Similar to a freshwater aquarium where you can set up the tank, add dechlorinator and immediately add fish, a saltwater aquarium has to be cycled before you can add fish. Nitrogen cycling is a process in which the water goes through several biological changes that results in it being chemically balanced to sustain life. It's a tedious process that can take up to two months to complete. But, it's necessary process to keep your marine life healthy and alive.
There are several different methods that you can use to cycle a new saltwater aquarium. However, it all comes down to either cycling with or without fish. All of the methods produce the same end results, but some are faster than others. However, no matter how you cycle your tank it's going to take some time and patience. Because all of the methods work, the one you should choose is a matter of personal preference.
How To Cycle A Saltwater Aquarium With Fish
Using fish to cycle a new saltwater aquarium is the most traditional way of preparing the new tank for life. Although it is not the most preferred way because the nitrite and ammonia does reach toxic levels during the cycling period. However, you can reduce the danger to starter fish by choosing the right ones. One of the very worst species to help cycle the tank is the Damsels. While Damsels are hardy and often used in cycling a tank, they still suffer a lot of stress during the process. And, in some cases even Damsels can't survive the toxic levels of ammonia and nitrites. I suggest not using Damsels, even though they are cheap.
How To Cycle A Saltwater Aquarium Without Fish
Ammonia is needed for the cycling process to succeed. It can be produced in several ways, but usually it comes from dead decomposing matter or fish waste. During the process bacteria converts the ammonia into nitrite and at various levels of the process these two chemicals reach toxic levels. If you have fish in the water during this time the levels could be lethal. For this reason many aquarists prefer to not cycle a tank using fish.
If you prefer to cycle a saltwater aquarium without using fish you can use fish food or ammonia. For either of these methods you need to increase the water temperature to between 86 and 95 degrees. Because these temperatures are too high for fish, you will need to stabilize the water by gradually reducing the temperatures back down to between 74 and 80 degrees. Make sure that you reduce the temperature slowly, a sudden change in temperature can cause stress to the bacteria.
Cycling An Aquarium With Fish Food
To cycle your tank using fish food you basically add food on a daily basis just as if you are feeding fish. This creates a constant decomposing process that produces ammonia. While this method does work it can take 6 weeks or more to complete the cycling process. And, it has several disadvantages. It can be difficult to create a large bacterial colony, you may get spikes in the levels of nitrites and ammonia and decaying food can produce other chemicals such as phosphates.
Cycling An Aquarium Using Ammonia
Using ammonia to cycle a tank can take from 3 to 6 weeks. You will literally be adding pure ammonia to the water. Make sure that you purchase unscented ammonia that doesn't contain any additives. Using a dropper, add from 3 to 5 drops of ammonia for every ten gallons of water on a daily basis. The goal is to maintain a level of 5 ppm. In the initial phase there won't be any nitrites in the water. Continue adding the ammonia and testing the water until it shows a nitrite reading.
After there is nitrites in the water reduce the daily dosages of ammonia to 2 to 3 drops for each 10 gallons of water. You will need to continue this regimen until both the nitrite and ammonia tests reach 0 ppm. Once you have the correct reading start reducing the temperature. You will also need to perform a major water change of around 90% and add some activated carbon to help remove any unwanted additives that may have been in the ammonia.
Cycle An Aquarium With Established Bacteria
If you have access to a saltwater aquarium that is already established you can greatly reduce the time it takes to cycle a new tank. You simply take bacteria from the established tank and introduce it to the new tank. You can accomplish this by using the floss or foam insert in the filter of the established tank and putting it into the filter of the new tank. You can also use gravels, or substrate if the tank has an undergravel filter. Keep in mind that if there are any diseases in the established tank, they will also get transferred to the new tank.
Cycle An Aquarium Using Live Rock or Sand
One of the best ways to cycle any new saltwater aquarium is with live rock or live sand. Organisms and bacteria that live in and on the rock die when the rock is transported from the ocean to the dealer. Adding this rock back into the water triggers the nitrogen cycle when the dead organic matter starts decomposing. The decomposition process produces ammonia that is very beneficial to the bacteria.
While this is one of the best ways and one of the fastest, it has a major drawback. During the first 2 to 4 weeks in the tank the live rock will cure. The curing process is when the majority of the dead matter begins to decay and rot all at once. Depending on how much live rock you add to the tank and how much dead matter is in the rock, the odor can be quite strong. For this reason, some hobbyists cure the rocks in a container of water outside the home and add them to the aquarium after they've cured.
Cycle An Aquarium With Commercial Products
Today, there are various commercial products on the market that can accelerate the cycling process. Some of these products can even have your tank ready to use in as little as 24 hours. Some contain a large quantity of bacteria while others consist of enzymes that can assist in helping bacteria to grow much faster. These concentrated forms of beneficial bacteria can be used to cycle a brand new saltwater aquarium and stabilize a tank after water changes.