Healpful Tips

Types of Fishkeeping Systems

Fishkeepers are often known as "aquarists", since many of them are solely involved in keeping fish in a home aquaria or garden pond. The hobby of fishkeeping can be broadly divided into three specific systems and categories, according to the environment and type of water the fish are kept in: freshwater, brackish, and saltwater (marine) aquarium systems.

Freshwater system

Takashi Amano and his Nature Aquarium Concept.

Freshwater aquaria are by far the most popular branch of fishkeeping hobby, while most freshwater are community aquaria containing a variety of compatible species; however, single-species breeding aquaria are also very popular. Livebearing fish such as guppies and mollies are among those most easily raised in captivity, but aquarists also regularly breed many other types of freshwater species. Many hobbyists keep planted aquaria, where the focus is on aquatic plants as well as fish. In recent years, one of the most active advocates of the heavily planted aquarium is the Japanese aquarist Takashi Amano.

Koi carp garden pond

Garden ponds are in some ways similar to freshwater aquaria, but are usually much larger and exposed to ambient weather. In the tropics, tropical fish can be kept in garden ponds, however, in the Arabian Gulf, species such as goldfish and koi can be kept in shaded garden ponds, and preferably temperature controlled especially during the summer months.

Brakish water aquarium with mono fish

Brackish water system

Brackish water species come from habitats with varying salinity, such as mangroves and estuaries, areas in which freshwater meets saltwater. Fish that live in these areas are able to tolerate a wide range of salinities. Brackish fish do best in water with a salinity S.G of 1.015 and a pH of 7.5 to 8.4. Brackish water fish can change colouration depending on the salinity of water and can be shy, so they need and enjoy the protection of plants and rocks.

Saltwater (marine) system

Saltwater aquaria are more demanding; but the species are significantly more colourful and more expensive too. As a result marines tend to attract more experienced aquarists. Marine aquaria can be exceptionally beautiful, due to the attractive colours and shapes of the fish as well as the corals. Many saltwater species, such as clowns, dotty back and dwarf angles are among those most easily raised in captivity, with reports from aquarists also, regularly breeding many other saltwater species.

Saltwater can be grouped into three basic aquaria systems:

    Marien fish only (FO) aquarium concept

  • Fish Only (FO) aquaria, this is a basic marine aquarium set-up, as their name implies, are designed to house and showcase marine fish only. This is the least expensive system, because you don't necessarily need the higher output aquarium lighting system and other advanced life support equipments.

    In my opinion, even though this is the least expensive system, it is not necessarily the easiest and fastest to get started with. Getting started may take a little longer than the other systems while waiting for the nitrogen cycle to complete. Since the fish are the centre of attraction, the aquariums are sparsely decorated, often with coral skeletons or artificial corals. This is a good starter system, allows the dedicated beginners to "get their feet wet" and become familiar with equipment, water parameters, fish, and the maintenance of marine aquariums.  The availability of beautiful and hardy marine fish such as damselfish, purple tangs, and tank-bred species adds to the success of this system. You need to monitor your water parameters regularly, take corrective measures, and or water changes as necessary.

    FOWLR aquarium concept.

  • Fish Only with Live Rocks (FOWLR), this setup is the similar to a (FO) system with the addition of live rock and higher output aquarium lighting system. This system can be described as a blend or a stepping stone that bridges (FO) aquariums and reef aquariums. While marine fish are still the main focus of this system too. The basic elements of the reef aquarium are introduced with live rocks which are naturally colonised with many varieties of marine organisms, and the beneficial nitrifying bacteria. These live rocks with the beneficial bacteria provide excellent supplemental filtration and help maintain stable water parameters. Live rock adds a new dimension to the aesthetics and care to the basic marine aquarium. Special considerations for FOWLR setups include proper curing or acclimation of live rocks, a higher output light or supplements to cultivate desirable coralline algae, and the restriction of many medications that harm the live organisms found in live rock.

    You still need to monitor your water parameters regularly and perform water changes as needed. You will also need to add supplements such as iodine, calcium, strontium, etc... to the water periodically, this will help the live rocks to thrive, in turn helps maintain stability in aquaria system and it can become a food source for your invertebrates and the fish.

    Reef aquarium concept with fish

    Reef aquarium concept without fish

  • Reef aquaria are the most beautiful of the marine system, but at the same time, it is more expensive and challenging to maintain. As their name implies, the centre of attraction is primarily focused around corals, anemones, and other invertebrates, with very few species or no fish at all. Reefers are more interested in keeping their corals and anemones growing, and they are also very sensitive to water conditions, this means monitoring the water parameters every other day, if not on daily basis.

    Reef aquaria are usually set-up by more experienced hobbyists, mainly because of the expenses involved in the materials and equipments required for reef set-up, such as, the large quantities of cured live rocks for aquascaping, expensive corals and anemones, which require maintaining pristine water conditions, reverse osmosis, protein skimmers, calcium reactors, and/or deionised water, basically top of the range life support (Rolls-Royce) system. Also, many corals are photosynthetic, requiring very high output lighting system to survive which can be very expensive too. If monitoring your water parameters on a daily basis and spending money is not an issue for you, then you should look in to setting up a reef aquarium, because it can be very rewarding and breath taking to look at when set up correctly.

    We don't wish to discourage you from setting up a reef aquarium, but seriously, we do not want to see you give up the hobby after you realise the amount of effort, time, and money that goes into setting up and maintaining a stunning “Living Art”!

    Finally, you may also come across “nano reef aquarium” which is basically a small cubical aquarium of less than 20 gallons. These aquariums have become quite popular in the aquarium hobby in recent years. They usually come with selected accessories that you need, and are fairly easy to set-up and offer a unique perspective to reef keeping. These small reef aquariums can be run without the traditional expensive reef equipments such as a protein skimmers or calcium reactors, but still requires the necessary monitoring of water parameters and correcting as needed, the addition of live rock, live sand filtration, good lighting, and conservative stocking of reef organisms to make it an uncomplicated and pleasurable reef aquarium experience.