What kind of aquarium is right for me?

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Not sure what type of aquarium is right for you?

After deciding to purchase an aquarium, one is confronted with a myriad of different choices that you can make. Whether salt or fresh water? Live plants and cichlids? Living corals or FOWLR? Wait…what’s FOWLR? (Fish Only With Live Rock) All of this often leaving people wondering “What kind of aquarium should i get?”

Check out the descriptions of the four basic types of aquarium to see if this describes your aquarium vision.

Live Coral Reef

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Bring all the beauty and spender of the world’s coral reefs into your living room! A living coral reef can replicate the color and diversity of animal species for which coral reefs are famous.


A Fish Geeks favorite, nothing matches the intrigue of a mature reef aquarium. Perhaps the only drawback is that you will need to remain more involved with this type of system than with perhaps any other.


Because reef tanks vary in size, the available equipment is highly variable as well. Adequate lighting, water movement, and chemical filtration are the three vital components to a successful reef. A protein skimmer, will provide the main component of most reef setups. Lighting your reef is simpler today than ever with a simple choice: LED or fluorescent lighting. Water movement is provided by recirculation pumps strategically located inside your aquarium.

Most people will add live rock or dry reef rock as a substrate for coral attachment and to provide visual appeal.


There’s no getting around it, reef tanks can be expensive. With a seemingly never-ending options of devices and add-ons, some people mistakenly think that reef aquariums are prohibitively expensive. In reality, simple reefs can be kept in virtually any aquarium provided adequate care is provided, with a cost that can be comparable to a standard saltwater aquarium.

Saltwater Community

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From Nemo to Dory, a saltwater community offers you the opportunity to house some of world’s most colorful fishes. Due to the larger size of many marine fish species, Fish Geeks generally recommends a medium to large size aquarium for this type of system.


Saltwater aquariums can be a little more time consuming than freshwater aquariums. Though water changes are bit more complicated, all of the same rules apply in both fresh and salt water aquariums. If you have mastered the freshwater aquarium, saltwater aquariums represent a marginal increase in the time invested over a freshwater system.


Standard filtration equipment typically utilized on fresh-water aquariums is also generally suitable for saltwater aquariums as well. In addition a protein skimmer, genius in its simplicity, is ideally suited to the saltwater aquarium.


Often overlooked, a marine salt mix should be factored into the cost of this type of system. Additionally, marine fishes are generally more expensive to obtain than most freshwater species.

Freshwater Planted Displays

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Few displays rival the beauty of an artistically aquascaped live aquatic plant display. Fish Geeks can create a lush underwater rain forest that will provide glowing green foliage all year round.


A healthy planted display requires surprisingly little daily maintenance. Depending on the species of plants you choose to grow, some intermittent trimming may be required. Fish Geeks recommends two to four water changes per month for this type of system.


Not unlike a live coral system, an aquarium tailored for growing live plants requires adequate lighting and good filtration. Many people also opt to inject carbon dioxide gas to supercharge the growth of their plants.


The variety of live plant setups is quite large, thus the expense varies quite a bit as well. Requiring far less technology than a living reef tank, the represent the expert’s freshwater alternative to the reef.

Freshwater Community

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Sometimes the simplest setups are the most beautiful. Often underestimated, a simple fresh water community setup can exhibit a host of interesting fishes from the far corners of the globe.


Simplicity at its finest, a stable well balanced aquarium requires less work than a fish bowl. Really!


A simple filter and heater are all you need to get your aquarium running. Decor options abound, just make sure you don’t add things that may alter your pH (sea shells, coral skeletons) and are more suitable for a marine environment.


Freshwater animals are relatively inexpensive, as is the simple filtration adequate for this type of aquarium. This makes the freshwater community the most economical aquarium option.

Unfortunately, nothing is ever quite that simple…

The reality is that after breaking aquariums up into four basic categories, there are still a lot of choices to be made.

  • Stony corals or soft corals?
  • Do you want to include cichlids?
  • Aggressive or passive species of fish?
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Specialty Setups

Take one of the four basic aquariums and turn up the volume. You can customize any aquarium to fit your needs. A specialty setup is just one of the basic aquariums outlined above, with a more specific focus. As an example, a freshwater community aquarium can take on many appearances. But if you focus on creating a naturalistic freshwater community, a clear appearance comes to mind.

Similarly adding Cichlids, a group of fishes famous in the aquarium trade, will likely convert a community aquarium to a semi-aggressive community.

One can take this one step further, and create an aquarium that is specifically tailored to single purpose.

…create an aquarium that is specifically tailored to single purpose.

The following are a couple examples of specialty aquariums.

Rift Lake Cichlid Community

The African rift lakes are full of amazingly colorful and fascinating fishes.

With few special requirements, this is a great entrance point for beginners looking to advance into an advanced aquarium specialty, or if you just want to exhibit more color and class.

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Rift lake communities are the easiest way to add a large splash of color to your medium to large size tank.

This is typical Rift Lake aquascaping. The large boulders with plenty of caves is very characteristic of this style, and is beneficial for cichlid husbandry.

Small sized aquariums are not ideally suited to this type of aquarium.

Temperate Native Community

I get more requests for this type of aquarium than virtually any other. The fishes of North America are as fascinating as they are beautiful, and many make good aquarium inhabitants guaranteed to show off their beautiful colors for years…provided their basic needs are met.

These temperate fish naturally reside in water that is quite cool by aquarium standards. Keeping these fish in aquariums means providing them with as close a replication of their natural habitat as is possible, and this includes that cool temperature.

For housing native fishes, Fish Geeks recommends a chiller to keep the water at the appropriate temperature throughout the year.

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While not a simple task, it is certainly possible to house many of the fish familiar to you, and a host of others you may have yet to discover.

Still wondering….What kind of aquarium should I get??

There are an almost infinite number of choices and modifications that can be made to aquariums. Are you thinking about keeping an “experts only” fish? Contact Fish Geeks today.

We can give you the specifics on setting up any kind of aquarium.


Contact us today!


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