By Jeremy Richards on Monday, July 20th, 2015 in Maintenance
“Uninformed people make me hard and I’m easy.” This is the number one thing a saltwater aquarium would tell you if it could talk. For the last 15 years as a custom aquarium builder and anyone else in the aquarium industry can probably tell you, this is the number one myth repeated more than any other. The funny thing is that saltwater aquarium maintenance is actually rather simple. With the exception of the salt there is actually no difference to managing a saltwater aquarium vs. a freshwater aquarium.
Unfortunately there are many very inexpensive fresh water fish readily available in just about every city. In addition to that, there are a multitude of products available at a very low cost and marketed towards freshwater. Minimal investment is the root cause of this myth because the relationship of risk versus reward. Seriously, wouldn’t you be more motivated and diligent in your aquarium maintenance if neglecting your aquarium were to cost you hundreds? Or even thousands of dollars? Sadly this lack of motivation with regards to cost tends to lead people to perceive the freshwater aquarium as easier when the fact is they are actually just treating their fish as expendable commodities and not providing them with essential care. Ultimately, the urgency and diligence with which you maintain your Chandler aquarium and the perceived challenge in doing so, is directly related to the size of the investment in it. The Beta, exceptionally resilient and tolerant of poor conditions, inexpensive while being particularly undemanding in what they need to be kept successfully, is a perfect illustration of this cost relationship. Don’t confuse low cost hardy animals as easier to care for because, saltwater or freshwater, all aquatic environments need the same basic considerations to be maintained properly and keep their inhabitants in good health.
The truth is any aquarium boils down to the chemistry of the nitrogen cycle with ammonia nitrite and nitrate being your primary concern in any endeavor. As the animals you are trying to keep produce waste, ammonia, it is broken down by bacteria to nitrites and eventually further into nitrates. Both ammonia and nitrites are toxic to and have detrimental effects on all aquarium inhabitants while nitrate in small amounts does not. Without something to use the nitrates in a closed system they will build up requiring water to be exchanged to keep them in check. That said providing adequate filtration, live bacterial cultures and regular water changes can substantially reduce the duration and severity involved in establishing and maintaining this process. Beyond the nitrogen cycle, pH and alkalinity are probably the only other parameters you will need to address for most aquariums. Depending on the goals you have and the animals you intend to keep there is no universal number you are trying to achieve, but in saltwater it is typically in the 8.1 to 8.5 range. Ironically the addition of the salt itself and the use of aragonite substrates in saltwater actually drive pH to its optimal levels and once there help to stabilize it.
Obviously I have simplified a fairly complex process and yes there are some specialized aquarium systems that need some very special considerations but these exist in both fresh and saltwater. In the end I say “don’t believe the hype!” Good care and timely maintenance of your aquarium will lead to success in any endeavor in saltwater or freshwater. The biggest factor in your success is understanding what your aquarium needs, what you need to do to meet those needs, and a plan to do it.