Freshwater Tropical fish sump

Saltwater versus Freshwater Aquariums

Learn the arguments for choosing to set-up either a freshwater or saltwater aquarium.

People often wonder whether they should setup a freshwater or a saltwater aquarium. They have probably heard pretty convincing opinions on both sides of the argument (and yes, everyone has their own preference) which can make it hard to choose. I currently have both kinds of aquariums so I thought it would be useful to discuss the key differences between the two setups so people could better judge for themselves which one fits them better. This article is not meant to sway you one way or the other as I fully realize that each person has their own preference. Instead, it is meant as an overall view of their similarities and differences.

I do want to clarify one common misconception before we start. Many people seem to think that freshwater aquariums are for beginners and then when they get enough experience, they move onto saltwater. While it may generally be true that saltwater aquariums tend to require more expertise, there are plenty of very experienced freshwater hobbyist who simply choose to stay in the freshwater realm. Besides, there are numerous freshwater setups that can provide just as much of a challenge as a saltwater setup.

Different Types of Aquariums

While we are generally breaking down the types of aquariums you can choose into two large categories – freshwater or saltwater – there are actually subcategories within each of these. These subcategories have a huge impact on aspects of your tank such as cost and maintenance.

For freshwater, some of the subcategories include:

  • Planted tanks
  • Biotope tanks
  • Cichlid tanks (African or New World)
  • Brackish tanks
  • Predator tanks
  • Etc.

For saltwater, there are three main subcategories:

  • Fish-only tanks
  • Fish-only with live rock tanks (FOWLR)
  • Reef tanks

Throughout the article, I will point to how these subcategories impacts your experience within the freshwater or saltwater world.


The thing that most people think of when they think about the main differences between freshwater and saltwater is cost. There is a common perception that saltwater aquariums cost a good deal more than freshwater ones. To be quite honest, this is generally the case. Saltwater fish tend to be more expensive. Saltwater tanks tends to take additional equipment. Corals can add significantly to the cost. All of these things need to be considered, but do realize that cost is relative.

For example, a reef tank is probably going to be the most expensive of the saltwater aquariums. Therefore, if you wanted to keep the cost more in-line with a freshwater tank, you could setup a fish-only or FOWLR tank. You could also do DIY projects for much of the additional equipment required for saltwater or you could skip this equipment altogether as some people do (the recent push for nano-tanks has shown to some people that things such as skimmers or sumps are not required in all cases).

Ardea Wildlife Pets Photo Jigsaw Puzzle of Silver dollar side view, tropical freshwater from Ardea Wildlife Pets
Home (Ardea Wildlife Pets)
  • PHOTO JIGSAW PUZZLE This Photo Puzzle features an image of Silver dollar side view, tropical freshwater chosen by Ardea Wildlife Pets. Estimated image size 356x254mm.
  • 10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box of dimensions 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top. Puzzle pieces printed...
  • Image Description Silver dollar side view, tropical freshwater BB-1105 Silver dollar side view, tropical freshwater Guyana Brazil Metynnis argenteus Brian Bevan...
  • For any queries regarding this image of Silver dollar side view, tropical freshwater please contact Ardea Wildlife Pets quoting Reference 1292196
  • Image of Silver dollar side view, tropical freshwater is supplied by Ardea Wildlife Pets. (c) Brian Bevan/ardea

Sustainable Reef Fish Collecting


When: Friday, May 21, 2010 @ 7:00 p.m. Where: IHOP, 1001 E 17th St, Santa Ana CA 92701-2546 To learn more about SCMAS: Guest Speaker: Ret Talbot Ret Talbot is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer who frequently reports on the marine aquarium industry. Most often addressing topics at the intersection of the hobby, science and conservation, Talbot is a strong advocate for a robust and sustainable marine aquarium trade where aquarists serve a critical role on the front line of reef conservation. As a marketing consultant and editor, he has worked with many leading marine aquarium companies to promote that vision

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