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


Salinity
Problems that You Will Encounter (Very Soon)
Algae Problem
Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate Problem
pH Problem
About Water Change
Silicate, Phoshate, and the Minimum Set of Test Kits
Lighting Systems
Note

Salinity

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.


Problems that You Will Encounter (Very Soon)

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 aquarium shop.
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.)

Algae Problem

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.


Ammonia, Nitrite, and Nitrate Problem

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 Problem

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 time.
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 your tank.
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.

About Water Change

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, Phosphate, and The Minimum Set of Test Kits

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 set.)

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.


Lighting Systems

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.)



Note

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 various pages.

Wai's Aquarium Ltd, 2000, 2001. All rights reserved.