Entering the world of saltwater aquariums can be overwhelming for beginners. With an abundance of information available, it's crucial to focus on the fundamentals. In this article, we will provide a four-step approach to help you build a functional habitat-based aquascape for your saltwater aquarium. By following these steps, you can create an environment that is suitable for both fish and coral, ensuring their health and well-being.

Step 1: Choosing the Tank and Stand - the foundation of your saltwater aquarium habitat. 

A 40-gallon tank is recommended for beginners due to its volume which can help buffer any initial mistakes. Smaller tanks are more affordable and in many ways require less time commitment but they can also pose more of a challenge.  Smaller volumes of water can be much more fickle compared to larger volumes of water.  The 40 gallon size is a perfect balance and gives you room to choose a much wider variety of livestock.  

We chose the Innovative Marine 40-Gallon Long Tank because it's an AIO-style tank that comes with essential equipment such as a return pump, mesh screen, and aluminum stand. The rear filtration chamber keeps the display portion of the tank free of clutter and you won't have to worry about hang-on gear or complicated plumbing. 

Choose a stand that looks good and is built to support the weight of your aquarium, after all, it will be inside your home. The Innovative Marine 40L aluminum stand is lightweight, waterproof, and easy to assemble which makes it the perfect choice for a first time tank owner. 

Step 2: Setting Up the Tank and Stand 

Tank placement is the first thing to think about. Your tank should be somewhere where it will be enjoyed on a daily basis. The last thing you want to do is put your tank in the basement or a spare bedroom where nobody will see it.  This often leads to neglect. 

With AIO-style aquariums, assembly is quite simple. Building the stand will probably be the most time-consuming process. Place the tank on top, and level everything using shims if needed. You may need to connect some tubing to the return pump and assemble some filtration components but for the most part, the tank comes to you assembled. 

Step 3: Creating an Aquascape with Rock  - a habitat for fish and the foundation for corals

  • Live Rock or Reef Rock: Use specialized saltwater rock, such as live rock or reef rock, to create a structurally sound aquascape.
  • Epoxy and Super Glue: Use purple epoxy and extra thick super glue to hold the rock pieces together and provide structural support.
  • Aquascape Considerations: Keep rock at least 1.5 to 2 inches away from the glass or rear acrylic panel for easy cleaning. Maintain a rockwork height that allows space for coral placement. Create hiding spots for fish by arranging the rock into various structures such as caves, arches, overhangs, and pedestals. 

Step 4: Adding a Sand Bed - a biological filter and habitat

  • Importance of Sand Bed: A sand bed provides a habitat for certain fish and invertebrates, enhances aesthetics, and supports beneficial bacteria.
  • Choosing the Sand: Select high-quality sand, such as CaribSea Ocean Direct Original Grade sand, known for its biodiversity.
  • Adding the Sand: Cut open the bag of sand and spread it evenly across the tank's bottom. Avoid rinsing the sand, as it contains beneficial microorganisms. Live sand should be added immediately before filling the tank with saltwater as you don't want to let it dry out. 
  • Seawater Addition: Once the sand is in place, slowly add saltwater to the aquarium.  You can purchase saltwater from the local fish store or mix up some saltwater yourself using RO/DI water which we cover in the next episode.