Setting up a Saltwater Aquarium

Setting up a Marine Aquarium is no harder than setting up any type of Aquarium. 

Firstly, take your time, don't rush it. For the first timer we suggest to supply adequate filtration, generally 30% more than a freshwater tank. Coral sand is also important as a natural buffer to maintain and stabilise pH of 8.2


Below is what I would use setting up a salt water aquarium:


Adding Rock and Sand

Place the live rock in first using an open pattern so the fish have room to swim through and hide in the rock. Be as creative as you want during this process and don't be afraid to go back and change it later. Once the rock is where you like it, you can pour the live sand around the rocks, keeping it at a fairly even thickness throughout the tank. Adding the live sand in will cloud the water, but don't worry, it will eventually settle and the water will clear.


Cycling your tank

You must then cycle the aquarium in order to avoid any livestock death. This can be done by adding live bacteria. If this method is not employed your ammonia and nitrite spike is more severe and lasts longer and sometimes the correct bacteria is not grown.

You must then check the ammonia and nitrites level daily until it drops to zero. You then repeat the process with and then nitrates. Once they are all zero you may add your first fish. Nitrates may be up to 20ppms.


I like to use Live bacteria which speeds up the process and generally allow you to add a very small amount of marine life much faster.


When your aquarium has fully completed cycling and you’re confident all water parameters look stable, you will be ready to add a fish and a coral. But don't rush this process; take your time to be rewarded in the saltwater hobby. Having said this you must add some form of life after 4 days of adding the live bacteria which helps feed the bacteria. If this is not possible you can simply add more live bacteria again.


Make sure to do your homework and research the species of fish and coral you're thinking of keeping; (try to offer them foods they would get naturally from the ocean). This way you'll know how to care for them, when you get the little guys to their new home.


In Order of addition    

  1.  Add Live bacteria
  2.  Add base rock and or live rock
  3.  Test parameters
  4.  Add coral
  5.  Confirm parameters
  6.  Add small number of fish


 Marine Nitrogen Cycle


Water Chemistry

We need to replicate seawater as closely as possible to have a successful nano reef. The following water parameters represent the acceptable ranges for reef aquariums:


23-26° C

Specific Gravity



8.2 to 8.4


8 to 12 dKH


420 to 450 mg/L












Water Changes In a nano reef setup with minimal ways to export nutrients regular water changes are the most important maintenance task you can do. Water changes help to remove high concentrations of dissolved organic compounds and replenish lost trace elements. You will need a few basic pieces of equipment including a large, clean plastic bucket, an aquarium siphon, a thermometer, a refractometer and salt mix or clean saltwater

You can either make, collect or buy your salt water. To make your salt water follow the manufacturer's directions to mix your replacement saltwater before you start your water change. In a 100 litre aquarium you will need to change about 15-20 litres of water. Although we do recommend that you have the amount of water on hand that is equal to your tank capacity during the initial stages and as a safety requirement should you need to perform unexpected changes due to the test results.

For making saltwater we recommend that you use RO/DI water as the basis for your saltwater mix. Add the indicated amount of salt mix (see manufacturers instructions) After adding the salt mix drop your extra powerhead into the bucket and plug it in. Add a heater if necessary to bring the temp up to the 24-26C range. Let the powerhead run overnight to thoroughly mix the salt.

Your tank water will evaporate. Different tanks will evaporate at different levels, we recommend that you top up your tank with RO water, you should NOT use tap water to top up.

Test the water for specific gravity using a Refractometer. The specific gravity should be between 1.021-1.026 and should match the specific gravity of the aquarium water. Adjust the specific gravity if necessary by adding RO/DI water to lower it or by adding salt mix to raise it.


Filter and Powerhead Maintenance 

Your pumps will need to be cleaned every month or so. Most powerheads / canister filters and pumps come apart easily so you can clean the impeller, filter pads etc.