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10 Common Saltwater Aquarium Beginner Questions!

Before we really get into the specifics of a saltwater aquarium, we wanted to answer some common beginner questions. These may be questions you have already been thinking about, and we wanted to give some quick answers so that you are better informed from the start!

As with many things, the answers to these questions vary depending on your goals and circumstances. Thus, we will do our best to give a basic answer, and as you keep learning through our series, the questions will be answered in more detail.

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Table of Contents

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Are saltwater aquariums more difficult than freshwater aquariums?

While it is not always the case, generally you could say that a simple freshwater aquarium is easier to keep than a simple saltwater aquarium. This is because in a freshwater aquarium you do not need to worry about the salt level. However, that does not mean maintaining salt levels is hard or complicated, it’s just one extra step. 

When you go beyond the simplest of setups in each category, the difficulty can vary wildly, depending on the specific setup and what is being kept inside the aquarium. Some freshwater aquascapes require way more maintenance and similar amounts of gear, compared to even the fanciest saltwater aquarium.

I don’t have very much money, can I still have a saltwater aquarium?

Yes! The saltwater aquarium hobby can sometimes give off the impression of being insanely expensive, but that is just a misconception! As with most hobbies, there are costs involved, but you are not required to get a bunch of expensive and new gear to start and run a successful saltwater aquarium. There are many ways to adapt and spend less. 

The easiest thing to start with is a small and simple aquarium setup, using just the most essential gear and a light stocking of common fish, corals, etc. However, you are not limited to small or simple aquariums! If you take your time, you can acquire all the stuff you need for practically any setup, fancy or simple. Look around for used gear, buy one piece of gear at a time, saving up until you can comfortably afford it, and do lots of research so that you don’t buy any unnecessary or incorrect gear! 

It may take you longer to get everything and set up your saltwater aquarium, but you will also likely have done so much research and preparation, that you will be more successful and satisfied with your aquarium than the average beginner! This is not the cheapest hobby in the world, but it certainly is accessible, just with a little bit of patience.

How do I clean and sterilize an old aquarium?

Usually, it is as simple as giving it a good rinse with tap water, and then using some plain vinegar to safely clean the glass of any remaining stains. It is a bad idea to use soap or any commercial products. The only other risk is if the aquarium was used as a quarantine aquarium (where new or sick fish are treated) and copper based medicine was used. Try to find out from the previous owner if copper was ever used in the aquarium, and if you are not sure, there are copper test kits available. 

What equipment is essential?

This can be one of the most confusing topics for a beginner trying to figure out the saltwater aquarium. There are many potentially different answers, depending on who you ask and what you are trying to keep inside your aquarium. However, if we assume you want to create the common reef inspired setup, the answer is simple. 

All you need is something for filtration, something for flow (which can come from your filter, if your aquarium is small enough), and a light that is able to support coral growth. What kind of filter, flow, and lighting you specifically need will depend on what kind of setup and livestock you are trying to have. This topic can get more and more complex, depending on how specific you want to get, but overall, that is the only gear you really need to run a successful aquarium.

How much time will it take each week?

The amount of time that you may spend on this hobby per week will truly vary a lot from person to person! Unsurprisingly, the size and specific setup of your aquarium will determine the time commitment required. Generally speaking, you don’t really have to do much on a weekly basis, except for feeding your fish or other animals daily, which can be done using an automatic feeder. If we had to give a broad estimate, we would say somewhere between 1-2 hours per week and closer to 2-3 hours on water change days. 

The real time commitment comes from water changes and gear maintenance. Water changes are something you may do once every few days, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. During your water change is when you usually do other maintenance like cleaning the algae off your glass, siphoning up any detritus off the sand, and cleaning out your filter. How long your water change takes, depends on how efficient you are and the specifics of your setup, with the size of the aquarium being the most important factor. 

Gear maintenance is something that is done less regularly, like once every few months to a year. This includes doing a deep clean and checking up on all of your gear to make sure nothing is damaged, and to keep the gear in good condition. Think of it like going to the dentist for a tooth cleaning. Usually, you are just there to make things nice and clean, but if there are any issues, you will hopefully catch them before it’s too serious!

What are the ongoing costs?

The ongoing costs, once you have bought all your gear and desired fish and corals, really comes down to electricity, water, salt mix, and dosing/food.  As well, if your saltwater aquarium water parameters (we will explain water parameters more later) get replenished enough from each water change, you can cut out the dosing stuff. The exact costs will depend on your personal saltwater aquarium setup, and how often you do water changes. If you have more fish, more gear, and a bigger aquarium, the costs will go up. However, these costs are generally pretty low and affordable, only becoming a significant factor in really large aquariums.

Are corals and saltwater fish expensive?

Yes and no! It really just depends on what you are trying to get. You can find fish and corals that are cheap, and you can find some that are very expensive. The expensive ones aren’t always necessarily better or prettier either. The price usually comes from how rare they are and how hard they are to get.

Are corals and saltwater fish hard to keep?

This really depends on what fish and corals you got. There are some fish that are hardy and simply need to be fed, while other fish can be so finicky that you may have to spend hours fine tuning your saltwater aquarium to make sure you can keep them alive. The same applies to corals and most other things you can put in an aquarium. It is fairly easy to find quick charts or even articles on whatever coral or fish interests you, and to figure out if it is something that you can feasibly take care of.

How many fish can I put in my aquarium?

How many fish you can put in your saltwater aquarium generally depends on both the size of the aquarium and how good your filtration is. However, there are nuances to this, as not all fish, corals, crabs, etc. are compatible with each other. There may be a fish that can be harmful to corals, or a fish that only wants to live on its own. Just do your research and make a livestock plan, so that you can make sure everything is compatible and so that you do not overstock your aquarium. 

The difference between Corals, Anemones, Sponges, and Macroalgae?

We won’t give you the biological differences between these, but we encourage you to do more research if you are curious! Commonly in saltwater aquariums, all four of these are photosynthetic, meaning that they get their food/energy from light. This does not make them plants though, as macroalgae are the only ones you can consider plants. The rest are animals who eat food, but are also able to get food from light.

Common saltwater aquarium corals can usually survive without any direct feeding, and they often are able to get food that is just floating around your aquarium. However, corals often look better and thrive when they are also fed. Most anemones and sponges actually require direct feeding. Finally, macroalgae are the least demanding, being able to survive in most  saltwater aquariums without any extra care. In fact, they help remove some of the waste the other three, plus fish, produce so you will sometimes see people using them as a filtration method in refugiums or “algae turf scrubbers”.