It’s taken quite a while and there have been quite a lot of decisions to make. Before those decisions could be made research has been needed which probably meant the purchase of a good hobby book which in turn threw up a lot of questions. Thank goodness for the internet, a massive resource for information.
The decision on whether it will be a reef or fish only system has been made as well – of course it has, how else would the decisions on some of the equipment be made such as lights? So there the aquarium sits, full of seawater, all equipment running. The biological filter has been started and tests indicate all is ready. Seawater testing must continue through the stocking period and beyond of course. The new aquarist is nearly overcome by the desire to obtain livestock. Hold on a little longer though, the whole point of the system is to see healthy marine life so let’s not make a mistake with it.
Correct stocking means slow stocking with the correct species and this has to include consideration for further stocking later which means the first fish need to be compatible. There are fish available that are suitable for beginners and will not cause undue problems in the future. They are generally hardy and will forgive some novice errors which are often to do with seawater quality.
What if the system is to include a reef? The same thing applies: the corals need to be compatible and not a negative for the future and also be hardy (in marine terms). Though it is not absolutely necessary, it’s best to place corals in first and allow them to settle for a while so that they have the best quality seawater without the contaminating influence of fish. In addition corals usually arrive on a rock and this rock has to be fitted into the reef. This could raise the need to move or even remove rocks and new fish would be further stressed by this action. There are corals that are suitable for the beginner and could very well be enough for the future as they display beauty and interest together and individually. On the basis that corals are strictly best in first what is available?
The best corals to consider are those that are generally termed as ‘soft’. These corals come in various forms and there are many types. They provide a lovely reef scene and many sway in the seawater currents and make a lovely picture. The size of the aquarium needs to be considered to ensure individual coral types are suitable and also how many different types are required. Corals have a low impact on seawater quality, far less than fish, so that is one potential problem less. They should be firmly placed so they don’t fall later and have plenty of room for expansion. Corals should not be in direct line with a powerhead output. Some of the corals mentioned can be trimmed (‘fragged’) if they become too large, producing a new coral.
The first coral type is the finger coral (properly known as Sinularia sp and Lobophytum sp). As the name suggests they usually have a main stem attached to a rock with branches above which in turn carry smaller branches which hold the polyps. This is not always the case though, some are low level. One of these low level types is Sinularia dura which is possibly the hardiest of all but still lovely.
The toadstool corals (properly called Sarcophyton sp) have a thick stalk crowned by a flat head covered in extended polyps. They are quite unique in appearance and interesting to include.
Mushroom corals (properly known as Rhodactis sp and Discosoma sp) are a little similar to the toadstools but much lower. They are attached to rockwork by a short stalk and have a circular head. The head is usually of a rough appearance but not always. They usually form groups.
Button polyps (properly known as Zoanthus sp) are a grouping of polyps that appear similar to flowers in a vase. The heads are much smaller than the previous corals. They can spread and are usually constrained by the size of the rock(s) they can colonise. They are an excellent addition to a reef.
That’s a good start for corals so what about fish? They need to be compatible with corals and each other. Before a few fish species are considered let’s look at damsel fish. These are small, active, hardy and colourful. Some, even occasional dealers, still suggest them to ‘run in’ a new aquarium – this is wrong, maturation fluid should be used if required. Very important, damsel fish are generally territorial and aggressive. If they are placed in an aquarium first they will see the aquarium as their territory and could harass or attack later additions even those bigger than themselves. This could lead to the later fish being afraid to come for food resulting in poor health or death. So avoid damsel fish. If one must be had, introduce it to the aquarium last so that other fish are settled and ensure the other fish are sturdy and not easily picked on.
The first fish in this short starter list is the firefish (properly known as Nemateleotris sp). At first sight this fish species appears delicate but they are reasonably hardy and are best kept as a pair. They could grow to about 3”. Probably the best known firefish is Nemateleotris magnifica.
Another interestingly shaped and coloured fish is the bicolour blenny (properly called Ecsenius bicolor). This can also grow to about 3”. It moves from rock to rock and mainly stays in view, and could stop at a particular point for a while.
Now for the gorgeous royal gramma ( properly called Gramma loreto). This fish is a little larger and could grow to near 4”. It is beautifully coloured and a definite plus.
A fish that most would recognise is the so called common clown (properly called Amphiprion ocellaris). These could grow to about 3”. This clownfish bears the colours that signal ‘marine’, it is very attractive. Two could be kept. These fish are being widely commercially and home bred. It’s reported that the aquarium bred ones are more hardy than the reef caught ones, so it’s a very good idea to obtain the aquarium bred type. On the wild reefs clownfish live with anemones but this should not be attempted by the beginner. Keeping an anemone is not as easy as might be thought as experience is required. Common clownfish – particularly the aquarium bred ones – should be quite happy without an anemone.
If the aquarium is ready for stocking that is all is operational and the biological filtration is ready, the suggested corals and fish (or some of them depending on the size of the aquarium) should give a colourful and interesting foundation. They are reasonably hardy and are able – within reason! – to tolerate small errors beginners are likely to make. If the aquarium is big enough further fish and/or corals can eventually be added after research has confirmed that they are fully compatible with existing stock.
There’s something missing from this text – pictures. If the aquarist types the proper name into a search engine then a whole host of choices will appear, including pictures and care.