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setting up a marine reef tank

Setting up a marine reef aquarium can often be naturally daunting for some - it is important to get things right to ensure that your aquarium runs smoothly and your fish are kept in optimum health.

marine fish aquarium When you know what to do, it is easier than you may have thought. We've created this guide as a reference for our customers and anyone else who may like to use it. You can bookmark this page to come back to at any time.

So here's the steps to guide you in setting up your marine reef aquarium:

1. Firstly before anything, you need to check whether your tank has a floating base. If it doesn't, you will need to support the bottom panel of glass with polystyrene or some sort of cushioned material so that the tank doesn't sit directly on the cabinet. This prevents the tank from smashing if there is any unequal pressure from inside the tank or below, and is a very important step in the process.

2. Put the stand into place, make sure it is level.

3. Clean the tank out with tap water and a soft cloth.

4. If you would like to put a backing sheet on the aquarium, it would be advisable to do this next while the tank is empty. This can be done through various methods. Some people use sticky tape to secure to the outside back panel, others buy an adhesive, such as Juwel Poster-fix Background Adhesive. The adhesive is spread on the glass and then the backing is pushed onto it. It can then be flattened out with a squeegee or credit card. The adhesive option provides a brighter, cleaner background than using sticky tape, and we would advise using this method for best results.

5. If you have decided to go for sump filtration, install it now inside the cabinet before doing anything else. You'll know if you have a sump because its a small glass or acrylic tank that sits inside the cabinet below your aquarium.

6. If you are running your tank without a sump filtration system, you will need to install your canister filter inside the cabinet. When you do this, you will need to secure the inlet and out let pipes to cannister filter. You will also need to cut the rubber hose to fit giving yourself enough length to reach the inlet and outlets which overhang from the top of your aquarium.

7. Install a tank mounted protein skimmer if not using one in a sump filtration unit

8. Install required powerheads. Powerhead requirements will vary depending on tank capacity/tank inhabitants. A general rule of thumb is to know the required flow rate is tank volume in litres x 25-30.

9. Next, you will need to install your aquarium heater and put a thermometer on your tank. Set the heater to the required temperature, taking in to account the wattage of the heater in relation to the aquarium water volume. Do not plug it in yet.

10. Now wash the sand. To properly wash your sand, get a bucket and you pour all of your sand into it. Then, get a hose or put under a tap, and turn up the flow as high as you can. When the bucket fills, pour off the water and repeat; it will get less cloudy each time you do this. Repeat until the water gets to clear, or almost clear.

11. Put the sand in your tank. It is safer to do it bit by bit.

12. Next, you will need to mix your water in a container. You will need to take your reverse osmosis (RO) water and add the required amount of salt, which depends on capacity. The required specific gravity for the water is 1.025. When the water is mixed and settled to 1.025 and you are happy that there is no more salt visible at the bottom of the container, add the water to the aquarium.

13. Place a plate or saucer on top the sand and fill the aquarium up, aiming the water-flow at the plate. This decreases cloudiness as the water doesn't directly hit the sand when you're filling it up, and decreases splashing. Fill your aquarium ¾ full at this stage before the next step. Level out your sand.

14. Add your live rock. You'll now notice why it's important to fill it ¾ of the way, as the levels will raise considerably when completing this step

15. Top up aquarium with water so that the tank is full.

16. Put your lights on, and set on a timer. 8-10hrs again.

17. Put the heater to required temperature on the dial.

18. Then run a wet test. A wet test is where we check all of the equipment is working properly. Follow the steps below to do this.

(i) Firstly, check all hose connections are secure and tightened. Wipe the exterior of the fish tank and connections so that they are completely dry.

(ii) Plug in each powerhead one at a time to check they are running correctly.

(iii) Plug in filter and prime if needed. Make sure filter is running properly.

(iv) Check all connections to see if they are still dry, and check for any leaks. Also check the seals for leaks.

(v) If you are using a protein skimmer, there will be no waste for the skimmer to take out of the aquarium at this stage, but you can check if the pump or airstone are working properly.

19. Wait 24-48hrs depending on tank capacity for temperature to reach the required level.

Now you're ready to add your first fish/bacterial starter treatment!


If you would like assistance in setting up your marine reef aquarium, we offer an installation and maintenance service, and can complete all the necessary work for you. Click here to go to our installation and maintenance service page.


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