The Top 10 Beginner-friendly Saltwater Fish

Diving Into the World of Beginner-Friendly Saltwater Fish For Your Aquarium

The Allure of Saltwater Aquariums

Imagine a vibrant underwater landscape, a miniature ocean thriving in your living room. Saltwater aquariums offer a window into the mesmerising world of marine life, bringing the beauty and complexity of coral reefs into our homes. These aquatic showcases serve as stunning visual centrepieces and provide a unique opportunity to learn about and engage with diverse marine species.

The Joy of Keeping Saltwater Fish

The appeal of keeping saltwater fish lies in their diversity and the vibrancy they bring to an aquarium tank. From the iridescent shimmer of a school of Chromis to the gentle sway of a Clownfish navigating through anemones, saltwater aquariums are alive with activity and colour. They are a testament to the wonders of marine life, offering an endless source of fascination and a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Navigating the Challenges for Beginners

Venturing into the world of saltwater fishkeeping can be as challenging as rewarding. Beginners may find themselves navigating a steep learning curve, with considerations ranging from maintaining delicate water parameters to understanding the specific needs of each fish species. It’s a balancing act that requires patience, research, and a willingness to learn from the inevitable mistakes that come with any new endeavour.

Embarking on an Aquatic Adventure

This article aims to demystify starting a saltwater aquarium by focusing on the most beginner-friendly fish. These species can forgive a slight misstep in water quality or a beginner’s fumbling hands during feeding time. We’ve curated a list of the top 10 beginner-friendly saltwater fish to help you embark on your aquatic adventure with confidence. Whether you’re drawn to the tranquil beauty of a gently drifting school of fish or the interactive antics of a curious Goby, a beginner-friendly fish is waiting to become the star of your new saltwater aquarium.

Top 10 Beginner-friendly Saltwater Fish

Creating a saltwater aquarium is exciting; choosing the right fish is paramount to success. Here’s a list of the top 10 beginner-friendly saltwater fish known for their resilience and ease of care, making them perfect candidates for those new to the hobby.

Ocellaris Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)

Ocellaris Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)

The Ocellaris Clownfish, a species that gained fame from the movie “Finding Nemo,” is not only captivating for its vivid orange and white stripes but also for its fascinating symbiotic relationship with anemones. In the wild, these fish form a mutualistic bond with certain anemones, gaining protection from predators, while the anemone benefits from the fish’s cleaning and aeration. In captivity, they can thrive without an anemone, making them a versatile choice for beginners. They are known to live up to a decade in a well-maintained aquarium, forming a long-term bond with their owners.

  • Brief Description: The Ocellaris Clownfish, often mistaken for its cousin, the Percula Clownfish due to their similar appearance, is famous for its bright orange body with distinctive white bands outlined in black.
  • Tank Size Requirements: A minimum of 20 gallons.
  • Diet: Omnivorous – will accept most meaty foods and algae-based foods.
  • Compatibility with Other Fish: Generally peaceful but can be territorial around their anemone or similar hiding places.
  • Special Care Needs: Benefits from having an anemone or similar structure to establish as its home base.

Coral Beauty Angelfish (Centropyge bispinosa)

Centropyge bispinosa

The Coral Beauty Angelfish is dwarf, making it a perfect splash of colour for smaller tanks where larger angelfish species would not thrive. They are known for their shyness, often hiding among rockwork and coral when first introduced to a tank. However, once acclimated, they reveal their curious and bold nature. A lesser-known fact is that Coral Beauties can change colour intensity and pattern as they mature, adding a layer of surprise as they grow.

  • Brief Description: This small angelfish boasts vibrant blue, orange, and purple hues. It’s a hardy species that adapts well to life in captivity.
  • Tank Size Requirements: At least 70 gallons to provide ample swimming space.
  • Diet: Omnivorous – a mix of marine algae, spirulina, and protein like mysis shrimp is ideal.
  • Compatibility with Other Fish: Semi-aggressive; may nip at stony and soft corals and clam mantles.
  • Special Care Needs: Requires plenty of live rock for grazing and hiding.

Flame Angelfish (Centropyge loricula)

Centropyge loricula

The Flame Angelfish is a fiery addition to any tank with its bright red and orange hues. They hail from the tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean and are often the centre of attention in any aquarium. While they can be a bit territorial, they generally keep to themselves, especially if provided with ample space and hiding spots. Their bold colouration matches their spirited personality, making them a favourite among aquarists.

  • Brief Description: The Flame Angelfish is a striking addition to any tank with its fiery red/orange body and vertical black stripes.
  • Tank Size Requirements: A minimum of 30 gallons.
  • Diet: Omnivorous – should include a variety of spirulina, marine algae, and meaty items.
  • Compatibility with Other Fish: Can be territorial; best kept with fish that can hold their own.
  • Special Care Needs: Needs hiding places and may nip at corals, so it’s best in a larger reef or fish-only tank.

Lawnmower Blenny (Salarias fasciatus)

Salarias fasciatus

Don’t let the Lawnmower Blenny’s drab appearance fool you; this fish is a character. Known for their insatiable appetite for algae, they tirelessly graze across live rock and glass, keeping your tank clean. They have perched on rocks and even watch their owners with curious eyes. Their comical expressions and active nature make them a delightful and practical addition to any tank.

  • Brief Description: This helpful fish has a unique, elongated body and is known for its voracious appetite for algae.
  • Tank Size Requirements: At least 30 gallons.
  • Diet: Herbivorous – primarily algae.
  • Compatibility with Other Fish: Peaceful but may become territorial towards other blennies, gobies, or similar-shaped fish.
  • Special Care Needs: Requires a tank with plenty of live rock for algae grazing.

Auriga Butterflyfish (Chaetodon auriga)

Chaetodon auriga

The Auriga Butterflyfish, with its elegant fins and striking patterns, is a testament to the beauty of the ocean. They are often seen in pairs or small groups in the wild, fluttering about coral reefs. They can be a bit picky with food at first, but once acclimated, they are quite hardy. Their grace and poise add an element of sophistication to a beginner’s tank.

  • Brief Description: Recognizable by the white band on its rear and the eye spot on its dorsal fin, the Auriga Butterflyfish is a beautiful species.
  • Tank Size Requirements: A minimum of 75 gallons.
  • Diet: Omnivorous – a varied diet of meaty foods and vegetable matter.
  • Compatibility with Other Fish: Generally peaceful but may nip at soft and stony corals.
  • Special Care Needs: Best in a larger tank with plenty of swimming space and some live rock.

Raccoon Butterflyfish (Chaetodon lunula)

Chaetodon lunula

The Raccoon Butterflyfish is named for the distinctive ‘mask’ over its eyes, reminiscent of a raccoon’s facial markings. They are a peaceful species that does well in a community tank, provided their dietary needs are met. In the wild, they are often found in pairs, and while they can be kept singly in captivity, they often show their most natural and engaging behaviours when paired with a mate.

  • Brief Description: This fish is adorned with a raccoon-like mask over its eyes and has a yellow-to-orange body with a white band.
  • Tank Size Requirements: At least 75 gallons.
  • Diet: Omnivorous – should include both meaty foods and vegetables.
  • Compatibility with Other Fish: Peaceful but may occasionally nip at invertebrates or corals.
  • Special Care Needs: Requires a varied diet to maintain health.

True Percula Clownfish (Amphiprion percula)

Amphiprion percula

The True Percula Clownfish is the classic “Nemo” with its intense orange colour and thick black outlines around its white bands. They are slightly less common in the trade than the Ocellaris but are just as hardy and beginner-friendly. These fish have strong personalities and can recognise and interact with their owners, often greeting them during feeding.

  • Brief Description: Similar to the Ocellaris, the True Percula has a brighter orange hue and thicker black bands. It’s also known for its symbiotic relationship with anemones.
  • Tank Size Requirements: Can be kept in tanks as small as 20 gallons.
  • Diet: Omnivorous – accepts a wide variety of meaty foods and algae.
  • Compatibility with Other Fish: Generally peaceful but can be aggressive towards other clownfish outside its pair.
  • Special Care Needs: While an anemone partner is not required, it can provide natural behaviour-viewing opportunities.

Blue Green Reef Chromis (Chromis viridis)

Chromis viridis

The Blue Green Reef Chromis is the peacekeeper of the saltwater aquarium. These small, schooling fish shimmer in the light and add a dynamic element to the tank as they dart through the water in unison. They are known for their peaceful nature and are often used to bring a sense of calm to a lively community tank.

  • Brief Description: A schooling fish with a peaceful demeanour, it has a shimmering blue-green colour that adds movement and colour to any tank.
  • Tank Size Requirements: At least 30 gallons to accommodate a small school.
  • Diet: Omnivorous – will do well on most marine foods.
  • Compatibility with Other Fish: Very peaceful and does well in groups.
  • Special Care Needs: Best kept in groups of five or more for their well-being.

Yellowtail Damselfish (Chrysiptera parasema)

Chrysiptera parasema

The Yellowtail Damselfish is a hardy species that can withstand a beginner’s mistakes. Unlike their more aggressive relatives, they are one of the few damselfish who maintain a relatively peaceful demeanour as they mature. Their bright yellow tails stand out against their deep blue bodies, making them a striking addition to any tank.

  • Brief Description: This hardy fish has a deep blue body with a striking yellow tail and is known for its bold personality.
  • Tank Size Requirements: At least 30 gallons.
  • Diet: Omnivorous – a varied diet of meaty foods, algae, and marine flake food.
  • Compatibility with Other Fish: Can be aggressive; best housed with similarly sized or larger fish.
  • Special Care Needs: Needs plenty of hiding spots and room to establish territory.

Firefish Goby (Nemateleotris magnifica)

Nemateleotris magnifica

The Firefish Goby, with vibrant colours and flowing fins, is a sight to behold. They are known for their timid nature, often darting into burrows or crevices at the first sign of danger. An interesting fact about the Firefish is their ability to ‘hover’ in the water, thanks to their elongated pectoral fins. They are a joy to watch, especially when they build confidence and venture out into their tank’s open water.

  • Brief Description: The Firefish Goby is a small, brightly coloured fish with a unique elongated body and a peaceful nature.
  • Tank Size Requirements: At least 20 gallons.
  • Diet: Carnivorous – prefers finely chopped small crustaceans and zooplankton diet.
  • Compatibility with Other Fish: Peaceful and shy; should not be kept with aggressive species.
  • Special Care Needs: Requires a tank with a tight-fitting lid to prevent jumping.

Each of these fish has been chosen for their ability to adapt to life in captivity, relative ease of care, and compatibility with other marine life, making them excellent choices for the novice saltwater aquarist. Remember, while these fish are more forgiving, they still require a stable environment and a committed caretaker to thrive.

Each fish brings its unique set of behaviours and requirements, but their suitability unites all for those new to the marine aquarium hobby. With the right care and attention, they can all thrive and provide endless fascination and joy to the beginner aquarist.

What Makes a Saltwater Fish Beginner-Friendly?

When standing before an array of colourful fish, poised to pick your new aquatic pets, it’s not just the bright colours and unique patterns that should catch your eye. For a novice, certain characteristics make some saltwater fish more suitable than others. Let’s dive into what makes a fish beginner-friendly, ensuring your foray into the marine world is as smooth as the calmest sea.

Hardiness: The Survivor’s Edge

A beginner-friendly fish is often defined by its hardiness. These species can withstand the fluctuations in water quality as you learn the ropes of proper tank maintenance. They are the robust adventurers of the saltwater community, less likely to succumb to the stress of changing temperatures or varying salinity levels that might spell disaster for more delicate creatures.

Ease of Feeding: The Unfussy Eaters

The dietary habits of your fish are another crucial factor. Beginner-friendly fish tend to be less finicky eaters, often content with various commercially available foods. They’ll thrive on pellets, flakes, frozen, or even live foods you can easily procure from your local pet store. This diet adaptability helps reduce the complexity of caring for your underwater companions.

Disease Resistance: The Hardy Immune System

In the closed system of an aquarium, diseases can spread quickly, and some fish are more susceptible than others. Beginner-friendly species typically have a stronger immune system, making them more resistant to common aquatic ailments. This resilience means they’re more likely to recover from any illnesses and less likely to need specialised treatments, which can be daunting for a beginner to administer.

Minimal Tank Requirements: The Modest Dwellers

Lastly, the ideal beginner-friendly fish doesn’t demand a vast oceanic empire. They are comfortable in smaller tanks, which not only makes them more manageable but also more budget-friendly for those just starting out. These fish don’t require elaborate setups with intricate rockwork or specialised equipment, making them perfect for a straightforward, no-frills aquarium.

In summary, the best saltwater fish for beginners offer the greatest margin for error. They are the hardy, easy-going types that don’t need gourmet meals or palatial living spaces. They are resilient, adaptable, and content with the basics, allowing you to learn and grow into a hobby without the constant worry of a tank teetering on the edge of catastrophe.

The Importance of a Properly Set-Up Aquarium

Embarking on the journey of saltwater fishkeeping begins with the cornerstone of any successful aquarium: the setup. A properly established home for your marine life is crucial, not just for the well-being of your fish but also to ensure the longevity and enjoyment of your new hobby. Let’s explore the essentials of setting up a beginner saltwater aquarium and the importance of maintaining it.

Laying the Foundation: The Basics of Aquarium Setup

Before any fish can call your tank home, you must first consider the size and type of aquarium. A common recommendation for beginners is a tank with at least 20 gallons of water. This size provides enough stability in water quality while being manageable for a novice to manage.

With the tank selected, the next step is to fill it with the right type of saltwater. You can purchase pre-mixed saltwater or make your own with a quality marine salt mix and dechlorinated water. It’s essential to achieve the correct salinity, typically between 1.020 and 1.025 specific gravity, which can be measured with a hydrometer or refractometer.

Substrate and live rock form the next layer of your setup. The substrate can be aragonite sand, which helps maintain the necessary pH and alkalinity. On the other hand, live rock is not just decorative; it serves as a biological filter, hosting beneficial bacteria that help break down waste products.

The Heart of the System: Filtration and Circulation

A robust filtration system is the heart of your aquarium. It should be capable of mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration to keep the water clean and toxins-free. Also, proper water movement is vital for oxygenation and mimicking the natural currents that saltwater fish are accustomed to. Powerheads or wave makers can be used to achieve this flow.

Lighting: More Than Just Illumination

Lighting is not just for aesthetic appeal; it’s crucial for the health of any live plants or corals you choose to include. A simple LED system may suffice for a beginner’s tank, providing a full spectrum of light without the risk of overheating the water.

The Balancing Act: Water Parameters and Maintenance

Once your tank is set up, it’s not a ‘set and forgets’ endeavour. Regular maintenance is key. This includes monitoring and adjusting water parameters like temperature, which should be kept between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and pH levels, which should remain stable around 8.1 to 8.4.

Regular water changes, typically 10-15% biweekly, are essential to remove nitrates and phosphates, replenish trace elements, and maintain water quality. Testing kits are invaluable for monitoring ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH, and other crucial water parameters.

Conclusion: The Payoff of Persistence

A properly set up and maintained saltwater aquarium can be a source of immense satisfaction and pride. While the initial setup requires careful planning and a bit of investment, the payoff is a thriving aquatic ecosystem. Remember, patience and persistence are your best allies in creating a healthy, stable environment that will be a foundation for your fish to flourish and for you to develop as an aquarist.

Tips for Acclimating New Fish to Your Tank

Introducing new fish to your saltwater aquarium is an exciting moment, but it’s also a critical time that can determine the success and health of your aquatic community. Proper acclimation and quarantine procedures are essential to ensure the well-being of both new and existing tank inhabitants.

The Acclimation Process

Gradual Introduction

When you bring home a new fish, acclimation aims to slowly introduce them to your aquarium’s temperature, pH, and salinity to minimise stress. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Float the Bag: Start by floating the sealed bag containing your new fish in the aquarium for about 15 minutes. This allows the water inside the bag to match your tank’s temperature gradually.
  2. Open the Bag and Add Aquarium Water: Next, open the bag and add a small amount of aquarium water. This step should be repeated every 5 minutes over an hour to adjust the fish to the tank’s water parameters.
  3. Gently Release the Fish: After the water in the bag has been sufficiently mixed with the aquarium water, it’s time to net the fish and place it in the tank gently. Avoid adding the water from the bag into your aquarium to prevent the introduction of any potential contaminants.


After the fish has been released, monitor its behaviour closely for any signs of stress or aggression from other tank mates. It’s normal for the new arrival to be shy and hide initially, but it should start to acclimate to its new surroundings within a few days.

Quarantine Procedures

Setting Up a Quarantine Tank

A quarantine period is highly recommended before introducing new fish directly into your main tank. A quarantine tank is a separate, smaller aquarium to isolate new fish for observation. This period allows you to:

  • Monitor the new fish for any signs of disease or parasites.
  • Treat any potential health issues without affecting the main tank.
  • Ensure the fish is eating and behaving normally before joining the rest of the aquarium community.

Duration and Care

A typical quarantine period should last at least two to four weeks. During this time, maintain the quarantine tank with the same care as your main tank, including appropriate filtration, heating, and regular water changes. Keep a close eye on the fish for abnormal behaviour or signs of illness.


If you notice any health issues, the quarantine tank allows you to treat the fish with medications without the risk of harming other aquarium inhabitants or disrupting the biological balance of your main tank.

Transition to the Main Tank

Once the quarantine period is over and you’re confident the fish is healthy, you can begin the acclimation process described above to transition the fish to your main aquarium.

By taking the time to acclimate and quarantine new fish properly, you’re protecting your new pet’s health and safeguarding your aquarium’s entire ecosystem. Patience and diligence during these processes are key to ensuring a harmonious and healthy aquatic environment.

Common Mistakes to Avoid as a Beginner

Starting a saltwater aquarium can be a rewarding experience. Still, it’s easy to fall into common pitfalls that can lead to frustration and, unfortunately, the loss of some of your aquatic pets. Here are some of the most common mistakes beginners make and how to avoid them.

Overstocking the Tank

The Perils of Too Many Fish

One of the most frequent mistakes is the desire to fill your new, beautiful aquarium with as many fish as possible. Overstocking can lead to several problems:

  • Poor Water Quality: More fish produce more waste, producing toxic ammonia and nitrates.
  • Oxygen Depletion: Too many fish can deplete the oxygen levels in the water, making it difficult for them to breathe.
  • Stress and Aggression: Close quarters can lead to stress and aggression, even in typically peaceful species.

The Rule of Thumb

A good rule of thumb for stocking is to allow at least 1 gallon of water per inch of fish, although this can vary depending on the species needs. Always research each fish’s adult size and territorial behaviour before adding it to your tank.

Choosing Incompatible Species

The Importance of Compatibility

Saltwater aquariums host a vast array of fish, each with its own temperament and environmental needs. Incompatible species can lead to:

  • Aggression: Some species are naturally aggressive and can harm or kill other fish.
  • Stress: Even if outright aggression doesn’t occur, the presence of certain fish can stress others, leading to health issues.
  • Dietary Conflicts: Different species often require different diets, and incompatible species might outcompete others for food or not meet their dietary needs.

Research Before You Buy

Always research the compatibility of species before introducing a new fish to your tank. Look for fish with similar water parameter requirements, temperaments, and diets to ensure a harmonious environment.

Neglecting Regular Maintenance

The Foundation of Fishkeeping

Regular maintenance is the cornerstone of a healthy aquarium. Neglecting it can lead to:

  • Algae Overgrowth: Algae can only take over your tank with regular cleaning, leading to better water conditions and unsightly views.
  • Equipment Failure: Filters, heaters, and other equipment need regular checks to ensure they function correctly.
  • Illness: Poor water quality is a breeding ground for disease.

Stick to a Schedule

Create a maintenance schedule that includes regular water changes, equipment checks, and water testing. Consistency is key to preventing problems before they start.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you’ll set yourself up for success in the saltwater aquarium hobby. Remember, patience is your best friend in fishkeeping. Take the time to research, observe, and care for your aquatic environment, and you’ll find the experience deeply rewarding.


Embarking on the journey of saltwater fishkeeping is an adventure that opens a window to the vibrant and diverse world beneath the waves. This article explores the essentials of starting a saltwater aquarium, from selecting the right fish to understanding the importance of proper tank setup and maintenance.

We’ve introduced you to the top 10 beginner-friendly saltwater fish, each chosen for their hardiness, ease of care, and ability to thrive in a new aquarist’s tank. From the iconic Ocellaris Clownfish to the diligent Lawnmower Blenny, these species are excellent starting points for anyone new to the hobby.

Acclimating new fish to your tank and understanding the necessity of quarantine procedures can ensure the health and longevity of your aquatic community. We’ve also discussed common mistakes, such as overstocking, choosing incompatible species, and neglecting regular maintenance—pitfalls that can easily be avoided with some knowledge and attention.

To further your education and support, we’ve provided a list of resources, including books, websites, and communities. These tools can offer guidance, answer questions, and provide a network of support as you delve deeper into the hobby.

As you begin your saltwater aquarium journey, remember to start with the fish listed here and continue learning and growing in your knowledge. The vast ocean’s bounty and its emulation within your home can provide endless fascination and joy. So take the plunge, start small, and let your curiosity and care for your new aquatic friends guide you in this rewarding hobby. Welcome to the world of saltwater fishkeeping!