All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Salt Water Aquariums

Dear Marie,
We recently visited the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach and were inspired to start a salt-water aquarium for our home.  Our friends think we’re crazy and have told us that there is way too much work and effort involved and the fish will probably all die.  They also said everything is quite expensive.  Are salt-water aquariums really that hard to manage? 
Sally and Ed

Dear Sally and Ed,
Salt-water aquariums can be a bit of a challenge and I won’t tell you that this endeavor is going to be cheap.  But, if you are committed to the project and are willing to put some time and effort into research before you get started, you will be very pleased with your results once your tank is established.

First, you will need to decide what type of fish you would like to have.  There are many different species of salt-water dwelling fish and you will need to learn which ones can live together peacefully, and whether or not they are cold water or tropical fish.  You can either hit the books at your local library, or talk to one of the experts at the store where you plan to purchase your little critters.

It takes about a month to get a salt-water tank ready for living creatures.  Start by getting a tank that holds at least thirty gallons of water.  For salt-water aquariums, the bigger, the better.  Clean the interior surfaces thoroughly using plain water with clean paper towels. 

Find a secure location to place your tank.  Keep in mind that California is earthquake country and look for a spot that will be protected from falling objects.  You should also position your aquarium away from windows.  Generally, it’s a good idea to brace tanks against good, strong walls on stands made specifically to support the heavy weight of all the water.

You’ll need to purchase aquarium gravel.  The bottom of your tank should be covered with about a two-inch thick carpet of these small pebbles of crushed coral or dolomite.  You will probably also enjoy adding decorative aquarium rocks and corals so that your fish will have places to hide and explore.

Once you have your tank decorated to your liking, and you can get very creative if you want, it’s time to add water and a filter.  There are many different types of filters available and their costs vary.  Again, talk to the people at the store where you will be purchasing fish to find out what type of filter would be best for the species you plan on having. 

Obviously, saltwater won’t come out of the kitchen sink, and you definitely do not want to add table salt to solve this problem or you will have a deadly outcome.  Instead, you must purchase a special salt mixture from your pet supply store and add it according to labeling instructions.   The mixture should contain a little calcium or you can purchase this separately.  Once you have the aquarium filled, water and salt mixed and the filter running, you will need to monitor the tank’s pH, water temperature, alkalinity, and nitrate content.   In about 4 weeks, you should notice that everything has stabilized within the acceptable levels for your fish.  If it has not, please do not rush the process.  Wait until your tank is ready before placing any fish inside.

Salt-water fish are very pricey.  You should probably begin with the least expensive fish you can find because as careful as you may have been in setting up everything, there may still be a few problems and you will most likely lose a few individuals in your first few weeks.  However, once your tank seems to be thriving, you may begin adding some of the more spectacular salt-water fish.

Different species of fish require different diets.  Again, it is important to find out what your selected fish will require to be healthy and happy.

You will need to clean your aquarium from time to time.  Most experts agree that you should only replace some of the water at regular time intervals and use various cleaning tools to eliminate algae growth. 

Salt-water aquariums are indeed a lot of work.  Nevertheless, if you truly enjoy the beautiful creatures they house, the time and expense definitely pay off.

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