Ask any saltwater aquarium hobbyist and you'll discover that the process of setting up and stocking an aquarium is definitely worth the work and the wait. Saltwater aquarium setup and stocking requires careful effort, especially now that the internet has afforded hobbyists access to many rare and/or demanding species of fish and invertebrates. Many of the available species also have special compatibility requirements which you must address during the stocking process. This article details the five phases involved in successfully setting up and stocking a marine aquarium.
Phase 1 - Prepare your aquarium water
Phase 2 - Build your aquarium "foundation"
After you've added your substrate and live sand, add your live rock. Live rock is porous, aragonite-based rock harvested from the rubble zones of ocean reefs. In addition to harboring large amounts of beneficial bacteria and micro-organisms, live rock also provides aquarium inhabitants with safe hiding spaces and helps maintain healthy water parameters. Live rock offers aesthetic appeal and biological filtration while providing the necessary habitat and nutrition for your fish and invertebrates.
You can choose from several varieties of live rock - variations in color, shape, and associated marine life are dependent upon the geographic area in which the live rock originated. As a general rule, add approximately 1-1/2 pounds of rock per gallon of water in your aquarium. The exact amount you should add will vary by the type of rock you choose. Be sure to follow the recommendations that accompany your chosen live rock.
Your live rock must be fully cured before you can add any fish or invertebrates to your aquarium. The curing process, which initiates the Nitrogen Cycle, typically takes 4-5 weeks. During this time, you must also perform weekly 25% water changes. To start your live rock curing, stack the rock loosely in your aquarium. Try to build as many caves as possible. This allows fish to swim freely within the rockwork, and provides the rock with good water circulation. Also, be sure to stack your rocks right side up - turn the side of the rock with the most color upward. This will help ensure proper lighting conditions for both the colorful coralline algae, which requires bright light, and the sponges, which require low light. Please note: during the curing process, you must keep the aquarium dark to inhibit algae growth - provide illumination only briefly when checking progress.
Phase 3 - Add lighting and an Algae Attack Pack
Phase 4 - Begin adding fish and invertebrates
If you're not already familiar with the temperament, environmental requirements, and maintenance/aquarist expertise level of your desired species, LiveAquaria.com offers helpful, concise quick stats with that information for each fish and/or invertebrate. LiveAquaria.com also offers a comprehensive compatibility chart to help you determine whether your desired species are compatible with one another.
The first series of fish and invertebrates you add to your aquarium must be the most docile of your desired species. This will allow them to become accustomed to the aquarium before you add larger, more active, more aggressive species. After giving your new arrivals at least a few weeks to become acclimated, follow up gradually with the larger, more active species.
You may also be wondering just how many fish you can successfully keep in your aquarium. While many variables affect that answer, a general rule is to stock no more than ½ an inch of fully grown fish per gallon of water in your aquarium. For example, if you have a 30-gallon aquarium, ideally stock no more than 15 total inches of fully grown fish. Remember to consider your desired fishes' maximum size when calculating this amount.
Phase 5 - Add a Detritus Attack Pack