Marine Hobbyist Beginner FAQs

GaribaldiQ1) Is marine fishkeeping difficult?

A) There is no straight yes or no to this question but It need not be difficult if approached in the right way. As with other pet hobbies, a certain amount of preparation is required before investing in costly hardware and livestock. Read books on the subject. Go to your local library, surf the internet for information, ask friends who are already involved in the hobby. Decide if it is REALLY for you. Marine aquaria require regular maintenance which, if ignored, will make life for you and your pets very problematic. After all, you would not buy a dog with the intention of NEVER taking it for a walk! It is a daily activity that the majority of owners thoroughly enjoy. Marine fishkeeping is very much like that. There are regular tasks to be performed and if you are going to despise them, then there is no point in taking up the hobby. (Stamp collecting is much easier and does not involve the potential loss of valuable livestock!).

Although there are a number of skills involved, these are easily and quickly learnt by almost anyone who is enthusiastic enough. Never assume that you will be unable to cope because you are “not clever enough”. With a modicum of common sense, almost anyone can make a success of the hobby.


Q2) Marine fishkeeping is really for men, isn’t it?

A) No, that’s garbage! Whilst it is true that the majority of marinists are men, women are usually much more successful because they tend to take more care. Children, when under the supervision of an adult (who will usually end up paying the bills!) can be encouraged into the hobby as well. Marine fishkeeping is for everyone.

Q3) Should I start with a fish-only or a reef tank?

A) I generally advise people to start with a fish-only aquarium. Fish are more forgiving than invertebrates and mistakes can be made without loss of life. Having said that, if the newcomer feels confident enough and is prepared to invest in extra time and hardware, then a reef tank is certainly an option.

You may find that dealers want to coerce you into starting with a full-blown reef system whatever your circumstances. Don’t be influenced! Ask to have some time to think about it and make your own decision. After all, YOU will have to live with it for some years, NOT the dealer!

Q4) How much will it cost to start up?

A) How long is piece of string? Costs will depend entirely on numerous factors such as tank size and quality, livestock kept, quality of lighting, and so on. Of course there will be a minimum start-up cost but this should be a reasonable sum equivalent to a modest computer set-up. Don’t be afraid to make a shopping list and get quotes from several different sources to compare ultimate prices.

Q5) What are the running costs?

A) Most of the major running costs are accumulated by use of electricity and salt. Activated carbon, airstones, etc., will also be regular, but reasonably low, areas of expense. Electricity costs vary from country to country and are easily estimated from the total wattage of the equipment used multiplied by the unit cost.

The majority of hobbyists find that operating costs are lower than they thought they would be. Probable equivalent to the daily feeding of one small dog.

Q6) What size (volume) of tank should I start with?

A) I personally recommend the following minimum sizes: Fish-only 91 litres (20 UK gallons, 24 US gallons); Reef tank 136 litres (30 UK gallons, 36 US gallons). These volumes will provide a degree of stability to the water parameters not found in very small aquaria.

Q7) Should I choose a glass or acrylic aquarium?

A) Both have their own advantages and disadvantages. Neither could be described as ‘best’. Choose the design that attracts you most (see Q8)

Q8) Is there a preferable style of aquarium best suited to marines?

A) Yes, I think so. The rectangular ‘box’ has always been popular and the best choice. Hexagonal, octagonal designs, and the like, may look attractive but livestock display will be distorted or split between many viewing panels. In addition, most hardware has been designed with a rectangular aquarium in mind. Therefore, lights, skimmers and other equipment may be difficult to accommodate or improve upon at a later date.

Q9) Is an aquarium heavy?

A) You bet!! A gallon of seawater weighs about 10lbs (one litre is one kilogram). The average aquarium may contain roughly 40 gallons of water and an almost equal weight in rocks. That is a considerable amount (800lbs)! Ensure that your floor can support the weight BEFORE filling it!

Q10) What is the best position for my aquarium?

A) In a place where it can be seen and admired. Avoid dark alcoves or corners. Enjoy it in its full splendour. What about right next to the TV? You can watch two channels at once! Seriously, avoid a sunny aspect or a room that is too warm (in excess of the preferred temperature of the aquarium water). Do not position near doors that slam, next to loud sound systems, or in an area where people might collide with it. Ensure also that children cannot climb on it and pull it over!!

Q11) How useful is a good marine aquarium store?

A) They are equivalent to their weight in gold! Once you find one, cultivate their friendship for a mutually rewarding relationship.

Q12) How do I recognise a good marine store?

A) Firstly, the premises should be clean, well-arranged and well-stocked. The tanks must be the same and free of dead or diseased stock. Staff must be polite, knowledgeable and helpful. Prices are no real guide but avoid stores that just want to sell you something whether you need it or not! In return, you as a customer, must be reasonable. Don’t expect a retailer to spend an hour with you explaining how a particular protein skimmer works for you to go off and buy it mail-order! Give them the majority of your business and the relationship will be a long and happy one.

Q13) How long does it take to mature a marine aquarium?

A) Expect a normal aquarium filter to mature (cycle) in about 28 days. Do not add any livestock until all traces of ammonia and nitrite have gone.

Q14)How often should I perform a water change?

A) Regular high quality water changes are the backbone to a successful marine aquarium. Depending on how much stock and the type of tank, somewhere between 15-25% every two weeks is about normal. Advanced reef systems may only require as little as 5% each month but this is not a practice recommended for the newcomer.

Q15) Is a protein skimmer really necessary?

A) YES, in EVERY marine aquarium! Choose the most efficient one you can afford, you cannot ‘over-skim’ a marine aquarium but it will save you money when you upgrade (and most people do upgrade within months).

Q16) How many fish can I keep in a fish-only tank?

A) During the first six months, fish should be stocked slowly at a rate of 1"(2.5cm) of fish length for every four gallons (18 litres; 4.8 US gallons) nett. In the subsequent six months, stocking can be increased to an absolute maximum of 1"(2.5cm) of fish length for every two gallons (9 litres; 2.4 US gallons) nett. Make all calculations on adult sizes to give fish every opportunity to grow to their full potential. When calculating, the caudal fin (tail) need not be included.

Q17) How many fish can I keep in a reef aquarium?

A) Generally speaking, fish stocks should be kept as low as possible. 1"(2.5cm) of fish length for every 6 gallons (27 litres; 7 US gallons) nett of water must be regarded as the absolute maximum if invertebrate health is to be preserved. Stock fish slowly, ideally at a rate of about one or two fish every month.

Q18) Are there any stocking rules for invertebrates?

A) On the whole, no. As long as corals don't touch each other, a tank can house as many as will fit in! After all, that is the purpose of a reef aquarium. Some invertebrates, such as crustaceans, octopuses, cuttlefish, etc., need to be treated on a compatibility basis, and this will need investigation before purchase!

Q19) What about if I want to go on holiday?

A) Many fishkeepers are loathe to leave their aquariums to go on a well-earned holiday but fears are often unfounded. With the correct preparation and the choice of someone sensible to perform a few simple tasks, almost any tank will be 'safe' for 2-3 weeks. (See pages 64-65 of my "Q & A Book of The Marine Aquarium" for full details).

Q20) Is disease a problem in the marine aquarium?

A) It need not be. If the rules governing stocking, feeding, filtration and water quality are followed carefully. An ultra-violet steriliser (and to a lesser extent, an ozoniser) will help keep fish diseases in check. Very little is known about diseases that affect invertebrates, but if the same rules are followed, they can be kept healthy with little trouble.

Q21) Is it important to keep up with the very latest marine aquarium trends?

A) Definitely not! You may be interested enough to try the most modern techniques and equipment but that does not mean to say that 'old' technology is obsolete. In fact, some 'new' techniques are presented to the marinist prematurely without long term testing and this is usually where shortcomings are discovered.

Q22) Where can I find more information on the hobby?

A) Local libraries, retailers, manufacturers, fishkeeping societies, magazines, internet web sites, discussion groups, the list is quite long and can keep the most ardent enthusiast busy indefinitely!

Q23) Should I join a society?

A) If you are a sociable person and enjoy discussing the hobby, then yes. Although most fishkeeping societies are predominantly concerned with freshwater fish, marine societies and clubs are being formed all the time. They deserve to be supported and are an excellent source of information.

Q24) Do I need to devote a lot of time to marine fishkeeping?

A) Most people find that about fifteen minutes each day, with perhaps a few hours every fortnight, is all that it takes. Of course, ardent enthusiasts can spend a great deal more time than that, but it is not absolutely necessary.

Q25) Why does there appear to be so much conflicting advice from retailers, books and on the internet?

A) Marine fishkeeping is not an exact science (neither is it rocket science!) and many people prefer differing systems. Unfortunately, they sometimes portray this as the ONLY way to keep marines, and this is wrong! There are a vast range of set-ups that work perfectly well and can support livestock very successfully. To say that there is only ONE way to keep marines is short-sighted and confusing for the newcomer. In this respect, seeking too much advice is as bad as ignoring advice altogether.

Q26) Is buying second-hand equipment a good idea?

A) If you are absolutely sure of what you are buying, then yes. Remember, however, that there will be no warrantees or guarantees. It may be cheap, but it has been used and may have a limited life. As long as this is fully understood, there can be some bargains to be had on the second-hand market.

Q27) Do I need to buy every piece of equipment available?

A) No. There is a range of essential equipment that all tanks should be fitted with but there are many optional extras that are not necessary.

Q28) What should I do if I start losing livestock?

A) DO NOT REPLACE until the cause has been identified! Many people see the loss of livestock as part and parcel of the hobby, and this is totally WRONG! If fish or invertebrates are dying, their replacements invariably die as well! Whether the reasons lay in poor water quality, lighting or disease, until the cause(s) can be rectified no new livestock should be considered.

Q29) Can I build my own tank and filters?

A) Yes, there are good sources of designs, especially on the internet. A good understanding of the filtration processes is essential though. However, building from scratch cannot be recommended to the beginner.

Q30) Is marine fishkeeping a good hobby for children?

A) Generally speaking, no. It is generally too expensive and some of the concepts are beyond most younger children. Having said that, there are some talented children keeping some very interesting tanks; so never say never!

© Nick Dakin. May not be reproduced, in whole or part, without permission.