Photograph by Blane Perun

Reef Aquarium

A reef aquarium is a special type of aquarium designed to house fish and animals that thrive among live corals. From the class Anthozoa, corals are marine organisms that are sea anemone, or polyps, which live in groups or colonies.


The coral heads grow from thousands of individual polyps and over time they secrete calcium carbonate and form a hard skeleton. Some corals can catch plankton in order to facilitate growth, but others need sunlight to grow, which makes lighting really important in most reef aquariums.

Aquarium As a Home

Reef aquariums can hold a number of different types of fish including chlorinating fish and spawning fish depending on what type of coral of the aquarium, but most of the time reef aquariums are a mix of soft and hard corals, rocks, fish and sand.

Due to the delicate nature of the corals, maintenance and proper set-up are essential for reef aquariums. Before setting up a reef aquarium, you have to consider tank size, stand, filter, protein skimmer, lights, water pumps and water chemistry aspects. Reef aquariums usually consist of carefully chosen live rock, live sand, corals and appropriate fish to maintain the life of the corals and the health of the saltwater and reef aquarium environment.

Glass and Acrylic

Reef aquariums are typically glass or acrylic and range in size, but most reef aquarium experts suggest a tank no smaller than 55 gallons. The come in a number of shapes including square, hexagon and oblong. Stands for reef aquariums also vary but most come 24-30 inches tall depending on the size of the tank and the type of filtration and water system; reef aquarium stands are designed with the proper fixtures and line holes for filtration and water systems.


Regarding lighting, the corals in most reef tanks require proper lighting to maintain healthy corals and promote growth. The general rule for reef aquarium lighting is 3.5 watts per gallon of water for soft corals and 4.5 watts per gallon for hard corals, commonly known as SPS and LPS corals. Filtration is also critically important in a reef aquarium for similar reasons – the water quality has to be supreme to maintain a proper healthy environment for your tank. Some tanks come with the filtration system already installed but for the most part the majority of tanks use a standard system like the Berlin system or Jaubert method. Water movement is also a component of a healthy reef aquarium. The typical water movement equation is 10 x:10 x aquarium capacity in gallons = required flow in gallons per hour. Heating and cooling of the tank is important, as well.

Mimic Nature

A reef aquarium combines a number of interrelated elements including proper choice of coral, rock, sand and fish as well as chemical aspects, water movement, lighting and filtration. Once those elements are in line, the result is a healthy, live reef aquarium that mimics the coral reefs found in nature.

Blane Perun

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