The Challenges of Collecting Natural Sea Water for Your Marine Aquarium

Collecting natural sea water for your aquarium can present a number of unique challenges

Collecting natural sea water for your aquarium can present a number of unique challenges

Given the ready availability—and relative affordability—of high-quality synthetic sea salt mixes, it’s not surprising that the vast majority of marine aquarium hobbyists today choose to use artificial sea water rather than collect the natural stuff from the ocean for their systems.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean synthetic salt water is superior to its natural counterpart in all cases. Depending on a hobbyist’s circumstances, collecting water from the ocean can be a perfectly viable alternative. In fact, some hobbyists who use natural sea water in their tanks absolutely rave about the results they see in their livestock.

Obviously, for people like me and Chris, who are located many miles from the nearest ocean, collecting natural sea water is a lot like failure on the Apollo 13 mission—not an option. But for salties lucky enough to live right on the coast, it may be a choice worth exploring.

However, there’s no question that there are certain challenges attendant upon collecting natural sea water. If you’re one of the fortunate few “coastal salties” (or as Chris and I like to call them, “long-lost relatives”), you’ll have to decide for yourself whether any of the following obstacles are deal breakers:

Finding a clean source

There’s plenty of clean water in the ocean, but it’s not always as easy to access as we’d like. The inshore waters you can reach with the least amount of difficulty—e.g., from a pier, dock, boardwalk, boat launch, or beach—are also the most likely to be polluted with marine fuel residue, agricultural runoff, sewage, and other contaminants. That’s why it’s best to collect as far off shore as is practical.

If you happen to own a boat (or know someone else who does and is willing to take you on regular water-collecting trips), traveling off shore to collect non-polluted water may not be a major problem, but if you don’t, you’ll need to find a site within reach of shore that’s less likely to be contaminated. That means an area with:

  • Minimal boat traffic
  • No rivers, streams, or creeks discharging nearby
  • No nearby urban or industrial area
  • Stable, appropriate salinity (i.e., not an estuary or other brackish environment)
  • A healthy population of marine wildlife

Also, if you must collect close to shore, in addition to the points listed above, try to do so when the incoming tide carries in the cleanest possible water.

Heavy hauling

There’s no getting around the fact that collecting natural sea water involves some heavy lifting and logistical challenges—especially if you’re collecting for a large aquarium. Five-gallon buckets, heavy-duty plastic bins or trash cans, and similar watertight vessels are the usual tools of the trade for hobbyists who collect their own sea water. Once these containers are filled, lugging them to your vehicle (possibly after hoisting them off a boat) and then into your home can be a real chore.

Treating the water

When mixing artificial salt water using RO/DI-purified water and a quality sea salt mix, all you have to do is make sure the basic parameters—specific gravity, temperature, pH, etc.—are in the correct ranges before using it in your aquarium.

Natural sea water, on the other hand, tends to require a lot more pretreatment before it’s safe to use in aquariums because of the dissolved organics and planktonic life it often contains. This typically involves filtering the water through a micron filter sock at the time of collection to eliminate as much debris and plankton as possible. Then, processing of the water usually continues once the hobbyist gets it home in order to render it safe for aquarium use. This might involve one or more of the following steps:

  • Storing the water in a dark container for at least a few weeks to allow any remaining plankton to die off and settle to the bottom, and to allow bacteria time to consume any dissolved organics
  • Running the water through an ultraviolet sterilizer to kill off any parasites or disease-causing microorganisms
  • Treating the water with chlorine to kill off any life form, followed by the use of a dechlorinator

Of course, after that, it’s still necessary to test and possibly adjust all the critical water parameters to make sure they match the parameters in your aquarium.

Do you collect your own salt water?
If you’re a coastal salty and collect your own sea water, we’d love to hear how you’ve overcome the logistical challenges and how it’s working out in your system. Let us know in the comment section below!

Photo Credit: Matthias Rhomberg

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About Jeff Kurtz

Jeff Kurtz is the Co-founder/Editor of Saltwater Smarts, former Senior Consulting Editor for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, and the aquarist formerly known as “The Salt Creep.” He has been an aquarium hobbyist for over 30 years and is an avid scuba diver.

Comments

  1. Paul Baldassano says:

    My still running reef was started with NSW in 1971. I collect in New York right from the beach and rarely do anything to it except let it warm up. If it has debris, jellyfish or other visable things I filter it through a coffee filter. If there is a red tide or if it smells, I treat it with regular Clorox, let it sit a day or two then add chlorine remover and dump it in. Usually I have to add a little ASW as New York water is weak. But after 42 years of doing this, I still have not had problems, my tank has LPS, SPS and virtually all the fish are spawning.

  2. Yaseen Issadeen says:

    I’ve been collecting sea water for a very long time. I’m from Sri Lanka and I’ve located a permanent spot for my water collection. I’ve also installed a submersible pump to make it easy for access. A few things I have noticed over the past 5 years is that the water chemistry is absolutely perfect in comparison to the artificial sea salt. Nitrates always and so far have remained at 0 ppm. Alkalinity levels at 9dKh and calcium at 440ppm. Perfect for coral and anemone growth.

    A tip when fetching your own water – Ensure that you collect your water from a high flow area where there are constant waves and flow. Also upon collecting ensure you sieve it through a bio wool to get rid of debris and sand particles. After that your water is good to go.

    Avoid adding CLOROX since it contains chloromines which will result in high algae (including nuisance algae) and diatom growth. Natural is the best and pure.!

    • Jeff Kurtz says:

      These are very helpful insights, Yaseen. Thanks for sharing them!

    • hey men iam from chennai located near to shore can i have your mail ID i have few doubts in storing the salt water

      • Hi Mani,

        I was living about 25 years in Royapuram,Chennai. I had experience of setting up a tank with water directly from ocean, But i was a beginner( still learning) when i started and broke down putting all the stuff in same tank since i had easy access to collect fish and other creatures from all my relatives who owns the boats. Right now i am in Missouri,US started 2 saltwater tanks with salt mixes and going better. but i always prefer to best use of nature source when i am back to country. Please provide your contact details to discuss more on this hobby.

        • subramnaniam says:

          Helo,
          I saw your post about you collecting sea water from royapuram and you had a marine aquarium in chennai.i too am from Chennai and am thinking about setting up a marine aquarium.Though I have kept fresh water aquariums for years , this marine aquarium set up is new to me.Can you mail back any one who is good at setting up marine aquariums in Chennai area

          Thanks
          Subramaniam

          • Hi,

            Please share your contact number, let me call you

            Regards
            Raghu

          • Hello Mr. Raghu, I am residing at Tondiarpet near Royapuram. I have just started my small marine aquarium, using direct sea water. Before getting more into it I would like to have some guidelines from you.
            If you can :)
            my mail id is skhari.m@gmail.com.
            Hoping to get touch with you soon. thanks

  3. Bob Frantz says:

    I live in Florida and decided to try NSW about 2 years ago. The results have bee great, and I would never go back to salt mixes. I recently set up a 135 gallon tank and used nothing but water I collected from the ocean. The colors of the fish and corals are much more vivid using the real stuff, plus the plankton in the water feeds the sponges. I collect water from the same beach, about 20 feet from shore, always between 30 minutes after low tide and 30 minutes before high tide to ensure I am getting the freshest water possible. I’ve stopped testing the water because the readings have always been exactly the same – pH 8.2, Ammo, Nitrites, Nitrates and Phosphates all 0, Alk at 11dKh, calcium at 480. Even the salinity never changes, probably because there is no runoff where I collect. The most I ever do to the water is filter it through a linen napkin when the waves are turbulent and there is a lot of sand in the water.

    • Jeff Kurtz says:

      Chris and I are both envious, Bob! Just another inducement to move to Florida as soon as we’re able. (These Ohio winters are getting really tiresome!). We’d love to see photos of the tank as it progresses if you’re interested in sharing them.

    • Chris Aldrich says:

      Yes, very envious! I’ll also second Jeff on the request to see your aquarium when you have a moment to send a few pictures.

      • Bob Frantz says:

        I would love to post a few pictures, I just need to find a camera that will take decent photos. I tried my phone camera, but the fish just look like a blur. I’ll see if I can borrow a decent camera and post some pictures.

        • Great! Thanks Bob!

          • I am not sure he is going to post those photos…

          • Bob Frantz says:

            I can’t seem to find a way to upload picture. Please enlighten me.

          • "Caribbean Chris" Aldrich says:

            Hi Bob – you’ll need to use a service, such as Photobucket, to host your photo and then copy-paste the embed code right into the comment. That’s how Paul B does it when you see him adding photos to a comment here and there.

            I hope this helps and I look forward to seeing it!

          • Bob Frantz says:

            My tank sits outside, so it’s hard to get a picture without reflections in the glass. The first photo is a daytime shot when the sunlight is shining through the glass into the tank.

            This second shot was taken at night using the tank lights.

            You’ll have to excuse the poor quality, as I only have the camera on my phone. This is my 265 gallon plywood tank which I built 3 and a half months ago to replace the smaller 180 gallon tank I set up over 2 years ago.

            The tank gets 4 hours of direct sunlight per day in the winter and 45 minutes in the summer. I have various soft corals and sponges growing in the tank. Every now and then, something new pops up but is usually eaten by a butterfly or angel.

          • Bob Frantz says:
    • Charity Main says:

      I have a question, do you use beach sand in your tank? I did this but I’m thinking that’s why it’s so cloudy. What do you use for the floor. Thanks

      • Bob Frantz says:

        I use CaribSea Aragonite. I think the beach sand is mostly silica sand and will cause algae problems later on. The water is usually slightly cloudy from stirring up the sand when first put in, but this clears up after a day or two.

    • I live in Bradenton, FL and became interested in collected NSW for my two year old 30 gal Florida biotope tank after going on a field trip with the Marine Science classes at a local high school. The students were collecting water and critters for their aquarium projects. The students collect the water and critters and dump straight into their tanks.

      I decided to try NSW because my tank includes sponges, gorgonians and macro algae — I’ve had challenges keeping the sponges healthy and thought sea water might provide more nutrients for them.

      For the past month I have been using NSW for my water changes. I started out using water from the 59th Street boat ramp area–the place where the students collected their water and critters. After comparing the water parameters, I decided the water was too brackish and dirty–although my gorgonians seemed to like it. I switched to collecting water off the beach from Anna Marie Island. My collected parameters have remained constant without filtering.

      ph-8.4
      NH3/NH4- 0 ppm
      NO2- 0 ppm
      NO3- 0 ppm

      Obviously two months is too short a timeframe to reach any conclusions but so far, so good. And it gets me to the beach at least once a week. What’s not to like…

  4. I live in the Maldives and I’ve been collecting saltwater, fish, corals and inverts for about 2 years now and I’ve had no problem, I just go to the beach at high tide to collect water and at low tide i go into the lagoon to catch my organisms. I’ve had no problems with any of it, I just collect them and put into the tank. Though I do leave the fish in a quarantine tank for about a week before introducing them into the main tank.

    • Jeff Kurtz says:

      Thanks for sharing, Nawaf! I would love to have the ability to collect my own water and livestock! Unfortunately, Ohio is pretty far from any suitable collection site (unless you’re planning to keep bluegill or some such).

    • Hi Nawaf,

      I need some help on starting salt water aquarium. Can you please send me you email or contact. I need to ask you few question since I Live in Maldives as well.

      Thanks in advance.

    • @nawaf
      Is the coral cured before putting it in the tank.? I heard so much that curing is important

      • Tammie Earl says:

        I don’t cure anything. I go straight from the beach to my living room. But remember I don’t collect live rock or coral because it’s illegal in Hawaii.

    • Thats exactly the same scenario I have here in Okinawa. Those tide pools are gold you’ll even get an eel & mini octo from time to time… Too Cool!

  5. James Wing says:

    I have been thinking about collecting my be 50 Gals. of salt water and starting a small distillation operation just to get an idea of how much fresh water I can get out of 50 gals of salt water.
    I need to find a place to pump it from locally (Oxnard)

    James G. Wing 818 915 6998

    • "Caribbean Chris" Aldrich says:

      Sounds like quite an interesting project, James. I’m sure any of your local fish stores would be able to help you out with a pump. If not, check out an online retailer. Good luck!

  6. Jose Ponce says:

    Are their any ideas on harvesting the marine layer for water?

    • Jeff Kurtz says:

      Hmm, I’m afraid I don’t have any insights on that, Jose. Any other salties out there have thoughts to contribute?

  7. Jose Ponce says:

    Is the marine layer primarily made up of salt water?

  8. Brant "Sirrealism" On the forums says:

    I live in FL on the gulf side north of Tampa. I have been in the reef hobby for 20+ years and have just started looking at using NSW. I have a boat and know some places not to far from shore “300 or so yards” where the water is so clear I can see the bottom at 12+ feet. I have 4 reefs in my house = 500+ gallons so I go through a lot of water. My thoughts on this is to use a 12v bilge pump to get water from about 6′ depth and pump it into drums in my boat 3X 30g drums. Back at the boat ramp I have 2 55g drums in the truck that I will use the same bilge pump to transfer the 90 g to the 55g drums. Once home I have 2 more 55g drums that have mixing pumps in them to keep the water moving. I am thinking about using one of my 25 micron socks as the filter when I am pumping the NSW into the boat.
    I am going to try this, this weekend. I am only going to do it to one tank to see how it works. Any suggestions would be great. I have been fallowing Paul on the forums for many years and his tank is fantastic so if he can do it there is no reason we cant. I would love to know where Bob Frantz lives in FL. Gulf side or Atlantic side? I would think the Atlantic side would have cleaner water then the gulf

    • Jeff Kurtz says:

      Sounds like you’re on the right track to me, Brant, and you definitely do want to filter the water through a micron sock or plankton filter as you collect it. The only other point to consider is whether you might want to treat the water further before using it, either chemically with something like chlorine or by storing it in darkness for a few weeks, in order to ensure any potential nasties have been killed off. (There are definitely differences of opinion on that!) Let us know how it goes!

    • James Wedel says:

      I live on the Gulf, south of Tampa and have been using NSW for over forty years. I have a large boat which I take about 1-3 miles offshore, use a submersible utility pump to fill 18, thirty-two gallon garbage cans, and when I return home, I use the same pump to transfer the water to my storage area. I run the water through a 100 micron sock at the point of collection, and have the option of running it through a two micron filter at my home, but rarely do. I do not check water parameters anymore because they are always perfect. I do 25% water changes weekly in both of the main tanks (210 and 90) and have never had a problem. I also never lift a bucket of water as I have plumbed in water lines that run from the storage area directly into the tanks (with the overflow for the excess water going directly into the sewer system). For me, it is a matter of convenience and accessibility.

      • Hey, sounds like a pretty nice setup for you :). May I ask how you store the water without it “going off”. For example is it chilled,? n the dark? or has some kind of flow? Thanks

      • Jeff Kurtz says:

        Sounds like a pretty neat system you’ve got in place, James. Forty years of success using NSW can’t be a fluke!

  9. Paul Baldassano says:

    If I lived in Fl near the sea or even here in New York near the sea, I would put a pipe into the water and continuously pump it into my tank. Of course here I would have to remove the ice chunks first. I would not do anything to it as the fish in the sea seem to do fine with absolutely no tweeking or filtering. There is no better water than natural. I realize people feel there are nasty things in sea water, but there is something I like to call those people, that thing is “wrong”. NSW is great stuff as long as you collect it in the ocean and not in some cesspool, river, estuary or the East River in Manhattan which is where my initial water came from. I certainly didn’t have to seed it with bacteria as there was so much bacteria in there that they were doing the Macarena. ASW is fine if you, like some people who’s name I won’t mention live in Ohio for some reason. If you could get natural water it is a no brainer. It is better and certainly cheaper (except for that Ohio thing)
    ASW has 80 or so chemicals in it. NSW has not only those chemicals but it also has vitamins, components of algae, dissolved meteorites, whatever is in the sulfur vents at the bottom of the sea, elements that the sun converts to other elements, wash water from Columbus underware and Amelia Earhart’s shoe. We are not sure if fish and corals need these things but they evolved with them and thousand of other elements that we don’t or can’t test for.

    • Carrie Hollister says:

      I grew up in Ohio. Lived in Milwaukee for a few years. Moved back. Got married again and talked about moving to Myrtle Beach and finally made the move after 18 years.
      40 minutes away from the beach is nice and we have no plans on moving back.
      Anyways, I had a saltwater tank 13 years ago and miss it so.
      Just bought a 29g from a friend and am thinking of going as close to natural as possible. I figure a smaller tank would be great to try this with.
      I don’t think collecting the sand a rock will be an issue and since I work at a wonderful place on the beach and the parking garage is right there i should be able to collect the water with no problem.
      Since it will be a new set up and I have to cycle it, can I just set the tank up water and all without filtering?
      I’d like to see what kinds of hitch hikers I may end up with.

      • Jeff Kurtz says:

        I’d say a 29-gallon is a pretty good size for such an experiment. Whether you filter the natural sea water in advance is a matter of preference. I’m pretty cautious, so my choice would be to filter the water through a micron sock or plankton filter, but as you can see from Paul’s comment above, there are very different opinions on the subject.

        Also, before collecting any rocks or sand, you might want to verify with your local DNR whether there are any restrictions on doing so. Always better to be safe than sorry!

        • Carrie Hollister says:

          Didnt filter the NSW.
          This tank is sort of for fun until I can get my dream tank which will be at least a 55g.
          Went to the beach yesterday to scoop up some sand and water, and tossed in a few rocks.
          still need a bit more water and rocks but started setting up the tank.
          A few hours later, I go check on the tank and I definitely have some hitchikers. There were trails on the sand bed and pairs of tenticles in several places.
          Looke like they suck the water or sand.
          I also put in some dead (?) coral pieces that I found over a week ago. However one of the pieces has softened up quite a bit.
          It was an instant ecosystem and my kids and I get our kicks just seeing what we find in there.
          I looked for i,ages of these tenticles things but can’t find a sure answer.
          Is there a site that is not outdated that I can post the pic?

    • To Paul Baldassano: Your comments were hilarious. Love the Columbus and Earhart bit. . . . .

      I’ve been thinking about using NSW off the Savannah GA coastal area (not the most ideal I know) – going to run with it after reading your comments. I’m going to collect fish from the same area I’m collecting the water. It’s true the oceans organisms have evolved within such a varied environment, personally I want to bring in the plankton, the bacteria, the little algae, the minerals, etc – because I know these things somehow must contribute to the overall health of oceanic organisms. Just because we haven’t considered the benefits or don’t know about them – doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Think about the human body for instance. 9 out every 10 cells in or on the human body are not out own. When we sterilize ourselves too much, or sterilize our diets too much – we start getting weird diseases and syndromes that take years for doctors to figure out. . . . Yes. we’d be living in the dark ages if it wasn’t for the technologies developed since the industrial revolution – – yet I still wish to make the point – that whats natural is often, what is best. Even though its true – that there are very few things left in the ‘natural’ environment that are indeed ‘natural’ or haven’t been altered in some way by us. Whats – New. I digress.

  10. Bob Frantz says:

    Brant, I collect my water at Sunsplash Park in Daytona Beach, about a half mile south of the pier. I think as long as you collect water in the Gulf (not Tampa Bay) you should be ok. I tried Tampa bay and the water looked dirty and the salinity was only 1.016. I collected once from Clearwater and that was nice and clear, but the Atlantic is closer to where I live (55 minutes) so I just go there. I just wade out from the beach, always on the incoming tide, and collect the water, then run it through a linen cloth to filter out any pests and sand. It’s been 2 years now and it’s worked out great, never had a problem with the water.

  11. Brant "Sirrealism" On the forums says:

    Thanks guys. I am going to do this and sorry to say I am not doing anything to the water. I spent 4 hours yesterday reading about doing this and the few that do it with little to no filtering I think have it right. What is the point of using NSW if your going to treat it. You want all the live stuff in there! you dont want to kill it and then you would have the waist of all the dead stuff. The idea is for your corals and fish to have all the live stuff. The one thing I think that is most important is after collecting water is to get it into your tank as fast as you can so you dont have the die off and your corals and fish can benefit from all the life in the water. If I was going to kill everything in the water then I may as well just use my RODI system and synthetic salt. The one thing I did read is that NSW does not have as good of buffering for Alk and Ph. “Bob Fenner WWM” He said that NSW loses it ALK and PH faster so it should be changes more often. Does anyone else agree.
    Like Paul I dont want to run a sterile system. Yes you can have a fantastic sterile system but then you are adding things all the time to feed. Why not just use the life that natural.
    On another point that a lot of people dont know. The gulf of mexico is full of corals. Maybe not the corals that most keep in there systems but there is a lot there. i am a diver and have dove the gulf for 20 years. Just a couple weeks ago I was of snorkeling a channel by clearwater and found a bunch of zoas under a bridge. This tells me that the water is good enough right there and there is a bunch of boat traffic under that bridge. Now I am not going to collect right there but the point is they are thriving in gas filled water. The system I am going to try NSW in first is my Zoa system. 40b with over 100 different zoas. I believe the zoa system will do very well with NSW. I will admit I am not ready to use it in my SPS Clam system yet only because I dont know about this buffering thing yet. In my SPS Clam system I go through 1G of homemade Alk per week and 1G of homemade Cal every 3 weeks. So I a nervous of using NSW until I under stand how much I might have to change my dosing.
    Jeff and Chris I thank you for the advise of cleaning the water as I understand that its the norm to do so. I will keep everyone posted on how this goes. By the way how do you add a pic?

    • Bob Frantz says:

      A couple of things I’ve learned about not treating the water (I don’t treat it) –

      1. If you have newly purchased or stressed fish, most will develop bacterial infections and die. If your fish have been in the tank for a least a month, they are highly resistant to any bacteria in the water in the water and will not be affected by it. If you are introducing new fish to a tank that has been using NSW for a while, quarantine the fish for 4 weeks in NSW and treat the quarantine tank with a tri-sulfa antibiotic for the first week.

      2. Particularly in the summer time, there are a lot of flukes (flat worms) in the water, at least where I collect. They are easily filtered out through a linen cloth while everything else, bacteria and phytoplankton, pass right through.

      Good luck with your experiment. Let us all know how it goes.

    • Jeff Kurtz says:

      It’s our pleasure, Brant! And we totally understand your justification for not treating the water beyond filtering it. Best of luck, and please keep us posted on how the NSW collection goes and how it affects your livestock. I wish I had the option of going natural, but I’m a bit far removed from the ocean for that!

    • I think I would agree with this for people who live in warmer climates, however I may have the wrong type of life in the water up here in Maine for my tropical fish and invertebrates. I do chlorinate because I am cautious about it the way I would be about accidentally introducing invasive species from water equipment I use in Maine and than again in Florida. I bleach and rinse it to prevent being responsible for killing marine life ignorantly with northern hitchhikers. I am not a marine biologist and I’d be concerned about the difference even in micro fauna or the different types of plankton so I have done this as a precaution. If anyone else collects water from the north to use for their tropical animals, but has had success without treatment, could you please let me know? I would love to discontinue the use of chlorine because of phosphates. The current treatment is chlorine, coffee filter and high quality activated carbon. Thanks so much.

      • Prior to doing this, I spoke to my friend who is a marine biologist about water parameters in different parts of the world. She said as far as chemistry goes, ocean water is pretty much the same (or very close to it) all over the world. Large differences happen near melting polar ice, brackish water and areas where rivers dump into the ocean and places with lots of land runoff, or sewage systems and anywhere near factories or industrial settlements, but anywhere you go where the water is not affected by these elements, you are going to find very close to the same thing. Climate differences such as temperature changes and average temperatures as well as pollutants are going to have the largest effects on the diversity of marine life. The closer you get to shore, the more the minerals will change as well too because these things are different from place to place. This is why land run off will affect your water quality so much. This is second hand advice based on one Q&A with one marine biologist. I would encourage you to do added research for yourself.

    • James Wedel says:

      If you have a deep sand bed with coral sand (or aragonite) your calcium will stay up and stabilized.

  12. Brant "Sirrealism" On the forums says:

    So I wanted to update this. I have done 2 15g changes on my 40b bare bottom with a 25g sump which totals about 55g. To be honest everything looks about the same. No neg accept that my skimmer goes crazy for about 4 hours. Because of this I turned off my skimmer on the 2nd water change over night. Corals seem very happy. Because of the tides its been late in the evening when I have been getting water pretty late at night so I have not really taken the time to look at the tank at night with a flashlight. I am going to keep doing it and I will continue to post with what I find. I am also going to collect pods. I have collected them in the past and my fish love them

  13. Hi i have recently decided to set up a marine tank (200 litres) using the NSW here in the arabian gulf. I have managed with great difficulty to fill my tank with what i think is the cleanest water i have access to. I have noticed that a lot of people are saying it needs to be filtered or chlorinated before it is classed as being safe for fish. Is this necessary if I am doing a fish only tank and my set up has a small skimmer on it? im going to use live rock for filtration is this ok?

    • Jeff Kurtz says:

      Hi Miles! Using live rock for biological filtration is ideal. Just be sure that any die-off that might occur on the rock happens before any fish or other animals are introduced to the system. This process can be utilized to cycle the tank.

      As far as the necessity of filtering/chlorinating natural seawater is concerned, there are folks who come down on both sides of the issue. Some contend that doing so is the safest bet with respect to pests and pollutants while others, including our own PaulB, feel it sort of defeats the purpose of using NSW in the first place. Being something of a “Nervous Nelly” myself, I would probably at least store the water in darkness for a few weeks and then mechanically filter it before using it in my tank, but again, opinions differ on that.

      Good luck!

      • Thank you for your quick response. Yeah i thought as much as some people are saying they have not had any problems. But then i guess it depends on the quality of the water in the first place. Thanks 4 the info and i will keep you posted on how the tank performs in the coming weeks.

      • Just a helpful note here… Die off on a rock will usually smell “off”. If it smells bad, (I do this typically out of habit anyway and treat for flatworms in the process) I stick it in a five gallon QT tank and let it cycle for about a month, taking it out once nitrites and ammonia drops to zero for a couple of days. Then you can free yourself of unwanted hitchhikers as well as make sure your live rocks are safe to add before adding them to your DT. This is a fantastic hobby and I love seeing new people try it out. Good luck and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. We all do. :)

  14. Nigel Tranter says:

    I have had a marine tank running for about a year now with reasonable success, as I am more interested in inverts so along with the odd small crab I started collecting Beadlet and Snakelock anemones from my local beach of which started to grow and multiply so much so that some had to go back. The Beadlets produced young from the mouth while the Snakelocks seemed to divide in half. All was going quite well but some stuff I could not keep such as pulsing xenia and soft corals even the hardy varieties. Thinking I may be rushing things I let the tank settle down for a while and tried some pulsing xenia again but no so got another fish instead. About two months ago I took the chance of using NSW and wow things have gone absolutely mad, the finger coral that I got some time back has now almost doubled in size so I tried some xenia again and that’s loving it. I don’t treat the water at all after bringing to temperature it goes straight in, no filtering no dark room no adding of anything yes I know I’m taking a chance but wow the results are amazing. Two of my fish a yellow tang and a fox face both love green food so when we collect the water we also take a bucket for small stones with seaweed on them they love it, it doesn’t last for more than about three days before its all gone. I have also found that since collecting the seaweed the life that has come into the tank is amazing ie Pin cushion star fish small Clams Cockles Dog Whelks Sea Slugs Limpets Periwinkles among many others. I hope this has been of some help. Nigel

    • Jeff Kurtz says:

      Thanks for sharing this, Nigel! Very interesting! It seems the more feedback we get on collecting natural sea water, the more I’m convinced it offers certain advantages over artificial. Keep us posted on the tank’s progress. I’ll be curious to see how things are faring in the months ahead. Who knows, natural sea water tanks might even earn their own section on the site at some point if interest keeps growing.

      • Nigel Tranter says:

        My pleasure Jeff and thanks for the feed back yes will do, so pleased with the way its looking at the mo. I keep seeing something new life each day. I only live a 15 mins drive from the beach and I think that’s the key, getting the water into the tank as quick as pos I wouldn’t want to keep the water out for any more than an hour and I collect it on an incoming tide. As I see it the water would be fresh and as a result cleaner.
        Thanks again Nigel

        • Jeff Kurtz says:

          I’m totally jealous! I do live close to a water source–but it’s the “Muddy Maumee.” Not much good for a saltwater aficionado! I guess that’s why Chris and I are always looking for excuses to head for Florida. Best of luck!

        • Hey Nigel, are you from the UK by any chance? I live in Cornwall near the south coast and I’m very interested in doing this in a new 230ltr system and would love to know from anyone who has in a “colder climate” I’m planning on plumbing a 30ltr heavy duty container or two directly to the system for “plug and play” style water changes.
          Cheers, Dom

          • Nigel Tranter says:

            Hi Dom, yes I live about 15 mins from Baiter in Poole Dorset. I see where your coming from But if you are going to use sea water then speed is the essence. We use a 30 ltr container to collect the water, when home we pour the water into a large black plastic bin (dustbin), the empty container is then filled with the old water using the power head to pump the water out via a plastic tube. From what I’ve heard you cant afford the plankton to die….heap big problems… Are you thinking of collecting things from rock pools and so on, if so you should get some good stuff in Cornwall. Let me Know how you get on as I have been using NSW for about 3 months now. Good Luck Dom..

          • Well i’ve got to give it a go then! Lol. Yeah I was thinking of having the containers plumbed so I literally detach 30ltrs of old water and replace with 30ltrs new, that make sense? Tempted by a cold water system, I take it yours is then? Not added any fishshop livestock etc?
            Dom

          • Sorry just re-read your post. Duh… Have you had to take any special precautions adding non UK livestock? Thanks will update :)

          • Nigel Tranter says:

            Hi Dom, well actually yes I have mixed both cold and tropical together and it works…..well so far it has. The thing is if you take livestock from the beach then its got to be close in to the shore i.e. seaweed and inverts from rock pools, these are the things that are left high and dry when the tide goes out thus salinity and temperature can change rapidly so it turns out they are ideal in a tropical tank. you should have snakelocks and beadlet anemones close in, which you can easily pick up near you. I have 5 different varieties of soft corals including pulsing xenia which has gone mad since I’ve been using NSW. Its also worth noting that 2 of my fish a Yellow Tang and a Fox Face love the seaweed which I bring in on small rocks it doesn’t last for more than about 3 days before its all gone. Its fun seeing the snakelocks divide the beadlets produce the young from the mouth, they are all doing so well that I had to take some back to the beach. what has surprised me is the amount of other living things that come in with the weed. Give it a go Dom once your tank levels are all sorted. Post me any time you want mate its good to talk to someone local….lol cheers Nigel

    • They say about 20% of all tanks are not able to keep Xenia. Don’t feel bad. You are not alone.

      • Jeff Kurtz says:

        Purely anecdotally speaking, I’ve found that Xenia tend to fare poorly in tanks that are really low in dissolved nutrients. This probably makes sense since they derive some of the nutriment they need via direct absorption from the water.

  15. Paul Baldassano says:

    After doing this for many years and listening to other people for many years I personally have never heard of anyone having even one problem, disease or parasite from using NSW. Has anyone ever heard of anything negative happening after using it? I don’t mean a fish or coral died, as that was probably going to happen anyway. I do think that if you run a sterile tank and quarantine everything then your fish will have no immunity from anything and using raw NSW may cause a problem. There are two ways to run a tank, sterile and natural. Both ways have advantages and if you live in Ohio you do not have the option to use NSW. This is a touchy subject and I have strong opinions on it but you can’t really mix a sterile system with a natural one, you need to choose the way you want to go. It’s like dating. You can date an uptown snobbish Supermodel or you can date a farm girl. Both girls could be beautiful, but they probably won’t get along.

  16. I have been using ocean water for a while with great results. Although I get my water from a fish hatchery at wrightsville Beach nc. The water is filtered through their system. All i have to do is a quick salinity check and water temp then rock and roll very easy. Never had one problem.

  17. Claire Thompson says:

    Hi we have had a marine tank with NSW running for over a year, and we collect it from a harbour in the north east of Scotland. It gets pumped up from well below the surface and we let it warm up to room temperature and chuck it in. Never had a problem with the tank or the livestock. We have friends who mix their salt water and they are horrified at the way we are so laid back about it but it works for us and our tank is beautiful!

    • Jeff Kurtz says:

      Thanks for sharing this, Claire! Just out of curiosity, are you keeping tropicals or cold-water species?

      • Claire Thompson says:

        Hi Jeff, we have marine stock in our NSW tank, clowns, a regal tang, orange spot goby, peacock wrasse and a dot dash butterfly as well as an urchin turbo and nitro snails, a pistol shrimp, peppermint shrimp and a boxer crab and blue legged hermits! We have heard all the warnings about using water this way but it honestly works for us! We work closely with our LFS who has over 30 years experience, and is always on hand for advice and assistance! It’s the only way we can afford to run a marine tank. We also have a large tropical tank, an axolotl tank, shrimp tank and a breeding tank where we have successfully bred L059 ancistrus hoplygenys plecs. It is a family hobby and we are all crazy about all our tanks

        • Jeff Kurtz says:

          Sounds like a really neat system, Claire! It’s also great that the whole family is involved. My kids loved the hobby when they were little but have now decided it’s uncool to help ol’ Dad with his tank. Keep us posted on your tank’s progress!

  18. I’ve been using NSW from http://www.SeaWaterDirect.com and use them for all my seawater needs and water changes. Keeping corals, fish, and my whole tank thriving, and looking great for several years. The owner is a master marine biologist that loves marine animals, and the hobby. He can also help if you are looking for a custom tank or critters then visit http://www.AmazingAquarium.com

    • Thanks Eric for commenting. Glad you have been getting great results with http://www.SeaWaterDirect.com. We strive to provide perfect products and service to all our customers. At AmazingAquarium.com we have pictures of our tanks that are all using SeaWaterDirect.com natural sea water for all of our water changes. Collected by a master marine biologist for over 25 years. Our corals & fish continue to thrive and we are pleased with the results at the shop and hear it from our local customers. Our website SeaWaterDirect.com is now shipping Natural Sea Water (NSW) to your door to provide a hassle free safe healthy way to get live ocean water in your tank.

  19. Aloha from sunny Hawaii, Maui!!!
    I’ve done both, sea water and aquarium salt. I used to be so paranoid about bugs and pollutants that I avoided it for the first 7 years into the hobby. I was only 14 then but I wanted to be EXTRA careful and seeing as how none of my fish died of any diseases or water problems I thought that was the only way to go. My brother had caught me a sphex lionfish (Even then I drooled over this fish for weeks and doted on him for years, now they are all but non existent and the last time I caught one about 11 years ago I was offered $200 and I turned it down flat). Anyway I emptied my tank immediately to give my first Sphex the entire 30 gal with red lights and filtration up the wazoo, under gravel, canister 3 times the capacity of the tank, hang on the back filtration and a uv sterilizer for Xmas. Yeah I know, I’m nuts. He was in salt mix the entire time which was about 4 years so that was a good run for a 14yr old kid!
    Fast forward to age 19 and I met my boyfriend who was a bit older than me and was running a tropical fish export business and he kept telling me I didn’t need to make such a big deal and we went around and around on it for 2 yrs until finally I caved but with a caveat. That if he killed my fish by adding sea water I was going to make him catch me all new fish. I had several types of wrasse and butterflies as well as some inverts and a hawk fish. Lo and behold, nothing happened to them, I owed him an apology (but not after a probationary period of a month) and they did fine for years until we released them all because they were getting too big!
    I’ve been in and out of the hobby. Currently in again at the request of the current boyfriend to set up a tank for him. We’re a month in using sea water, we just go collect it on the south shore of Maui just because it’s closest it’s between a harbor and a river mouth but both are a fair distance away and low tide or high tide never seems to makes a difference. I wade out knee deep and catch the water when it’s coming on shore but beyond checking for any turbidity I do absolutely nothing else special. I throw it in the tank as is, 15-20 gallons of the stuff every 3-5 days and the fish keep chugging along and eating like pigs. There’s a bunch of live rock (no corals, that’s a BIG illegal no no here). I shake the live rock off and dunk/rinse the rocks aggressively in the ocean before putting them into buckets. I try to pick ones with no holes going into the rocks because of mantis shrimp and those damn swimming crabs. I have 2 jumbo size mated pair of banded coral shrimp with the female holding eggs, a few hermit crabs, a turbo snail, two juvenile raccoon butterflies, an Auriga and 2 Domino Damsels and a dragon wrasse that my boyfriend insisted on naming ‘Wrassle’…..he’s new to this so I gave him a break lol
    Everything in my tank is under 3 1/2 inches not including my monster size coral shrimp with an almost foot long antenna spread, 3 1/2 inch body length and 4 inches elbow to elbow they are the largest inhabitants of my reef tank.
    In short I’m a fan of natural sea water because of the cost and because I now feel that since they came from it, it has everything they need.
    I didn’t quarantine anyone or chemically treat the tank for obvious reasons but there’s no ich or any disease related problems at all so far and while I don’t recommend this or ever advise anyone to try this at home, the tank was set up and stocked within 4 days…..yeah I know better but due to emergency reasons (a tsunami warning) Half the fish went in the first day and the rest went in the following 2 days. I did this all VERY quickly and caught them and brought them in clean water with 10 extra buckets to fill the tank. I sifted coral sand from the area I caught them at for gravel and they’re all fine and happy so far. GO NATURAL SEAWATER!!!

  20. Nathan Lewis says:

    I’ve been in the reef hobby for a while now only 19 full time job and going to school with another full time job which is my 90 gallon salt water aquarium and of course my 20 gallon hospital tank. I live in Murrells Inlet SC I’ve been collecting NSW since I started the hobby sense I have my own boat and dock it doesn’t take much to go a mile or so offshore to get water and that’s where I’ve found best to get water a few miles off shore less boat traffic water is cleaner I just take 10 5gallon buckets with me full them up then pour them though a micron sock into a 30 gallon trash can and let it sit in there for a week or so let what ever that is in the water die off. One big tip try not to move the trash can after the week or so is over because all that bacteria is now dead at the bottom of the trash can and you don’t want that in your aquarium. What’s better than natural salt water where the fish in your aquarium came from. Hope this helps if anyone knows of a better way or something i could be doing better please fill free to tell me

    • Jeff Kurtz says:

      I think your perspective will definitely be helpful for others considering going the NSW route, Nathan. Thanks for sharing! I wonder if I can convince my wife that moving to the Southeast would be worth it if only for the access to NSW.

    • Sounds like you have a great collection process, keep it up. We have even cured fish & coral issues or problems just by transferring into NSW. If anybody that doesn’t have access wants to use Natural SeaWater (NSW) then they can use http://www.SeaWaterDirect.com to have us ship water from the Florida Atlantic Ocean to your door.

  21. We have been using Natural Sea Water (NSW) from http://www.SeaWaterDirect.com which now ships the water to your door, or is available for local pickup in Daytona, FL. After building and maintaining coral reef aquariums and saltwater fish tanks for over 25 years using SeaWaterDirect.com sea water. We also have corals and fish available for sale at AmazingAquarium.com that are tank raised and have been thriving in SeaWaterDirect.

  22. I live on the island of Oahu, in Hawaii. We will be here for less than 2 more years. I have a 33 gallon fresh water tank but I have completely unhindered access to amazing ocean water and fish and coral and, and, and… Instead of starting my new 55 gallon tank with reverse osmosis water, why not gather sea water? It’ll be a little bit annoying dragging that water around but won’t it be ideal for set up and start up? I plan to gather my fishies from the beautiful reef within minutes of my house, which as far as I can tell, is completely legal. What I don’t know is what the heck the difference is between all the different coral. I’m going to grab sand everytime I get water, and see how this process works out. From Hawaii we are moving to Florida in about 18 months. Is there a way to “save” some of my efforts? Can I ship sand, fish, even some of the water? Can I snag sea water from Florida and stock my aquarium when I move? or should I just sell the whole set-up before I move? This is my first time dealing with a salt-water aquarium. Am I under-thinking this process? I’m just guessing that since I have the perfect start-up situation, that I can skip all the killing (clorox) and undoing of the killing (filtering and what-not) But I don’t think it’s going to be so simple to move it to the mainland. Any insight or internet links that can shed some light on my inexperience MUCH appreciated.

    • Jeff Kurtz says:

      Hi Tammie! I’d say it’s certainly worth trying natural sea water in Hawaii and Florida. But, as Paul B touched upon, I would be reticent about harvesting any livestock in either location without first checking with local regulatory agencies to determine what’s legal and what isn’t and to inquire about any necessary licensing. I also tend to agree with Paul that it might be more practical to start from scratch with new livestock when you get to Florida rather than try to ship animals from Hawaii.

      • Tammie Earl says:

        Well after reading regulations and such I decided to start with nsw and used substrate collected here as well. I also got some beautiful rocks from the shore line and juat stuck it all right in the tank. I bought a new aqueon hang on the tank filter which actually has great reviews. And from the advice of a local at a mom and pop pet store, added a damsel right away. It’s all in the tank! I’ll keep you all posted and will check nitrite, ammonia, nitrate levels but I think this simple system is going to work just fine. I’ll only add more fish as I catch them, but plan to add more rocks when I find aquarium worthy pieces. And I plan to dump 2 gallons and replace with 2 fresh gallons every so often.

        • Jeff Kurtz says:

          It’s great to hear things are progressing well so far, Tammie! Thanks for the update!

          • Tammie Earl says:

            Things are still going great. Harvested about an inch layer of substrate from the shoreline. Then harvested water from the ocean. Didn’t strain at all, just dumped right in the tank. Put a damsel in right away. A week later I had no patience and got a pacific sailfin from petco bc I’m having no luck catching them hahaha! A fee days later bight some clownfish and a goby sifter. The goby died in less than 24 hours so it was on deaths door when I got it. The rest of the fish are super happy. I have a hang on filter and bought a cheap powered on amazon just to keep the water stirred in a dead spot. Interestingly, nitrAtes will get a little high between water changes. Everything else looks great. I change about 20% of the water once a week to 10 days though, bc it’s a brand new tank. Plus I feel the NSW is a GOOD thing for my fish. So I rush home and add the water right away so things don’t have a chance to die off. My take is alive! I have little critters all over the glass (copepods?) And feel that a sterile tank can’t be as healthy as an NSW tank! But I will continue to do 20 % water changes for the remainder of my time on island. No coral or inverts or live rocks are allowed to be harvested here so of course I don’t do that. But if I could, I’d borrow live rocks with plant growth from the ocean so he’d have his natural food to eat.

        • Jeff Kurtz says:

          Glad to hear things are still going well with the NSW tank, Tammie. Thanks!

  23. I would sell the entire thing and collect new water in Florida. I have been to Oahu a few times and would not hesitate to take water from there. It is better than Florida but still IMO much better than fake water or ASW. It is very expensive to mail fish from Hawaii and probably not even legal unless you have a permit. Hawaii is very picky about removing fish from their seas.

    • Tammie Earl says:

      Hawaii allows reef fish to be collected and fished for consumption and personal use, and many people spear fish on these reefs. So collecting a handful of live fish for an aquarium is ok. But you are right, If I tried to ship them, it would cause red flags in their system and it would get ugly. And they don’t allow any coral, invertibrates, or live rock to be harvested so I just have a sand bottom with NSW. wish I could use live rock and rotate it since I go every week, but technically it’s not allowed so I dont, of course. The reason they are so picky is clear. People had made businesses of harvesting live rock, coral, inverts, and fish and were ruining the reefs.

  24. hello guys I’m from Philippines and i am using NSW for my NRT, i’m actually new to the hobby, i’ve been running my NRT for almost a month now, already added a fish into my tank and as far as i can see they are pretty happy, i think i must’ve done it correctly, so what i did i actually followed the advice from this website but i actually stop using chlorine instead i just store it into a dark container for a week. for me NSW is awesome . i started my NRT 3 weeks ago . .

  25. A novice who lives in Coastal South Carolina, started out with a 45 gal system. We used NSW collected in the inlet, sand from the beach, the inlet has no river or large streams flowing into it. No filters, no chemicals added, no storage time for kill off. We also were only putting in local fish, crabs, shrimp, ect that we caught in same inlet, was fun and we learned as we went. Have used pumps and hoses with much success. We stopped getting it from the inlet and went to the beach, at high tides and waited if it had rained with in the last couple of days (we still have near shore storm water drains ), this had worked well but I made the critical mistake of not accounting for evaporation and the SG went through the roof. Killed all but one fish, poor guy. He hung on while we corrected the issue over a 2 month time frame, we just added two fish friends for him after the water finally tested good. Now I’m using tap with chemical additives and Instant Ocean because I had shoulder surgery and collecting from beach is too much right now. Having trouble getting salt to dissolve in water before putting into tank though.

    Lots of great thoughts and ideas shared here that I look forward to trying out. For storage of NSW in darkness, try finding used food grade 60 gal pickle barrels, they are black and have screw down lids and can be bought for about $15.

    What about boiling the NSW to kill off unwanted guests instead of chlorine? What problems can/does this cause?

    In closing, I believe it’s better to go offshore and collect rather than right at the shore when able to do so.

  26. Never boil seawater or dry it. It will change it’s chemical composition. Also don’t dry it as that does the same thing which is the reason they don’t sell dry seawater. Both those things were done years ago with bad results.

  27. I started my current tank with NSW from the Seaside Heights on the Jersey shore. Made sure no Snookies were in it before I added it to the tank. I just dumped it in and went from there. I have been using ASW for water changes since its so cold out. I actually collected my water for the initial set up a few days after Christmas and realized that its a lot warmer to just buy ASW. I was thinking of going to the Manasquan Inlet which has a parking lot right next to the water and using a pump to fill my jugs. I guess timing would be critical there since I don’t think getting water on the outgoing tide would be good with all the crap in the bay and fresh water outlets. Anyone else collect from an inlet? I will surely be collecting NSW during the warmer months.

  28. I collect from a Coast Guard Station on the south shore of Long Island on an incoming tide because that area drains miles of mud flats.

  29. Hi Jeff and thank you for that amazing article. You really got people thinking outside of the box on this and my hat is off to you sir! We seam to be conditioned that ASW is better than NSW but how can that be true, and why are we made to believe that?
    I hope maybe I can shed a little further insight to this. My name is Tom I am a marine biologist with Atlantic Reef Conservation https:ARCreef.com (ARC Reef on social media) We are a state and federally certified aquaculture facility located in Miami, FL. (close to many of you guys). We do much Off-shore, Near-Shore and Inland water testing, reef conservation, creating artificail reefs, and A LOT of data collection. Here is a comparison of our last test dated April 4th. 2016.
    Sample 1 will be called NSW (Nearshore Water) it was taken in Biscayne bay, 1 mile north of the Miami River, on the inland side of the bay 7 ft from a seawall, at a depth of 3 ft. from the surface.
    Sample 2 will be called OSW (Offshore Water) it was taken 3.75 miles off shore from key Biscayne lighthouse in Miami, at a depth of 3 ft. from the surface.

    Salinity: NSW 1.026/34PPT OSW 1.027/36PPT
    Phosphates: NSW 0.006 PPM OSW 0.005 PPM
    Alkalinity: NSW 139 PPM OSW 131 PPM
    Iodine: NSW 0.3 PPM OSW 0.3 PPM
    Nitrate: NSW <0.1 PPM OSW <0.1 PPM
    Nitrite: NSW <0.1 PPM OSW <0.1 PPM
    Ammonia: NSW <0.1 PPM OSW <0.1 PPM
    PH: NSW 8.175 OSW 8.25
    Calcium: NSW 380 PPM OSW 400 PPM

    Conclusion:
    NSW is a great viable option if you are located near an ocean, If not then ASW is an excellent alternative to NSW, and both are probably at better levels that whats in your closed system right now. In our tests it is evident that water taken near shore or within a closer proximity to rivers or sewer run off you will have very slightly lower salinity, PH, and Calcium levels, but well within range. Salinity in most major bodies of water can range from 1.024/32 PPT to 1.028/37.5 PPT, Alkalinity, PH, and other perimeters will differ but only slightly, and not enough to make a difference. So really anywhere in the world, if you live near the ocean, you're pretty much good to go. My only suggestion is to test for nitrates and phosphates if you live downstream from farmland as the fertilizers they use are almost straight nitrogen, if that seeps out to rivers it can escalate those levels, and my second suggestion is to just take your water at high tide if you can.
    Hope this helps a little. We test for more perimeters but I just posted up what I thought people would be most interested in. Most other tests were only marginally different or involved fecal coliform, which I don't think most people would be too interested in lol. Cheers and happy reefing everyone! Looking forward to your next article.

    • Jeff Kurtz says:

      Thanks for your kind words and for sharing all this info and data, Tom! I’m sure this will be very helpful to folks out there who are contemplating going the NSW route!

  30. Hi
    I am currentliy running on ASW, but have been looking at moving into NSW for a while now, I live in the UK in cumbria actually, and 4 miles from where I live is a local marine life aquarium, who actually pump the sea water in from off shore, and do all the filtering on site before they use it themselves.

    Now they will sell me it at £2 per 25ltr barrel, what do people think on this, surely if a commercial aquarium is using it then it shoud be safe for me to use

    • nigel tranter says:

      Hi Neil, sounds like you are onto a winner there, I’ve been using NSW for well over a
      year now with great results and that’s without any filtering I get it strait from the beach
      on an incoming tide. go for it its got to be better than ASW…you will notice a big
      improvement with your corals. Good luck

      Nigel..

  31. This is a great thread and I have learned a lot. A couple questions. First is water temp. I am from the jersey shore like the guy above. The water now is about 62. Should I keep the tank temp at 70? not sure what fish I’ll get but they will be from the tidal rivers and that water will get up to 80 this summer. I will have 110 gallon tank that I will keep in my basement. When I do water changes or add water will I need to have the water at the same temp like freshwater? In the winter the water will be 40 degrees in the ocean and rivers. If the tank lasts would it be ok to add the synthetic salt? Finally any recs on sand? I have read pool filter sand is a good cheap way to fill the bottom. I have two eheims and have also read that a protein skimmer is recommended. I have had many fresh water tanks. Never a salt. Want to go natural. Any tips would be appreciated especially considering my location in nj. Thanks

    • Tammie Earl says:

      I know this isn’t the politically correct answer but this is what I do with success. I gave up caring about water temp. I add the water for salt water fish straight from the ocean with no concern for the water temp. My house is kept around 74-76 and I’m in Hawaii so the water from the ocean is a little warmer I guess. It doesn’t seem to matter. My fish always do kit fine after water changes. My freshwater fish are same. My tap water isn’t chlorinated so I just pour water straight from tap! I use my finger to guess a good temp lol!

    • I collect water from the jersey shore. I just get the water up to 77 and dump it in. I keep tropicals so I’m not too sure what temp you should keep the tank for local species. I would think that whatever the temp you end up keeping the tank at, try to get your water change temp as close as possible to the display tank before adding it. I don’t filter it, but I try to get the temp close. I’m not sure about the sand. I bought the CaribSea sand and keep it under one inch so it wasn’t too expensive.

  32. Andy Norbury says:

    We have a fast growing group on Facebook – Natural Seawater Users UK.( https://www.facebook.com/groups/NSW76/ ) We take water from our cold water and have outstanding tanks, with members keeping SPS and LPS with no problem. Please feel free to come and visit, have a look at the tanks shown. If we can do it with our water, it can be done anywhere. Most members tend to just collect from beaches/piers/jetties and just warm the water up a bit and in it goes.

    Cheers
    Andy

  33. I am from Florida and starting my first saltwater tank, I plan on using nsw from the beach on Santa Rosa island. My ? is when I do too off should I still use freshwater, then use the nsw for water changes.

    • Tammie Earl says:

      If you don’t have a hydrometer/refractometer then yes you’ll probably be fine topping off with reverse osmosis. But don’t top off with sea water bc it’ll end up too high in salinity.

    • Exactly. Top off with fresh, and water changes with NSW.

  34. Doesn’t the phytoplankton and the bacteria help feed your corals, sponges, clams and so on?? And is it legal? Could I collect saltwater and sell it?

  35. I know collecting seawater in New York is legal and it probably is everywhere. The Govt. does not own the sea. They could make a case that your taking protected fish fry or something like that but I doubt anyone would complain. My boat sucks up a lot of seawater and whatever is in it gets mutilated in the boats impellers. I feel the bacteria is beneficial to your system but any plankton will not live very long. If you collect it in cold water, It usually dies in a few hours as the water warms up. If you collect it in the tropics, that plankton should live and provide food for your tank.
    I am sure you can collect seawater, selling it, I am not sure about as the Government does care about you making money, taxes, permits, invasive species and all that.

  36. I just started mine yesterday. Water was cold from upwelling and clean. Got it from the shark river in Avon nj on the incoming tide. I used five gallon buckets to fill 2 32 gallon cans. I used a pump to pump it in to my tank in my basement. I have pool filter sand. Just bought a used remora c skimmer. I have two canister filters. One is just bio and the other has carbon. I’ve read live rock is key to the whole process. I’m going to dive the local river to look for some or find some used as it seems expensive. Any thoughts on that?

    • I’m not sure about New Jersey, but here in Florida you can’t take rocks from the ocean. It’s the same as taking hard coral, which is also illegal. There is an extensive list of fish and invertebrates and some soft corals which are legal to take by the hobbyist with a fishing license, which is free for residents, that limits you to 5 of each species on the list per day. Hobbyists can’t sell what they collect, though. No problem with taking water, or lion fish. No license and no limit on lion fish!

    • Just curious, how cold is the water temp where you collect? Water temp around Ana Marie Island, where I collect is about 88^. I haven’t tried collecting any items. I’m not looking to add much more to my tank–maybe a few Ricordea. My focus is to do a better job of husbanding my sponges.

    • Dean,

      Check the salinity of water from the Shark River. There is fresh water emptying into it so you may need to add some salt if it is low. If you are doing native species from the bay then you won’t need adjusting. I collect directly from the ocean at Island Beach State Park. I am not too far from you.

    • I don’t think you will find good porous live rock in NJ. If you are using a sump by the Marine Pure block and throw it in the sumo. That will be good for biological filtration. Then you can use the local rock for your display.

  37. Trying to add an image, but my comment won’t even post.

  38. Water temp is about 65 degrees right now. Will get to about 75 mid summer. Taking rocks is probably illegal in NJ. Lets cross that off.

  39. Thanks Roy. Was thinking that I might not find what I am looking for in rocks in the river. I don’t have a sump. So far just 2 canister filters and a CPR back pack skimmer that I just hooked up. I am only going to have local fish. I have not done any tests to the water yet. I am going to let it sit for about a week. Does it need to cycle if I am using sea water? I got my water on an incoming tide pretty close to the ocean.

    • Even when using NSW you need to cycle the tank. You need something for the bacteria to grow on/in. Most of our local rock is not porous so there is not as much surface area for bacteria to grow. You will need some sort of filter with biological media, or buy some base rock and let the tank cycle. I used dead rock and threw a dead clam and dead shrimp in there to cycle it. It usually takes about a month to cycle if you do not use live rock.

      • I’ve got bio balls in my canister. Just bought the bottle that starts the cycle. The guy told me to put a couple fish in. I put in two killies. I’ll see how it goes for a week or so.

  40. Ive been using NSW i collect fron Boynton inlet Florida on the incoming tide. The water is clear just throw a bucket off the side of the seawall with rope attached and fill my containers. Sometimes different creatures are included in the water i just throw em in the tank. I do weekly water changes like this.

    • Wow that sounds very cool. How long is it from sea to tank?

    • Sounds cool collecting critters that way. I wonder if there is a similar location in my area? I’ve seen my students collect items in brackish water–didn’t like the water quality in that area –not enough salinity.

  41. I am considering upgrading to a larger tank. What are the ramifications for cycling if I transfer the sand, live rock,etc. to the new tank?

  42. Wow Jeff your article is on fire! It’s great that so many people are taking an interest in NSW collection as an alternative to salt mix. We go to great lengths trying to reproduce reef conditions to such a fine degree and using NSW as opposed to salt mixes I think will help accomplish this end game even better.

    ARC Reef is a certified Marine Research & Aquaculture facility of Live Rock (website on our profile) so I thought who better to chime in on the live rock comments than us. Many coastal states have their own legislation on the matter and additional penalties but there is a federal law that does prohibit anyone in the US from taking live rock from the ocean. The fines and penalties can include confiscation of your vessel and even jail time. Its very harsh. A fish store in the keys did this a year or so ago and the men i believe are still in jail for it. The federal law does NOT regulate removal of live rock that has washed ashore, or as by-catch from trolling. If you do take rocks that have washed ashore I highly recommend soaking them for at least 30 days as they will have die-off present.

    We conduct water sampling every week so I thought I would also chime in again on that as well.
    2 days ago an old sewage pipe burst in the Miami River dumping thousands upon thousands of raw untreated sewage into the river right where it exits to Biscayne bay. The water literally was completely brown. This was an excellent opportunity to show you the literal WORST CASE scenario. I also took a water sample 400 yards away and it was almost normal.

    Temp 85
    Salinity 1.026
    Ph 8.1
    Alkalinity 135
    Phosphates 0.021
    Nitrates 1.82
    Nitrites <0.1
    Ammonia <0.05
    Iodine 0.3
    Calcium 385

    So I'd like to assume that most people would not collect brown water for their tank BUT in the case you did, you're fish would actually be ok. The nitrates and phosphates were the highest that I've ever tested in Natural Seawater BUT might be lower that what's in your tank right now. Nature does a really great job at maintaining good seawater. Whether you collect it in the bay, off a dock, or from the beach you will be just fine.

    Best tips:
    #1) Collect only at high tide. Salinity was 1.025 at low tide and 1.026 at high tide. I have seen calcium at 221 right outside the Miami River on low tide, and at 400 on high tide. So tides do affect the water chemistry quite a bit.
    #2) Don't collect water from a river. Considerable more chance for chemical run off and that the water is brackish.
    #3) Make sure to put a good sealing lid on it. Water containers in a car have a lot of momentum to them and if it gets out will start to rust your car out.
    #4) If you use a DC pump and a car battery jumper box like I have for years, make sure to put a sock over the hose inlet. This will keep your pump working longer and the water you suck up free of debris.
    #5) Don't store the water, put it in your tank within 24 hours. Raw seawater will go bad if it sits with no circulation.
    #6) If you do this often, remember you will need to add freshwater still to account for evaporation. Otherwise you would be increasing the salinity every water change.

    Good luck! ARC Reef

  43. In regards to evaporation and adding fresh water, how would you calculate how much evaporated and in turn how much fresh water to replace it with to not affect the Salinity? My tank is running for about a week now and everything looks good so far. A couple of killies and couple of hermit crabs and some baby spearing. I also noticed that the tank I have has a UV light attached to the stand. I turned it on and the light flickered. Is it worth replacing the bulb and using this?

  44. I also use nsw I collect from marinland on east coast fl they have a pipe 200 yards of the beach for there dolphin aquarium and they don’t mind people collecting as long as you respect there equipment.. 135 gallon reef tank with refugium tons of zoas sticks shrooms montis etc only thing I have problems with are acans pretty sure it’s my fox face or purple tang or chevron tang munchin

  45. How long will the marine fishes withstand without power. We currently lost power for three days and all my fishes were intact except for one blue damsel. I have one Fox face, and Picasso Trigger along with yellow trigger. Are there any tips for long power cuts? I don’t want invest heavily. Also what sort of fish can survive long without power?

    • In regards to being without power, I’d replace at least 20 percent of the water pronto. They need that water oxygenated so fresh would be a good way to help until power is restored. I am surprised your fish have made it this long to be honest.

    • I have a battery powered air bubbler you get from the fishing dept in walmart this will keep oxygenated and move water

      • You will usually get high stress on the fish at 6 hours and deaths starting at 10-12 hours without circulation (depending on tank size, water volume, and how heavily stocked it is). Cooler water may also extend this timeframe. If you can get power to one small pump point it at the surface. Breaking the surface tension of the water is what creates the oxygen. This is a great lesson to all to go buy a battery powered bubbler. They have a small bubbler that takes D batteries and will run for days, it is around $15 on amazon, but worth the price of every fish and coral in your tank. Goodluck to you and your little finned friends.

  46. Paul Baldassano says:

    It depends on where you live because where I live in New York, today it is about 18 degrees outside. If my heat went off, the fish would not live after the temperature dropped into the 60s. If I didn’t have to worry about heat, the fish would live a very long time with no power as long as I supplied oxygen. Here on Long Island our power goes out often and I used to use my SCUBA tank to supply bubbles. A full tank will do that for about a day. In lieu of that, every 15 minutes or so I would remove water from the tank with a plastic container and keep dumping it back in. That supplied oxygen because oxygen only diffuses into the water from surface agitation. I would not feed for a few days as food takes a huge demand on the tank to supply the bacteria with oxygen which use more oxygen than the fish. My tank has gone without power a couple of times for 5 days and I never lost a creature. But that was in the summer. Now I have a generator which was about $500.00 and supplies power to most of my house, especially the boiler.

  47. hi i’m Din..i’m from Malaysia..i want to ask if i at the beginning stage of setting up my aquarium, using artifical sand is too expensive for me, can i use natural sand from the sea and put it in my tank? if possible, how and which method should i apply if i apply/use natural sand? you are an expert in this field..so i’m seeking for your advice and please assist me..thanks

  48. Hi Din, yes you can use natural sand as long as it is not real fine. Here in New York we can’t use our beach sand as it is to fine and no water will get through it. I am not sure what the sand looks like in Malaysia but if it is powder fine, you can’t use it. I think you have coral sand there which should be OK. Just use it like you would any other sand. Sand you buy in a store probably comes from where you live.
    If it is very fine, you can strain out the finer particles and keep the courser sand. The grains should be maybe a quarter the size of a grain of rice or a little less (If there is such a measurement) Or if you put some sand in your hand, you should be easily able to count the grains. It’s a hard measurement to pin point.

    • ooo…thumbs up for u..thank u for your good info paul..i appreciate it thanks again..

    • Great suggestions by Paul. I would just like to add one more. If you take sand from the beach make sure it is natural sand from the ocean. Many beaches have to replenish their sand due to erosion. New sand will either be sucked up from the sea using a barge or trucked in from a quarry on land. If from land the sand can contain silicates which are basically ground up quarts fines. These fines can be sharp if you view them with a stereoscope. These sharp edges can injury some organisms like gobbies and starfish. You won’t really be able to distinguish what type of sand it is by the naked eye. My suggestion is to take a sample and see if it contains any shells. If it has tiny shells in it that’s a good sign that it originated from the ocean. You can also aim a flashlight at it to view for what looks like reflections from glass particles. Quarts silica sand particles will reflect light a tiny bit. If you think it was trucked in I wouldn’t use it as its just not worth the risk when bagged sand is so cheap. I also would not uae play sand from home depot, that is all mined silicate sand. Carib Sea offers many different sand types that all originate from the ocean. So you know it’s calcium carbonate and contains no silica. We also offer sand and our ARC Reef sand is also from the ocean and will never have any silica particles. Hope that helps some and best of luck to you and your tank.

  49. i have an aquarium 30″ W x 60″ (5ft) L x 36″ (3ft) H, which the outlet goes down the sump filter and before into the sump filter, water goes into the UV canister filter then it goes into the sump filter, which there’s layers of sponges and layers of Seachem Matrix – Biofiltration and lastly it goes into water pump section and and pump back into the main tank..for your info, i don’t use protein skimmer instead i replace it with the UV canister filter…and with your good explanation i’ll will use natural sand and natural sea water for my tank..DIY style..hehe

    if you read my method above, is it OK to use this system for my tank? ( if this method success, it will be helpful to everyone who is seeking to make their own reef aquarium tank and help to save lots of money)

    for my main tank i used 2 wave maker, one i put it at the bottom (left ) and one i put it at the top 5″ before the water level for good water circulation, all the fish poop will be washed away by the wave maker and the water will be flowed down to the filter sump tank and i’ll put some sea snail to do the clean up..like a garbage truck..hehe

  50. I don’t see a problem with it as long as I said, your natural sand is not real fine. I also do not believe you need the UV filter, but it probably will not hurt anything.
    It won’t replace a skimmer because they do entirely different things.

    • thank you very much Paul.. for your explanation..for my natural saltwater tank which i already mentioned, is it compulsory for me to use protein skimmer? or can i skip using the skimmer?

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