Saltwater aquarium sand is not just any old sand; it generally comprises of what is commonly known as “live sand”. Live sand is a substrate that has been sourced from a coral reef, or alternatively, it is cultured from non-living coral sand. (Read also another substrate for the aquarium here). The term “live” refers to the micro and macro-organisms that are naturally present within the substrate. Live sand provides your underwater ecosystem with beneficial bacteria aiding in water purification and general stability. The microorganisms within your aquarium sand will assist in consuming organic waste within the substrate layer in addition to providing a natural source of food for many of the inhabitants.
Regular types of sand such as beach or builders sand must be avoided at all costs. Not are many of them unsightly in an aquarium, they commonly contain silicates which will almost guarantee algae problems in your aquarium that you will find impossible to rectify. Saltwater aquarium sand must consist of live sand or aragonite material.
Where to Buy Live Sand for Saltwater Aquarium?
It is recommended that saltwater aquarium sand be purchased from reputable dealers specializing in reef aquariums. You should source live sand from suppliers who obtain it directly from the ocean or specialize in the cultured live sand. It is not possible to visually identify live sand, therefore, buying from a reputable dealer will ensure you are buying a quality product. If you are having your live sand shipped, ensure that the transit time is minimal as die-off can occur. The quicker you can get it, the better and more effective it will be during the cycling process of your tank.
How Much Sand Should I Use?
It is important to regulate how much live sand is being used as too much will increase the biological load of the tank, therefore, putting a higher strain on your filtration equipment. If filtration equipment is not filtering water at the correct levels, the saltwater aquarium ecosystem will be under threat and algae growth will occur. As a general rule of thumb, enough saltwater aquarium sand should be added to the tank to provide a 1-3/4 to 2 to 2-inch substrate layer. For a more accurate measurement, you should be using approximately 1.45 pounds of saltwater aquarium sand per gallon. Therefore for a 55-gallon tank you will require 80 pounds of the substrate.
How to Add Saltwater Aquarium Sand
Essentially when it comes to adding your substrate there are three different setup options available. When setting up your aquarium you can choose to have 100% live sand. However, this can be very costly. Sometimes this can be detrimental due to the large biological load added to the tank at once and can strain your filtration equipment.
Alternatively, a combination of live sand can be mixed with another suitable substrate. Mixing the two will allow the conversion of the non-living part into the live sand as the bacteria and micro organisms multiply and colonize through the entire mix. This is much more cost effective and will only require a slight increase in cycling time. Aragonite is a common type of substrate used to mix with live sand and is much cheaper at approximately $1 per pound.
If you are on a tight budget, the final option is to use 100% non-live sand. The non-live substrate will convert to live sand over time with the increase of bacteria and microorganisms in the tank naturally, alternatively, there are additives to speed up the process. Generally, this method will increase your overall cycling time greatly. This is not recommended if you are impatient!
When adding the live sand for saltwater aquarium it should be done at a slow pace as to avoid disturbance to the water and clouding. Do not pour the substrate directly over any live rock as this will suffocate them causing oxygen depletion and possible death.
Maintenance of Saltwater Live Sand
Your substrate layer will also require cleaning as part of your ongoing saltwater aquarium maintenance. Mainly regular siphoning of the saltwater aquarium sand may be needed to remove any excess waste or uneaten food matter. However, the secret to this task is the addition of janitors or cleaners to your tank.
Your aquarium should incorporate inhabitants that will stir or turn over the live sand. This will ensure excess food matter and waste is filtered and keeps the saltwater aquarium sand in a continual cleaning cycle. There are a variety of crustaceans, fish, and invertebrates from hermit crabs to starfish that will not only turn over the substrate but also recycle waste matter and excess food, making your job easier. Just like adding any inhabitant to your tank it is important to do your research and ensure that they are compatible with your existing creatures.