Aquatics Unlimited: Articles: Small & Simple Saltwater Setup
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Small & Simple Saltwater Setup

The beautiful fishes and fascinating invertebrates of a saltwater tank catch the eye of almost every aquarist at one time or another - but not everyone wants to set up a mega-gallon seawater system or invest in all the latest high-tech gadgetry that some setups utilize. Is there a simpler, less expensive way - one that could be used on a twenty or even ten gallon aquarium? You bet!

ImageWhat do you need? The equipment for a Small and Simple Saltwater Setup need not be expensive - or even very sophisticated. The basic tank, cover, light, power filter, aeration system, heater and thermometer that might be used for a typical freshwater setup will do nicely. The only additional items required are crushed coral gravel, a quality marine salt mix, and a hydrometer to check the salt level.

ImageSetting Up. Tank setup and conditioning is also very similar to a freshwater setup - just install the various pieces of equipment, rinse the gravel, then add water and salt mix as per the directions on the salt box. (For more detailed setup instructions, please see our "PRO Setups" flyer.)

Decorating. Many artificial decorations, including plastic plants and other ornaments, are safe for use in either fresh or salt water; in addition, there are saltwater-specific items, like dried or artificial corals, sea horse trees, and live rock to provide shelter and make the aquarium more interesting.

Cycling. Saltwater tanks go through the same break-in process as freshwater tanks (see our "New Tank Syndrome" flyer). After the setup has been running for a day or two, add a few hardy, inexpensive fish or invertebrates, and care for them for the four to six weeks needed to establish the bacteria culture.

Stocking. Here's the part that makes or breaks a saltwater aquarium of any size. Stick to hardy types of fish or invertebrates that won't outgrow or outcompete their tankmates. Tank-raised clownfish are excellent for smaller aquariums; they are hardy, disease resistant and eat prepared foods, and most stay small enough for a 20 gallon tank. It's also wise to limit the number of fish to about one per 10 gallons of water, then add a few interesting critters like shrimp or starfish. These uncrowded conditions will allow hardy fish to fight off common diseases like Ich without the addition of medications that would hurt the invertebrates. An example of a stocking list for a 20 gallon setup might be: Image

  • 2 tank-raised Clarkii Clowns
  • 1 small Sebae Anemone
  • 1 Brittle or Serpent Starfish
  • 1 Camel Shrimp
  • 2 Astrea Snails
  • 1 Pencil Urchin
  • 1 Porcelain Crab

Maintenance. Upkeep is again similar to a freshwater setup, with filter cleaning and water changes being the only real jobs involved. Saltwater that has been pre-mixed and allowed to stand for a few days should be added after water changes.

  • S.S.S.S. Supply List
  • 20 gallon aquarium
  • cover w/light
  • 100 watt deluxe heater
  • digital thermometer
  • Challenger 1 air pump
  • 10 feet air line tubing
  • 6 airstone
  • Penguin 160 power filter
  • 20 lbs. crushed coral
  • 25 gallon sea salt mix
  • Seatest hydrometer

Need More Information? Stop in for our free saltwater handouts.

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