5 Beginner Fishes For Your Saltwater Tank

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So you’ve finally given in and treated yourself to a saltwater tank. You’ve done the research, set up the equipment, cycled your tank and finally set out on your maiden venture into the fascinating world of marine fish keeping. Now this is the step where many people stumble due a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Too many tempting choices at the LFS
  • Too little or too much information that can confuse easily
  • The LFS staff assuring you of compatibility, you believing them and bringing certain creatures home, only to find them locked in a battle unto death with some other tank inhabitant
  • The LFS staff luring you into buying an expensive creature that simply can’t survive in your existing tank environment

You have spent far too much time, money and energy to be in such a situation, and for a beginner, it can get so frustrating at times that you feel like just giving it all up. Well, worry not, because I have here a list of 5 most hardy and peaceful beginner marine fish that will hopefully help in keeping your life stress-free fishkeeping wise!

1. False Percula or Ocellaris Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris): This species is by far the most peaceful anemonefish I have ever kept. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t mandatory to keep an anemone to keep anemonefish, so they are quite suitable for your FOWLR (Fish Only With Live Rock) tank. They don’t bother other fish but they can be quite territorial among themselves, so I’d recommend sticking to one pair.

2. Banggai/Kaudern’s Cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni): One of the all time favourites for beginners, these cardinalfish are hardy, peaceful and are stunning to watch. I’d recommend keeping a pair. Point to be noted though (and I learnt this purely by trial and error), wild caught Banggai are purely nocturnal carnivorous fish. They usually do not accept any food during daylight hours and properly eat only meaty or live foods (like frozen shrimp or copepods) in a completely dark tank. They will occasionally nibble at a flake or pellet during daytime but I would not recommend keeping them on just that. Captive-bred Banggai can be diurnal, so make sure to ask your LFS if yours are wild-caught or captive! If they don’t know, observe their feeding pattern closely and continue with the regimen that suits them best. Their cousin, the Pajama Cardinal (which are purely nocturnal) are also very good for a beginner setup.

3. Wrasses: Diverse, colourful and my personal favourite, wrasses are very hardy and active fish that will liven up any aquarium. Wrasses encompass every difficulty level though and there can be a multitude of differences between genuses, so I’d recommend researching whatever species you want to buy. A few brilliant beginner choices would be the Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse (they will clean the scales of bigger fish if the latter is conducive enough. I had one that used to eat out of my hand!), Six Line Wrasse, Red Head Solon Fairy Wrasse, Lubbock’s Fairy Wrasse, McCosker’s Flasher Wrasse and Carpenter Flasher Wrasse. If you plan on keeping more than one, I’d recommend keeping individuals from different species. As most websites will tell you, and from personal experience, existing wrasse(s) in your tank can get slightly aggressive towards new wrasse additions. But every time this has happened to me, they have usually settled down in a few days once they have sorted out their respective territories and hiding places.

4. Damselfish: Damselfish are widely endorsed as the best beginner marine fish. They are very hardy, inexpensive and eat almost any kind of food. They will even survive cycling. However, their aggression increases as they grow, which is okay if you plan on keeping them with equally aggressive fish, but they will need rehoming in a peaceful setup (especially with slow moving, long finned fish). But for a beginner FOWLR setup, you need not worry much because they do fine with clownfish, cardinalfish and chromis. A few good choices would be Yellowtail Damselfish, Rolland’s Damselfish and Azure Damselfish. Humbugs do well in a FOWLR too. I’d recommend keeping them in small groups of 3 or 5.

5. Blue Green Chromis: This fish is a great beginner choice as they are a relatively peaceful kind of damsel and are very forgiving of water quality. Minor pH/salinity changes don’t affect them and they will eat most foods. They are inexpensive, very active and pleasing on the eyes :D. They are also reef safe and will sail through a reef upgrade if you ever do one.

Some more info:

  • As saltwater tanks go, the bigger they are the easier the maintenance, so an upwards of 30 gallons is recommended. All the above species require a minimum of that capacity as well.
  • Once you have stabilised the water parameters, you’ll find it is actually easier to maintain a marine tank than a freshwater one. Marine tanks can support a greater bio-load as well, as you’ll discover as you delve deeper into the hobby.
  • With a cursory glance, you’ll probably feel that Fish Only tanks are cheaper and easier, but I’d strongly recommend going for a FOWLR. Compared to the former, their filtration capacity is multifold, they mimic natural conditions much more closely, provide natural hiding spaces, are the biggest source of beneficial bacteria, and are cheaper to maintain in the long run.
  • Word of caution: mistakes are inevitable while keeping marine tanks and yes, more often than not, a mistake will cost you significantly more than it would have in a freshwater setup. So I’d ask you to only go for this side of the hobby if you feel confident enough regarding money and a whole lot of patience. When a mistake happens though, the important thing is to not be disheartened because they are also the way you learn, and overall this hobby is very rewarding in the long run.
  • Research, research and more research! Nothing can save you more time and money than being well-informed!

I hope this helps and please feel free to ask any questions that you might have :).

Happy fishkeeping!

So... what do you think? Please leave me a comment.

7 Comments:

  • Paul Roney:

    As you know I’m looking at deliving back into this side of the hobby in May, the only space I can fit into my shoe box of a flat is a 20g cube, I was hoping for larger but it is what it is, and I’m happy with this. I can work with this. I’m looking at a nice pair of ocellaris clowns, a load of inverts, and some lovely corals, ranging from softies to sps. I won’t add any more fish ( i say this lightly, as I may do), but I would argue that a pair of clowns is ok I’m a 20g, so long as you have some idea of what you’re doing. On a beginner’s level I totally get most of what you’re saying. I’ve also learned, green chromis are great, but often in the home aquarium you end up with one, because as lovely as they are, they’re still a damsel and only the strongest will survive. Another great fish for beginners is the Pajama cardinal, very pretty and reasonably easy to keep.

  • FishObsessed: Great read :-)
    I feed the marine fish at work and our Cardinals do take food, Mysis, flake and pellet during daylight hours, they would not get fed otherwise :-)
  • Fully_koalafied: Thanks for the comment and suggestions Paul! Yeah, like I wrote on the blog, this info is intended for absolute beginners, and I felt like I should err on the side of caution with regard to capacity :)
    And good luck with the nano reef. I’m sure it will be stunning!
  • Fully_koalafied:

    FO, thanks for the comment! Yes, the existing cardinal I have will nibble at a flake on occasion when I feed the others in the morning. Cardinals are nocturnal by nature though and feed best at night. I think what has happened in your case is that the fish have adapted to eating in daylight hours due to the absolute lack of food at night. The other possibility I can think of is that they are captive-bred which can be diurnal :)

  • Paul Roney: This is certainly a great blog though, and for those starting out it’s excellent!
  • Vale: Great blog! I would love to have a saltwater tank one day :)
  • Fully_koalafied: Hey guys, LiveAquaria has some easy-to-follow, useful info about the fish I’ve listed if you wanted to know more :)

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