Setting up A Saltwater Aquarium


Saltwater Aquarium 
Setting up A Saltwater Aquarium 
Setting up and maintaining a saltwater aquarium is the ultimate achievement for many 
aquarium hobbyist. The key to success with saltwater aquariums is taking your time. 
Taking your time to research the fish (invertebrates and corals) you would like to keep, 
understand their requirements and providing them with a stable environment. 
Research and Planning 
Making a plan is the best place to start before you buy anything for your new saltwater 
aquarium. During this time you should take a look at the livestock you would like to keep 
and the equipment you may need. The requirements of the fish will help you decide the 
type and size of aquarium you will need. 
Things to consider: 
Livestock Aquarium Equipment
Types of Fish Location (in home or Office) Filtration
Types of Corals Size Powerhead
Types of Invertebrates Glass or Acrylic Return Pump
Substrate Stand Plumbing
Live Rock Canopy Heater and Thermometer
Base Rock Sump Lighting
Live Foods Refugium Protein Skimmer
Marine Plants UV Sterilizer   UV Sterilizer
    RO/DI Unit
Saltwater Aquarium Setup: 
Now that you have completed your planning and research, checked off everything on 
your list for starting a saltwater aquarium and purchased the equipment, it's time to put
your plan to action. 
Finding a Location 
  • Make Sure the aquarium’s location is structurally strong enough to hold the aquarium. 
  • One gallon of water weighs eight pounds. 
  • Put the stand in place and level it, being sure to leave clearance for equipment and plumbing.
  • Make Sure the location does not receive direct sunlight. This could cause allergy 
  • outbreak problems. 
Adding Equipment 
  • •If your system has a sump or wet-dry filter, It will be much easier to install it before the aquarium is on the stand.
  • Place the aquarium on the stand and recheck to see that the aquarium is level.
  • Install the Aquarium Heater.
  • Install Power Heads. 
  • Install the overflow and it’s components. If you are using a hang on the back filter skip the following steps. 
  • Install the overflow plumbing from the aquarium to the sump and /or wet-dry filter.
  • Install filter media in the sump and or wet-dry filter.
  • Install the return pump and plumbing. 
  • Install protein skimmer in the sump.
Wet Run Test 
  • Check, tighten and seal all of the aquarium’s plumbing. 
  • Fill the aquarium, sump and/or wet-dry filter with freshwater.
  • Prime aquarium’s overflow. 
  • Plug in all aquarium equipment. 
  • Monitor system operation for leaks.
Note: If a leak(s) is found quickly unplug aquarium equipment and drain aquarium to a 
point so that it prevents addition leaking. Check, tighten and seal all of the aquarium’s 
plumbing and retest until there is no leaking. 
Note: If you do not have leaks you can move on to the next step. 
Adding Substrate 
  • Adding the substrate is pretty straight forward. 
  • It takes about 2-3 days for water to become clear, after adding substrate. 
Adding Sea Salt Mix 
Note: this is the only time it is expectable to add salt mix directly to the aquarium. 
  • Follow the manufacture instructions when adding the sea salt mix to the aquarium. 
  • Most sea salt mixes use 1/2 cup per gallon of water. 
  • Adding the salt mix to high flow areas will increase the dissolve rate. 
  • Target range for salinity for a saltwater aquarium is 1.022 - 1.026 Specific Gravity (S.G.) 
Adding Live Rock 
Note: Before adding live rock to the aquarium remove 20% of the aquarium’s total water 
volume (make sure to keep it, you may need to add some back). This will help prevent 
spills when adding live rock. 
  • 1-2 pounds of live rock per gallon of aquarium, is a good rule of thumb for most saltwater aquarium applications. 
  • Preplan your aquascape prior to adding rock to the aquarium. • Avoid creating dead spots with your aquascape, keep it open and allow water to flow freely. 
Cycle Aquarium 
The term “cycling an aquarium.” is basically referring to establishing the aquarium's 
biological filter. To get an aquarium cycled you need to get your nitrifying bacteria 
growing. Nitrifying bacteria needs three things to do this surface area, bio-load and time 
(30-45 days in most cases).
  • When organic matter breaks down in an aquarium it releases ammonia (very toxic to livestock) into in the water. 
  • Beneficial bacteria start to grow and consumes the ammonia and release nitrite (very toxic to livestock) as a byproduct. 
  • Then more beneficial bacteria starts to grow and consumes the nitrite and releases nitrate as a byproduct. Nitrate is less toxic (at low levels 10ppm or less) to the aquarium’s livestock. 
  • The aquarium is cycled. 
Test Water Parameters 
Testing your water parameters will indicate when your aquarium is fully cycled and 
ready for livestock. After your aquarium is cycled testing should become apart of your 
weekly aquarium maintenance schedule. 
Final Thoughts… Having a saltwater aquarium is not a right it is a privilege. A privilege that most be 
earned threw planning and research. Setting up your saltwater aquarium is just the 
beginning and it will take continued education to maintain, your beautiful work, of living 
art. Good luck and Happy Reefing. 
Jeff Hesketh 
Mad Hatter’s Reef
-Thank you for the great article Jeff, your friends at Premium Aquatics

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