Overview of a Saltwater Aquarium
The evolution of the saltwater aquarium has been nothing short of spectacular in the past 20 years. What could previously only be enjoyed by hobbyists living by the ocean can now be successfully undertaken by hobbyists around the world!
The history of saltwater aquariums is much shorter than that of freshwater aquariums. Reasons for this include how much more complicated the sea environment is to encapsulate within a tank as well as limited access to fish and invertebrates.
FO, FOWLR, and Reef
When talking about saltwater or marine aquariums, you'll inevitably come across discussions using the following acronyms, FO and FOWLR:
- FO stands for "Fish Only."
- FOWLR stands for "Fish Only With Live Rock."
The other choice you have with a marine aquarium (if you're not going to go with FO or FOWLR) is the Reef Tank.
What's in a Saltwater Aquarium?
You can find the following in a saltwater aquarium:
- fish - mostly marine tropical fish usually caught from exotic locations. Some of the more popular tropical saltwater fish include: clownfish, damselfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, tangs, bennies and globies. You'll also find puffer fish, porcupine fish, lionfish (also known as turkeyfish), jawfish, and mandarinfish. Although it's not that common, you'll also find more exotic fish being kept in tanks all the time. The black banded cat shark is a popular one that often times if bought as an egg. Seahorses are another fish that are difficult to keep in captivity.
- corals - both soft and hard corals
- other invertebrates - anemones, sea urchins, starfish, crustaceans (crabs and shrimp), tube worms, and mollusks (clams, snails, and octopuses). Occasionally, you'll find jellyfish in tanks as well but they require expert care.
- live rock
There are a number of reasons that keeping a saltwater aquarium makes sense:
- The Beauty of the Fish
- The Challenge
- The Interest helps protect fish in the wild
If you've every gone snorkeling or scuba diving near a reef, you were probably amazed with the different kinds of fish you saw and how colorful they were. Marine biologist, Justin Marshall, explains a predominant theory that the reason why reef fish are so colorful is to help scare away predators! There's no two ways about it. If you are in love with the neon, bright, and flamboyant colors of coral reef fish, the only way you're going to enjoy them at home is with a saltwater tank.
- Larger tanks required
- Need to deal with more sophisticated water chemistry
- Marine fish are more sensitive to water chemistry
- Costs more than freshwater
- Environmental issues more complicated with saltwater fish
First of all, marine fish usually require larger tanks than freshwater fish. For example, experts suggest that you provide at least two square feet of surface area for one inch of a saltwater fish. Generally speaking, a freshwater fish can get along with one square feet per inch of fish. While you might be able to start a freshwater aquarium with a 10-gallon tank, most experts recommend that you go no smaller than 30-40 gallons for a saltwater tank (while on the other extreme, there are saltwater nano-tanks which are under 30 gallons and saltwater pico-tanks which are under 1 gallon!)
If you are interested in learning more about saltwater aquariums, you may find the following sites useful:
LiveAquaria.com and eTropicals.com (fish and invertebrates from the Caribbean only).
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