From this point on, you are the custodian of a living ecosystem. You must maintain the aquarium over the next several months to allow basic biological processes to develop appropriately. For about six to eight weeks, you can expect a series of algae blooms to occur. Typically, brownish diatoms and reddish purple slime algae appear first. Later, filamentous green algae supersede the earlier growths. This sequential waxing and waning of algae blooms is normal. Siphon out patches of slime algae, and use a pad to clean the glass. Do not reduce lighting in an attempt to limit algae growth. You will only prolong the process. The algae grow because the water contains compounds, such as phosphate, that stimulate their growth. Removing algae from the tank helps to export the compounds. Protein skimming also helps. You will note that the skimmer begins to produce foam during the break-in process. As microorganisms grow, reproduce, and die, they release organic compounds into the water. Some of this is taken up again by other organisms, and some is removed by the skimmer.
Eventually, the first few patches of purple coralline algae will begin to grow on solid surfaces. Coralline algae tend to grow best in moderate to dim light. Thus, new colonies often appear on the sides or back glass first. In time, several types of coralline algae will coat large areas of the glass and rocks. Use a razor blade to remove the algae from any area of the glass that you want to remain unobstructed, but leave other areas undisturbed. Coralline algae are an important component of the aquarium's ecosystem. Good coralline algae growth indicates that conditions in the aquarium are suitable for sessile invertebrates, such as corals.
Because of the inevitable algae blooms early in the life of any saltwater aquarium, it is a good idea to choose algae-eating snails as the tank's first tenants. Snails are widely available. Other possibilities include blue leg or scarlet hermit crabs. Add a few crabs or snails (don't use both) and assess the effect on the algae growth before you add more. Other utilitarian invertebrates can also be added early in the aquarium's development. These include brittle stars, small shrimps, and detritus-feeding species such as burrowing sea cucumbers. If you are working toward a fish-only display, make sure these invertebrate additions will not be eaten by the tank's eventual piscine inhabitants. If you want to dispense with invertebrates altogether, add herbivorous fish, tangs, or rabbitfishes, for example, at this point.
By the time the first critters settle in, the aquarium will be about two months old. It will have a thriving community of beneficial microorganisms, as well as utilitarian and herbivorous life forms. Once the tank has come this far successfully, you can add additional fish or invertebrates every two weeks.
With suitable lighting, you can add photosynthetic invertebrates. Hardy choices include green star polyps, leather mushroom soft corals, and disc anemones. It makes no difference how many (within reason) of these species are included, nor does it matter in what order they are added. Adding additional fish should be done with their temperaments in mind. Larger, more aggressive fish should be added last. Once established, a properly designed saltwater aquarium can thrive for many years with little attention apart from routine maintenance.
When it comes to setting up a saltwater aquarium, big tanks and small ones differ only in the amount of water and materials involved. The basic procedure is the same. After readying the tank and setting it in place, install the equipment. Test the plumbing with fresh water, and make sure everything else is working properly before adding salt mix. Aquascaping comes next, using live rock and sand, or non-living materials, or a combination. Allow for a break-in period as the aquarium develops a population of beneficial microorganisms. From that point on, the aquarium will continue to mature and change for a period of months. Early on, the tank may experience a bloom of algae growth. As the developing ecosystem becomes more and more stable, you can introduce additional invertebrates and fishes about every two weeks. Although the process of stocking an aquarium can be slow, patience is rewarded with a thriving, easily maintained tank.
Basic Setup Procedures 105
Basic Setup Procedures 105
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