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There are two basic ways of supplying your aquarium with water where in the fishes and invertebrates can live. The first way is to utilize natural sea water which you could collect yourself; the second is to use one of the pre-packed marine water mixes available on the market. When you collect your own water, there are certain things to remember. You must get the cleanest water possible, which generally demands traveling by boat out into the ocean and loading your containers there. The containers must be of such material so as not to pollute the water. Metal buckets, for instance, should be avoided. There are numerous types of 5-gallon plastic or glass containers that are great for this purpose. Glass is safer chemically than plastic, but there is the disadvantage of it being fragile; additionally, glass carboys usually have metal caps. New plastic containers must be cured by filling them up with sea water, allowing them stand for a few weeks, and then dumping out the water. This takes out the "newness." A lot of containers don't need this curing, but if you're not sure it's better to be safe and do it this way. You may also check your water source in this manner. After several weeks of storage you could test the water to see what changes have came about. If you end up with a smelly batch of water you should locate a different source. Once your containers are safe for use and the water source is all right, you can start collecting for your aquaria. Collect more water than you require for your present set-up of tanks. It is always good to have adequate water for a complete change in all your tanks. If this isn't practical, enough extra water for a complete change in at least one or two of the tanks is ideal. Should anything go wrong, you can switch the fishes and invertebrates from the foul water into clean water right away. Use common sense in collecting the water. For example, don't draw the water from right next to the motor, exhaust outlets, or other areas where oil or grease may contaminate it.
Because natural sea water bear living organisms, it is best to filter it before storing. This can be done just by pouring it through a clean handkerchief. You will be astonished by the material, living or otherwise, that stays behind in the handkerchief. The living material is largely plankton, which is present in almost all sea water in greater or lesser quantities. A bit of the handkerchief residue placed in a small watch-glass and viewed under a low power microscope is a wonderful sight. There may be larval forms of numerous animals including fishes, crustaceans, echinoderms, worms, as well as eggs of different species or fully grown animals like copepods. Each sample might contain something new and excitingly different. Much of the plankton would die in the water and pollute it if not taken out. If the plankton is bountiful, the water will sooner or later become too foul for the fishes or invertebrates to live in it and will have to be thrown away.
Storage is usually accomplished by placing the containers in a darkened area. This keeps the aquarium plants from reproducing. It is very discouraging to find that your supply of clean water has become green from an algal bloom induced by a high nutrient level (the dead plankton supplying the nutrients) and plenty of light for photosynthesis.
"Natural" sea water has been provided to marine aquarists in the past, but more recently the cost of shipping the filtered water has become prohibitive when likened to the rather safe and easy method of mixing prepackaged salts. The concept of setting up a tank of Red Sea fishes, for instance, using water collected from the Red Sea itself sounds great but is impractical and not even needed.
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