Essential Parameters For a Saltwater Aquarium
Now is a good time to talk about the essential parameters that must be maintained to successfully keep a marine aquarium. Seawater is a complex mixture, containing every known element in a plethora of compounds. Matching that makeup is crucial to the success of any marine tank. While a good salt mix will come very close to matching natural seawater initially, the makeup can quickly change as the inhabitants of the aquarium consume and change them. Here is a quick breakdown of the essential parameters that are typically monitored for a saltwater aquarium.
salinity/specific gravity: 34-36ppt/1.025-1.027
Both are a measure of the same thing- the amount of salt dissolved in the water, at least in regard to your aquarium’s water. Getting the salinity exactly to a specific level isn’t nearly as important as keeping it absolutely steady at all times. The biggest factor affecting salinity is evaporation and as such your tank will need to be topped off with fresh water daily.
temperature:76°-80° Fahrenheit (24.5°-26.5° Celsius)
Much like the salinity, keeping the aquarium water’s temperature stable is much more important than what the exact temperature is. As temperature rises salinity decreases and vice versa which is the real problem with big or quick changes in temperature. Dissolved oxygen also decreases as temperature climbs.
The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Anything below 7 is considered acidic and anything over 7 is basic. A number of things can affect the pH of your aquarium including poor aeration and insufficient alkalinity. Again, stability is the important thing here.
alkalinity: 7-11 dKH or 2.5-4 meq/L
Again, test kits vary on which scale they use but both are equally valid. Alkalinity in regards to a marine aquarium is essentially a measurement of the water’s ability to resist a change in pH. Alkalinity in saltwater primarily comes from bicarbonate- one of the two main ingredients corals use to build their skeletons along with calcium. But even if you’re not keeping any corals maintaining a proper alkalinity is still important because of it’s relation to pH.
calcium: 350-500 ppm
Calcium is something you only really need to monitor if you are keeping hard corals as it’s one of the primary components of their skeletons. While some other creatures within the tank will use some calcium it should be replenished in sufficient quantities by regular water changes.
ammonia: 0 ppm
nitrite: 0 ppm
These two shouldn’t be a problem in an established aquarium. They will primarily come from the waste produced by your fish and other inhabitants. Both are fairly toxic to life. Luckily, in a healthy aquarium beneficial bacteria will take care of them quickly resulting in nitrate.
nitrate: <20 ppm (the lower the better)
phosphate: 0 ppm
silicate: 0 ppm
All three of these, while not especially harmful to your tank’s inhabitants, are big contributors to nuisance algae. Not overfeeding the tank will go a long way towards controlling their levels from climbing too high. Still, their levels will need to be kept in check by way of filtration and regular water changes.