The Marine Aquarium – A thought on where to start

By: Pat D.

Through many years in the retail trade, I have been asked countless times about setting up a marine aquarium. The myth is; “Marine aquariums are hard to keep.” Although the initial set-up cost is higher, they are no harder to keep than a freshwater tank. A marine tank can be twice the price of a freshwater tank of comparable size. This doesn’t mean it can’t be done in an affordable manner. I often recommend to stay within a budget, buy the right equipment the first time, and build on the system as the time goes on. With this in mind, many are willing to try, but still so many are not. Mainly because of the horror stories fellow hobbyists have encountered.

ray Recent technology has advanced to the point where some marine fishes we thought ten years ago cannot be kept, are now living and thriving today. Every year we learn more, and succeed in breeding different species of fishes and invertebrates than ever before. So for those of you who always thought it was costly or too much trouble, you may want to think twice about it today.

So many times I hear the complaints of newcomers to the marine hobby; “I’m breaking my tank down, it’s too hard, and costing me too much money.”

Livestock mortality is usually the hindrance of them sticking with it. After listening to their situation, I find the set-up to be inadequate for marine fish. Of course it’s going to be hard if you don’t have the right equipment. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve said, well that tank is good for freshwater, but not nearly enough filtration for Marine.” That’s why you must do it right the first time. Set up your tank with the right equipment and it will cost you less in the long run.

So how do we know if it’s set up right?

The hobby is growing and information is easy to obtain. New magazines and books come out yearly. The Internet is full of ideas and solutions to problems. There are more fish stores opening up than ever before. Enthusiastic employees are ready to lend a helping hand. So with all this information available, why do people still have problems setting up their marine tank? One reason is the advice varies dramatically. Hobbyists get confused and don’t know what to do. If source A says it can be don for 50 dollars and source B says it can be done for 100 dollars. Chances are, people choose source A. I’m not saying this is right or wrong, but there has to be a way to make a decision.

Now you have loads and loads of information and it’s not all saying the same thing. We have to sort out this advice and make practical decisions on what equipment to buy.

yellowtangsFirst of all, know your source. Is it reputable? Just because it’s written down or they work in a fish store doesn’t answer that question. Books can be out-dated. Employees can be just as new as yourself in the marine hobby. Find experienced aquarists and get their advice on what to read, what’s new, and used today. In other words, interview employees at perspective fish stores. After all, they’re advising you on how to spend your money.

I’m a true believer we must obtain as much information as we can to succeed in this hobby. None of us know everything, and listening to all ideas can only help us to learn more. Don’t just do or buy something without an explanation of why. A reputable source will be able to explain the advantages and disadvantages of a product of theory. Always remember;

“Husbandry practices should be done in accordance to the biological needs of the animals we wish to keep.”

My best advice is to go to a store which houses a lot of marine life. Decide what you really want to keep, come up with a budget, and work within it. Know you limits. Bigger is not always better, more expensive is not always the answer. A smaller tank or cheaper filter doesn’t mean it can’t be done. At the same time you may not be able to house the same animals of someone with a more advanced filter. All theories and equipment have their advantages, but they all have their limits. For example, a power filter, the least expensive filter used for a marine aquarium, will limit you in number, sizes, and types of fish you wish to keep. It will limit you not eliminate you from keeping marine fishes. On the other hand, it would be wrong for someone to advise a power filter to be used in all marine tank situations. In a limited budget, I’ve often recommended to start with a power filter and stay with relatively hearty fishes. Add another filter (or higher-tech equipment) only when they plan to keep more specialized fish. The same would apply to different techniques and maintenance schedules. We can be lenient on heartier animals than we can on more biologically pressed organisms. A good advisor knows the biological needs and is able to distinguish the right equipment and technique for sustenance and growth of all marine fauna.

There are plenty of experience marine aquarists out there. Find one willing to work within your budget giving you the best advice, and stick with him. Remember a good aquarist always does what’s best biologically for the animals. With this in mind, your experience in the marine hobby will be and enjoyable one. -Patrick D.


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