Thursday, November 12, 2015

How To Mix Saltwater for Your Reef Aquarium

Through the evolution of keeping a reef tank, one thing that stays consistent is the need to perform water changes. Water changes remove waste and replenish the necessary elements your tanks inhabitants need to grow and thrive.

Many of us start by purchasing saltwater from a local fish store for water changes, which does have its benefits—but also leaves some mystery in terms of the quality of water and what is actually going into your tank.

If the store's filter system is not regularly maintained, there may be nitrates, phosphate or other impurities in the water. Some salt mixes work better for fish-only aquariums while others with higher levels of calcium, alkalinity and major/minor elements are better for reef aquariums. If a store changes salt mixes, it may also have unexpected effects in your aquarium.

Mixing your own saltwater at home is in fact a much better way to obtain saltwater because it allows you to choose the salt best suited for your aquarium and allows you to control many of the variables.

Thankfully mixing saltwater is fairly easy but must be done correctly and of course you will first need all of the necessary equipment.

You will need a large container that can hold 10% or more of your tanks water volume. Here at Marine Depot, we use the food-grade Brute trash cans with caster wheels which make it easy to move the water. Aquariums and various other plastic containers also work very well. Just be sure to get something that is food grade or suitable for potable water storage because Lower grade plastic containers may leach phosphates and other unwanted chemicals into the water.

To measure the salinity we recommend the use of a refractometer for accuracy. Hydrometers can also be used but should be calibrated regularly as they can become inaccurate over time. A powerhead is needed to mix the water as well as an aquarium heater to match the water temperature of your aquarium along with a thermometer to measure the temperature.

First, fill the mixing container with fresh RO/DI water. You will want to mix enough water to complete the desired water change and I always mix a few gallons extra just in case the unexpected should occur.

Next, drop in the powerhead to start aerating the RO/DI water.  This helps to remove excess CO2 and ensures a proper pH. You can also add the heater in order to get the water up to temperature.

Now look at the instructions for your salt mix and calculate the amount of salt needed to match the salinity in your aquarium. Each salt mix is different so be sure to read the manufacturer instructions carefully but basically the concept is the same, add enough salt to reach the desired salinity level. This should be maintained at 1.023-1.026 specific gravity for a reef tank.

We are using the Brightwell Aquatics NeoMarine salt mix which calls for ½ cup per gallon of freshwater for a salinity of 1.025 specific gravity. Since I have 20 gallons of water to mix, I will need 10 total cups of salt mix. One important note here, if you are storing your salt mix be sure to seal it well. Salt mix will draw moisture from the air and turn into a solid rock if left unsealed for any extended period of time.

Add the salt mix slowly into the RO/DI water inside your mixing container. It is normal for the water to cloud when you add the salt mix but it will clear up. After a few hours of mixing, measure the salinity using your refractometer or hydrometer and adjust the salinity as needed.

Once the desired salinity level is reached you should let the water continue to mix and aerate for the amount of time recommended by the manufacturer.  Some salt mixes are best used within 3-4 hours of mixing while others should mix for 12-24 hours before use.

Photo courtesy of Eddie Zia

Mixing saltwater at home saves you the hassle of lugging around cumbersome containers of water to and from your local fish store. It will also ensure that all the water entering your aquarium has consistent parameters and is free of unwanted contaminates. If you are looking to start mixing saltwater at home or simply have some questions, contact our trained team of aquarium experts today for fast and friendly support.

If you found this article and the accompanying video helpful, please like, share and subscribe to help us bring you more informative content just like this.

Until next time, take care and happy reef keeping.

> Watch Salinity: How to Measure and Why It's Important

> Watch How to Build a Saltwater Mixing Station

> Read How to Measure Salinity in a Saltwater Aquarium

> Read 5 Ways to Change Your Aquarium Water Like a Pro

> Read How to Mix Saltwater and Perform a Water Change

Monday, November 02, 2015

Auto Top-Off Systems: Which ATO is right for you?

In a saltwater aquarium, maintaining a constant salinity level is extremely important to the health of your fish and corals.

Water constantly evaporates from the aquarium, while the salt in the aquarium does not. A replenishment system is required to replace the water that evaporates or else the salinity may quickly rise to unsafe levels.

One option is to manually add water to your aquarium each day. Unfortunately, this can be quite a strenuous task. In addition to lifting heavy buckets, adding a substantial amount of freshwater to your saltwater aquarium at once can be stressful for the tank inhabitants.

This is why so many hobbyists have found the use of an ATO or automatic top-off system to be extremely helpful. Today we will cover the various options available when it comes to choosing an ATO system and provide you with some insight that will help you select the right ATO for your tank.

Mechanical Float Valve

The most basic type of ATO systems are mechanical float valves that are used with a reservoir located above the float valve. Several companies offer these mechanical float valves, including AquaFX, Eshopps, Kent Marine and SpectraPure.

Using the force of gravity, water simply drains down from your reservoir into the float that is mounted in your sump or aquarium. Once the desired water level is reached, the float simply closes off the water line.

Eshopps Auto Top-Off Reservoir Tank

Mechanical float valves are very affordable. However, salt creep, calcium build-up and various other obstructions can cause float valves to fail. Additionally, it can be difficult to find a suitable place to mount the water reservoir above the float. For these reasons, it is best to use mechanical floats on a freshwater tank or in conjunction with your RO/DI system to keep your freshwater reservoir full at all times.

The second group of ATO systems are ones that utilize float switches. These moderately-priced systems have an electronic float switch(es) that are used to trigger a relay which then controls power to a water pump that is located in your ATO reservoir.

Marine Depot ATO System w/ Pump and Magnetic Sensors

Our Marine Depot ATO systems are one of the most affordable options and are available with a single float or dual floats. All the necessary parts are included so you are ready to go out of the box. One of the great features is the acrylic guard around the float switch. This guard helps reduce turbulence and helps prevent snails or other critters from obstructing the operation of the float switch.

JBJ ATO Water Level Controller

The JBJ ATO features dual float switches that can be set up in multiple configurations, including dry-run protection for the top-off reservoir. It has a standard outlet so you can plug in just about any type of powerhead or water pump to deliver water from your reservoir into your aquarium.

Tunze Osmolator Nano 3152

Next is the Tunze Osmolator Nano. The Osmolator Nano includes a single magnet mounted float switch with a low-voltage DC water pump. It is simple, effective and great for smaller aquariums

The last group are the more costly ATO systems that feature more advanced sensors. These ATOs use higher-end sensors or multiple types of sensors to make the system as fail proof as possible.

Tunze Osmolator Universal 3155

The Tunze Osmolator 3155 is our best-selling ATO system. It uses an accurate optical sensor with a mechanical float as a backup. The combination of the two sensors makes it extremely accurate and nearly fail proof. The included low-voltage pump is also replaceable and fits perfectly into 5 gallon water jugs.

AutoAqua Smart ATO System

Our next best seller is the AutoAqua Smart ATO. This ATO uses an advanced infrared optical sensor that measures the water level accurately. Additionally, the integrated Auto Feedback Security (AFS) algorithm programmed into the unit will learn and detect overfill as well as sensor failures. Its small size and the magnetic sensor mount makes installation a cinch. The kit also includes a small water pump that fits in just about any reservoir.

Hydor Smart Level Control ATO System

The Hydor Smart-Level ATO uses a temperature sensor so there are no moving parts. Having a temperature sensor also means that you don't have to worry about snails climbing on the sensor or algae and calcium build-up. A slight drawback is that it does not include a water pump and has a larger water level variance of ½" to ¾". Still, it is one of the more affordable advanced ATO units.

Innovative Marine HydroFill Ti ATO Controller

The Innovative Marine HydroFill ATO uses high-tech conductivity sensors. The electrodes in the sensors are inert, so there is no chance of rusting and are they are very durable in a saltwater environment. They can be used with just about any water pump—or you can purchase the awesome HydroFill pump which is a self-priming diaphragm pump (that means it can sit above the water reservoir and will draw water up into the pump and then into your aquarium).

An ATO system is one of the smartest investments you can make for a reef tank. Not only does it save you time, but it also helps ensure you maintain a stable aquatic environment. Plus, with so many options available, it is easier than ever to find a system that fits your budget and the needs of your aquarium.

Thank you for allowing us to share our experience with you. If you found this article and the accompanying video helpful, please like, share and subscribe to show your support!

Until next time, take care and happy reef keeping.

> Watch our Auto Top-Off System Video Playlist

> Read 10 Helpful Ways You Can Use MJ Pumps

> Read Aquarium Top-Off Systems: What is the Difference?

> Read Fed up with carrying buckets? Try an auto top-off system!

> Read Tunze Nano Osmolator 3152 Product Review

> Read Hydor Smart Level Control ATO System: Product Review

Friday, October 23, 2015

Emergency Prepardness: How to Keep Your Aquarium Inhabitants Alive During a Power Outage

Thorough planning and using quality equipment can prevent many hardships and avoid a lot of headaches when caring for a reef aquarium.

Regardless of how much you spend on your equipment or how much you plan ahead there is one thing that can crash an aquarium quicker than anything and that is losing electricity that powers your tank.

With winter fast approaching and severe weather on the horizon, power loss is bound to happen. Today we are going to show you how to keep your fish and coral alive during a power outage and provide you with some helpful tips to reduce the worry and stress caused by losing electricity to you aquarium.

Electricity powers all of the equipment that keeps your aquarium alive and well. Without electricity your water pumps stop pumping water deeming your filtration useless. More importantly is the lack of water flow also prevents proper gas exchange which results in insufficient dissolved oxygen levels for the animals in your aquarium. Therefore, keeping water moving inside your tank is the most important issue to address in the event of a power failure.

EcoTech Marine Battery Backup

The best way to get water moving is a high-quality powerhead like the EcoTech Marine VorTech, Tunze Stream Pumps or Maxspect Gyre. When connected to the appropriate battery back-up these pumps can run at a reduced speed for up to 48 hours or even longer, solely off the power supplied by the battery back-up.

The EcoTech Marine battery back-up is specifically designed for the VorTech and Vectra pumps.

IceCap Battery Backup

The IceCap battery back-up works perfectly with the Maxspect Gyre pumps and most other 12-24 volt DC water pump such as an AquaMedic EcoDrift or Tunze Controllable Stream Pumps. It includes multiple plug adapters to make connection with various other pumps easy.

Tunze Turbelle Safety Connector 6105.500

Tunze offers a unique solution. The Controllable Stream pumps or Waveboxes can be connected to any 12-24V battery though the use of the Tunze Safety Connector.

A large car battery used with a small Tunze pump can last several days during a power outage. Another advantage is that the battery can be easily swapped out. If your main battery back-up is exhausted, you are able to replace it with another battery. Disposable battery used for electric lanterns are good options.

One really cool feature of these battery back-ups is that they will automatically kick-on in the event power is lost so even if you are not home, your animals will be safe.

Azoo Battery Air Pump

Another more economical option for aeration during a power outage is a battery-powered air pump with an air stone. As the air bubbles rise they will move water and in turn help oxygenate the water. They are extremely inexpensive at less than $8 each and most of them run on regular C or D cell batteries.

The downside to battery-powered air pumps is that you will probably need a few of them to provide enough aeration; especially in large tanks and most do not have the capability to automatically switch when power is lost.

Photo Credit: Home Depot

Finally, you can consider investing in a generator. It is an expensive but foolproof option. Whether it is a portable unit or automatic, a generator can supply enough power to run all of the crucial equipment on your tank and will continue to produce power for long periods of time when refueled properly.

A few other things to keep in mind; do not feed your fish during a power loss to help reduce your fishes metabolism and avoid excess nutrients in the water that consume oxygen. Your fish can live for 4-5 days without food. Cover the tank with a blanket to keep out ambient lighting and reduce temperature changes in the aquarium. If checking on your fish, do not make fast movements or disrupt the tank in any way as you really want to keep stress levels to a minimum.

Photo courtesy of Eddie Zia

Preparing your aquarium for a power outage is a great idea, especially for those of you with mature reef tanks housing a variety of delicate fish and corals. If you need help prepping your tank for the impending apocalypse, give us a call at 1-800-566-FISH or send us a message anytime for excellent support from our trained team of aquarium experts.

If you found this article and the accompanying video helpful, please like, share and subscribe to show your support! Until next time, take care and happy reef keeping.

> Read 8 Ways to Prevent your Reef Tank from Crashing

> Read 7 Ways to be Prepared for an Aquarium Emergency

> Read Aquarium Emergency Preparedness

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Marine Depot is Hiring: Join our fintastic Customer Support Team and help other hobbyists succeed!


We are looking for full time order takers with customer service experience to join our support team in's Garden Grove, CA headquarters. You will be the frontline of our company and engage with customers on a daily basis via phone, email, and live chat. Your job will be to place orders by phone and respond to non-technical emails while providing accurate information in a professional and timely manner. You will also answer questions about order status, order changes, order tracking, returns and site navigation in a prompt and courteous manner. offers paid training, flexible scheduling and an excellent healthcare package for full time employees. We also have opportunities and room for growth into our Customer Service Representative and Technical Support Representatives positions.

  • Placing orders by phone and assisting with non-technical customer service duties
  • Responding to non-technical emails and live chat requests
  • Resolving customer issues with urgency
  • Assuming responsibility for projects and tasks as they occur
  • Assisting customers to ensure they have a positive shopping experience
  • Ensuring the implementation and development of the Family Friendly Concept
  • Working with the Customer Satisfaction Index to benchmark and improve our service execution

  • Computer literacy (Windows PC, Outlook, web browsers, copy/paste shortcuts)
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • The ability to multi-task in a high call/email volume environment
  • Attention to detail and ability to follow-up
  • An outgoing, positive attitude about providing superior customer service
  • Must be a pet lover! (Dogs, Cats, Fish, or other small animals)
  • Willingness to learn more about the aquarium fish and coral hobby
  • Saltwater/reef aquarium and fishkeeping experience a huge plus!

The starting wage for this position is $10-$12 per hour depending on experience. If you're interested in joining our team, please email your resume to for consideration.

ABOUT MARINEDEPOT.COM is a fast growing online aquarium supply company located in Garden Grove, CA. We're looking for smart, creative people who will give 100 percent. Ideal candidates must be dedicated, detail-oriented team players that will thrive in a fast-paced, high-volume ecommerce work environment. The office atmosphere here is low-key, casual and collaborative. We have regular company BBQs, celebrate Take Your Dog To Work Day® and have a great healthcare and benefits package that includes discounts on aquarium and pet products. Although it is not a prerequisite to working with us, most of our employees are pet/aquarium owners. We love what we do!

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Best Ways to Cycle Your Reef Aquarium

Most of us are guilty of rushing with an aquarium setup at some point. And, as Murphy's Law would have it, this almost always results in complications. Whether you add too many fish at once, fail to cure your live rock or simply do not wait long enough before adding animals to the tank—each of these seemingly minor transgressions can cause some serious problems.

Today we are going to show you how to properly cycle your reef aquarium and provide some insight into why this is so important for the success of your tank.

The "traditional" and most common way of cycling a reef tank is to use live rock. Just add live rock, sand (optional) and wait.

Live rock is transported from the ocean and is teeming with beneficial bacteria. En route to your home, the rock spends several days out of water. During this time, a significant portion of beneficial bacteria and other organisms will die. When added to your tank, the remaining living bacteria will seed the aquarium with a variety of different bacteria while the dead matter will break down and release harmful ammonia and nitrate into your aquarium water.

When using fresh live rock, it is wise to remove any sponges and other large and obviously dead organisms before you put the rock into your tank. Then give the rock a quick rinse in a bucket of saltwater to rid the rock of any additional decaying matter.

After cleaning the rock, simply place it in your aquarium and wait. The good nitrifying bacteria will take roughly 30-45 days to colonize and establish in your tank, all the while being continually fed by the leftover decaying matter on the live rock.

During this time, you should test the water two to three times per week. You will first notice a rise in the ammonia level, then a rise in the nitrite level. Once both the ammonia (NH3) and nitrite (NO2) have risen and then begin falling back down toward zero, the nitrate (NO3) level starts to accumulate and will register in your water tests. Usually after four to six weeks of cycling, the ammonia and nitrite levels will fall to zero and nitrate will be obviously present in the water. At this time, your tank has properly cycled and you can perform a 25 to 30 percent water change.

Bacterial supplements—our most popular are Brightwell Aquatics MicroBacter7 and Seachem Stability—increase the amount of good bacteria in your aquarium and will help speed up the cycling process. It is a good idea to add on a weekly basis even after the cycling process concludes to help maintain a healthy and diverse population of bacteria in your tank.

Dry rock, like AquaMaxx EcoRock or CaribSea Life Rock, is becoming a very popular choice for saltwater aquariums. Using dry rock keeps unwanted hitchhikers out of your aquarium, plus it has little to no environmental impact and is generally far less expensive than live rock.

Because dry aquarium rock is generally free of bacteria and dead organic matter, a slightly different approach will be required to properly cycle your reef tank.

The best option is to use a supplement, like those previously discussed, to add the bacteria strains to your aquarium. You then need to provide the aquarium with some organic material to support the growing bacteria populations. This is accomplished by "phantom feeding," which basically means adding a small amount of fish food to the aquarium on a regular basis to support the bacteria. It is not uncommon for an aquarium with dry rock to take a little longer to cycle, although many hobbyists feel it is worth the wait for the aforementioned reasons.

As with the traditional method of cycling with live rock, you will still need to test the water regularly to monitor the cycling process. Once nitrate is present and ammonia and nitrite have dropped down to zero, it is safe to start adding animals into the aquarium.

The best advice we can give to a hobbyist starting their first saltwater aquarium is that patience is the key for success in this hobby. Allow nature to take its course and proceed slowly. All too often we hear from customers who have added fish too quickly or added too many at once, resulting in a total loss of life. A good general rule is to add one fish per week when stocking a new tank.

If you are just starting out in the hobby, remember that adding animals before an aquarium is fully cycled may result in easily avoidable deaths—which is unfair to the animals, not to mention a waste of your hard-earned dollars.

For all of you seasoned reef keepers, we know you have heard this advice time and time again, so we hope you will lead by example for the generations of hobbyists to come!

If you found this article and the accompanying video helpful, please like, share and subscribe to show your support. Until next time, take care and happy reef keeping.

> View our Reef Tank Parameters Chart

> Learn How to Cure Live Rock

> View our Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle Diagram

> Read Mr. Saltwater Tank's Tips for Cycling a Reef Tank

> Read Aquarium Rock: Live, dry, cured or uncured?

> Read Top 7 Live Rock Hitchhikers