How to Plan a Saltwater System

  • 01 of 03

    Step 1: Decide What Kind of System You Want

    The first step in planning a saltwater aquarium is to decide what kind of system you want to keep.

    • Fish-Only tanks are the simplest, but can be a starting point for a more complex system at a later time.
    • Fish-Only With Live Rock tanks are just that: a tank with fish, invertebrates and live rock.
    • Reef Tanks require more light in the right spectrum for corals (the "reef" in Reef Tank) and some invertebrates. A reef tank can be one of the simplest tanks (see Jaubert Live Sand Filtration) to...MORE set up.

    The photo above is of a Anthony Miralles' 18g Reef Tank. Anthony has proved that you don't have to have a huge aquarium, in order to have an outstanding reef tank.

    Step 2: Buy Some Good Starter Books

    In our opinion, a hobbyist can never have too many good books to refer to when it comes to keeping any kind of saltwater aquarium, but putting together a good reference library can be rather expensive. After you get started with your first aquarium, as you progress in the hobby, so too will your reference library grow. Our last count was 28 books!

    To save money in the beginning, here are the types of books you'll want to start with:


    • Overall Aquarium Keeping Books: Look for publications which will provide you with specific information and complete details about the kind of system you have decided to set up.


    • Fish and Invertebrate Care Guides: Before selecting fish or other marine life for your new aquarium, you need to learn about them first. You'll want to buy an overall combination or some individual fish and invertebrate profile books. The best publications to buy here are those that contain full color photos of the animals, and includes details about their average size, compatibility, dietary requirements, and other important must know captive care information.

    Continue to 2 of 3 below.
  • 02 of 03

    Step 2: Make a Shopping List

    120g Reef Tank. Ed Herandez

    Once you have decided what kind of system you want to set up, review our checklist of items needed to start an aquarium. Combining item choices information you obtain from this checklist and your system starter book(s), make a shopping list. Taking the time to write down brand name, style, price comparison (you can compare prices and shop online in Top Aquarium Products) and other product information is very helpful here, because these factors will most likely play a role in your final decision...MORE when it comes to buying many of the items on your list.

    Step 4: Start Buying What You Need

    Once you have made your decisions and come up with a final list of all the items you'll need to set up your new aquarium, start shopping. However, keep in mind that the saltwater aquarium hobby is supposed to be enjoyable. If you cannot afford to do so, don't overtax your wallet and stress yourself out by trying to buy everything all at once. It may take a little longer to put things together, but it's easy to plan out a simple budget, allowing a certain amount of funds to be spent each payday until you have what you need.

    The photo above is of Ed Herandez' 120g Reef Tank.

    Continue to 3 of 3 below.
  • 03 of 03

    Step 3: Make a Species Community List

    Mated Pair of Cinnamon Clownfish. Darryl Craig

    Now is the ideal time to plan out what marine livestock you may want to have in your aquarium by making a species community list. Why? The decisions you make when choosing some of the items you'll need for your system, such as the substrate material, will factor into what is going to be best for the types of animals you are going to keep.

    There is a high percentage of saltwater and reef hobbyists that do not plan ahead but buy fish and invertebrates on impulse, and although the concept of...MORE making a species community list IS an excellent one, this is a personal choice step.

    Step 6: Set Up and Start Your New Aquarium