In the Marine Aquarium Hobby, “Close Enough” Just Won’t Cut It!

Don't fall into the close enough mindset with your saltwater aquarium

Don’t fall into the “close enough” mindset with your saltwater aquarium

When it comes to achieving success with a marine aquarium, there’s a certain “X Factor” that comes into play—the hobbyist’s attention to detail. Let’s face it, some of us are pretty focused on making sure every parameter, measurement, calculation, and setting is spot on, while others tend to be a bit more, well, lackadaisical in their approach.

Admittedly, my natural tendency is toward the latter. I guess you could say I’m more “big picture” focused than detail-oriented. But I’ve found over the years that my usual “close enough” thinking is not a terrific asset in this hobby, so I have to work hard to be more diligent and precise.

Here are just a few examples of when “close enough” thinking doesn’t pay in our hobby:

Matching fish to tank size

“Hmm, says here a clown triggerfish needs at least a 135-gallon tank. My 100-gallon should be close enough. After all, it’s only a difference of 35 gallons!”

Sound familiar? Yeah, it does to me too. The trouble with this thinking is that minimum tank size recommendations are just that—minimums. That means the author/dealer/fellow hobbyist making the recommendation wouldn’t keep the species in question in anything smaller—and would probably cite a much bigger tank as being preferable.

Now, there’s no question that there’s an art to choosing the appropriate tank size for a fish and opinions on the subject will vary, but if you’re going to err when it comes to tank size, it’s always best to err on the side of going bigger.

Quarantine period

I’m a firm advocate of quarantining new fish for at least 4 weeks. Within that timeframe, any disease that might be present should become evident and can then be treated with the specimen still in isolation. Cut this time short, and you could very easily overlook a serious disease with a complex life cycle—such as Cryptocaryon irritans, a.k.a. saltwater ich, which has a reproductive stage that, at typical marine aquarium temperatures, can last as long as 28 days.


Careful acclimating of new specimens is paramount—and the less pronounced/more gradual the change between water parameters, the better for the animal. Before releasing a newly acquired specimen from its shipping water into your quarantine tank, or from your quarantine tank to your display tank, make sure the temperature, pH, and salinity/specific gravity are equalized. This is especially critical for certain invertebrates, such as the popular ornamental shrimps and the various echinoderms, which cannot tolerate sudden changes in water chemistry.

Medication dosing

Every medication is “part cure and part poison,” and oftentimes, aquarium pharmaceuticals are effective only within a very narrow dosing range. For example, if you’re administering copper to treat fish for saltwater ich, too low a dose won’t work and too much could be fatal to the fish. Never make the mistake of assuming “if a little is good, more is better” or under-dosing “just to be safe.” Always medicate in strict accordance with the drug manufacturer’s dosing instructions.

What’s your example?
I’m sure my fellow salties out there can come up with a lot more examples of when “close enough” just isn’t good enough. If you’ve got one to share, please post it in the comment section below.

Photo credit: ritavida


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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. Paul Baldassano says

    Feeding only dry foods is not close enough as that will just about allow fish to live.

    Having fish live for only 3 or 4 years is not close enough as almost all the fish we keep should live for 12 or 20 years. Having sick fish is not close enough because fish that eat correctly almost never get sick. Having paired fish that are almost spawning is not close enough as all healthy fish spawn. Living around the block from a Supermodel is not close enough as next door would be better.

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