If you're dreaming of all the beautiful marine fish you'd love to own, it's time to get the scoop on the cost of a saltwater aquarium. While saltwater fish are trickier to care for than your average goldfish because of the rigors of setting up and maintaining a saltwater aquarium, with professional help you'll do swimmingly. Saltwater fish are often more eye-catching and have brighter and bolder colors than freshwater fish. The damselfish, the butterfly and the flame angelfish are just a few of the brilliantly colored saltwater fish that can grace your home or office marine aquarium. While these fabulous tanks are typically more work and can cost more to maintain than freshwater tanks, your reward will be the beauty you get to live with each day.
Saltwater tanks need regular care, and the habitats within require expert attention, including providing the right food, supplements, lighting and filtration. The water temperature must be carefully monitored (test kits are available for this) and usually kept between 75 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit to keep your fish alive. Algae levels must be kept in check through proper cleanings, and the water chemistry must be expertly balanced. It is also important to understand how to keep your fish healthy. Some types of fish can be prone to aggression or fighting, while others are susceptible to disease. Fortunately, saltwater aquarium professionals can help set up and/or maintain your tank so that your fish stay healthy, your waters stay clear and you don't have to worry about making fatal (to fish) mistakes.
Whether you want to purchase a smaller saltwater aquarium for your home or lease a large one for your office, an aquarium management service can help you choose the right tank and animals as well as maintain the health of the fish and corals. Getting the advice of a professional in selecting your fish will help you plan for your initial and ongoing saltwater aquarium costs and care needs. Different fish require different water temperatures, conditions and lighting, because not all saltwater fish originally come from the same environments or have the same needs.
If you are ready to invest in a beautiful addition to your home or office, here are the factors that affect the average cost of saltwater aquarium setup and maintenance.
Saltwater aquarium tanks
To start your dream aquarium, the first thing you will need is a fish tank. Aquariums can be purchased new or used, or leased from an aquarium service company. Leasing is a popular option, especially for large tanks. Professional offices often opt to lease aquarium services because it includes maintenance and animal care services, so they need only enjoy the beauty of the aquarium.
Many beginners to the saltwater aquarium world assume that a smaller tank (2.5-15 gallons) will be the easiest to maintain. In fact, midsize aquariums (20-40 gallons) are more forgiving of mistakes; in smaller tanks, slight miscalculations can lead more quickly to fish fatalities. A 90-gallon tank is a common option for an office or for a beautiful addition to a home. Purchasing a 90-gallon tank (including the stand, glass top, etc.) can cost anywhere from $100 for a used model to $1,200 for a new one, on average. A 90-gallon tank measures 48 inches by 18 inches by 24 inches. Additional aquarium equipment like heaters, protein skimmers, filters, test kits, reef tanks, water pumps and return pumps will increase the setup cost another $200 to $2,000 on average.
Another consideration is whether to choose an acrylic tank or glass aquarium. Acrylic tanks are typically more expensive than glass tanks because they are lighter and therefore easier to move or ship. Glass tanks are less expensive and the glass panes are difficult to scratch; however, they typically weigh four to 10 times as much as an acrylic tank. Your choice will depend on where the aquarium is located, what type of fish and materials are inside the tank, whether you prefer the look of a glass or acrylic tank, and how much you want to spend. A saltwater aquarium tank setup professional can help you weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each type of tank for your situation. Finally, you may also need to buy an aquarium stand to hold (and secure) your fish tank, depending on the size of tank you decide to buy.
If you love the idea of a saltwater aquarium but don't have the time or know-how to set it up or maintain it, you can lease one. Professional aquarium companies provide all the equipment, consult with you on how you want it to look, source the animals, do all the setup and installation, and provide regular maintenance like tank cleanings. If you decide to move or no longer want to have an aquarium, you do not need to dismantle the tank or try to sell your equipment; the company comes to take it all down for you. Leasing requires an installation fee, ranging from $200 to $600 on average, plus a monthly fee averaging $150-$300, depending on the size of the tank.
Some professionals, such as Reef Playground in Los Angeles, suggest leasing tanks for larger installations as well as for people new to caring for saltwater fish. Reef Playground, which provides quotes on request, says an additional benefit of leasing is that it allows them to ensure ethically sourced fish and corals for each tank.
Creating a habitat
Saltwater aquariums are full of drama, bright colors and flair. Half the fun is creating the beautiful new world that your fish will inhabit. Beyond the aesthetic you want, though, when creating the habitat it is important to identify what type of coral, live rock, plant life and other elements your chosen fish need to survive. If you are not sure where to start, professional aquarists, such as John's Corals and Aquariums in Hackensack, New Jersey, Champion Aquariums in Pompano Beach, Florida, and Aquatic Creations in North Brunswick, New Jersey, can set up the habitat inside your tank for you. This ensures your fish will have the perfect environment to thrive in and prevent you from making costly rookie mistakes that can cause your fish to perish. The costs for setting up a habitat vary based on your tank size, the type of fish you want, and the overall appearance of your saltwater aquarium. Not including materials, the setup fee cost can range between $300 and $500 on average. Common materials for a 90-gallon tank include 90 pounds of live rock, which costs on average from $200 used to $800 new; 80 pounds of live marine sand, ranging from $50 to $150 on average; tools for mixing saltwater, ranging from $125 to $850 on average; and aquarium lighting, ranging from $150 to $1,500 on average.
Adding live corals is an optional expense; the most ecologically responsible options are grown in captivity and sold from a farm. Beginner corals cost $40, while packs for more expert tank owners cost an average of $180. Exotic specimens can cost more than $300.
Picking out your new saltwater fish is a big part of the fun. From a tessalata eel to a black lionfish, your saltwater tank can showcase a stunning display of nature's exoticism. The total cost for your saltwater fish will vary, depending on how many fish your tank can support and how rare your choices are. As with corals, most professionals prefer to sell ethically farmed fish, so always be sure your livestock source is sustainable and has a good reputation in the field. Basic saltwater fish can range from $6 for a few reef chromis to $15 for a pair of cardinalfish to $40 for a pair of clownfish, on average. Exotic fish start at $100 each and can cost as much as $1,000 or more. If you are building your aquarium without the help of a professional, always make sure you have your tank properly prepared before purchasing and introducing your fish to their new home.
Most pros also recommend including a few cleanup animals, too, such as hermit crabs, which cost just a few dollars at a fish store, or a starfish, which can cost approximately $50 on average.
Good to know
If you are new to the saltwater aquarium life, there are some helpful tips that can save you time and money and prevent you from learning the hard way. First of all, the location you choose to set up your saltwater aquarium is important. Avoid places that will expose your fish to extreme changes in temperature, such as in front of HVAC vents or a radiator. Also, consider the type of sunlight that comes through your window; if you have a window that receives full sun in summer, place your new fish tank away from it. Think about the structural support you will need for your new saltwater aquarium. Water is heavy! Even a modest 20-gallon tank can weigh about 225 pounds once you've stocked and filled it. A 90-gallon tank (generally 4 feet by 1.5 feet by 2 feet) makes a striking addition to your entryway, living room, or office, but, once filled, can weigh over 1,000 pounds. You'll need an aquarium base strong enough to support the weight, as well as a structurally sound floor to prevent any disasters. Make sure the tank is located close to an electrical outlet to avoid snaking unsightly electrical cords throughout the house.
Although they can be an investment, beautiful saltwater aquariums are truly a passion for many who own them. If you decide to own rather than lease a saltwater aquarium, one way to save is to buy used equipment. Purchasing a used fish tank, used lighting, and even a quality used filtration system can cut your setup costs by 50 percent or more on average. Make sure you are purchasing from a reputable source and that the equipment is in good condition. Another cost-saving strategy is to choose your mix of fish carefully. Many varieties of saltwater fish can be quite expensive. For example, clown triggerfish and adult imperator angelfish retail for approximately $125 each, on average, from a major pet provider. Some fish breeds are aggressive with others; make sure the fish and other animals in your tank are compatible to prevent expensive fish from being eaten or killed by other fish. Do your research to find out which climates and conditions are right for the fish you choose.