5 Marine Aquarium Misconceptions I No Longer Espouse

aquarium-misconceptionsCasting my mind back on my early days as a marine aquarium keeper, it’s funny how some of my stances on various aspects of the hobby have, shall we say, evolved in the intervening years. Of course, these changing opinions have led to different ways of doing things—and different ways of dispensing advice. Here are just a few examples (experienced salties, see if any of these sound familiar to you):

1) Quarantine is an extravagance

I used to think quarantining new specimens was more of a luxury than a necessity. Besides, despite my failure to quarantine, I somehow got lucky and managed to sneak by with no major disease problems for quite some time.

Oh, what a naïve fool I was! No one could have convinced me that I was playing a game of Russian roulette and running out of empty chambers. It took (wait for it!) an outbreak of Cryptocaryon to achieve that. There’s nothing like the sight of all your prized fish dashing around the tank and scraping their bodies on the rockwork to change your mind about the importance of quarantine!

2) Live rock hitchhikers should be eradicated with extreme prejudice!

Kill ‘em all and let Neptune sort them out! That’s more or less the way I used to think about the various little (or not so little) worms, mollusks, crustaceans, and other critters that stowaway into marine tanks aboard live rock.

Nowadays, I have more of a “live-and-let-live” philosophy toward critters that arrive unbidden in my system. Unless I’m pretty confident they’re going to cause problems for my corals or fish, I leave them alone and try to enjoy them as part of the natural reef fauna.

As Paul B. can attest, bristleworms are a good example of this. While a few species (e.g., the notorious Caribbean bearded fireworm [Hermodice carunculata]) are known to eat corals and can deliver a very painful, venomous sting, most bristleworms aquarists encounter are beneficial detritivores that should be left alone to do their thing—though you still have to be wary of touching those bristles (wear gloves).

3) Marine aquariums are for the rich

Actually, this misconception predates my plunge into the saltwater side of the aquarium hobby. More accurately, you could say it postponed my plunge because I was—and continue to be—of fairly modest means and I’d always heard how costly saltwater systems are.

Now there’s no question that marine systems aren’t cheap, but there are plenty of ways to keep your expenses sane when setting up a marine aquarium. I’ve found that if you can’t afford all the bells and whistles, you just have to be smart about your purchases and invest a little more elbow grease.

4) Keeping corals is intrinsically more difficult than keeping fish

A better way to say it might be, “Some corals are more difficult than most fish.” However, there are plenty of soft corals and polyps out there that are practically bulletproof (I’m thinking leather corals, pulsing Xenia, zoanthids, star polyps, corallimorphs, etc.) and much easier to keep alive than, say, certain butterflyfishes. And let’s face it, some fish, such as Moorish idols, tend to die in the care of even highly accomplished reefkeepers.

5) You can dose your way to a healthy reef system

My aquarium additive regimen used to consist of a dash of Lugol’s, a dribble of kalkwasser, a splash of strontium and molybdenum, a trickle of trace elements, and a heaping spoonful of Dr. Hfuhruhurr’s Magic Reef Elixir. (This last product has been discontinued, so don’t look for it. Apparently its use proved detrimental to subdural hematoma patients fitted with Cranial Screwtops). Okay, I made most of that up, but I did have a rather ridiculous “recipe” of supplements that I had to keep track of.

Nowadays, my philosophy toward supplementation is, if I can’t test for it, don’t know what’s in it, or don’t fully understand its purpose in my aquarium, I refuse to add it. The bottom line: no supplement—or combination of supplements—can compensate for poor aquarium maintenance practices.

Photo credit: bfurlong


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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. AMEN! Thanks for saying it like it is, especially about quarantine!


  2. Great article
    Keep up the good work

  3. I need some Dr. Hfuhruhurr’s Magic Reef Elixir. STAT 😉

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