently pour the treated water into both your main tank and your sump tank, and then let the water pump runs.
Let your tank cycle for few weeks (preferably a month) so that nitrifiers will have sufficient time to multiply in your bio-media. If you are using probiotic salt-mixes or live rocks and live sands occupied with bacteria, cycling period can be cut down by half. However, be sure to test your water parameter with a reliable MARINE water test kit to measure nitrite and ammonia level especially.
Turn on the skimmer when you are cycling to prevent nitrate and phosphate from building up, and do NOT introduce light until later to prevent algae growth. Calcium and other types of nutrients do not have to be dosed until you have introduced live animals such as fish and coral, so these reactors do not need to be turned on during cycling. After you are done with cycling, other equipments such as lighting, wavemaker, cooling fan, and thermometer can then be introduced.
We recommend adding fish progressively (in small quantity) over the course of several months starting from some of the hardiest species. Sensitive corals such as various types of SPS should ideally be added last when the water has fully aged and its parameters stabilized. Be sure to use the correct type of lighting with the appropriate intensity when housing corals and anemones.
Disclaimer: This article contains materials referred from published scientific journals and is strictly meant for educational purposes only. It must NOT be substituted for any forms of medical care, treatment, and consultation from veterinarians, aquatic experts or other licensed professionals. NO compensation shall be reimbursed by Harvest Fish & Pet for the direct or indirect loss, damage, injury, or death of both living (user included) and non-living beings caused by the application of information from this article either in full or in part.