Setting up a saltwater aquarium

Well the last few weeks have been occupied with setting up a saltwater aquarium.  Sarah promised Ella a fish if she would stop sucking her thumb.  Sarah thought it would be a simple Beta fish, small, easy to take care of.  But Ella showed me a clownfish, no doubt due to Finding Nemo.  Saltwater are significantly harder to setup and maintain than a simple beta fish, but I have a tendency to overdue things.

I had a few freshwater aquariums growing up, so I have some sense of taking care of fish.  But saltwater is much more complex because of the water chemistry.  I jumped in and researched it like crazy like usual.  Luckily over the past decade these things have become much easier.  I found a cool, small (29 gallons) self contained unit that looked perfect.  It wasn't too expensive and things were looking good, so I ordered the tank to get started.

Once it came, I started to get it setup and then things got a lot more complicated.  You see, the naturally occurring bacteria in a tank is essential to breaking down the toxic ammonia into non toxic nitrates for fish to live in there.  To get those bacteria and facilitate that natural process, you need to get special rock straight from the ocean.  Ours came straight in from Fiji, and shipped in a cooler slightly wet 2 day air so that the living things in the rock would setup shop in our aquarium.  That cost more than the stinking tank.  Then you need to do a similar thing with the sand in the tank, which is also pretty pricey.  Through in some small tools that are essential, salt mix, a stand, etc., and suddenly we spent a whole bunch of cash.

Then I got everything setup and filled it with water, the kids were really excited.  These things take time though, you have to wait for those bacterias mentioned above to establish themselves.  So, there is a bunch of dead stuff on the rock that turns into nasty ammonia.  This isn't so bad because it spurs those bacteria to start growing.  The ammonia gets turned into nitrites (believed to also be bad for fish), and then more bacteria turns that into good nitrate.  Nitrate is ok for fish, but not corals, not a big deal right now as we were only planning on fish.  The next day, I tested the water and it seemed ok, this was hard to believe, but I thought this rock must be really good.

Ella happened to bring home a good report card, so we went out and bought her a fish as a reward.  We felt bad for Max, so he got one for good behavior as well.  I got home and started to acclimate them to the new tank water.  I decided to test the water one more time just to be sure, and sure enough the ammonia levels were really high again.  It would have been like putting them in a gas chamber.  By the time I did this, it was almost 10 at night, so I was kind of stuck not sure what to do.  I quickly mixed up some water in a bucket and put the fish in a gallon of water in a big bucket for the night.  The next day I had to buy a small 6 gallon tank for them to live in for awhile (the big tank could take up to 4 weeks to fully cycle and be ready for fish).  I got the small quarantine tank setup and moved the fish in.  Ammonia was not a problem in the new tank because there was nothing alive (rock or sand) to die and give off bad stuff, so it was a pretty sterile environment.

The new fish living in their temporary bucket
2nd temp home.  The white fish is Max's, he named him Captain Rex, and the purple and yellow one is Ella's, named Selina
Since then, the bigger tank seems to have finished its cycle and was ready for the fish.  So we moved them in last night and we will see how this goes.  I also put in a couple of tiny zebra hermit crabs to eat the algae and garbage.

Ella has to go just about another week without sucking her thumb to earn the clownfish.  We will get a couple of those and a shrimp to clean the fish on a regular basis and it will be good to go.  If it turns out that the water conditions are pretty stable I might eventually add an anemone for the clownfish and a couple of small corals.


Anonymous said...

Things always have a habit of costing more than originally thought. It looks great though.

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