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Saltwater Fish Care Intro

Fish Care

Yellow Tang, Zebrasoma flavescens

Most saltwater tropical fish are wild caught and are generally more colorful and larger than freshwater fish. They need more live foods and a more varied diet than freshwater fish. These factors, along with the higher costs of maintaining a saltwater tank, make the saltwater tropical fish hobby more expensive and less suited to beginners.

The saltwater aquarium hobby is damaging coral reefs around the world.  The Hawaiian Audubon Society points out that while 2% of freshwater tropical wish are wild caught, 98% of saltwater tropical fish are captured in the wild.  Of those, 60% come the from Hawaiian Islands.  Nearly 60% of the fish caught will die in transport.  With hundreds of thousands of fish caught in Hawaii each year, the coral ecosystem is being destroyed by the saltwater aquarium trade.  Populations of Moorish Idols, Yellow Tangs, Potters Angels and Longnose Butterfly fish have been drastically reduced in Hawaii.  If you are starting a saltwater aquarium, do your part to help the environment by purchasing tank raised fish such as Clownfish and Damselfish.  Observe the rest at a public aquarium or on a snorkeling adventure.

For a beginner saltwater tank, you will need a tank, sand, a heater, salt mix, a hydrometer, a protein skimmer and a pH kit. If you are keeping fish only tank, standard fluorescent lighting will be fine. You can start the saltwater tank by introducing mollies or other brackish livebearing freshwater fish, but you will need to remove them once you’ve established more aggressive saltwater fish in the tank. Make sure the tank is properly cycled before introducing more fish.  If you are stepping up to the more difficult, fish and mobile invertebrates, or the most difficult, reef tank (live coral), you will need proper lighting.

Common Clownfish, Amphiprion ocellaris
clownfish - easy care

Following are rough guidelines for types of fish to keep. Beginners should start with damsels and clownfish. The fewer fish in the tank, the better the chance of success.

Easy: Damselfish, one pair of Clownfish

Average: Blennies, most Gobies, most Tangs, Hawkfish, Live Rock (rock taken from a reef system), shrimp and crabs.

Difficult: Wrasses, Triggerfish, Lionfish, Small Angelfish, Large Angelfish, Butterflyfish, Green & Spotted Mandarin Gobies, Achilles & Clown Tangs, Seahorses, Anemones, Corals, Clams, Octopi, Nudibranchs, Eels, Scooter Blennies, Goatfish, Anthias, Groupers, Moorish Idols, Pipefish, Soft Corals and Starfish.

Check out our new posting by Matt Leighton from on How to Choose the Right Saltwater Fish for Your Aquarium, which also includes information about how to introduce new saltwater fish to your aquarium. Thanks, Matt!