What is the best saltwater fish tank for beginners to the hobby? There is no perfect answer to that question. Most mistakes when starting a marine aquarium are similar to mistakes made in freshwater tanks. Patience, patience, patience. All too often, beginner aquarists aren’t patient and lose a lot of money and fish in the process. When many aquarists in the world of freshwater fish make a mistake and have a loss of fish, it doesn’t hurt quite so bad in the wallet. While a mistake in a saltwater tank, can be very costly. As with any aquarium, saltwater aquariums must go through a cycle period that allows the beneficial bacteria to accumulate to a point that the waste from the fish and possible overfeeding can be eliminated. This cycle period, left to its natural processes, can take any where from 4 to 6 weeks after setup and initial stocking of damsels or cardinals, which can handle the poor water quality during the cycle. If the beginner hobbyist wishes to have a tank with live rock, FOWLR or reef, then the rock can be used instead of damsels or cardinals to cycle the tank.
Now that that has been said, the question still remains. What is the best saltwater fish tank for beginners? The best tank will be one that is well thought out in advance. Do your due diligence and make sure you understand the basics of what is expected of you. It’s more than just setting up an aquarium, putting fish in, and feeding. Without proper regular maintenance, the fish will get stressed and become sick or die. Just like any pet, fish rely on you for everything that will help them to thrive and survive.
Because most parasites and harmful bacteria multiply exponentially, a small tank, especially for a beginner, is a bad choice. In a larger tank, at least 50 gallons but bigger if you can afford it, if you see something wrong on the fish you have a bit more time to correct the problem, either by water change or medication. In a small tank, by the time you notice an issue, it is often too late to save your fish.
Just as in a freshwater tank, the beginner setup in saltwater is usually best as a community aquarium. By choosing non-aggressive fish that get along, you avoid the hassle of fish that chase and intimidate each other for territory, thus causing stress and possible death. It is also much easier to introduce a new fish to the tank if all of the existing fish are mellow. Aggressive tanks have fish with more attitudes and it is not uncommon to watch a new fish be pestered to death or killed outright by the existing fish. Typically, an aggressive tank is setup by the experienced aquarist that knows the personalities of the fish and whether they can get along.
Most beginners do very well with yellowtail damsels, green chromis damsels, pajama cardinals, yellow tangs, dwarf angels such as pygmy angels or flame angel, sleeper gobies, etc. Ask your local fish store or pet shop for information on what fish will get along with what you want to have in your tank.
For the beginner in saltwater fish keeping, it is important to have a proper setup that gives the fish the best chance at thriving in your tank. Filtration, substrate, quality of salt that you choose, lighting if you have live rock, are all important factors in your initial setup. But just as important is the care that is taken to maintain the aquarium. Maintenance at regular intervals is what makes the difference in a successful tank and one that ends up in the backyard or at a garage sale. Be prepared to go slow during the cycle at the beginning and don’t over stock or overfeed and you will do fine.