This is a question I see on the forums at least once a week. People wanting to dip their toes into the world of keeping marine fish, but being told or having heard they are more difficult to keep than freshwater fish puts them off.
20 years ago, saltwater fish keeping was a different kettle of fish, it was difficult and only the most dedicated aquarist was able to keep anything alive. Technology and research has now made it possible for even a complete beginner to have a beautiful saltwater aquarium.
I want to explore a few different options in this article for people in just this situation. The ones who are thinking about starting a saltwater tank, but have heard they are too difficult to keep. I was one of you just 2 years ago!
Fish Only (FO Tanks) are probably the cheapest introduction to saltwater tanks. You can see what is needed in the article – What do I need to set up a saltwater aquarium?
With these systems, once you are up and running and your tank has completed its cycle, there really isn’t much difference in keeping freshwater fish, to keeping saltwater fish.
You need to do your water changes, which involves either mixing salt or using natural salt water (NSW), which honestly isn’t difficult once you get the hang of it, and you need to top off any evaporation with RO/Di water, which again, isn’t difficult.
Once you are in the habit of doing water changes & cleaning your equipment, honestly, it is not difficult to keep a fish only system. Just feed your fish & enjoy them!
These systems are also perfect for keeping more predatory fish, that are not coral friendly. This actually gives you a lot more choice when it comes to keeping saltwater fish, so you can keep fish that most people with reef tanks would love to have, but can’t!
Fish Only With Live Rock (FOWLR Tanks) are the next step up. So you add live rock to your tank as part of the filter process. Again, you can find out what is required for these tanks in this article – What do I need to set up a saltwater tank?
Adding live rock to your system will give you more biological filtration, potentially increasing the number of fish you can keep in your system, as well as giving you a great foundation for a reef tank and hiding places for your fish.
It is also a more natural environment for your fish, so you will see more natural behaviour and potentially reduce the stress levels within your aquarium.
Is this any more difficult that a freshwater tank? Nope! Along with water changes, cleaning equipment and top offs, you just need to clean your rock work every week before your water change. By this, I mean blasting it with a turkey baster or a powerhead. This will dislodge any detritus that may build up in your rock work, in turn helping to keep your nitrates down.
Again, these systems are perfect for keeping more predatory fish, that are not coral friendly. This actually gives you a lot more choice when it comes to keeping saltwater fish, so you can keep fish that most people with reef tanks would love to have, but can’t!
Reef Tanks – Easy Version
Here is where things start to get a bit more complicated. You need better lights and generally better equipment, which again, you can see a full list of in the article – What do I need to set up a saltwater tank?
Once you have better equipment, you can start putting some beginner friendly corals into your system. This could include things like GSP, Leathers, mushrooms, Xenia and a whole variety soft of corals that need very little additional maintenance.
What you will need to do is keep on top of your water testing for magnesium, calcium and alkalinity. A few small corals will not require anything more than your standard water changes to replenish any nutrients that the corals have absorbed.
Once you start adding LPS corals, then you may have to start dosing your aquarium with additional nutrients, which obviously does get more complicated and time consuming, but again, once you are in the habit and have your routine, it isn’t difficult.
Reef Tank – Expert Version
This is the tank that people warn you about. This is the one with the rigorous testing, high level of maintenance and super expensive corals.
With a system like this, you will need to be dosing your system daily, on top of having a rigorous maintenance schedule. They are expensive to set up and maintain.
But, having said that, there is no reason why you couldn’t start with a FO or FOWLR system and slowly build up to one of these tanks. In all honesty, that is what most reefers do anyway, unless you are lucky enough to have an unlimited budget at the start of your build.
This website is expensive to run in both monetary value and time. If you like what you see, and find this site helpful, please consider donating towards the running costs of the site.