What kind of aquarium is right for me? – Building a healthy aquarium.

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Not sure what type of aquarium is right for you? One of the keys to a healthy aquarium is to have realistic expectations about what you’ll need to maintain a specific type of aquarium.

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?”

Let’s start by breaking this down into four basic types of aquarium.

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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.


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.


There’s really no controversy here, saltwater aquariums are more expensive as compared to a standard freshwater system.

Often overlooked, a marine salt mix should be factored into the cost of this type of system making routine maintenance itself a larger expense. Additionally, marine fishes are generally more expensive to obtain than most freshwater species, making mistakes that much more expensive.


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.


Take one of the 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.


Though there are cichlids in the Americas, Africa, and a few on the Asian continent as well, cichlid community tanks most often conjure images of a Rift Lake cichlid community.

These displays focus on the fauna from a trio of African lakes (Malawi, Tanganyika, and Victoria).

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

The photo above is an ornately decorated Rift Lake display. 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 display.


Similar to other freshwater systems, though more time will be required to monitor aggression and mitigate nutrients in more densely populated aquariums.


You will need reliable filtration and good gas exchange. Due to the larger sized displays recommended for these species, most aquarist opt for a canister or wet/dry sump-style filter for their systems.

Lots of habitat, or cage furniture if you will, is vital to a stable cichlid display. You need to provide refuge for smaller animals.


Larger tank, bigger filters, more specific nutrition requirements all add up to a more expensive endeavor. However, most people have no problem investing in the kinds of quality gear they’ll need to accommodate their new hobby.

Water Changes are Key to a Healthy Aquarium

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These systems may look simple, but they rival reef aquariums in terms of the complexity, time investment, and expense. As beautiful as a nice aquascaped can be, they remain a challenge for many aquarists.

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This is perhaps the only type of system that, if you do things exceptionally well, they actually become more time-intensive. In planted displays, algae control often equates to lush actively growing plants…which leads to trimming duties.


Like a reef tank, your success follows the quality of the light that you provide to your system. In addition, you’ll want to source RO filtered water (or make your own). Specialized carbon dioxide delivery systems supercharge the growth in high-tech aquascapes.


Beyond the basic investment in CO2 and lights, aquascapes have a tremendous “bang for your buck”. A thriving planted display will net cuttings that you can trade or sell, or multiply in your own systems.


The hybrid between an aquarium and a terrarium is called a paludarium, which has both a functional aquarium side adjacent to the terrestrial section. You can house multiple types of animals together, though the complication (and difficulty) level ramps up quickly.


Potentially time-consuming. Time will have to be spent cleaning both terrestrial waste as well as aquarium waste. Note, fewer animals equates to less time necessary.


Once again complicated issues, you will need to provide for any animals that you’re including. Reptiles should have full-spectrum lighting and potentially a basking spot as well.

The aquarium section can be created with a power head that drives a small waterfall in smaller systems, or a similar setup driven via canister filter in larger setups.


At it’s most simplistic, these types of setups can be very economical, but the sky is truly the limit in terms of how much expense can become necessary. Lighting, water movement, animal diets, and potentially even veterinary services are all potential expenses.

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.


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