Keeping a tank is supposed to be fun and exciting, otherwise we wouldn’t devote ourselves to keeping these keeping these things alive right? And one of the best parts of the hobby is getting something new for the tank. But a lot of times we may not have the right setup or the right skills to keep something, but of course that can change fairly easily. Saltwater tanks are a great example.
People who have never kept a saltwater aquarium often find themselves being awed over the creatures they see in their local fish shop. Once they find these things can’t live in their freshwater aquariums, I usually hear them say something like “Aww, that’s way harder though,” to which I reply usually reply, “Not really. Why do you think that?”
“Well, don’t you have to check all kinds of levels and stuff?”
“Like what?” I always say. Of course, being the guy working at the fish store, I know the answers, but I like to challenge people to respond. If I even get an answer, it’s always salt, which is incredibly simple to maintain. So why are people so scared of saltwater aquariums?
If you don’t know how to do something, it can be hard. But it’s not difficult to learn how to keep a saltwater fish or reef tank. In fact, the majority of the knowledge and skills that many freshwater aquarists posess are directly transferrable to saltwater. And I kid you not when I say that some saltwater tanks are even EASIER to maintain. You may be only a few bits of information away from keeping the aquarium you always dreamed of.
Here are some common questions I get asked all the time by people thinking about getting into saltwater. I’m posting them to help remove people’s mental blocks when it comes to believing they can really keep a saltwater tank, since I have seen many people cross over and become fantastic saltwater aquarists.
How hard is keeping a saltwater aquarium?
Keeping a saltwater aquarium is very much like keeping a freshwater aquarium. Many of the skills and knowledge required to create a successful freshwater ecosystem are the same when keeping a saltwater one. There are a few new things to learn, but it is not any more difficult to maintain a marine system than a freshwater one. The better we understand how our aquarium works as a balanced ecosystem, the easier maintenance becomes. Of course there are other factors, like size of the tank or choice of animals, but knowing the pros and cons of these things should help guide your choice when deciding what kind of saltwater tank to keep.
Don’t I have to check all sorts of levels like salt and stuff?
A little. The basics of aquarium water chemistry are the same in freshwater as they are in saltwater (ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, ph). The pH in a marine tank is different though, and has a much smaller acceptable range than in freshwater. It is not difficult to maintain an acceptable pH, but it is important to monitor it as your aquarium matures.
With regards to the salt levels (salinity), saltwater can be purchased pre-mixed to ensure proper salinity, though it is also very easy to mix your own saltwater (with the right kind of salt, of course). There are plenty of tools to help us check the salinity after we mix saltwater too. The not-so-tricky part is that freshwater will evaporate from the tank, but the salt will not, causing the salt concentration to rise over time. But as long as one periodically replaces the freshwater that evaporates (yes, add freshwater), we can restore our original salinity and the aquarium should remain unaffected.
Of course there are many other things that may need testing (i.e. calcium, nitrite, alkalinity, etc.) depending on what kind of system you have and what you’re keeping in there. But for most people just starting out, these don’t usually apply.
Does saltwater livestock cost more than freshwater livestock?
Yes, usually. Saltwater Fish, corals, and invertebrates are more expensive for a number of reasons. It is still very difficult to breed many of the fish popular in the saltwater hobby, therefore much of the livestock must still be caught from the wild. Costs and difficulties associated with finding, catching, and successfully shipping the animals also usually translates to an overall higher price. However, the diversity and beauty of tropical marine organisms are difficult to match.
Whenever possible, I encourage people to buy captive bred or propagated fish and corals. These particular animals sometimes cost more, but it is important to encourage these sustainable methods for the survival of our planet as well as our hobby. It is part of our duty as hobbyists to encourage and support better, more sustainable practices when we can.