9 Tips to Maintain a Healthy Marine Fish Aquarium

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  1. Avatar Dmac says:

    Great post Dick, please keep them coming.

  2. Avatar Chris Aldrich says:

    Thanks for taking a moment to comment, Dmac! As a veteran of the hobby, Dick is a great resource with a wealth of information. We look forward to bringing you more of his great insights. Cheers!

  3. Avatar Matt Bowers (Muttley000) says:

    Very nice write up here, thanks for sharing your experience! If you get a chance to comment, I would be curious as to what is the most obscure thing you have kept over the years?

  4. Thank you Matt. Not sure what you mean by, “what is the most obscure thing you have kept”, as obscure means, “not discovered, unknown, uncertain, not important nor easily understood”. So I’ll go with the idea you are looking for the most rare. Even that is hard to define as my SW keeping time period spans 47 years. What was rare back then is not rare anymore. One thing came to mind as easily the most rare back then.

    In the early ‘80s, on a weekend trip to Chicago, I found 4 different LFSs displaying the Mandarin Dragonet, Synchiropus splendidus. Can you imagine my shock discovering this beautiful fish with it’s striking colors, outlandish pectoral fins, tiny mouth and slow motion but deliberate swimming style? I was hooked!!! But the prices ranged from, as I recall, $1000 down to $300 for one specimen. Well, needless to say I had to pass on them. Two weeks later in a shipment, I received my first Mandarin Fish. I was elated that it made it alive. Of course it starved to death. Little did we know then, it required live foods. Of course things have changed a lot since then. Now we know wild caught Mandarin Fish require a large population of copepods and other live foods to survive and that requires a rather large aquarium to accomplish, without constant replenishment. Great strides have been made today with captive breed and raised mandarins eating frozen food offerings. A great reason to buy tank raised SW fish of all kinds.

    Another rare event happened a couple of years ago. I found an Orange Spotted File fish, Oxymonacanthus longirostris, at a LFS that was devouring live brine shrimp. I know they prefer coral polyps as there main diet but had to take a chance on this little guy. So the owner sent me home with him and a generous amount of live brine. Well, this little cutie was put into my 135 gal mixed reef with some real aggressive eaters. A 4” Sohal Tang (Acanthurus sohal), a 4” Desjardinni Tang (Zebrasoma desjardinii), several Red Stripe Anthias (Pseudanthias fasciatus), and many other fish. In short order the Orange Spotted File fish was hogging down everything INCLUDING Nori algae off the veggie clip, competing with the Tangs for space and bites off the clip. He lived for two+ years with me. I have photos of him doing this but not sure if pics can be posted in the comment section.

    I hope this satisfies your question.

    Happy Reefing comes through research!


  5. Avatar Matt Bowers (Muttley000) says:

    A perfect answer, thanks for sharing!

  6. Avatar Kendra says:

    This is indeed a great post. Thanks for sharing this to us and keep posting. This will really help homeowners.

  7. Avatar Dave says:

    I agree that one of the challenges hobbyists face is keeping their saltwater fish (and corals) in a good state of health. Great post! Those were amazing tips and will surely help homeowners. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Thanks to all for posting. Maintaining a saltwater aquarium is relatively easy if you know and follow some simple rules. Deviating from the rules will eventually lead you to disaster. I encourage people to keep researching. This is not a read one book and your done project. This should be looked at as an ongoing lifetime study. Learn the basics and then expand your knowledge by continued research. This hobby is not static, it’s ever changing with new products and techniques appearing on a regular basis. By taking an active roll you will enjoy this most fascinating hobby for years to come. I haven’t lost my interest in learning something new for the past 46 years. I’m looking forward to many more even at 75 years of age.

  9. Avatar sofia sana says:

    That’s a great position you folks have been carrying out there. Well said that there’s no better teacher than experience. One of my challenges hobbyists face is keeping their saltwater fish (and corals) in a good state of health.

  10. Thank you for your comment, Sofia. Maintaining any living animal in a good state of health comes down to good husbandry. In the case of SW fish and corals, I would advise hobbyists to pay particular attention to water quality. You must begin with pure Lab quality water through the use of an RO/DI filter unit with a TDS reading of zero. Next would be a good brand of salt, of which now days there are many. If you are going to include corals in your display it becomes more important to seek a high quality salt designed for corals such as “Reef Crystals” or Tropic Marin as two suggestions, there are probably others. Next, diligent testing for water parameters and doing necessary adjusting them to keep them in a safe range through water changes, adding chemicals as needed, plus using quality absorbent filtrates such as Boyds Chemi Pure. I strongly recommend quarantining all fish for thirty days in a separate tank set up as a “spa quarantine” system. For a more thorough explanation of my recommendations on buying fish and corals plus my “Spa Quarantine” system go here – http://theculturedreef.com/nine-rules.htm.

    I hope this helps you and others, Sofia.


  11. Avatar Nick says:

    Really good advice and a nice read. One thing i will add is that all shops, books and blogs say to quarantine fish before introducing them into the main aquarium. Great advice if you have a quarantine tank, however the majority of casual fish keepers simply don’t have a spare tank complete with heaters, mature water, power heads etc. So i personally think there should be articles focused on people without quarantine tanks. Just a thought as i know many people with aquariums and only one has a quarantine tank, which is me.

  12. Avatar Chris Aldrich says:

    Hi Nick – We always advocate for a quarantine tank but understand there are folks who might not see the value. With deals that can be found on Craigslist, saltwater forums, and from local reefers, it’s very affordable to snag a used aquarium and even the equipment needed to put together a quarantine system. An effective QT system need not be extravagant (http://www.saltwatersmarts.com/quarantine-tank-aquarium-success-531/), but it can be a literal lifesaver for inhabitants already in the display. The slight added expense up front will be a pittance compared to the cost of battling a disease, or worse yet, having to restock an entire aquarium. That causes many folks to leave the hobby altogether.

    By the way, glad to hear you are a QTer!

  13. Hi Nick, For those who do not see the need for quarantine systems, don’t want to spend the extra money for a QT, or don’t have a clue that the beautiful fish in the LFS can wreck havoc in their DT without being QT’d, I highly recommend they run a UV Sterilizer of adequate size (or larger) on their DT system.

  14. Avatar Dick says:

    To Sofia and all who want to read about my “Spa Quarantine” system, the link has changed Please go here…


    Thank you all for your comments on my article. I appreciate all.


  15. Avatar Dick says:

    Thank you. Glad you liked it.

  16. Thanks for the tips on taking care of tropical fish. I appreciate you you mentioned looking past the pretty colors to see if the fish might have any problems. I can see how it might be distracting to have such beautiful fish! However, the fish’s health should always come first.

  17. Avatar Lucas says:

    Hi am starting a salt water tank it is my first and I went big and bought a 100 gallon tank I have done all my resher and have found your article the most informational thank you for th info

  18. Avatar Dick says:

    Thank you, Lucas,

    You are starting with a good size aquarium. Most people start with a much smaller size and almost immediately run into trouble. Larger volumes of water remain more stable over time and give the hobbyist a cushion of time before a disaster presents itself. You must be diligent with testing your water parameters, adding RO/DI water for loss due to evaporation, and saltwater changes on a regular basis.

    I enjoyed the saltwater hobby and business for 50 years and 20 years prior in freshwater. I retired July 31, 2017 as I was approaching my 80th birthday December 4th. Time to relax. Here is a link to more informative articles on my website. http://theculturedreef.com/education.html I’m not sure how long I will keep the website open so read them soon.

    Thanks for the compliment. Happy reefing.


  19. Avatar my hobby says:

    I agree that one of the challenges hobbyists face is keeping their saltwater fish (and corals) in a good state of health. Great post! Those were amazing tips and will surely help homeowners. Thanks for sharing!

  20. Avatar Dick Hilgers says:

    I’m happy you found value in my post. Too many hobbyists, especially beginners, are so taken by the shear beauty of SW fish and corals they very often doom themselves to failure without knowing it. Education through bad experiences is very costly. Three things I recommend doing is to research, research, and research some more.

    No person in their right mind would jump into an airplane and attempt a take off with out training. They would surely crash and burn. It’s no different with the SW hobby. Too many new hobbyists do crash and burn because they don’t take the time to do the research before starting. Unfortunately, they take a lot of SW fish and corals with them.

    Happy Reefing,


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