Saltwater Aquariums: Really That Maintenance?

Many aquarists maintain a freshwater aquarium. Mostly for the simple reason that they don’t dare to approach a saltwater aquarium. It’s actually a shame because the “fear” is wrong. In this post, we remove the prejudices so that you can trust yourself to create your own little reef.

The Maintenance of a Saltwater Aquarium

If you ask around among aquarists or those who want to become one, you can often find that the majority are looking for a freshwater aquarium or already own one. However, if you ask what aquarists like better, the answer is not uncommon: a saltwater aquarium. So you quickly learn that it is the desire of many to maintain a colorful reef with the most varied of colors. But the experiences of those who have failed in years past, who spread their failure in forums, prevent many dream seawater aquarists from trying it for themselves. However, a great deal has developed over the past few years. The knowledge about care conditions has grown rapidly and the observations have accumulated enormously, so that improved technology, care products, and feed can be offered. There are now even “plug & playsets” that contain almost everything that is necessary for a quick start of a saltwater aquarium.

What Connects the Aquariums

Although the variety of animals in the saltwater aquarium is very high, the maintenance of a saltwater aquarium is very similar to the measures for a freshwater aquarium. Many care products and technical elements are even suitable for both types of aquarium. In detail, a mini reef can even mean that you have less work to do in the form of water changes. The water tests are 80% the same; the water temperature is also almost identical.

Differences Between Freshwater and Saltwater Aquariums

The running-in phase, i.e. the time an aquarium needs before the first living creatures can move in, is usually a little longer in a saltwater aquarium than in a freshwater aquarium. You should wait patiently for this because it can stretch over several weeks. In a freshwater aquarium, on the other hand, it often only takes a few days. The tap water only needs to be detoxified by a water conditioner for use in the freshwater aquarium. The saltwater should be prepared before use (even if the water is partially changed).

Freshwater aquariums require 30% partial water changes about every 14 days, in saltwater aquariums 10% is sufficient later, but only once a month. The filter technology differs in that instead of a pot filter in a freshwater aquarium, a protein skimmer is used in a saltwater aquarium. Except for calcium, magnesium, and salt density, the other parameters cover each other equally. Plants need the right amount and variety of fertilizer, corals need the right amount of trace elements and coral nutrients – so the same care measures are seen from this point of view.

The lighting time for both types of an aquarium is around twelve hours a day, and there is a wide range of different light sources for each type of water. These often only differ in the light color or color temperature. There is always something to consider when socializing the individual residents. Not every animal can stand the company of every other animal. There are groups/shoals, mates, and solitary animals; the right combination can never be given across the board, it is individual for each aquarium. Many specialist books can help to find the right material.

The Difference in Technology Costs

The financial difference is that you can use significantly more technology in the saltwater aquarium. Dosing pumps for trace elements, measurement technology, heating, and cooling systems, additional filter systems, and ultrapure water filters are often used in saltwater aquariums but are absolutely not a must. A classic pot filter is sufficient for a simple introduction to freshwater aquariums. In addition, there is the heating rod for warm water fish and, if necessary, a CO2 system, if you value special flora. The seawater aquarium gets by with 1-2 current pumps, a protein skimmer, and a heating rod, maybe a reverse osmosis system (prefilter) is necessary if the tap water could or is contaminated with many pollutants.

The real filter in the saltwater aquarium is the live rock. This is arguably the largest primary cost difference and is most noticeably reflected in the budget. However, a magnificent underwater plant landscape in the freshwater aquarium can cost as much if it is a particularly beautiful species. In total, a starter package for a saltwater aquarium should only cost around 20% more than the accessories for a freshwater aquarium. There are no additional costs when buying the fish. A beautiful school of neon fish is about the same as a small group of damselfish; the price of a coral is similar to that of a beautiful mother plant.

The Origin of the Fish Species

The majority of seawater fish come from wild animals, with more and more species being artificially bred. Catching the fish in the wild naturally exposes the organism of the fish to more stress if the catch first travels many kilometers around the world in order to be able to be purchased in specialist shops. All the more it is your responsibility to offer your fish the best possible habitat from the moment they arrive at your home. Therefore, please inform yourself carefully in advance about the needs of your future foster children. (You should of course also do this when setting up a freshwater pool!) Be self-critical and ask whether you can meet their demands in the long term. If that is the case, these are the best prerequisites for a successful start!

And even if there should be setbacks: Don’t be discouraged. Because over time you collect your experience and can respond more and more precisely to the needs of the species you keep.

Bright Colors in the Saltwater Aquarium

The really intense colors are also found in freshwater aquariums, but more in the artificial breeding of viviparous tooth carps and discus fish. In the marine aquarium, these are naturally lemon yellow, violet, neon green, fire red, pink, and sky blue. And these are just a few variants that can be found. This colorful variety is arguably one of the most charming factors of a mini reef.

The Start in a Fresh or Saltwater Aquarium

After you have made the choice of whether it should be a freshwater aquarium or a reef tank and have purchased the right technology and accessories, we can give you a tip: Don’t be irritated or frightened by the failures of others, just get started!
Of course, there are phases with problems, such as illnesses or water problems, but these do not depend on which aquarium hobby you have chosen. You will quickly learn how many interesting things can be observed in the saltwater aquarium and which secrets of nature you can discover. The sight of a satisfied fish when it eats and shows bright colors or even reproduces pays back the effort a hundredfold.

With Patience to Success in the Saltwater Aquarium

If you have patience, give the aquarium time to develop, and do not rush into anything, you will be able to get started right away with a starter package consisting of an aquarium, reef sand, sea salt, flow pumps, protein skimmers, water tests, and water conditioners and you will have a lot of fun. As soon as the water is clear and the pool has been running for about two to four days, you can slowly start stocking stones. After about two to three weeks you may be able to insert the first small crabs or robust corals. As you have read, the difference between freshwater and saltwater aquariums is not as huge as is often assumed.

Mary Allen

Written by Mary Allen

Hello, I'm Mary! I've cared for many pet species including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, fish, and bearded dragons. I also have ten pets of my own currently. I've written many topics in this space including how-tos, informational articles, care guides, breed guides, and more.

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