Essential Saltwater Parameters to Consider When Building a Home Reef Aquarium

After building your saltwater aquarium or reef tank, it’s time to fill it up with a splash of color from a range of coral reefs, mushrooms, rocks, and other exotic invertebrates. However, building a tropical coral reef environment requires patience because it takes time for coral to grow and rock gardens to find inhabitants, which plays a host to coral reefs and other aquatic saltwater animals.

If you are a beginning aquarium hobbyist, perhaps you’re more focused on what goes in your reef tank and considering things like soft frag pack and hard frag packs. However, if you need to achieve a healthy aquarium environment for all your coral and invertebrates, it’s important to understand the different saltwater parameters and how they impact marine life.

Parameters of Thriving Reef Aquarium

Creating a tropical coral reef environment like that in the ocean needs a delicate balance of the right salt mix to support the reef ecosystem including the corals and exotic saltwater animals. Here are some of the most vital water parameters necessary for a successful reef tank.


Reef-building corals are highly sensitive to low temperatures, and they won’t grow either. Though there are varieties of corals thriving in different temperature conditions, most natural corals will tolerate a temperature of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s recommended your reef tank to have a temperature range of between 73 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit, the ideal temperature for hindering algae proliferation.

Keeping the temperature range consistent will help you control temperature-related issues within the reef tank and support the growth of corals, along with other aquarium creatures. Depending on where you stay whether, in a hot or cold region, you’ll need an aquarium heater or chiller to ensure constant reef temperature.

Alkalinity (ALK)

Another water parameter sensitive to the coral ecosystem. While most experienced aquarists maintain their ALk between 8-12, the recommended level is between 8-10. When alkaline levels have dropped ether due to salt imbalances caused by adding water, there’re several chemicals such as sodium bicarbonate you can add to restore the alkalinity level to normal. But you’re also advised to gradually increase the ALK to avoid inducing osmotic shock on the marine life.

Saltwater pH Levels

While exotic corals and fish have varying preferences for pH, the optimum and recommended pH level for reef aquariums is between 8.1 to 8.4. However, pH level often fluctuates during the day and at night due to change in light intensities. During the day when the reef is exposed to light the pH increases and decreases at night when lights are off. Additionally, pH is considerably affected by the increase and decrease in the CO2 especially during winter when the house of often packed, thus increasing the level of carbon dioxide produced.


Salinity is a vital component of the saltwater and its often the first parameter to be tested. When adding salt in your reef, ensure you do it slowly while testing the salinity level to attain the optimum level, which should be around 1.025 or 35ppt. Ensure you always monitor the salinity levels otherwise, imbalances could cause marine shock. You’ll need a refractometer to measure the salinity.

Other important saltwater parameters include phosphate, calcium, magnesium, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. But ideal salt levels must always be maintained to enrich the tropical coral reef environment.

Choosing The Right Coral for Your Home Reef Aquarium

Coral frags are considered the most important decorative elements in a reef aquarium as they add a pop of color for a beautiful display. Most importantly, corals secrete calcium carbonate which helps fish develop strong skeleton, as well as a nutrient-rich habitat for a variety of marine life.

There are two types of corals normally used in reef tanks, which are hard coral and soft coral. Whether you choose a hard or soft coral frag pack, these elements are bound to give your reef a nice display of colors, especially the vibrant colors from soft corals frag pack.


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