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


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 more 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’
  • High Capacity Weir Comb to maximise water flow
  • Lighting was to be LED and T5s. I had previously used halides and T5s (Halides – to much heat/high running costs)
  • Water mixing, water changes and top ups, must not involve walking around the house with buckets!
  • It must be capable of running for two-three weeks without maintenance. Holiday cover
  • The sump was to be situated in an external fish room

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.

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

I started by turning an old 6’ x 4’ shed into the ‘Fish Room’. it’s a bit 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.

I used a previous display tank as my sump and made/installed separate tanks for RO water and for salt water mixing.

A ‘chiller’ (D-D DC-750) was installed externally to the fish room in it’s own weather proof box. This, along with the two main heaters, keeps the tank at a stable 25C.

The biggest job was installing the feed and return pipes between the display tank in the lounge and the sump in the fish room. It was a five meter plus, horizontal run on the external wall of the house, which required t’s own insulated weatherproof covering. This took some time!

Once completed, I started on developing the sump.

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 bio balls. Two weir combs and two air stones provide 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.
  • Ehime 1200 pump for circulating the water through the external chiller and two UV sterilisers
  • A small pump for the external phosphate reactor
  • A TMC Reef DC 1000 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. (No buckets required!)

Reverse Osmosis

I fitted a Kent Marine 75 gpd RO system and added a deioniser pod. 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 sat water mixing tank. Plus, it feeds the auto top-up valve in the sump.

Getting The Display Tank Ready

After a long while the system was ready to fill with sea water, this took several days.

I added the live rock to the display tank having modelled the rock structures by drilling the rocks and inserting plastic rods/tubing for stablity whils the epoxy cured. The rocks were placed directly on the glass bottom of the tank and then a 2” layer of coral sand was added. This has worked well and the rocks are very stable.

Once completed, then the inevitable wait while the system cured and developed the live bacteria etc. (6 weeks)

The inhabitants were then added gradually over several weeks, and this is still ongoing……

Take A Look At:

  • The System pages for the details of the General Layout, Sump setup, Lighting, and ‘Herbie’ Silent Operation.
  • Alsothe ‘Livestock’ page for details of the inhabitants

Happy to answer any queries via the ‘Contact’ page.