How to Start? Read this Before Buying an Aquarium

Table of Contents

If you are thinking about starting a marine aquarium, you are definitely wondering what to begin with. In this article, I’m sharing a handful of information that may be useful when planning the start of your tank.

Gaining knowledge

Marine aquaristics can be easy and fun if you take the time to gather knowledge that will let you prepare yourself properly for starting your own aquarium.

As a convenient place to learn about marine aquaristics, let me recommend the Begginer’s section of ReefPedia – a source of knowledge, where industry specialists add materials on setting up, maintaining and solving problems in a reef tank.

Experimenting and learning from your own mistakes is a really expensive way to choose, so a much better option is to rely on the knowledge of people who have already gained experience and have gone through numerous adversities and then drew valuable conclusions. You’ll find articles from people who run marine aquarium shops, people who build aquariums, aquarists caring for even those toughest fish and corals.

Choosing a place for the aquarium

A marine aquarium should be located primarily in a place with as little light from the windows as possible. Excessive exposure to daylight may (but doesn’t have to) be the cause of algae growing on the glass. The tank should mainly be illuminated with appropriate LED lights, which we set in a way that’s most beneficial for the animals and looks most attractive to us. A tank placed directly in natural sunlight may look less attractive than it could do in a darker place in your house or flat.

How big an aquarium should I go for?

Generally, there is no limit to the size of a marine aquarium – both the smallest and the largest. I know of cases when someone successfully set up and ran a 60L marine aquarium, but there are also many aquariums with a volume of several thousand litres. The truth is that keeping a larger marine aquarium is usually easier than running a smaller one. This is due to the stability of the environment in the aquarium. More water equals more stability. But rest assured, if your budget allows you to start a 64L nano aquarium, it is certainly doable.

You can read about how to approach the issue of choosing the optimal size of the aquarium here.

A friend wants to sell his functioning aquarium with animals – is it worth taking the opportunity?

I personally advise against such a purchase for beginners, because if you have no experience, you simply don’t know what you’re buying. If the seller made mistakes in running the aquarium or its construction, you will also need to face them. Find out more in this article: Is it Worth Buying a Functioning Marine Aquarium With Animals?

What equipment do I need to run a marine aquarium?

    1. Aquarium
    2. Cabinet
    3. Sump (if you go for the sump version)
    4. Lighting
    5. Heater
    6. Return pump
    7. Circulators
    8. Rock
    9. Seawater
    10. Skimmer
    11. Refractometer


A dedicated article on what you need to get started with a marine aquarium can be found here: Checklist for Starting a Saltwater Aquarium

Is it necessary to have a sump?

No, it isn’t. You can run a marine aquarium on an external panel or on an external filter. Though a sump makes organizing the entire filtration process much easier – you can hide all technical equipment in a cabinet or other less visible place, which will have a positive effect on the aesthetics of the aquarium.

How much does it cost to set up a marine aquarium?

The cost of setting up a marine aquarium depends on the size of the aquarium and what animals you will keep in the tank. In marine aquaristics, you won’t get a quote on animals right at the start, because there are many different varieties of them. It is up to the aquarist to decide which animals they will choose. The price range is really wide, so everyone will find something for their pocket. You must remember that we add the animals into the tank gradually and so we will spend the money that way.

An article with calculations of the costs of setting up a sea tank can be found here.

What is the maintenance cost of a marine aquarium?

As in the point above, the cost of maintaining a saltwater aquarium will depend on how large an aquarium you choose and what animals you will keep in it. Currently, an important topic is the cost of electricity, so when choosing equipment, make sure to check whether it is energy-saving. If you choose economical LED lighting instead of fluorescent lighting, you will save about 40-50% on electricity. In turn, if you choose the most energy-efficient light on the market, in the construction of which I had the pleasure of participating, you will save up to 40% extra compared to other LED lights. When choosing the equipment, ask for help from a member of staff in a marine aquaristics shop or an experienced reefer.

For more suggestions on energy-saving appliances available on the market, check out other resources on ReefPedia.

What’s the point of waiting before letting animals into an aquarium?

To be able to let the animals into a marine aquarium, we must wait until the tank is ready. The aquarium needs to mature – during the phase of waiting for maturation, we should monitor the appropriate parameters.

For us, the most important parameters are NO3 and PO4, as well as pH. If these parameters are already on appropriate levels after the maturation, it’s the right time to let the first life in.

Here you can find an article about maturation of a marine aquarium.

Can you speed up the nitrogen cycle?

Yes, accelerating the nitrogen cycle, i.e. the maturation of the aquarium, is definitely possible. First of all, live rock will help us in this (though this option is less accessible nowadays), secondly, adding water from an already operating tank. Another element will be good bacteria, dedicated to a quick start of the aquarium. Next important thing is not to make mistakes during maturing, such as starting water changes too quickly – these will lengthen the process.

Does closing the nitrogen cycle mean I have a mature aquarium?

If the algae are disappearing and the parameters are already in order, it means that you now have a mature aquarium. But remember that the aquarium is not stable yet. So be careful when adding new animals. Do it slowly, carefully watching what changes occur in your tank.

When will I know I can let animals in?

When the aquarium is mature, you can let the first animals in. The algae are coming down, the NO3 and PO4 parameters are close to zero, and the daytime pH is above 8.

What and how many animals can I put in my aquarium?

Actually, there is no single, sensible key here. There are many tips on how to choose fish and corals available online.

In the article, how to choose fish wisely for the aquarium, I described the whole process of adding more fish. You will find it here: How to add saltwater fish to the aquarium wisely?

Use caution, add fish slowly, and keep a close eye on the aquarium.

What parameters are suitable to start with?

At the very beginning, you should maintain a constant temperature. The safe temperature range is between 24-28°C [75-82°F]. You can assume that you keep the aquarium at 25°C [77°F].

The pH should be above 8, ideally 8.3. What will show us the cleanliness of the aquarium are tests for PO4 and NO3. Ideally, PO4 is 0.08 and NO3 is 2 ppm.

In the next phase you are interested in KH, Ca and Mg. The recommended values are: KH at the level of 8 dKH, Ca 440, Mg 1350 mg/l.

About the author

Picture of Marek Protasewicz

Marek Protasewicz

Reefkeeping has been my passion for over 10 years now. I love learning. The hobby has taught me many valuable lessons, patience being the best example. Combining work and passion is my path. I run Crazy Coral, a marine aquarium shop, for a number of years. Building this business from the scratch I learnt from my own mistakes at a heavy cost.
Later I managed a project aimed at development of methods for quick growth of Corals in non-natural conditions. The project was carried out by Get Sales, Poland. Presently, I am responsible for distribution strategy at Reef Factory, of which I am a co-founder. The company produces smart devices for marine aquaristics. The last projects I have been involved in are Social Reef and ReefPedia.

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