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Saltwater Aquarium and Reef Tank – What’s the Difference?


Saltwater aquariums and reef tanks are both beautiful. Selecting between the two is a fun process, in itself.

“Saltwater Aquarium” and “Reef Tank,” aren’t they the same?

The term “Saltwater Aquarium” covers several different types of aquariums. A “Reef Tank” is one of these types.

“Saltwater Aquarium” refers to the concentration of salt in the water being used. These tanks usually have approximately the same amount of salt in them as they would if they had been filled with water from the ocean.

Different types of saltwater aquariums include (this is not an all-inclusive list, and there is some overlap):

  • Fish Only With Live Rock (FOWLR)
    This type of tank is probably the most flexible saltwater aquarium in terms of what you can put into it. As the name implies, the aquarium has fish and live rock in it. There are probably snails, crabs, shrimp, anemones, and other animals, but no corals. FOWLR tanks are generally more forgiving than others in terms of water quality and in their care.
  • Predator Tanks
    Predator tanks are saltwater aquariums filled with fish which actively prey on others. These tanks may have sharks, eels, trigger fish, puffer fish, lion fish, and other fish which are known to be aggressive with others. Fish which are not naturally aggressive usually do not fare well in this type of aquarium. Shrimps, shellfish, snails, and crabs are typically on each of the inhabitants’ menu.
  • Species-Specific
    Species-specific tanks are the opposite of predator saltwater aquariums. They provide the safest and best environment for one specific type of animal, like seahorses, pipefish, or other animals which do not compete well in a typical aquarium. Maintaining water quality and stability within a small range makes this type of aquarium one of the more demanding types.
  • Brackish
    Brackish aquariums are unique. They are based on areas where fresh water and salt water meet. There are different types of brackish aquariums, many emulating swamp or river-type areas near the ocean.


What reef tanks are

A reef tank is what typically comes to mind when one thinks of a saltwater aquarium.

Saltwater tanks with corals in them are considered reef tanks. Some will use the term “mixed-reef” when certain fish or animals are in the tank.

Reef tanks can be the most demanding of saltwater aquariums. Maintain high water quality, keep them clean and consistent, and you will probably be rewarded with an aquarium which grows colorful corals and just get more and more beautiful over time.

What type of saltwater aquarium do you have? What do you like best about it? Leave a comment and join the conversation.

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