Native marine aquaria are pretty scarce. Little information exists on how to be successful in maintaining healthy coldwater marine systems in domestic aquaria.

Hopefully this record of my failures, triumphs and ideas will assist others interested in keeping some of our fascinating, beautiful and often little known sea denizens in aquariums.

Sunday, 28 August 2011


Any experienced aquarist will be familiar with the need to cycle aquariums before adding any fish. The impatient novice has often learnt that its a costly and heartbreaking error to get overexcited and start adding large numbers of fish to a spanking new aquarium before bacteria levels have risen sufficiently to cope with the waste generated.
The vast number of aquariums in Great Britain are tropical, either fresh water or saltwater. We use synthetic seawater, buy inert coral sand and maybe a couple of cupfulls of same from an established aquarium, a few kilos of 'live' rock, maybe add a starter culture or, perhaps more commonly, a damsel fish ot two and monitor the Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate levels until more stock can be added.
If you plan to keep native marines under similar circumstances you will have to do the same. I have seen native marine aquariums with coral sand, rockery rocks and synthetic seawater. Apart from the fish and prawns nothing is wild. This set-up will take time to mature and will need cycling, a considerable amount of time, before its ready to receive more livestock and the unfortunate pioneering inhabitants may not survive the process.
However, if you collect fresh, wet sand, mud or gravel, to a depth of at least 2" for the bottom of the aquarium, use planted, fresh live rock and natural fresh seawater you can add livestock immediately. With sensible stocking levels and all the usual methods employed in maintaining good water quality it will be noted that Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate levels will be undetectable from Day 1.
I believe that its possible that waste products enter the food chain immediately, a vast number of organisms present in fresh seawater and sand/gravel take up uneaten food, waste and excreta etc. before it has a chance to mineralise to ammonia. What is left is easily dealt with by the more familiar bacteria and resulting nitrate is taken up by algal growth anyway. It may be that simply by access to fresh products we are able to introduce a far more diverse and dynamic microfauna to the aquarium allowing us to stock far more quickly than may be possible in tropical set ups.
If time, money, and space allowed I would like to try to gather some kind of firm scientific evidence for what is, at the moment only a theory. However, it is my experience that following the methods advocated in this blog its possible to stock sensibly as soon as the water has settled and never record any detectable nitrogenous compounds.

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