Types and Styles of Saltwater Aquariums!

Updated 2023

Welcome to this week’s journey—a panoramic tour of the captivating saltwater aquarium styles. Get ready to embark on a voyage of discovery, where we unveil the kaleidoscope of options that await you! Sure, you might have a soft spot for corals and a fish or two that’s captured your heart. But brace yourself, because we’re about to unveil the immense canvas that is the saltwater aquarium hobby. Prepare for a whirlwind of novel choices that might just blow your aquatic enthusiast’s mind! 🐠🌊🔍

A close up view of a standard orange and white adult clownfish in an aquarium. It looks like a larger, older clownfish with some small black spots on the body
Many of these are my photos! @atlasaqua on Instagram if you are interested!

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Different types and styles of Saltwater Aquariums:

Fish Only and Fish Only With Live Rock (FOWLR)

Picture this: a saltwater aquarium where the spotlight shines solely on the finned stars—the fish themselves, no corals, anemones, or sponges hogging the limelight. In this style, you’ve got two paths to tread. One leads to a realm of artificial wonders, with faux corals and rocks playing the part. The other? A more au naturel vibe, where real rocks take center stage.

Now, let’s dive into the latter option, where “FOWLR” is the buzzword. The real rock route packs a punch. These rocks, often dubbed “live rocks,” harbor a bustling community of bacteria and critters that work wonders for your tank’s biodiversity and biological filtration. Live rocks are the gold standard, sought after for their exceptional abilities in all sorts of saltwater setups.

A fish-exclusive saltwater aquarium serves as a prime playground for rookies, and for a good reason. Fish are like the sturdy pillars of the underwater world, standing strong against the challenges that might ruffle the feathers of delicate invertebrates like corals, anemones, and shrimp. It’s like a masterclass for you as a keeper and a boot camp for your tank as it matures. So, when you’re ready to venture into the realms of corals and their comrades, your aquarium will be a seasoned pro, ready to tackle challenges like a champ.

But wait, there’s a twist! Some folks opt for FOWLR setups due to their simplicity compared to coral-packed aquariums. However, there’s another variant in the mix—Predator FOWLR. This is like the wild side, with aggressive fish and unique inhabitants that wouldn’t exactly coexist harmoniously in a coral reef-style tank. Think fish that snack on smaller fish, chow down on corals and anemones, or have a penchant for crustaceans like shrimp and crabs. The daring might even dabble in sharks and stingrays, depending on the tank size. A heads-up: while not super challenging, it’s essential to brush up on your research. And here’s a golden rule—if corals are in your vision, steer clear of these ferocious fish! 🐠🦀🦈

Soft Coral and Large Polyp Stony (LPS) Coral

Aiming for a coral-studded saltwater aquarium is a dream of many budding enthusiasts. But here’s a twist—did you know there’s a whole coral orchestra with distinct sections? In our underwater symphony, we’ve got the soft corals, the LPS corals, and the SPS corals.

First up, soft corals—they’re the free spirits of the bunch, without those rigid skeletons. Moving along, we meet the LPS (Large Polyp Stony) and SPS (Small Polyp Stony) corals. The variation here is in the size of their polyps (those little mouths) and the scope of their skeletons. LPS? Think bigger polyps and smaller skeletons. SPS? They’re the opposite, with smaller polyps and more extensive skeletons.

Now, let’s dive into the pecking order in the hobby. Soft and LPS corals? A welcoming committee for beginners, as they’re user-friendly. SPS? A challenge tailored for seasoned hands, but let’s not forget—rules were meant to be broken!

Among the trio, soft corals often mark the rookie’s starting line. They’re speed demons in growth, super hardy, and don’t demand stadium-level lighting, steady-as-a-rock stability, or gale-force flow. LPS corals strut similar traits, albeit at a slower pace.

Soft corals have a special knack for dancing in the currents, breathing life into aquarium scenes. They’re also a budget-friendly choice, ideal for those twitchy about coral casualties. They’re wallet-friendly, sprout like wildfire, and hard to vanquish. Plus, you can ease off the water parameter panic button.

And if you’re ready to paint the underwater canvas with more hues, consider welcoming LPS corals. They’ll likely thrive alongside your soft coral buddies, provided you’ve mastered the water parameter waltz. Here’s the secret—they’re easier to care for, but you’re not aiming for mere survival. Let them thrive in your aquatic masterpiece! 🐚🎶🌊

Small Polyp Stony (SPS) Coral

@7_feet_of_reef on Instagram
@7_feet_of_reef on Instagram

As we’ve touched on earlier, meet the SPS corals—home to tiny polyps and sprawling skeletons. These corals boast a stunning spectrum of colors and grow into colonies that mirror the grandeur of real coral reefs. Now, let’s unveil their demands. Picture this: SPS corals are like the divas of the aquatic world, craving high water flow, intense lighting, pristine water conditions, and unwavering stability in their surroundings.

These exacting needs often shape aquarium landscapes. You might stumble upon tanks decked out almost exclusively in SPS corals, with perhaps a sprinkling of LPS corals. In these setups, the gentle sway might be missing, but what you’ll find instead are striking structures and hues, accompanied by a select array of fish that complement the scene.

Embracing a full-fledged SPS aquarium means rolling up your sleeves for research and possibly gearing up with advanced equipment. But, guess what? This journey isn’t reserved solely for seasoned veterans. As with other corals, SPS corals come in hardier and more forgiving varieties. With the right groundwork and know-how, there’s no reason why you can’t craft a splendid SPS-centric saltwater aquarium that’s the envy of even the most seasoned hobbyists. 🌊🏞️🐟

Mixed Reef

Ah, the siren call of the mixed reef—this is where the majority of enthusiasts find themselves lured eventually. Just as the name suggests, this style is the canvas for a vibrant medley. Imagine all three types of corals intermingling, alongside anemones, sponges, clams, macroalgae, and even non-photosynthetic corals. This is the realm of boundless possibilities, where you can curate your aquatic haven without being hemmed in by limitations.

Now, let’s peel back the layers. In this artistic jigsaw of marine life, diligent research and meticulous planning become paramount. Why? Well, you’re orchestrating a grand symphony, and the harmony hinges on the compatibility of your chosen inhabitants. As you blend and balance, remember: what’s a perfect world for one might not be ideal for another. It’s like hosting a multifaceted gathering—each guest has their own preferences and quirks, and your role is to ensure everyone thrives together. 🐠🦀🌿🏞️

Macro Algae and Seahorses

@tigahboy.h2o on Instagram

In the saltwater aquarium realm, a rising star is taking the spotlight—macroalgae. These aquatic plants have been stealing hearts, finding favor with hobbyists in recent years. Initially making a splash as natural filtration champs in refugiums and “algae turf scrubbers,” they’ve now taken a step onto the main stage, gracing display aquariums with their charm. Just take a peek at the splendid showcase by @tigahboy.h2o on Instagram!

What’s the draw, you ask? These beauties bring freshness to the scene. Not only are they a breath of unique air in the hobby, but they’re also a friendlier, more budget-friendly gateway compared to their coral counterparts. Macroalgae boasts a lower price tag, speedy growth, and a more laid-back attitude. It’s like the perfect stepping stone for those migrating from the world of freshwater planted tanks.

Here’s a bonus: you can actually team up macroalgae with corals and other denizens, as we dished in the mixed reef section. And brace yourself for this gem—you can welcome Mangrove trees into the aquatic fold! These marvels not only filter the water but also reach skyward, enhancing the natural aesthetics of your tank. Much like macroalgae, the Mangrove trend is catching on like wildfire.

Now, let’s talk about the charismatic seahorses and their ideal home—the macroalgae aquarium. Seahorses are the delicate darlings of the saltwater realm, where the entire setup revolves around their unique needs. So, if you’ve set your heart on hosting these enchanting creatures, roll up your sleeves and delve into the research to ensure a perfect haven for your seahorse pals! 🌿🌊🐠

Coldwater and Non-Photosynthetic (NPS)

Stepping onto the saltwater stage is a rising star that’s captivating hearts—macroalgae. These aquatic plants have found favor among hobbyists, carving their niche in recent times. First acclaimed for their prowess in natural filtration within refugiums and “algae turf scrubbers,” they’ve now graduated to the grand display aquarium, casting their spell. Witness the enchanting showcase by @tigahboy.h2o on Instagram!

Curious about the allure? Brace yourself for a breath of fresh aquatic air. Macroalgae isn’t just a player; it’s a game-changer. It brings a unique twist to the hobby, all while offering a more budget-friendly introduction compared to its coral compatriots. With a lower price tag, sprightly growth, and an easygoing demeanor, it serves as a bridge for those making the leap from the world of freshwater planted tanks.

And guess what? There’s more to the story. Macroalgae doesn’t play solo—it’s a team player. As we’ve shared in the mixed reef section, you can blend macroalgae harmoniously with corals and other underwater companions. And brace yourself for this gem—you can invite Mangrove trees to the party! These wonders not only filter water but also stretch skyward, elevating your tank’s natural aesthetics. Just like the macroalgae craze, the Mangrove trend is spreading like wildfire.

Now, let’s talk seahorses—the ethereal residents of the macroalgae kingdom. Seahorses hold a special place in the saltwater realm, where the entire setup caters to their distinct needs. If you’re enchanted by these graceful beings, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and dive deep into research, creating a haven that’s tailor-made for their whims. 🌿🌊🐠

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