Front view of a 60x48x30 reef aquariumThis week we’ll talk about different types of saltwater aquariums. Known for their vibrant colors, saltwater aquariums have many variations that can be grouped into three main categories:

  • Fish only
  • Fish only with live rock (FOWLR)
  • Reef tank

Fish only

Saltwater aquariums with fish only are relatively inexpensive to set FIsh only displayup because they do not require special lighting. It is not unusual to include some crustaceans and snails in a fish-only tank, but only if they are compatible with the fish you are keeping. Fish-only aquariums may feature artificial decorations that provide visual interest and hiding places for the fish, such decorative rocks, natural dried or synthetic pieces of coral, sea shells, etc. This type of aquarium requires good mechanical filtration, as well as frequent maintenance, including water changes, to keep water quality at optimal levels.


Saltwater fish-only aquariums have lost popularity in recent years Fish only with live rock displaycompared to “fish-only with live rock” or FOWLR tanks because live rock offers natural biological filtration to improve water chemistry. It is called “live rock” because, just like rocks you would find in the ocean, it has tiny creatures living inside the rock and on its surface.

Why is live rock so beneficial to a saltwater aquarium?  The many different biological organisms found in the rocks’ pores aid in the nitrogen cycle and help to rid your aquarium of nitrates. While it’s still necessary to monitor water parameters regularly and perform water changes as needed, live rock helps maintain stability in a FOWLR aquarium and can also provide a food source for fish.

Reef tank

A reef tank setup goes a step beyond the FOWLR tank to create a Tangs being inquisitive in a 260 gallon custom reef aquariumminiature ocean ecosystem. Reef tanks are designed to showcase a variety of marine invertebrates, such as corals and anemones. But fish are welcome too! Not to mention snails, crabs, sea stars, worms and shrimp.

Many people assume that corals are rigid, unmoving structures. But in reality, corals are living creatures that lend a great variety of colors, textures and even motion to your saltwater aquarium. Corals sway in the water current, and some, such as the Xenia coral, have tentacles that actually open and close to catch food particles.

Reef aquariums require very precise water conditions, lighting levels, chemical additions, reverse osmosis and/or deionized water, and excellent filtration. For these reasons, aquarium hobbyists may want to start with a FOWLR tank and then work their way up to a reef system. Or, if you enjoy the natural beauty of a reef tank but not all the work, you can partner with a company like Aquarium Quest to maintain it for you.

In fact, we have many years of experience in designing, installing and maintaining all of these aquarium types. We have the know-how to maintain your miniature ocean at optimal levels so that its inhabitants can enjoy their home while you enjoy their beauty in your home or office. We serve clients in Pinellas County and Tampa, Florida. No matter which type of aquarium you prefer, the sea really is the limit. Use your imagination, and let Aquarium Quest help you bring your dream aquarium to life.

Aquarium Choices: The Sea’s the Limit (Part 2)

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