marine: fish only

Welcome to the exciting world of fish keeping!  Make this guide your checklist for everything you’ll need to get your aquarium started and set up for success!

Aquarium and Stand

Aquariums come in all sizes. The larger the environment the better quality of life the fish will have. The size aquarium you choose depends on the size and quantity of fish (bio load) you will be keeping. Aquariums are available in glass or acrylic, with acrylic being the more expensive of the two. Either will offer a wonderful fish-keeping experience. Make sure and attain a stand capable of withstanding the weight of the aquarium (nearly 10 lbs / 4.5 kg per gallon!)

When your glass or acrylic needs cleaning pick up ATM Mirage, a cleaner and polish that is non-toxic to your aquatic friends.


A hood essentially houses all-important lighting for your fish and corals. The best options for lighting are fluorescent bulbs and LED’s, with fluorescent bulbs being the most economical. Appropriate lighting is crucial to coral health and the circadian rhythm of your marine friends.

Glass or acrylic lids prevent necessary gas exchange and get cloudy over time so are not recommended for marine tanks. More appropriate screen tops can be purchased or made easily to keep fish prone to jumping inside the tank.


The best optics toward aquarium keeping is that taking care of your fish means achieving great water quality.

Depending on the type of aquarium you purchase, it may or may not be a “reef ready” tank. Reef ready means it has been drilled in specific places on the glass bottom and overflows with slotted weirs glued into corners or along the back. In a peninsula style tank, the entire side wall may be an overflow. The drilled holes are fitted then with bulkheads and flexible or rigid piping to a sump is routed to the sump and then back from a submersible pump to the tank. Sumps provide plenty of space for surface area filtration (both physical and biological) and space for a protein skimmer.

Canister filters are the next best choice for your aquarium, if you are not purchasing a reef ready tank. They offer a variety of crucial filtration methods in the most practical layout. Filtration is made up of physical filtration and bio-filtration. Physical filtration consists of pads, sponges, and sometimes carbon to filter particulate. Bio-filtration, however, utilizes media that houses important nitrifying bacteria required to remove toxic ammonia from the system. This media is typically included in canister filters. For smaller tanks, hang on back protein skimmers can be purchased as well.

Finally, a hang on back (HOB) filter may also be used on tanks that are not “Reef Ready”. They employ the same mechanical and biological filtration medias as sumps and canister filters, but are more compact.

Turn off return pump or canister filter when feeding.  This will help to extend the life of your filtration media, avoid wasting food, and creating more waste to break down in your tank. Remember, what goes in to your marine aquarium must come out some how.

General rule of thumb for any marine tank is turning over the complete volume 5 to 6 times per hour.

A flow rate of between 4-6 times the gallons per hour (depending on bio-load) is required to adequate filtration. So, for a 20 gallon (75.7 L) tank moderately stocked, a filter with a 80 gallon-per hour flow rate (303 L per hour) would suffice. A heavily stocked tank of the same volume would require a 120 gallon-per-hour (454 L per hour) flow rate.


There are many substrates to choose from when putting together your saltwater aquarium. Dry crushed coral in various grades are available as is live wet sand. Depending on the look you are trying to achieve and the fish you are keeping dictates the substrate type. If you are keeping wrasses you will want a sandy type substrate.

Decorations And Scapes

Aquariums are far more enjoyable with a natural look. Decorations, and saltwater aquariums can be decorated with dry base rock and allowed to have natural algae and coraline grow, cured live rock that already has coraline algae in different colors and sponges and some macro algae, or man made colored rock that is manufactured to look like real ocean rock. Rock scapes can be worked out in a simulated tank space on cardboard that is approximately the same size footprint of your tank. Build and rebuild till you are happy- take a photo of your scape and setup in your tank. Building outside the tank will allow you to create stability and avoid smacking the glass with a falling rock and risking a break.

Heater / Thermometer

Fish require a consistent, non-changing temperature for optimum health. Make sure and get an adjustable heater that is adequate for your tank size and a thermometer to monitor water temperatures. It is advised to keep your marine tank between 74 and 78 degrees and heat as necessary. Clip on fans can be used in the summer if your tank runs above 78 degrees.

Gravel Vacuum

Gravel vac acts as a siphon to remove detritus and other organic waste from the substrate of the aquarium. It also removes the water for water changes at the same time. It is one of the most important tools to a healthy, clean aquarium!

Test Kits

Without test kits it’s hard to get a feel for your water parameters. But test kits are not created equally. They range from low quality test strips, which are the least expensive all the way up to EPA standard field kits that are hundreds of dollars. Luckily, there is a range of reagent test kits for aquarium that are economical and are accurate enough for the aquatic environment. The essential test kits are for pH, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. They will help you keep your water safe for your fish from the cycling process and beyond.

Water Conditioning Additives

The good news is that there are not a lot of products that you need. An authentic nitrifying bacteria additive, Blue Shark Colony, will make the aquarium safe for fish in days by installing bio-filtration that filters out toxic ammonia naturally. Additionally, an organics-consuming product, as in Blue Shark Outbreak! will keep aquatic pests like algae at bay. It would also be a good idea to keep an emergency ammonia remover on-hand, the best of which is Blue Shark Triage.

Other Tools

The right tool for the job makes aquarium keeping fun and efficient. Fish nets are useful for many applications, including moving fish, removing debris from the tank. Also, keep an algae scrubber to eliminate any algae that might accumulate on glass/acrylic or decorations. A typical 5 gallon bucket is good to isolate specifically for aquarium use during transferring of water during water changes. Visual Refractometer and measuring cup.

For larger tanks it is recommended to have a large bin for mixing fresh salt water and a hose long enough to siphon old water out of the tank and an extra submersible pump to replace the water taken out. 25% water changes are a general rule of thumb, and marking 10% and 25% levels on the back corner of the glass with a sharpie or tape will be helpful in future water changes.





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