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A DIY Guide To Building Your Own Starter Marine Reef Tank

Any dedicated DIYer will tell you that there is no greater joy in the world than building your own stuff with your own hands; it’s a treat to see your dreams take form from your labor and the satisfaction of fulfilling your objective is one of pure achievement. Another important factor that most people will neglect is that DIY also means that you don’t have to buy second hand for a good deal or break your bank for obtaining a new article.

The same principle can be applied to marine reef tanks, buying yourself a new one will set you back on your finances whereas buying one second hand means that you might save a buck or two but the reef tank will carry the curse of time, grimy surfaces, scratches and chips are common defects with used reef tanks. So what is the answer to this dilemma? How can you save money yet still end up with a new reef tank, fit to be the pride of your apartment or living room? If you have been following this article closely, you already know where I’m going with this, if you haven’t, let me spell out the obvious for you, build your own reef tank!

Building your own reef tank is hard work, it will require significant toil and patience on your part and you must have the temperament to accept challenges and failures that may impede your progress, if you can do all that then you will need supplies. Starting from the basics, you will need glass or acrylic sheets depending on what suits your taste, either cut exactly to the measurements of your reef tank or buy uncut sheets that you can later cut to suit your requirements. A marine and tropical reef tank are essentially the same in their construction, however some people choose to use thicker glass/acrylic for their marine reef tanks because it protects the internal environment from rapid temperature fluctuations, something that marine fish and corals are not used to. However, using glass/acrylic too thick will not only add on extra weight but also increase the cost of your project manifold. There are a number of computer application that will calculate the glass/acrylic thickness best suited to the size of your reef tank based on the water (in gallons) that you wish to fill it with, too weak and your side walls might give way at a moment’s notice. If you aren’t into calculations and like to go with your gut, then other hobbyists recommend a 3.8 safety factor for safe measure.

Use an environment friendly and hydrocarbon free adhesive to attach the glass/acrylic sheets to one another, using adhesives like silicon will ensure a healthy environment for your fish and corals as well as protecting against corrosion by household cleaning products, many surface cleaners have non-polar solvents that will slowly eat away at the hydrocarbon based adhesive, thus endangering the integrity of your tank. Apply only as much silicon as you can work with within the next three minutes, afterwards, the silicon starts to harden at the surface and will not bond firmly with the sheet surfaces, which leaves chances for the bond to fail, a disastrous situation that is best avoided. After the glass/acrylic surfaces have been joined together, it is best to remove the excess silicon to achieve a smooth finish, most hobbyists recommend using your finger for the job since it removes the liquid silicon while flattening out the solid surface that has started to form, in contrast we recommend that you use a razor blade for the job, since the hardened skin even when pressed against the surface does not give a truly smooth finish, a razor blade on the other hands removes liquid and solid silicon
indiscriminately and the result is the clear surface itself. After the tank has taken shape, fill it with water and observe if there are any visible leaks, mark the leaks and apply excess adhesive to the leaking seam after the water has been drained. If there is no visible leak, wait for ten minutes, mark the point where the surface of the water ends and leave the tank in a dry place, like your garage or any room for the night. Observe the marked point in the morning, if the water level has fallen, even if by little, then find the source of the leak by touching the seams, the source of the leak may not be visible but will seem slightly moist and cold to the touch, apply a small amount of adhesive for a superficial coat to the leaking seam.

When placing the reef tank on your stand or table, it is advised to keep a layer of polystyrene between the surface of the tank and the stand. This will protect the tank bottom against scratches and chips while also protecting the reef tank from shock. Make sure that the polystyrene sheet is even and thick enough to account for the compression that will occur when the aquarium is filled with water.

Now that your tank is ready to be filled with water we can start preparing for the pre-induction phase, if you do not have a source of marine water nearby and will be keeping marine fish, then it is best to add about 25 to 33 ml of sea salt per liter of water, the exact quantity can be calculated by the following formula:

35mg/L – Tap Water Salt Content = X mg/L of salt

The salt content for tap water varies with region and it is best to know your local water salt content before you add the salt to your reef tank.

Filtration is an important part of any reef tank; there are two types of filtration systems you can employ:

1) Sub-Surface Filter
2) Tank Filter

The sub-surface filter is very effective but requires you to do some piping under the sand/pebble surface (which we will discuss later) and is quite maintenance-intensive that’s why I would not recommend it for use by beginners, the Tank filter is usually attached to the tank through suction cups and is submerged partially in the water, it is driven by a pump that usually comes along with it. The Tank Filter is largely maintenance free.

To make the reef tank a realistic environment for the fish and make it aesthetically pleasing, it is best to get creative with your aquarium, add high density sand, pebbles or a mixture of the two to the tank. Besides creating a healthy foraging environment for the fish, this lower layer will cover your piping (if any) and serve as the medium of growth for your corals and aquatic plants. Normal sand may become suspended in the water when fish forage through it and make the water cloudy, suspended sand may also clog the filtration system, which is why it is best to use pebbles which do not make the water murky, are easier to clean and manage when you clean your reef tank.

That’s it, Congratulations! You just made your own reef tank! Now it’s up to you to furnish it to your delight with aquatic flora and fauna of your own liking! Introduce fish that captivate you into your very own little portal to the sea.