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By Carl Strohmeyer
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This article is for basic to advanced information and resources intended for a marine fish aquarium (Basic, FOWLR, Nano Reefs, & some advanced information).
The intention of this article is to provide up to date starter information for the beginner as well as some more advanced information.
For more advanced marine reef keepers, please follow the many links/resources in this article to much more researched, in depth and advanced information.
This article is based on my experience of keeping and professionally maintaining marine fish (and reef) aquariums for over 35 years with one of the largest aquarium maintenance companies in Los Angeles, California.
Most of my marine and freshwater customers had been with other services and had regular losses of their fish until we were referred to them.
I will update and expand this article on a regular basis, especially the more in depth articles linked from this more basic article, such as:
Aquarium Lighting; Facts & Information.
Please note that due to new information and methods being developed/explored, that there is no one best way to set up a marine/reef aquarium, so I would be cautious of anyone who states as such (in my experience these persons are generally closed minded to new research such as in aquarium Redox, which generally makes their opinions less than helpful in keeping a healthy marine aquarium).
In fact I have a marine aquarium set-up combinations page, for which ALL methods work quite well and I update this regularly page/article too. However I will admit that this is page is not an exhaustive article as to different methods to set up a healthy marine fish or reef aquarium as there are other proven methods as well.
My point is to be cautious of anyone that states theirs is the only way to set up a marine aquarium or trashes one of the methods I outline here as these persons generally are not open minded enough or spend any real research, often which requires research outside the aquarium keeping hobby to understand why certain methods work and others do not.
I have used the majority of the methods and tested outlined here.
This is also not to say that some methods should not be used such as this example method;
A canister filter set up for aerobic bio filtration Only (run without any de-nitrification), without any deep oolite sand, seasoned live rock and lighting provided by basic T8 lights and then expect to keep corals alive, as you likely will fail!
That said, I have also seen many articles or popular YouTube Videos that show elaborate systems that I will not question their viability of these systems, however a viewer/reader of these videos/articles might assume that these elaborate systems are the only way to go, which is simply NOT true!
I certainly recommend the best system you can afford.
However this does not mean multiple Metal Halide Lights & a chiller WHEN a modern LED (not a cheap LED), T5 or T2 system may work for less money (& complication).
Or an elaborate wet/dry system which may likely be an out of date nitrate factory when not properly installed.
Or an advanced pump dosing system, calcium reactor, etc. when often good maintenance practices along with a simple DIY drip dosing system and other methods may work equally well (or better).
Please see this article for my suggestions as to marine fish (& reef) tank set up combinations (again all these methods work, but are not the "end all" of methods either):
Saltwater Set Up/Systems Suggestions
For beginners, a small aquarium such as a Nano Reef can be difficult, as many problems can accelerate in an aquarium this small. For this reason I recommend a first marine aquarium to be at least 40 gallons (although I know of many aquarists who have started with smaller aquariums and have been successful!)
As a final note to readers, in particular those who are "thinking" of starting a marine aquarium, PLEASE know your budget as more times than I care to count have I seen new marine aquarium keepers fail only because they got into a hobby that was beyond their budget.
Many times a marine aquarium can be kept in a budget that is not much more than a freshwater aquarium of the same size, but this is for a fish only or fish with live rock (often called a FOWLR tank).
If you are considering a full reef tank (corals, clams, etc), the costs are considerably more than a fish only tank.
In fact the lighting alone on say a 60 gallon reef tank can cost as much as a complete 60 gallon freshwater set up, this of coarse is assuming the correct lighting needed such as LED, T5, Metal Halide, SHO or a combination there-of.
 FILTRATION, Including Substrate and Live Rock;
Good filtration is a must for a successful marine aquarium. There are many different filters available too.
I recommend a MINIMUM Marine Fish Aquarium filtration turnover rate of 4-5 times tank volume per hour (combined all filters) minimum, however your in tank circulation (counting power heads, air stones, etc.) should be OVER 8-10 times per hour.
Suggested COMBINED (filters and circulation devices) Aquarium Turnover Rates
- 8-10 times for an average fish only aquarium
- 10-12 times for an average FOWLR or very basic reef tank (FOWLR = Fish only with live rock)
- 14-20 times for an Advanced Reef Tank
Filtration is also performed by Live Rock, so please read more in the section about the Berlin Method (Live Rock) further down in this article.
are excellent for their capacity, but can these filters can become what are sometimes called "Nitrate factories" if not set p correctly and/or rinsed very regularly (once per week unless de-nitrification or nitrate absorbing media is used such as Matrix or Purigen).
A few Canister Filters I recommend are the SunSun, Eheim, Filstar, and the Magnum (for certain applications).
In fact, because of this "Nitrate Factory" tendency; Canister Filters should not be used for delicate Marine Reef tanks as sold "out of the box".
To improve on the “nitrate factory” aspect of these filters do NOT
use bio balls or ceramic filter media, rather I prefer to add products such as SeaChem Matrix and/or volumes of cure live rock crumbles/rubble or volcanic rock to my canister filters.
For higher flow rates I recommend larger crumbles (to provide less penetration of oxygen into the live rock so as to insure anaerobic bacterial growth). 2-5 centimeters is what I have generally used in live rock rubble size (smaller sizes are best for slower flow rates such as 150 gph, while larger sizes are best for higher flow rates such as 500+ gph).
When loaded up with Matrix, Live Rock Crumbles, and/or Volcanic Rock as well as serviced regularly, your Canister filter should be perfectly fine for Marine Reef Aquarium Use!!
Please read the canister filter section of this article: Aquarium Filtration; Canister Filters
for further information.
*Matrix; For the removal of Nitrogenous Waste, including Nitrate
*Purigen; Controls Ammonia, Nitrites and Nitrates
*SunSun Aquarium Canister Filter; HW 402B, HW 303B & HW 304B
*Rena Filstar XP aquarium filter systems
*Wet/Dry filters are good, but as most are designed, these are usually are poor mechanical filters and can become nitrate factories as with canister filters.
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If Bio Balls are used, the bio ball media in them also should be rinsed regularly in de-chlorinated water to prevent a buildup of organic material, increasing nitrates.
As with canister filters, most wet/dry set ups are not Advanced Reef capable due to high nitrate and phosphate issues. I prefer to use broken cured live rock, volcanic rock pieces, or SeaChem Matrix instead of bio balls.
Another idea instead of the use of bio balls, etc. is the use of Hydro Pond Sponge Filters, which is easily and quickly rinsed to prevent nitrate producing organic buildup along with a deep sand bed to aid in de-nitrification (removal of nitrates), along with such a wet/dry sump filter, live rock crumbles or volcanic rock can also be "piled" around the pick up "sump sponge".
Product Reference: Hydro Pond 3 & 4 Sump Filter
*Sump systems with live rock, plants, and sponge filters work well.
The live rock is excellent for aerobic filtration (ammonia and nitrite removal) and anaerobic filtration (nitrate removal).
The live plants and green algae are good for nitrogen fixing and phosphate removal.
While the sponge filter is a simple to clean aerobic bio-filter and mechanical filter (although make sure and rinse the sponge regularly or it can become a nitrate factory).
Common Wet/Dry systems are what are considered open loop systems which employs a sump (as compared to a closed loop that has no open sump).
*Sponge; The benefit with the use of a Sponge filter (such as in a sump, in place of bio balls or simply as a stand alone filter) is the ease of rinsing, which if rinsed regularly, will nullify any possibility of becoming a nitrate factory and will increase your aquariums ability to bounce back quickly from spikes in wastes (resulting in very undesirable spikes in ammonia).
In fact controlled tests using sponge filters that were rinsed regularly, I observed increases at most of .05 in nitrates and when these sponge filters were taken out of the aquarium system, much more dangerous spikes in ammonia occurred, proving that with the correct aerobic filter combined with the correct care, the "nitrate factory" phenomenon can be avoided and better nitrification can be achieved with no instances of ammonia spikes as would be present in tanks with only live rock and protein skimmers!
It is also noteworthy that there was no increase whatever in nitrates in these tests when a deep sand bed or de-nitrifying filter media was also present
Product Resource: Aquarium Sponge Filters by ATI, Lustar
*Protein Skimmers employ a chamber with a column of fine bubbles. Surface tension attracts organic waste to the bubbles & carries it through the column (this is called foam fractionation); then it is "skimmed" into a collection cup.
Let me add one point about protein skimmers is that although protein skimmers are a useful tool in marine and reef aquariums (a tool I recommend too), they are not essential for all marine aquariums, especially fish only tanks.
Many older Skimmers abilities are often over rated, as I have kept dozens of marine aquariums with and without them and excellent results in the marine/reef aquariums without them (providing other methods of filtration are employed such as deep sand bed).
However, that said they are still a useful tool and will state that keeping an advanced reef tank is much easier when a well designed Protein Skimmer is employed, especially with the newer generation skimmers now available that are more efficient with less hassles.
Often problems I have seen with aquarists using Protein skimmers is that they are not set up and running properly so the cup is collecting foam. Also many aquarists will not empty the cup frequently enough which then makes the skimmer useless.
If you choose to have advanced level marine aquarium, please look carefully at the Skimmer you purchase and make all the adjustments necessary once set up for proper foam refraction.
The Professional V2 Skimmer is a quality protein skimmer incorporating a patented venture injection system which optimizes the perfect mixture of fine air bubbles and water and ensures intensive, efficient skimming and the removal of proteins and other harmful toxins (waste) from the aquarium.
The addition of an Ozone Generator to a venturi style skimmer (such as the V2 Skim noted above) further increases efficiency and add the benefit of killing many pathogens.
There are other good Skimmers also available (such as the ultra high end Warner Marine mesh wheel and the ASM) as well as many “dogs” that are often still quite expensive.
*TMC Professional V2 Skimmer
*TMC Professional Ozonizer
Finally as to Skimmers, since they work via foam refraction on organic proteins in the water, they will not collect much foam in a new marine aquarium, so do not get discouraged if yours does not work well in the first few weeks after initial setup.
A more simple skimmer with a pre-filter for 20 gallon or less is the Rio Nano Skimmer can be used in the Berlin Method, either directly with a small amount of broken live rock inside the filter or indirectly as one part of the system.
This filter includes a small filter cartridge and works basically like a HOB (hang on back) power filter.
This however is NOT a high end skimmer, however is might be a good fit for beginners or small aquariums (under 60 gal.).
Product Resource: Rio Nano; Beginner Saltwater Protein Skimmer, Filter
For MUCH more information about Protein Skimmers (including types), please see this updated article in Aquarium Answers:
Aquarium Protein Skimmers; Review, venturi, aspirating, spray injection
*Fluidized Sand Bed Filters; These filters are an excellent compliment to Protein Skimmers, especially when no other bio filters are utilized.
While the Fluidized filter is primarily aerobic nitrification, they do not have the tendency of becoming major nitrate factories as do Canister or Wet/Dry (when set up traditionally).
However that said, for reef applications in particular, the use of live rock, deep sand, and especially a protein skimmer still are important when a Fluidized Filter is employed in a sensitive reef environment since a Fluidized Filter still produces nitrates (for Fish only or FOWLR tanks, the use of Fluidized Filter has absolutely no drawbacks).
A major positive of the new generation Fluidized Sand Bed Filters in particular is that for their size these filters are second to none in aerobic bio filtration.
Then when combined products such as NPX BioPlastics Nitrate & Phosphate Reducing Polymer added to the Fluid Filters reaction chamber, these filters become "nitrate and phosphate removing machines" (a Protein Skimmer is required for best results).
Another positive of the TMC Fluidised Sand Bed Filter is that it has the option of utilizing oolitic sand filter media, which works somewhat similar to a Calcium reactor by maintaining the calcium and alkalinity levels of an aquarium via the constant friction of the oolitic sand containing calcium and some carbonates as well.
This is a filter I VERY STRONGLY SUGGEST for ANY Reef Aquarium!!
*TMC New Generation Fluidized Sand Bed Filters
*NPX Bioplastics Nitrate & Phosphate Reducing Polymer Media
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*Hang on back filters (HOB) are very limited for saltwater aquariums, but can be used too, especially if combined with other bio filters (in particular de-nitrifying bio filters) and Protein Skimmers.
Internal filters are also limited, but once again are good combined with others or used as above.
Be careful with some of the claims by many in the aquarium hobby about bio wheels, although they do work; no where near to what the hype say and are only marginal marine filters, please see this article:
Do Bio Wheels Really Work.
There are many reasonable choices if you choose HOB filter as part of your saltwater filter system.
The Aqua Clear models have room for additional filter media for de-nitrification or absorbing nitrates & phosphates.
Many others such as the SunSun HBL 701 can have one side of their double chamber removed and replaced with "live rock crumbles", SeaChem Matrix, SeaChem Purigen, volcanic rock or similar for better phosphate/nitrate removal & de-nitrification.
Additional Product Resource: SunSun HBL 701 HOB Filter
See product references earlier in article for Matrix, Purigen, etc.
The newer Internal Wet-Dry Filters such as the ReSun BF100 are often a better choice than a HOB if you are considering one for their simplicity. This style of filter combines the simplicity of an HOB with more bio-capacity and room for live rock crumbles, Matrix, etc. They are also more versatile, allowing for the addition of a UV Sterilizer (which although is not essential, is a practical tool for disease prevention and Redox Balance). The biggest disadvantage to this type of filter is the same as the before mentioned HOB and Standard Wet/Dry filter; and that is they can become “nitrate factories” if not set up with de-nitrifying live rock crumbles, volcanic rock, etc.
Product Resource: Internal Wet/Dry Marine Bio Filter
*Ecosystem mud filtration is effective for nitrate removal (due to the large colonies of anaerobic bacteria), they can be simpler to use than a protein Skimmer in my opinion (although Ecosystems do work, I believe they are over hyped for fish aquaria).
Unfortunately there are many stores pushing these systems as the end all of filtration, and they are not. They are a good part of a system, but should not be the only part. Good mechanical, other types of bio filtration and especially germicidal filtration are also important.
*Power Heads along with wave makers (for more high tech reef tanks) are an excellent addition (& IMO a necessary addition when live rock is used as a major source of bio filtration) as these can add valuable cross currents and can be directed in ways that make for tidal zone like circulation. Many such as the Rio 1000 Powerhead, Pump are quite versatile and fit many small to medium saltwater tanks well.
For larger aquariums and especially sumps, the Rio 1700 Pump or SunSun JP-066 are also useful especially for sumps, or unique applications such as the one pictured here at this site: “Water Return Manifold” (sometimes referred to as closed loop system, although this is not my definition, a better definition is just that a water return manifold).
*Rio Plus 1000, Multi Purpose Aquarium Water Pumps
*Rio Plus 1700, Multi Purpose Aquarium Water Pumps
*SunSun SunSun JP-066 Pump
*Wave Makers/Controller can be a good idea if you have sensitive corals that live in tidal zones.
I personally have not had good luck with oscillating power heads, instead I recommend electronic wave monitors that you plug your power heads into such as the excellent "Hydor Smart Wave Controller" (pictured).
Product Resource: Hydor Smart Wave Controller
If you use one of these devices make sure and use a quality power head that will restart as many of the power heads available (Aqua Clear, Marineland) have a poor track record from my extensive experience.
The Seio Propeller/Ciculation pumps are excellent for this application.
If you do not have these sensitive coral, simply having a few well placed power heads at different angles will do the trick.
*Propeller Pumps are gaining popularity, originally in high tech reef tanks.
These are generally my first choice now for moving current in a marine aquarium and especially when used with Wave Controllers. This includes through live rock situated in a marine aquarium essentially acting as a secondary filter (or even primary filter).
These unique pumps deliver high flow, low heat, and efficient.
Propeller pumps install easily onto any aquarium with a glass or acrylic thickness that is 1/2" and below. Some propeller pumps use magnetic force to transmit energy through the aquarium wall, while others have a similar self contained design to the mag-drive pumps, which results in a better over all flow inside the aquarium compared to the more laminar flow of power heads.
These energy efficient pumps have come down much in price from the originals, first with the Hydro Koralia, then with the slightly better designed and better price/value Seio Propeller Pumps (see the picture to the left).
The SunSun Circulation/Propeller Pumps are worth of mention as these perform about as well as any other propeller pump at a much lower cost, due in part to the fact many of these are supplied with suction cups instead of magnets to keep the costs down.
Product Reference: Seio & SunSun Propeller Pumps; Superior Design Glass Mount Aquarium Circulation Pump
Please see my full Aquarium Filtration article for MUCH more information about filters:
OR this article for several entry level as well as advanced Marine (Saltwater) Filtration system set up suggestions: “Saltwater Aquarium Set Up Suggestions”
MORE ABOUT LIVE ROCK AND THE BERLIN FILTER METHOD:
The Berlin Filter method as I apply it is the use of cured live rock (A) In the tank, or (B) In sumps or other filters.
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This method is extremely effective for fish and reef (including Nano Reef), especially when combined with one or more other filters such as a mud filter, protein skimmer, or even a fluidized filter. The advantage here is the colonies of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, as well as the many creatures and coralline algae that are housed in the live rock.
I generally recommend 1-2 pounds of live rock per gallon.
Even if the "Live Rock" is only inside your main aquarium, as long as circulation is provided through and around it with a water pump and/or well placed air stones within your live rock "reef", this counts as a bio filter.
As noted earlier, the water pump I generally recommend is a propeller pump for this application due to their smooth water flow.
In other words since I recommend filter redundancy of at least two or more filters in a marine aquarium; this live rock "reef" can be one of those filters!
The Berlin filter Method is also used in closed loop systems similar to wet/dry filter systems, except without the sump.
Another similar aspect to “Live Rock” is “Live Sand”, although I have to part ways with the fad as to the live part (not the sand part), most of the packaged live sand I have tested is not all that "live", especially as to aerobic nitrifying bacteria as this bacteria goes dormant in a sealed bag to the point of not being able to revive in a useful/practical way; this part is a gimmick IMO.
I suggest that you use sand out of a healthy, functioning saltwater aquarium for true live sand, although starting with dry oolitic sand, your aquarium will develop anaerobic de-nitrification in about 4-8 weeks.
Back to sand, for a reef marine aquarium I highly recommend a deep sand bed of at least 3 inches, with 4-5 inches preferred. For fish only, 2-4 inches works well in most aquariums.
This substrate should consist of #00 oolite sized coral sand (NOT Playground sand which is NOT at all the same in chemical composition!).
This sand bed will act as a “home” for de-nitrifying anaerobic bacteria to live in an oxygen free environment and aid in keeping your nitrate levels low.
For more about anaerobic bacteria, please see this article:
“Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle; Denitrification”
On top of the fine sand I recommend a layer of #3 crushed coral for improved nitrification and better waste control, not to mention easier vacuuming.
This top layer will generally trap large debris and detritus and will also allow some aerobic nitrifying bacteria to grow as well, however the main purpose is for trapping debris for vastly easier vacuuming, not to mention a more aesthetically pleasing aquarium than with sand alone.
I generally only vacuum the top crushed coral layer, only occasionally pushing the vacuum bell deeper into the sand so as to not disrupt too much of the anaerobic bacteria in the sand (I often vacuum deeply in the front areas of the tank so as to remove unsightly algae (“mold”) that will grow here.
I should note that occasionally pushing the vacuum in to different areas of the sand bed (rotating areas with each cleaning) will control potential buildup of mulm or other undesirable organic decomposition as well as to prevent sulfur-reduction.
For more about aquarium cleaning, please see this article: “Aquarium Cleaning”
More about live rock:
Make sure it is cured, many stores sell live rock right after it comes to them, and this is not cured live rock.
Live rock arrives to the stores wrapped in newspaper and mostly dead by this time, it takes up to 6 weeks to fully cure live rock.
Fully cured live rock has the benefit of containing aerobic and anaerobic bacteria; the later helps convert nitrates to nitrogen which is released harmlessly into the atmosphere. Cured live rock also contains many “creatures”, many of which are both interesting and beneficial.
You may also create your own using rock high in calcium carbonate (coralline rock), or even dead coral skeletons by placing them under healthy cured live rock for a couple of months in a healthy aquarium (reef set ups are best for this). It is important to use very porous rock for the proper benefits of live rock.
The use of ancient calcium carbonate rocks (from a rock quarry) is a great way to preserve the reefs as well since you are not depleting reefs for your aquarium!.
Another similar idea is to purchase Aqua Cultured Live Rock where they perform this task for you, one such place is:
Live Rock Ranch
An important point as to live rock, is to soak and “swish” your rock around in a bucket of de-chlorinated freshwater for 5 minutes. This has worked well for me and kills Oodinium pathogens and many (not all) creatures such polychaete worms (AKA Bristleworms) will fall out for your removal. Creatures you want to keep that fall out during this process can be simply placed back into the main aquarium. This has worked well for me over the years at minimizing disease risk and introduction of undesirables.
Reference: Fireworm, Polychaete Worms
A method I prefer is to break the live rock into smaller chunks and place these in back mounted wet/dry filters, canister filters or even remove the filter media from an Aqua Clear 500 or similar HOB Filter and instead use these 1-2” live rock pieces, this can make for a simple application of the Berlin Filter Method.
Volcanic rock can also work well in the above mentioned filters due to its porous nature (although volcanic rock does not aid in adding minerals or buffering the water).
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Nitrate & Phosphate Removal Filtration;
The methods and filtration discussed above often are enough for nitrate and phosphate control for most fish and FOWLR (fish only with live rock) tanks; HOWEVER with many reef enthusiasts, the above methods may not be enough to keep nitrates and phosphates at levels condusive to healthy corals, and other delicate reef life.
In fact it is in my experience (and many others) that occasionally poor lighting gets blamed for poor coral health, when if fact a closer examination of water parameters show clearly unacceptable nitrate and phosphate levels.
Here are just a few Suggestions (not an exhaustive list):
(A) Mud Filters, Deep Sand; As mentioned above, Mud filters can be very useful for Nitrate removal as are deep sand beds or even a DIY deep sand bed “filter” in which you can use a bucket or another small aquarium.
For a simple DIY picture and better description of this idea, please follow this link:
DIY Deep Sand Bucket/Tank
For a Mud Filter (and diagram) please see my article:
"AQUARIUM FILTRATION; Mud Filters, Algae Scrubbers, Refugiums"
(B) Live Rock Crumbles, Matrix; Also as mentioned above; a lot of cured live rock is extremely helpful for nitrate removal, this should also be used as live rock crumbles in wet/dry, canister or similar filters in place of bio balls or ceramic media which tend to promote high nitrates. Volcanic Rock can be substituted for live rock crumbles/scrap.
A commercial product that is even more efficient at utilizing de-nitrifying anaerobic bacteria for nitrate removal SeaChem Matrix.
Matrix has macropores that are ideally sized for the support of nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria. This allows Matrix to remove nitrate along with ammonia and nitrite, simultaneously and in the same filter.
*Matrix; Supports colonies of Nitrifying and Denitrifying Bacteria
See also this article:
“Filter Media; Chemical, biological, mechanical”.
(C) Protein Skimmers; these devices remove protein based organics before entering the nitrogen cycle, thus never allowing nitrates to form.
(D) Use of products such as NPX BioPlastics that promote anaerobic bio activity that in turns greatly lowers nitrates and phosphates.
This product works by promoting Anaerobic zones to develop within the pellets, resulting de-nitrification there-in.
As well, when "churned" in a Fluidized Filter or Reactor, bacteria develop on the pellet surfaces and slough off, then these bacteria can be removed with a protein skimmer or serve as planktonic food for corals, clams, sponges and other filter-feeding invertebrates.
This is a similar concept to "Vodka Dosing" however it is superior in its simplicity and less issues of yellowing of water (which can be reduced with SeaChem Purigen which also aid in nitrate control).
For more about Vodka Dosing and other means of Nitrate removal, please reference this article:
Aquarium Nitrates; Removal, Prevention
*NPX Bioplastics Nitrate & Phosphate Reducing Polymer Media
*Next Generation TMC Fluidized Sand Bed Aquarium Filter
(E)Use of Synthetic Adsorption such as products like API Phos-Zorb or SeaChem Purigen.
Purigen controls ammonia, nitrites and often hard to control nitrates by removing nitrogenous organic waste that would otherwise release these harmful compounds, with minimal impact on trace elements.
Carbon can also be used as it too is an adsorbent, although there are some issues when used in combination with Protein Skimmers as well as release of contaminants, so please refer to this article for more:
“Aquarium Answers; Carbon”
*API Phos-Zorb Phosphate Remover
*SeaChem Purigen; Premium Synthetic Adsorbent
*Nirox Premium Carbon for Aquariums
(F) Plants or green algae such as Caulerpa algae (although Caulerpa Algae is now regulated in many areas) or
Green Gracillaria directly in the aquarium or in a DIY Refugium/Mud Filter or Algae Scrubber.
(G) Pre-Filters such as ATIs "Filter Max" on filter intakes; these are easily rinsed and remove organic matter before it can go thru the nitrogen cycle.
Product Resource: ATI Filter Max Sponge Pre-Filters
(H) Improved cleaning methods such as where by as much decomposing organics are removed. The use of battery powered sludge removing vacuums such as the Eheim Sludge Remover Gravel Vacuum is very useful, especially in tanks without deep sand beds.
Product Resource: Eheim Sludge Extractor Battery Gravel Vacuum
Please Reference this article for more about Nitrate Control from Aquarium Answers:
“Aquarium Nitrates; Removal & Prevention”
A 6,400K to 20,000 K Daylight bulb is a start for most basic marine aquarium applications.
The 6400K light will provide the important PAR best for marine fish, however in tanks over 12 inches deep, a higher Kelvin light will be needed.
Actinic Blue can help balance out the 400-550nm range of the EVEN MORE important PUR necessary for corals and provides a nice “blue” appearance to your aquarium.
Reference: Aquarium Lighting, PUR
For more advanced reef keeping you will need to consider the power compacts, the T-5, HO T5, the Metal Halide, the even newer LED, SHO bulbs, or for small tanks, the T2 lights (T2s are not suggested for advanced reef tanks).
LED light fixtures in particular are making major advances on a yearly basis (if not even quicker) in both performance and price (when compared apples to apples such as in terms of focused lumens, lumens per watt, PAR, much less wasted light energy in the yellow/green spectrum & more).
So before you write these off as too expensive (which is NOT true when you consider the 50,000 hour life span and vastly less electricity used over the life of the system when compared to often over rated HO T5 light systems or similar) or simply that LEDs are not that good based on anecdotal advice.
It is also noteworthy that there are many LED fixtures now flooding the market they have copious amounts of emitters to make up for the lack of patent rights to the best emitters, please be careful and do not fall for one of these poor quality LED Lights.
My latest study with Red Slime Algae really showed me how much these LED lights can do for an aquarium.
For Fish only or FOWLR, the T2 lights, SHO, or Marine White LED are excellent choices for good lighting that can be upgraded (especially the T2 and LED are easily added to).
With Reef tanks, multiples of the Reef White, Ocean Blue 1500s, Marine or Fiji Blue LEDs combined with Metal Halide, or T5 lights are excellent modern technology choices.
*AquaRay New Technology LED Reef Lighting Systems
*SHO; Super High output Lights
*Low profile, High Output Aquarium T2 Light Fixtures
Lighting is a VERY complex subject, deserving a full article, so I STRONGLY RECOMMEND reading this extremely in depth article for vastly more aquarium lighting information from basics to complex:
“AQUARIUM LIGHTING, Kelvin, Nanometers, PAR and more.”
The above is a MUST read article for ANY advanced Marine/Reef Aquarium keeper & a recommended read for basic saltwater aquarium keepers!
Also please note that for fish only or fish with some invertebrates such as Arrow Crabs, lighting is not as important a factor, however if you plan to have anemones, soft coral and especially hard corals, good lighting is a MAJOR factor in their success! Also note that although the 3-5 watt per gallon rule is a reasonable starting point for older technology lights, this is an archaic rule of thumb as there are so many other factors that are also important such as lumens per watt, useful energy, tank depth, and more. Again PLEASE read the above article for more about lighting!
If you are keeping reef tank with Photosynthetically sensitive corals, another important point that is often missed is specimen placement. I would move corals as high up in the water column as possible, this especially important with SPS corals (short polyp stony corals) where placement on the rocks directly under your lights is even more essential.
Sometimes in conversations with reef enthusiasts that are questioning different lighting systems/ideas is that it is often missed that the most high light requiring corals (such as SPS) do not grow 100 feet (30 meters) below the surface in the reefs and that these corals will be just below the surface, so regardless of the lights you choose, placement is extremely important. Even less light demanding tropical reef building corals species are restricted to the euphotic zone, the region in the ocean where light penetrates to a depth of approximately 230 feet or 70 meters.
I should also note that with SPS corals in my own experience, placement low or even in substrate that I have observed the corals getting “eaten away” by bacteria from the bottom up; while this is an anecdotal observation of mine (as other factors were not tested in a controlled scientific study), it is still consideration in coral specimen placement.
The bottom line is that you can have the best lighting system that money can buy, but poor placement of specimens can make it all for not.
Finally do not inadvertently block your light by having dirty salt covered bulbs, or even by placing a glass top between your lights and aquarium water. A glass top is OK for most fish but often can block essential light energy necessary for corals.
I recommend using a Polycarbonate top (if a top is even required) as glass block more than 60% of beneficial UVA rays. Polycarbonate only blocks about 8-10% (provided it is kept clean). Most retailers specializing in plastics can custom cut you such a top from Polycarbonate.
I got my Polycarbonate at: Paragon Plastics in South El Monte, CA
 TEST KITS;
An ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, ph, Hydrometer, and KH (Alkalinity) test kit are all important. For reef aquariums a Calcium and Magnesium Test Kit are also highly recommended.
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For a more in depth article about Aquarium Test Kits, please follow this link:
AQUARIUM TEST KITS; what they are used for and their importance.