Revised 2018

These basics are intended for a marine fish aquarium (and basic Nano Reefs), not an advanced marine reef aquarium. They are based on my experience of keeping and professionally maintaining marine fish (and reef) aquariums for over 27 years with one of the largest aquarium maintenance companies in Los Angeles, California.

Please note this is just my VERY basic Marine Article (without many updates), Please click on the link to the left or at the bottom of this article for my much more expanded and regularly updated article (the updates allow for newer researched information and corrections to errors)

The picture above is from "Balling Method for Calcium, pH Explained for Reef Aquariums" and is an aquarium utilizing the "Balling Method" of reef aquarium chemistry maintenance as well as AquaRay LED lighting.

For Nano reefs much of this basic information found in this article and expanded references applies. I still recommend a UV sterilizer if it can be fitted to you nano reef. A small True Level 1 Submersible UV is a good idea, but be carefully most of the smallest submersibles are ONLY clarifiers, not True UV Sterilizers (examples include the Green Killing Machine and most AquaTop models, often sold on Amazon)
Product Source: True Level 1 Submersible UV Sterilizers

*Cured live rock is a must.

*A fine #00 sand with a ½” layer of #3 sand on top works best in my opinion for cleaning and de-nitrification.

*Water changes and regular checks of water parameters are a must (do not forget to check alkali reserve, the same as KH in FW). Water parameters change more rapidly in a Nano aquarium.

*Lighting can be simple; Two T2 Lights or for optimum lighting the AquaRay Mini 500 is second to none!.

Product Resources:
#T2 Advanced Fluorescent Aquarium Lights
#AquaRay Premium High PUR Aquarium Reef Lights

[1] FILTRATION; Good filtration is a must for a successful marine aquarium. There are many different filters available too.

Canister filters are good for their capacity, but can become Nitrate factories is not rinsed very regularly.
While very popular, I do not recommend Fluvals due to their poor impeller design and often high price when measured with actual results. I would actually recommend considering a Fluidized Sand Bed Filter, especially one set up with BioPlastics, as these can well out perform ANY Fluval or most ANY canister filter for that matter. As well when set up correctly, these filters can keep nitrates very low too.

Further Reading/Information:
#Aquarium Filter Use; FSB Filters
#Aquarium Fluidized Bed Filter Review

Wet/Dry filters are good, but usually are poor mechanical filters. The bio ball media in them also should be rinsed regularly in de-chlorinated water to prevent a buildup of organic material, increasing nitrates.
Ir is also noteworthy that bio-balls are a poor choice for bio filtration as they allow for high amounts of nitrate buildup. Better to swap out with Volcanic Rock, SeaChem Matrix, or Live Rock Crumbles

Volcanic Rock Resource: Volcanic Rock from AAP

Sump systems with live rock, plants, and sponge filters work well. The live rock is excellent for aerobic filtration (ammonia and nitrite removal) and anaerobic filtration (nitrate removal). The live plants and green algae are good for nitrogen fixing and phosphate removal. The sponge filter is a simple to clean aerobic bio-filter and mechanical filter.


The Berlin Filter method as I apply it is the use of cured live rock in the tank and in sumps or HOB filters. This method is extremely effective for fish and reef (including Nano Reef), especially when combined with one or more other filters such as a mud filter, protein skimmer, or even a fluidized filter. The advantage here is the colonies of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, as well as the many creatures and coralline algae the are housed in the live rock.
More about live rock: Make sure it is cured, many stores sell live rock right after it comes to them, and this is not cured live rock.
Live rock arrives to the stores wrapped in newspaper and mostly dead by this time, it takes up to 6 weeks to fully cure live rock. Fully cured live rock has the benefit of containing aerobic and anaerobic bacteria; the later helps convert nitrates to nitrogen which is released harmlessly into the atmosphere.

Cured live rock also contains many “creatures”, many of which are both interesting and beneficial. You may also create your own using rock high in calcium carbonate, or even dead coral skeletons by placing them under healthy cured live rock for a couple of months in a healthy aquarium (reef set ups are best for this). It is important to use very porous rock for the proper benefits of live rock.
A method I prefer is to break the live rock into smaller chunks and place these in back mounted wet/dry filters (such as the Dream Aquarium), or even remove the filter media from an Aqua Clear 500 or similar HOB Filter and instead use these 1-2” live rock pieces, this can make for a simple application of the Berlin Filter Method

Hang on back filters are very limited, but can be used too, especially if combined with other bio filters.
Internal filters are also limited, but once again are good combined with others (make sure to clean the sponges or other filter media regularly).

Ecosystem mud filtration is effective for nitrate removal (due to the large colonies of anaerobic bacteria), they are much simpler to use than a protein Skimmer in my opinion (which I believe are over sold for fish aquaria).
Unfortunately there are many stores pushing these systems as the end all of filtration, and they are not. They are a good part of a system, but should not be the only part. Good mechanical, other types of bio filtration, and especially germicidal filtration are also important. Reference: UV Germicidal Sterilization

More on Nitrate Removal Filtration;
(A) As mentioned above, Mud filters can be very useful for Nitrate removal; you can make a simple one with a HOB filter or sump aquarium. (With the HOB you must place the media in fine mesh or nylon filter bags so as to not cause damage to the impeller, also keep bags out of heavy flow area of filter).
[1] First use a 2 cm layer of #3 gravel on top.
[2] Then 5 cm of #00 sand.
[3] Then you can make your own anaerobic mulm from top soil; rinse fine top soil in a 10/1 bleach solution, then rinse again until clean (you can add a de-chlorinator to remove bleach). This goes on the bottom of the sump in a layer about 2 cm thick.

(B) Also as mentioned above; A lot of cured live rock is extremely helpful for nitrate removal

(C) Plants or green algae (such as caulerpa algae) in aquarium or refugium.

(D) Pre-Filters such as ATIs "Filter Max" on filter intakes; these are easily rinsed and remove organic matter before it can go thru the nitrogen cycle.

(E) Protein Skimmers
(F) Metal Halide lighting. I know this seems off subject, but I have found that Metal Halide lighting helps with nitrate levels, even when other filters are poor. I do not have scientific proof, but I believe the Redox potential (350 mV) this light help maintain has a lot to do with this.

Filter redundancy is also important, as filters/pumps can break down. Extra filters also increase bio and mechanical filtration. An economical combination would be a sponge filter, internal filter, and a hang on back (power filter).

For more on filtration, please see this site: "Aquarium Filters"

[2] LIGHTING; A new generation LED Aquarium Light such as the TMC Reef White LED Light would easily be your best bet and despite the initial cost, the long term costs of operation including a healthier aquarium is worth the investment.

For a more in depth article about Aquarium Lighting, please follow this link:
"AQUARIUM LIGHTING, Kelvin, Nanometers and more"

Or an excellent article about what to look for in aquarium lighting:
#Purchase Aquarium LED Lighting; What to Know

Be care too about the miss-information about aquarium LED lights that is now so common on the Internet, often coming from respected forums too.

Here are a few excellent articles I found dealing with some of the FACTS about aquarium LED lighting as well as addressing those who prefer to spew forth lies and distortions:

#Aquarium LED Warranties & Problems; Reef or Planted including SB Reef Light LED Review
#Aquarium LED Lights, Controllers, PWM; What is Best
#Reefbuilders LED Showdown; Reef Central LED Police
#AquaRay Aquarium LED; Reef Central
#Why Aquaray LED Light Fixtures, Review?
#PUR or RQE, YouTube Video Fail- Guide to lighting a planted tank

[3] TEST KITS; An ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, ph, Hydrometer, and KH (alkalinity) test kit are all important. For reef aquariums a Calcium and Magnesium Test Kit are also highly recommended.

For a more in depth article about Aquarium Test Kits, please follow this link:
"AQUARIUM TEST KITS; what they are used for and their importance"

[4] WATER CHEMISTRY; Start with a good marine salt and mix it to a specific gravity of 1.019- 1.021 for fish & 1.024-1.025 for reef aquariums.
  • Maintain Ammonia and nitrites at 0
  • pH at 8.2-8.4,
  • Alkalinity: 6.5 – 8 dkH,
  • Calcium: 380 – 420 mg/Liter
  • Magnesium: 1200 – 1350 mg/Liter
  • Nitrates below 20 ppm (lower for reef tanks).

I recommend the Balling Method to maintain calcium, alkalinity, magnesium, trace elements, etc.
"When used correctly, all levels of major elements remain constant, with calcium levels at 420 mg/l, magnesium at about 1300 mg/l and carbonate alkalinity at 7 dKH.
80% of Germans use this method and aquarists who have been using the method have accounted for a doubling in size of small polyp stony (SPS) corals within about 100 days.
Reference: Balling Method for Calcium, pH Explained for Reef Aquariums

Change water regularly using a gravel vacuum, especially in areas of waste accumulation, this will help maintain low nitrates(see my blog "Reasons for aquarium cleaning").
Add trace elements and aquarium buffer. SeaChem makes an excellent product called Reef Calcium which maintains KH, adds bio available polygluconate complexed calcium. Many products available do not add both calcium and magnesium (such as Kalkwasser), and they are BOTH necessary together for proper chemistry and fish health. It should be noted, that unlike freshwater fish which absorb the water around them, marine fish drink the water constantly, which affects their internal body chemistry to the surrounding water.

Highly Recommended Reading for MORE about Marine/Reef Aquarium Chemistry:
Reef Aquarium Chemistry Maintenance

[5] UV STERILIZATION; UV Sterilizers are in my opinion, not essential, but are VERY important. UV Sterilizers help with disease prevention and also help maintain a proper Redox Potential (oxidation properties of water). The Redox Potential is often overlooked by many aquarists.
For more information please see my article about “Aquarium UV and Pond UV Sterilizers
Also many will purchase a UV Sterilizer then forget to replace the UV Bulb; make sure this maintenance is performed every 6 months for optimum performance.

As with Aquarium Lighting, lies and poor information is common when it comes to UV Sterilization, the same website I found for correcting these issues in lighting also corrects issues with UV Sterilizer use as well:
#Aqua Ultraviolet versus TMC UV Sterilizers, Reef Central
#Are UV Sterilizers Good for an Aquarium?

Here is an excellent video about UV Sterilizer use from a popular YouTuber (Reef Girl):
Got UV for aquarium, Reefgrrl
Got UV? I Do! Let Me Tell You a Little Bit About It

AAP/Gamma Nutrashots, Fish, Corals Premium Fish Food

do not over crowd a marine aquarium. The amount of fish depends on the aquarium surface area and the type of fish. My article “Basic Aquarium Principles” addresses this subject. Feed your marine fish according to the type of food they naturally eat in the wild. Aquatic based foods such as AAP/Hikari Marine S or Spirulina 20 Flake are good generic fish foods for Tangs, angels, clown fish, Etc. (Angels also need sponge in their diet).
If a top notch advanced marine aquarium food designed for marine fish is desired, NOTHING beats the AAP/Gamm NutraShots which is more like a frozen food in analysis and how fish react to it [even finicky fish]
Resource: AAP/Gamma Nutrashots | Fish, Corals Premium Fish Food

This is a basic article, for more information, find a good local dealer or see my blog "Aquarium Answers"



Including MORE Information about (with pictures):
• Nano Reefs
• Filtration
• Live Rock
• Lighting
• Test Kits
• Water Chemistry
• UV Sterilization
• Proper fish feeding, including species specific diets
• Poisonous Marine Animals
• Marine Ich Treatment

Copyright; Carl Strohmyer


Amazon Reviews for Aquarium Products

American Aquarium Products
Innovative aquarium and pond supplies.

Medium Duty Aquarium Sump Water Pumps Pumps with many useful marine applications such as wet/dry sump

Aquarium Sponge FilterAAP/ATI Aquarium Sponge Filters

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