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Marine vs Freshwater by Dr. Hameed Al-Alawi

I am frequently asked how the keeping of tropical marine fishes differs from the keeping of their freshwater counterparts.

In some ways, their requirements are remarkably similar. Both types, for example, need adequate supplies of oxygen, low (or nil) levels of toxins like ammonia and nitrites, suitable temperature, adequate water chemistry, and so on. Many potential marine aquarists are, however, intimidated when, almost as soon as they start to show any interest in the marine hobby, they encounter technical terms such as the Nitrogen Cycle or Nitrite Crisis.

By comparison, freshwater aquarium keeping appears to be so much simpler. Yet, we could just as easily discuss the Nitrogen Cycle, the Nitrite Crisis, ammonia and nitrite toxicity, and numerous other topics, in freshwater context, because exactly the same 'chemistry' applies. It is just that, because the margins of error are considerably wider in freshwater systems, people don't tend to go into these subjects in quite the same detail.

The result is that one is often left with the impression that, without a degree in biology or chemistry, there can be no hope of successfully maintaining a marine aquarium. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, to many people's surprise, it is perfectly possible to become a successful 'marinist' without ever having kept any other types of fish before. The level of success you will experience, though, largely dependent on your own inherent skills, patience and the unqualified acceptance that the necessary background/preparatory work must be executed comprehensively and without short cuts.

Water conditions are remarkably constant and well balanced in the open seas and coral reefs of the world. Should any abrupt changes arise in nature, fish and other mobile creatures simply move to a different location (within limits, of course). This ability to escape is one of several primary differences between a natural (open) system and an artificial (closed) such as the one which exists in the aquaria.

In the later case, the fish and other organisms are in intimate contact with a continually changing environment, but have no chance or means of escaping. They are therefore totally dependent on us to provide them with adequate conditions for their survival.

As aquarists, we must be able to identify these requirements, and either maintain adequate conditions, or modify an unsatisfactory environment to meet the needs of the creatures in our care. For instance, just having the aquarium water crystal-clear, does not necessarily mean that its composition is acceptable. Yet, a few simple tests, if carried out properly and regularly, will highlight which, if any, parameters need to be adjusted to provide water of appropriate quality.

An alert, informed eye is also crucial in identifying 'normal' behaviour for any given species and distinguishing it from 'abnormal' behaviour, this often being an early sign of an imbalance which might otherwise remain undetected until it is too late.

My original aim when I first developed the idea for this website was to provide an illustrated guide to allow the residents of the Arabian Gulf Region to familiarise themselves with the immensely rich and magnificent fish and invertebrates fauna of the 'Arabian Seas' (these 'seas' stretch from the Red Sea in the west, through the Arab Sea in the south, to Arabian Gulf in the east).

It soon became apparent that such a website would also be of interest to the fast-expanding body of marine aquarists in other countries who are fascinated by the spectacular fishes and invertebrates of Arabia, especially when one bears in mind that approximately 12% of breath-taking beautiful ornamental fish species of the world are endemic to these seas.

In bringing some of these fish and invertebrates to the attention of marine hobbyists, I am aware, of course, that I would be presenting an incomplete picture if I were to offer no guidance on their upkeep in aquaria. However, a highly detailed website on all the scientific aspects and practicalities of marine aquarium keeping would be outside the scope of this particular project.

I have therefore provided general guidelines on tank selection, water quality management, feeding, health care, life support system and choosing fish, but without going into deep or excessive detail regarding their chemistry or biology. Comprehensive background information and instructions may (and should) be sought in one of the many excellent books and references which are currently available on the internet or in all countries where the incomparably absorbing hobby of marine aquarium keeping is practised.

It is my sincere hope that the contents of this website will encourage you to take up this pleasurable and informative activity if you have not already done so. If you are already a practising marinist, I hope that some of the 'Fishes' of the Arabian Peninsula Seas will stimulate you to enter new realms of enjoyment.