Fortunately, with the advent of the internet, gaining knowledge and experience is much easier, now. While anyone can easily surf the net, younger people seem to be more adept at finding information on the web. As time has moved along, a lot of research has been done on the science of keeping fish in an aquarium, particularly saltwater aquariums. What used to seem impossible (i.e. successfully keeping corals in aquariums) is now commonplace. The odds of succeeding in keeping a healthy aquarium are now quite good. Your odds for success are greatly improved if you avoid the 10 Most Common Mistakes.
Saltwater or Freshwater?
The first choice your child or teen will have to make is whether to have a saltwater aquarium or a freshwater aquarium. Freshwater aquariums are considered easier than marine aquarium to set up, stock and maintain. The volume of knowledge to successfully keep a marine aquarium may be higher, but it is well within the ability of a vast majority of almost anyone. To help you decide if the challenge will be worthwhile, take a look at what can be done with even a smaller saltwater aquarium. If you decide to go with a freshwater aquarium, read Shirlie Sharpe's Buying an Aquarium for a Child or Teen to help get you started.
Planning Your New Aquarium
To make your new project easier, print out a copy of the Checklist of Items for Starting an Aquarium. This will make it easier to keep track of all the items you will need for your new tank. It may seem like a lot of things to find, but it really isn't. If you purchase an aquarium kit, almost everything will be included. Your first decision will be where you are going to put your new aquarium. Where to Locate Your Aquarium will help you with this.
Reef Tank, Fish Only, Or Fish Only With Live Rock?
You will have three basic choices for what type of marine aquarium you will have in the end: Fish-Only (FO), Fish-Only-With -Live-Rock (FOWLR) or a full reef tank. You can start with a FO or FOWLR (which are less complicated), then move up to a reef tank with corals in the future as you gain experience. Fish and invertebrates greatly prefer a natural setting in a marine aquarium (you won't see too many artificial plants or castles in saltwater aquariums), so installing live rock in a tank is a good idea.
Perhaps it is a throwback to when parents bought little Goldfish bowls for their kids' first tanks. Particularly with saltwater aquariums, smaller is not better. When something goes wrong (such as an ammonia spike) a small tank can get critical in a hurry. We strongly recommend a first aquarium of 20 gallons or more. This size tank allows for a fair number of fish and invertebrates and also allows for room for the mistakes that beginners often make. There are a number of Mini/Nano aquarium kits on the market which are perfect for beginners. Many of these Plug N' Play kits are in the 20 to 30 gallon range and include almost everything you will need to get your new aquarium up and running in a day.
Cycling the Tank
Once your new aquarium is set up and running, besides putting your new livestock in the tank, cycling your tank (establishing the biological filter) is the most important step. If the biological filter is not established, you will be fighting an uphill battle, loosing fish on a regular basis. Establishing (cycling) the biological filter is not difficult to do. There are a number of good Nitrifying Bacteria Tank Starter products on the market which will greatly shorten the cycling period.
Selecting Fish & Invertebrates
While almost everyone wants to see a cloud of fish swimming around in their tank, saltwater tanks are not a good candidate for this vision. Marine tanks are easy to overstock (see the "Rule of Thumb"). When initially adding fish and invertebrates to your new tank, start off very slowy, especially until the tank has fully cycled. Start by adding just one or two small fish (the colorful and hardy Blue/Green Chromis is an excellent choice) along with a couple of Reef Tank Janitors (Dwarf Blue Leg Hermit Crab or Dwarf Zebra Hermit Crab are good choices).
As with anything involving a marine aquarium, planning ahead is very important. Don't buy fish on impulse. Plan which fish and invertebrates you will include in your tank. Make sure that they will be compatible with each other. As you continue to add fish to the tank, smaller fish from the Terrific Beginner Fish list are excellent choices. Don't buy sick or diseased fish, no matter what the price it. Know what to look for when buying saltwater aquarium fish.
Feeding & Tank Maintenance
Everyone (especially kids) has a tendency to overfeed their fish. The food that isn't eaten falls to the bottom of the tank and rots, creating nitrates. The food that is eaten turns into detritus (fish poop) and ends up on the bottom of the tank or in the tank filter, where it will create nitrates until it is removed.. Establishing a regular tank maintenance routine will help keep your nitrates to a manageable level as well as keep your fish and tank healthy.