Developing a Stocking Plan

Just as you must plan the physical layout of the aquarium, you must also develop a plan for stocking it. You cannot put in everything at once because this will quickly overload the filtration system and cause problems. Knowing what to add and when structures your stocking plan.

Once the aquarium is partially filled with seawater and the filtration system is running, dead substrate material (if used) is added first. Add live sand (if used) in a layer on top of the substrate. Either dead or live rock next may be placed on top of the sand, stacked in a realistic-looking arrangement. At this point, you must begin operating the lighting system to encourage seaweeds and filamentous algae to grow. After about two weeks, you can add utilitarian invertebrates such as small hermit crabs, algae-eating snails, sea urchins, brittle stars, and burrowing sea cucumbers, depending upon compatibility with the eventual fish population, of course. A week or so after that, add mobile invertebrates such as small starfish, shrimps, and crabs, unless they need a fish or an anemone as a symbiotic partner. Symbiotic partners, with the exception of anemone-fish and their respective anemones, should be added simultaneously, near the end of the stocking period.

50 Saltwater Aquarium Models

50 Saltwater Aquarium Models

When the shrimps and other mobile invertebrates have settled in, seaweeds can be added. Allow them to grow for at least two weeks before you add more animals. You may find they grow enough to require a bit of pruning, even in this short time frame. Even though seaweeds may eventually be eaten by fish, their presence early in the stocking phase of the aquarium helps to condition the water.

Now the tank is starting to take on the appearance of a natural reef biotope, and you can begin adding photo-synthetic invertebrates if they are to be a part of the display. Try to place them where they won't touch each other, and be sure to allow room for growth. Make sure they are located where they will receive plenty of light.

By now the aquarium should be showing signs of maturity such as the presence of numerous, nearly microscopic invertebrates in the substrate and on the rocks. These tiny crustaceans are feeding on microorganisms too small for you to see, but which nevertheless are vital to the aquarium ecosystem. They may, in turn, become food for invertebrates and fish.

Once the aquarium has reached this stage, there should be enough natural food present to feed nonphotosyn-thetic, filter-feeding invertebrates such as fanworms. Corals and anemones also benefit from the presence of natural foods. If you plan on cultivating an host anemone, now is the time to add it.

Fish should be added to the aquarium at the end of the stocking period. Pay attention to the information on aggressiveness given in the descriptions of fishes. As a rule of thumb, add docile fishes first, giving them an opportunity to stake out a territory, before adding more aggressive species. Bold species, such as surgeonfish and dwarf angelfish, should be added last. Anemonefishes can be added as soon as their host is settled and thriving. If you plan to keep anemonefishes without a host, add them any time.


Creating a successful saltwater aquarium involves two major efforts:

1) Establishing and maintaining proper conditions of water chemistry, lighting, gas exchange, and biological filtration.

2) Choosing a community of fish and/or invertebrates appropriate not only to the capacity of the tank but also to each other's normal behavior and temperament.

In this chapter, I have provided the essential information needed to guide your planning in these two areas. In the following chapter we will turn our attention to combining the essential elements so as to achieve a natural looking and aesthetically appealing aquarium.

WARNING Don't add new fish more frequently than every two weeks. Altogether, it takes about a year for a new saltwater aquarium to be stocked completely. Don't try to rush it, and observe the tank carefully for problems shortly after each new addition. Most problems occur within the first two weeks that a critter is in the tank.

Bringing Out the Best in Saltwater Aquariums 51

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