When someone new to the hobby comes in to my shop asking about setting up their first tank, one of the first questions I receive is, “What size do I need?”. This is a very loaded question that considers weighing many variables. My response is always “As big as you can go”. This is because most of the time, people will decide to start a smaller tank and work their way up to a big one to see if they can handle it. This is not a bad option, however, most of the time those same people are back in my store within 6 months ready to get a much larger tank.
The issue with starting small all depends on what you consider a small aquarium. Some people will think of a 5 gallon as small, while others consider a 40 gallon as small. I always mention that the smaller the tank is, the harder it is. A lot of beginners will think the exact opposite, viewing a much larger tank as a much larger responsibility. They aren’t wrong, a larger marine aquarium tank can appear like a massive responsibility, however, with a larger body of water the tank can withstand parameter swings a lot smoother. A larger tank has higher stability and does not require as much maintenance. I typically recommend a minimum of a 30 gallon aquarium to start with. This gives you a decent amount of fish available to stock the tank with.
This brings us to the next variable, what fish are you wanting to keep in the aquarium? I always tell my customers to go home and do some research to see what fish they would like to stock their tank with. I usually have them create a list and then come back to me so we can discuss it. This is an important discussion to have so we can plan out what size tank to get based on their list, and to discuss compatibility. If I notice their list mainly consists of smaller fish such as fire fish, clown fish, pseudochromis, we can talk about setting up a small tank such as a 30 gallon. However, if I notice their list is full of Tangs, Angels, and wrasses, we can talk about setting up a minimum of a 75 gallon tank. It is important to make your fish list, picture what you would enjoy seeing in your tank, envision the whole process. If you just buy a tank and then make your list, you may find yourself disappointed if you picked out too small of a tank to fit your vision. This is usually the main issue with beginners that come in to my shop. They buy a tank, see all of the beautiful fish they want in the tank, then I have to break the news that some of those fish will get either too big for the tank, or aren’t compatible with some of their other fish choices.
If what you desire to keep in your marine aquarium doesn’t match your budget, save up, take your time, this hobby is all about patience and it is crucial to make sure that the tank you set up is a tank you will be happy with. There is nothing wrong with setting up a smaller tank and deciding that you want to go bigger, it happens to all of us, but creating a plan can help with any bumps along the way. The next thing to do is to pick a spot in your home, where are you planning on keeping the tank? Wherever that spot is, clear it out and prepare it for the tank. If you plan on having a small tank on your desk, clear that spot on your desk. Tank placement is another important factor to help you decide what size tank is suitable for you. This may seem obvious, but some of us like to impulse purchase tanks, myself included. So don’t be like me, the girl who has two tanks in her garage because she had nowhere else to place them.
Overall, creating a plan is going to be the key to success when purchasing your first tank. Figuring out the size you want, the fish you want, and where you plan on placing it are all factors that will help you determine the perfect size tank that will work for you. Looking in to fish care sheets will be important when deciding the length and depth of your aquarium. Tangs, Wrasses, and Anthias all appreciate having plenty of swim space. So with those fish, the height is not the important factor, length and depth will be the key. However, if you are also looking in to keeping coral height will come in to play when deciding what lights to add to your tank. You will want to insure that the lights you purchase can penetrate to the bottom of the tank, making sure every inch is illuminated for prime coral growth. This may seem like a lot of information to remember, but taking it one step at a time will help make the process much simpler.
The last thing I want to discuss is reef safe, not all fish or invertebrates can be housed with coral. You will usually see the words reef safe followed by yes, no, or with caution on most fish care sheets. If a fish is reef safe, that means it will not pick on any of your corals or invertebrates. If you plan on keeping coral it is crucial to make sure that you are only adding reef safe fish to your tank. If it says with caution, that means the fish may pick on coral or invertebrates on occasion, sometimes getting the fish well-fed can help deter this issue, however, it is not a cure. It depends on the individual fish. You just have to stay aware of how everything is behaving in your tank. If you notice a change, don’t immediately react, find the source of the change and act accordingly. Like I said before, this hobby is all about patience, take your time and things will fall together perfectly in your new marine ecosystem.