Looking at how to set up a Marine Aquarium from the start?

Firstly, take your time and don’t rush installing the marine aquarium. For the first timer we suggest to supply adequate filtration, generally 30% more than a freshwater tank. Coral sand is also important as a natural buffer to maintain and stabilise pH of 8.3

Setting up a Marine Aquarium


  • Live Rock.
  • Base Rock.
  • Live sand or coral sand enough to cover the bottom with approx. 2.5cm of sand.
  • Heater 
during the winter.
  • Chiller during the summer.
  • A quality Filter and Protein Skimmer.
  • An internal Wavemaker.
  • RO/DI Filter.
  • Salt, either good quality Artificial Salt or collected Natural Seawater.
  • Refractometer to Measure Salinity.
  • Test kits for Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, Phosphate, PH, Calcium, Alkalinity and Magnesium.
  • A UV Sterilizer can also be helpful.
  • A good quality Lighting System.
  • Aquarium glass cleaner.

Adding Rock and Sand

Place the live rock in first using an open pattern so the fish have room to swim through and hide in the rock. Be as creative as you want during this process and don’t be afraid to go back and change it later. Once the rock is where you like it, you can pour the live sand around the rocks, keeping it at a fairly even thickness throughout the tank. Adding the live sand in will cloud the water, but don’t worry as it will eventually settle and the water will clear.

Cycling your tank

You must then cycle the marine aquarium in order to avoid any livestock death. This can be done by adding live bacteria or may come in on live rock if that is the chosen route for hardscape. If this method is not employed your ammonia and nitrite spike is more severe and lasts longer and sometimes the correct bacteria is not grown.

You must check the ammonia and nitrite levels daily until it drops to zero and your tank starts to produce nitrates. Once the marine aquarium starts to show a nitrate reading and your ammonia and nitrite has dropped to zero you can start adding fish and corals slowly so as not to over populate the system too quickly.


The use of live bacteria helps to speed up the process and generally allows the addition of marine life much faster.

When your aquarium has fully completed cycling and you’re confident all water parameters are stable you will be ready to add a small population of fish and coral. Don’t rush this process; take your time to be rewarded in the saltwater hobby.

Make sure to do your homework and research about how to install a marine aquarium and the species of fish and coral you’re thinking of keeping as some fish are known to eat coral, others may require larger volumes of water to be happy etc


  1.   Add base rock and or live rock
  2.  Add Live Bacteria.
  3.  Test parameters
  4.  Add coral
  5.  Confirm parameters
  6.  Add small number of fish (to avoid parasite issues etc its recommended to quarantine new fish)


We need to replicate seawater as closely as possible to have a successful nano reef. The following water parameters represent the acceptable ranges for marine reef aquariums:

Temp23-26° C
Specific Gravity1.025
pH8.2 to 8.4
Alkalinity8 to 12 dKH
Calcium420 to 450 mg/L


In a nano reef setup with minimal ways to export nutrients regular water changes are the most important maintenance task you can do. Water changes help to remove high concentrations of dissolved organic compounds and replenish lost trace elements. You will need a few basic pieces of equipment including a large, clean plastic bucket, an aquarium siphon, a thermometer, a refractometer and salt mix or clean saltwater

You can either make, collect or buy your salt water. To make your salt water follow the manufacturer’s directions to mix your replacement saltwater before you start your water change. In a 100 litre aquarium you will need to change about 15-20 litres of water. Although we do recommend that you have the amount of water on hand that is equal to your tank capacity during the initial stages and as a safety requirement should you need to perform unexpected changes.

For making saltwater for installing the marine aquarium we recommend that you use RO/DI water as the basis for your saltwater mix. Add the indicated amount of salt mix (see manufacturers instructions) After adding the salt mix drop your extra powerhead into the bucket and plug it in. Add a heater if necessary to bring the temp up to the 24-26C range. Let the powerhead run overnight to thoroughly mix the salt.


Your tank water will evaporate. Different tanks will evaporate at different levels, we recommend that you top up your tank with RO water and to keep the salinity stable an auto top off system is recomended, you should NOT use tap water to top up.

Test the water for specific gravity using a Refractometer. The specific gravity should be between 1.021-1.026 and should match the specific gravity of the aquarium water. Adjust the specific gravity if necessary by adding RO/DI water to lower it or by adding salt mix to raise it.


Your pumps will need to be cleaned every month or so. Most powerheads / canister filters and pumps come apart easily so you can clean the impeller, filter pads etc.

Thanks for reading about How to set up a Marine Aquarium.

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