saltwater aquarium vs reef aquarium

Saltwater aquarium VS reef aquarium: Know the basic differences

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There are lots of misconceptions among the new aquarists around the saltwater aquarium and reef tank. They think that there are huge differences between these. But actually, this is not the case.

When salt water is poured into a tank then it will be called a saltwater tank. Now there are three types of saltwater tank. Fish only tank, fish only with live rock tank and reef tank. In a reef tank, saltwater fishes are not important. Live corals and invertebrates are the main things in it. The reef tank is also a saltwater aquarium.

Sounds weird right?

Yes, this is a little confusing but I’m here to help you to understand. Let’s start

Saltwater aquarium

Reef aquarium

The main attraction of saltwater aquarium is saltwater fishes The main attraction of the reef aquarium is live corals
Rocks are not mandatory to build the saltwater aquarium Live rocks are needed to build a reef tank
A saltwater aquarium can be fish only or fish only with live rock both The reef tank should start with live rock only. Dry rock shouldn’t be a good option to start it.
Lights are not a big issue to build this tank Some good LED lights are mandatory to make a reef tank
A saltwater aquarium can be made at a cheaper cost To build a reef tank some extra cash is required
Saltwater tank can be bare bottom tank A reef tank should have a sandy substrate
Beginners can build saltwater tank easily To build a reef tank little bit of experience is required

These are the main differences between the saltwater aquarium and the reef aquarium. But there are also differences between these two. Mainly every saltwater can be turned into a reef tank but a reef tank can’t be turned into a basic saltwater tank. Yes, that is possible but a huge investment cost will be lost if you want to do that. So start with fish only a saltwater tank and then move forward.

Read more:- Are anemones really hard to keep? Expert’s opinions

But that is not enough. You need to know what the differences between water parameters are also. Let’s take a look at it


Fish only saltwater aquarium (basic)

Reef aquarium

Salinity 1.020-1.026 1.023-1.025
Temperature 22°C-26°C 22°C-26°C
PH level 8.1 – 8.4 8.1 – 8.4
Alkalinity 8 – 12 dKH 8 – 12 dKH
Nitrate (NO3) < 30 ppm < 1.0 ppm
Phosphate (PO4) < 1.0 ppm < 0.2 ppm
Calcium (Ca) 350 – 450 ppm 350 – 450 ppm
Magnesium (Mg) 1150 – 1350 ppm 1250 – 1350 ppm

These are the basic parameters of these two tanks. If you are going to make a reef tank or saltwater tank then make sure about the correct salinity level. The salinity level is one of the main parameters which helps to make a healthy saltwater fish tank or healthy reef aquarium.

Why lights are the important factor for a reef tank?

One of the main difference between the saltwater tank and the reef tank is the light source. If you don’t put a good light source in the saltwater aquarium then it will be okay because fishes don’t bother about lights but without a proper light source making a successful reef tank is almost impossible.

The main thing of attraction of the reef tank is live corals and invertebrates. Algae play an important role to keep the environment healthy of the reef tank. Now without proper light, they can’t do photosynthesis and the whole purpose of the reef tank will be waste. So try to invest in a good light source.

Read more:- Best Saltwater Fish for Aquariums: 10, 20, 40, 55, 75-Gallons & More

According to the source, low-light corals need 4-6 watt per gallon light and for high light corals need 10-12 watt per gallon light. This is the thump rule to make a good reef tank’s light source.

That means if you are building a 100-gallon reef tank then the 100×4 = 400 watt light you need. This is the simple one.

Read more:- How to build saltwater aquarium from scratch

Read more:- Why is my coral not growing? Know proper causes of each of it 

Final thoughts

Making a reef tank is not so easy. It needs a little bit of experience in aquascaping. The success of a reef tank totally depends upon how you decorate that tank just because there are no fishes at all.

But making a basic saltwater tank is easy enough than making a reef tank. So try to do this first if you are new to this hobby. After gaining some experience in it you can convert the saltwater aquarium into a reef aquarium easily. Don’t be hurry.

I guess you have known the basic differences in between both these tanks. Here I’ve discussed every aspect of it. So I guess it will help you a lot.

So best of luck & happy fishkeeping 🐟

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