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When creating a salt water aquarium, is it possible to choose a variety of plants and sea animals such that the tank does not need water filtration or water aeration?

For example, can I count of a sufficient supply of plants to provide oxygen in a home aquarium?

Also, can I select certain bottom feeding sea animals which will keep the tank clean of things like algae?

Or am I likely to have to have some form of external aeration and filtration to keep the tank stable and healthy for its inhabitants?

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First, a few points. In general my experience is that the level of maintenance required for an outdoor aquatic environment is inversely proportional to size. A larger environment is far easier to maintain than a smaller environment.

Secondly, remember that plants produce oxygen using sunlight as an energy source. Indoors, you are going to have a very hard time doing this. The light level is much, much lower. Light is going to be an important factor, but remember also that light relates to heat...

If you do it successfully you are going to have huge numbers of plants and very few fish, probably in a very big aquarium. Note that the plants would both pull nitrogen from the water and put oxygen in.

In an outdoors environment your options are quite limited by the fact that this is salt water so you have to pay attention to salinity and you can't drain water off into, say, your garden.

So while I think this is possible, I think it would look very very different from a typical aquarium.

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In the ocean tidal effect and sea currents circulate vast quantities of water. You'd have to find a way to duplicate that effect. Also like Chris said such an aquarium would have to be big. By big I actually mean huge. Like stop thinking in gallons and start thinking in cubic yards.

There are two alternatives, though. An aquarium that showcases low oxygen life instead of fish. Or manual aeration. By manual I mean using human labor or a wind powered pump.

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    I like the "low oxygen" idea. That would be a kind of marine zen garden.
    – OCDtech
    Feb 22 '13 at 18:19

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