Nemo Aquariums

A (rather long and very frank) word about “Nemo” Aquariums

(It’s worth it – please read the whole thing)

Without a doubt, the Pixar movie Nemo was a hit and the public interest generated in coral reefs was a great thing. However, many well-intentioned parents have been coerced by their pleading children into getting them a “Nemo” aquarium as a result.

While aquariums are a fantastic way for children to learn about aquatic life, a “Nemo” themed aquarium is not a realistic goal. This information is not intended to bash the movie Nemo, rather, it is here for educational purposes. Nemo was a great, original and imaginative fantasy film, but we must remember that it was fantasy. Here’s why:

Let’s start with an introduction to the characters found in the aquarium in the movie and learn a little about them.

“Nemo” – Ocellaris Clownfish

The Ocellaris Clownfish is a relatively hardy little fish. If put into the aquarium when small, two clownfish will often form a pair. Ocellaris Clownfish are relatively non- aggressive, but occupy a space in an aquarium about the size of a large beach ball. This beach ball would be about 30 gallons worth of water. That is 30 gallons for themselves alone.

“Dory” – Blue Hippo Tang

The Blue Hippo Tang gets very large (easily reaching a foot in length) and requires a 6′ long aquarium to develop properly. Dory technically wasn’t a tank mate in the dentists’ office, but in real life most people want to put her in with a Nemo themed aquarium, so she is being mentioned here.

“Bubbles” – Yellow Tang

The Yellow Tang is a fairly robust fish that adapts well to aquarium life. However, once settled into its new home, it usually becomes aggressive to anything that is added to the aquarium. Like most tangs, the Yellow Tang requires a 6′ aquarium to be happy.

“Jacques” – Cleaner Shrimp

Cleaner Shrimp are delicate critters that need very high water quality. This means very good filtration and very regular water changes. They also require an aquarium that has had several months to mature prior to them being added.

“Bloat”- Porcupine Puffer Fish

Porcupine Puffer fish love to eat shrimp. Porcupine Puffers typically require a 75 gallon tank as a bare minimum with a ton of filtration to keep up with the amount of poop they produce.

“Gurgle” – Royal Gramma

The Royal Gramma is a type of basslet fish. It can make a good aquarium inhabitant for a peaceful aquarium.

“Deb” – Striped Damselfish

Damselfish should have been called something different. The word “damsel” implies docility, and the damselfish is anything but docile. They may be cute, but most damselfish become aggressive to the point of killing other tank mates.

“Peach” – Starfish

While it is unclear exactly what type of starfish Peach was supposed to be, she most resembled a Chocolate Chip Starfish. Chocolate Chip Starfish are a carnivorous invertebrate and require good water quality.

“Gill “- Moorish Idol

The Moorish Idol is an extremely hard fish to keep in captivity. Most of these fish that are taken out of the wild starve to death because they either will not eat, or their diets are missing key components that they need to survive. They require aquariums over 100 gallons and may eat invertebrates like shrimp.

Ritteri Anemone

Also not part of the dentist office aquarium in the Nemo film, it is common in real life for people to want to put anemones in their Nemo themed aquaria. The amazing CGI graphics at the beginning of the Nemo film have stirred a fascination for these creatures.

They require a mature aquarium (6 months or older), very strong lighting that cannot be obtained in a standard starter aquarium kit, and they need very high water quality.

What would happen if these things were all put together in the aquarium in the dentists’ office in Finding Nemo:

Equipment problems:

Aquarium Size:

The aquarium in the dentists’ office in the film is probably no larger than 20-30 gallons, which would have meant that these creatures would have been practically stacked right on top of one another. The aquarium was far too small, giving people the impression that they can keep a number of fish together that require far more room.


There is a small hang on the back filter that would have come as part of an aquarium kit, intended for a lightly-stocked freshwater aquarium. There is no way that so many fish could live in such a small water volume with so little filtration. On the aquarium in the movie there was no protein skimmer which is a critical part of saltwater filtration. Without it, having an anemone would be next to impossible and shrimp and starfish would be very problematic.


The light on the aquarium was a standard output light that is common on most starter kit aquaria. While these are fine for freshwater or fish only saltwater aquaria, they do not provide the amount of light required for anemones to survive.


The gravel in the aquarium is regular colored gravel used in many freshwater aquariums. Saltwater aquariums require an aragonite based substrate (gravel) that helps to keep the water at a high pH. Without something to bring up the pH and keep it stable through a process known as buffering, the waste from the fish would have caused the pH to drop and a chain-reaction of death to occur if no intervention was made.

The first to die would be the anemone and the shrimp. As they decayed, they would produce ammonia and further drop the pH. If the lowered pH didn’t kill the remaining fish in the aquarium, they would have suffocated due to ammonia damage to their gills. (Harsh, but true. Wouldn’t you rather read it than learn about it through personal experience? It’s a really common occurrence when an aquarium is purchased and filled with creatures impulsively.)

Compatibility of Species Problems:

If the movie were to be played out in reality, if Bubbles (Yellow Tang) and Deb (Damselfish) were already in the aquarium and Nemo (Clownfish) were suddenly dropped in one day, things would not have gone well. Bubbles and Deb would have chased Nemo until he either jumped out of the aquarium or was pinned into a corner and was not allowed to move. If he didn’t die from exhaustion, injury, or fright, he likely would have succumbed to disease because of a weakened immune system as a result of the stress.

Jacques (Cleaner Shrimp) would have long since been lunch for either Bloat (Puffer Fish) or Gill (Moorish Idol). Gurgle (Royal Gramma) would probably have been far too large for Gill to eat, but would have been the perfect meal ticket for Bloat.

Peach (Starfish) would probably have starved from having nothing to eat – flake food won’t cut it for this creature. Alternatively, if she were routinely fed frozen fish, the water quality would have been so poor in an aquarium due to under-filtration that she and her tank mates (especially Jacques and the anemone) likely wouldn’t have made it.

So, what if your child still demands to have a “Nemo” aquarium?

That depends on a lot of factors, but here are some options:

1. Walk the child into an aquarium store and go straight to the freshwater section and try to locate the Mollies and Platys. They are often bright orange in coloration. Many children, especially very young ones, cannot differentiate between a molly and a clownfish. If that doesn’t work, you could try pointing out an albino tiger barb, which has orange-ish coloration and has stripes. (Note: tiger barbs are aggressive, so you won’t be able to throw just any old fish in with them as a tank mate.)

2. Go to your local aquarium store without your child present and discuss what kind of tank size fits both your home and your pocketbook.

There are some smaller (30 gallon range) aquariums that are acceptable for saltwater setups.

You could put clownfish in something that small, but remember that is all that can go in there because of the space that they will defend against other fish.

The next recommended size aquarium is a 75 gallon aquarium. It is a little more than double the volume of the 30 gallon, but it is 4 feet long and could house a few of the Nemo critters together. One could put in a pair of Nemos (Clownfish), a pair of Gurgles (Royal Grammas).

Provided that the right lighting and filtration were present one could put in an anemone, some corals, and a couple of Jacques (Cleaner Shrimp). This aquarium would be large enough for a few more fish that were not featured in the movie. Remember that it is important to get them in the right order so that there are fewer compatibility problems.

An alternative 75 gallon setup could house Bloat (Porcupine Puffer) and Peach (Chocolate Chip Starfish). There are a couple of other fish that can be added into this mix, but it should really only be a 1-2 fish aquarium because of the size that they will get when fully grown. Remember that these types of aquariums need extra filtration and more frequent water changes are recommended.

The next step up is the 150 gallon, 6′ aquarium. Provided that the appropriate lighting and filtration were present, one could have a pair of Nemos (Clownfish), a pair of Gurgles (Royal Grammas), a few of Jacques (Cleaner Shrimp), an anemone, Dory (Blue Hippo Tang), and Bubbles (Yellow Tang). There could be several other fish that were not featured in the movie, but you should consult with your local fish store to make sure that they will all get along.

Naturally, aquariums can easily exceed 150 gallons and the setups can house some very big fish, but that is a discussion for a different article.

Once you have figured out what suits your home and your budget, bring the child with you to the aquarium store and explain what you will be getting. Remember to emphasize to the child that setting up the aquarium is a process and that not everything will appear overnight.

Having an aquarium in the home can be an amazing way to teach a child about biology, chemistry, and math. It also serves as a motivational topic for them to write about in English class, which helps them develop critical writing skills like: expository writing (explains something to the audience using reason and logic), narrative writing (writing about something that has happened or will happen), persuasive writing (which argues a point), and fictional writing – like telling the imaginative and captivating story of Finding Nemo.

Fish Acclimation Procedure

Fish Acclimation Procedure

Before fish, invertebrates, or coral can be released into your aquarium, it is critical to acclimate them to their new environment.  Transport is stressful for all animals, so make their transition to their new home as easy as possible.

Two important things to remember:

  1. Floating the bag only equalizes temperature and is not sufficient in and of itself for acclimation.
  2. Follow sterile procedure: Never put water from the bag into your aquarium.  Instead, remove the coral, invertebrate, or fish from the water used during acclimation and place it into your aquarium.

Ideal Acclimation Procedure

  1. (Optional)  If the water in the bag is significantly colder than the water in your aquarium, you may begin the acclimating procedure by first floating the bag for 15 minutes.
    • Generally this is not necessary, but bags of water can become cooler during transport over the winter months.
    • If you choose to float the bag, make sure it does not come into direct contact with your lights.  Persons with metal halide lights will want to turn them off as they could burn the bag’s contents even without seeing visible damage to the bag.
  2. Open the bag and transfer the contents into a clean container such as a bucket.
    • If your bag contains fish or invertebrates such as shrimp, pour the water slowly into the awaiting container.  Pour the water near to the bottom of the container so as to reduce the amount of drop from the bag to the bottom of the container.  The bag’s contents will generally slide out of the bag and gently drop into the awaiting water in the container.
    • If your bag contains a coral, you will want to first remove it from the bag using your hand, place it upright in your container and then pour the water into the container.  Do not aim directly at the coral when pouring as this could potentially cause tears in soft tissue that might lead to infection.  Instead, pour the water next to the coral.
    • At the end of transferring the contents of the bag to the container, the water should completely cover your fish, invertebrate, or coral.  If the container is large, you might want to tilt it using a prop at one end so that water will pool and be deeper at the other end of the container.
    • If you have purchased several items from us you can use the same container to acclimate items from the same system.  Items purchased from different systems should be acclimated separately.  If you are unsure about which animals came from what system, ask our staff to mark your bags so you can identify them easily when you get home.
  3. Slowly transfer water from your tank to the container over the course of about 45 minutes.  This process helps to ensure that the water in the container matches that of your tank in pH, temperature, and salinity (if it is a saltwater tank). There are two methods we recommend:

Drip Acclimation

Drip acclimation involves the use of airline tubing7) to slowly and constantly bring water from your aquarium to the awaiting container.

      1. Obtain about a 6’-8’ length of airline tubing (available at NorthSide Aquatics)
      2. Secure one end of the tubing to your aquarium so that the end sticks down several inches into the tank.  We recommend tying a very loose knot around a light leg.
      3. Begin a siphon by sucking gently on the other end of the tubing.  Water will immediately begin to flow, so be sure to have the container next to the aquarium so you can catch the water as it comes out.
      4. Tie a snug knot about 12 inches from the end of the tubing that is hanging in the container.  This will halt the flow of the water significantly.
      5. Slowly loosen the knot so that water begins to flow faster than individual drops, but slower than a smooth stream of water.  You should be just barely be able to make out the fact that there are individual drops that make up the slow stream of water.
      6. Keep an eye on how fast your container is filling up.  Remember that after 45 minutes, the water should have at least doubled in the container.  If you think that the water is flowing too quickly, tighten the knot a bit.

Manual Acclimation

Manual acclimation is performed by adding a small cup of water from your aquarium about every 5 minutes to the container over the course of 45 minutes until you have doubled the original amount of water in the container.

  1. Transfer the fish, invertebrate, or coral from the acclimation container to your tank.
    • For fish and invertebrates such as shrimp, use a net to remove them from the container and release them into the tank.
    • For corals and invertebrates such as crabs and snails, it is easiest to remove them by hand and place them into your aquarium.
    • Make sure that corals are seated firmly as many do not like it when they wobble due to water flow, and always ensure that snails are placed in the tank with their opening facing the aquarium glass.  Do not place snails so close to the glass that they are unable to open their trap door to come out of their shell.
  2. Dispose of acclimation water and add water to your tank to make up for the water you took out.
    • Freshwater systems – use dechlorinated tap water.
    • Saltwater systems – use pre-mixed saltwater made from RO/DI water.
  3. Remember that whenever you physically remove water from your tank such as with a cup or a hose, you should add back saltwater.
      • Only add RO/DI (fresh) water to make up for evaporation.

Frequently Asked Questions about Aquariums

Frequently Asked Questions Freshwater & Saltwater Aquariums

How often do you clean a freshwater aquarium?

Aquariums are small ecosystems that mimic the environment around us, and as in the environment, it is normal to have some algae in any aquarium. Since many people find algae to be unsightly, it is necessary to wipe it off the glass once or twice a week.

Keeping algae off the glass by wiping it regularly makes cleaning easier because the algae does not have as much time to harden. Use a Mag Float from for this task. It only takes a minute or two to do.

Depending on the age of your tank, you may find periods of heavier or lighter algae growth. If you have algae on your rocks, it is easiest to remove it when you do a water change.

How often do you change the water in a saltwater / freshwater aquarium?

All aquariums require regular monthly water changes whether they are freshwater or saltwater. There are no shortcuts here. Beware of products that claim you will never need to change your water again if you use them.

Water must be changed to remove pollutants, such as Nitrate, that the filters cannot remove. We suggest that you change 30% of the water once a month for the vast majority of saltwater and freshwater aquariums. Some aquariums that are stocked very heavily or that house certain types of fish, such as Discus, may require more frequent water changes.

I’ve heard that I can just change a small amount of water every week instead of doing a big water change once a month. Is this OK?

While doing regular water changes is never a bad idea, water changes that are too small do not have the desired effect of reducing pollutants in the long‐term.

We advise that people who opt to change smaller amounts of water weekly keep a very close eye on their Nitrate levels and schedule at least one large water change on a regular basis.

Imagine that you have a concentration of 30 ppm Nitrate and you change 10 percent of the water. You only reduce the Nitrate levels by 3 ppm. That leaves you with 27 ppm of Nitrate. You have not done much good for your fish. By doing a 50% water change, you have reduced your Nitrates by 15 ppm.

But if I change 10 percent of my water every week, haven’t I actually diluted the Nitrates by 40%?

This is a commonly misunderstood concept. One would think that 10%+10%+10%+10% (or 4 weeks worth of 10% water changes) would equal 40%, but it does not. Here’s why…

Let’s take a tank that has a 30 ppm Nitrate level that is fed at a moderate level, equaling about 20 ppm Nitrates being added over the month, or 5 ppm being added per week.

Week 1 Starting Level of 30 ppm
‐ 10% water change (‐3 ppm)
+ feeding / fish poop (+5 ppm)
Net change = +2ppm = 32 ppm

Week 2 Starting Level of 32 ppm
‐ 10% water change (‐3.2 ppm)
+ feeding / fish poop (+5 ppm)
Net change = +1.8 ppm = 33.8 ppm

Week 3 Starting Level of 33.8 ppm
‐ 10% water change (‐3.38 ppm)
+ feeding / fish poop (+5 ppm)
Net change = +1.44 ppm = 35.42 ppm

Week 4 Starting Level of 35.2 ppm
‐ 10% water change (‐3.52 ppm)
+ feeding / fish poop (+5 ppm)
Net change = +1.48 ppm = 36.68 ppm

After one month and all of that work, you have actually accumulated Nitrate! The reason this happens is that you are constantly adding more food and never doing a significant enough water change to dilute the nitrates.

One 30% water change on that same 30 ppm aquarium would have dropped it by 9 ppm, leaving you with 21 ppm. Still not ideal, but it’s a lot better than where you started.

OK, but isn’t there some benefit to changing the water every week?

Yes, you do get some benefit by changing the water every week. If you have a plant tank or a reef tank, you are adding in good things in that small water change that are beneficial to plants and corals. Fresh tap water for a plant tank brings in nutrients like iron, phosphate, etc. Likewise, for a reef tank, fresh RO/DI water mixed with a quality reef salt (not just any salt) will provide some trace elements like magnesium, strontium, iodide, etc. that make corals happy.

In both cases, the additional elements that come in the water typically are not enough to forego adding these supplements via a bottle.

What kind of water should I use to do a water change?

This depends on the type of aquarium you have set up, and it is important to understand the differences.

If you have a freshwater fish only or planted aquarium, you may use dechlorinated tap water. Plants actually do best with tap water because of the high mineral content found in tap water.

Saltwater aquariums, especially reef aquariums, have more restrictive requirements regarding the water one may use. Ordinary tap water can often contain excessive chlorine, chloramines, copper, nitrogen, phosphates, silicates, or many other chemicals that are harmful to the sensitive organisms in a reef environment. Contaminants such as nitrogen compounds and phosphates can lead to excessive, and unwanted, algae growth.

The best water to use for saltwater aquariums is Reverse Osmosis/De‐Ionized water, more commonly known as RO/DI water. RO/DI water is extremely pure and contains virtually no trace elements.

RO/DI water is NOT the same thing as RO water or Distilled Water that you can buy at the local grocery store.

I live outside of the city. Can I use well water in my aquarium?

Designer Clownfish strongly recommends against using well water in any aquarium, but most especially not in a reef aquarium. Well water is typically high in mineral content which is not good for critters found in a reef. Well water is also typically high in dissolved CO2, which can lower pH values and cause fish to go into shock.

While an argument could be made for using well water in a planted aquarium because of the high mineral content upon which plants thrive, there are many factors that make it generally unfavorable as a recommended water source for freshwater aquaria. The most obvious factors are pollution and/or contamination from near‐by agriculture and septic systems. This pollution can cause wells to be high in Nitrate which makes the reduction of high Nitrates through water changes virtually impossible.

How often should I replace my heater?

Heaters do fail and you could lose all the inhabitants of your tank when they do. Typically, the thermostat fails and the heater can no longer regulate itself. As a result, the tank continues to heat until your critters are crispy.

Heaters are worked hardest in the winter, so we see many of them fail at this time.

Be proactive and replace your heater today!


Much of what makes your tank safe are the bacteria that carry out the Nitrogen Cycle.

Without these bacteria ammonia waste from fish and uneaten food would make the tank lethal to inhabitants.

If you are starting a new aquarium and want to add fish with as little stress as possible, adding bacteria such as Seachem’s Stability (freshwater and saltwater) , Tetra’s SafeStart (freshwater) or Instant Ocean’s Bio‐Spira (saltwater) can make the tank fish‐safe from the beginning.(This does NOT mean you can fully stock your tank from DAY 1.)

Also, be sure you have a good filter for these bacteria to live on/in so they can reproduce and keep up with the fish load. These bacterial additives are also great for ammonia emergencies in already established tanks.

The Nitrogen Cycle : Ammonia ‐> Nitrite ‐> Nitrate

Fish create waste in the form of ammonia. Ammonia also enters the tank through uneaten food that is left to rot. This ammonia is toxic to the fish. In order to make the aquarium environment safe for the fish, a stable biological filter must be established. A biological filter is some large porous surface area that is colonized by nitrifying bacteria and is exposed to high levels of oxygen. Examples of materials that serve as biological filters are porous rock (live rock), filter cartridge media, a biowheel, or bio‐balls in a wet dry filter or canister filter.

In the biological filter, ammonia is first converted by bacteria into nitrite. Like ammonia, nitrite is highly toxic to fish at low levels and must be quickly converted into nitrate, which is relatively harmless to the fish at low concentrations.

Starting Your Tank Cycle

To begin the Nitrogen cycle livestock must be added to the aquarium to introduce ammonia. However, you should first allow the tank to run for a few days to a week to allow the temperature to regulate. You may add a tiny bit of food and bacterial supplements such as Safe Start (freshwater) or Bio‐Spira (saltwater) at this time, but be sure to put in a bit of food so the bacteria have something to eat. If you have a saltwater tank, live rock and live sand may be added at the very beginning to add both food and bacteria.

Before you add fish to your tank, CHECK THE AMMONIA LEVEL. If there is ANY ammonia present, DO NOT ADD FISH. Adding fish when there is ammonia in the tank can be catastrophic. Fish that have not been in a tank with ammonia that are put into a tank that has ammonia typically do not fare well even if acclimated slowly. If a fish dies, it will further raise the ammonia, causing the other fish to die.

The initial biological cycling of a tank, or “New Tank Syndrome,” generally takes six to ten weeks to complete. The process is very similar in both salt and freshwater aquariums. In the case of saltwater aquariums, the Nitrogen Cycle may be sped up a bit by adding live rock or live sand to the tank. This does not eliminate the cycle, it simply makes it safer for the first fish early on.

The first fish you add should be hardy. If you need help choosing hardy fish, your Local Fish Store can help you select some. Designer Clownfish recommends only purchasing fish that you wish to keep in your aquarium. We do not sell “flushable” or “expendable” fish.

It is important to add fish slowly, even after the tank has cycled biologically. The more fish waste that is added to the system, the more ammonia that must be converted. In order to keep up with this additional ammonia the bacteria must increase their population to support the tank. This takes time. Do not try to rush this process.

My aquarium has been set up for years. How is it possible that I have New Tank Syndrome?

Many people believe that once a tank has been up and running that it can no longer be affected by New Tank Syndrome, but this is not necessarily the case. Nitrifying bacteria that are responsible for the Nitrogen Cycle are not indestructible. If you wipe them out, then you are starting from scratch.

We often get questions about mysterious fish deaths following an aquarium cleaning. When properly cleaned, an aquarium should not have a serious disruption to the nitrifying Bacteria. However, certain practices are extremely destructive and should be avoided.

One of these practices, which we find most commonly with customers who have freshwater aquariums, is the complete emptying of the aquarium including gravel, decorations, and filter for the purpose of sterilization through bleaching or drying of the components.

By following this type of process, the aquarium owner is essentially destroying the biological filter. Within a very short time of reassembling the aquarium, the aquarium will have high ammonia and fish will start to die. By performing such a radical operation, you have started your biological cycle over from the beginning.

Instead of emptying the tank, use a good quality siphon hose style gravel cleaning mechanism, such as a Python, that attaches to the sink to create a good suction. This apparatus will lift the waste out of the gravel and leave most of your bacteria intact. (Note: Do not vacuum gravel in a saltwater tank.) To return fresh water to the tank, reverse the flow of the water at the faucet and you’re done. Just be sure to add a dechlorinator to the aquarium prior to refilling as chlorine can also nuke your bacteria.

Many antibiotic treatments also are harmful to the bacteria that perform the Nitrification process. Be sure to read labels carefully as many medications specify when they might harm your good bacteria. If you must use a medication that kills Nitrifying bacteria, be sure to monitor ammonia levels carefully. We recommend treating sick fish in a small quarantine tank (when appropriate) so that water may be changed out to help keep the ammonia down. This also keeps your main aquarium from being harmed.

Can I use products to neutralize ammonia?

This is a tricky question to answer because pH plays a critical role in the neutralization of ammonia. For freshwater aquaria with a relatively neutral pH or lower, water conditioners such as Prime by Seachem can be used to neutralize ammonia. This happens by adding a hydrogen atom to ammonia (NH3) making it into ammonium (NH4). Most test kits cannot distinguish between these two molecules, so even if ammonia has been neutralized, it can show up on your test kit.

Saltwater aquariums are a different story. While adding an ammonia neutralizer to the water would not do harm, it is questionable as to how effective such a treatment would be due to the high pH of most saltwater systems. High pH easily breaks off the extra hydrogen atom from ammonium (NH4), converting it back into ammonia (NH3).


Fish grow to the size of the tank. FALSE!

Contrary to very popular belief, fish do not grow to the size of the tank in which they are housed. When fish have outgrown their aquarium they become stressed.

This is much like if we were to keep a puppy in a box for its entire life. It would not have room to properly move around and exercise. As a result, it would be extremely stressed.

Stressed animals are very susceptible to disease and they often become aggressive towards other animals that are around them. Additionally, if one fish in the aquarium is stressed and a parasitic, viral, fungal, or bacterial infection sets in, it can spread to the other fish in the aquarium and kill them. One should also consider the extra cost of medication to cure the sick fish.

Please let your Local Fish Store staff help recommend fish that are appropriate to the size aquarium that you have.

The person at XYZ Pet Shop says if I buy their filter system or miracle product I will never have to do maintenance or water changes again. Is this really true? FALSE!

If you have ever hear the old adage that “If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is,” then you can apply that here.

All aquariums require regular maintenance and regular water changes to keep them healthy. There are no miracle products, only good practices to help reduce the amount of effort involved in maintaining your aquarium.

Taking care of an aquarium is hard. FALSE!

If you have put in good equipment and not skimped and tried to cut corners, taking care of your aquarium is not a difficult task. The most difficult things about having an aquarium are:

1. Waiting for the aquarium to become established so that more fish can be added.

In this instant gratification society, we are all accustomed to getting what we want right now. No matter how much you may want your aquarium to be up and running full of fish overnight, it won’t happen. Be patient and you will be rewarded with a happy and healthy tank.

2. Resisting impulse buying.

Take time to learn about each critter you intend to add. Not all fish are equal. Try to do your research in advance and take home fish and invertebrates that are appropriate for your aquarium setups.

3. Taking the time to learn about aquariums.

While aquariums are not difficult, there is a lot of knowledge that goes into having one. Designer Clownfish does its best to inform customers about what is needed to setup and maintain a successful aquarium. However, despite our best efforts, we can not tell everyone everything. It is necessary to spend time learning things through books and the internet. The fact that you are reading this page means that you are on the right track!

If you run across contradictory materials, then come and ask us to get you back on the right path. Not every book or website is 100% correct and there are multiple schools of thought. Just pop in and ask us if you get confused.

A “Nemo” themed aquarium is a good idea. FALSE!

While it is certainly possible to have an aquarium that has fish from the movie Finding Nemo, it is not possible to house all of the characters from the movie in one aquarium.

All animals have special needs to live, and when a person decides to keep an animal as a pet it is up to him or her to provide for all of those needs. A few common needs are: adequate space, correct diet, enough light, correct tank‐mates, and removal of waste.

We’ve written an explanation of why “Nemo” themed aquariums are not feasible when trying to meet all of the Nemo character animals’ needs. Click here to read it.

How often and how much should I feed my fish?

In most instances fish should be fed every other day only what they are able to consume in about 2‐3 minutes. If you find that there is food remaining after that time, or if you see residual food on the bottom of the tank or in your filters, there is a good chance you are feeding too much.

When gauging the amount of food to feed, take into account how many fish you have and how large they are. Do not try to feed based on the size of the tank. A guppy in a 200 gallon tank eats the same amount of food as a guppy in a 5 gallon tank.

Some fish require even more infrequent feeding. Certain meat eating fish like puffers, triggers, and eels only require food every 3 days or so.

Remember that overfeeding can be a huge problem. If your tank is in an environment where many people want to “help” by feeding the fish, make it clear that only one person has this responsibility. Husbands and wives have been known to double feed their fish, with one feeding in the morning and one feeding at night, each thinking the other had not done it.

How do I know when I have fed enough? My fish always look hungry!

Fish will almost always eat, but this does not mean they still need food. In the wild, fish do not always have food available to them, so they may engorge themselves to make sure they make it to the next mealtime. In an aquarium, they will get regular food, but they don’t know it and will usually eat more than is healthy for them.

Many fish will “look hungry” because they react when they see the person who feeds them walk near the tank. This is a conditioned behavior and does not indicate a true display of hunger.

What food is the “right” food for my fish?

This is a tricky question to answer because different fish require different foods. Your Local Fish Store can help you with the very specific information you require. There are, however, a number of general guidelines that we can offer in this forum.

1. Food should be of a high quality and made from wholesome ingredients. We recommend AquaDine flake and pellet food because it contains no filler and is made when we order it. That means it does not sit on a shelf in a warehouse getting hot for months on end before it reaches our store. Another good food source is frozen food such as Hikari and San Francisco Bay Brand.

2. Provide your fish with a variety of food. Most fish require both meat and vegetables for their digestive systems to function properly. Giving them alternate food sources regularly can help prevent potentially deadly digestive problems such as bloat and bowel impaction.

3. Avoid live food, PERIOD. Live food is bad for a number of reasons. Feeding live food tends to make fish more aggressive towards their existing tank mates and may make it impossible for you to add new fish at a later date. More importantly, live food is often not well cared for since they are regarded as “feeder fish” and they often carry bacterial and protozoan diseases with them from their squalid holding tanks.

Remember: Disease can be transmitted to your fish through its food! Additionally, most fish that are used as feeder fish are not the natural prey of the fish that are being fed and do not represent a natural diet. In fact some live food sources such as goldfish and rosy red minnows contain high quantities of thiaminase, an enzyme that destroys Vitamin B1 and when fed in large quantities cause nutritional imbalances.

What do I do if my fish doesn’t like what I am feeding it?

Not all fish like all foods; however, there are a few tricks that may help you convince your fish to eat what you are putting in the tank:

One tip about how to feed fish successfully is to take a pinch of food between two fingers and submerge it in the water to wet the food. This makes it sink and is more available to the fish. Some fish do not like coming to the surface to eat.

Some predatory fish need to be taught to eat frozen feeder fish such as Silversides. The best way to do this is to use a feeder prong to spear the thawed fish and then wiggle it in front of the fish so that it looks alive. Most fish will learn in a week or two what their new food looks like and will no longer require special assistance at feeding time.

Another suggestion is to buy a food such as San Francisco Bay’s Saltwater Multi‐Pack that contains several types of food in a single package. That way you can determine what your fish enjoys without spending a fortune.

A few other tips regarding food:

Always be sure to thaw your frozen food in a glass of tank water before feeding. Fish do not understand what frozen food is and could potentially cause damage to their internal organs by ingesting a large chunk of frozen food.

Do not buy more dry food than what you will use in a couple of months. It does expire, so be sure to replace it regularly.

Don’t leave your container of dry food sitting on top of your light or hood. Heat can cause fats in dry food to go rancid and feeding that to your fish might lead to blindness.

What do you guys think about auto‐feeders?

We think auto‐feeders are a good idea in a number of situations, but they should not be used or relied upon entirely in every case. Some fish require food (such as frozen food) that cannot be fed through an auto‐feeder. Also, some fish such as Tangs require extra vegetable matter like that of seaweed that must be fed every couple of days. Auto feeders typically do work well for community fish tanks and they are usually a good idea for tanks located in offices where the fewer people involved in feeding the fish, the better.

What do I do if I go on vacation?

We find that the most common cause of fish death when people go on vacation is overfeeding by the caretaker of the tank ‐ and this is very common. Here are some ideas to help you avoid this situation:

If appropriate for your type of fish, try an auto‐feeder, but set it up a week in advance to make sure it functions well and that it is adjusted to feed the correct amount. The best models are powered by a cord and not by batteries. We suggest the Rena Auto‐ Feeder.

If someone will be feeding your fish, we strongly recommend divvying up portions of food into ziploc bags (or shot glasses for frozen food) and labeling them according to the day of the week in which they should be fed. Then HIDE the rest of your food. Many people will mistakenly think you are starving your fish and add more if it is available. You can hide frozen food in a paper bag at the back of the freezer.

How do I set up my Tropical Freshwater Aquarium?

1. Before setting up the aquarium, be certain it is on a level, sturdy, and well‐supported surface. When the aquarium is full of water, it weighs approximately 8 pounds per gallon. Therefore do not place it on an unstable or un‐level surface. If you do, it could either crack or end up on the floor.

2. Rinse out the aquarium, gravel, and any carbon filters before use.

3. Place water in the tank. Using a Python hose from your faucet is the easiest way to accomplish this. Then and add chloramine remover such as Prime or Stress Coat.

4. Set the thermostat on the heater to between 78 and 79 degrees and then be sure to keep an eye on it regularly by checking your thermometer. All tropical fish require warm water, only goldfish and koi can live in cooler water.

5. Make sure the pH is between 6.5 and 6.7 for most tropical species (however this can vary so be sure to check with your Local Fish Store staff for what is appropriate for your fish). Be sure to test pH once a week. There are many reasons why the pH should be set at about 6.6. Pathogenic bacteria grow slower in acidic water, and ammonia is much less toxic in acidic water.

6. Add some aquarium salt ‐ 1 tablespoon for every 5 gallons of water. Many fish have come from water that has a small salt content. Fish lose body salt through their gills in soft water when no salt or minerals are present. Salt does not evaporate, so it should be added only once and when doing water changes.

How long do I have to wait before adding fish to my new aquarium?

It is best to wait at least twenty‐four hours before adding fish to a new tank. This time allows you to put in a chloramine remover, adjust the pH, allows possible harmful gases to be driven off, and adjust the temperature.

Isn’t the water I get out of my tap OK for freshwater aquariums if I add dechlorinator?

Yes. For freshwater aquariums you may use tap water if you add a dechlorinator. Planted systems actually do well with standard tap water because of the trace mineral elements. Saltwater systems are the exact opposite. They require highly filtered water from an RO/DI system.

Why is my water green?

Green Water, a condition that causes an aquarium to look like it is filled with pea soup, is caused by a unicellular algae that is generally introduced from common tap water. When high nutrient levels from overfeeding or infrequent water changes meet with excessive light, green water is usually produced. Green Water is a very tough condition to control once you have it. It is far easier to prevent than it is to treat. Ironically, for a water condition that looks so bad, it is not harmful to the fish. The high nutrient levels that cause it, however, are harmful.

Prevention of Green Water is simple.

1. Keep your feeding to a minimum. Feed once every other day and do not feed more than the fish will consume in 2 minutes. 2. Do not run your lights for more than 8 hours at a time.

3. Do REGULAR water changes of AT LEAST 30%. Regular means at least every month. At least 30% means that is the recommended minimum water needed to reduce the nutrient levels by a significant amount. The way to tell how much water you should change is by testing the nitrate levels in your aquarium. If the nitrates are higher than 40 ppm (parts per million), you should do a larger water change.

The recommended treatment: UV Sterilization

Green water often comes right back after it seems to have gone away as a result of treatment. The one cure that works without fail is the use of a UV sterilizer. This kills the algae on a continuous basis and can produce results in a matter of hours. UV sterilizers are very safe and introduce no chemicals to the water. They also have the added benefit of killing free swimming parasites in the water.

As with any aquarium setup, you should be certain to have a good filter with biomedia (such as bio wheels or ceramic rings) on your aquarium to house the beneficial bacteria that fight ammonia. Failure to have a good filter in combination with the use of a UV filter can result in a deadly ammonia spike because UV light does not discriminate between good and bad bacteria.

Other methods to try to treat for Green Water:

Use an algaecide such as AlgaeFix, turn off the lights, and do frequent water changes to reduce the excessive nutrient levels. Some people have reported results from using Crystal Clear to help coagulate the algae and remove it through the filter. While a few people might see results from this approach, it is very likely that the condition will return repeatedly.

Always remember that you should follow dosage directions when adding algaecides and water clarifiers. You can kill your fish if you overdose!

What can I do to control excess green algae ?

Algae is typically caused by a combination of excessive nutrients (from overfeeding and infrequent water changes) and excessive lighting. To help prevent algae, change at least 30% of your water once a month and feed every other day only what the fish will consume in 2 minutes. Also, keep your lighting to a maximum of 8 hours a day. You can best control this by putting the light on a timer. If you are following all of these steps, but you still have algae, consider adding an algae eater such as a Plecostomus, otocinclus, or other algae eating fish. Invertebrates such as snails and shrimp are also an option for many tanks. Be sure to find the right fish or invertebrate for your setup as not all fish and invertebrates get along.

Having good cleaning tools is also helpful. Designer Clownfish recommends the use of Mag Floats to keep algae off of the glass. We also have a number of special scrapers and brushes to help clean other surfaces.

I have black fuzzy algae EVERYWHERE! HELP!

This is a very pesky algae known as Blackbeard Algae. It usually starts out as little tiny tufts of black fuzz that soon grow to cover everything in sight. Common algae control products do not typically help with this condition. There are 2 options for ridding your tank of this pest and both can be dangerous to your tank’s inhabitants if not done properly.

Method 1

Remove decorations and other affected objects and bleach them in a separate container. Be sure to soak them in freshwater after removing them from the bleach and then add a dechlorinator such as Prime to that water. Let the bleached objects soak in the dechlorinator for some time before returning them to the tank. Designer Clownfish recommends having 2 sets of decorations so that one can soak while a clean set is put in the aquarium. That way, there is plenty of time for the decorations to become chlorine free before you put them back in the tank.

Why Method 1 is dangerous:

Obviously it involves using bleach which can kill the fish when the bleached items are returned to the tank. The less obvious reason this is dangerous is that many people are tempted to bleach EVERYTHING. Do not attempt to bleach everything at once because it kills off good bacteria that help to rid your tank of dangerous ammonia. The sudden removal of the biological filter can result in the death of your fish.

Method 2

Use Flourish Excel by Seachem. Flourish Excel is technically a plant fertilizer for aquarium plants that is effective at treating BlackBeard Algae. If you would like to use this method, please be advised that the use of this product with scaleless fish and invertebrates such as snails and shrimp can be deadly, especially if used at dosage levels exceeding the recommended dosage.

Why Method 2 is dangerous:

Using any product other than the way it is labeled can result in a tank full of dead fish and other inhabitants.

What is the best type of filtration for a freshwater system?

The best type of filtration is one that is not in the tank like hang on filters such as the Penguin / Emperor bio wheel filters or the AquaClear filter by Hagen. Canister filters are more thorough. For very large tanks, pleated canisters with pressure pumps are excellent.

How many times should the water be filtered per hour?

When considering water flow in a marine aquarium, there are several mitigating factors. Water should turn over 6 to 12 times an hour. Depending on the height of the tank, your pump size will vary due to differences in head pressure, or the extra force required to move water against force of gravity.

Pump size can be calculated by taking the volume of the tank and multiplying by anywhere from 6 to 12. For example, the pump on a 50 gallon tank should put out about 300 ‐ 600 gallons per hour.

In considering how much flow in the 300‐600 gph range is desired, it is necessary to know what will be going on in the tank. Some tanks such as acro (coral) tanks require much higher levels of flow than other saltwater tanks, so one would hedge towards a higher gph pump. It is also necessary to compensate for the height of the tank by choosing a pump with adequate head pressure rating.

How does biological filtration work?

Biological filters work by growing bacteria, which break down fish wastes. Nitrosamonas and Nitrobacter break down ammonia, which is very toxic in alkaline water, to nitrites. Nitrites are then broken down to nitrates, which are much less toxic. Nitrates are removed by water changes.

Is a sterilizer necessary for my tank?

In most cases having a sterilizer on a freshwater tank is not needed. However, it can be helpful in two main areas.

First, having a sterilizer can greatly reduce the likelihood that infections will spread from one fish to another, although it is not fool‐ proof. Second, in tanks that have frequent pea soup algae blooms, sterilizers can help bring this condition under control.

I’ve heard about diatom filters, what are they used to fix?

Diatom filters are specialized, highly efficient polishing filters that come in both hang‐on and canister styles. They may be utilized to combat pea soup algae blooms and other free‐floating particulate matter in the aquarium.

Due to their extreme effectiveness, they are typically used for short periods of time (such as a few hours) and require frequent cleaning.

The Nitrogen Cycle

The Nitrogen Cycle



What is Ammonia?
Ammonia is the first stage in the Nitrogen Cycle.  It is a toxic substance often found in aquaria that causes fish illness and death. It is the most common reason for people to lose fish immediately after setting up a new aquarium.  The ideal level of ammonia is 0 ppm.

What causes Ammonia?
Ammonia comes from fish waste, (especially when adding too many fish too quickly), uneaten fish food, decaying dead fish or ammonia based cleaning products used near the aquarium. Ammonia is a normal part of setting up a new aquarium and should be monitored closely for the first 4-6 weeks.

Why should I be worried about Ammonia?
Ammonia stresses fish.  Parasites and bacterial infections are easily able to attack stressed fish. High levels of ammonia will cause death by causing breathing difficulties.  Other symptoms may include: clamped fins, loss of appetite, sluggishness, redness around the gills, rapid or labored breathing, illness, or unexplained deaths.

How do I test for Ammonia?
NorthSide Aquatics carries several different ammonia test kits.  We recommend that all new aquarium owners purchase one when they get their tanks and that one be kept on hand even if the tank is established to help identify sources of unknown deaths. We recommend the Seachem test because it is the only test on the market that can differentiate between free and bound ammonia. Free ammonia is actively harming your fish.  Bound ammonia could potentially harm your fish if you have a pH shift.

I have Ammonia.  Now what do I do?
If your ammonia level is between 0.25 – 0.5 ppm do 1/3 water change.  Wait 1-2 days and retest your water. If your ammonia is above 1.0 ppm do a 1/3 water change every 48 hours until your ammonia level is near zero.  Reduce feeding to once every second day or stop feeding during this time.

Products that help with Ammonia:
Prime and AmGuard – will quickly detoxify ammonia, but will not process it.  Bacteria do this next. Stability – will add ammonia-removing bacteria to your water and populate your bio-media.

How does pH affect ammonia?
Higher pH makes ammonia more toxic.  However, with certain aquariums like saltwater, a higher pH is necessary.


What is Nitrite?
Nitrite is the second stage of the Nitrogen Cycle produced by bacteria during the breakdown of fish wastes and other organic materials.  Like Ammonia, it is highly toxic at very low levels.  The ideal level of Nitrite is 0 ppm. We recommend the Seachem Nitrite/Nitrate test kit because it is so easy.
What causes high Nitrite?
Nitrites are most common in new tanks because there isn’t enough beneficial bacteria to remove it. It generally takes about 4-6 weeks for these bacteria to build-up and mature.  High Nitrites can also be found in established tanks shortly after something has died and will spike immediately after the ammonia.

How can I prevent high Nitrites?
Only replace part of your filter media at one time.  For example, if your filter contains two pads, change one every two weeks.  Also, changing your filter media and doing a water change on the same day may remove too much bacteria too quickly.   If you are cleaning your filters, rinse them off with water that has been taken out of your aquarium. Filter media, which has been washed in tap water or replaced with new, contain fewer bacteria and many dead bacteria that can cause ammonia.

What should I do if I have high Nitrite?
Treatment for Nitrites is the same as that for ammonia.  Aquarium Salt is an excellent way to help protect fish against nitrites in freshwater aquariums.   You may also choose to add an air stone in freshwater tanks to increase the amount of available oxygen.


What are Nitrates?
Nitrates are the final stage in the Nitrogen Cycle.  Low levels of nitrate are a normal part of having an aquarium; however, high levels can kill fish, invertebrates, and coral.   The only way to rid your aquarium of nitrate is by doing regular monthly water changes.  Usually 1/3 of the aquarium volume is sufficient.

How to check nitrate levels
NorthSide recommends the Seachem test kits because they are simple and extremely accurate.  Also, the Nitrite/Nitrate kit is all-in-one.   If you don’t know how to run or interpret the test, just ask and we will be happy to give you a demonstration.

So I have Nitrates at the end of the month, but I never saw Ammonia or Nitrite on my test kits.  What gives?
In an established aquarium that is not overstocked or overfed, Ammonia and Nitrite are present very briefly as waste is processed.  However, these levels remain extremely low and move through the cycle so rapidly that they are rarely detected.

How do I keep Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate from being a problem?

1.   Do not overstock your tank!  We can’t stress this enough.  Too many fish means too much poop, which means too much Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate.  If you are unsure about how many fish are appropriate for your tank, ask us.

2. Have proper filtration.  Microbial filtration greatly reduces the time that ammonia will be present in your water.  Bio-wheels, a bio-chamber, or live rock (saltwater only), will greatly aid a tank in reducing ammonia levels.

3.  Never overfeed!  Uneaten food is a very common cause of Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate build-up and is very dangerous to fish in a brand new tank.  Feed every other day and only feed what will be consumed in 2 minutes.  If your tank looks like a snow globe, then you are overfeeding.

4. Do regular water changes.  A 30% water change at least once a month.  If your tank is freshwater (non-planted), use a gravel cleaner to siphon out excess fish waste.  If your tank is saltwater or a planted freshwater tank, simply remove and replace the water in the tank.  Do not siphon your gravel.

5.  Remove any dead fish, plants, or coral immediately.  If you catch it early enough, recently dead critters may not cause your aquarium much problem with Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate because you interrupt the cycle before it begins.

Freshwater Aquarium Basic Additives and Tests

Freshwater Aquarium Basic Additives and Tests


Prime removes chlorine and chloramines from tap water.  You should use this every time that you add water to your aquarium, whether it is for a water change or when you add water to make up for evaporation.  Prime can also be used if there is ammonia or nitrite present.  It will bind the ammonia and nitrite for 24 hours, giving you time to address the problem.

Dosage:  To remove chlorine/chloramine, use 1 capful (5 mL) for each 50 gallons of water.  For smaller doses, please note each cap thread is approx. 1 mL.  If treating ammonia, use at double the normal dose.  If treating nitrite, use at 5 times the normal dose.


Stability is bottled bacteria that establishes a biological filter in the aquarium.  It helps prevent “new tank syndrome” wherein fish die after a few days because of ammonia poisoning.  These bacteria are responsible for the Nitrogen Cycle.

Add this daily for 7 days when you first start up your aquarium. Be sure that you have some form of waste for the bacteria to eat.  If you are adding your fish, then it will poop to produce this waste.  If you are preparing the aquarium for the fish, add just a flake of food every other day to feed the bacteria.

After the initial setup, you should add Stability when you add water for evaporation (roughly once a week).  After the first 6 weeks have elapsed, add Stability after you have done a water change.  This helps to ensure that bacteria levels are not significantly reduced because of the water that has been removed.

Dosage:  Use 1 capful (5 mL) for each 10 gallons on the first day with a new aquarium. Then use 1 capful for each 20 gallons daily for 7 days.

Neutral Regulator:

Neutral Regulator is a buffer.  Its job is to ensure that pH does not fluctuate and tries to keep the pH at around 7 (neutral).  Neutral pH is appropriate for most community tropical fish.

Use Neutral Regulator when you first set up the aquarium, after you change the water, and at least once in between water changes.  Water changes should happen every 4 weeks, so you should plan to add Neutral Regulator at about the 2 week mark.

Many people choose to do this when adding water back for evaporation.  pH will drop if you do not have a buffer in the water because food and fish poop are organic acids.  The addition of acid into the aquarium causes the pH to drop if a buffer is not present.

Dosage:  Use 1 level teaspoon for every 10–20 gallons once or twice a month (or as necessary to maintain a pH of 7.0).


Clarity is a water clarifier.  Use this if you find that you have cloudy water.  It will make the water very cloudy when you add it.  This is because it is causing the particles in the water to come together and make bigger particles.  Once this happens, the filter will be able to catch and remove them.

It generally takes about 2 hours to clear up totally, but your water will be crystal clear.  You must be using a filter for this product to be effective.  Note:  If you continually have cloudy water this can be a sign of overfeeding or a small bacterial bloom.  Check back with us if you find you need to use Clarity often in between water changes.

Dosage:  Use 1 capful (5 mL) for every 20 gallons

Betta Basics:

Betta Basics is a water additive specifically for Betta fish.  It adds trace elements to the water that the Betta would have in its natural environment.  It helps the fish to be healthy and maintain its vivid coloration.

Dosage:  Add 1 capful (4 mL) per each 1 quart of water

Fresh Trace:

Fresh trace is a water additive for community fish.  It adds trace elements to the water that community fish would have in their natural environment.  Fish absorb nutrients from the water around them.  Having these nutrients in the aquarium helps to ensure proper health, growth, and coloration.

Dosage:  Use 1 capful (5 mL) for every (20 gallons) once or twice a week.

Lil’ Alert Mates Fred Snapper Ammonia Sensor:

This sensor will help to detect the presence of ammonia in the aquarium.

Usage:  Peel off the protective film and place inside of the aquarium.  Be careful not to touch the center yellow dot.  Leave it in the aquarium on an on-going basis and watch the dot in the center to see if it changes color.

yellow = no problems
green = time for a water change
blue = change water now or use Prime or AmGuard™ to remove ammonia

pH Alert Sensor:

This sensor will keep you informed of on-going changes in pH.

Usage:  Place it inside of the aquarium and give it about 30 minutes to adjust before taking the first reading.  Thereafter, it will show changes in pH within 10 minutes.

Interpretation:  Compare the center dot to the colors on the circle around it.  The number on the matching color is the current pH level.  Most community fish aquariums require a pH of around 7 (neutral).  Do not be alarmed if your reading shows slightly above or below 7.  This is normal.

What you want to avoid are radical swings in pH.  This is why you are adding Neutral Regulator to help fight the swings in pH caused by  the addition of food and fish poop.  Never try to adjust pH too rapidly.  Add the recommended dosage of buffer and then wait several hours before adding any more.  Radical changes in pH can be fatal for fish.

Freshwater Aquarium Chemistry Basics

Freshwater Aquarium Chemistry Basics

pH – ideal level varies widely depending on type of fish 

  • Scale of 0-14 – Low numbers are acidic, high numbers are basic
  • pH is determined by the number of hydronium ions (H3O+)
  • Hydronium (H3O+) is formed by the dissociation of standard water molecules H2O.
  • In the process of dissociation, a hydrogen atom breaks off from H2O and joins itself to another H2O molecule, leaving an hydroxyl molecule (OH)

Neutral, Acidic, & Basic pH

  • If Hydronium (H3O+) ions and hydroxyl ions (OH) are in equal proportion, then water is at neutral pH.
  • If there are more Hydronium (H3O+) ions than hydroxyl ions (OH), then water is said to be acidic.  Excess H+ atoms that lead to higher concentrations of hydronium come from organic waste such as food, fish poop, and dead fish/coral, etc.
  • If there are more hydroxyl ions (OH)than Hydronium (H3O+) ions, then water is said to be basic


A buffer is a system of chemical equilibrium that has an effect of stabilizing pH.

  • This chemical equilibrium is a mixture of an acid and a base.
  • To achieve a buffer that targets a specific pH, this acid and base are mixed at a specific ratio.  For more acidic buffers, more acid is used.  For more basic buffers, more base is used.
  • For freshwater aquariums, use one of Seachem’s buffers depending on your type of fish/setup.
    • Neutral Regulator works well for community tanks (non-planted tanks because it is phosphate based)
    • Acid Regulator – pH 4.5 – 5.5  Many Tetras prefer acidic water – use together with Neutral Regulator (use in ratio indicated on package to achieve target pH)
    • Alkaline Regulator – pH 7.1 – 7.6 (rainbowfish ) – use together with Neutral Regulator (use in ratio)
    • Malawi Victoria Buffer works for Mbuna Cichlids – pH 7.8 – 8.4
    • Tanganyika Buffer – pH 9.0 – 9.4
    • Discus Buffer – 5.8 – 6.8 (for use with wild caught discus.  Ask your retailer what pH they are used to.  Many captive bred discus are used to neutral 7.0 pH.)
    • Gold Buffer  – pH 7.2 – 7.8, safe for plants (carbonate based buffer)

Alkalinity – ideal reading 4-6 meq/L

Alkalinity is a measure of the ability of a solution to resist change in pH on the addition of an acid and is dependent on the concentrations of buffering ions present.

  • The proper measurement of alkalinity is milliequivalents per liter (meq/l).  Seachem’s pH and Alkalinity Test Kit
  • dKH – Degrees of carbonate hardness or parts per million of carbonate hardness (ppm of KH) are only measurements of carbonates.  Alkalinity is a measurement of all things that affect pH – Carbonates, Borates, Phosphates, Sulfates, Iodates, Chlorates, etc.  Alkalinity is like  a fruit salad.  Carbonate hardness is like just the strawberries in that fruit salad.

Water Conditioners

Prime – removes chlorine, chloramine, and ammonia.  Detoxifies nitrite and nitrate.

Gold Basics – removes chlorine, chloramine, and ammonia.  Detoxifies nitrite and nitrate.  Adjusts pH to 7.0.  Stimulates slime coat production.

Betta Basics – removes chlorine, chloramine, and ammonia.  Detoxifies nitrite and nitrate.  Adjusts pH to 7.0.  Stimulates slime coat production.  Fertilizes plants.


Used to protect against parasites and to add important electrolytes to the water.

Aquarium Salt – used for nitrite poisoning.  Binds to fish gills so that nitrite cannot.

Cichlid Lake Salt – African Cichlids

American Cichlid Salt – South American Cichlids (discus, angels, rams) and Central American Cichlids (convict, Jack Dempsey) – contains proper amounts of calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium.

Brackish Salt – Magnesium, sodium, sulfate, and chloride.  Good for use with plants.

Gold Salt – prevents nitrite poisoning, eases stress, promotes health

Salt should only be added at full dose the first time and then in an equal dosage ratio proportional to the amount of water removed during a water change (e.g. if a 30% water change is done, add back 30% of a full dose of salt).

Trace Elements

Elements depleted by oxidation, utilization, and precipitation.

Formulation is based on National Academy of Sciences research.

Cichlid Trace, Discus Trace, Fresh Trace (community fish)

Coral Keeping for Beginners

Coral Keeping for Beginners

Ideal Parameters for Coral Keeping 

Stability of parameters in ideal range is key to a healthy aquarium

Salinity Range:

1.023 – 1.027 (refractometer) Temperature:  76⁰ – 81⁰ F


8.3-8.4  (AquaVitro eight.four and balance, Seachem pH & Alkalinity test)


Regulates pH, 4-6 meq/liter (AquaVitro eight.four and balance, Seachem pH & Alkalinity test)


Builds skeleton, 400-450 ppm (AquaVitro calcification, API Calcium test)


Helps keep calcium available 1250-1350 ppm (AquaVitro ions, Red Sea Magnesium Test)


Helps build soft tissue – .06 mg/L (AquaVitro vibrance, Seachem Iodine/Iodide Test Kit)

 Dissolved Organic Compounds (DOC):

Keep DOC’s low.  Water with high levels of organics appears yellow
(skimmer/frequent water changes, Seachem Purigen)

  • Phosphate: < .03 ppm (comes from food/poop, Seachem Phosphate Test Kit)
  • Ammonia:  < .01 ppm (comes from food/fish poop/dead stuff – (Seachem Ammonia Test Kit)
  • Nitrite: < .01 ppm – comes from food/fish poop/dead stuff – (Seachem Nitrite/Nitrate Test Kit)
  • Nitrate: < 20 ppm – comes from food/fish poop/dead stuff – (Seachem Nitrite/Nitrate Test Kit)

Biological Filtration

  • 1 1b/gal live rock
  • skimmer or every other week 50% water change for small tanks


Brings oxygenated water and food to the coral, carries away excrement, keeps sediment in the water column to be filtered out. (Koralia Powerheads, Tunze Wavebox)


  • Most corals need moderate to high-intensity lighting.  4-8 watts/gallon – general guideline, not a great way to measure light, but it is the best way to make a quick estimate.
  • Bulbs should be changed annually for T5’s, every 6 months for power compacts, annually for metal halides, and every 4-5 years for LED (new fixture).
  • Need actinic (blue) and “white” light.  Many people use 10,000K bulbs for white light, but you can use 6700K for more aggressive growth.  The broader the spectrum in lighting choice, the better your colors will display.  Actinic light helps coralline algae and zooxanthelle grow.

Coral Anatomy

Individual coral animals are called polyps.  Can exist singly or in colonies.  Some colonies are so densely packed that it is hard to tell that there are several individuals.  Corals are animals, not plants.

Two major groups of corals:

  • Soft Coral – do not have an external skeleton – best corals for beginner hobbyists
    • New Aquariums:  Mushrooms, Button Polyps, Star Polyps, Yellow Polyps
    • Mature Aquariums:  Leathers, Colt Corals, Glove/Clove Polyps
  • Stony/Hard Coral – have external skeleton
    • Not recommended for new aquariums
    • Mature Aquariums:  Plate Corals, Brain Corals, Acropora, Bubble Corals, Torch/Frogspawn/Hammer, Candy Cane

Coral Parts

  • Mouth
  • Gastrovascular cavity
  • Tentacles
  • Trunk
  • Branches
  • Skeleton – only in hard/stony corals
    • Made from calcium and carbon dioxide -> calcium carbonate known as “aragonite”
    • Covered in a thin layer of soft tissue

Coral Nutrition

Zooxanthellae – tiny single celled phytoplankton that lives within coral tissue.

  • Pigments in zooxanthellae give coral their color and can transfer from one coral to another.
  • Produce food (glucose and amino acids) for the coral via photosynthesis.
  • High water temperatures can cause them to evacuate the coral causing “bleaching”.
  • Require high light to photosynthesize
  • Take in nitrates and phosphates given off by the coral (“coral poop”) and fish or from food

Food that is consumed

  • Gathered by tentacles and brought to the mouth
  • Captured in mucous layer
  • Can target feed corals – some need individual polyps (heads) fed (sun corals, duncans, bubble corals)
    • Add a little food to the water before trying to target feed corals.  This helps them open up and prepare to take what you will be feeding.  (AquaVitro fuel)
  • Recommended products:  Coral Frenzy, AquaVitro fuel, Seachem Phytoplankton, Seachem Zooplankton, Coral Food Mix, Cyclop-eeze, Silversides

Direct absorption  

  • Calcium, magnesium, iodide, etc.
  • Recommended products:  AquaVitro calcification (calcium), ions (magnesium), vibrance (iodide)

Defensive Mechanisms 

Protect from predators, help capture food, fight other corals for living space.

Cnidocytes – a.k.a. “nematocysts” – stinging cells that have adhesive mechanisms and stinging barbs
Can be ejected from the coral when touched or when it senses the chemical signals of flesh nearby.

Sweeper Tentacles – specialized tentacles that are up to 4 x the length of regular tentacles.  Packed full of cnidocytes.  Useful for gaining real estate in the reef.

Chemical Warfare – corals can emit toxins that can irritate/stunt/kill other corals nearby.
Corals are not equally sensitive to toxic chemicals secreted by other corals, so you may have some corals doing well while others do not.  Toxic effects can be limited by the use of carbon or Purigen.



Many corals can spawn, but in the aquarium the sperm and eggs are usually eaten or removed by filtration.  Spawning is uncommon in aquariums.


  • Fission – splitting into two pieces half the size of the original (mushrooms)
  • Laceration/Auto-fragmentation – pieces of unequal size are left behind from the parent coral as it moves from one place to the other or drop branches (leathers, Kenya trees).  Stony corals must rely on destructive forces in nature such as storms or predators to break off pieces called “frags” (fragments).
  • Polyp Buds – bits of tissue that grow off the parent and then drop off to be carried away by the current (frogspawn)

Saltwater Chemistry Basics

Saltwater Chemistry Basics

The Nitrogen Cycle

Ammonia -> Nitrite -> Nitrate
Ammonia: Toxic. Idea level is 0 ppm.
Nitrite: Toxic at low levels. Ideal is 0 ppm.
Nitrate: Low levels are desirable. Depending on type of critters keeping: 0-20 ppm (fish only) and <10 for corals

The most important factor in success with a salt water tank (or any enclosed body of water) is maintaining proper water parameters.

Don’t dose it unless you can test for it.

pH – ideal level 8.2-8.4 

Scale of 0-14 – Numbers lower than 7 are acidic, higher numbers are basic.

Correcting Ionic Balance

  • Since in a saltwater aquarium, the water should be basic (8.2-8.4 pH), you should regularly monitor and  add buffer  as needed to help offset the effects of the breakdown of organic matter through feeding and fish waste.
  • Balance by Seachem helps to end the see-saw effect of pH balance.


A buffer is a system of chemical equilibrium that has an effect of stabilizing pH.

  • Try Seachem’s eight.four, Marine Buffer, or Reef Buffer which are buffers that boost the pH.

Alkalinity – ideal reading 4-6 meq/L

  • Alkalinity is a measure of the ability of a solution to resist change in pH on the addition of an acid (the ability to maintain a stable pH).
  • The measurements of alkalinity are one of the following: milliequivalents per liter (meq/L) or dKH or ppm of KH(carbonate hardness).
  • The two most common units of alkinity are meq/L  or dKH.
  • dKH – Degrees of carbonate hardness or parts per million of carbonate hardness (ppm of KH) are only measurements of carbonates.  Alkalinity is a measurement of all things that affect pH – Carbonates, Borates, Phosphates, Sulfates, Iodates, Chlorates, etc.
  • To convert meq/L into a measurement of dKH, multiply meq/L  x 2.8 (this = dKH).

Calcium – ideal level 400-450 mg/L 

Calcium and alkalinity are required by many critters that form calcium carbonate skeletons and shells. In a closed system like a reef tank, calcium can quickly become depleted.

Calcification by Seachem is a blend of ionic calcium (easily available) and calcium gluconate (energy source for corals – also promotes denitrification process). Bio-Calcium by Tropic Marin simultaneously increases calcium and alkalinity. If used as directed it won’t alter pH.

  • Natural seawater has specific amounts of calcium and alkalinity that organisms have evolved to use.
  • Corals and other calcifying organisms take a specific ratio of calcium and alkalinity from the water to form calcium carbonate.
  • Some supplements (CaCO3/CO2 reactors; limewater; balanced two-part additives) add calcium and alkalinity to the water in a specified ratio.
  • Calcium and carbonate (a component of alkalinity) can precipitate from the water column if the product of the concentration of each of them rises too high.
  • It should be tested for regularly, for as animals grow over time, they will extract it at an increasing rate.

Magnesium – ideal level 1,000-1,400 mg/L  

  • Magnesium binds to carbonate ions to keep calcium available
    • Can be depleted
    • Magnesium’s main importance in reef aquaria is its interaction with the calcium and alkalinity balance
    • Should be measured occasionally, particularly if the aquarium’s calcium and alkalinity levels seem difficult to maintain, or if excessive precipitation of calcium carbonate appears on things as heaters and pumps.
    • Elevated magnesium levels can help eradicate Bryopsis algae.
  • Severely depleted levels of magnesium (below 800 mg/L) can cause low pH levels and an inability to maintain proper calcium levels.
  • Ions by Seachem is the most concentrated magnesium supplement on the market.  It does not contain ammonia like all other liquid magnesium supplements.  It also contains borate which is a pH buffer. Tropic Marin Magnesium is another alternative.

Iodide – ideal reading 0.06 mg/L 

Some schools of thought -critical for growth of soft tissues of invertebrates (corals, shrimp, hermits, copepods, etc.) However, some say it is unnecessary and possibly dangerous.

Vibrance by Seachem is the most concentrated iodide on the market  – is not toxic iodine like what is found in Lugol’s solution.

See “Chemistry And The Aquarium: Iodine in Marine Aquaria: Part I” By Randy Holmes-Farley

Strontium –  ideal reading 8.0-10 mg/L

  • Chemically similar to calcium and magnesium
  • Some critters like gastropods and cephalopods do require it.

    However, few, if any, scientific studies have been done on the effects of depleted strontium on the average critters that aquarists maintain.

    Very high calcification rates can deplete strontium faster than it can be replaced by water changes.

    See “Aquarium Chemistry: Strontium and the Reef Aquarium” By Randy Holmes-Farley, Ph.D.

Silicates – ideal reading <.05 mg/L or immeasurable

  • Come from tap water or play sand -> brown algae
  • Newly cycled tanks see diatom algae blooms due to dissolved silicates (mostly from the sand)

What do I really need to dose?

Bob Fenner says the only time you want to consider dosing for major, minor, and trace elements is if you’re engaged in intensive breeding and propagation or if you have a heavily stocked reef system.

  1. Read the label of the product you’re looking at. If you understand your water chemistry, you can knock out a lot of unnecessary product.
  2. Are the ingredients listed?
  3. Is there a guaranteed analysis? One of the major things that sets Salinity apart is that there’s a printed guaranteed analysis on every batch of salt.
  4. If you can, open two bottles of the same product and compare the colors or appearance. Are they the same?

Necessary Supplements in Nearly All Reef Aquaria

  • Calcium
  • Alkalinity

Useful Supplements in Many Reef Aquaria

  • Magnesium (if not maintained by calcium addition methods and water changes)

Questionable Supplements in Most Reef Aquaria

  • Iodine
  • Strontium
  • Borate (buffering abilities)
  • Trace element mixtures

Major Elements:  Elements occurring in concentrations of 1 ppm in salt water. Examples include Calcium, magnesium and strontium.

Minor Elements: Elements occurring between 1 ppb and 1 ppm in salt water. Examples include iodine and iron.

Trace Elements: Elements occurring at a concentration of less than 1 ppb.

  • 52 of the 77 naturally occurring elements in salt water are trace elements.
  • Many of these trace elements are important in various metabolic reactions and vitamin synthesis reactions.
  • Bob Fenner says more systems suffer from accumulation of “trace” materials than a lack of them.
  • Made up for during water change if using a quality salt and quality food.

Running carbon can remove many additives.

Salt Choice

  • Ideal salt will bring pH to 8.2-8.4 and have a high buffering capacity (good choices Reef Salt or Salinity by Seachem)
    • High levels of trace elements such as calcium, magnesium, iodide, & strontium
  • Helps to reduce difficulty in maintaining water quality between water changes
  • All synthetic salt mixes contain about the same proportions of the major elements of natural saltwater.

The bottom line is to maintain balance in an aquarium, adhere to the following:  under-crowding/feeding, proper filtration, and frequent water changes depending on system size, bio- load, and filtration. Water changes safely replace calcium and trace elements used by your livestock and beneficial microbes, while reducing wastes and metabolites.  Stability is far more important than hitting an exact target.

Pond Acclimation Procedure

Pond Acclimation Procedure

Before fish and snails can be released into your pond, it is critical to acclimate them to their new environment.  Transport is stressful for all animals, so make their transition to their new home as easy as possible by doing a proper acclimation.

Important things to remember:

  1. Floating the bag only equalizes temperature and is not sufficient in and of itself for acclimation.
  2. Follow sterile procedure: Never put water from the fish bag into your pond.  Instead, remove the fish from the water used during acclimation and place it into your pond.

Acclimation Procedure

  1. Begin the acclimating procedure by floating the bag in the pond to equalize the temperature. It is best if you can find a ledge in the pond where the bag will rest comfortably without turning over.
  2. Open the bag and begin adding water from your pond to the bag, one large cup at a time.  Be sure to close the top of the bag so that the fish cannot swim or jump out until it is time to release it.
  3. Slowly transfer water from your pond to the bag over the course of about 45 minutes.  This process helps to ensure that the water in the bag matches that of your pond in pH, temperature, and salinity (salt content).  Fast changes in environment can cause a great deal of stress in fish and this can kill them or lead to them developing a disease.
  4. Transfer the fish from the bag to your pond.
    • Use a net to remove them from the bag and release them into the pond.
    • If you are adding snails, it is easiest to remove them by hand and place them into your pond and always ensure that they are placed in the pond with their opening facing the bottom.  If they are left upside down, they cannot right themselves and they will die.
  5. Dispose of acclimation water.  Never add this water to your pond.

Saltwater and Reef Tanks FAQ

Saltwater and Reef Tanks
Frequently Asked Questions

Are saltwater fish hard to keep? Are they harder than freshwater?

Saltwater fish only tanks are about as easy as keeping a freshwater fish tank.  The major difference is knowing how to maintain the salinity.   However, saltwater reef tanks require a bit more knowledge.  Corals require better light and the addition of trace elements to the water to be healthy.

As with any other type of aquarium, you need good equipment and you need to maintain your tank properly through monthly water changes and proper animal husbandry.

How warm should my saltwater fish / reef tank be?

The temperature should be set at approximately 79-80 degrees F.  Be sure to have a good thermometer and replace your heater on a regular basis. recommends once a year as a general precaution.  While most heaters will last at least a few years, has seen enough heater-related catastrophes to know that spending a little extra once a year to replace your heater is a very good insurance policy.

Typically, when heaters break, they stick ON instead of OFF.  The thermostat is no longer in control and the tank just gets warmer and warmer.  By the time that people realize there is a problem, it is usually too late.

What is the recommended specific gravity /  salinity for a saltwater fish or reef tank?

Reef tanks should be kept between 1.023 and 1.027 to keep coral and inverts happy.

However, if you have a  fish only saltwater system (with no inverts) you may consider keeping the salinity slightly lower – down to 1.018 to help prevent outbreaks of ich.

How do you keep the correct salinity (salt level / specific gravity)?

The most important part about keeping your salinity at the right level is having the right equipment to measure it.  Salinity can be measured best with a refractometer which can be purchased at our store.  Refractometers are moderately expensive, so many people might opt for a simple hydrometer.

The key to keeping salinity stable is to remember that salt does not evaporate. When freshwater evaporates from a saltwater aquarium, the ratio of salt increases because there is less water left to dilute it.  When you add freshwater to your saltwater aquarium to make up for evaporation, the salt level decreases because there is more water to dilute the salt.  This means only add freshwater to replace evaporated water.

Likewise, if you remove water manually from your aquarium with a hose or a cup when doing a water change or acclimating fish, the salt goes with the water.  Since you are removing both salt and water, you should add back saltwater to replace the water you took out.  Remember that salt should be mixed with RO/DI water before it is added to the aquarium.

What is live rock and why do I need it?

Live rock is a term used to describe very porous rock that has bacteria and living organisms such as sponges, coralline algae (desirable), mussels, etc. living in and on it.  Live rock serves as a biological filter for your aquarium and as a source of food for crabs and other invertebrates.  Live rock is what is used to build the structure that supports corals.  Together, live rock and corals form the reef in your aquarium.

Usually live rock is collected from the ocean. This rock may be formed from dead coral, volcanic activity, or even aquacultured which means it has been placed into the ocean or an established aquarium for later collection.

Read more about live rock on our Saltwater Filtration page.

When can I add fish?

Generally, it is best to wait a while before adding the first fish to the aquarium.  “A while” is determined by several factors such as whether or not your temperature is stable, and if you are showing no ammonia initially in the system.  It is important to take into consideration how much living biological filtration such as live rock initially went into the aquarium.  The more living bacteria, the better off the initial fish will be.

If you have little to no living biologicals when starting up, such as a fish only with a wet-dry system, you might want to wait several weeks.  Adding a few hermits and a tiny amount of food every few days will help get the system started up.  Also, live sand can help speed up this process.

If you put in 1 lb per gallon of fully cured live rock and your temperature and ammonia levels are stable, then a few days wait is generally sufficient.

What about adding more fish after the first fish are in?

Once the ammonia and nitrite levels are at zero, other fish may be added.  A general rule of thumb is a couple/few weeks after the first fish are in, but you should follow what your ammonia and nitrite tests tell you.

Once I can add more fish, how many do I add at once?

Unlike freshwater, many marine fish do well by themselves.  Try adding one or two fish at a time every couple to three weeks.  Be sure to keep an eye on your ammonia levels so that you don’t have a major problem on your hands.

As your aquarium becomes more populated, adding fish can be a tricky business.  Having some fish of the same type and coloration can be a problem (i.e. tangs) so be sure to have a game plan before you start to stock your tank.

Your Local Fish Store’s expert staff can help you make this plan.  Stop in and bring us a list of what you would like to have, and we will tell you what is and is not appropriate based on your tank size and current inhabitants.  We can also suggest a general order in which to add those fish.  Don’t be surprised if we tell you “No” on several of your choices.  We will veto things that seem like a bad idea.  Sometimes we make you pick one fish or another.  All of this is in your (and your aquarium inhabitants’) best interest.

How much flow do I need in my tank (how many times does the water need to turn over per hour)? How many times per hour does the water need to go through the filter?

When considering water flow in a marine aquarium, there are several mitigating factors. suggests that water should turn over 6 to 12 times an hour.  Depending on the height of the tank, your pump size will vary due to differences in head pressure, or the extra force required to move water against force of gravity.

Pump size can be calculated by taking the volume of the tank and multiplying by anywhere from 6 to 12.   For example, the pump on a 50 gallon tank should put out about 300 – 600 gallons per hour.

In considering how much flow in the 300-600 gph range is desired, it is necessary to know what will be going on in the tank.  Some tanks such as acro tanks require much higher levels of flow than other saltwater tanks, so one would hedge towards a higher gph pump.  It is also necessary to compensate for the height of the tank by choosing a pump with adequate head pressure rating.

Additionally, there should be a good current throughout the tank without forcing the fish to swim constantly through a strong current. Powerheads can be used to supplement the current and may be redirected to provide flow to dead spots in the aquarium.

What is the best material for the tank bottom – crushed coral or sand? How deep should the substrate be?

We find that aragonite makes an excellent substrate.  Our favorite variety is the Special Grade Reef Sand by CaribSea.  We like this particular type because it is not too big for sand sifters to sift, yet it is heavy enough that it does not blow around in the tank.  We feel that crushed coral is best reserved for fish only systems that typically will not have any type of sand sifters and for freshwater African Cichlid systems.  We have found that while finer grade sand styles of aragonite are acceptable, they typically drift like sand dunes making it difficult to maintain a stable sand bed.  This can also be problematic for sand-dwelling corals like plates and brains since they can be covered up very easily.

When used with a good filtration system (live rock or a wet-dry sump) using approximately one inch in depth is adequate, but slightly thicker beds are more desirable for sand sifting fish like jawfish and it also helps to stabilize live rock.  (Note:  Always situate live rock on the glass in the aquarium before adding the substrate to ensure that no toppling occurs if a fish digs under a rock.)

Some people like a very thick sand bed of 5″+ known as a Deep Sand Bed ,or DSB. recommends sticking to a moderately deep bed of 1.5″-3″ without a plenum.  The DSB theory requires a plenum to perform denitrification, and we are whole-heartedly against plenums due to their inherent danger.  Without the plenum, it simply makes no sense to have so much sand.

What kind of lighting do I need for a coral reef tank?

Standard aquarium lighting is insufficient to keep corals and anemones.  You will know that you have a standard light if your pocketbook didn’t notice you bought it.  Reef lighting is a bit pricey, but there is a reason.  You are trying to replicate sunlight, so the lights are pretty intense.  (No, a growlight from your local hardware store is still not sufficient.)

For specifics, check with your Local Fish Store.  They can give you the details about what light is needed for what corals.  Some corals require very high light while others are more tolerant of less expensive reef lighting options.

What is the average cost and size of a saltwater aquarium?

This is probably one of the most commonly asked questions we get regarding saltwater tanks and there is no straightforward answer.  However, we have put together the following general guidelines to help customers to better understand the reasons the answer seems somewhat vague.

A Note on Aquarium Size:

We feel that what makes some tank setups better than others is not so much the size, but rather having the right equipment.  The right equipment can mean the difference between easy sailing and a complete nightmare to maintain.

To the average person who comes in our store and asks for a saltwater tank, we usually recommend a drilled 75 gallon tank.  This may seem like a large tank to a first time tank owner, but it is an easy system to set up and it is simple to maintain because we have room to put in the right equipment.  Tanks of this size are easy to get around in to clean and they have room to stack live rock easily due to their depth from front to back.  They also are not so small that they are filled up quickly and the owner is left immediately with the impression that his/her tank is too small.  Smaller tanks can be successfully maintained, but larger tanks are more stable in regards to temperature and water chemistry.

A Note on Pricing:

There are many different options to consider when setting up a saltwater aquarium depending on what the owner wants as an end product.  These options can have considerable bearing on the final cost of the tank.  Some of the options include: aquarium size, type of filter(s), lighting, cabinetry, heaters, and other accessories.

All of these options have different costs associated with them. Your choices of these options ultimately determine the cost of your aquarium.  Saltwater aquariums are more expensive to set up and cost a bit more to maintain than freshwater.  The cost of fish and coral are usually more expensive, with the exception of large or rare freshwater fish.

Many people are tempted to try to find individual items cheaper than what we recommend, and they do exist – but unless those cheaper items hold up over time and prove to be of good quality, we will not stock them.  Our goal is to sell good quality products that will endure the hard life ahead of them.

In order to make this determination we test all of our products before they go on our shelves.  When reps come to show us something new we tell them that we will have to test it first and that their orders will have to wait until we are convinced that their products are worthy to put on our shelves.

We have been testing equipment as a store since 2003.  Since aquariums and ponds are all we do, we have the time, place, and incentive to test products thoroughly on a daily basis.  That is something that all line pet stores (ones that carry everything from cats, to birds, to dogs, etc.) do not have the luxury to do.

In short, our aquarium quotes will probably be at least what other stores would quote, and sometimes they are a little more.  However, we expect you to be completely satisfied with what you get from us with each piece of equipment performing very well, and we expect that you will not have to replace your equipment anytime soon.

It is not uncommon to walk through our store and find one customer recommending a piece of equipment we sold to them to another customer they just met because they are so happy with it themselves.  You can’t buy compliments like that!

What are some good books about marine aquariums that I can read?

These are some really good books to read if you want to learn more about saltwater aquariums. Many online retailers have these titles available for purchase at their stores:

Marine Fishes (Pocketexpert Guide), Scott W. Michael – We refer to this one as our Saltwater Fish “Bible”.  Check out our copy when you come in.  You can barely tell what it is because the cover is so worn and is falling off.

Pocket Guide To Reef Aquarium Fish.   Scott W. Michael – Also a staple guide that we use ourselves.

Pocket Expert Guide to Marine Invertebrates.  Ronald L. Shimek Ph.D. – Our invert “Bible”

The New Marine Aquarium: Step-By-Step Setup and Stocking Guide, Michael S. Paletta

The Saltwater Aquarium Handbook, George C. Blasiola