Is keeping marine tank hard? Breaking the myths

Let's dig into the myth about the saltwater tanks, "keeping a saltwater tank is tough."  

So many people believe that they could never keep a marine aquarium, and the saltwater fish are tough to keep alive. These statements were 100% true when the fish-keeping hobby first started. The original pioneers had to learn the hard way through trial and error. 

Imagine getting your first Copperband butterflyfish and having no idea that they are finicky eaters or having every coral that you put in your tank turn brown and have no idea why.

These were just some of the types of problems that people faced when they started the hobby decades ago. There are many failures in comparison to each success generated. The failures are more memorable, and to this day, many years later, those failures still haunt the hobby.


As with most things life, life moves on, and in this hobby, the progression has been rapid. New research is done, and a new invention comes to life all the time. With each advancement, the hobby gets easier and easier. The hobby as it is today is virtually unrecognizable to when it first started. However, its reputation seems to have stayed the same, WHY? 

But there is a little secrete, "this hobby isn't difficult." This statement is a bit vague, but let's alter it slightly before you run and buy your first marine fish tank. 

This hobby is as easy or as difficult as you make it. Four conditions apply with the little secret which affects how easy it is to keep a saltwater tank

  1. Equipment selection
  2. Stocking choice
  3. Research 
  4. Commitment

If you can keep these conditions in mind and come up with a good plan, then everyone can keep a saltwater aquarium. All four of these are critical components by themselves, but they also directly affect one another. For example, if you decide to stock Anthias fish in your new nano aquarium, then that's a problem. First of all, Anthias species are already a fish that is harder to keep and is also a fish that cant be kept in a small tank.

Then if you do research, you would find out that this species requires several feedings a day to stay healthy, so feeding them once or twice a day is not enough. So there is a significant commitment or additional equipment needed to feed the tank several small feeding per day. The extra food in the tank may also mean that it will require you to do more maintenance to remove the increased amount of waste.


Saltwater Equipment Selection

This can be a contribution topic that we could spend tons of time on it by itself. There is no perfect setup for running a marine aquarium. Different people have different levels of success using different methods. There is not only one particular method that is superior to all the rest. But, when you are keeping a marine aquarium, larger tanks are easier because larger tanks are more stable. Therefore you should buy the largest tank you can afford and are willing to maintain. To put it in the simplest way possible, let's say that you have a fish that in a 100-gallon tank can generate 10 ppm of waste per day, that same fish in a 10-gallon tank would generate 100 ppm of waste per day. 

Stability is the key to the hobby. You may think that a nano-tank is a good size tank to start with but it's not, to keep stable water parameters, it will require more frequent maintenance, so it certainly will not be the easy route. The tank isn't the only thing that can make a big difference in this hobby. There is so much equipment these days, which can make a significant impact on how easy your system will run.

  • A protein skimmer will help to export waste.
  • Auto top-ups will deal with daily evaporation.
  • Dosing pumps can dose minerals needed to keep your water parameter stable.
  • Water monitors can tell you something is going wrong before it becomes a problem.
  • Auto-feeder can help maintain basic feeding needs.

The list goes on and on. Just explore the internet, and you'll get tons of equipment that will make keeping your marine tank easier than you thought.


Marine Livestock Selection

There are a lot of things that affect how easy livestock can be. Making the right selections at the beginning can make a massive difference. When it comes to the fish, you want to start with fish that many people are known to have success within the hobby. You want to make sure that the adult version of the fish is still suitable for the size of your aquarium. Avoid aggressive fish. Ideally, you want fish that are disease-resistant. Also, stay away from finicky feeders.

Clownfish are a good example. Many people believe clownfishes are aggressive. They can be. However, they are probably in 95% of reef tanks. They don't cause anywhere near the same amount of issue as something like a Clown Triggerfish.

All the fishes can be aggressive to an extent. Even an old Mandarin could be extremely vicious toward other tank mates, especially tank mates that have the reputation of being very peaceful. 

You also want to make sure that the fish is compatible with other tank mates and species in your aquarium, this also includes any corals or invertebrates in your aquarium as well.

Treat your coral selection the same way that you treat your fish selection. Some corals have a very low care requirement and will grow in any tank while others require daily care or are virtually impossible to keep in captivity.

When starting, try to pick corals that have a high success rate in all different types of tanks. Many soft corals are beautiful and supper hardy, which will put you on an easy path to maintain.

Naturally, if you pick corals that are more challenging such as Short Polyp Stony (SPS) corals, starting with SPS corals means that you will likely require more equipment and more commitment. 

This is why research before you purchase, is so important. The more you know about a species before buying it will make it easier, you will know if it's compatible with your current (and future species that you want), the needed requirements to keep it healthy, and feeding requirements.


Marine Research

We are born into this world knowing very little, and almost everything we do, we have to learn at some point. Fishkeeping is no different. If you don't do your research, it will be incredibly hard. Not doing your research these days is inexcusable. The pioneers back at the beginning had an excuse. There was no internet. Now in days with just our mobile phones, most of us have all the knowledge needed, just a touch of our fingers. 

There are many ways to have success with this hobby. It's continually evolving, and more and more new information becomes available. The research applies more than ever when something is dying. If species in your tank is dying, you should always be an endeavor to find out why. Shrugging your shoulders just saying corals are delicate is not a valid reason. 

Corals don't just randomly die, especially if they have been in your tank for an extended period of time. They die because something in their environment is no longer acceptable for their survival. Putting effort into researching a particular issue can have long-term benefits.

By doing the research, you'll know how to deal with it and prevent it from happening again. If you are not willing to commit to the required research from the beginning, not only will your time in this hobby be much harder, but it also will be much more painful. And this leads us to commitment.


Aquarium Hobby Commitment

Our aquarium(s) rely entirely on us. More often than not, the biggest issue any of our tanks faces is our laziness (sometimes also referred to as Old Tank Syndrome). The most successful people in the hobby of those that have a strict routine and rarely deviate from it. These are the people that meticulously do their research, clean their glass, change and test their water weekly and are always trying to correct that tiny issue that no one else ever spotted.

Because let's face it, no one ever thinks their tank is perfect. So if you don't have a proper testing kit, make sure you buy it before making any purchases of any species. Without them, the reality is that you don't have any idea if your tank is in perfect condition or one day away from becoming a toxic fish soup.


Summing it All Up!

To sum it all up, two people can enter the hobby precisely at the same time, but they can have very different experiences based on the four-point above and how easily they decide to make it for themselves. 

The reason why there is the myth of keeping a marine aquarium is difficult has lasted for so long is because when someone sees your aquarium and says, WOW! That must be hard to keep. It makes you feel good; that another human being thinks you have some sort of superpower.

You then agree with them, and the myth lives on.

Think about it. People should not be scared away from the hobby. They should be encouraged and nurtured because the bigger the hobby is, the better it is for everyone!

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