Taking the mayhem out of marine fish keeping
The start of your new marine tank
Which direction is your marine tank going?
So we've looked at some of the constraints and hopefully now you have made a decision about what you can afford, how much time you can give to it and where the tank can actually go.
For ease of explanation I have crudely grouped the main types of tanks together. Those listed below must be considered as a generalisation and they by no means have to follow this pattern.
A marine tank on a Low budget with little time
On a very low budget with little available time I would suggest going with a fish only with live rock type system. Under no circumstances am I saying that these tanks can be run needing no time spending on them but a marine fish only tank can still look fantastic and the demands on time put on you by fish are far less than if you were keeping corals of any type.
You must still maintain good water quality at all times but the cost and time involved with checking, tweaking, worrying about nitrates and phosphates, installing reactors, replacing rowaphos, maintaining strong lighting and generally tinkering is far less with fish only systems as they are much more forgiving with slight changes in water chemistry. As long at you keep up with regular and adequately sized water changes weekly or fortnightly, the tank is not overstocked and you have sufficient live rock and water movement in there for filtration (see the Equipment List page for further information on live rock) the water chemistry should remain suitable to keep your piscine tank mates happy. Feeding will be much simpler as well as you shouldn't have to worry about target feeding with turkey basters, you can literally pour it in.
A typical soft coral like this, a mushroom coral can come in a medly of colours and textures and add interest to any tank. Hardy and forgiving they are an ideal starter species
A bit more available cash and a little more time
If you have a bit more cash to play with such as funds for additional rowaphos and stronger lighting and you have a bit more time required for changing rowaphos, keeping up with water changes and changing light bulbs more regularly then you may want to consider keeping soft corals with your fish. Soft corals are a bit more demanding in terms of water quality and lighting and you wouldn't be able to keep your tank as heavily stocked or with some certain species if you keep soft corals. Some people, however, like the swaying movement soft corals can offer and they really do help to bring your tank alive. They also add a more interesting background to your tank and hiding places for more interesting critters. You would still be able to get away with just your weekly or fortnighly water changes but would need to test more regularly for nitrates and phosphates and be able to bring the levels down should the need arise.
If you find that keeping levels stable and time is not too much of a problem you could also consider keeping hard corals of the LPS (Large Polyped Stoney) variety. These can, put simply, be mind blowingly superb in shape and colour and can also tolerate less than perfect water conditions. They will however start to use up elements in your water such as calcium (see the Tank Environment page) and you may need to start dosing certain elements should the demand increase to more than is replaced during normal water changes.
Where cash is not going to be a constant worry and you have a good few hours a week available
If your funds are not really too restricted and you quite like the idea of having something to while away the weekends and evenings then there is no reason why you can't consider a fish and hard coral SPS (small polyped, stoney) tank. These corals are seen as the real challenge in marine keeping and it is presumed that you wouldn't move on to something this demanding straight away. It can be a good idea to get the measure of water chemistry, tank swings and all the other things that change in your tank before committing a substantial amount of cash to corals that can literally strip and die overnight if conditions aren't suitable.
An SPS tank seems to always need tweeking, many people run a lot of gagetry (although not essential) to ensure as stable water conditions as possible. Water tests seem necessary almost every day, lightbulbs can need changing every nine months, rowaphos could need changing every week or fortnight and there is generally a lot more to worry about. Don't let this put you off though, if you have a lot of patience and really like the intricate detail of how and why things work then a SPS tank could well be for you.
Also don't be put off when talking to other people about moving into the world of SPS who will tell you that at the very least you will need automatic dosers, additional pumps, reactors, a sump and many other things. I successfully keep sps in a glass box with no sump and no magic, automatic thingies, I acknowledge, however, that I probably spend more time on my tank than would be considered healthy
It may be useful to start off with some easier to keep species first until you get a handle on the demands your tank can put on you.
A FOWLR will often run with higher nitrate and phosphate levels than a coral tank. If you want to add corals at a later date it can be difficult to get these levels back down as they are absorbed by the rocks which can then release them back into the water for a long time if they ever got very high.
No matter which tank you go for there will always be a time and financial implication, the comments opposite are just a guide to which tanks can take the most.
The Final Product - in a nutshell
Although this website is about keeping marine fish in the cheapest ways possible there will still be a financial outlay and continuous running costs. Don't underestmate the costs or your livestock will start to suffer
Although fish are more forgiving than most corals you must still maintain their water at its optimum levels for them to thrive
In a FOWLR tank your biggest worries will probably be nitrate and phosphate levels
Many soft corals will forgive a bit of nitrate and phosphate but if you keep any corals you will have to be more vigilant in checking these levels and be able to act on them sooner
Corals need more light than fish, different corals have different lighting requirements
Soft corals can add a lot of gentle movement to a tank but the vibrant colours that attracts most people to marine keeping are those displayed by the hard corals, both LPS and SPS.
SPS tanks tend to cost more as you need to maintain the water much more carefully which can mean dosing additives that don't come cheap