Aquarium & Tropical Fish Site
Tropical Fish Forums
Aquarium fishkeeping around the world!
ChatChat  HelpHelp   Search BoardSearch Board   MemberlistMemberlist   UsergroupsUsergroups 
 ProfileProfile   Check your private messagesCheck your private messages   Log inLog in   RegisterRegister 
Introduction to Marine Aquariums--Fish Only or Reef Tanks
 Forum Index > Saltwater Basics  Reply to topic   Post new topic
Author Message

Joined: 08 Feb 2003
Location: Maryland near DC

PostPosted: 2003.02.18(Tue)20:08    Post subject: Introduction to Marine Aquariums--Fish Only or Reef Tanks Reply with quote

The following is an article I wrote to help beginners with understanding basic concepts of the marine aquarium.


A photo of a female anthias flashing across my reef tank.

Even just starting an article to guide beginners in their first marine tanks was a daunting task, because of the HUGE number of options available, both in terms of livestock species, and in terms of equipment to help run the tank. Most of it is just too much to be covered within one article here, and some is beyond the scope of a beginner's setup. I would strongly recommend that those with a true interest in marine and reef tanks consult the books on my Recommended Books list, in the SW/Marine section, for a more thorough explanation. But for those who would like to start out with a brief overview...

The type of equipment you get will depend largely on what you are really aiming for in terms of livestock. You must decide on what you are most interested in keeping, and then do research on those species to make sure they are suitable for beginners (many are not). There are two primary types of marine setups:


Fish Only (FO) or Fish Only With Live Rock (FOWLR)
This will tend to be the easier type of marine setup, because lighting is not important, and you can in many cases just go with a standard tank setup and the equipment provided, with a few add-ons, like protein skimmers, powerheads, and live rock/live sand (discussed below). Within FO and FOWLR tanks, there are two primary subtypes... the peaceful "community tank" (usually houses smaller, more omnivorous fish like clownfish, damselfish, gobies, small wrasses, dottybacks, etc., which may still be territorial and must still be carefully matched) and the "aggressive or semi-aggressive tank" (which houses fish such as lionfish, triggers, various eels, groupers, and usually larger, predatory fish). There is no one paragraph I can write here that will generalize which fish will always work with which other fish, because this is a tricky subject depending on individual combinations. Clowns, for example, are often considered "peaceful" fish, but there are species that are more aggressive than others, and some will kill those of similar appearance unless they are a mated pair (and no, clowns do not NEED an anemone host, contrary to myth--they can have a symbiotic relationship with one, or can live alone--anemones require high lighting and water conditions, discussed below, and are not recommended for beginners). Lionfish, as another example, are peaceful towards animals their own size, but will eat just about any moving animal that can fit into their mouths. And tangs and angels, which are both gorgeous and popular groups of fish, may be seen occasionally in both types of tanks, but many people don't know they are picky about water requirements and need tons of swimming room to do well (minimum 75 gallons for most species of tang, larger for non-dwarf angel species). So I strongly recommend background research on each individual species. Here are a few sites to start with:

Wet Web Media: Marine
Live Aquaria Marine Fish Index
Aquahobby Marine Gallery
Reef Central

Good bets for beginners in the nonaggressive realm include fish like the ocellaris (false percula) clown, damsels, and cardinalfish. In the aggressive realm, triggers tend to be pretty hardy (but watch out for them, they will nip everything in site and tear apart most inverts and smaller fish).


Reef Tank (Any Marine Tank, With or Without Fish and Other Inverts, Which Contains Corals)
Reef tanks are separated out because they contain photosynthetic invertebrates--either corals or anemones. These animals live symbiotically with an algae that lives inside their tissues, called zoanthellae. Thus, they depend on light to survive, and this is a crucial ingredient. In a reef tank, lighting will often be the most expensive piece of equipment... and boy can it get expensive (think hundreds to thousands of dollars, easy)! The investment is well-worth it for some of the fascinating forms corals can take on, though; it is the equivilent of creating a beautiful garden in saltwater. Corals, anemones, and some other invertebrates, usually demand really pristine water conditions (which marine animals in general are more picky about than many freshwater), so a true reef tank is usually more challenging than a FO for that reason as well. This is the reason why many smoothly-running and balanced marine aquariums have a low fish bioload... if you see a huge tank with many corals and only one or two fish, this is why it is kept that way (less nitrogenous and proteinaceous waste to interfere with coral growth). Fish must be chosen carefully in the reef tank, to avoid nippy fish (triggers, for instance) and other inverts that can predate on or bother corals excessively--these are known as "not reef-safe". In general, coral reef tanks use much of the same equipment (with the added requirement of strong light), but they do place much less of an emphasis on mechanical filtration and more on the benefits of live rock and live sand, discussed below. Corals are further subdivided into soft corals (no obvious skeleton), LPS (large polyps stony) and SPS (small polyps stony), which have general group characteristics, but like fish and other inverts, you should do individual research for species requirements:

Live Aquaria Coral Index
Wet Web Media: Marine Inverts
Reef Central

Good bets for beginner tanks include soft corals like mushrooms and button polyps.


Given these basic definitions, hopefully you will have a better idea of what type of setup you are leaning towards, or even if you still have an interest in pursuing marine as opposed to freshwater. Marine beginners should start with something that is at least 10 gallons in size, preferably more (necessarily more if you get fish that require it, as all but a few species will outgrow a 10 gallon easily, and many will outgrow a 60 gallon tank). The larger the more expensive, but also the easier it will be to maintain (larger systems fluctuate less and don't accumulate pollution as easily). Next, you will need to know the basic components of the marine tank, so click here to learn more. Make sure you slow down and read up on/prepare your tank before you even start buying the livestock that goes in the tank, I can't emphasize this enough!
Where are we going...
And why am I in this handbasket?
Back to top
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Display posts from previous:   
 Forum Index > Saltwater Basics All times are GMT - 6 Hours Reply to topic   Post new topic
Jump to:  
  You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum

Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2008 phpBB Group

oF <=> oC in <=> cm G <=> L