009: Maintaining Your Saltwater Aquarium Setup

Although your saltwater aquarium may be up and running the fun is just getting started. Every aquarium requires a least a bit of input to keep it in good health. Common tasks include such things as feeding fish and managing the water quality. And of course everyone’s favorite task- cleaning. Filters, pumps, lights- they’ll all need cleaning eventually. But don’t fret, most tasks will only require a few minutes of your time each day. Even so, when you’re still getting used to the daily needs of your aquarium setup try to develop a regular schedule. Once they’re part of your daily routine you’ll barely even notice them.



Let’s start with the most common tasks that need to be preformed daily. First and foremost your tank’s inhabitants are going to need to be fed. How much and how often you feed the tank depends a lot on what you are keeping, but for most common fish once or twice a day is recommended. If your tank has a lot of live rock your fish will likely get a decent amount to eat from all the little critters that live within it. This means you can, and should, feed a bit more sparingly to avoid a nutrient buildup which can lead to algae and water quality problems. At the same time as you’re feeding the tank take a look at all the fish and other critters. Make sure everyone is present and appears in good health. If any of your fish don’t come charging in as soon as the food hits the water you may have a problem that needs to be addressed.

Some of the equipment running the tank should also be checked each day. Of particular importance is the protein skimmer. The collection cup can fill pretty quickly, especially when the tank is new and still getting settled in. It’s also always a good idea to give all the pumps and filters a once over as well. Look for good strong flow at their outputs and listen for any chattering or grinding noises which could indicate a problem.

Finally, each day you’ll need to check the water itself. The salinity will creep up gradually as water evaporates so the aquarium will need to be topped off with fresh water regularly. Always add fresh water very gradually and preferably into a sump to avoid quick changes in salinity. Along with the salinity it’s a good idea, at least when you’re still learning the ins and outs of running a saltwater aquarium, to check the other essential parameters of the water daily. Check the pH, alkalinity, and temperature and start keeping a log from day to day to track them. This can be really handy to track changes over time. Remember, stability is more important than the exact values.



About once a week, regardless of how the water parameters look, you will want to preform a water change. In a marine aquarium there are countless different substances dissolved in the water, both good and bad. Over time, even with proper care, the levels of these tend to wander a bit from their desired values. Doing a water change is the best way to keep everything on track. At the same time as you are changing the water you can also address another weekly chore- algae removal. Algae is inevitable in a new tank. While sucking out water you can vacuum a lot of it out as well. This is a much better option than just scrubbing it off as this way it is completely removed from the aquarium setup. After you’re done changing water you will likely need to do some clean up on the outside of the tank. This is a good opportunity to also wipe away and salt creep that has accumulated around the rim of the tank and sump as well as any cords or hoses coming up and out of the aquarium. Salt creep needs to be maintained, not only for looks, but also to prevent it from reaching any electrical outlets. As we all know, saltwater plus electricity equals bad!



Around once a month some of your equipment will be in need of a cleaning. If you chose to utilize a canister or hang on back filter for mechanical and/or chemical filtration that media will be ready for a change. Any biological media, however, should only be rinsed in water taken from the tank and replaced. It can become a bit clogged with detritus over time but otherwise persists as a home for bacteria forever. Some of your pumps may also be in need of a bit of cleaning. This can range from a light scrubbing of the intake to remove algae buildup to a complete tear down to address an internal clog. All the equipment in marine aquariums tends to get a bit gummed up inside from various microorganism growth over time.


As Needed

Finally, there are a few things to watch for that will eventually need your attention. First, the lights. Over time your light bulbs, with the exception of LEDs, will begin to degrade. The color will begin to shift towards the red end of the spectrum and the overall output will fall. After about a year or so, even if you think the light still looks fine, it’s a good idea to start replacing them. It’s typically hard to notice just how much the light as has actually changed until after you replace the bulbs. Having lighting of the proper intensity and spectrum is of course important for corals and other photosynthetic lifeforms, but even if you keep a fish only tank old bulbs can encourage nuisance algae growth.

If you are keeping a lot of corals and they’re growing steadily eventually they will likely start running into one another. Some corals get along just fine together, while others will relentlessly attack anything they can reach with stinging tentacles and may need to be moved as they increase in size. Likewise, as corals start expanding they can block water flow or light from reaching their neighbors which may require them to be relocated or trimmed. Additional or larger powerheads are sometimes needed as well to maintain proper flow around and within your corals as they grow.


While maintaining your saltwater aquarium setup may sound like a lot of work at first, once you incorporate it all into your normal routine it’s really not too bad. An average day’s upkeep shouldn’t take more than five to ten minutes of your time with maybe another hour or so once a week. And many of these activities are fairly simple and straightforward, which makes them an excellent way to get the whole family involved with your new found hobby. Keep up the hard work and you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful saltwater aquarium for many years to come.

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