Help me start my first marine aquarium
November 12, 2007 7:51 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of buying a used saltwater aquarium, with fish included. What am I getting myself into that I should be aware of? What should I read to prepare myself for routine maintenance?

I've always wanted a marine aquarium, but in my preliminary reading the set-up seems expensive and onerous, so I never pursued it. I've just moved into a new place, and in searching for furniture I find this on Craigslist. It comes with fish, including a clownfish, so the set-up would be minimal, and I'd just be looking at maintenance.

The price is right, and the timing seems right, too. I'm going out to look at the tank this week. What should I know before then? What specific issues, if any, are associated with buying a used tank? How does maintenance for a marine tank differ from the freshwater tanks I've had in the past?

Links to resources are welcomed, as are your own experiences. Thanks!
posted by jeffmshaw to Pets & Animals (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
No first-hand experience here (had a 10 gallon fresh-water tank as a kid), but from a couple of people I knew who had salt-water tanks, they require a LOT of time & effort to maintain. The systems are very persnickity, and fairly expensive as well. I wish I could offer more info &/or resources. Good luck.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:06 AM on November 12, 2007

Best answer: You haven't identified what your skill level is in terms of aquaria, which is what will tell you if this is beyond your reach.

Are you confident in your knowledge of the following?
  • Biological filters
  • Treating and replacing water
  • Signs of fish stress
  • Fish compatability
  • Environmental needs (lighting, pH, water hardness)
  • Transport of a live tank
If your answer is no to more than one or two of these, you probably shouldn't try it. The picture also seems like there isn't a whole lot of live rock in that aquarium for several fish (live rock is an essential part of the biofilter) and the absence of correct lighting is a big no-no. I can't be certain, but the tank may already be under stress and need significant rehabilitation once you establish it in your home.

(It is a fantastic deal, though. I would bring testing kits for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate to make sure it's a healthy tank if you're going forward. You'll also need about $150 or more to buy food, water treatment chemicals, test kits, filter media, a heater, water change supplies, and a new light. The full spectrum lights can cost $50 alone.)
posted by cowbellemoo at 12:02 PM on November 12, 2007

Best answer: This is a great book. It will take you from complete ignorance to fairly knowledgeable very quickly. This website is great. As is this one.

Having a test kit is important at the beginning but not so much once you get the hang of it. (Though a kit is more important if you plan to have fancy coral and delicate animals.) A kit like this one is probably good enough.

Beyond that I disagree with some of cowbellmoo's advice. First, aquarium systems can be pretty hardy, certainly you should have time to get up to speed before the system is beyond saving. The system does look like it needs more live rock (if for no other reason than aesthetics), but it looks like it has a fair amount of live sand. So, I'm not sure that the bio-filtration is really all that bad. (Also the list includes two mechanical filters, so the bio filters aren't necessarily very important anyway.)

If the system does need rehabilitation (and I agree that it will need at least a bit), that is not any worse than starting a system from scratch.

Bottom line, for that price, I would be willing to take the risk. But be aware initially this will require a bit of work and research (your local store will be more than happy to help and guide you). After a while, however, it will be fairly easy. In a good system you can get away with just changing 20% of the water just once a month.
posted by oddman at 1:10 PM on November 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

I know very little but they are are a far cry from freshwater.

And fish caught with *some chemical...(cyanide?)* anyway they live for a bit and then just cark it.
My friend was a tropical fish catcher and it was funny to watch him talk about setting up little traps and stuff and then scaring the little fishies so they could be rounded up into the little barrier nets. Those ones die if they die but it's not garanteed like the other poor things!

I'm suspicious though because fish shops will buy them off you... The bigger they are the more they are worth. But maybe there's a quite reasonable explaination for that, I don't know?
(I'm still sus' though. If you didn't know a 'nemo' was worth $50 chances are the rest of what you don't know means it's gonna die. So them doing a 'package deal' out of kindness doesn't cut it for me)
Persue your dream.. but not like this, maybe?
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 1:17 PM on November 12, 2007

Ya, I didn't mean to scare you off a great opportunity, since it is pretty easy to get up to speed with the right books and websites (I'll offer a wiki, too). But let me put it this way: If I were selling those fishes, I wouldn't let it out of my care to anyone who hasn't already had success with at least a freshwater community tank.
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:57 PM on November 12, 2007

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