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.