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 Beginners Guide for Keeping Saltwater Fish

Fish tanks have been around for at least 4,500 years, providing owners with a tiny ecosystem that can be built and maintained with an infinite amount of possibility. From simple setups to more complex creations, fishkeeping is a hobby that can be taken in a number of directions.

For starters, you'll need to decide on whether you'll be raising saltwater fish or freshwater fish. Both offer an amazing array of plants and colourful creatures to choose from, but saltwater aquarium fish are especially interesting and beautiful to watch. Given that an estimated 80% of our oceans have yet to be explored, saltwater fishes are all the more intriguing.

These tanks are more difficult to set up and maintain, however, so it's important that you do your research before attempting to keep one in your home.

If you're wondering where to start with your saltwater fish tank, you're in the right place. Keep reading to learn how to set up your tank and care for saltwater fish.

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Top 3 Mistakes Newbies Make Setting Up Their Fish Tank.

A Typical Large Saltwater TankA Typical Large Saltwater Tank

Setting Up Your Saltwater Fish Tank

As mentioned before, with your saltwater fish tank comes a world of possibility, but that does not mean you should choose at random. You'll need to thoroughly set out the plants and fishes you plan to keep before moving forward with the project.

Here are the steps to setting up your saltwater fish tank:

  1. Position and prepare your fish tank according to the manufacturer's instructions. Be sure you have enough electrical outlet space to accommodate all of your aquarium equipment.
  2. Clean your new tank using fresh water and a cloth or aquarium sponge. Do not use soap, as residues can be toxic to fish.
  3. Add backing to the tank. You can use vinyl backing, three-dimensional rock- scape backing, or any other backing you like.
  4. If applicable, install your aquarium's sump and related equipment according to the provided instructions.
  5. Install your aquarium's top-off system. This is what will refill the tank with clean water automatically when levels drop.
  6. Check the aquarium stand to ensure that it's level.
  7. Place your aquarium on top of the aquarium stand.
  8. Install your tank's lighting system. Using a timer for your lights is strongly recommended.

Depending on the aquarium you've purchased, you may need to purchase a separate sump and top-off system. For beginners, you might want to look for an all-in-one setup to ensure you have the right equipment.

Installing Your Aquarium Equipment

Once you've installed the backing, top-off system, sump, and lighting, it's time to move on to the other necessary equipment in your saltwater fish tank.

Here's what to do next:

  1. Get your tank's filter prepped by rinsing the pads in fresh water and placing them back into the filter.
  2. Install the filter according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  3. Install your tank's protein skimmer and filtration system.
  4. Hang your tank's powerheads (these will help recreate the realistic waves of the ocean).
  5. Install your aquarium heater.
A Large Saltwater TankA Large Saltwater Tank

Please keep in mind that these are basic instructions. To be sure you're doing everything correctly, follow the instructions that were provided with your equipment.

Testing Your Saltwater Fish Tank

After installing all the basic elements of your saltwater fish tank, it's a good idea to do a "wet test" by filling the aquarium with fresh water. This will ensure that there aren't any leaks and that all your tank equipment is working as it should. Do not install any sand, plants, or animals at this time.

Here's how to run a "wet test" of your aquarium:

  1. Ensure all hoses and other connections are tightened as much as possible.
  2. Fill your tank and sump with plain, fresh water.
  3. Plug in each piece of equipment, observing to ensure it's in proper working order.
  4. Look over plumbing connections to ensure that there aren't any leaks.
  5. Unplug the entire system, making sure the sump doesn't overflow. 
  6. Restart your saltwater fish tank system to ensure that everything works once again.

Once you've determined that everything in the tank is working properly, then it's time to move on to the water and substrate installation.

Installing Salts and Substrate

Your tank should already be filled with water from your previous "wet test." Be sure to research the best sea salt and substrate to use according to the plants and animals you plan to raise.

Here's what to do next:

  1. Remove some of the water from the aquarium and the sump.
  2. Add your sea salt. It's a good idea to add it to your sump and activate your return pump.
  3. If you choose not to add the salt to your sump, add it straight to the aquarium and activate your powerheads and filter to mix it in.
  4. Pour your sand or substrate in and wait for the tank to clear.
  5. Install any rocks and aquascaping (plants, etc.).

Once you've completed these steps, wait about a day for the water to naturally clear before adding animals.

Adding Your Saltwater Fish


After your tank's water has cleared, it's time to add your animals! It's best to introduce them slowly. Start with a few beginner-friendly fish and gradually build from there. 

It's extremely important to note that not all saltwater fishes are compatible tank companions. Be sure to research this beforehand to avoid any issues with your animals.

Freshwater Vs Saltwater Tank

If you're interested in raising saltwater fish, it's a good idea to start with a freshwater tank over a saltwater aquarium. This is simply because there is less maintenance involved and the freshwater fish are generally hardier than saltwater varieties. Once you've gotten used to the care and responsibility involved, it will be much easier to move to a saltwater tank.

However, if you're able to commit to the thorough research and fine maintenance of a saltwater aquarium, don't be afraid to dive right in. Just be sure you're prepared to do the extra work before you make any decisions.

Getting Your Saltwater Aquarium started
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It's definitely a commitment, but raising saltwater fishes in your own live aquarium is a rewarding hobby. Again, be sure that you do all the necessary research before attempting this type of setup. Now that you know how to achieve a basic saltwater fish aquarium setup, you'll be ready to get your own system started!

Check out our e-book to learn all the secrets of keeping a beautiful tank that will be the envy of all your friends!

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