You’ve probably heard that saltwater fish are much more difficult to keep than freshwater.
While it’s true that keeping the tank clean and the water properly balanced does take a lot of work and dedication.
You can make it a little easier by choosing to fill it with the best saltwater aquarium fish for beginners.
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18 Best Saltwater Aquarium Fish for Beginners
If you’re just getting into keeping saltwater fish, here are some of the best varieties to get you started.
One of the things that make Tangs a great choice for beginners is that they’re hardy and resilient as well as extremely beautiful. There are a lot of different varieties, too, including bright yellow and powder blue.
Bear in mind that Tangs are generally unaggressive with other fish but are prone to fighting amongst themselves.
They require a tank of at least 100 gallons and make a colorful addition to any saltwater community.
2. Watchman Goby
The watchman goby is one of the best picks for beginners. For one thing, they’re not picky when it comes to diet and will eat things that are readily available at the pet store. They’ll even eat table shrimp.
Gobies are pretty popular so they’re not hard to find and you can usually find them in any pet store.
They’re peaceful and get along well with other species of fish but don’t get along very well with other gobies so, if you get more than one, make sure you keep them separated.
3. Chalk Bass
A great saltwater fish for newbies is the Chalk Bass. These fish are durable, resist illness, and can thrive even in less than optimal water conditions.
When you’re just starting out, having a tolerant fish like a Chalk Bass makes it a little easier to learn the ropes.
These fish are white with reddish strips along their dorsal side and are great for getting a tank started.
While several can live in the same aquarium, it’s important to introduce them all at once to avoid territorial fighting within the species.
A lot of these fish require large tanks of 100 gallons or more which can be a little overwhelming for someone just starting out. That’s why Damselfish are such a great choice. They only require 30-gallons!
Damselfish can be a little aggressive but as long as you give them plenty of hiding places, they tend to keep to themselves.
There are also plenty of brightly-colored varieties to choose from and most of them are stunning.
Another good choice for a small 30-gallon tank is the Dottyback. They can be aggressive but with the right size tank, plenty of hiding spots, and a satisfying diet, they’re usually pretty happy and non-confrontational.
These fish are a great way to add small, bright pops of color to your tank plus there are a few different varieties to choose from.
They come in a few different colors, including blue, purple, and yellow as well as
You might remember that Nemo was a clownfish and if you’re hoping to add one to your saltwater tank, you’re in luck. Clownfish, especially the False Percula variety, are easy to care for.
As it’s one of the most popular saltwater fish available, dry pellets and frozen food for it are easy to find.
These colorful fish are active and don’t like to hide as much as some of their tankmates so they make an interesting addition to a beginning saltwater community.
Another gorgeous option is the firefish. These long, thin fish generally have a white or light colored body and a bright red, orange, and/or magenta tail which is what gave them their name.
The firefish has a great temperament for community tanks. They’re calm, non-confrontational, and will geat just about anything. Plus, they’re fun to watch because they move really fast and like to hide.
8. Coral Beauties
If you’re planning a larger tank that’s 70-gallons or more, a Coral Beauty is a great addition.
This good-looking fish typically has a blue body and with bright orange stripes. They can do fine on their own or in small schools.
Coral beauties don’t require coral in the tank but they do like to hide so make sure to give them plenty of rocks and plants. They prefer a mix of food that includes algae as well as high-quality meaty angelfish foods.
9. Talbot’s Damsel
Talbot’s Damsels are bright, vibrant fish that are easy to care for. They help control algae in the tank and eat meaty foods as well. They’re tolerant of their surroundings and are available pretty much anywhere.
These fish are preyed upon in the wild and do better with tankmates that are less aggressive.
They like burrowing under rocks and prefer a sandy bottom as opposed to a pebbled substrate. As long as they have plenty of places to hide, they’ll do well in a community tank.
These brightly colored fish prefer a sandy bottom where they can bury themselves and plenty of rocks to hide in.
They’re non-confrontational and keep to themselves as long as they have a lot of hiding spaces.
Most varieties of this species do very well in a tank environment but they’re a little messy so larger tanks are preferred.
A few of the best types for a community aquarium are flasher wrasses, fairy wrasses, and six line wrasses.
11. Pajama Cardinalfish
One of the most unique looking choices is the Pajama Cardinalfish. It has a yellow/green face and front with a black band around its middle and a bright polka dot tail.
They can be kept on their own in a 20-gallon tank but you’ll need 30-gallons for schooling.
These fish are shy and tend to keep to themselves. They’re most active at night which is when they should be fed.
They like a lot of places to hide during the day so make sure you give them plenty of live plants and rocks to explore.
12. Blenny Fish
They spend most of their time hiding among the rocks and plants at the bottom of the tank, peeping out to observe their surroundings.
Although Blenny fish get along fine with other species, they do fight among themselves so you should only add one to your tank. There are different types to choose from, too, including striped and horned varieties.
13. Butterfly Fish
One of the most beautiful additions to any saltwater tank is the butterfly fish. Although there are a lot of different subspecies, each one is a stunning addition to your saltwater tank community.
All varieties of butterfly fish are beautiful and easy to care for but each subspecies has its own dietary requirements and needs so make sure you learn about the specific type you selected so it stays happy and healthy.
Mollies are an interesting choice for a few reasons. One is that they’re very tolerant of environmental changes and can live in fresh or salt water.
They’re affordable and even help with keeping the tank clean because they love to eat algae.
There are a lot of different varieties of Mollies and they come in all sizes and colors. Plus, they’re easy to care for.
Just keep up with water changes and give them plenty of green foods and they’ll stay happy and healthy.
15. Green Chromis
The Green Chromis is a mellow fish that’s easy to care for which makes them a great addition to a new saltwater tank. This is an active fish that like to school and like a tank with plenty of live rock.
These fish look great in a well-lit tank, especially if you have a small school. They’re white, luminescent coloring looks great when it catches the light and is quite impressive when there’s a group of them together.
16. Longnose Hawkfish
If you have a 30-gallon tank or larger, consider a Longnose Hawkfish. The white body with red boxy striping has an interesting look that adds some interest to any tank plus it’s fun and interesting to watch.
Make sure you have a tight-fitting lid because these fish are known
They’re semi-aggressive and may go after other long-bodied fish but, with the right tankmates, they’ll thrive in a reef environment.
17. Royal Gramma Basslet
Royal Gramma Basslets are bright purple and yellow and only grow to about 3 inches long.
While they get along well with most tankmates, they get territorial with their own kind so adding only one to your tank is best.
This fish requires a tank of at least 30 gallons and prefers low light and a lot of rocks and caves to hide in.
They’re carnivores and should be fed a variety of meaty foods like crustacean flesh,
18. Big Eye Black Bar Soldierfish
The Big Eye Black Bar Soldierfish is a good choice for aquariums over 70 gallons and they do well in small groups as long as they have enough live rocks to hide in.
These fish are nocturnal so they need plenty of places to hide in bright light.
As you can probably tell from the name, these fish have large eyes with a very large black pupil as well as a bright red body with white outlines along the fins.
They’re carnivores and like to eat worms, feeder shrimp, freeze dried shrimp, and fresh chopped marine meat
How to Choose Fish for Saltwater Aquarium?
The best way to choose fish for a saltwater aquarium is to start by approaching it just like you would any other pet.
You probably wouldn’t go out and bring home a dog from a breed that you didn’t know much about. Fish should be approached the same way.
What’s the first thing you should do?
Research. Make a list of the fish you like then do some research. Here are some of the most important points to keep in mind.
- Aquarium size. Some saltwater fish can live comfortably in a 20-gallon tank but if you want to grow your community and keep your fish happy, starting with a 55-gallon is better. Keep in mind that some fish need at least 70-gallons, which is even larger still. As you can see, it’s a good idea to hold off buying a tank until you know what kind of fish you want to get.
- Habitat requirements. Different fish have different needs when it comes to their environment. Some need a sandy substrate to burrow in while others need a lot of living rocks with places to hide. When building a community, be careful to choose fish that like the same kind of habitat.
- Temperament. This is really important because you don’t want to house gentle fish with aggressive varieties that will chase them or, worse, prey on them. Different temperaments can live together in the right environment but you have to know how to provide it.
- Compatibility. Not only do you have to consider compatibility between different types of fish, but also remember that some fish prefer to live on their own without any tankmates of their own kind.
How to Introduce New Fish into a Saltwater Aquarium?
There are a few ways that you can safely add new fish to a saltwater aquarium without cause stress to your new addition or an established community.
This is the safest way to do it. You need a large, clean bucket and a piece of tubing that can reach from inside the tank to the bucket and a way to secure it in place.
Take the bag that your fish came in and either place the whole thing in the bucket or, if there’s enough water, you can empty the contents into the bucket, fish and all. If you use the whole bag, poke a hole in the top where you can insert the tubing.
Start a siphon so that the water from your tank drips into the bag or bucket at about one drop each second. When the water volume is about twice what you started with, remove half of it and let it slowly fill back up again.
Test the pH and salinity of the tank water and the water in the bucket. If it’s a match, you can add the fish to the tank. If not, repeat the process and test again.
The idea is that the water from the tank will slowly mix with the water the fish came in and allow the fish to acclimate to his new water without having to actually place him inside the tank right way.
This is commonly used for freshwater fish but works with saltwater fish, too. This way is a little risky because you don’t have the definite separation between your tank and the new fish like you do with the drip method. Bear in mind, it could cause problems if the new fish is contaminated.
Open the bag and remove about ¼ of the water and replace it with water directly from the tank. Secure the top of the bag and let it float in the tank. Every fifteen minutes or so, add another cup of tank water to the bag. Do this four or five times until the bag is full.
Once the fish inside the bag has had about an hour to slowly acclimate to the changes, add him to the tank using a net. This is much safer than just dumping the whole bag because it keeps the water that came from the pet store out of your tank.
This is exactly the same as the floating bag method only done in a bucket instead of inside the tank. It’s a little less risky because the entire process is done away from your tank so you don’t have to worry about contaminating the water.
Place some aquarium water in the bucket first then follow the same method as above only floating the bag in the bucket instead of inside the tank.
Other Things to Consider
If you’re building a community from scratch, it’s best to start with the least aggressive fish first. Add one type at a time and let them get used to each other before adding a more aggressive fish.
You may also want to consider using a quarantine tank. This is an empty, cycled tank where you can put new fish and watch them for a few weeks before adding them to your tank.
It’s the best way to make sure they’re not sick and won’t harm the rest of the fish in your aquarium.
How often should I feed my Saltwater Aquarium Fish?
How often you should feed your saltwater fish really depends on whether they’re herbivores, omnivores, or carnivores.
Herbivores and omnivores should have small meals offered to them a few times a day. This replicates how they would eat in the wild, grazing on algae and other plant life throughout the day.
Some carnivores can be fed every day but every other day is often a better schedule. Again, that mimics their eating habits in the wild.
With every feeding, make sure that your fish are eating everything you’re offering them. If there’s food left after they’ve finished, it likely means you’re overfeeding and can cause issues with bacteria and other problems in your tank
While it’s true that saltwater tanks are higher maintenance than freshwater, choosing the right fish can make the process a lot easier. Check out our suggestions for the best saltwater fish for beginners to help you build a community that thrives.
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Charles McIntyre says
These are so beautiful, loved the Watchman Goby, will buy it soon for my aquarium.
Thank you for,the fish guide. Since I am going to begin setting up a saltwater tank soon as a beginner I need lots of advice. Being as this process takes many months I am doing my fish research early on. I love the species you recommended.
Take some years of advice….Learn….Save yourself Alot of time/money…Start with a 55gal /60gal …..Be Patient…Enjoy
Desinghu Raja says
Your advise seems to me like a parent to those who want to achieve THANKS A LOT
Can I add a blue mandarin in my 30 gallon tank? Please make a suggestion.
Bobby Wachter says
I’ve done it. If you have a nicely established tank with plenty of ‘pods for it to eat you could be okay. Depends though on your fish-matrix and if you have anything they might damage.
They are pretty though… good luck!
What are pods? What will they damage? Thanks! I’m just starting my research and they are cool looking.