Tank setup ok?

  • This topic has 6 replies, 3 voices, and was last updated 16 years ago by Leslie.
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    Hello all, I am looking foward to keeping seahorses and was thinking of a tank setup that I would like to try, but would like some opinions. The setup consists of a 35 gallon hex with a reverse flow UG filter hooked to a fluval canister for flow. Also on the intake side of the canister filter I would attach a surface extractor to keep the film off the top of the water. Substrate would be crushed aragonite with live rock, and several types of macro for the natural look. Is this a good setup? I intend to eventually keep 2 to 3 pairs of seahorses in this tank the first of which to be a pair of mustangs from Ocean Riders when the time and money is right. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you all and have a great day.[color=#0000FF][/color]

    Pete Giwojna

    Dear hobbyist:

    Yes, sir, the simple sort of set up you are planning can work well for seahorses as long as you are aware of its limitations and don’t overtax the system. For example, here’s how I describe such setups in my new book (Complete Guide to Greater Seahorses):

    Back to the Basics: A Simple Setup for Seahorses.

    The seahorse systems we’ve discussed thus far may not be for everyone. If you’ve never kept an aquarium with live rock (LR) or live sand (LS) before, you may be uncomfortable with the idea of setting up and maintaining a SHOWLR tank, which relies on LR and LS as the primary means of biofiltration. Or your hobby budget may not permit expensive items such as a protein skimmer or wet/dry trickle filter, let alone a multi-chambered sump/refugium or loads of live rock.

    If so, don’t despair! Seahorses can certainly be kept very successfully in far simpler setups, as long as you are aware of the limitations of such systems. For example, the filtration system can be as basic as a set of well-maintained reverse-flow undergravels that covers the bottom of the tank completely. I know undergravel filters are considered old-fashioned technology nowadays, but they are inexpensive, utterly reliable and foolproof (no moving parts), easy to install, require no modification whatsoever, and work extremely well for seahorses. An inexpensive diaphragm air pump will operate the filter and provide all the aeration you need, or you can upgrade to powerheads for greater efficiency and extra water movement.

    For the substrate with your reverse-flow undergravel filters, use a coarse bed of good calcareous aquarium gravel such as dolomite, aragonite, or crushed oyster shell 2-3 inches deep, since the buffering ability of such substrates will help maintain good pH.

    It is a good idea to supplement the undergravels with an inexpensive hang-on-back filter or canister to provide better circulation and accommodate chemical filtration media.

    This is a very simple, inexpensive aquarium that’s extremely easy and economical to set up and operate, yet it can be very successful if used within its limitations. For instance, undergravel filters are notorious nitrate factories and the hobbyist must take measures to compensate for this fact. This simple system relies totally on water changes to control nitrates. There is no live rock or live sand bed to provide denitrification, no algal filter or denitrator in a sump, and no protein skimmer to remove organics before they enter the nitrogen cycle. This limits the carrying capacity of the tank and makes an accelerated maintenance schedule and more frequent water changes an absolute necessity. For this reason, reverse flow undergravels often work best with seahorses; they help prevent detritus from accumulating in the gravel bed.

    I recommend weekly water changes of a least 25% for such a system. Use a gravel washer to clean a different portion of the gravel bed (no more than 25%) each week and keep the tank under stocked. If you are diligent about aquarium maintenance, perform water changes religiously, and limit yourself to fewer seahorses that you feed carefully, you will find that a simple system featuring undergravel filters can be very successful. But if you are negligent with regard to maintenance, skimp on water changes, or tend to overcrowd or overfeed your tanks, this system will be very unforgiving.

    Just stay within the limitations of the system you are planning, keep your undergravels clean, and it should work well.

    Happy Trails!
    Pete Giwojna


    Thank you very much for the information. What kind of setup would you suggest for a 35 gallon hex tank? Any information would be greatly appreciated. Thank you and have a great day.

    Pete Giwojna

    Dear Merman:

    Hex tanks are beautiful and have excellent height, which is great for seahorses because they need the vertical swimming space to mate comfortably and the increased water depth protects them from gas bubble disease. But the hex design does limit your filtration options somewhat because it’s difficult to fit them with a protein skimmer and you’re limited as to the type of equipment you can hang off the back of the tank. So a reverse-flow undergravel filter system such as you are planning is a good option for a hex tank and works well with seahorses providing you stay with the limitations of that system. If you’re careful not to overstock or overfeed, practice good maintenance and aquarium management, and are diligent about making water changes, such a setup can be very successful.

    However, if it’s all possible, I would suggest that you get your 35-gallon hex tank drilled so that you can equip it with a sump beneath the aquarium. This modification would make the aquarium more beautiful because all of the unsightly equipment is hidden away in the sump, which would also make maintenance much easier and, of course, it greatly increases your filtration options.

    There are many advantages to adding a sump to your seahorse setup. For starters, it increases the overall water volume of your system with all the benefits that implies. A good-sized sump can easily double your carrying capacity, increasing your safety margin accordingly. It makes an ideal place to put a protein skimmer, heater(s), air stones, and other equipment so they don’t have to be hidden in the display tank. (A well-designed sump does a great job of trapping and eliminating the microbubbles emitted from skimmers and preventing them from entering the aquarium, and provides an excellent way of increasing the aeration/oxygenation, which is so important for a seahorse setup.) It’s the perfect place to perform additional mechanical and chemical filtration, tailoring the filter media to meet ones exact needs, or to add a calcium or nitrate reactor or even a Deep Live Sand Bed (DLSB) to your seahorse setup.

    Because the sump is a large body of water separated from the aquarium itself, it facilitates water changes, dosing supplements, adding top-off water to the tank and other maintenance tasks, all of which can be carried out in the sump without disturbing the main tank or stressing its inhabitants. Entire sections of the mechanical filtration can be cleaned at one time without affecting your primary biofilter, and water changes can be performed gradually without causing stress to the fish or invertebrates. A sump/refugium can also be used to grow a lush bed of macroalgae using a reverse lighting cycle to stabilize the pH and absorb wastes.

    To take advantage of these benefits, I suggest adding a two-chambered sump to your tank. This can be accomplished by installing a perforated tank divider across the width of the sump, thereby separating it into two isolated compartments. One side accommodates all of your equipment (in-sump skimmer, return pump, heaters, titanium grounding probe, UV sterilizer, etc.) while the other side can be used to establish a deep live sand bed (DLSB) with plenty of Caulerpa. The DLSB/Caulerpa side serves as a refugium and will soon become populated with countless critters (copepods, Gammarus and other amphipods, larval crustaceans, etc.). With the Caulerpa acting as an algal filter and the anaerobic layers of DLSB providing denitrification, the aquarist never need be concerned about nitrates or nuisance algae with this type of sump/refugium.

    In addition, the biological refugium/sump can be maintained on an opposite light cycle to the main tank to offset the daily fluctuations in pH, photosynthesis, dissolved oxygen/carbon dioxide, and redox levels that otherwise occur in the aquarium. Daily variances in chemical, physical and biological phenomena are a fact of life in aquaria, linked to the light and dark cycles and the diurnal rhythms of captive aquatic systems. As one example, the pH of aquarium water typically peaks after the lights have been on all day at a maximum of perhaps 8.4, only to drop to low of below 8.0 overnight. This is related to photosynthesis and the fact that zooanthellae and green plants consume CO2 and produce O2 when there is adequate light, but reverse that process in the dark, consuming O2 and giving off CO2. Redox levels, available calcium and other water quality parameters are affected in similar ways. Needless to say, these variations are far greater is a small, closed-system aquarium than they are in the ocean, so it’s beneficial to minimize such fluctuations by reversing the photoperiod in the main display and the sump/refugium. This is easily accomplished by timing the lighting in the sump so that the bed of macroalgae is illuminated after dark when the lights on the display tank are off, and vice versa. Just use alternating timers on the main tank and the refugium tank so that when one is on, the other is off. Voila! Just like that the roller coaster ride is over: no more daily fluctuations in pH or highs and lows in calcium levels, oxygen minima, or peaks and valleys in redox potential. Or you can easily accomplish the same thing simply by keeping the algae bed in your sump illuminated 24 hours a day around the clock.

    Because it is separate from the main system yet shares the same water, the sump/refugium can also be used as a nifty acclimation tank for new arrivals or a handy isolation tank for separating incompatible specimens. For seahorse keepers, the refugium compartment of a divided sump or dual chamber sump makes an ideal grow-out tank for juvenile seahorses that have outgrown their nurseries but are still too small to be kept in the main tank. A dual-chamber sump is a very versatile design that lends itself to multiple purposes. Use your imagination.

    Equipment I would include for sure in such a system is a good in-sump protein skimmer, titanium grounding probe, and a UV sterilizer. If you’re not familiar with deep live sand beds, you can simply load the other chamber of your sump with plenty of live rock and macroalgae. That way, your seahorses can enjoy all the benefits live rock provides without worrying that it may harbor unwanted pests such as mantis shrimp or bristleworms that may pose a threat to your ponies.

    In the main tank, I’d recommend a thin layer of live sand, preferably black, as the substrate for your aquarium. It is bioactive, aesthetically pleasing, and is a fine-grained sand well suited for the various snails that form an essential part of the cleanup crew for a seahorse tank. I find the dark color shows off my seahorses and macroalgae to great effect and enhances the appearance of tank in general.

    The depth of a shallow sand bed like this is a crucial factor. Too deep, and you risk anaerobic dead spots where deadly hydrogen sulfide gas can form. Too shallow, and there will be less surface area to support beneficial nitrifying bacteria and Nassarius snails and other beneficial burrowers may feel vulnerable and exposed. A bed of live sand 3/4-inch to 1-inch deep is just right for the main tank. A properly layered Deep Live Sand Bed (DLSB) 3-6 inches deep with a full complement of sand shifters also works well with seahorses, but as we’ve been discussing, it is best confined to a sump rather than the display tank due to the seahorse’s heavy waste production.

    Best of luck with your new 35-gallon hex tank, Merman!

    Happy Trails!
    Pete Giwojna


    Hi Merman,

    I just wanted to add to what Pete had to say. I have kept many seahorses in a variety of tanks. Many of which were taller than wide and what I and many others have found over the years is that as much as vertical space is very important, horizontal space should not be over looked. As a matter of fact most of my early seahorse tanks were of the taller than wide variety and what I found is that when I moved the horses into the bigger longer tanks they were much more active. I am now of the opinion that vertical space and horizontal space are equally important. If you give it to them they will use it. I have found my seahorses to be much more active in my rectangular shaped tanks. In addition these tanks offer a greater surface area for gas exchange. If your plans are not set in stone I would suggest you consider a more typically shaped rectangular tank. Many of them are offered in taller than standard heights.




    🙂 Thank you so much for your advice, and no my setup is not set in stone. Infact after reading your reply I probably will choose a more conventional tank shape. God bless and have a great day.


    Your most welcome. I am glad I could help.

    I think you will be much happier in the long run with a more standard shaped tank.
    50g is a nice size which will allow you to keep a size heard.


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