Saltwater Fish Tanks for Beginners

You have a wider choice of fish in a saltwater aquarium.
i Aquarium image by Stefan Richter from

A saltwater aquarium presents a great challenge compared to a freshwater aquarium. The fish require more specific water conditions, cost more and often require particular foods. However, if you want to graduate to a more complex hobby, saltwater aquariums allow you to own vibrantly-colored fish with interesting behaviors.

Special Challenges

Saltwater fish are more delicate, expensive and time-consuming to care for than freshwater fish. Saltwater fish come from a very stable environment. Unlike freshwater fish, the temperature and chemistry of their home water rarely changes. Because of this, they need immaculate water and frequent maintenance to keep them going. Additionally, saltwater aquarium equipment and fish are much more expensive than their freshwater counterparts. The fish are more rare (raising their price) and the equipment is more advanced, making any mistake much more costly.

Types of Saltwater Tanks

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There are several types of saltwater aquariums: the fish only, fish only with live rock (FOWLR), and the reef tank. A fish only tank is simplest to take care of, and only contains fish. A FOWLR setup contains fish and live rock. Live rock is dead coral skeletons that have been colonized by helpful bacteria that help maintain the water. It costs more than a fish-only setup, but functions better. A reef tank contains both fish and diverse invertebrates. However, it also presents the most challenges, keeping both fish and inverts happy.

The Tank

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Take care in selecting your tank. A larger tank of at least 55 gallons is recommended for salt water. A large tank is more forgiving of beginner mistakes. However, you can "cheat" by having a sump, a reserve of water plumbed into the main tank. You will also have to decide between glass and acrylic. Acrylic is lighter, and insulates the tank better, but can scratch. Glass is heavier, but scratch-resistant.

Fish Species

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You should take great care in selecting your fish. Damselfish and chromis are related fish. Both are colorful, but damselfish are generally more aggressive. Clownfish are another popular choice. In the wild, they live among the tentacles of a sea anemone. However, clownfish do not require anemones to survive; anemones are difficult to keep anyway. You might also try gobies, which like to burrow and cling to rocks. Gobies come in many vibrant colors.

Fish to Avoid

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As a beginner you should avoid some species, unless you want to do a lot of homework, spend a lot of time and risk learning costly mistakes with expensive animals. Sharks and rays are attractive fish, but require huge aquariums and immaculate water. Seahorses also present problems. They get along poorly with other fish and invertebrates and are picky eaters. Additionally, avoid invertebrates like jellyfish. They require specially-built low-flow aquariums with rounded corners.

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