Building a Proper Marine Aquarium Library

Just about every month, I travel to a different saltwater hobbyist club to speak to the general membership. Inevitably, these trips involve a tour of local aquarists’ private home displays and while I see some gorgeous aquariums, I am always struck by how much money people pour into their tanks while forgoing their own aquarium education. It seems the vast majority of aquarists that I meet use the Internet as their primary, sometimes sole, means of educating themselves. And while the internet is a useful tool, I don’t believe it should be anyone’s sole means of aquarium education nor even their primary means. The problem with the Internet is that anyone can sound like an expert. On the other hand, author’s manuscripts must go through a rigorous editing process to vet the document and usually only people with a strong background and knowledge are asked to write a book or even a magazine article.

That is not to bash the Internet too hard; it is certainly faster than a book, and more up-to-date. But we should carefully weigh what we read on the various message boards against what we have learned from reading printed materials. Only then can an aquarist come to a well thought-out conclusion regarding a plan of action. Toward that end, I want to help readers assess some of the many, many books that are available on the market, and recommend some that I have found to be very useful for my own studies.

Beginner Oriented

  The New Marine Aquarium by Michael S. Paletta

This is absolutely my favorite book to recommend to a beginning marine aquarist. It is fairly short, only about 140 pages, so it is not too intimidating to new aquarium keepers. Giving beginners a great big book full of information that they never get around to reading because it is too voluminous is a waste of time and money. The New Marine Aquarium is concise. I like that. Plus, it is written in simple, common and easy to understand language. Beginners won’t be inundated with Latin scientific names here or complex bio-chemistry, but they will get enough of both to build upon for the future and to develop the proper vocabulary of aquarium keeping. This book is also filled with beautiful images to capture the imagination of readers and inspire them in their own endeavors. And best of all, it is not terribly expensive. Anyone who can afford a marine aquarium can easily afford to purchase this book.

  Reef Secrets by Alf Jacob Nilsen and Svein A. Fosså

This book is sort of the Cliff Notes version of marine aquarium keeping. It briefly talks about everything: lighting, water quality, aquascaping, biotopic representations, corals, fishes, invertebrates, algae, feeding and even a little about conservation issues. For beginners, it provides a strong basis to understanding the process of selecting appropriate and compatible livestock, and for then caring for said creatures.


  Marine Fishes: A PocketExpert Guide by Scott W. Michael

This book is an incredibly useful tool for quickly identifying marine fishes commonly offered in the trade. It also gives readers a quick summary of their captive care and basic husbandry needs. It doesn’t cover everything needed to properly care for any fish for its entire lifespan, but it does give the basics and, most importantly, it matches common names with scientific names to permit further individual research.

  The Conscientious Marine Aquarist by Robert M. Fenner

This is one of my all-time favorite books on marine aquarium keeping. It is one of the first books I ever purchased, about 10 years ago, and I find myself frequently going back to it to investigate something even today. The amount of experience that the author poured into this volume on husbandry techniques is simply amazing. Nowhere else have I been able to read more about selecting healthy and appropriate fishes, or about how to care for them once I bring them home. On the negative side, it is starting to get a little dated now, since it's original publication in 1990, particularly regarding the equipment references because of all the advances that have occurred since then. However, it still contains many useful tidbits on the natural range, biology and captive care of many of the fishes we see on a regular basis in the local fish store. And, it is one of the few books available that addresses the issue of cyanide collection. For that reason alone, every aquarist should have a copy of this book.

  Fish Disease: Diagnosis and Treatment by Edward J. Noga

This textbook is certainly not for everyone, but anyone who considers himself a serious fish keeper should own it. It is my “bible” when it comes to diagnosing and treating fish ailments. For every disease I can think of, it covers both the common signs and the proven treatment options. It doesn’t include any magic potions or miracle cures, but instead offers plain, straight facts about what has been proven to work to cure an afflicted fish.

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  Aquarium Corals: Selection, Husbandry and Natural History by Eric H. Borneman

No one volume has as much information on the captive care of corals as this book. In it readers will find tips for properly identifying each coral, their natural ranges and niche environments in the wild, normal colors and captive care, as well as the potential impact of their removal from the wild due to collection - a topic rarely brought up in other works. There also are discussions of equipment, water chemistry and coral anatomy. This book is jam-packed with coral information. Along with all the data, the book also displays plenty of beautiful photographs to help aquarists identify corals and discover what kinds of corals interest them the most.

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  Book of Coral Propagation by Anthony Calfo

This book is unlike any other book offered to marine aquarium hobbyists. Its primary focus is the captive care of corals, with special emphasis on propagation for fun or for profit. Toward that end, it has an expanded section on building a coral propagation greenhouse as a money-making venture. It also discusses each coral, its captive care requirements, propagation methods that work with it and the potential for profit for each one. The only downside to this work is its lack of images, but a new, fully illustrated version is just about to be published that should rectify this shortcoming.


  Reef Invertebrates: An Essential Guide to Selection, Care and Compatibility by Anthony Calfo and Robert Fenner

For a long time, no books were available that discussed the many invertebrates that were neither corals or clams. This was an area of marine aquarium keeping that was neglected for far too long, but not anymore. Reef Invertebrates by Calfo and Fenner discusses everything from live rock, sand, marine plants and algae to sponges, worms, crustaceans and echinoderms. With striking photos and an in-depth discourse on most every invertebrate encountered as a hitchhiker on live rock or purchased specifically at the local fish store, this book is well worth its cost.

  Marine Invertebrates: A PocketExpert Guide by Ronald L. Shimek, Ph.D.

This book is very similar to Scott Michael’s Marine Fishes: A PocketExpert Guide except it focuses on invertebrates. I originally purchased this book for its coverage of sea stars, urchins, worms, shrimp, crabs, mollusks and other mobile invertebrates, but was pleased to discover upon receiving my copy that it also includes coverage of corals, anemones, corallimorphs and gorgonians as well. Basically everything that might be available in a local marine fish store that is not a fish is found in this book. But that extended and expanded reporting comes at a price. Each creature usually has only one small page dedicated to it. Just like Michael’s book on fishes, expect to find the basics, but not a full and detailed treatment for each animal.

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Another tip I will give fellow aquarists is to archive their magazines. A giant pile of magazines is cumbersome at best. I find it useful to either tear the magazines apart or photocopy articles that interest me, and then file them according to subject matter for easy reference later. It is much easier to locate my collection of articles on clownfish in its file folder than to dig through a mass of magazines trying to locate the issue that I seem to recall had an article on breeding and rearing maroon clownfish.


Properly investing in a good marine aquarium reference library is going to make the purchaser a better aquarist. Learning from the written experiences and opinions of the leading experts in the field of saltwater aquarium keeping can help others avoid costly mistakes and help to ensure a long, successful venture in this hobby. This industry has a nasty habit of overwhelming new, eager aquarists, causing them to quit the hobby in short order. Becoming an educated consumer goes a long way toward minimizing the risk of this pitfall.

If you have any questions about this article, please visit my author forum on Reef Central.

Reefkeeping Magazine™ Reef Central, LLC-Copyright © 2008

Building a Proper Marine Aquarium Library by Steven Pro -