Saturday, November 3, 2012


I have been working with glass boxes of water for about 5 years and in that relatively short amount of time I've learned A TON! Make no mistake, I am certain I have 100 tons more to learn. But I've learned a lot from a range of sources and I'd like to share those sources in this post. First, a little background about me. I began my fish keeping odyssey via my daughter's Christmas present in 2007. I set up a freshwater 20H for her in response to a great fondness she had developed for one of her picture books about fish. She was interested and loved watching the tank. But it was me who fell head-long into the hobby. I've had an affinity for the wild world throughout my life. As a youngster, I wanted to be a zoo keeper (alongside ballet dancer and basketball player) and I think one of the best ways to connect people with the wild world is through the unwild world of zoos and aquariums. So, here I am 5 years later having returned to school to pursue a career as a professional aquarist. Of course, it's nearly impossible to find a university program dedicated to the captive care of marine animals. So volunteering at a public aquarium and keeping my own reef are key aspects of my job training. Perhaps more important than the B.S. in Aquatic and Fisheries Science that I'm working toward. What the schooling does offer is the hard-core biology as well as the evolutionary systematics of the animals we keep. And the insights I've gained from that perspective have been and continue to be profound and influential. But there's no substitute for experience and I've learned the most from keeping my own tank. Here's a sketchy little video of my mixed reef.

In addition to active and rational observation of your tank, good sources of written information are key to successful reef keeping and minimizing losses which should really be the prime directive for all reefers. Do no harm. Of course, we regrettably do do harm sometimes in keeping marine animals in captivity and sometimes it's the fault of the keepers and sometimes it's not. When pushing the frontiers of keepable animals, there is an expected lack of info to go on and losses are nearly inevitable. Especially in terms of sustaining obligate feeding fish, azooxanthellate corals and a number of other difficult animals like pipefish, boxfish, ribbon eels, etc. Is it worth it? That's for people to decide for themselves and the answer is not always clear to me. In general, I feel it IS worth it in terms of the information gleaned and the potential to enrich lives and connect people with nature and beauty. But there's a huge responsibility that comes with keeping captive life and I encourage all aquarists to keep this notion squarely in their minds as they pursue their aquarium keeping.

Even though we've come a long way since those sterile early fish-only tanks with bleached coral skeletons (At least most of us have. Shame on you, my dentist!), the keeping of marine aquaria is still in its relatively early stages and technologies and philosophies are continually evolving and adapting. Keeping live coral long term, especially SPS corals, was once matter-of-factly considered impossible. A look at English aquarist David Saxby's amazing aquarium gives a good idea of how far we've come.

And we've come that far on the backs of some key authors who've written the seminal texts of our hobby. Here are are the books that have been most important for me as I've learned the science and art of reef keeping. These books are all available online, but I encourage you to consider purchasing them from your local, independent book store or your favorite LFS.

The Reef Aquarium, Vols. 1, 2 & 3 by J.C. Delbeek and J. S. Sprung.
These three books pretty much set the standard for reef keeping texts. And they do read kind of like textbooks which can be a turn-off. But they are absolutely chock full of information about the animals and technologies of reef keeping and provide an incredibly detailed and authoritative view of the hobby.

The Conscientious Marine Aquarist by Robert M. Fenner.
Bob Fenner is one of my very favorite aquarium authors to read and this book is a close second for me in terms of being the reef keeping text with great information on both equipment and animals.

Reef Invertebrates by Anthony Calfo and Robert Fenner.
This is a remarkbly detailed and expansive look at marine invertebrates for aquaria. Both authors use their heads and their hearts in their approach to reefing and it comes through loud and clear in this book.

Invertebrates by Julian Sprung.
From one of the true pioneers of reef keeping comes this guide-book like text filled with coffee table-worthy photos. A great book to just read, look and be inspired.

The Marine Fish Health and Feeding Handbook by Bob Goemans and Lance Ichinotsubo.
This is the only book I've used that focuses on fish health exclusively. An interesting read and a good go-to reference for disease fishues. I like Lance and appreciate his contributions here and on Advanced Aquarist. Bob, on the other hand, is a climate change denier who wrote a letter to the editor of Coral Magazine condemning an article published therein about climate change and reefs as political. If he had some facts to back up his position, I might be more sympathetic. I still like this book.

Marine Aquarium Handbook: Beginner to Breeder by Martin Moe Jr.
This book is considered an authoritative classic by a pioneer in captive breeding of marine aquarium fishes though I have not read it myself.

The Complete Illustrated Breeder's Guide to Marine Aquarium Fishes by Mathew L. Wittenrich.
Another book I haven't read but Mr. Wittenrich is a great writer and a renown pioneer in marine fish breeding. Certainly an important text for anyone interested in the reproductive side of the hobby.

I'll end this section with the 3 books I have used the most as references for stocking my reef.

Reef Aquarium Fishes by Scott W. Michael, Marine Fishes by Scott W. Michael and Marine Invertebrates by Ronald M. Shimek. All three are in guide-book format and, as such, are very easy to reference. Michael's books are the best fish books in the business and his photography is fantastic. He also has a series of larger, taxa-specific texts but their cost is high and he hasn't covered some of my favorite taxa so those books aren't part of my library. These two guides are simply essential. Shimek's invertebrate guide is every bit as comprehensive and beautifully illustrated as it's fishy companions. And Dr. Shimek is hands-down my favorite marine aquarium author. He's bright and funny and a true joy to read.

I think at least a small library of hard-copy books is important for any reef keeper. Only in a book can you achieve the information density necessary to really lay the cognitive ground-work for a beginning reef keeper. But books are expensive and cannot stay as current as electronic resources in a number of important ways. Further, you can't really interact with a book in the way you can an internet forum. The following resources should not and cannot replace the texts above. But they have been absolutely key to my relative success and are as important as books for all reefers.

Reef Central
This is THE marine aquarium forum in the world and there are many very experienced aquarists on the board who are ready and willing to help their fellow aquarists with everything from choosing a skimmer to identifying diseases to evaluating stocking choices. Of course it's buyer-beware on any forum and one must keep one's wits about one. Also, these folks are not always the most forgiving and if you act like a moron you will be treated as such.

Advanced Aquarist
This site is basically a blog with multiple contributors including some very well-known experts in the field. All manner of marine aquarium-related topics are covered from the latest equipment to issues of public policy and conservation to success reports of keeping and breeding marine animals in captivity.

Reef Builders

Another blog with multiple contributors focusing on all aspects of the hobby with lots of product reviews.

Wet Web Media
A Q&A forum operated by Robert "Bob" Fenner with a uniquely conversational format and multiple contributors. A fabulous resource.

Fish Base
An authoritative and comprehensive database of marine fish information. A go-to source for me.

Microcosm Aquarium Explorer
From aquarium fish to tropical travel destinations, this site covers both fresh and saltwater related info and is fairly vast. I've only begun to explore it's limitless depths.

Red Fish Magazine
A digital magazine for fresh and saltwater keepers.

Not considered terribly sciencey but if you're in the sciences and you say you never use the mighty Wiki, you're lying.

This is the magazine, period. Authoritative, detailed and seemingly not dictated by advertisers. I've got nearly every issue and I reference them all the time. I could subscribe but buying them at my LFS gives them some business and me an excuse to go to the fish store.

These are the two key biological texts from my school program. Both are incredibly detailed and authoritative. And they're readable. This level of understanding can reveal all sorts of insights into reef keeping. And yet the detail can be prohibitive for many. I love it.

The Diversity of Fishes: Biology, Evolution and Ecology by Gene S. Helfman, Bruce B. Collette, Douglas E. Facey, and Brian W. Bowen.

Biology of Invertebrates, 6th edition by Jan A. Pechenik

Marine Depot
The best online source for marine aquarium equipment. The best prices, selection and customer service. If you can, I encourage everyone to patronize their favorite LFS. But when you can't find it there, you can find it here.

Diver's Den

This is the "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" section of Live Aquaria and it's the only online source for livestock that I have ever used. Do not confuse it with ordering from Live Aquaria itself. They don't have the same quality or guarantees. Diver's Den is its own facility operated by renowned aquarist Kevin Cohen. They are universally considered the best in the business. I'm on their email list so I get a daily update of the items posted.

Well, that's about the size of it. These are tried and true resources for a great number of aquarists. I hope you'll post more great resources in the comments. Thanks for reading and have a wet day!



  1. Your post is enlightening to those who want to take care of the marine creatures.

  2. Thanks Paul,
    You have share very good information about fish aquarium and also i like your book reference because in these books we are learn more about our aquarium home service.

  3. I have been working with glass boxes of water for about 5 years and in that relativelyaquarium installation new york

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