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Marine aquarium  - a new trend in aquarium keeping hobby?

(I.M.M.Christopher, Aquatic biologist, Kingdom of Bahrain)


It is passionate and amazing to note that it keeps the hobbyists as crazy over it as with its simple nature of attraction; its colour patterns, elegant swimming styles, hi-tech body shapes, and admirable behaviors remain distinguishing features over freshwater fish.


You may think that the marine aquarium is a difficult story to talk about.  We can just have a look over why people hesitate to go for a marine aquarium. You may have the following queries:


  1. Is it expensive?
  2. How do I get the salt water ready?
  3. Where can I buy my fishes?
  4. Are there a lot of accessories required for this set-up?
  5. How to maintain its optimal water chemistry the same as its origin?
  6. What about the maintenance procedures?
  7. Which kind of fish can I keep together?
  8. What kind of food can I give to my fish?
  9. How can I identify the diseases and treat them?


Apart from these questions, there are some secrets mingled with this hobby.  You may get the right answers in this article.


But, keeping a marine aquarium is no longer like dreams.  There is an opportunity to make your dreams come true with the initial investment of few hundred dollers. You only need to spend one hour of your week-end time and a coffee sipping time everyday.


Generally, the marine aquarium is divided into two basic types;


  • coral reef tank (vertebrates and invertebrates); and
  • Only the fish (vertebrates) tank.


In the starting stage, it is advisable to go for a fish tank set-up rather than going for a coral reef aquarium. Because, the reef tank set-up needs more specific water quality parameters, and if there is any sudden change in these parameters, it will cause adverse results to your aquarium. You can build-up your own reef tank with live corals, anemones, other invertebrates like star fish , shrimps, clams, and specific fish varieties like, clown fish, damsels, wrasses, clown tang, yellow tang, Pigmy angels , mandarin, dotty backs, etc.

You can keep the remaining fish varieties like, Butterflies, angels, tangs, Lionfish, Triggers, eels, box fish, cow fish, etc., together, but you should keep in mind that the selection of species should be relevant to their size and their aggressive nature. When you are selecting a fish, fish like lion fish, triggers, groupers, eels, etc are very carnivore in nature towards small fish.  Hence, it is viable to keep them with their equal size or slightly bigger size fish.


Getting started-up with your own aquarium:


The Marine aquarium is relatively expensive when it is compared to a fresh water aquarium.  The water holding capacity of the aquarium should be of minimum 50 US gallons or 200 liters.  And, suitable light source is essential to illuminate and enhance the natural colour perfection of the fish and coral. Generally, metal halide light is recommended for sea water fish, though it is expensive; there are ready-made aquarium tube lights available especially for sea water aquariums. The selection of site is more important to place the tank particularly it should be kept away from direct sunlight, vibrations and other undesirable disturbances.  Because, sea water fish are more sensitive, and they can easily get stressed by any adverse changes or shocks in its surrounding area.


The most important factor is temperature.  The temperature should be maintained at the range of 24-28oC.  It is preferred to get right optimal temperature air-conditioned rooms or you may have to fix an automatic aquarium chiller through your external filter outlet way. The chiller, which is used for commercial purpose should not be used as it may contain copper and, kill all your fish anytime.


Filtration system, the heart of marine aquarium:


Filtration system is the heart of any marine aquarium.  There are many choices in the filters which may change according to the size of the aquarium, fish varieties, and stocking density of the fish etc. The under gravel filter with power head is essential and it is the basic step for any size of the aquarium.  It may be enhanced by some internal power filter systems as well. The sea water should always be clear and free from any undesirable compounds which can be achieved by continuous flow through filtration system.


For small aquariums up to 400 liters capacity, an external canister filter with a small UV(Ultra violet sterilizer) unit is recommended. More than 400 liters, it is viable to go for a trickle filter which may consist of bio-balls, ceramic media and protein skimmer with UV unit. In case of big public aquaria exhibits sand filters with ozonizers, calcium reactors, are also unenviable. Protein skimmer is working under the principle of foam farming nature, where the sea water has to pass through a pump where it is designed to make foam; through this foam, the nitrogenous compounds, foreign matters and biological wastes are dragged out and will be collected in a chamber for disposal. The professional aquarium keepers will not encourage aeration bubbles in the marine aquarium rather than going for a strong water circulation-cum-filtration system.


Setting-up of marine aquarium:


Aquarium setting is a kind of art with scientific application. It needs creativity with imagination of your choice; the final outcome will be a beautiful aquarium. It is important to choose the right place and it should be comfy with your living environment with natural setting touch-up.

Fig:1 Pleasant natural view a gift of reef aquarium tank


Ten easy steps to set up your aquarium:


  1. Place the tank at the selected location with decorated base covering.
  2. Place the under gravel filter.
  3. Fill with coral gravel at least 3 inch height.
  4. Fix the coral and rocks decorations.
  5. Place power heads and internal filters.
  6. Fix the external life support systems.
  7. Fill with clean fresh water and make up by artificial salt(recommended aquarium salt) to get your required specific gravity(SG 1.019- 1.023).
  8. Fix hood, light units (special colour enhancing luminaries) and all external     decorations.
  9. Start the system and tune all the equipment at required level.
  10. Add water conditioning additives and bacterial enzymes for initial maturation of aquarium water.


It is not advisable to put all the fish in the initial stage; firstly, you have to wait for nitrogen cycle to get completed.  The nitrite and nitrate levels will go at the peak levels on first few days and again it will get descent and take 15-30 days to complete the cycle. The best practice of getting matured system is the introduction of a few small blue damsel fish in first few days as they are strong enough to withstand high nitrite levels and also act as introduction of beneficial bacteria like Nitrosomonas Sp., and Nitrobacter Sp., from its digestive system. Adding small quantity of used gravel from another aquarium is also an added advantage for quick maturation process of water. Gradual addition of fish and regular water chemistry checking will keep your aquarium fresh year around.


Water quality parameter maintenance:


The water quality parameter like pH, Salinity, Nitrite and temperature should be maintained at right levels. Following parameters should be maintained in the aquarium with regular replenishing of additives and frequent water exchanges.


Ph                                   - 8.0-8.5

Specific gravity (SG)     - 1.019-1.023

Ammonia                        - 00.00 ppm*

Nitrite                             - 00.00 ppm

Nitrate                             - 20.00 ppm

Phosphate                        - 01.00 ppm

Copper                            - 02.00 ppm

Temperature                    -24-28oC

(* ppm-parts per million)



Maintenance check-list:


Daily check:

       Feed once a day at regular intervals and make sure that there is no excess food and if remains siphon out the excess food.

       Keep an eye on your water temperature and maintain optimal temperature.

       Observe fish behaviour and its health in order to control any disease outbreak or sudden death of animal at its starting stage.


Weekly check:

       Clean the algae grown on the glass surfaces.

       Check for specific gravity and as a result of evaporation there may be an increase in salt content, hence top up the same level by adding fresh water.

       Do pH test and make sure that the pH is above 8.0; otherwise, add calcium carbonate buffer to increase the pH to >8.0.

       Check for nitrite and nitrate, if the levels are high, do partial water exchange (10-15%).

       Check for phosphate, if the level (>1.00ppm) is high, do partial water exchange.

       Replenish your system with trace elements, and all other additives as prescribed by your aquarist.


Fortnight check:

       Remove internal power filters and clean cartridges.

       Check all electrical items and make sure about connections.


Monthly check:

       Do partial water exchange (10-15%) by rake through coral sand substrate and  top up again by required amount of salt and clean fresh water ( 1 kg salt for 30 liter of water).

       Remove protein skimmer and clean internal surfaces.



Once in three months check:

       Clean external canister filter in salt water and replace the carbon.



Once in six months check:

       Replace ultraviolet sterilizer tube lights.

       Renew tube light bulbs if necessary.



Feed management for marine aquaria:


Though marine fish may accept a wide range of feeds, it is very important to concentrate on protein contained food. Because, these fish require more protein (40-50% dry wt basis) while comparing the fresh water counterparts. Even though, it is merely like a species specific; For eg, tang varieties like Sail fin tang, purple tang, clown tang, yellow tang, lip tick tang, etc., need algae, lettuce and artemia etc; For angel varieties, you may offer small shrimps, krill, artemia, blood worms etc.  The blood worms, chopped clams are suitable for damsels and clown fish.  Butterflies are difficult to feed in the starting stage because of their selective feeding nature; but, for the time being, it starts taking artemia, and blood worms, etc. Alternatively, marine pellet feeds can also be offered for some tangs and angel varieties, but you may feed these food varieties on alternative days.  For lion fish and triggers, they need small whole fish or frozen pealed shrimps.  You may buy fresh foods and dip it in hot fresh water for few seconds and store it in a freezer for regular feeding practice.


Quarantine and disease treatment:


It is necessary to have a quarantine aquarium for every display aquarium. When you buy fish, keep them in a quarantine tank and watch them for their health and study about their feeding habits. After two weeks, if it is looking healthy, you can transfer it in to your main display aquarium.


Generally, the more often talked about are white spot which is a parasitic and more endemic disease caused by the organism Cryptocaryon irritans in salt water.  But, this parasite has a simple life style; its free swimming larvae must find a host within 48 hrs of hatching before they die. Once they get the host, they penetrate the skin and feed on the body fluids.  The symptom appears on the body by its tiny white colour spots with eye cloudiness.



There are many commercial remedies available, but copper-based medication is effective. The external filter system should be switched off prior to this treatment. In general, maintaining good water quality, nutritionally balanced diet and introduction of healthy fish in the system will give you a disease free aquarium.


Conservation of marine environment and coral reef eco-system:


Before thinking about the marine aquarium, we must think about the coral reef protection and their conservation.  Harvesting live corals is not a healthy practice and live corals can be substituted by colourful artificial corals (fig-2), which look same like natural habitat in the aquarium display.

The artificial corals are made up of special compounds which will not leach out any chemical substances in water; hence, it maintains natural water quality parameters. Preservation of natural habitats and secular bio-conservation is very important to ensure these endangering species for the future generations.


In India, the marine aquarium is still not popular and there are very rare suppliers of marine aquarium accessories; but, in future, there is no doubt that this industry will boom enough to fulfill the budding hobbyist's dreams. Marine aquarium needs more care and is expensive, but not more than your high-tech television;


You will get peace of mind by maintaining a marine aquarium and you can reduce your business tensions.  Above all, it will make you more literate about science by learning this wonderful hobby.