Saltwater Aquarium Fish for Beginners

6 Best Saltwater Aquarium Fish for Beginners

Are you interested in starting your own saltwater aquarium? Saltwater fish can be some of the most striking and most interesting creatures you’ll ever host in your own tank.

What’s more, most are very reef friendly, so why not bring in a bit of coral, too? When considering setting up saltwater aquarium fish for beginners, however, you’re going to need to look carefully not only at species, but also at tank size, live rock you can bring into your aquariums, and more.

Reef fish tank

In this guide, we will specifically look at some of the easiest, most saltwater hardy fish that you can start breeding and looking after at home. Some will happily live amongst shrimp whilst others will feed on them, too, so be careful to look for that balance!

On the whole, beginners will likely do well with hardy fish for their small tanks which aren’t too aggressive with other species. Whenever you start looking after marine life in your own tank or aquarium, you’re going to need to make sure tank mates will happily live with one another in the water!

What is the Best Starter Saltwater Aquarium?

There are plenty of great fish tank brands and systems out there which are ideal for beginners and for using to help look after starter fish. For example, taking a quick look online, there are some fantastic starter saltwater aquarium options from leading names and manufacturers such as Coralife and Fluval.

However, when it comes to finding the perfect saltwater tank for beginners, you’re going to really need to consider tank size first, and how easy it is to clean out, manage and maintain.

There are plenty of great saltwater aquarium systems and spaces out there which are really easy to keep on top of which might not have that brand recognition.

Therefore, it pays to do a little bit of research, regardless of the tank mates you want to introduce!

What Size Saltwater Tank Should a Beginner Get?

Generally, a good saltwater tank size to begin with should hold around 20 gallons of water. This is because you can expect to hold one inch of fish for every two gallons of saltwater, meaning you can expect to hold ten one-inch marine fish in this size of tank – generally a good starter base for most beginners.

However, when looking for starter fish species, you might actually prefer to go even smaller. A lot of this is down to personal preference, but a smaller tank such as a nano tank might not be best for aquarium fish who grow to be three or four inches long, for reasons in the mathematics as described.

colourful fish and corals in a saltwater aquarium tank

Therefore, a small tank might be harder for you to manage if you find that you have an adult fish species that’s starting to feel a bit cramped. Fish saltwater tank owners recommend come in various sizes, so as much as you’ll be looking at various sizes of fish tank, you should also be ready to do a few equations regarding the actual size of your starter fish, too.

What’s more, as a saltwater tank is also likely to make a great reef tank, be sure to take into account space for coral and plants, too. Again, 20 gallons is a safe bet in our collective opinion, but you can go larger, or smaller, once you are more confident in your fish-keeping abilities. The sky’s the limit!

What are the Easiest Marine Fish to Keep?

There are plenty of marine fish and saltwater fish out there who are really laid-back, and who won’t demand more from you than the usual tank checks, water changes and, of course, feeding! Here are some saltwater fish, in particular, we think beginners will acclimatize well to. Don’t worry – we have other guides and blog posts available on freshwater fish, too, if they are more appealing to you!


Firefish are bright and breezy critters who are really fun to keep and look after. They tend to do well in larger groups, meaning you might need a bigger tank than most, but if you intend to make fish-keeping a hobby that lasts beyond a few months, this is well worth the investment.

elegant firefish
The Elegant Firefish

Firefish are great for beginners simply because you can largely leave them to their own thing – and they are pretty peaceful. Therefore, unless you give them aggressive tank mates, you’re likely to have little difficulty looking after these creatures.


Mollies are also brilliant starter fish in that they, again, won’t need much care beyond the basics. Molly fish are really popular thanks to their striking colors and patterns, and the fact that they can come in a variety of species. Ever heard of a Dalmatian Molly? It might be worth adding a bit of pizzazz to the water!

Dalmation molly fish
The Dalmatian Molly

Generally, a smaller saltwater tank of around 10 gallons will be fine, but as some Mollies can grow up to be four inches long, a starter tank of around 20 gallons is likely to be a safer bet that you can fall back on.

Royal Gramma

The Royal Gramma or Royal Gramma Basslet is another saltwater fish favorite that appeals to beginners as well as seasoned fish-keepers and aquarium holders. That’s because they have a brilliant, colorful sheen you’ll normally see in the Caribbean!

Gramma loreto, Fairy Basslet
The Royal Gramma Basslet

These fish tend to be mid-size when they mature, at around three inches in length max. This means that you should really be looking for a tank size of 20 gallons or more if you want to welcome more than two.

Yellow Watchman Goby

Yellow Watchman Gobies are great fish for beginners, again, thanks to their minimal needs. However, they can be some of the more timid of the reef safe fish on our list, meaning you’re going to need somewhere they can hide and shade occasionally.

Yellow watchman goby fish
The Yellow Watchman Goby Source

The Watchman Goby loves warm water and shouldn’t be too much of an uninvited guest – there are plenty of compatible tank mates they will work well with. Again, a tank size heading up to 20 gallons or larger will be ideal if you want to bring a few into your home aquarium.

Coral Beauty Angelfish

With a name like that, you can expect these fish to both be very coral friendly as well as bright and beautiful. Just as well, then, that this species really lives up to its title! Coral Beauties are Great Barrier Reef residents, meaning that a nice, warm tank is great for these colorful critters.

Coral Beauty Angelfish
Coral Beauty Angelfish Source

Angelfish tend to be pretty easy-going, but as they can grow up to four inches in length when fully mature, you’re going to need a tank between 30 and 40 gallons in volume if you want to host a few of them.


Clownfish are the ‘poster fish’ for saltwater aquarium keeping, and that’s not only because there are so many different varieties, but also because they are so striking! If you’ve seen ‘Finding Nemo’ before, then you’ll already recognize this cute and colorful species.

clown fish in blue water
The Clownfish

However, Clownfish – the Percula Clownfish, for example – can grow to more than four inches in length, which again means a starter tank size of around 20 gallons to 30 gallons will be ideal. What’s more, this fish species is likely to be a good choice for beginners who are emerging into intermediate, as the Clownfish has a little bit of a reputation for being an aggressive fish at times – not always, though!

Is a Saltwater Aquarium Hard to Maintain?

Saltwater aquarium fish, coral, and the tanks you keep them all in can be easy enough to maintain providing you care for them all regularly! However, you’re going to need to make sure you are vigilant about several levels and factors if you want to keep your aquatic life happy and healthy over the months and years to come.

  • For example, do make sure to add fresh, warm water regularly to your tank. Even the most placid of beginner saltwater fish are going to need their salt levels keeping in check. Leaving your tank salinity levels to rise means that the salt is only going to condense over time. It’s a good idea to check this daily.
  • Weekly, do make sure to check filters and pH. Temperature controls should also be in place, too, to make sure that your fish are in habitat ready water that they won’t get shocked by.
  • What’s more, as we always say, make sure that you set up a fish neighborhood of tank mates that go together well. Aggressive, territorial fish and timider species are not going to blend well. A little bit of research goes a long way!

Keeping saltwater fish isn’t ever difficult, though you will need to apply plenty of time out of your schedule to make sure you are keeping them healthy. It’s a pastime which, if you’re serious about your fish and your colorful tank, you’ll find it easy to keep up in the long run. Just make sure to choose recommended starter fish and a tank big enough to welcome them all!