The two most common questions I get about starting a saltwater aquarium are:
- Isn’t it a lot of work?
- Aren’t they expensive?
I tend to get these questions when someone first sees my tank–or finds out I’m a big fish nerd.
Do you get the same questions? What do you say? I usually say it depends.
That can be a maddeningly frustrating answer, but it does depend.
Isn’t it a lot of work?
My work is a lot of work. My kids are a lot of work. My house is a lot of work. Dogs are a lot of work. Keeping a saltwater aquarium (and a website about them) is certainly work—but it’s something I love to do. Starting a saltwater aquarium is supposed to be fun!
In response to these questions, given the time, I try to find out a little more about the things they like to do, specifically regarding pets. Is a saltwater aquarium a lot more work than keeping a dog? You can’t skip a feeding or water change with a dog. Every day, they need to be fed, given water, exercised, and given affection.
With a dog, you have to make plans for when you leave the house and when you will return, based on the timing implications of their need for certain biological functions.
This tank is not a lot of work, because it has hardy soft coral species and a deep sand bed, which acts as a natural ‘filter’ for waste products
This tank is more work…because it is very large (as evidenced by having several large tangs looking small) and SPS corals, which are notoriously the most challenging to care for. But I put forward the position that the work involved is not more than the work involved in a garden or in caring for another pet.
When starting out a saltwater aquarium, the work involved falls into a few categories:
- Feeding – generally best to do at least once daily, although it would be better to do it twice daily if your schedule allows
- Testing – t0 ensure you are creating and maintaining the ideal water parameters to foster success
- Cleaning & maintenance – to keep things looking nice and growing well (it’s a bit like weeding a garden)
What type of work is required? Here is a basic maintenance schedule.
Long story short, starting a new saltwater aquarium is more work than not starting one. It is a commitment to spend a little bit of time each day and a little bit more time each week to care for these amazing animals in your home.
Aren’t they expensive?
Well, that depends—on the size of your tank, on where you get your livestock (retail vs. frags), live rocks and how densely you stock your tank, on what type of tank you are keeping. A high octane SPS-dominated tank is certainly on the high-end of the expense spectrum, but your first saltwater aquarium doesn’t have to be.
Here are a few tips to save some money.
From my perspective, the expenses got real when I became obsessed with the hobby. I started out with a relatively simple tank that didn’t cost that much. And I fell in love. Then it got expensive, but that was okay because I already knew that I was in love with the hobby.
Starting a new saltwater aquarium doesn’t have to be expensive. If you start out small and keep it simple. Then, I advocate, grow with it if you find that you really like it.
Whether or not a new saltwater aquarium is expensive or a lot of work depends a lot on your own personality/disposition. If you’re the type of person that believes in going big or going home, if you’re the type of person who is always tinkering, or if buying and trying out new equipment is what gets you going, then yes, starting a saltwater aquarium could require an endless pile of cash. But it doesn’t have to.
Starting a saltwater aquarium is certainly a luxury hobby. If you are scrounging to save some dough, this is not the best hobby for that. However, if you have some money to spend on a fun hobby, you can keep the costs reasonably under control if you have discipline.
One last thought here. When I get those two questions, I try to emphasize that starting a saltwater aquarium is a commitment. There doesn’t have to be much work, but you do have to commit to doing the work routinely.
Just like you wouldn’t expect a good outcome if you ignored another pet for a week, you can’t expect to set up and ignore your new saltwater aquarium.
Most of all, I encourage you to try it and see if you like it. At some point, the work either becomes too much, or you realize it doesn’t feel like work at all.
Do you ever get these questions? What do you say?