This is a step-by-step guide of how to set up your first aquarium. This information is based on my experiences setting up my 2 tanks and the problems I faced and how I dealt with them. The all capped words are the ones you need to put on the shopping list. because they will be what you need to get at your local fish store(LFS)
Step 1: Gathering Equipment
There are two keys to a good salt water aquarium. The first is good equipment and the second is PATIENCE. The first thing you need is of course the aquarium. I started with a 10 gallon because it costs less, but what I save in cost I make up for in daily to every-other-day maintanance. This tutorial is really based on a nano tank (20 gallons or less) because that is what I have experience with and that is all I can afford at the moment. (This tutorial will assume you have chosen a smaller tank) After you have decided the size of the aquarium you will want to buy a POWER FILTER. Always buy it 20-30 gallons bigger than the aquarium you have. (I have a 10 gal. so I bought a 30 gal.) You should also buy a LIGHT HOOD for your aquarium. Coral life/sun is a good bulb that can be bought at any fish store and I suggest a 50/50 bulb. Another important piece of equipment will be your HYDROMETER because this will measure how much salt is in your aquarium. The next step is to buy the SAND live rock for your aquarium. As far as sand, the best by far is the live caribean sea sand sold in bags that have water with the sand. This sand already has good algae and chemicals that is important for you tank. For a tank smaller than a 10 gal. I found that florida crushed coral works well because it is sold in smaller portions, however the live sand cycled the tank faster than the crushed coral. (Don't worry 'cycling' is coming up) LIVE ROCK part of aquarium keeping because it gives the tank the look you want. 1 pound per a gallon of rock is the average, but 1 or 4 pounds over is always a plus. The best pieces are the big light one. This is because it creates better water circulation through the pores. When choosing rock I found one good piece of rock then a few medium size pieces to pu around it creating caves and crevices which fish enjoy. After pooring your sand into the aquarium and arranging the rock the way you want, you can add the SALTWATER. The first saltwater I got was bought from my Local Fish Store(LFS) because I wanted to be sure the salinity was perfect. The ideal salinity is 1.023-1.025. It can range .001 above or below but this is ideal for everything that will go into the tank. When pouring the water in, attempt to pour in the rocks because this will cause less sand disturbance. After this step is where the PATIENCE comes in. Apart from waiting for the water to clear up from adding the water, you now have to wait for the cycle.
Step 2: Cycling
This is the easiest yet hardest step of them all. It is easy because you do not have to do anything, but hard because you have to wait, kind of like waiting for water to boil. At this point you should invest in a good TEST KIT. Every 2-3 days you should test the water to check ammonia and nitrates. Once these both hit zero you are ready to stock the tank. You might want to wait another 2-3 days after you see it hit 0 before you go buy a fish because sometimes it spikes again, so to play it safe I would wait. Again with the PATIENCE. This process can take anywhere from 5 days to 3 weeks depending on the sand and sand you buy.
Step 3: INVERTS
All that waiting is finally paying off.
You should now see hair algae growing all over you tank, and the best way to get rid of this ick is invertabraes. I suggest 1 BLUE LEGGED HERMIT CRAB per gallon and one snail per gallon. One of those snails should be a MEXICAN TURBO SNAIL. These things get the job done. In one day this snail had the front of my glass as clear as a window. The other snails can be NASSARIUS or REGULAR TURBOS. Other inverts you can get are star fish, but I have no experience with them to offer any tips. Do not add everything at once because this will shock your system, instead add 2-5 at a time. By the time most of your clean up crew is in the tank it should look pretty good. Now you are ready for fish.
Step 4: Fish
Now is the time to add fish.
Some of the best fish for tanks smaller than twenty gallons include clownfish, gobies, damsels, and cardinals.
In a tank less than 5 gallons, do not attempt fish, it will end badly. I started my 10 gallon with a Yellowtail damsel, because it is the easiest fish in the world to take care of and only little sisters are able to kill them (I would know). In my fourteen gallon, I got a false percula clown fish because I enjoy the fish and my 14 gallon is a bit more stable. Another clown which I like is the tomatoe clown because of its bright color. Another fish which I will be purchasing soon is a firefish goby. Their colors are amazing and the have the coolest swimming habit ever due to their long dorsal fin. I talked to my LFS worker many hours and did tons of research before I bought any of my fish. Find one that you like and then see if it is right for you.
Step 5: Corals
As I do not yet own corals, I am still learning about these creatures. However, through research I have learned that poly corals such as zooanthoids are perfect for low lit nano aquariums. Types of mushroom corals such as ricordias are also good for this setup. Corals such as frog spawn or colt corals are not advised due to their sweeping tentacles which can kill other corals and even fish. Anemones are likewise ill advised but with research, there are types that are safe for your tank. Your best bet however is soft corals because of they are the easiest to care for and require the least amount of lighting.
Another cool creature that can reside in your tank is a feather duster. These creatures are actually worms that live in a 'tube' and have feather looking things coming from the top that resemble a feather duster. The 'feathers' are used to collect food floating in the water. These are simple creatures that are fairly inexpensive as far as saltwater goes.
Step 6: RECAP
So what you need on day one is:
What you need during cycle:
What you need by the end of cycle:
After tank is completly cycled:
MEXICAN TURBO SNAIL
After tank clean up:
And that is it. This is a simple process that needs to be done with great care in order to achieve a great salt water aquarium.