5 min read

Maintaining a Saltwater Aquarium: My Way

Written by Tom Neal - The Daphian, January 1991

There are many ways to set up and maintain a saltwater tank. There is more equipment to choose from then there are Guppies born in the U.S. each year. For starters, I would like to list the equipment I use in each of my setups.

I use under gravel filters with power heads, outside power filters, a heater, an air pump, and lights. I normally use about 4 inches of substrate to cover my under gravel plates. This provides enough area for beneficial bacterial growth. I might add that I never breakdown a tank to clean the U.G. filter.

I vacuum 1/3 of the gravel every other week. This removes most of the debris that normally gathers under the plate. I also stir-up all the gravel in the tank every 2-3 weeks. If this is done on a regular basis, then there is no danger to your animals from pollutants. The object of this kind of maintenance is to keep the gravel bed free of waste. A bed loaded with waste will soon have the U.G. filter clogged. Once the U.G. filter becomes clogged, it is useless as a biological filter.

Another very important part of my maintenance schedule is doing a 20% weekly water change. I can hear all of the groans now - “the salt will cost a fortune.” In answer to that, I would like to ask you, “what are the lives of your animals worth?”. When you think about it, I’m sure that you will realize the cost of the salt is nothing compared to the livelihood of the animals. There are two main reasons why I change so much water. First, I’m eliminating fish waste, nitrates, and other harmful chemicals. There is not a filter on the market that can replace water changes.

Wet-Dry and trickle filters cannot remove these wastes. Secondly, I am replacing trace elements and minerals used by the animals’ metabolism. Why add expensive trace elements when you can replenish them with frequent water changes? At the same time you are removing pollutants. If you salt people would change more water, I know you would see a vast improvement in your animals health.

Now let’s talk about the highly debatable topic of filtration. I only use the Aqua-Clear Power Filters for my mechanical and chemical filtration while I use under gravel filters for my biological filtration. ON my 55 gallon aquarium I use two Aqua-clear 300’s and a full U.G. plate. I like the Aqua-clear series mainly because of the sponges that they use, as they supply a large surface area for beneficial bacterial growth. I also like the fact that this filter uses large bags of carbon in its filter chamber. I truly believe in using carbon even though it is true that carbon will absorb small amounts of trace elements. I overcome this with my water changes - trace elements are constantly being added. Activated carbon will actually help keep your water crystal clear while removing chemical toxins. I use two filters so that I do not destroy all my bacteria while I am cleaning. I change the charcoal and rinse the sponge one a month. I clean the filters two weeks apart from each other.

Even though the fad is now trickle or wet-dry filtration, I do not believe they are worth the money. For those of you who can make one cheaply, the fine and dandy, but many of us cannot afford $250 or up for a filter. I personally cannot see paying that amount of money when my filters give me ammonia and nitrite readings of zero. In my opinion the much more expensive systems simply cannot do a better job. The only argument that gives the wet-dry and trickle filters a possible slight edge is that they super aerate the aquarium.

In my tanks, I use plenty of current. Two power heads, two power filters, and an air-wand putting out a good stream of bubbles. Ocean fish seem to appreciate the current while anenomies have to have good current to grow and prosper. With my aerating method, my oxygen saturation level is always at the saturation point. The next thing we need to talk about is feeding. As in humans, the quality of food we eat determines our health. When feeding your animals, give them a wide variety of food.

Do not stick to just flakes and pellets. In a typical 24 hour period, I feed four times. At 9:00am flake foods, 3:00pm live black worms, cooked spinach at 7:00pm., and some sort of meaty food at 9:00pm. Your local pet shop usually has a good supply of frozen supply of frozen fish foods. Buy 3 or 4 different kinds and feed a different one everyday. Along with flakes and pellets this will provide your fish with a balanced diet. You can also feed chopped up raw fish and seafood from your local market.

If you can find some live black worms - buy them. They are a perfect fish food. I have a Copper Banded Butterfly fish that goes “whacko” over them. Copper Bands are difficult to keep because they are fussy eaters and are very shy. Well, I’ll tell you what - as soon as I introduce black worms, he eats like a starved Oscar. I’ve had my Butterfly a few months and he bullies’ his tank mates out of his way at feeding time. He’s fat, alert and very healthy. I attribute this to water changes and the feedings of black worms.

It is also very important to feed your inverts correctly. I buy clams to feed to my starfish, crabs, and shrimp. I put the clam into the tank on the half shell and place the starfish on the clam. The starfish should start to feed immediately. If the clam is large enough then the starfish won’t be able to cover the whole thing. This allows crabs, shrimp and fish to peck at the clam. You can properly feed our crabs and shrimp utilizing this method without overfeeding. Depending on the Invert load, you should feed the clam every 7-10 days.

Feeding anenomies is also done every 7-10 days. I feed my large anenomies earthworms and the smaller ones newly hatched brine shrimp. I have tried feeding fish to the larger anenomies but I do not recommend this since I found that they have trouble digesting the bones. They regurgitate them to make a mess in your tank.

Do not forget to feed the vegetarians! Tangs and Angels especially, need vegetable matter in their diets. I feed cooked spinach once a day and the spinach is boiled till it is soft but not mushy. I have been using the above maintenance procedures for many years. In our recent show, I placed first and second in the Marine category with a Lionfish and a Marine Beta.

Within one of my tanks, a 55 gallon, I have 1 Flame Angel, 1 Coral Beauty Angel, 1 Purple Fire Goby, 1 Hawk fish, 1 Yellow Tang, 1 Blue Mandarin, 1 Copper Banded Butterfly fish, 1 Percu, 1 Clownfish, 1 Royal Gramma, 1 Blue Devil, 1 Pom-Pom crab, 1 Coral Banded Shrimp, 1 Large Carpet Anenome, 1 Chocolate Chip Starfish, 1 Sally Lightfoot Crab, 1 Atlantic Anenome, and 1 Hermit Crab.

This 55 has been running for over two years and I have not lost a fish in over a year. Everyone gets along fine with no territorial disputes. My tank vitals are ammonia: 0, nitrites: 0, nitrates: 20, pH 8.3, and a temperature of 78F. The only reason my nitrates are so high is that I have nitrates in my tap water. I listed my animals and tank vitals to show you that it is possible to have a nicely stocked, beautiful aquarium without all the expensive filters, protein skimmers, UV sterilizers, and all the other “crap” that we are lead to believe we need to keep our animals healthy. If I can be of help to anyone with their salt tanks, please call me.