Bringing the wild into our homes is never an easy task, especially when it comes to aquatic life. And no environment is more particular, and difficult to maintain, than the marine/salt-water aquarium.
Everything from which light source you choose, to aquarium size, the choice between real or synthetic salt water, as well as which specimens of invertebrates are compatible with each other are just some of the questions that need to answered, well before you purchase any equipment.
Without meticulous care, most salt-water species will not survive beyond a few weeks. As such, there are some species that still won’t make it – such as the Shrimp or Razorfish, Bandit or Multi-barned Angelfish, Lined and Ornate Butterflyfish, Long-nosed Filefish and the Blue Ribbon Eel.
There are, however, more hearty specimens that will live quite well in captivity, providing all of their special needs are met. They include the Carnation corals, which require lost of feedings; an Octopus requires a highly specialised tank to prevent escape; and Jellyfish need to round tank with good water flow to them moving (they have little self-propulsion capability).
Compatibility is dependant, largely, upon tank size. The smaller the tank and/or habitat space, the greater the chance for aggression.
When introducing new specimens, closely observe the tank for two to three days following the addition to see if any problems arise. If fighting occurs, the tank’s newcomer must be removed.
The following are some examples of incompatible species, according to Dr. Adrian Lawler, author of the Operational Manual for the J.L. Scott Marine Education Center and Aquarium in Mississippi.
- Puffers nip many species, including other puffers, spiny box fish, hogchokers, flounder, seahorses and other slower moving animals
- Pinfish and Sheepshead fight amongst themselves and pick on smaller fish
- Pigfish fight each other and sometimes pick on other species
- Seahorses and Pipefish can’t compete with the more active fish for live food
- Spadefish can pick on, and potentially kill, stingrays, hogchokers and flounders
- Gags will kill other gags and try to eat new/smaller introductions
- Bullminnows will attacks smaller fish, pick on hogchokers and small flounders
- Male tilapia, once mature, will chase and kill other fish in the tank and make nests/holes in the substrate
- Cocoa damsels are territorial and will pick on most new species added to its tank
- If there are two male snapping turtles in the same tank, the larger one will pick on the smaller one
The type of lighting you choose is dependant on the type of organisms houses in the tank.
A reef tank consisting primarily of mushroom anemones and soft corals may do all right with very high output (VHO) fluorescents, but compact fluorescent (CF) or metal halide (MH) lighting is preferred, according to Frank Greco, author of Frank’s Aquarium.
If you plan to keep mostly stony corals, especially small polyped stony corals like Acroporas or Stylophoras, CF or MH are best – both will help maintain the intense coral colours.
If you just want to view the inhabitants, then normal fluorescent lighting will suffice.
The photoperiod, or the recurring cycle of light and dark periods, needs to only be about 8-10 hours. More than that and you run the risk of creating algae at the tank’s bottom and/or stressing the corals due to too much light. Too little photoperiod and corals may not get enough nutrients via the UV. The easiest way to regulate the tank’s photoperiod is to put the lights on a timer.
Over time, bulbs dim. As such, corals become accustom to the lower intensity light. When changing the bulbs, the tank inhabitants are blasted with high radiation and visible light, which is the primary cause of ‘coral burn’, in particular when using MH lighting. To avoid this, when installing new bulbs, raise the fixture over the tank. During the next 1-2 weeks, slowly lower the fixture back to its original location. This gives the corals a chance to adjust to the new light.
If raised lighting is not possible, place a sheet of glass or UV blocking acrylic between the bulbs and corals.
Feeding corals planktonic food is ideal, however, when too much is fed, an algae outbreak can occur. If the tank has a large protein skimmer, it has the ability to pull so much waste out of the water, the addition of plankton food to the tank is inconsequential. In fact, according to Jason Kim, founder of Aqua C, “adding this extra food to the tank might even benefit the overall health of the tank, especially the vitality of your soft corals.”
However, if the tank is without a skimmer, or has one that is not 100 per cent efficient, add food slowly and monitor the water quality to see how far you can push the limits without creating extra algae growth.
Aquariums are to be admired and not for little hands to be dunked into. Let children admire and learn about the tank’s inhabitants, but do not allow them to tap the glass, touch the lights or any of the other controls (such as the heater). As well, keep the food out of the child’s reach. Over-feeding can cause death in many of the species.
Anytime you handle the equipment or put your hand in the tank, thoroughly wash your hands, as fish and tanks have many of the same bacteria and pathogens as dogs and cats. Before putting your hand in the tank, also wash. But do not use soap or hand cream – they can all harm the inhabitants.