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How Simple Can You Get with Your Marine Aquarium?

While the title of this post puts me in mind of a song performed by Nick Rivers in the 1984 comedy film Top Secret, it’s a question many a novice has posed before setting up his or her first marine aquarium. How basic can it be? Or, put another way, what equipment is absolutely essential and what isn’t?This is a perfectly logical question because ours can be a highly equipment-intensive hobby, and the choices of gear and gadgets designed to make our lives easier can be downright mind-blowing. Add in all the online forum chatter about—and volatile disputes over—the latest-and-greatest hobby technology and methodology, and it’s no surprise that many beginners have a heck of a time distinguishing between the bare essentials and the “bells and whistles.” Complicating matters, of course, is the fact that opinions on what constitutes “essential equipment” can vary widely from one hobbyist to the next. I would humbly submit that the following items are all you really need for a bare-bones saltwater setup: (Note that you’ll also need various and sundry small-ticket items used for regular operation and maintenance, such as aquarium brushes, an algae magnet, etc. Plus, if you plan to keep a reef system, you’ll need to add some means of calcium/alkalinity supplementation to the list.) Some folks might say this list is grossly incomplete while others might contend you could get by without some of the items on it.

4 Good Reasons to Be a Marine Aquarium Mentor

Though in many ways keeping a marine aquarium is easier today than it’s ever been, entry into our hobby is still fraught with confusion. To a large extent, this is can be attributed to the incredible variety of choices available nowadays for meeting the husbandry requirements of marine livestock as well as solving various problems that arise. Heck, the reef-lighting options alone are so diverse that if I were just starting out in the hobby today, my head would probably explode trying to process all that information! And, of course, there’s still a pretty hefty learning curve to mastering the fundamentals of the hobby.That’s why I urge all you experienced salties out there to share your wisdom with at least one novice hobbyist as a marine aquarium mentor. Here are 4 other good reasons to do so: 1. It’s refreshing Ask any teacher, and he or she will tell you that explaining a concept to students or guiding them through a step-by-step process is the best way to refresh your own knowledge on the subject. Not to mention, if the flame of your passion for the marine aquarium hobby has been burning a bit low as of late, mentoring an enthusiastic newcomer might just be the spark to reignite it. 2

Shed Some Varied Light on Your Reef

The pair of yellow wrasses attempting to spawn after the lighting change in my aquariumThe other night, as I was watching the debate on TV, I noticed that my reef tank got darker. Just a little, but it was darker and yellower. I opened the front (it is in a wall) and noticed that half the LEDs were out. “Okay, no problem,” I thought. “I’ll fix it in the morning.” The lights were about to go out anyway. As I watched, I noticed that my pair of fire clowns, which have a love-hate relationship, looked like they wanted to spawn. The larger one was trying to entice the smaller one into a bottle “cave.” The smaller one eventually followed, and the pair spent “time in the bottle” (reminds me of a song), swimming very close to each other, although I couldn’t hear what they were saying.As I was watching the clowns, I couldn’t help noticing that my pair of bright yellow wrasses was also attempting to spawn.

The Pros and Cons of Aquascaping Marine Aquariums with Dry Rock

Aquascaping with dry rock has a number of advantages and disadvantagesWhen aquascaping their tanks, marine aquarium hobbyists have the option of using live rock or dry rock (or some combination thereof) to create the foundational reef structure. Each of these options is completely workable but, as with every aspect of this hobby, has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. So how to choose which approach might work best for you given your unique circumstances, budget, etc.? To aid in your decision making, let’s explore the pros and cons of each approach, beginning today with the use of dry rock. I’ll tackle the plusses and minuses of live rock aquascaping in a future post.Pros of dry rock aquascaping Dry rocks tend to be easier on the pocketbook. One reason is that they ship dry so you’re paying only for the weight of the rocks, not the added weight of water as with live rock, and there’s no need to shell out for expedited shipping. Also, the better-quality dry rocks on the market tend to be less dense than live rock, so you get a greater volume of rock for your aquascaping dollar.

The Use of Negative Space in the Reef Aquarium Aquascape

Marine aquarium aquascapes are evolving to favor more open, irregular aestheticsOne of the more interesting developments in the reefkeeping hobby, in my opinion, has nothing to do with the latest, greatest gadget or advance in water-quality-management methodology. Rather, it’s an evolving aesthetic in aquascaping. Bored with the traditional monolithic stack of rocks propped up against the back pane and consuming much of the tank’s volume, modern reef hobbyists are starting to appreciate and experiment with the use of negative space—the open areas around the rockwork—when planning their aquascapes.The towering, uniform “wall of rock” has given way to lower-profile aquascaping with irregular, broken topography, allowing open channels and swim-throughs, caves and overhangs, islands, etc. And this trend makes perfect sense. Artists have long known the value of striking the right balance between positive and negative space in their compositions. With our reef systems essentially being living works of art, it stands to reason that the aesthetic principles guiding the works of painters and sculptors can only make our aquascapes all the more visually appealing. This aquascape features a broken topography and plenty of open sand What’s different about exploiting negative space in reefkeeping versus artwork is that it has both practical and aesthetic value

Gearing Up Was No Minor Challenge for our Marine Aquarium Forebears

The Avant-Garde Marine Aquarist – now available in print and eBook formatsThink you’ve got equipment woes? Imagine what it would have been like trying to equip a marine system back at the dawn of marine fishkeeping! Well, hobby pioneer Paul “Paul B” Baldassano doesn’t have to imagine that because he was there to witness it. (Actually, he may have been there when our first human ancestor slithered out of the primordial ooze—we’re looking into it.) To get a sense of the equipment challenges early hobbyists faced, check out this excerpt from the first chapter of Paul’s new book, The Avant-Garde Marine Aquarist: A 60-Year History of Fishkeeping, now available in both electronic and print formats:Equipment limitations Early tanks had other concerns besides parasites, and the majority of those concerns were due to the aquarium hardware at the time. As I said, tanks had metal corners up until the early 60s, which was when all-glass tanks were sold. That led the way for larger tanks to be manufactured. My first all-glass tank was a 40-gallon, which was considered large then

Is the Internet a Viable Resource for Marine Aquarium Research?

Virtually since the advent of the internet, there’s been a tendency in our hobby to rate the reliability and trustworthiness of online content beneath that of print-format materials—books, magazines, and so forth. But is this assessment really fair?The general premises behind this viewpoint are: Anyone with a computer and internet connection can post anything they want online, whether or not he or she has the requisite expertise to expound on the subject. Online articles and posts are seldom given professional editorial treatment and/or subjected to peer review, so you can’t trust that they’ve been vetted properly for accuracy. There tends to be an “echo-chamber effect” online, so inaccurate or outright fallacious information appearing on one site can be picked up immediately by others and repeated ad nauseam, creating the false impression of consensus on the information/viewpoint. Now, there’s truth to each of these arguments, but as someone who’s made his living as a writer/editor for nearly 20 years (primarily in print format) and once served on an editorial committee that reviewed book submissions for a major retail pet chain, I can say with some confidence that print materials have their limitations as reference sources, too. Among them: Just as with online materials, print books and magazines are no more reliable or accurate than the writers and editors who produce them. You can’t assume that just because someone went to the effort to produce something in hardcopy, the information it contains was properly vetted.

5 Reasons New Aquarium Hobbyists “Crash and Burn”

A misguided and hasty approach often leads to a failed aquarium and exit from the hobbyIt’s a tale as old as the hobby itself: A novice marine aquarist sets up his or her first system, runs headlong into every conceivable obstacle and pitfall, responds with a series of misguided decisions, loses a whole tank’s worth of fish and corals, and finally chucks the entire hobby in frustration and despair, all the while cursing Neptune and that silly enchanted trident of his. Just as this scenario is all too common (with the possible exception of the Neptune part), so too are the reasons many novice marine aquarists fail and drop out of the hobby. A post-mortem analysis of the average hobby failure would likely reveal one or more of the following five underlying elements:1. Failure to research I’m including this point first because it’s the most significant contributor to hobby dropout and encompasses many of the major oversights that newcomers make. Failing to cycle, skipping quarantine, overstocking/overfeeding, combining incompatible species, and choosing inappropriate life-support equipment (skimmer, lighting, etc.) are just some of the bad decisions new hobbyists sometimes make due to lack of prior research—and all can have hobby-ending (not to mention budget-breaking) consequences. Without ever reading hobby literature, perusing informative websites, seeking advice from more advanced hobbyists, studying up on the habits and demands of various species, etc., newcomers don’t even know they’re supposed to be concerned about these things—or, as Caribbean Chris and I like to say, “They don’t even know that they don’t know.” And that’s a recipe for certain disaster in this hobby! 2. Having no coherent strategy The best way to get started on the road to success in our crazy pastime is to establish a set of long-term goals—a strategic vision of the type of system and livestock you’d like to keep—and then implement the appropriate tactics, equipment purchases, and stocking approach to help you achieve those goals. is the world's leading destination for sustainable coral reef farming and the aquarium hobby. We offer a free open forum and reef related news and data to better educate aquarists and further our goals of sustainable reef management.