So, you’ve decided to start your own nano reef? As keeping a nano reef tends to be a bit more difficult compared to a larger reef tank, let’s see first how to start a saltwater aquarium in general.
This article is a part of The Nano Reef Blueprint, if you’re interested to know more? Check it out, by clicking here.
The basic steps to start a saltwater aquarium
1. I cannot stress this enough, but find as much information as you can on keeping a reef/saltwater aquarium before you start. It will save you a lot of troubles later. So I’m glad you’re reading this to begin with! These steps will get you a long way, but if you need more guidance an a very detailed description, feel free to check out The (Nano) Reef Blueprint.
2. Decide where you will put your tank so you can determine the size and what specific tank you want to buy. Things to take into account: Will it be a saltwater tank with fish and corals? Fish only? What saltwater fish are you planning to keep?
3. Once you’ve decided and hooked up all the equipment, do a test run with freshwater at the right water level to be sure everything works as it should work and to check if there are no leaks.
4. Make your saltwater with a good quality salt and RO (Reversed Osmose) or DI (Deionized) water. You can also purchase your water from your LFS (Local Fish Store) or use water straight from the ocean. (Make sure if this is allowed in the region where you live first.) Check the salinity level with a seawater refractometer so you’re sure it’s 35ppt.
5. Decide if you will work with live rock or an alternative like Real Reef rock and purchase according to the 10% rule. This means if your tank’s volume is 100 liters, 10kg of live rock is a good amount. If you don’t know how to convert from liter to gallon, try this. 🙂
6. Add the saltwater (Make sure the water temperature is around 25-26°C or 77-78°F first) to the tank. If you use Real Reef rock or another dry alternative, you can switch step 6 and 7.
7. Add the live rock and start aquascaping. Make sure everything is nice and stable. Provide enough hiding spaces, enough room for corals and make sure the flow of water can reach all places as you do not want detritus and dirt to pile up in places where the flow isn’t flushing it away.
8. Let nature work its magic with the cycling process for the next 6 to 8 weeks. This is also known as “the startup cycle” or “the nitrogen cycle” which basically means you sit back and allow bacteria to populate the tank so they can act as a natural filter (together with any protein skimmers) later on. As it is not the most healthy place for coral or fish to live in, do not add anything yet. You can also speed up this process by adding Start Up bacterial strains.
9. Now and then during the startup cycle, you could put some extra flow on the rocks to get extra dirt out coming from the rocks. The skimmer will take care of the job to suck this dirt out. When most of the dirt is out, you could add the sand. Live sand or “dead” sand are 2 different options here.
10. Build up the lighting slowly , do not put the lights on 100% yet, but start for example at 20% and every week you add 10%. In this way, you can avoid excessive algae growth. If you are working with Real Reef rock, it is not even necessary to put on any lights until after the startup cycle. The reason why you do it with live rock, is to keep alive any light needing hitchhikers that may or not come with the live rock.
11. 6 to 8 weeks after the startup cycle, it is time to put in a cleanup crew. This mostly consists of hermit crabs, snails or other algae eating critters that, as the name suggest, will clean up your tank and get rid of most of the algae that has grown during the startup cycle.
12. A couple of weeks later it is time to put in your first beginner corals and fish and slowly find the right balance. Remember, build up slowly! Now, you have created life! Muhahahahahahaaaa! Enjoy!
Of course there is a lot more to setting up a reef aquarium, but these basic steps will give you an overview of what to expect.
Any questions? Drop a note below or get in touch!