What Makes Someone a Marine Aquarium Expert?

Marine aquarium expertBeing in a somewhat contemplative mood as I enjoy my third cup of coffee this Friday morning, I’ve posed to myself the philosophical question, what does it mean to be an “expert” marine aquarist? In other words, when I write something like, “That challenging species should be kept only by expert hobbyists,” who exactly am I referring to? As I mull it over, I’m coming to the realization that the answer to this question isn’t as obvious as it might seem.

Years in the hobby?

Is expertise a simple a matter of years in the hobby? If that were the case, someone who has been a hobbyist for 20 years but has never kept anything other than a single ocellaris clownfish would be considered an expert—when in reality, that individual is experienced only in keeping one specimen of a relatively bulletproof species.

Further, there are plenty of long-time hobbyists out there who repeatedly exercise poor judgment, never learn from their mistakes, and make irresponsible stocking/husbandry decisions no matter how many years they keep at it. So time in the hobby can’t be the sole answer.

Variety of species?

What about the variety of species the individual has kept? No doubt having kept a diverse array of fish and invertebrates representing many different genera and species could qualify one as an expert, right? Ah, but what if many or all those specimens were poorly maintained and survived only a short time in the individual’s care? That certainly would not constitute expertise—or even meaningful experience—with all those animals.

Experience with a challenging species?

How about someone who’s kept a notoriously challenging species, like the Moorish idol or ribbon eel? That has to count for something, no? Here again, that depends on the level of success the individual had with the species in question. If the fish was kept alive and in good health for something close to its potential lifespan, I suppose he or she could be considered something of an expert on keeping that particular species. But not so much if it held on for just a matter of months to a year or so before perishing (as is so often the case).

A formal degree?

Okay, then let’s move on to formal education. Surely someone with a degree in the marine sciences would qualify as a marine aquarium expert, right? Well, maybe yes, maybe no. Not everyone who pursues this course of study has an interest in keeping home aquaria. So, some may have a good theoretical grounding in the subject matter but no practical experience whatsoever.

What is it then?

So, if none of the aforementioned attributes qualify one as a marine aquarium expert, what does? Perhaps expertise in this hobby stems from some combination of the aforementioned elements—a record of long-term success with a variety of different fish and invertebrate species, including some of the more challenging ones. I might also toss in there someone who has taken on and conquered a particularly difficult aspect of the hobby—such as breeding a challenging fish species and successfully raising the offspring or finding an innovative way to sustain an exceptionally finicky feeder.

Or, who knows, maybe it all comes down to mere wisdom. Maybe expertise is simply about recognizing one’s strengths and weaknesses as well as learning from the successes and failures of prior experiences and then finding ways to apply that knowledge whenever novel situations present themselves. I really can’t say.

What I do know is that my lone functioning brain cell is hurting trying to answer this on my own. So help me out, fellow salties. How do you define a marine aquarium expert? Let us know in the comment section below.


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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

    I think an expert should first of all be bald. Besides that there are no qualifications for being an expert on anything in the aquarium field. but if you feel better calling yourself an expert, go right ahead. My wife once told her boss she wanted a promotion. He told her OK, if you want to call yourself Vice President, go ahead. You are not getting a raise but you can put one of those little signs on your desk if it makes you feel any better.

  2. Ellery Wong says

    Right now the collective, like the Borg, can be considered an expert since once you filter out all the BS the information from forums have been fueling this hobby for the last 2 decades.

  3. Lisa Foster says

    I feel someone deserves the title of ‘expert’ when they have kept “difficult” animals WITH LONG-TERM SUCCESS and/or spawning behavior (whether or not they try to rear the babies seems irrelevant)..

  4. The thing is a novice might know something that even the experienced aquarist doesn’t know… Every fish is different and every fish tank experience is somewhat different. So I think we are all really amateurs here.

    • Jeff Kurtz says

      Spot on, Bill! I think the old saying, “The more I learn, the less I know” definitely applies to this hobby. Whenever anyone tries to identify/introduce me as an expert, I’m always quick to emphasize that I’m not an expert at anything. As I like to point out, I only really know the animals I’ve kept–and there are many, many species with which I have no experience.

  5. It is not me…….i am rather new to the hobby and have learned (fortunately not the hard way) that patience is a virtue. I think the expert not only needs to show long term success with many of the harder to keep specimens but also has to show a strong degree of patience. I have learned that I have more patience than I thought I had.

    • Jeff Kurtz says

      Marine aquarium keeping truly does take the patience of Job. Keep that mindset, and you’ll be sure to succeed in the long term. Thanks Graham!

  6. I myself am an expert. I am an expert in knowing all of the things the things that I am “not” an expert in, and there are many.

  7. I believe the term expert to be a very specific term. For example, I aquaculture various live foods, build live feeder systems for fish, keep mated pairs of mandarin and tukas anthias which I’ve converted to various foods, but, ask me if I know how to rear the babies and all I can promise you is a blank stare….


    I am building a 5 floor block in Kumasi the second biggest city in Ghana and I now intend to convert it to a commercial aquarium and i therefore your expert advice. I intend to have all sea creatures except the giant ones eg. Whales etc.
    I recently visited a commercial aquarium in Ohio, Cincinnati and I intend investing in these area since we don’t have it in Ghana.
    I am counting on your prompt response. Please find attached is the building under construction.

    • Ellery F Wong says

      Good luck to you on this huge project you are under taking.
      I figure you would have to approach it like any home aquarium just at a massive scale.

      Would love to hear more about it.
      1. Is this located near the coast for easy access to seawater?
      2. Water volume of this system?
      3. What theme? Coral reef, Fish Only, etc?

      these basics will direct you to the water parameters and filtration system you’ll need to plan on.
      I visited the Maui aquarium this summer and they filter the seawater coming in and also filter the water going back out to the ocean. If you want I can send you the diagram of their filtration system.

      • Harrison Musah Yakubu says

        Q1.I AM NOT NEAR THE SEA (about 250 miles from the sea
        Q2.i have installed a mechanized water borehole about 75 feet. There is enough water underground to sustain the project
        3.shark octopus jellyfish squid crab turtles clsm Eel urchin lobster oyster sea lion vampire squid walrus penguin pufferfish porpoise Atlantic goldfish polar bear mussel otter eat less seal otter sea cow seahorses all types of fish shrimp many ray sea weed clamd oyster dolphin all types coral gold fish

      • Harrison Musah Yakubu says

        Location about 250miles from the coast
        I have drilled borehole with sufficient water
        I want all sea creatures

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