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Aquatic Marketplace: Corals for Beginners

Posted: August 1, 2014, 11:00 a.m. EDT


With enough help from retailers, a first-time hobbyist can maintain a thriving marine tank with corals.

By David A. Lass

It has been recommended in the past that first-time hobbyists start with freshwater, advance to saltwater and then, when regular marine fishkeeping has been mastered, throw some corals and even a reef tank into the mix. This is no longer the case, as first timers can do very well with corals and a reef tank.

"I firmly believe that the beginner can start with a coral-filled marine tank,” said DJ Ducharme, assistant manager and fish room manager at Little Critter Pet Center, which has locations in Exeter and Raymond, N.H. "They don’t have to ‘unlearn’ anything, and people seem to pay more attention to anything marine as opposed to freshwater.”

Starting with a simple setup and easy fish and corals is important, and many store owners said that first-time hobbyists have more success with marine tanks than freshwater ones.

"It’s also important to qualify the customer,” said Brett Varnum, co-owner of Laconia Pet Center in Laconia, N.H. "The folks who want to put a ‘Nemo’ in a five-gallon tank have to be worked with and convinced to go with some mushrooms and yellow polyps, and simple T8 or HO T5 lights.” 

Getting Started
First, hobbyists must understand what they are getting into before deciding what specific equipment to use for their first marine tank with corals.

"They should do some research and know what the time requirements are for such an aquarium, and that it requires proper care and maintenance,” said Jason Oneppo, customer support for San Francisco Bay Brand Inc. in Newark, Calif.

 Clownfish

Gaining background knowledge and understanding all of the steps in the process will make the endeavor much less daunting, manufacturers reported.

"The most important factor to be successful is to be educated about the subject as much as possible,” said Jim Morgan, reptile and aquatic husbandry specialist for Zoo Med Laboratories in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Working with the local aquatics store also is important.

"Being successful with this type of aquarium is quite easy today provided the new hobbyist has a reliable retailer to guide them,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA Inc. in Hayward, Calif. 

Starting With a Nano Tank
An extremely popular segment in the industry is small, packaged all-in-one aquariums. 

"One can have a beautiful minireef in a five-gallon tank that is teeming with corals,” said Francis Yupangco, aquatic development manager at Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. in Mansfield, Mass. "The key to success is good light and very few fish.”

The size and number of animals must be appropriate to the size of the nano tank, retailers reported.

"Three to seven-gallon complete kits are my favorites, and we always have one or two on the counter,” said Bob Schenck, owner of Animal Instincts Aquarium and Pet Center in Fall River, Mass. "We sell them as is; a seven gallon with the livestock is $199, and folks do great with them as long as they do water changes.”

Many retailers also mentioned BioCubes as their go-to nano tanks.

"The 14 gallon is my favorite,” said Jeff Champlin, co-owner of Critter Hut Aquarium & Pets, which has locations in North Kingstown and Narragansett, R.I. "The lighting and filtration are built in, and it is fairly easy to add a protein skimmer and a UV sterilizer.”

One drawback of some of the nano tanks is that they do not come with a protein skimmer, which makes the importance of regular water changes paramount.

"A minireef can be made in a nano tank,” said Julian Sprung, owner of Two Little Fishies in Miami Gardens, Fla., and a pioneer in the marine hobby. "I have seen some pretty amazing permanent display tanks with a high diversity of corals (albeit small ones) in aquariums with less than one gallon of water.”

The Livestock
Livestock selection is of paramount importance for the first-time marine tank, especially with a small tank for a new hobbyist. This seems to be the most difficult idea to get across to inexperienced fishkeepers, retailers stated.

"Most of the corals we carry are aquacultured,” said Jim Reiman, owner of Tropic Waters Pet Center in Eau Claire, Wis. "On the fish side the variety is pretty limited, but for smaller tanks clownfish, gobies and dottybacks are just fine.”

The advantage of aquacultured corals and fish is something that virtually all retailers agree upon.

"Whenever possible we try to go with the aquacultured fish and corals,” said Little Critter Pet Center’s Ducharme. "They are completely used to the conditions in an aquarium, and the fish are already eating dry foods. The fact that we are not taking anything from the wild really seems to resonate with our customers.”

Less Is More
Keeping it simple definitely applies to maintaining a first-time marine tank with corals.

"The first-time hobbyist and the dealer they buy from can, and should, avoid making the physical aquarium overly complicated to maintain,” Sprung said. "While it is true that there are hobbyists attracted to learning about complex chemistry or electronic controls, one may assume that a beginner does not want to tinker, test and worry about balancing parameters.” 

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