Aquarium Maintenance

Saltwater Tank Maintenance Service

Author: Jeff Kurtz Photographer: Jeff KurtzA Marine Aquarium Maintenance Checklist (The Salt Creep)

“I understand saltwater aquariums are a lot of hard work. How many hours do you have to spend on yours each day to keep it looking like that?”

“I’d love to start a saltwater tank, but I just don’t have enough time in my schedule to maintain one.”

“Sure, saltwater aquariums are beautiful, but aren’t they much more difficult than freshwater?”

Questions and comments such as these, which are frequently uttered to marine aquarium hobbyists by their non-hobbyist acquaintances, drive home the point that some long-standing misconceptions still persist about marine aquarium keeping. Foremost among them is the notion that maintaining a healthy marine system requires a prohibitive investment of time and effort each day.

The truth of the matter is on most days I spend no more (and usually less) than 15 minutes performing aquarium maintenance. Sure, there are those water-change days that take up a few hours, but all in all I would describe the overall investment of time and elbow grease as quite modest—and certainly no worse than what you might expect from any other hobby or avocation.

Still, preparing for this month’s column has got me thinking about how I typically divvy up my aquarium-maintenance chores and how I could provide a sample maintenance schedule for those who are considering taking the plunge into saltwater aquarium keeping but may be discouraged by the amount of time and energy that they think the hobby demands. What follows is my best attempt to dissect a maintenance routine that, for me, has become largely subconscious and second nature. Another hobbyist’s routine might look significantly different, depending on the animals kept and the complexity of the system, but hopefully this will give newcomers a sense of what they can expect.

Daily Chores

Along with feeding my fish twice daily (once in the morning and once in the evening), I top off fresh water lost to evaporation—usually about a half gallon a day, depending on the humidity level in my home. This process can be fairly easily automated, however, eliminating even this simple step.

Each day’s routine also involves an inspection of all the livestock in my tank. I want to make sure that all the animals are present and accounted for (i.e., nothing has perished in the rockwork or leapt from the tank) and that everything looks healthy, uninjured, and disease-free. This really isn’t much of a chore, since it gives me an excuse to observe the tank and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

Then I check water temperature and specific gravity to make sure these crucial parameters aren’t straying off course. Monitoring these parameters daily allows me to catch and correct subtle deviations using small adjustments rather than having to make huge (read: stressful to tank inhabitants) corrections after a precipitous change has occurred.

I also perform a quick daily inspection of all my heating, filtration, lighting, and protein-skimming equipment to make sure everything is functioning properly. I find it helpful to run my hand along the various lines, tubes, and connections to make sure everything is properly plugged in (I have a habit of leaving my heater unplugged after water changes) or connected and that I don’t feel any moisture from small leaks.

Because I keep corals and a Tridacna clam in my system, my daily routine includes the addition of calcium and a buffering agent. However, if you plan to set up a fish-only system, this step would be unnecessary.

Finally, each day I empty and rinse out the collection cup of my protein skimmer to prevent an overflow, and I wipe off any salt creep (not your humble author, but that crusty salt layer that builds up on surfaces exposed to saltwater spray) that is accumulating on power cords and other surfaces. You have to be especially cautious about salt creep on power cords, as it can eventually work its way down the cord into the electrical outlet, causing a short.

This may sound like a lot to do each day, but again, these are all very simple steps and virtually all of them can be completed in a matter of minutes.

Weekly Chores

Once a week, it’s a good idea to test your ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and phosphate levels with quality test kits to ensure your tank isn’t experiencing a spike in any of these compounds. As a reef keeper, I also test calcium and alkalinity to make sure they’re in the proper range. Once your system has matured and you’ve developed a certain level of comfort and proficiency in your maintenance techniques—and assuming you aren’t continually adding or losing livestock—you may be able to get by testing less frequently.

My weekly housekeeping also includes cleaning the glass panes of my aquarium with an algae magnet (sometimes I do this as often as every other day, depending on how quickly the glass becomes fouled), wiping clean the neck of my protein skimmer to improve its efficiency, and rinsing my prefilter sponges to eliminate any trapped debris from the system before it can decompose and adversely impact my water quality.

Biweekly to Monthly Chores

The most important routine maintenance chore—the partial water change—should be completed once every two weeks or, at the very least, once a month. In heavily populated tanks or tanks containing large specimens that excrete on the heavy side, weekly water changes would be even better. A good rule to remember is that frequent, smaller water changes (approximately 10 percent of your aquarium’s water) are preferable to infrequent, larger water changes, which are more disruptive to the tank inhabitants and result in larger fluctuations in water chemistry.

Source: www.tfhmagazine.com
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