Aquatics Unlimited: Articles: Types of Saltwater Setups
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Types of Saltwater Setups

for the week of 11/26/98

The first decision that should be made when considering setting up a saltwater tank is what type of livestock the aquarist intends to keep. Everything else, including filtration, lighting, chemistry and overall expense are largely determined by the answer to this first question.

Fish-Only Setup. This is probably still the most common approach, is relatively inexpensive, and most hobbyists can have success. Standard freshwater-type filtration and lighting is adequate, so only a few basic additions (salt mix, crushed coral gravel, and a hydrometer) are required to make a good freshwater setup into a good saltwater setup. Common diseases like Cryptocaryon and Amyloodinium are easier to treat in this setup, since no medication-sensitive invertebrates are kept. Since fish do not appear to extract much in the way of calcium or other elements directly from the water, no special chemical additives are generally required other than those in the salt mix itself.

ImageReef or Mini-Reef Setup. Rapidly growing in popularity, reef tanks are actually fairly easyflame scallop to maintain, but often much more expensive than traditional fish-only systems. Live corals and other invertebrates containing symbiotic algae require much more light than fish or other invertebrates do - a lighting system for a 75 gallon aquarium often costs several hundred to a thousand dollars. In addition, that same tank might incorporate 150 pounds of "live rock" costing $3 to $10 per pound. What sort of filtration - if any - is still a matter of great debate among reef "experts," but a good protein skimmer and a number of "power head" water pumps seem to work pretty well. Generally, many invertebrates, including corals, polyps, shrimp, starfish, clams and so on can be kept (although compatibility is still a concern), but only a few fish. Since it is very difficult to treat fish disease outbreaks in a mixed tank, the best way to avoid epidemics is to keep the fish uncrowded - perhaps only one small fish per ten or twenty gallons. Finally, since live corals and other invertebrates extract calcium, strontium, iodine and other elements directly from the water, routine testing and replacement is recommended.

Mixed Fish and Invertebrate Setup. This attempt to have the best of the two previous systems does result in a setup of intermediate cost and complexity, but is perhaps the trickiest to master. Again, fish disease prevention and treatment are a big concern, so it's best to keep the fish load light. The tank can hold quite a number of crabs, shrimps, and starfish, however, and perhaps even a low-light coral or two. Testing and replacement of calcium and other elements is not required in this case, but water changes will probably need to be more frequent than in the reef setup.

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