The world is full of fishes, much to the pleasure of aquarists. So many of us enter into the fishkeeping hobby by keeping freshwater fishes, and several remain freshwater enthusiasts for quite some time. This is for good reason. The many ever-changing rivers and lakes of the world, even though they contain only a tiny fraction of one percent
of the water on our planet, have produced as many species of freshwater fishes as there are
saltwater fishes! However, even the most die-hard freshwater aquarists have either had the
glamour or the challenge of saltwater aquaria cross their minds. The allure is undeniable—to
the point where the most stunning colors of freshwater fishes are usually compared to those
of saltwater species. And the invertebrate life matches these colors as well.
But the switch to saltwater can be
intimidating. To the uninitiated there
seems to be a variety of odd new gadgets,
from those used to remove proteins from
the surface to ones that describe levels
of calcium, salinity, and specific gravity.
Lights have names like “power compact”
and “metal halide.” What is needed for just
fish? What is needed for corals? What can
still be used from a freshwater system, if
Before diving into the equipment
questions, let’s consider the decision
itself. There are good and bad reasons for
switching to salt, and for every person that
never looks back at fresh water there are
just as many people who dive right back
into keeping cichlids and livebearers.
As a scientist I’d actually start this with
two words: new phyla. Although there
are a couple of freshwater sponges, snails,
and crustaceans, the phyla you can keep
in a saltwater tank are incredible in their
variety. Corals come to mind first, but there
is also a variety of colorful sponges, shrimp,
anemones, flatworms, sea slugs, sea stars,
and even crazy things like octopuses!
Although new phyla are interesting, our
focus is often on fish, which brings about
an even shorter, one-word answer to why
one would switch to saltwater fishes: color.
Although many tropical freshwater fish
(African cichlids, killifish, rainbows, etc.)
are quite colorful, notice how we defend
their color by comparing them to saltwater
fish (“these African cichlids are just as
beautiful as any saltwater fish!”).
I’ve been breeding African cichlids for
years, and as much as it kills me, I have
to admit there’s really no comparison. The