What to Consider Before Giving a Marine Aquarium for Christmas

A saltwater aquarium could be a fantastic gift or an unwanted burden.

A saltwater aquarium could be a fantastic gift or an unwanted burden.

We marine aquarium keepers get so much pleasure from our avocation that we want to invite others into the hobby to share in the enjoyment and hopefully develop a similar passion for the underwater realm. It’s only natural, then, to contemplate giving an aquarium to a non-hobbyist family member or friend as a Christmas gift.

However, while our underlying intentions may be pure and a saltwater aquarium might seem like a very thoughtful present, there are several significant factors to weigh before venturing down this potentially perilous road. They include:

The recipient’s age and maturity

Oftentimes, children are the intended recipient of such a gift because we want to awaken an interest in the hobby while they’re still young. But as every parent knows, kids tend to be extremely fickle in their interests, short of attention span, and lacking in follow-through. Even older children and teens can lack the maturity to be trusted with ongoing aquarium care. That means much, if not all, of the responsibility for maintaining the aquarium will likely fall squarely on the parents’ shoulders—a reality they may not appreciate.

The recipient’s lifestyle

There’s no getting around the fact that marine aquariums require regular hands-on care and maintenance—even if many of the chores are automated. That means someone has to be home with at least some degree of regularity in order to attend to the responsibilities of the hobby. If the intended recipient’s lifestyle involves extensive travel, highly irregular work hours, or other general busyness that makes it impractical to follow through on the commitment of an aquarium, you might want to reconsider the gift.

Also keep in mind that not all living arrangements allow for aquariums. For example, people who rent a home or apartment may be prohibited from keeping aquariums according to their rental agreement.

You’re giving the gift of ongoing cost

Just as there’s no such thing as a free puppy, there’s no such thing as a free aquarium. Even if you cover all the initial setup costs—equipment, salt, live rock, fish, etc.—what you’re essentially doing when you present someone with an aquarium is handing them ongoing expenses that extend into the foreseeable future. Remember, equipment eventually breaks down, synthetic sea salt is routinely used up, light bulbs and tubes must be swapped out according to a regular schedule, filter media must be replaced, water test kits are used up or expire, and so on and so on.

Livestock makes a terrible stocking stuffer!

Okay, no one (it’s to be hoped, anyway) would stuff a fish into a child’s stocking, but it can be tempting to present the recipient with a live fish already swimming in an aquarium. However, it’s wise to avoid this for some obvious reasons—fully cycling the tank on the sly would be highly impractical, the chosen fish may not appeal to the recipient, etc.

Instead, consider giving the tank, stand, and other essential equipment along with a gift certificate to a local fish store that can be redeemed for specimens later on—after the tank has been fully cycled and can safely support livestock.

It’s also a good idea to include a quality marine aquarium reference book in the gift package. That will allow the recipient to research the basics of marine aquarium care—cycling, equipment selection, stocking/feeding, live rock use, filtration and protein skimming, water changes, etc.—before purchasing any fish.

Gauge the recipient’s interest first

Based on all the preceding points, it should be apparent that a marine aquarium makes a poor surprise gift—at least when it comes to adult recipients or the parents of a child recipient. Before proceeding, consult with the individuals who will have primary responsibility for the tank to ensure they are willing and have the budget and time to take it on.

Photo Credit: Chris_J

Related posts:


If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to get our new posts in your email.
About Jeff Kurtz

Jeff Kurtz is the Co-founder/Editor of Saltwater Smarts, former Senior Consulting Editor for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, and the aquarist formerly known as “The Salt Creep.” He has been an aquarium hobbyist for over 30 years and is an avid scuba diver.


  1. Great article, as usual. I like the perspective of being responsible if thinking about giving the gift of a saltwater aquarium. It really isn’t a good ‘surprise’ gift unless the recipient is really into it.

Speak Your Mind