Setting Up a Saltwater Aquarium – The Tank


Following on from our introduction to saltwater aquariums this segment is designed to give you some idea of how to proceed with setting up a saltwater aquarium.


Let's dive right in.


Choosing A Tank when Setting Up A Saltwater Aquarium

The type of saltwater aquarium setup you choose depends on a few factors. For example, the kinds of fish species you want to stock, the space you have available, and your budget.


In general you will want to buy the biggest saltwater aquarium setup you can afford that will fit nicely into your living environment.

This is so that your fish and other animals can have the most comfort possible as they grow. The fish and other invertebrates that you choose to stock your tank with need enough space to swim and grow in and enough oxygen to survive.


Size Matters when Setting Up a Saltwater Aquarium


When you choose a saltwater aquarium setup remember that these two factors are determined mainly by the size of the tank.

So let’s talk about the oxygen component when setting up a saltwater aquarium. The amount of oxygen in the water is related to the tanks surface area.


This means the amount of area on the tank’s surface that is exposed to the air. The greater the surface area of your saltwater aquarium setup, the more room there is for the exchange of oxygen to happen at the surface.


Oxygen Content

The more oxygen that is allowed to enter the tank the more harmful gases like carbon dioxide are allowed to leave and the healthier your saltwater aquarium setup will be.


The oxygen content of the water is also influenced by its temperature. In general, the warmer the water, the lower the oxygen content will be.

Most marine species from the tropics like water that is 75 degrees or higher. So this means that less oxygen is going to be available to them.


Surface Area


This is when it becomes important to increase the surface of the tank by making sure your saltwater aquarium setup is as large as possible.

How do you do this? There is no typical saltwater aquarium setup. Marine tanks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. But it is the shape of the tank, not its volume that influences the surface area.


This means that even where two tanks have identical volumes they might not have the same surface area depending on their shape.


Ideal Design


A saltwater aquarium setup that is tall and slender won’t get a good rate of gas exchange. An ideal design would be one that is short and wide.

Once you’ve chosen your tank its time to start thinking about its residents. Of course the size of your tank is going to dictate how many fish and invertebrates it can house.




The main thing to avoid when setting up a saltwater aquarium is overcrowding. Too many inhabitants and your tank’s filtration system will be overloaded. Fish living in cramped conditions become stressed and this can lead to illness and death.

You can calculate how many fish your saltwater aquarium setup will hold by stocking one inch of fish per four gallons of water for a period of six months.


Increase Slowly


After this period increase the number of fish slowly to one inch per two gallons. This means that a 40 gallon aquarium should not contain more than 10 inches of fish for the first six months.

So, for example, you might choose one 3-inch queen angel, two 1-inch clownfish, one 2-inch regal tang, one 1-inch bicolor blenny and two 1-inch Beau Gregory’s.


Once the six month period is over you could increase the total number of inches in your saltwater aquarium setup to 20. Of course, your fish are going to grow so you have to adjust for the changing sizes of your fish. The shape of your fish is also important.




If your fish are likely to be on the heavy side you will need to stick to the low end of the capacity of your saltwater aquarium setup.

Setting up a saltwater aquarium will cost you time and money so accept this and don’t skimp. Even if you devote considerable time and effort to a small tank you can still encounter problems.


If you choose the wrong one initially you will probably end up having to buy another one and this may be discouraging. In short, if you don’t have the money to buy a tank that’s at least 30 gallons, don’t invest any money at all.


Many Options for Setting Up a Saltwater Aquarium

When you choose to begin setting up a saltwater aquarium there are many options. You can choose from glass and acrylic and you can even get reef-ready styles complete with pre-drilled holes for equipment and plumbing.




Glass tanks sealed with silicon rubber cement are a common choice. Rectangle designs are popular but they are also found in octagon and hexagon. They are non-toxic and don’t scratch easily.

The downside to a glass saltwater aquarium setup is that they are heavy. This means that large tanks will have very thick glass. Try to find one with a plastic frame that will make the tank more stable. Plated glass is shatterproof but not as strong as tempered.



An acrylic saltwater aquarium setup is molded with few seams so they are more transparent. However your view may be distorted at the corners. Acrylic tanks are not as heavy as glass and so come in a wider variety of shapes and sizes.


Acrylic is also stronger than glass. On the downside acrylic tanks can get scratched and are more expensive than glass. They are easily scratched by algae scrapers and decorations. It is possible to buff these marks out with a special kit.


Health and Maintenance

Whichever saltwater aquarium setup you choose make sure it provides a healthy environment for your fish. You also need to make sure that you can afford to maintain it properly and that it suits your lifestyle and available time.


Once you have finished setting up a saltwater aquarium correctly you will be able to enjoy the colorful antics and shapes of your fishy friends, corals and other invertebrates. Enjoy the wonderful world of your saltwater aquarium!


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