Setting Up a Reef Tank

Setting Up a Reef Tank

You’ve always dreamed of setting up your very own marine reef tank. But the problem is, you feel that your knowledge to do it correctly is still inadequate.

The first thing you need to consider is time and money; if you don’t have an abundance of both, this is not the correct hobby for you as marine reef tanks can be both expensive and time consuming.

The trick to a successful marine reef tank is gathering as much information as possible in advance, as well as finding an experienced and knowledgeable aquatics supplier that can guide you. With the following steps, you should be able to set up a beautiful marine reef ecosystem within the comfort of your own home. It is a simplified process that will let you start enjoying your own aquarium within a couple of months.

Here are the main steps for setting up your aquarium:

  • The first thing you need to do is decide whether you will be keeping a reef only tank or adding fish as well, this will help you to determine what you need to purchase for your set up. Decide on the types of corals you will be keeping, and if you’re adding fish, research which are reef compatible as some like to munch on coral which can be a very expensive snack!
  • Next, purchase a suitable aquarium. You might want to use something like the Kent Marine Bio Reef Ready LED aquarium. Install it according to manufacturer instructions, this will also include the instructions for the sump if it is built in. Aquariums with a built in cabinet are a great option as they can contain sumps and other essential marine tank filtration equipment without taking up space in your tank.
  • Some other things to add to your shopping list:

Protein skimmer



Saltwater mix

Power heads

Reverse Osmosis Water Filter (or you can buy RO water from aquatics stores)


Test kits


Reactors (speak to your aquatics store for information on the best kind for your chosen corals)

Live Rock

  • Begin by adding 2/3 of a tank of RO water. Add in the recommended dose of aquarium salt for your tanks specification and stir to dissolve the salt. Add the remaining 1/3 of RO water and turn on your power heads to keep the water moving. After a few hours, you should use your hydrometer to check the levels, they should be around the 1.023 - 1.025 range. You can do a partial water change if the levels are too high or add some extra salt if they are too low.
  • Next add in your live rock. You can purchase this from most aquatics stores pre-cured. Ensure that the rock you’re purchasing has been cured as this will help to stop unwanted issues such as cyanobacteria from being introduced. You should make sure that the rock is placed securely to stop it from toppling and damaging the glass; some ways to do this are by adding plastic mesh under the sand or having your live rock drilled and mounted on secured rods.
  • Next, clean your sand to remove any debris. Once cleaned, slowly add the sand to the tank. The water will be cloudy, leave it for a couple of days and this will settle and clear.
  • Next it is time to create the right flow, you’re attempting to reproduce a sea like movement. You can achieve this with a wave-maker, or by using several powerheads pointed towards each other. Ensure that these flows aren’t pointing downwards towards the corals as this can damage them.
  • Now is the time to speak to your aquatics store and find out the best type of lighting for the corals you are buying. Lighting varies depending on whether you choose soft corals or polyps.
  • Add your protein skimmer, you can either add this to the tank, or set it up in the sump to hide it. This is not the most aesthetically pleasing piece of equipment but it will help to filter off any dissolved organic compounds or other harmful substances, so it is quite important.
  • Let the aquarium run for a week and then test the water levels. You should check Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, Ph high range, PH low range, KH and GH, Calcium and Iron levels as well as your salt levels. Everything may be spot on with the first test but if it isn’t don’t get disheartened as it can take several attempts and many weeks or even months before your tank is ready for livestock.
  • When your water levels are correct you can start to add fish, inverts and corals to the tank. Add these in slowly to avoid ammonia spikes which can be harmful to your fish. If you tell your aquatics store how many litres your tank is, they will be able to advise you on the number of each that you can add to the tank. They will also be able to advise you which fish aren’t suitable for new tanks.
  • Position your corals on the live rock. Some don’t want to stay in place so you can use aquarium putty to stick them in place. If you’re adding a sea anemone to the tank don’t use the putty though as they like to move around the tank and find the best spot!
  • You should monitor your new fish and corals for any illnesses or diseases that need to be treated.
  • Continue to monitor the test weekly, you can use the Nutrafin Test Kit for this purpose. You should also complete regular 10% water changes to keep the water levels stable and clean the power heads.


The steps for setting up a reef tank are courtesy of Aquacadabra, the number one aquatic retailer in the UK. We are the ones to turn to if you are looking for top quality marine aquarium supplies and all of your other needs. We offer a variety of products from suppliers with many years of experience in the industry. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you need more assistance setting up your own marine tank.