10 Best Peaceful Reef Fish – Perfect for Beginners

So, you have decided to set up a reef aquarium, which is super exciting and sometimes overwhelming for beginners like yourself.

As there are so many different fish, invertebrates and corals you can add to create the perfect ‘mini-ocean’ in your home, knowing what to put inside can be the trickiest part of starting your new hobby.

As your tank is probably not mature and established yet, you will want fish that are hardy and can live in harmony with one another so you can spend your time perfecting your tank and its maintenance.

Each fish has a different personality making it difficult to select favorites for your tank. Well, to help you decide what fish to put in your aquarium, I have put a list of some of my favorite peaceful fish that would be great for your new reef tank!

My Top 10 Peaceful Reef Fish Perfect for Beginners

Ocellaris Clownfish

(Amphiprion ocellaris)

Starting from $22

My parents always told me growing up “there are no favorites in this house” but I can’t help but love these guys over the others. Popularity since the movie Finding Nemo has allowed them to become #1, not that they needed help before!

It seems it is not only me, but these are also by far the most popular reef fish out there! They are so easy to fall in love with as they swim around the tank in a waddling motion, showing off their bright orange and white striped coloration. You can also find them in white and black colorations and now ‘Designer’ patterns, but they are expensive!

Captive-Bred Oscellaris Clownfish are much hardier than wild-harvested ones, making them great for beginners. They like to be kept in pairs and share the tank with a Bubble-Tip Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor) to hide and play inside, and to lay their eggs, although they do perfectly well without an anemone – Mine do!

Care Level:Easy
Temperament:Peaceful – Can Be semi-aggressive with eggs laid
Lifespan:3-6 years
Max. Size:3”
Min. Tank Size:20 gallons
Origin:Eastern Indian Ocean & Western Pacific Ocean,
but are now Captive Bred

Green & Blue Reef Chromis

(Chromis viridis)

Starting from $12

The Green Chromis is easy to look after, hardy and has a beautiful shiny green to blue colour making it a preferred reef fish, even for experienced hobbyists. These fish are so peaceful that they can be kept with almost any other reef fish, invertebrates, and even corals – making them compatibility kings/queens.

They love to shoaling and schooling in all areas of the tank, so it is recommended to buy them in odd numbers of 3 or more. They can be known to pick off one another until there is only one left, but using the odd number to a shoal rule seems to prevent that – For whatever reason!

They like to swim at the top of the aquarium and use rocks, corals, and ornaments to hide in when they feel nervous. Because these are very confident open water swimmers they do really well at helping shy fish come out of the shadows.

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:8-15 years
Max. Size:4”
Min. Tank Size:15 gallons

Royal Gramma Basslet

(Gramma loreto)

Source: Andreas63

Starting from $27

Bursting with color and being relatively small, the Royal Gramma Basslet is a great peaceful beginner fish and is suitable for nano reefs. Due to their origin, these fish prefer caves to hide inside and subdued lighting.

These are peaceful to other fish in the aquarium community but can be aggressive towards their kind for territory, therefore you should only keep one in the community aquarium.

If you want a fish that is active and bursting with color to brighten up your tank, then the Royal Gramma has to be at the top of your list! It took me years before I bought one of these and now it’s one of my favorite fish!

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:5+ years
Max. Size:3”
Min. Tank Size:20 gallons
Origin:Caribbean & Tropical Western Pacific

Clown/Citron Goby

(Gobiodon citrinus)

Source: Rob

Starting from $30

These adorable fish love corals, especially SPS coral colonies. Their body is yellow with blue stripes around their eyes and gills. They are only small little guys but when they perch in a coral of contrasting color they really pop!

They are peaceful, but they do prefer to be the only clown goby in the tank. You can find them perching on rock and coral just watching the goings on and once you begin to keep SPS coral, especially Acropora’s keen an eye on them as they may like to sit in the same spot on a coral which can distress the coral.

A great little fish, bright in colour that are the ultimate Nano Reef Kings!

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:5-8 years
Max. Size:2”
Min. Tank Size:10 gallons
Origin:Africa, Fiji, Indonesia & Maldives

Ruby Head Fairy Wrasse

(Cirrhilabrus cf cyanopleura)

Starting from $70

These brightly coloured peaceful fish will fit right into any aquarium!

It has a blue body with a stylish red ‘ombre’ look. This fish is like a mood ring, depending on its mood it will show different shades of blues and purples. When the males want to show off to the females, he will intensify his “Look” – putting a show on for you and your family.

As they are larger reef fish, they will need a larger tank with some shaded areas. They are also keen jumpers, so remember to have a secure lid or a mesh top if you do bring these fish home.

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:6-8 years
Max. Size:5”
Min. Tank Size:90 gallons

McCosker’s Flasher Wrasse

(Paracheilinus mccoskeri)

Starting from $50

It may not be so easy to pronounce, but this fish is easy to care for and they settle in very well to established aquariums. They get their name from their courting dance when the male flashes his fins to attract the females.

This flasher wrasse is orange with iridescent blue stripes that is super easy on the eyes, making it the superstar in any aquarium.

You will want to place a lid or mesh on your aquarium as these are also eager jumpers and it’s such a terrible waste to lose one that way!

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:5 years
Max. Size:3”
Min. Tank Size:55 gallons
Origin:Africa, Maldives, Indonesia, Australia

Purple Firefish Goby

(Nemateleotris decora)

Source: Nat Tarbox

Starting from $60

This tubular, colourful fish is very hardy, making it a great fish to brighten up a beginner’s aquarium. They spend their time both near the surface and at the bottom of the aquarium, especially when feeding, also they enjoy taking shelter on live rock, so be sure to add some in for them.

They can be kept in pairs but expect them to soon become parents! These firefish also love to jump out of the tank, so be aware of this when choosing a tank as you will need a lid or mesh. 

They are great fish for helping shy tankmates venture out into the open water of the tank. A great peaceful, beginner fish!

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:5 years
Max. Size:3”
Min. Tank Size:20 gallons

Pajama Cardinalfish

(Sphaeramia nematoptera)

Starting from $13

These guys have a crazy coloration that will look awesome in your aquarium! They get their name from their red polka dots that look like they are wearing pajamas. They are very peaceful, super-hardy, small, and very affordable too, making them extremely popular, especially for nano reef tank hobbyists and beginners.

All the Cardinalfish like to hover in the tank creating a serene alternate to the movement of very active fish. Paired with Long-Spined Urchins they make a unique pairing as they hang out in the spines of the Urchin for protection.

You can keep them in groups, but when they couple up for breeding, they can become slightly aggressive towards each other.

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:5-15 years
Max. Size:3½”
Min. Tank Size:20 gallons
Origin:Fiji & Western Indo-Pacific, but now are captive bred

Zebra Barred Dartfish

(Ptereleotris zebra)

Starting from $25

The Zebra Barred Dartfish also goes by the names Zebra Dart Goby, Bar Goby, Barred Dartfish, Zebra Goby, and even Chinese Zebra Goby. Their colouration is incredibly unique, as it cannot be fully captured in photos! The shimmer these beautiful fish create is truely stunning!

These fish are not usually kept by aquarium hobbyists as many people do not know about them But if you can find them in your local fish store or at one of the online suppliers then you will not regret purchasing this fish!

Due to their size and schooling behavior, they should have plenty of room and live rock inside the aquarium to be able to swim, but bolt into safety when they feel threatened. They like to be housed in pairs or small groups, but they need to all be introduced at the same time.

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:5 years
Max. Size:4”
Min. Tank Size:30 gallons
Origin:Fiji, Indonesia & Maldives

Tailspot Blenny

(Ecsenius stigmatura)

Source: Haplochromis

Starting from $30

These tiny ‘stick’ fish have a defining dark spot at the end of its tail, and a black and yellow line below its eye-it looks like it is wearing eyeliner!

Like other blennies, they enjoy spending most of their time at the bottom part of the tank lying on substrates such as sand and rock, and then darting into small crevices to hide. You should not be placing aggressive fish into the tank with them, as you do not want these little fish to be hiding all the time.

They have strong personalities so they like to show off and often can become aggressive towards their same kind, so it is best you only buy one of these spotty guys for the community.

Care Level:Easy
Lifespan:2-5 years
Max. Size:2½”
Min. Tank Size:10 gallons

To Finish

A beginner fish is peaceful, easy to look after, hardy, and not too expensive (hopefully). Even as a beginner you can still fill your aquarium with a colourful variety of fish from this list. Your family and friends are going to be super jealous when they see your beautiful ‘mini-ocean’ in your home!

Remember that before adding fish to your aquarium, research their needs and compatibility, no one likes bullies in the room – the same applies to your fish in their home!

These peaceful, colorful perfect fish for beginners will ensure your tank is not a constant battle of squabble leading to fish disease and death.

Further Reading:

If you found this article interesting and would like to keep reading, I highly recommend the following articles from my blog:

Best Saltwater Crabs for a Beginner Aquarium

Crabs can be an enchanting and pleasant addition to your saltwater aquarium. Not only do they look great and add interest, but they also help to keep your reef tank clean! In my aquarium, my platoon of Scarlet Hermit crabs are some of my favorite inhabitants. They are just so unique!

Here are some of the most popular species of crabs for a saltwater aquarium:

  • Mithrax Crabs
  • Anemone Crabs
  • Sally Lightfoot Crabs
  • Halloween Hermit Crabs
  • Pom Pom Crabs
  • Arrowhead Crabs
  • Scarlet Hermit Crabs
  • Coral Crabs

You can choose to buy from a massive crab variety in our hobby so let’s get into a little detail about some of the most popular crabs you will find while perusing your local fish store.

To help you get even more information about the crabs listed in this article you find a geat selection of them at They are a great online supplier and you can find them below:

TBR Recommends Have Some Incredible Deals at Their Constantly Updated Online Store

Check Out Their Crab Selection Here

Mithrax Crabs

Mithrax Crab

The Mithrax crabs (Mithrax sculputus), also known as Emerald crabs have very glossy green bodies and are very easy to care for. They generally like to hide in dark corners during the day and are very much nocturnal, but with a good food supply, you find them munching away during the day too.

These crabs are very popular as they have a habit of eating algae, especially bubble algae. Bubble algae are also known as Valonia and Ventricaria can grow very quickly and can block drains and inlets of pumps ( Trust me I almost found out the hard way!)

To help with the battle of Bubble algae buy the females as they tend to stay more focused and here is a quick video I made on how to easily sexy a crab:

Mithrax crabs are mostly omnivores so they need a lot of green food like dried seaweed if your aquarium is very clean or bare of naturally growing algae. They can be aggressive sometimes and can begin to prey on other tank members when don’t get ample food supply. You will also find them devouring any dead animal it finds.

Most Mithrax crabs thrive in a mature reef tank with ample food sources and plenty of rock to hide. The majority of Mithrax crabs stay small all their life but a few have been seen to grow quite large, especially in a large aquarium. When they get large they can be dangerous to other invertebrates and fish in the tank so it is better to remove them if they start to show signs of aggression

They are capable of growing 2 inches in size and can be bought for around $10.

Anemone Crabs

Porcelain Crab Feeding

Anemone crabs (Neopetrolisthes ohshimai) are known as the cool crustaceans because they are very pretty with brilliant color. Belonging to Porcellanidae family these crabs have a red polka dot pattern on their shells with white edges which give them a look of porcelain, hence why they are sometimes known as a Porcelain Crab.

They have very large claws which they use to hold large meaty pieces that they find, but most of the time they use their fan-likes appendages to catch microscopic food from the water column.

These crabs are very passive and can be kept in pairs. They generally do not show aggressiveness towards other tank dwellers but can raise their large claws to ward off any potential predators when needed.

They are named after anemones that they live within the wild. They can be kept easily without anemones in the home aquarium, but having an anemone will show this symbiotic relationship well.

These crabs can reach as big as 2-3 inches in size and their price ranges from $10 to $20 each.

Sally Lightfoot Crabs 

Source: Tato Grasso

Sally Lightfoot crabs (Percnon gibbesi) belong to Grapsidae family. These crabs have a very striking appearance with a brown body and yellow, red rings on their legs. They are a great tank janitor, cleaning the tank from unwanted organic material.

These crabs are omnivores and scavengers. They feed on detritus, algae, uneaten food, and everything else that comes in their path. If they are given the opportunity they will eat meat, such as other invertebrates and fish. In a new, unmatured tank you can boost their diet with dried seaweed and meaty pieces like Mysis Shrimp, Clams, etc.

They are usually semi-aggressive when small but when getting larger they can get very aggressive and intolerant. These crabs do fine when put in with larger fish but with smaller fish, they can show aggressiveness and harm them or eat them, although they don’t attack corals.

They favor places where they can camouflage themselves easily so they will be in need of a lot of rocks in their aquarium. They also move very quickly which is why they are very hard to catch. These guys are very undemanding.

Their sizes range to 3″ and you can find them for around $20. These can be found in blue, orange, yellow, and brown.

Halloween Hermit Crabs

Source: Haplochromis

The Halloween Hermit Crab (Ciliopagurus strigatus) belongs to Diogenidae family. They are very beautiful to look at and will remind you of the Halloween decorations you had as a kid.

They are a vibrant orange color with red stripes around their legs which makes a nice contrast from the shell. They are very easy to care for as they are omnivores, scavengers, and algae eaters. They will eat detritus, dead organisms, leftovers, cyanobacteria, and algae making them a useful member of your tanks’ clean-up-crew.

If you are keeping them in a young and unmatured aquarium, feed them with shrimp and dried seaweed to help them from starving. They are mostly safe to keep but sometimes they can be aggressive and try to steal food from corals and knock them over in the process once they start to get larger.

As with all hermit crabs they live in shells so make sure you have an extensive supply of different sized shells so they can ‘Move Home’ whenever they feel ready. I just pick up a few shells each time I go to the fish store and drop them in the back of the tank. It is not uncommon for the Hermit Crabs to attack and eat snails to get to their shells if they cannot find a suitable empty one.

For one adult Halloween Hermit Crab, you should have a tank of 15-20 gallons, and be sure you provide plenty of rocks in your tank as these are mainly nocturnal creatures that like to seek refuge within the rocks.

Their sizes range up to 3″ and price range is usually between $12-16.

Pom Pom Crabs

Source: Hectonichus

These crabs are very cute, unique, and mystifying crustaceans. Their color ranges from white to tan with dark markings all over their body which helps them camouflage better.

They belong to the genus Lybia and are called the Pom Pom Crab because it looks like they hold pom poms in their hands, not really, they are used to catch floating food from the water.

The pom poms that they are holding are actually anemones, either from the Triactis or Bunodiepsis species. These anemones protect them against any potential predator and the crabs will wave their anemones to show that they are not the next meal! They also use this anemone for collecting food.

They are very easy to care for and are safe with fish and other pom crabs making them great for additions to a reef tank. They are omnivores and mostly eat zooplankton, but if you are keeping them in a young tank feed them with a variety of food like pellets, brine, and Mysis to help keep them fat and happy.

They are small at around 1 inch in size so can be difficult to see in a large tank, but in a smaller tank, you will have no problem finding them. Another interesting fact about them is that they molt like other arthropods so don’t worry if you see something that appears to be a crab’s dead body lying on the sand bed

Their price ranges from $24 to $39

Arrow Crabs

The Arrow Crab (Stenorhynchus spp.) are commonly called spider crabs, belong to the family Majidae. Their color ranges from cream to yellow with iridescent white and blue stripes and the shape of head and body gives it its name.

These crabs are the most controversial ones because on one hand they look fascinating and on the other, they look like something from an alien or horror movie! They are easy to care for but have territorial and opportunistic predatory nature meaning these are mostly carnivores so it is better to keep them well-fed to prevent them from targeting your livestock.

They are effective in controlling bristle worm infestations but are not the best choice as an addition to a new, unmatured aquarium. They are aggressive towards their own species so it is recommended to have only one crab per tank and having a lot of rock will allow it to hide when it feels threatened.

These crabs are nocturnal and patrol the aquarium at night but once settled you will find them out during the day just doing their thing. They can grow up to 6 inches so it is better that you put them in at least an aquarium of 20 gallons and they do molt like all other crustaceans so don’t get scared that your crab is dead!

Their price ranges from $17 to $40

Scarlet Hermit Crabs

Sometimes known as the Scarlet Reef Hermit Crab, these vivid little critters belong to the family Diogenidae. They are one of the most common crabs as part of an aquarium’s cleanup crew because they are so easy to keep and are far less aggressive compared to the Blue Leg and Blue Knee Hermit crabs.

These crabs are herbivores and are voracious algae eaters, although they are not expected to keep your tank algae free! If you are planning to keep them in your aquarium you should provide them with empty shells and feed them with dried seaweed in a new tank with very little natural food growing in it

They live peacefully with other aquarium members but you have to take caution while adding them to the tank as large fish can prey on these little things. These are perfect for all sizes of aquariums as they are only 1/2″ to 1″ in size and being able to house multiple together makes them a great interesting crab to own!

They are cheap to buy with their price range from $1 to $6!

Coral Crabs

Also commonly known as the Pocillopora Crab, Acropora Crab, or Acro Crab these crabs predominantly live on branches of stony corals Acropora and Pocillopora but will be seen on just about any coral.

There are of a variety of colors with varying color pigments all over their body, ranging from blues, to purples to pinks, making them a very contrasting and pretty crab to watch.

Some coral crabs are very beneficial while some try to eat fellow fish when they get bigger. The good ones that you need to look for are related to Tetralia and Trapezia species. They have a symbiotic relationship with corals as they provide them protection from any potential predators and corals in return provide them with food and shelter.

These crabs can be a little hard to identify because they look different at every stage of their lifecycle so if this is a crab you want to be sure to get pictures of them at varying ages so you can easily identify them in the fish store.

These crabs are carnivores so in an aquarium you should provide them with meaty food particles, although they also eat mucus off of corals. They will need a host for surviving so make sure your aquarium is mature enough and has some established coral for them to inhabit

They only reach up to 1 inch so make great additions to nano tank and larger aquariums and be sure to not mistake them for a hairy Gorilla crab (Xanthid spp.) who will completely eat your corals!

You can buy these crabs for around $30.

Which Crabs are Reef Safe?

Crabs that can generally be considered reef-safe are Anemone Crabs, Halloween Crabs, Pop Pom Crabs, Scarlet Hermit Crabs, Red & Blue Leg Hermit Crabs, Pocillipora Crabs, Horseshoe Crabs & Zebra Reef Hermit Crabs. Be sure to secure coral frags well as some crabs will knock them over as they move around.

There are exceptions to the norm, but in general, all the crabs mentioned above do well in an aquarium containing any type of coral. To ensure crabs do not prey on your coral it is always advised to keep them well-fed with their preferred meal of choice.

Which Crabs Eat Algae?

Crabs that eat algae in a reef tank are Mithrax Crabs, Blue & Red Leg Hermit Crabs, Scarlet Hermit Crabs, Red Flidler Crabs, Zebra Reef Hermit Crabs, Halloween Hermit Crabs, and Porcelain Crabs. Herbivore carbs should be added to a mature aquarium with sustainable algae growth to keep crabs fed.

Once an aquarium is 6 months old then it should be mature enough to sustain herbivore crabs. If you are unsure that there is sufficient food growing naturally within the aquarium you can supplement their diet with Nori or sinking algae pellets.

You can find them Here at

Which Crabs Eat Detritus?

Crabs that eat detritus in a reef tank are Mithrax Crabs, Blue & Red Leg Hermit Crabs, Scarlet Hermit Crabs, Red Flidler Crabs, Zebra Reef Hermit Crabs, Halloween Hermit Crabs, Horseshoe Crabs, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, and Arrow Crabs. Crabs are great for removing detritus built up in tight spaces.

Blue Legged Hermit Crab
Blue Legged Hermit Crab

A broad selection of omnivore crabs will ensure all areas of the aquarium are kept free of detritus. High water flow and a diverse selection of crabs help to ensure detritus does not allow it to build, break down, and cause high nitrates.

Do You Need to Feed Crabs in a Reef Tank?

Crabs added to a mature aquarium usually find enough of their natural food while scavenging. Many crabs will also feed off food fed to the fish ait it passes them or lands close by. For new, unmatured aquariums sinking pellets or blended/powdered coral foods will help supplement their diet.

The trick is to try and feed the aquarium without too much being uneaten and left to decompose. Feeding small and often will help prevent this but if the aquarium is new this leads to a problem of undernourished crabs.

Spot-feeding a crab with pieces of Mysis shrimp or Nori via a feeding tube of turkey baster will help ensure the crabs remain well-fed until there is enough of their natural food growing within the aquarium.

Do Crabs Need Dry Land in a Reef Tank?

Most saltwater crabs do not need an area of dry land in a saltwater aquarium. In their natural habitat, they live solely underwater on the natural coral reefs. The Striped Shore Crab does need dry land but this requires a very specific type of aquarium outside the scope of most saltwater aquarists.

This is one of the most famous saltwater aquariums designed with this species of crab in mind:

How Many Crabs Can I Have in a Reef Tank?

The number of crabs you can keep in a reef aquarium varies based on its volume. For small tanks under 55 gallons 1 crab for every 3-5 gallons is recommended, while for larger tanks many aquarists recommend a diverse group of crabs based on 1 crab for every 2-5 gallons.

These are general rules of thumb and the aquarist is advised to use caution and slowly add crabs as needed. Adding 50 crabs to a brand-new 100 gallon aquarium is a guaranteed way to ensure most end up dead.

Instead buy a select group of various crabs and add them. In a few months see how the cleanliness of the tank is and add some more if needed. The crab and snail population must meet the growth of their natural food source or they will become hungry and could begin to prey on fish and corals.

To Finish

Crabs are a great and recommended addition to every reef aquarium! Not only do they add great contrast, diversity, and personality to the aquarium, their large appetite makes them an essential part of the tanks’ clean-up-crew.

A selection of different crab species will help to target different food groups allowing your tank to help maintain acceptable levels of detritus and nuisance algae.

Be sure to add crabs slowly as many of the large ‘Reef Cleaner’ packages you see advertised work well when first added, but once their food supply begins to run out, many starve and die.

Further Reading

If you found this article helpful I highly recommend you read these too:

Pico Reef Tanks – What Are They?

You may have heard of a fairly new trend of saltwater tanks called Pico reef tanks, but are not too sure what they are? Pico reef tanks are a ‘fun-sized’ reef aquarium and are great if you want to place a ‘mini ocean’ in your office or apartment. They are not for the faint-hearted, but carefully looked after, can make an incredible ‘Desk Pet’!

Pico Reef Tanks are small saltwater aquariums under 5 gallons consisting of coral, invertebrates, and small fish. Regular maintenance is required to maintain water stability as the small volume of water is very susceptible to parameter fluctuations. Preferably for seasoned saltwater aquarists.

Although these aquariums look cute, I do not advise beginners to saltwater to attempt setting up a pico reef. Their small size makes them very susceptible to changes in their water parameters and the livestock added will need very careful selection to ensure success!

More experienced aquarium hobbyists are venturing into the world of buying pico reef tanks and whether you are after your second or even third tank, these tanks are a fun challenge. If you are not convinced yet, I guarantee after you read this article, you will be searching for them on the web!

What is a Pico Reef Tank?

Pico reef tanks are the smallest reef aquarium you can get. They require a lot of patience and ‘top-class’ husbandry care because of their small water volume.

As pico reef tanks only hold 5 gallons of water or less, they require greater maintenance attention than larger aquariums, but the maintenance time is very minimal. Because of their size, it is not recommended to place larger fish into the aquarium, but something from the goby family is a great choice if you wish to put any fish in there.

Most hobbyists that have successful pico reef tanks usually opt for just hardy coral and small invertebrates such as shrimp, crabs, and snails. The most important ‘take-home’ message to anyone thinking about purchasing a pico reef tank is to not overstock it!

Water changes are advised every couple of days to control the ammonia, pH and salinity levels, as the water volume is so small. Careful monitoring of evaporation is required due to the possible rapid swing in salinity if left without corrective action. Depending on the tank you are looking to install, a micro Automatic Top Off system may be easily installed to automate this task.

Before these tiny tanks started to become known, it was thought it was impossible to house coral reefs in such a small body of water, however, aquarium hobbyists rose to the challenge and have proven this wrong!

With the dedication and complications that can occur with keeping a pico reef tank, they are not recommended for beginners, but if you have a little experience and are up for a challenge, then why not?

Clown Goby
Clown Gobies Are Perfect Pico Fish

Let us take a look at the pros and cons of setting up your pico reef tank.


  • Water changes are much cheaper – they use less salt mix than their larger aquarium counterparts
  • Running smaller equipment will save money initial purchase and electricity costs
  • You will not need to rearrange your room to fit it in!
  • You can choose the shape and size you want, be as creative as you like – Even Mason Jars have been used!
  • They are extremely cheap to set up if you are re-using equipment


  • Water changes done one or two times a week will be required
  • You are limited to only keeping corals, invertebrates, and very small fish as the tank will not be able to cope with the bio-load of larger organisms
  • Water conditions can change quickly due to the small volume
  • Water parameter tests will need to be done regularly to monitor water stability
  • The small size of the tank can make hiding filtration and life support difficult

Required Pico Reef Equipment

No matter what size saltwater aquarium you plan to install there are some basic essentials that will be required to keep the water stable and the livestock healthy:


For the tank, I recommend a Pico AIO (All-In-One) aquarium. The main reason for this is that the AIO’s have all the filtration hiding away in a compartment at the rear of the tank. This allows for the beauty of the aquarium to be front and center without the distraction of equipment being seen.


You can’t have a saltwater aquarium without salt! Using a high-quality brand like any of THESE from will ensure the aquarium is off to a solid start. Making a new batch of saltwater for a pico aquarium is so simple as the amount you need to change each week can be done in a measuring jug!

Ensure the aquarium is topped off daily with freshwater to replace the water lost to evaporation will keep the salinity level constant.

To help with this chore, many Pico owners set up an inconspicuous vase next to the aquarium that acts as a freshwater reservoir and installs a tiny ATO (Automatic Top-Off) system to automatically replace the evaporated water

AutoAqua ATO Sensor
AutoAqua ATO Sensor

The AutoAqua Smart ATO at is perfect for this task as its tiny form allows it to be hidden out of sight, yet perform a very helpful task!

Live Rock & Live Sand

Because space is at a premium in a pico reef, providing the maximum surface area for bacteria to colonize to form the biological filter is paramount. One of the best ways to provide a solid filtration foundation is to use Live Sand and Live Rock.

These two products come straight from the ocean or harvest facilities and are teeming with beneficial bacteria to get the tank started. As the tank matures these two items will play a major role in the long-term success of the tank.

Using small pieces of Live Rock rubble, the owner can create some impressive aquascapes for the tank, even though it is a small area to work with. I’m sure you have seen some of the incredible work that model makers can create! A Pico Reef is no different!

You can find a great selection of Live Sand Here at

Temperature Control

Maintaining a constant temperature in a pico reef is one of the most challenging without a little help. The volume of water is so small it can be easily affected by the surrounding room temperature and temperature swings can happen fast. This is the usual culprit to the failure of so many pico reefs!

Depending on where your pico tank is going to be kept you may need to keep the water from getting too cold or prevent it from getting too warm. Luckily for us, there are two great devices that can help us achieve a rock-solid water temperature:

Heater – Digitally controlled, a heater will come on and off as needed to prevent the water from getting too cold. Just sit it in the tank or filtration compartment, set it to 78°F-80°F, and leave it to do its thing.

Ehiem Jager Heater

For a small Pico Reef, you will not want a heater any larger than 50 watts.
The only heaters I have ever used is the Jager TruTemp range from Eheim.

You can find the 25W & 50W versions Here at

Chiller – On the other hand, if you live in a warm climate you may need to prevent the water from constantly getting too hot as the day progresses. To do this you can install a great little device, designed purposely for Pico & Nano aquariums that you can discreetly hide at the back of the tank.

You can find out more on the Chill Solutions CSX-1 Thermoelectric chiller Here at Chill

Water Movement

Micro Wavemaker – For those that want programmable flow control, varying flow rates, and patterns then this micro DC-controlled wave maker from Aqamai is the greatest choice for small tanks. Its small form factor allows it to be positioned anywhere while remaining unobtrusive.

Aqamai KPS Wifi Controllable Wavemaker

You can find the Aqamai Wavemakers Here at


If you plan on keeping corals in your reef then a capable, but sleek light will be required. The LED lights on the market solve this with many great options available to suit both your budget and your style.

Two of the most popular LED lights used on most pico and nano aquariums are the:

  1. Prime 16HD from AquaIllumination
  2. A80 from Kessil
    (Links to
AI Prime 16HD
Kessil A80 Aquarium LED Light
Kessil A80

Both are controllable and give great color and coral growth, but my preference is the Prime HD as it has all the interface and control built into it via WiFi, whereas the A80 needs an additional controller for setting varying light programs.

Both light systems come with multiple mounting options to allow you to find the best system to suit your setup.

How to Choose the Right Pico Reef Tank?

Now, this is the fun part! You can be super adventurous as hobbyists are known to use betta tanks, glass bowls, and even condiment jars as a pico reef tank.

You may already have a full setup at home just from spare parts lying around. Setting up a pico tank is simple and straightforward but let’s take a look at some of the beautiful, purpose-made pico reef tanks on the market.

Lifeguard Aquatics 4.1 Gal AIO Pico Tank

This 4.1 gallon All-In-One setup is a perfect pico reef! It comes with a return pump, filter media & ultra-clear, low-iron glass.

This small 12″ x 9″ x 9″ tank is perfect for sitting on a desk, kitchen counter or childs bedroom table.

You can find out more information and reviews about it Here at

Lifeguard Aquatics 3.8 Gal AIO Peninsula Pico Tank

For those of you wanting a different style of pico tank this peninsula style aquarium, also from Lifeguard Aquatics is a nice option.

Giving longer viewing panels this size of tank allows you great aquascaping freedom.

14″ x 8″ x 8″

You can find out more information and reviews about it Here at

What Animals Can Live in a Pico Reef Tank?

Adding things into a tank can be overwhelming but it is most certainly the most exciting part. Here are some super-awesome critters that are suitable to add to a pico reef tank!

  • Nassarius Snails
  • Neon Blue Goby
  • Yellow or Green Clown Goby
  • Sexy Anemone Shrimp
  • Peppermint Shimp
  • Scarlet Reef Hermit Crab
  • Spotted Coral Croucher Goby

Also, what reef tank wouldn’t be complete without a colorful array of corals! Here are my top 5 corals that are perfect for a pico reef tank:

  • Zoanthids & Palythoas
  • Ricordia & Yuma
  • Mushroom Corals
  • Green Star Polyps
  • Feather Dusters
  • Frogspawn & Hammers

To Finish

Pico reef tanks are challenging, but look amazing if they are done correctly. If you do choose to have a pico reef tank, make sure not to overload with livestock otherwise you will have too much waste for the filtration to handle. Remember to test frequently and do not over supplement the water.

If you want to keep a large number of fish in your tank, or you like to take extended holidays…maybe a pico reef tank is not for you. An upgrade to a nano tank may be a better option.

However, if you have a bit of time to dedicate every day or so, understand the space limitations of the tank, and are a patient person willing to learn something new then take a dive into these miniature aquascapes!

Further Reading

To help you further in your learning and decision, you may find our following articles helpful:

What is a Reef Ready Aquarium? – Find Out Here!

If you are just getting into saltwater aquariums, and more particularly—coral reef aquariums, then you might be wondering what this term is all about, ‘What is a reef ready aquarium?’. Don’t worry, I was just the same when I first heard about it, and I wish I had known about this term before I built my very first reef tank!

Reef ready aquariums are a plug-&-play aquarium system. They come from the manufacturers with a drilled tank, pre-installed overflow box, drain pipe, sump, return pipe, and all the plumbing fittings to allow for quick and easy installation by the owner.

As more and more people look at installing a saltwater aquarium in their homes and offices the Reef Ready aquarium system makes it a simple process thanks to the many incredible aquarium packages available from the worlds leading aquarium manufacturers.

They allow owners to install very nice, high-quality aquariums with very few tools and DIY skills making them a very popular choice among beginners especially!

For more information on everything you need to know why reef ready aquariums are great for the beginner to saltwater, please read on…

What Does Reef Ready Mean?

To understand what is so different about reef ready aquariums, it is vital to have a good grasp of how they work and what their main purpose is.

Reef ready aquariums (a.k.a RR aquariums or RR tanks) are aquariums that have had holes drilled in them and have a built-in overflow, located in the middle or the corner of the back glass. Depending on the type of overflow, the hole/s are drilled in the rear or bottom panes of the tank in the factory.

A Reef Ready Aquarium System From Red Sea

Typically, reef ready aquariums come directly from the manufacturer and will have the necessary plumbing already installed inside the tank (In other words, reef ready tanks are almost plug-and-play), or will come with all the parts as a kit with simple instructions on how to plumb it all together.

Reef ready aquariums are typically used for saltwater but there is no reason that they cannot be used for freshwater too. By hiding the filtration and the heater in the sump under the tank (more on this later), it will give a beautiful, uncluttered look to the aquarium, no matter what kind of water type is used.

How Do Reef Ready Aquariums Work?

The main reason reef ready tanks exist is to give owners the chance to have a stunning aquarium with no equipment being shown. In today’s saltwater aquariums the only equipment that is regularly seen are the wavemakers needed to create strong water flow that corals require to feed and stay healthy.

To create stunning, uncluttered showpieces, the life support equipment must be hidden from view. This is where a drilled aquarium comes in, but for those who have no DIY tools, skills, or desire the pre-made reef ready kits are a fantastic choice.

The way in which a reef ready tank works is very simple:

Aquarium Sump Operation

Water is filled into the main aquarium, when the water inside the tank reaches the overflow, also known as a weir, it will flow over the teeth like the anti-flood hole you will find in most bathroom sinks.

The overflow is used to maintain a constant water weight within the main aquarium. It’s like a dam on a reservoir. Once the water flows into the overflow, it then drains down through the drainpipe into a tank sitting below the aquarium, hidden in the stand/cabinet. This lower tank is called the ‘Sump’.

Aquarium Weir
A Typical Overflow With Teeth To Keep Fish & Critters Out

Inside the sump, the water will pass through various chambers where it will get filtered and heated/cooled (providing the necessary equipment has been installed) and then reaches a water pump called the ‘Return Pump.

The job of the return pump is to pump the water back up to the main aquarium via the ‘Return Pipe’. The water exits the return pipe via a nozzle or nozzles to allow the owner to direct the flow to their liking.

Aquarium Sump Sections
A Very Typical Sump Setup. Water Flows From Left to Right

This then completes the water cycle. As water pumps into the aquarium, water is displaced into the overflow, down it drains, gets filtered, and pumped back – simple.

What Components Are Needed for a Reef Ready Aquarium?

A reef ready aquarium needs several different components to work properly. Some reef ready aquariums can be quite complex, but most are very basic to keep it simple!

The basic components of a reef ready aquarium are:

  • A built-in overflow
  • Bulkheads to pass the pipes through the glass panes
  • A drain pipe
  • A sump
  • A return pump
  • A return pipe
  • A return nozzle

Usually, most reef ready aquariums will have the overflow, drain pipe, and the return pipe already installed in the tank (including the bulkheads and sometimes strainers – Strainers help prevent fish and critters going into the drain pipe). However, some models may have only predrilled holes, with the rest of the equipment typically sold separately.

Reef Ready Aquarium
Reef Ready can be just a tank, or a complete setup

The sump, the pipes or hoses between the display tank, the sump, and other necessary equipment like the return pump are usually not included in a reef-ready tank and should be purchased separately.

But, some of the latest reef ready kits have been tailored to the absolute beginner and come with everything they need, however, they can seem costly at first glance. But once you price out all the equipment that is included it’s pretty competitive!

Do All Reef Tanks Need to Be Reef Ready?

One of the questions many beginners will ask themselves is whether they really need a reef ready tank, especially when seeing the cost!

Here’s the thing…

Not all reef tanks need to be reef ready! Non-reef ready aquariums do not have any holes drilled into them or a built-in overflow, which makes using them a little more challenging, but not impossible.

Non-reef ready tanks (also known as just a standard tank) will often have to be drilled or used with an overflow box if you wish to hide all the life support equipment.

The only other option is an AIO: All-In-One aquarium – For more information on these types of aquarium see the link in the ‘Further Reading Section at the end of the article.

Reef Ready Tank vs. Overflow Box

If you have a non-reef ready tank and do not want to drill it, then an option is to use an item called an Overflow Box. These devices sit over the top rim of the aquarium and use a siphon to drain water from the tank and into the sump.

Aquarium Siphon Overflow Box

Compared to reef ready tanks, overflow boxes are typically noisier, and if not properly set up, can allow water to flood over the top of the aquarium if they lose siphon and the return pump keeps pumping.

Power returning to the tank after an outage is usually the most common times these flood!

Although hang on back (HoB) overflow boxes do work as intended for many people, they are avoided by most aquarists. I cannot recommend these to anyone as I have dealt with too many flooded homes from these losing their siphon.

Other issues with HoB overflow boxes are they usually cannot handle good amounts of flow, so the water turnover rate of a large aquarium is too slow and they are not visually appealing.

Reef Ready vs. Drilled Tank

When it comes to non-reef ready tanks, aquarists will nearly always prefer to drill a small hole in the top section of the tank’s back or side panel. This is what I did on my current reef tank:

Aquarium Internal Overflow
My Internal Overflow Box

Most tanks can be drilled on the side and back panes only, because the bottom panel is made from tempered glass, and attempting to drill it will immediately shatter it.

The drilled hole is used for the overflow to connect to the drain pipe via a bulkhead. When drilling a hole you will need to factor in its location as the height of the drainpipe within the overflow will dictate the height of the overflow in the tank. This then dictates the height of the water level in the main tank.

When drilling a tank (which is very easy, but can be stressful) most aquarists only drill a hole or holes required for the overflow and drain pipes. Most do not drill a hole for the return pipe as it is easy to just bring the pipe over the top rim of the tank.

Drilling can be a little nerve-racking because there is never a guarantee that the aquarium won’t break, but if you are dealing with a standard non-reef ready aquarium, drilling is usually the best option. There are many great YouTube videos on how to drill aquariums.

When it comes to second-hand drilled aquariums used as reef tanks, people can often refer to them as reef-ready. However, these should not be confused with the standard reef ready aquariums that come with everything predrilled and installed from the manufacturer.

Simply, drilled tanks mean you have to do the work to get them the same as a manufacturer reef ready system.

Are Reef Ready Aquariums Worth It?

In my opinion, for a person wanting to set up a larger (over 50 gallons) aquarium then a pre-made reef ready aquarium is a fantastic option!

Reef ready aquariums are more expensive than standard aquariums however, since the reef ready aquariums already have the necessary holes predrilled, the overflow/s installed, and all the plumbing either semi-assembled or in a kit they make installation a breeze!.

In most cases, the less hassle is worth the extra expense! Trust me!!

On top of that, you will be dealing with a lot fewer problems overall and in the beginning, you will have a steep learning curve as it is! The integration with the sump is going to be a doddle, and in most cases, having a sump is definitely worth it as it gives you more freedom and makes the maintenance a lot easier because you have more space to work with.

Reef Ready Aquariums Are Stunning!

The sump also allows you a much greater selection of life support equipment that you will need because this hobby is predominantly geared around aquariums with sumps. Depending on what is included in the reef ready bundle you will need at the absolute minimum:

  • A Return Pump
  • A Protein Skimmer (See Article in Further Reading Section)
  • A Heater

Reef Ready Aquarium Recommendations

Typically, the 40 to 90-gallon aquariums are a great size range for a beginner. In my opinion, they are not too big which costs a lot, and not small enough to fluctuate in their stability.

Many Beginners often start with 10 to 75-gallon aquariums, while experienced reefers often go with larger reef tanks of 125 to upwards of 180 gallons. My current 75 gallon is a perfect size for my home, but when we move house soon, I will be going much larger!

I love the reef ready ranges from Red Sea, Waterbox and Innovative Marine.

If you wanted to see a great selection of stunning Reef Ready Aquariums please be sure to check them out
Here at

Further Reading

The following articles may help you too:

Saltwater Aquarium Sand – How Much Do You Need?

When dreaming about having a saltwater aquarium it is only natural that the focus is on the fish, the colorful invertebrates, and even the rock formation. Something as mundane and boring as the sand or substrate doesn’t get much thought until you have to buy it. At which point the question will come up: “How much sand will I need for my saltwater aquarium?

Saltwater aquariums should have a sand bed around 1.5″ – 2″ in depth. Sand is available in fine to coarse grain sizes and will require approximately 1-2 lbs per gallon.
20 gal tank = 37 lbs, 55 gal = 65 lbs, 75 gal = 94 lbs, 100 gal = 140 lbs & 180 gal = 185 lbs. Live Sand is the most popular choice.

In my opinion, sand, or substrate as it’s commonly referred to, helps to create a saltwater aquarium with a very natural look, but it does need work to keep it clean and maintained. Many aquarists run their aquariums with no sand, also known as ‘Bare-Bottom’, with great success.

Sand, or no sand, is purely an aesthetic choice you have to make when installing your aquarium, and having no sand will not harm the inhabitants if that is the route you wish to take.

Let’s take look at what is required if you decide sand is the way to go in your new reef…

For decades I have used and love the CarbiSea range of live and dry sands. They come in a range of particulate sizes and colors to suit your preference:

TBR Recommends

CaribSea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink Sand

CaribSea Live & Dry Reef Tank Substrates

Find Them Here At

What are Deep Sandbeds Vs Shallow Sandbeds in a Reef Tank?

Before you can begin to calculate how much sand or substrate is going to be needed for your new aquarium, you have to work out which kind of sandbed you are going to install. The difference between the two types will dramatically alter how much sand you will need to acquire.

Richards Reef Dry Rock
My Reef Runs A Shallow Bed

A shallow sand bed is the most common depth of sand used in today’s aquariums. A 2″ layer will ensure there is enough sand to make your aquarium look natural and it is easy to keep clean, however, it will provide very minimal biological filtration.

A deep sandbed between 6″ – 8″ in depth will create an oxygen-DEPRIVED zone in the lower levels of the sand. This area is known as an Anaerobic Zone and will contain bacteria that help to consume nitrates and process them into less harmful nitrogen gas.

The main problem with deep sandbeds is that if these lower levels ever get disturbed, say by accidentally sticking a substrate vacuum too deep into the sand, deadly hydrogen sulfide gas can be released into the tank and kill everything. The hydrogen sulfide is created when pockets of detritus become trapped and begin to decay.

With the increased efficiency in today’s modern filtration equipment, the benefit of having the deep sandbed is not worth the risk of an accidental disturbance and ensuing tank crash.

For minimal biological filtration, shallow sandbeds form an Aerobic Zone for the growth of beneficial bacteria to break down waste into nitrates. This is an oxygen-RICH environment and does not pose a threat when the sand is moved around during cleaning.

This is the main reason why you will see most reef tanks with a 2″ to 3″ sandbed.

Reef Tank Sandbed Grain Size

The second part of calculating how much sand you need is to figure out what size sand grain you wish to use. With varying grain sizes, the volume of sand you will need to purchase will also vary.

Lets take a look at the types of grain size you can buy:

Fine & Medium Grain Sand

From the point of view of aesthetics, the fine and medium grain sands give a striking impression with their smooth, natural texture, but if the depth of sand is less than two inches the finer grain sands are light enough to be blown about by strong wavemakers and powerheads.

Too thin a layer of sand will risk exposing the bottom of the tank. It will look horrible and annoy the heck out of you, trust me, I’ve been there!!

Fine Grain Aragonite Sand

When using finer-grain sands you will have to play around with the positioning of your pumps to ensure the sand grains do not get blown around. This is easily accomplished, but will take a little ‘finessing’.

Typical sand quantities for a selection of aquarium sizes using a fine/medium grain sand:

Prices Based on 10lb & 20lb bags of CaribSea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink:

Tank SizeQty for 2″ DepthPrice for 2″ DepthQty for 6″ DepthPrice for 6″ Depth
20 Gallon
30″L x 12″W
37 lbs$90112 lbs$275
30 Gallon
36″L x 12″W
45 lbs$120135 lbs$320
55 Gallon
48″L x 13″W
65 lbs$165195 lbs$460
75 Gallon
48″L x 18″W
94 lbs$230270 lbs$625
100 Gallon
72″L x 18″W
140 lbs$320405 lbs$950
180 Gallon
72″L x 24″W
185 lbs$430540 lbs$1,240

If your aquarium dimensions are different, please refer to this awesome sandbed calculator from Bulk Reef Supply:

If you are unsure of the density value of your chosen sand, you can find out that value HERE at the CaribSea website.

Coarse Grain Sand

If you are partial to the aesthetic appeal of coarse sand you may also use it on both shallow and deep sandbeds. Keep in mind though, that this kind of sand will tend to trap waste between the sand grains and will require regular vacuuming to keep it clean.

If a deep sandbed is the way you wish to go, the recommended way to create that bed is to use 5″ of fine/medium grain sand with a 1″ top layer of coarse grain sand.

Crushed Coral is The Largest Grain Size In The Hobby

By doing this it is easy to vacuum the top 1-2″ of sand layer to remove all the detritus and to keep the lower 4″ of sand undisturbed.

Coarse grain sand is also an option if you have very high-flow pumps since coarse sand is heavier than fine sand and is less likely to be blown around. Because the grains tend to blow around less, you can also reduce the depth of your sand bed from two inches to 1.5 inches, if you wish.

Typical sand quantities for a selection of aquarium sizes using coarse grain sand:

* 2″ Sandbed Prices Based on 15lb & 40lb bags of CaribSea Florida Crushed Coral (72lbs/ft3)x
* 6″ Deep Sandbed Qty & Prices Based on 5″ of CaribSea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink & 1″ of CaribSea Florida Crushed Coral

Tank SizeQty for 2″ DepthPrice for 2″ DepthQty for 6″ DepthPrice for 6″ Depth
20 Gallon
30″L x 12″W
30 lbs$5095 lbs – F
15 lbs – C
30 Gallon
36″L x 12″W
35 lbs$50110 lbs – F
20 lbs – C
55 Gallon
48″L x 13″W
50 lbs$75165 lbs – F
15 lbs – C
75 Gallon
48″L x 18″W
73 lbs$100225 lbs – F
35 lbs – C
100 Gallon
72″L x 18″W
110 lbs$150340 lbs – F
55 lbs – C
180 Gallon
72″L x 24″W
145 lbs$200450 lbs – F
70 lbs – C

Again, if your aquarium dimensions are different, please refer to the sandbed calculator from Bulk Reef Supply:

What Kind of Sand is Best to Use in Reef Tanks?

The most commonly-used sand in saltwater aquariums is aragonite sand, which is essentially calcium carbonate. Aragonite sand is made of pulverized coral skeletons and mollusk shells and the main reason for using aragonite sand is that it has low levels of silica.

High silica-based sands can cause diatom problems which are seen as a form of brown algae dusting over the sand. Every saltwater aquarium will get this algae during its first few months, and with patience, it will pass as the silica becomes consumed.

If you wish to find out more information about Diatoms, please see my article here:
How To Get Rid Of Brown Diatom Algae

On the aesthetic front, aragonite sand simply looks good, giving a wonderfully natural appearance.

  • Fine aragonite sand will look silky smooth in your saltwater aquarium, but is easily blown around
  • Fine/medium grain sand will add a nice textured appearance and are the most common
  • Coarse grains are best suited for tanks with very high-flow

What is Live Sand?

Beyond the specific type of sand to use you will also be asked to choose between dry sand and live sand.

Both dry sand and live sand are dredged from the ocean floor, sorted by size, and bagged. Dry sand is then left to dry out and all the bacteria and marine life living within it die. Dry sand is much lighter and more can be shipped for the same price as wet sand.

CaribSea Arag-Alive Fiji Pink Sand
CaribSea Fiji Pink is a Very Popular Sand Grain Size

Live sand is bagged and shipped in a wet state. During bagging a culture of live, but dormant bacteria are added to the bag/water. Upon adding live sand to the aquarium, the dormant bacteria become active immediately and begin converting the ammonia into nitrite.

Using live sand is a way to start and speed up the nitrogen cycle in your saltwater tank.

Some people prefer to let biological filtration happen naturally and use dry sand instead, but the cycle time will be longer. There is no real answer to which type of sand you buy and they are both available.

Most aquarists will purchase the live sand to help speed up the cycle, but if you are installing a very large aquarium, dry sand will be cheaper. A few bags of live sand can then be added to ‘Seed’ the tank. In time the whole sandbed will become colonized with beneficial nitrifying bacteria.

What is the Proper Way of Adding Sand to a Saltwater Aquarium?

No matter where you buy your sand you must automatically assume that it needs to be cleaned before being used. You should never directly add sand from the bag into an aquarium filled with livestock!

Typically, newly bought sand is dusty and needs to be rinsed several times. To do this put each bag of sand in a bucket and:

  • Add salt water if it’s Live Sand – This keeps the bacteria alive – Freshwater will kill saltwater bacteria
  • Add freshwater if it’s dry sand

Swirl the sand around so that the dust and other undesirables float up to the top. Rinse until the water is clear then add the sand by scooping it bit-by-bit onto the bottom pane of the aquarium.

There is nothing wrong with adding the sand directly to a new, empty aquarium, it will just be very murky for the first few days. Just run some filter floss or filter socks and change them regularly to help remove the suspended particulates.

This is the best approach with aquariums over 75 gallons and a large quantity of sand.

Always install your rock aquascape directly on the glass, then add the sand around it! Adding rock on top of sand can cause the rock to topple in the future as crabs, snails, and burrowing fish disturb the sand. A toppling rock at best could kill the coral attached to it, at worst can burst your tank!

To Finish

Although not absolutely necessary for a saltwater aquarium, having a sandbed really impacts the look of your reef tank and will play a role in biological filtration.

We recommend adding two inches of fine/medium grain aragonite sand to the bottom of your saltwater aquarium and using live sand will help to jumpstart the nitrogen cycle.

You can also use coarse sand or have a deeper sand bed but if you go with these options be aware of the potential drawbacks and how you can avoid them.

The sand you chose is only predicated by the look you wish to obtain with your aquarium. Sand or no sand, fine or coarse. There really is no right or wrong.

Further Reading

Reef Tank Algae Turf Scrubbers – What Are They?

Is algae taking over or causing problems in your saltwater aquarium? As an aquarium hobbyist, I’m sure you would agree that you want your fish and coral to stay happy and most importantly healthy! Over the last few years, these devices called Algae Scrubbers or Algae Turf Scrubbers have appeared, but many people have no idea what they do.

Algae scrubbers are aquarium filters that use light to rapidly grow algae to filter the water, consume harmful chemical compounds, and help keep aquariums algae-free. The Algae is harvested by the owner as it grows and this removes the pollutants absorbed within it.

Excess algae in your aquarium is a leading cause of water quality issues that could potentially kill your corals and fish. Not only that, algae looks terrible! By growing algae in a controlled environment, these devices allow your aquarium to stay clean & healthy.

What Is an Algae Scrubber?

An algae scrubber is a purpose-built vessel that allows aquarium water to run through it. As the water passes through the device, high-intensity LED lights with a wavelength designed to promote plant growth are shone into the water. This creates an environment perfect for growing algae.

As the algae grows, the aquarium owner opens the filter housing during regular tank maintenance and disposes of the mat of algae that has grown. By disposing of the algae, the owner has helped to remove nuisance nutrients like nitrates, nitrites, and phosphates from the aquarium which are the main food for algae to grow but, at high enough levels can not only stunt coral growth but also cause livestock death.

As the algae grows within the scrubber it helps keep the algae contained so that it prefers to grow in the scrubber, rather than in the aquarium. A simple but very effective device!

What Does An Algae Scrubber Do For The Aquarium?

Algae scrubbers act as a natural water filter to remove nitrate, phosphate, and other harmful pollutants. They create a controlled setting to allow algae to rapidly grow, away from your aquarium.

In addition to preventing algae growing in your aquarium, they also help to stabilize the pH due to an increase in gas exchange as the water flows through them. Oxygen is absorbed into the water and nitrogen and carbon dioxide are released and consumed by the algae as it grows.

If you have a lot of corals in your aquarium, adding an algae scrubber will promote rapid, colorful, healthy growth.

How Does An Algae Scrubber Work?

They are pretty simple, and there are two types:

  1. Waterfall Scrubber – Water is pumped directly into the top of the scrubber and allowed to naturally fall over a rough-surface screen. The water is then removed from the scrubber via a drainage system, and returned back into your aquarium via gravity.
  2. Upflow ScrubberThe upflow uses air. The cavity is filled with water and air is pumped in at its base to create a current. The algae then grows on proprietary capture materials from which the algae can be harvested.
The Inside of a ‘Waterfall’ Type Algae Scrubber

A safe, high-power LED light system containing two spectrums of either red or blue light are installed inside or on the side of the scrubber to encourage algae to grow rapidly. This is important, as the faster the algae grow, the more nuisance nutrients are removed from your aquaria.

There are many models to choose from with both external or internally mounted algae scrubbers. As the name suggests, the external algae scrubber sits outside the sump, normally above it.

If space is at a premium or your aquarium does not have a sump, you can go for an internal or hang-on scrubber. These types of algae scrubbers sit on the side or inside the tank or sump and water or air is pumped through the scrubber to create a water flow for the algae to constantly receive the nutrients it needs to grow.

After installation, it usually takes around 4 weeks for the algae to build up. Most scrubber owners remove the screen every 7-14 days to clean it, depending on how much algae is produced. The algae grows in a mat on the screen or capture material and once it builds up to around ¼ to ½ an inch thick, it’s time for harvesting and disposal.

The most common methods of control are to run the light on a plug-in timer. In the beginning, it is recommended to run it 24/7 to allow the algae to build up. Once the unit has ‘Broken In’ most aquarists run them on the opposite cycle to their main aquarium lights – ie, run the scrubber during the night.

By doing this it helps to stabilize the fluctuations in Ph caused by the lack of organisms awake during the hours of darkness.

Which Algae Scrubber Is Best For You?

There are many different types and they all range in size, so selecting the one that best suits your aquarium size is easily accomplished. However, when comparing which scrubber to buy, also consider how much food you feed your fish in your aquarium, what is the quality of your source water, and how much algae are you currently getting in your tank.

The more excess nutrients you have in your water, the more algae your aquarium grows. There is no such thing as ‘over-scrubbing’ but having a larger algae scrubber will allow more algae to be filtered from the aquarium.

The trick is to find the balance of scrubber size and price. The larger the algae scrubber, the more it costs. On each of the algae scrubbers shown in the links below at Marine Depot, they list both the recommended size tank for each scrubber and the water or air pump needed for each type.

Here are a few of the best-rated algae scrubbers:

IceCap Algae Scrubber

These are fully enclosed, easily installed, and made from top quality acrylic and PVC. The lighting system is powered by IP66 waterproof LED lights and the adjustable spray bars make them operate quietly.

It is recommended to be installed above the sump so water can flow back via gravity. An awesome feature is that it has an emergency drain fitting if your main drain were to become clogged with algae.

They are available in 3 sizes from

External Use Only and require a feed pump and additional plumbing.

Santa Monica RAIN Algae Scrubber

The RAIN series has lights that can be fully submerged, so it does not take up much space around your tank or sump.

It can also be mounted on a pole attachment (sold separately) to suspend the scrubber above the water for easier cleaning and have it drain via gravity.

They are available in 2 sizes:

  • Small – RAIN2 For aquariums 10 – 40 Gal
  • Medium – RAIN4 For aquariums up to 55 – 300 Gal

Multiple scrubbers can be used to filter any sized tank.

Submerged or Above Water Installation Only and requires a water pump and additional plumbing.

Santa Monica HOG Algae Scrubber

The HOG or Hang-On-Glass series is an ‘Upflow’ Scrubber.

It consists of two halves. The LED half sits on the outside of the glass, while the growth half sits inside the sump or tank. The two halves are magnetic.

Air is fed into the base of the growth side to create the water flow required. These are perfect for those who wish to install them behind rock of an aquarium with no sump.

They are available in 2 sizes for saltwater:

  • Small – HOG3 Series for aquariums 5 – 10 Gal
  • Medium – HOG3xx Series for aquariums up to 10 – 40 Gal

Multiple scrubbers can be used to filter any sized tank.

Air pump required. Each model specifies which size air pump is required.

Santa Monica SURF Algae Scrubber

The SURF series is an ‘Upflow’ Scrubber.

The foam pad floats on the top of the water and air is pumped into its base. As the bubbles rise up the algae capture material, it moves the water with it, causing the algae to grow.

These are meant for sump installations where the scrubber can float out of sight of the main aquarium. The light is easily removed from the top to allow for single-handed harvesting of the algae.

They are available in 7 sizes:

  • Small – SURF2 Series for aquariums 10 – 40 Gal
  • Medium – SURF4 Series for aquariums up to 55 – 120 Gal
  • Large – SURF8 Series for aquariums up to 55 – 300 Gal

Multiple scrubbers can be used to filter any sized tank.

Air pump required. Each model specifies which size air pump is required.

Santa Monica DROP Algae Scrubber

The DROP series is an ‘Upflow’ Scrubber.

The compact compartment sits fully submerged and is great for hiding away in the back corners of an aquarium or sump.

Air is fed into the top of the scrubber and channeled to the base. A special cradle allows this series to sit on the sandbed without sand being pulled into the scrubber.

They are available in 2 sizes for saltwater:

  • Small – DROP1.4 Series for aquariums 5 – 10 Gal
  • Medium – DROP1.4x Series for aquariums up to 10 – 40 Gal

Multiple scrubbers can be used to filter any sized tank.

Air pump required. Each model specifies which size air pump is required.

Find the Complete Santa Monica Range of Algae Scrubbers Here at

To Finish

Fitting this simple device to your reef tank could allow you to finally be free of that constant algae plague you have been battling for months. A simple light-filled compartment that allows the algae to grow out of sight may be all that is required, and these scrubbers do just that.

They are all designed to be harvested and cleaned quickly and with ease allowing the nuisance nutrients to be removed and more algae can be grown to repeat the process.

By ensuring you size the scrubber to suit your tank size and current algae growth rate you will find that you are cleaning your glass less and your water quality improves!