So, since our previous discussion on the first step in getting started with an aquarium, choosing a tank, stand and hood, have you made your purchase? Meaning you have the tank, along with the wooden stand all sealed and ready to install. Great! Before I go on to the next step, here is one final tank set up tip you may wish to consider. Prior to filling the aquarium, place styrofoam between the tank and cabinet. A sheet of 1/2 inch insulation styrofoam board purchased from a builders supply house, such as Home Depot, can cushion the interface between the tank frame and the irregularities of the cabinet. This is an added insurance policy against potential stress leaks later on. If you don't like the white color "sandwich" that the foam board creates, give it a coat of black or brown paint to better blend in to the overall setup.
Ok, let's continue. Your tank, stand and hood are all lined up, and now comes the next decision - filtration. Filtration choices are like choosing an automobile. Passions can run high when consulting existing hobbyists, as everyone has their favorites. I won't assume to say which is better, but I will point out a few "pros and cons" to assist you in making a wiser decision.
Live Rock/Sand, Algae Scrubbers, & Wet-Dry Filters
On the "pros" side, live rock and live sand are considered mainstream choices with little chances for failure. These two methods provide a natural and more environmentally friendly approach to keeping fish and animals. The rocks and sand also lend a more realistic look to the system, as well as provide the inhabitants an "almost like home" existence. Naturally, these too have their considerations. Curing can be a smelly proposition if buying raw or fresh rock and sand directly from a collector. If you don't mind paying more, local shops usually offer premium cured rock and sand, albeit, at a premium price. Don't be fooled by online vendors offering fully cured rock/sand. There will always be some die-off or decay occurring during shipping. Although the ammonia spikes may be smaller, they will occur just the same! Keeping a fish-only system? Live rock and sand are still a viable filtration choice! These are known as FOWLR systems, or fish-only-with-live-rock.
Algae scrubbers are another filtration choice, but this method requires special set-ups and philosophy. Scrubbers are still not seen widespread, but nonetheless can maintain healthy systems. Jaubert/Plenum or NNR (Natural Nitrate Reduction) systems are also a hybrid filtration choice that incorporates the use of live sand, but require special planning and implementation as well. Special lighting requirements usually keep the novice from implementing these two types of filtration at first. If you have heard of these and wish to know more, I suggest you refer to articles by Mr. Bob Goemans, Dr. Jaubert, and other professionals who write for leading aquarium publications.
Wet-dry (trickle) filters are an excellent choice for the beginner. They have great surface area when using plastic bio-media and allow for excellent gas exchange. Many companies manufacture these filters and they are easily found in most shops and retail outlets. The choice of bio-media is usually in the form of spiked plastic balls called bio-balls, or grooved affairs called Biokaskade, a patented Dupla brand water treatment product. Also available for filtration in these wet-drys is a product called BioBloks. These are cubes made of a unique state-of-the-art ceramic glass foam developed and manufactured by Cercona of America, Inc.