On this page, we would like to mention a
few very commonly encountered problems when
setting up a new tank. We strongly recommend
this page for those who have the water running
in your tank, but do not know the next steps
to set up their tanks. For the rest of the
readers who have been reading articles on
this site, this can be a brief summary of
the material that you have seen so far. There
are also a few maintaince tips that may be
helpful to you.
TABLE OF CONTENT
SalinityProblems that You Will Encounter (Very Soon)Algae ProblemAmmonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate ProblempH ProblemAbout Water ChangeSilicate, Phoshate, and the Minimum Set of
Test KitsLighting SystemsNote
Salinity level is the amount of salt present
in your tank. It is the first thing that
you do when you are setting up a tank. Unfortunately,
people tend to forget the importance of salinity
once they have their tanks under control.
The beginners should always remember to check
your salinity and this can save you from
a lot of avoidable hassles.
On the left, you can see different types
of hydrometers. It is straight forward to
use your hydrometer - just put it into your
tank and let it float. There is a scale attached
to each hydrometer. The reading is in the
form of 1.0xx, which is the specific gravity
measurement. The reading should be in the
range of 1.021 to 1.023 at 75 Fahrenheit. The only trick to read the scale is to make
sure that you are looking directly to the
water level, but not above.
Since salinity varies with temperature, it
is quite common for hydrometers to have a
thermometer included. If your hydrometer
does not have a thermometer included, you
will need to get a thermometer instead.
Introduction to Bacteria and Algaes
If you ever been a saltwater aquarium shop,
you must have heard of the term "cycle".
The "cycle" actually refers to the biological
procedure of breaking down the organics in
the water into the inorganics. The organics
in your water come from overfeeding, and
metabolic wastes produced by the living creatures
in the tank. Most of the organics have Nitrogenous
molecules and in the steps of breaking the
organics down, by-products such as Ammonia,
Nitrite, and Nitrate will be produced. The
cycle, however, can only happen when there
are different types of bacteria present in
your tank. Hence, the first thing that you
must add to your saltwater is the bacteria.
The bacteria that can contribute to setting
up the cycle can be purchased in any saltwater
Besides bacteria, the next most important
thing for the beginners to understand is
photosynthesis in the tank. In simple terms,
photosynthesis refers to the plants using up the carbon
dioxide and minerals in the tank to produce
food for itself and oxygen for the living
creatures. Since the photosysthesis requires
light to provide the energy, carbon dioxide
level changes from the "day time"
to the "night time". ("Day
time" means the hours that you have
your lights on; similarly, "night time"
means the hours that you have your lights
off. There is no particular guideline for
the number of hours that you should have
your lights on, but we recommend that you
should keep your lights running for 10 hours
a day - no more no less.)
Algaes are simply plants that live in the
tank and they are responsible for photosynthesis
in your tank. However, there are different
types of algaes. Some of them are good, but
some of them are bad. The good algaes are
brown and red algaes and the bad one is the
green algaes. Green algaes are bad because they soften the base of
corals and eventually kill the corals. In
the beginning of setting up your tank, there
are two types of chemicals that you must
pay attention to. They are silicate and phosophate. Both of these chemicals are nutrients to
undesired algaes. So if the silicate and
phosophate levels are not monitored closely,
you will have algae problem. Realistically every one runs into this problem
in the beginning. As a matter of fact, algae problem is one
of the most frequently encountered problems
in the saltwater aquariums. This is true
regardless of whether you are totally new
or you have been keeping a saltwater aquarium
for quite some time. The algae problem is
always a headache because algaes grow whenever
you do not keep tab on your water condition.
Low salinity, bad filteration, or a bad lighting
system can cause algaes to grow like no tomorrow
in your tank.
There is a much faster way to reduce your
algaes's growth and it is to use chemicals.
There are two major products that you can
choose from - Marine Tank Clarifier from
CORALIFE and Aquarium Clean from AQUAMARINE.
On the left, we have only shown a picture
of the Aquarium Clean product. The plastic
container has powder that can be added directly
into the tank. The 8 oz bottle (the big one)
treats up to 7200 Gallons. (At the moment,
we have run out of the Marine Tank Clarifier.
So we do not have a picture to show here.
But it is essentially the same product as
the Aquarium Clean.)
On the left is a picture of our own tank.
The "red" algaes that you see on
the side and the back of the tank is Pink Calcareous Algaes. There is, however, another type of red
algae called Red Slime Algae that is not good for your tank. So make
sure that you know which type of red algaes
is actually growing in your tank.
We mentioned in the beginning that ammonia,
nitrite, and nitrate are by-products of the
cycle. Usually, they will be taken care of
in the last step of the cycle. However, it
is not safe to rely on the the bacteria and
microorganisms in your tank to clean up the
cheimcals. This is because the rate the creatures
to produce the wastes is mush faster than
the rate the bacteria to break down the organics.
Once your initial set up is ready, you will
need a protein skimmer to remove the nitrogeneous organics from
the water manually. For a tank that is less
than 50 gallon, a simple protein skimmer,
such as the one we used in demonstrating
the principle behind a protein skimmer on
more Filteration page, is sufficient.
In the beginning of the set up, however,
you must keep an eye on the ammonia and nitrite
levels since ammonium (the usual form of ammonia after it is dissolved
in the water) and nitrite are toxic. They have to be removed immdeiately. Fortunately
getting rid of ammonia and nitrite is actually
quite straight forward - you can do it by
having water change frequently and by adding the corresponding eliminators.
To the left is two other products from AQUAMARINE.
They have now become two of the most popular
bacterial based products in our store. The
bacterial based products are the new type of products that unlike
chemicals, do not introduce chemical reactions
in your tank. They are also very easy to
use and the result is quite remarkable.
If your tank is having a level that is under
20 parts-per-million and if you use the dosage as recommended
and constantly in the treatment, your nitrite
and nitrate levels can be brought down to
the regular level in a month. Of couse, if
your nitrite and nitrate are at the extreme
levels, you will not see any dramatic changes
in a short period of time.
pH is the indicator to show the acidity and
alkalinity of your water. Although it does
not have an immediate impact on your tank
as ammonium and nitrite, it is the single
most important component in the long-term.
For those who do not know, your pH level
does not fluctuate every time you change
your water. This is because your water has
a pH buffer capacity to absorb the sudden changes of the pH level.
However, once the pH buffer capacity is exhausted,
there is nothing to stabilize your pH level
and soon your water has a pH level well below
the level it is supposed to be - 8.3. If
your pH level is well below what it should
be, you will soon see that fishes are not
moving as much.
It is extermely important to keep a stable
pH level if you are considering keeping corals
later on. So you see that the best way of
protecting your pH level is to ensure that
you have a stong pH buffer capacity at all
Here is a picture of pH and KH buffer. They
boosts up your pH and KH (Carbonate Hardness)
levels in your tank. If your pH level is below 8.2 or your KH
is below 2.5, you must use the corresponding
buffers to restore your buffer capacity in
The result will be obvious when you test
your water after a 5 days treatment. (You need to use the chemicals for 5 days
continuously.) The pH buffer is safe in that
the pH level will be stable once the pH level
is at 8.35. This is true even if you keep
adding pH buffer into your tank after a 5
days treatment. However, there is no such
self-stopping mechanism for the KH. It is
possible for the KH to go higher than it
should be. So the best thing to do is to
test your water after a 5 days treatment
and do not keep adding the KH buffer into
the tank until you have found out that you
need to do so.
Although we said earlier that you can do
water change frequently to get rid of the
ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite, do not change
your water too often. We recommed that in setting up your tank,
you can change 25 % of water every 3 to 4
days and you should do it for 1 to 2 weeks. Remember that this is only for setting up
your tank; once your chemical levels have
been stabilized, you should not do your water
change that frequently.
However, please do not confuse water change
with adding water to your tank. Doing a water change means siphoning from
your tank. It is needed because it is an
efficient way to clean your water. However,
you also need to add water into your sump
because water gets evaporated when your lights
are running 10 hours a day. If water is not
added, the extra amount of salt and chemicals
that were previously dissolved now increases
your salinity and various chemical level
in your tank. The amount of water that you need to add
to your tank is for neutralizing the extra
amount of salt and chemicals and replacing
the water that gets evaporated. So while
it is true that you do not need to change
your water as frequently as you are setting
up the tank later on, you still need to add
water to your sump regularly.
Silicate and Phosphate are nutrients of different
kinds of bad algaes and they can be removed
by adding Silicate Remover and Phosphate
Remover corresponding. These two are the
other chemcial levels that you must keep
an eye on besides the usual nitrite, nitrate,
etc. Silicate should be gone once the cycle has
been properly established. Phosphate will
come back again if the pH level is low.
In the long - run, you should have a set
of test kits to constantly monitor your tank
and to identify the problem once you see
something is wrong in your tank. Unfortunately,
there are too many test kits in the market
and they are all useful. (It is unfortunate
because it is expensive to get the complete
However, we want to recommend you a minimum set of
test kits: Nitrate, Nitrite, pH, and Alkalinity. This minimum set, of course, does not give
all the information for you to find out the
cause of problem in your tank. But they are
good enough to maintain your fish tank.
If you are getting corals later on, then
it is necessary for you to add a few more
test kits to give the basic parameters. If
you are interested and ready for a reef tank,
you will need other test kits, such as the
Calcium and Magnesium, etc.
If you face a limited budget, it is a wise
decision to spend the biggest portion on
a good lighting system. This is because a bad lighting system gives you the algae
problem. When you are getting your lights, the rule
"the brighter it is, the better it is"
is not necessary true. The point of having
a good lighting system is to give your corals
and fishes the correct spectrum that they
need. So the first question you need to ask is
whether the product gives the spectrum needed.
This becomes important when you are getting
corals. Some corals require a large amount
of light and so they have to be placed near
the top of the tank (or your light). Some
corals do not require as much light, and
hence, they can be placed near the bottom.
(Aside: A good tank is the one that gives
a large water surface and not too deep in
depth. If you are considering of getting
your custom - made tank, this can be a major
issue. Please contact us for the details.)
Dual Light Strip
Here we have a picture of a Dual Light Strip
from CORALIFE. It is the best lighting system
that you can get if you prefer the flourescent
lighting system to another popular system
- Power Compact system. The unit that is
shown here has a Mirror Reflector, a BJB Water Proof End Cap, and an Electric Ballast. The Electric Ballast is the same as the
one that we have shown on the More Lighting
System when the we discuss the DIY option
of your own lights.
However, this system does not come with any
light bulbs. You will need to buy them separately.
Usually, we do recommend our customers to
go with the CORALIFE ACTINIC 03 Blue and the CORALIFE 50/50 (50 % Natural Daylight 6000K and 50 % Actinic
03 Blue) If you are running your lights 10
hours a day, then you will need to replace
them every 6 months.
Here is a picture of the CORALIFE ACTINIC (the rightmost) and 50/50 (next to the ACTINIC). For this particular
series of products, we carry both the 36
and 48 inches long lights. (Information added
on Saturday, September 16, 2000.)
If you are a novice, we highly recommend
you to find more knowledgeable and experienced
dealers and shop around before you decide
who you will be dealing with in the future.
If you want more information, please come
and visit us. We are always happy to talk
to our customers.
All of the information on this page is only
a brief highlight of the articles that you
find in this web site. If you are interested
in learning a lot more, please check the
© Wai's Aquarium Ltd, 2000, 2001. All rights