Marine water aquarium - setting up and laying out

Marine water-setup and design

Here’s how to set up your marine aquarium

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Maybe you want to reproduce a small coral reef where your fish, invertebrates and corals feel at home and which also looks like a reef. Have a look at Google pictures under the search term “marine aquarium” to see what other people have created in their aquarium. There you will find a lot of attractive design ideas.

The structure

Coral stone constructions (living stones) are heavy and shouldn’t be positioned directly on the bottom pane.

The same rules for rock construction apply for Rocky reef aquarium type JBL Malawi Rocks® : When constructing your aquarium make sure you create areas with strong and others with less bright illumination for the corals, which will be positioned there at a later stage.

The substrate

There are proponents for marine aquariums WITHOUT substrate which can easier be kept clean. But the moment you keep digging fish (e.g. wrasses) you definitely need a substrate. All substrate materials, from fine sand to coarse coral gravel, are suitable. The coarse substrate has the disadvantage that waste can penetrate deeply into it, whereas the waste will remain on the surface of fine sand and can easier be siphoned with a substrate cleaner ( JBL AquaEX Set 20-45 ). But it’s also a matter of taste what you prefer.

Live rock or dead rock?

By live rock we marine aquarists mean "rock" from a coral reef, but without larger corals on it. It usually comes from lower reef layers and does NOT cause damage to an intact coral reef. Such a thing would not be compatible with our idea of nature conservation! This "rock" is actually not a rock, it is the remains of dead corals, on which new corals have settled, which have then in turn died, and so on. This is how reefs are formed and they grow towards the water surface. In the tropics, houses, paths and walls are built from this "reef rock". Islands like the Maldives consist of this reef rock.

For the aquarium, live reef rock has the great advantage that it is of natural origin (i.e. contains no pollutants), provides settlement space for many nitrogen-degrading bacteria through the many pores and channels and, with luck, also "introduces" larvae of many interesting and useful marine organisms into our aquarium, which we now receive free of charge with the rock. Live reef rock will return to new life after a short time in our aquarium and we will discover animals and beautiful macroalgae on it that we never bought. It doesn't get more exciting than that! Of course, there is also a small disadvantage: if it is very fresh reef rock, organisms living on it, such as sponges, will also die off because they do not find the same living conditions in our aquarium as in the sea (e.g. plankton is missing). Other organisms that we don't want can also get into our aquarium: Predatory worms, crabs, etc. Nevertheless, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and so live reef rock would always be preferable to dead rock. You can, of course, mix it up: The lowest rocks of your small coral reef are made of dead rock (e.g. hole rock) and only on top of that you put the live rocks. This is mostly a question of money, because live rocks are much more expensive than dead hole rock.

The running-in phase

As soon as you have mixed sea salt with your tap or osmosis water and the right salt content has adjusted itself, life starts inside. Now let the aquarium run with the substrate, saltwater, heater and filter for at least one week WITHOUT lighting. After this, turn on the lighting and increase the lighting time one hour every two weeks, until a maximum burn time of 10 hours has been reached.

After one week you can start to gradually add living reef stone (still without light!) There are several ways to create constructions in the marine aquarium. Firstly you can build a „foundation“ with e.g. porous rocks and place “living stones” on it. Or you can invest a little more money and build the complete "reef" with “living reef rocks”. We recommend the latter method because living stones promote the aquarium biology better than “dead” porous rocks.

The total run-in period is therefore about 12 weeks! During this time, however, there will already be plenty of beautiful and interesting creatures to see in your marine aquarium, as they have already entered through the live reef rock.

With the help of a very good bacterial starter like JBL Denitrol , you can shorten the run-in time by a few weeks. However, make sure the bacterial starter is added a few days AFTER the live stones have been inserted, otherwise there will be no "food" available for the bacteria. If you have a biological filter or at least biological filter material in use, inoculate the filter material directly with JBL Denitrol ! This way you "fill" the space in the filter material with positive, pollutant-degrading bacteria and pathogenic bacteria (pathogens) can no longer settle there.

Please also remember during the set-up to hide the technical elements (pipes, pumps etc.) behind stones, but to leave them well accessible.

Tips and tricks for setting up a marine aquarium:

As soon as you place a single stone in an aquarium and install a flow pump from the left, you have created a stagnant water zone (dead zone) behind the stone on the right, where dirt will be deposited on the bottom. This dirt will be biologically degraded in reducing and oxygen-consuming processes. Unfortunately, reducing processes in the aquarium often lead to smear algae (Cyanophyceae). The fewer reducing processes that take place in the aquarium, the less smear algae will develop and the better your aquarium will function. Therefore when setting up stones in the marine aquarium, make sure that the subsequent current can reach most of the corners, so that hardly any dead zones are created. You can also leave enough space between the reef rocks so that you can reach dirt on the bottom (mulm) with a substrate cleaner or at least get there with a small water pump (JBL ProFlow t300) to "blow out" the dirt.

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