Setting Up Your Aquarium

This page contains a compilation of information gathered from various sources and is part of The Galveston Bay Project - a professional development program for K12 teachers in the Houston Area.

Before you can collect your specimens, you must obtain and set up your aquarium. Here are the items you need to have.

  • Aquarium - the larger the aquarium, the easier it is to maintain
    20 gallon size or larger is recommended - It needs a lid with a light.
  • Small or crushed shells to use as substrate - enough to provide a 2 inch layer in the bottom. These should be gathered from a beach if possible. The bacteria present will help in setting up the right environment for your aquarium.
  • Filter(s)- there are differing views concerning the type of filter, I use an under gravel filter on the bottom along with a biological filter that hangs over the edge of the aquarium on the back - many people have success using only one or the other.
  • A good strong air pump - this helps an under gravel filter work appropriately and helps to provide sufficient oxygen in your tank.
  • Plastic tubing to connect all the parts
  • T - fittings as necessary
  • Airstone
  • A simple heater if your room gets very cold in the winter.
  • A Thermometer
  • Hydrometer to determine salinity - the plastic type can be purchased in most fish stores and are easy for students to use.
  • A small net
  • A clean 5 gallon bucket (usually very cheap at a store such as Home Depot)
  • You might want a few plastic plants to provide a more interesting environment for your animals.

The aquarium setup is basically the same as that for the freshwater tank with the exception of the substrate. The shell helps to provide the correct environment for your animals.

  1. Set up your filters according to the directions that come with them, add about two inches of substrate and fill with water. Allow the water to sit for a couple of days so the chlorine will dissipate or add a chemical to decholrinate the water immediately (this is available at any fish shop).
  2. Now it is time to add the salt to the water. I use Instant Ocean and have had good results. Use the bucket to mix the salt and water insted of putting the salt directly into the aquarium. Check with the hydrometer to create the same salinity as the water where the animals have been living. This may mean a trip to the area prior to your collecting trip.
  3. Place the lid, light, heater, thermometer and any plastic plants you may want to include, then plug in the equipment and make sure it is running properly. Allow the aquarium to run like this for about 2 weeks. This will give the bacteria time to grow and create a healthy environment for your system. This is the hardest part for me. I hate to wait!

Setup and filtration information can be found all over the web. Although these are geared for freshwater aquariums, the information is still relevant and useful.

Now you are ready to Collect your inhabitants. Check the FAQ for answers to common questions.

Note: You may not collect any type of wildlife without the appropriate license. Check the requirements for your state. Teachers in Texas may contact Rosie Regner, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department at

||current teacher programs || other outreach ||resources || home || contact info||
Last Updated 04/06/04- Questions and comments concerning this page may be directed to Marty Daniel.