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Chromis viridis 3 .JPG
School of Chromis viridis (Blue Green Chromis) over an Acropora sp. colony, Ningaloo Reef.


The construction and maintenance of a marine aquarium can be a very complex one. Over time, you learn some tricks and techniques that help to make life easier for you. Below is a list of some favourites hints from the RTAW Forums.


  • write dates on test kits when received. Then will know if they're too old if seem to get suspicious readings/results.
  • check your bulbs and the connections every month of so if possible, or immediately after hearing any crackles or pops or see the light flicker. What you are looking for is excess heat on the terminals of the light and the 'tombstone' ceramic connectors. If the bulb terminals are more than hot there is a problem, if can see heat damage or heat spots there is a problem as well.
  • after 12 months double ended metal halide bulbs tend to be very hard to remove and can some times damage the ceramic fittings. Best thing to do is put some vaseline or electrical silicone grease on the metal end bits of the bulbs, makes it easy to put the bulb in and out.
  • if have multiple powerboards behind the tank, make life easier by having lighting on one, powerheads on another and so on. This means that can turn them all off with one switch.
  • if using the Aquaclear 802s, try drilling some holes in the side of the intake protector. It stops all of the water being drawn from the base and could stop one of the tank's inhabitants from being sucked up.
  • label all of the myriad of power leads so that know which is which. Can be very important in times of an emergency.
  • to stop tank critters getting themselves killed or mamed by powerheads or canister filter intakes, buy a few bioballs and slice off some of the prongs on one side so the ball sits comfortably in the pump intake.
  • have more than one heater, with one dialled in slightly lower than the second. If the first one fails, the second will cover for it (and act as backup on cold nights). Halve the wattages (so two x 150W instead of 1 x 300W) and if the first heater sticks ON, it will take a lot longer to cook the tank, giving more chance of finding it.
  • if cutting much glass, very handy thing to make up is a piece of maple 30mm x 10mm x 600mm coated evenly on one of the flat sides with silicone. Provides an excellent non-slip guide for the glass cutter.
  • if drain / overflow is noisy, stick a piece of tubing about 30cm long down it with one end poking out above the waterline. All the air will go down the tube instead and wont get any gurgling. Some tuning maybe necessary.
  • when installing a new fluorescent tube, write the date on one end with a felt tip permanent marker, then there won't be a problem with remembering when to change it over.


  • instead of purchasing expensive feeder fish for predatory fish, go to the fish monger or fish butcher shop and buy fresh white bait. Can then cut up to what every size required.
  • don't throw out the containers that frozen brine shrimp etc. comes in, if make up your own blended frozen mix, they are excellent to reuse.
  • little chinese takeaway containers are great for defrosting or storing DIY food mix.
  • add a small length of thin tubing onto the end of a turkey baster, allows precision target feeding in hard to access areas.
  • when feeding an open brain or other large polyped corals (LPS) put a strawberry basket with a small rock on top over the coral to keep the fish and large invertebrates away from the food.
  • if you rinse brine shrimp before feeding, here is a good suggestion. The newer Sunbeam kettle range have a very fine woven stainless steel mesh insert that slides in just behind the spout (part number KE 312651A). This makes a *made for it* brine shrimp rinser. Its absolutely perfect for rinsing brine shrimp under the tap or in RO water. Then just transfer the brine shrimp into the tank on the mesh, a quick stir and there all off.
  • Thaw any frozen foods before feeding. This removes many waste products found in the frozen water of the food product before it reaches your aquarium. A tea strainer can be extremely handy.


  • make a simple test parameter laminated database sheet with all the parameters on it and don't forget to include what they should be! Fill out in PERMANENT pen (if it is laminated can clean off later with alcohol) for each time tested and enter into a computer. Charts and graphs generated from this are fabulous particularly when cycling as visual aids to what is going on chemically.
  • laminate the "how to test and evaluate results" cards that come with the test kits.
  • if want to take an accurate reading with a hydrometer without turning all the pumps off, take a 20cm piece of 20mm PVC, put an end cap on it and fill it with water to be tested. Float the hydrometer in it and take the reading.
  • for a tool that can be used for different tanks, get a 2 foot long piece of hollow plastic tube (for example off a small plastic Australian flag ) and stick into the end of the tube a 5" piece of stainless steel welding wire (about paperclip thickness). Can use something like Aqua Knead It. The stainless doesn't rust and can be bent easily for different tasks e.g. feeding fish, corals, anemones and CBS, moving things, upturning snails, scaring crabs away from feeding corals etc. Stainless steel wire can be sourced from any welder who does stainless steel, for next to nothing.
  • buy a cheap plastic salad tong for reaching for things at the bottom of the tank. Perfect for upturning snails etc.
  • keep a log book of EVERYTHING, it will prove invaluable to look back on.
  • nylon window screen material is very handy (and cheap), such as for makeshift filter bags to hold activated carbon, for filtering water outlets, etc.
  • for a mini refugium, place a short length of PVC pipe (about 6 inches) with heaps of small holes in it on the sandbed behind the rocks to hide it. The idea is to create an area of low flow, in time the pipe will be crawling with copepods inside. Make the pipe small enough so that fish can't get into it !
  • don't buy expensive 'reef putty' from a store. Go to your local hardware and get some Selley's Aqua Kneadit.


  • when buying livestock, take an esky or similar, to put the plastic bags in. Always secure the esky, so that it can't tip over if you brake suddenly etc.
  • before purchasing a new fish, make sure it is eating. Politely ask the LFS employee to see it feeding. If the answer is anything other than getting food for the tank (normally live or frozen brine shrimp), do not purchase the fish. Feeding is an incredibly important factor for the future survival of a fish in the home aquarium, so to know it is eating at-least one food source is important.
  • if thinking about buying a Lawnmower Blenny, dont clean the back and sides of the tank of algae. Provides the fish with a food source. Or have some pieces of glass in a refugium that can be moved to the display tank when covered in algae.
  • to capture fish from a tank, do it 3-4 hours after the lights go out. When the lights are turned back on after its been dark for a while, the fish will be extremely slow and dopey. It is possible to reach in and touch them, and they will just swim a short distance away. After about 15 - 30 minutes, they will come back to normal though, and be as difficult to catch as normal. So, the key is to know where the fish hide at night otherwise you could spend all their "dopey" time looking for them. When the lights are about to go out, really pay attention to where they hang around and if you can watch where they dart to immediately the lights go off. Once you do know where they are and the lights have been off for a number of hours, you put a net in the tank and get some long rod shaped tools and just gently prod the fish until they have swum out of the rock work - then just scoop them up with the net.
  • acclimating new specimens by putting the fish/invertebrate/etc and water in a large Tupperware container and put the container in the sump. Tie a knot (or use an airline clamp) in some airline tubing and create a syphon to drip acclimate the new specimens. By tightening or loosening the knot (or adjusting the screw), can control the drip rate. Makes it a lot easier to do hour plus acclimations for snails and starfish, and if it overflows, the water will just flow back into the sump.


  • to clean the glass use couple of pages from the newspaper, wet one to wipe down the glass, then grab the other page, scrunch it up and use it to dry up the glass, works perfectly. No need for dangerous chemicals.
  • for an RO membrane whose output has decreased, try soaking it overnight in a 50/50 solution of vinegar and water. Rinse well and discard the first few litres of output before placing it back in service.
  • if have to start a syphon within the tank, hold the hose over the outlet of a powerhead and it starts easily.
  • for those who need to siphon up large algae outbreaks like cyanobacteria etc... get a knee high stocking and place it on the end of the hose with a hose clamp. Siphon away and pour the water back in the tank if don't want to perform a water change. This way it will contain most of the detritus, [[gravel] etc. sucked out of the tank.
  • old (but clean) cloth nappies make the best glass cleaning and general clean up cloths for around the tank. They are really soft cotton and of a size that is a lot more managable than an old towel.
  • don't neglect to clean the underside of the glass brace(s) on the tank. This will allow more light through.
  • if want to do some cleaning in the tank, such as siphoning flatworms or detritus, without having to do a water change just take some largish (say 15mm) tubing and place a fine micron bag over one end of it and fasten it using a rubber band. Then place that end with the bag on it in the sump. Start your siphon and vacuum away. The water will be recycled back into the sump, but the micron bag will filter any particulates before they get back into the water column.
  • boil some water and allow the venturi skimmer to suck it all up via the air intake. Do this once a week and you'll never have any salt buildup.
  • if don't have a floating magnetic glass cleaner, make sure that you utilise the holes in it to tie some fishing line to, so that when it falls off, it can be retrieved it from the sand bed without getting grit stuck betweeen the magnet and the glass and possibly scratching the tank.
  • if use cheap magnetic glass cleaner, don't leave it in the tank perpetually. Not only do they leach metals into the tank as the cheaper ones aren't sealed very well, but they can leave very bad rust stains on the glass, even overnight, which are a bugger to get off.
  • draw up a check list of things to check in the tank every day, every week and every month. Mark them off as done and will be able to sleep better!
  • always have PLENTY of towels on hand when working on the tank. One will never be enough.
  • to remove coralline algae, pilfer the freezer ice scraper from the kitchen utensil drawer and stick it in the end of a piece of poly pipe. It is more rigid than a credit card and not quite as dangerous as a razor blade.
  • when turning a heater off for any reason, write a reminder note and leave it next to your towel.
  • after collecting NSW and before being decanted into larger storage vessels, pour it through an upturned 3L coke bottle with the bottom cut out and a couple of handfulls of filter wool inside it. Even though the water is crystal clear at the collection site, it always pays to strain it as can be seen from the bits and pieces of detritus that gets caught in the wool.
  • purchase plastic tweezers (forceps) from the chemist. They come in inexpensive wound dressing packs and the tweezers are invaluable for moving frags around and wedging them between rocks, feeding anemones, feeding corals, uprighting snails in tight places etc. etc. and they also pick off Bryopsis very easily.
  • an easy way to heat up a small amount of water at least a little, run a bath and place water container in the hot bath with a thermometer. Watch the heat rise to desired temp. Can work faster when use a powerhead in the container. Also after you do the water change you can jump straight into a nice hot bath.
  • having trouble reaching the back of your large tank with the magnetic glass cleaner?? Cut the last two inches off a handle of an old paint roller, most have a thread that an extension handle screws into. Silicone the end piece with the thread that was cut off onto the magnet (outside part of course), then screw on or unscrew the extension handle as required (very cheap at any hardware store). Suggested to use a floating magnet cleaner for this .


  • buy a cheap RCD (electical cut off) plug or two from hardware store for around $14.00 each (if there is not one on the house mains electricity) and have all power cords coming out from them. Its cheap insurance and could save your life.
  • always have electrical plugs and leads somewhere high off the ground. You are bound to spill water or flood the area. It can be dangerous and expensive to have to keep replacing ruined powerboards.
  • make sure that don't let powerheads hang in the tank on the power cord if suction cups are starting to fail. Powerheads that have been left to sit with the cord as support, the stress on the point of entry to the sealed powerhead can cause a crack, allowing the water to enter the internals of the pump, causing it to leak current into the tank.

System Setup

  • when adding new sand into tank, use a piece of 2" pvc, and pour sand down the tube. This does not let all the sand powder float all over the place and lets you "target" specific areas where you need to add more sand.
  • if worried about the stability of rock structures, use electrical cable ties to tie the rocks together. If want to be ultra safe, drill holes through the rocks with a masonry bit and thread the cable ties through there.
  • to add sand to an established DSB, avoid a sandstorm by putting wet sand in a zip lock plastic lunch bag. Cut a 20mm corner off one end and the sand will pour out exactly where you want, it minus the sandstorm.