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There are many ways to establish a marine aquarium. This site shows how I built my setup.

As with all things to do with Marine Aquariums, I am learning all the time, so my setup is not perfect. However, this is to share the outline of what I have built, to share some of the finer details, share it’s inhabitants and from my experience to date, some tips to help others in the hobby.

This is my 4th Marine Aquarium, having first started back in 1990.

Background

I had several goals for this latest tank:

  • The display was not to be a ‘back wall of rock’, but something more interesting
  • The rocks should leave maximum swimming room for the fish & shrimps
  • Space should be made to enable cleaning of the back wall of the display
  • No noise from the water as it circulated from display tank to the sump and back again. It must be ‘silent’ – to maintain marital bliss!
  • Use of a High Capacity Weir Comb on the overflow to maximise water flow
  • Lighting was to be LED and T5s.
  • Water mixing, water changes and top ups, must not involve walking around the house with buckets!
  • The system must be capable of running for at least three weeks without key maintenance, providing holiday cover (Friends would come in daily to feed the critters and check the basics.)
  • The sump was to be situated in an external fish room – reducing noise and especially evaporation into the lounge
  • The electricity supply for the setup must have its own breakers and short circuit protection

The Main Building Blocks

The display tank glass and the cabinet/hood were custom made to fit the space available. The display tank was a bit deeper than most (28 inches) as I wanted a bigger viewing area and more swimming room for the fish. The back wall, weir box and one side were coloured blue and the front and other side were made in ‘optiplex’ glass (no yellowing and very clear for viewing) It was pre-drilled and had cover glasses fitted. Thankfully, this actually cost less than a standard pre-built aquarium. In the rear panel of the hood are holes for cables etc. plus two air vents, fed by two fans one pushing air in from outside and one pulling air back outside, constantly venting the heat from the enclosed hood. The fans are on the outside of the house.

With the display tank in place, I turned my attention to the sump and the filtration/circulation components.

I started by turning an old 6’ x 4’ shed into the ‘Fish Room’. it’s a bit too small, but the only space I had and it forces me to keep everything neat and carefully designed. First job was to insulate it and install power/lights and a water feed/drain.

The biggest job was installing the feed and return pipes between the display tank in the lounge and the sump in the fish room (shed!). It was a five meter plus horizontal run on the external wall of the house, which required it’s own insulated weatherproof covering. As you can imagine, this took some time!

I used a previous display tank as my sump, dividing it into sections for the different filtration components and mediums. These sections also maximised the path of the water flow through each stage and adding weirs between some sections increased ‘gas/water’ exchange. The sump was fitted with an ‘Overflow’ tube, whose height was adjusted so that the water would overflow into the drain when it reached two inches below the top if the tank.

New separate DIY tanks for the RO water and for the salt water mixing were made and installed.

(Tip: Getting the glass sourced/cut/drilled locally ensured that the finished tanks fitted the available space exactly. With care, joining the glass panels with silicone to form the tanks was easier than expected.)

A 'Chiller' (D&D DC-750) was installed externally to the fish room (it’s a shed really) in it’s own weather proof box. This, along with the two main heaters, keeps the tank at a stable 25.5C.

Sump Design

The sump was partitioned to maximise the distance the water had to travel so that all filter media had a strong flow. These partitions were then filled with course filtration at the inlet, with fine filtration media between each key section. Then activated carbon, 8kg sintered glass rings, 16kg Eheim Substrate Pro bio media, 20Kg live rock and some bio balls. Two weir combs and finally two air stones provided additional gas exchange.

The sump also holds:

  • Two large return pumps – Jacod DCP-8000 – moving c. 6000 litres / 1580 gallons per hour for each pump. (These are low power c. 45w each )
  • Ehime 1200 pump for circulating the water through the external chiller and two 25W UV Sterilisers
  • A small pump for the external Phosphate Reactor
  • A TMC Reef DC 1000 Protein Skimmer + Overflow Box
  • Two 300w heaters
  • Auto Top Up valve
  • Overflow and drain outlets
  • Salinity & PH monitors

Water Tanks

The RO (10 Gal) and saltwater mixing tank (16 Gal) both have their own heaters and the saltwater tank has a pump to mix/stir the salt and an additional pump to send the new salt water into the sump. (Just flick the switches and twiddle the taps – No buckets required! – it’s brilliant)

Reverse Osmosis

The RO system is Kent Marine 75gpd with a deioniser pod added. To improve the RO conversion factor I installed a 80psi booster pump. The output from the RO automatically feeds the fresh water storage tank, which in turn feeds the salt water mixing tank. Plus, it feeds the auto top-up valve in the sump. As the RO water is used a float sensor automatically turns on the water supply to the RO and starts the booster pump. Another float sensor turns the water supply off when the RO tank is full again.

(Tip: There are many electronic options for ‘Auto Top Up’. They can and do, fail ‘open’, which can mean a large amount of top-up water entering the aquarium. Critical if the top-up was Kalkwasser! For the last 15+ years I have used a simple plastic mini Float Valve for my auto top-up. To date it has never failed or changed its performance – keep it simple . If you have the space this is a reliable cheap option.)

Getting The Display Tank Ready

Fitting the lighting to the hood lid, I setup all the controllers to provide a ‘Dawn to Dusk’ lighting profile. Fiddly, but works well. During this time I added a temperature meter underneath the display tank so I could keep my eye on the settings and any fluctuation, tuning the heaters/chiller bit by bit.

The live rock was added to the display tank having modelled the rock structures by drilling the rocks and inserting plastic rods/tubing for stability whilst the epoxy cured the rocks were placed directly on the glass bottom of the tank. This has worked well and the rocks are very stable.

(Tip: With rock structures, create three points of contact on the base – it will always be stable.)

There is always a debate on ‘sand or no sand’ or ‘how deep should the sand be’? I opted for sand as I feel that the sand makes for a more realistic reef display and adds brightness to the tank. Two inches/5cm deep has proven a good compromise in the past re: my ability to manage/clean the sand and it provides a good home for starfish and snails.

I also wanted an Orange Spot Goby to assist in tank cleaning. They are a great fish, always on the move adding interest in the tank and they do a great job at keeping the sand clean. This activity is another reason why I wanted a sand base.

(Tip: The Orange Spot is better for Reef tanks because, in my experience, the very popular Blue Cheeked Goby deposit significant amounts of sand on the corals from high up in the tank. This causes damage to the corals below. The Orange Spot Gobies constantly just churn over the surface of the sand rarely venturing high up in the tank – but they do like to dig holes!)

After a long while the system was ready to fill with sea water. This took several days, making a large quantity of RO water and mixing the salt, in 16 gallon batches. (if only I had a bigger shed!) Once completed, then the inevitable wait while the system cured and developed the live bacteria etc. (c.6 weeks)

The inhabitants were then added gradually over several weeks.

What Next:

My next task will be to review/change the lighting. I am finding that the ‘Aquabeam 1000HD’ units are not reliable, as two have failed to date.

More Detail:

That was a quick overview, you will find more detail on the following sections:

  • The Aquarium Setup pages provides details of the Layout, Sump Design, Lighting, and ‘Silent’ Operation
  • The Livestock page provides details of the inhabitants

Happy to answer any queries via the Contact page.

High Capacity Weir Comb

30% More Flow

D-D H2Ocean UltraFlow

Aquarium Chiller

D&D DC750

Return Pump

Jacod DCP-8000

25W UV Steriliser

Vectron UV

 

 

Phosphate Reactor

Two Little Fishes Phosphate Reactor

 

Skimmer

TMC Reef 1000

Auto Top-Up

Small Plastic Float Valve

Orange Spot Goby

 

 

Blue Cheeked Goby