Setting Up Your Aquarium
Setting Up Your Aquarium
Marc Grover (Professional Aquarist) gives expert video advice on: Where should I put the aquarium?; What type of light does my aquarium need?; Should I use gravel or sand in my aquarium? and more...
What size of aquarium should I buy?
When you are looking at purchasing an aquarium, there are some things you have to consider. It's really tough when you're first getting into a hobby like this, to know how much you're going to like it. People that aren't sure, should not run out and buy a 200 gallon salt water aquarium because that's a lot of money to invest, a lot of labor, it's big, and it's very overwhelming. So, what I tell people to do is, start off small, where small is indicated by being 10 gallons or 20 gallons. In this example, I'm thinking fresh water. If you start to like it and you know you want to upgrade, what I tell people to do is, don't go the next size up, and then the next size up, and so forth. Then you go to my number one theory, which is buy as big a tank as you can fit comfortably in the space you want to put it, and that you can comfortably afford, and skip all the little tanks on your way up to that tank, because you're ultimately going to get there anyway, and I just saved you a lot of money and got you to where you were going to go in the first place.
Where should I put the aquarium?
When you're choosing a spot for your aquarium, sunlight is kind of your enemy, even if you have live plants that require sunlight. Sunlight grows algae. If you get algae, fish waste and sunlight, you can have algae problems. It doesn't hurt the fish, but it looks terrible. What I tell people to do is for one, you have to have a really good aquarium stand. It will keep the warranty of the aquarium itself intact. If you have a small enough one and it's level, you can do a counter top. It doesn't help you warranty-wise if you have any problems. Avoid an area that gets too hot or too cold on a regular basis, and avoid direct sunlight if you can.
What supplies do I need to start a tropical freshwater aquarium?
The basic stuff that you're going to need to start a tropical fresh water aquarium are the tank itself, either a stand to put it on - which is the best way to do it - or a sturdy, level countertop if the tank is small enough. You're going to need a heater because these are tropical fish. They need to be kept at between 76 and 82 degrees and that temperature needs to be consistent. You're going to need mechanical filtration, but more importantly biological filtration. The main biological filter for a fresh water tank is an undergravel filter, and you can drive that with an air pump or a power head which makes the biological undergravel work. If you're only going to get one filter, you have to get biological because that's what keeps the fish waste not toxic. A mechanical filter is nice, too. That keeps the water a little clearer for the viewer and has some chemical filtration properties. You're going to need gravel. You can do anything you want with that, from natural to crazy, loud colors and any kind of decorations that you want. That can be ceramic castles to real pieces of driftwood and everything in between.
What supplies do I need for a saltwater aquarium?
When you're starting a salt water aquarium, you're going to need some of the same basic things as you do for a freshwater tank. You need a tank body itself, and with salt water typically you want to start with a little bit bigger tank than you would with freshwater, because it easier for the fish to acclimate into a bigger environment. You're going to need biological filtration - the heart of the system is going to be different from freshwater. With the freshwater you have an under gravel filter, but in a salt water tank you're going to use a wet dry trickily filter. When you use that type of filter, what I like people to do is have the aquarium ordered with an overflow pre filter box built into it, because that's how the water gets transported out of the aquarium into the filtration below the aquarium and then pumped back up into the aquarium again. You will need sand as a substrate as opposed to gravel. The decorations are a little bit different - you can get into live rock or you can get into inert rock. You'll need temperature control because they are tropical, so you'll need a heater as well. The lights can be a little bit different so you need a lot of the same equipment. It's different types of the same type of equipment.
What type of light does my aquarium need?
When you're talking about lighting up an aquarium, or you're asking a question of "what kind of light would I need," you have to consider some things. First of all, fish do not have eyelids; they cannot close their eyes in a lit room to go to sleep. They absolutely have to have daylight and pure darkness to sleep and to go through their regular routine. Now, daylight doesn't necessarily have to be from an aquarium light. If you have ambient light in your room and can see your hand in front of you, your fish can see too. If it's pitch black, they can't see; they can sleep. The light, for most purposes, is for you. So, you want to get a simple, full-spectrum light that makes your fish look good, for all intents and purposes. Now, that will change if you're getting something that's photosynthetic. If you have a plant, live plants, freshwater tank or a living coral saltwater tank, they have specific requirements and you have to meet a certain wattage and a certain color temperature, and that's a lot more involved. But for a basic start-up tank, any kind of full-spectrum, high-quality fish light will be perfectly fine.
Should I use gravel or sand in my aquarium?
The substrate of an aquarium, whether it's gravel or sand, will kind of depend on what your fish are and what type of tank it is. Typically, a freshwater tank is almost always going to be gravel. You can sometimes get away with coral sand in an African cichlid tank because coral sand will raise the pH naturally and freshwater African cichlids actually like that. When you're dealing with salt water, the buffering capacity of coral sand is much better than gravel, which is inert. It will help buffer that pH. So I would use coral sand in a saltwater tank and gravel basically in a freshwater tank.
Are rocks or wood a good idea for my aquarium?
Rocks and wood, natural ones, are excellent for freshwater aquariums. Live rock, which is a piece of coral reef, is actually for a salt water aquarium. When you are using rock and wood, you have to make sure that it's the right kind. You want to make sure that it's not something that you just dug up out of your backyard. You want something you buy from an aquarium store that's not going to have any toxins or coatings or anything that can possibly hurt your fish.