10 Easy Saltwater Fish for Beginners to Take Care Of

Keeping a saltwater tank is different than keeping a freshwater tank, but luckily, it is not much more difficult. If you are new to the world of saltwater fish, one of the most exciting parts of setting up your tank is choosing the fish to put in it. There are tons of beautiful and interesting fish that get along well with others and will help you create a beautiful tank. Several species of saltwater fish are good for beginners or for those who just want a low-maintenance tank.

Unfortunately, many big-box pet stores may not know what is best for you and your tank. Many often do not take care of their fish properly and employees do not have the faintest idea of what fish will work with your existing setup. Larger cities have fish stores that specifically cater to fish keepers, carry a wider array of supplies and fish, and are run by people who know how to properly care for freshwater and saltwater tanks. But at the end of the day, it’s up to you to make your homework.

Once all the research, planning, and waiting is complete and the aquarium is full of water and has finally finished cycling you will finally be ready to introduce your first fish.

It is important to ensure that you make the right choice though as there are some fish which are suitable to be added at this stage, and there are fish that are not.

Do you know what you are looking for in the selection of your first fish?

Firstly and foremost, the fish you choose must be relatively hardy. The reason for this is that the saltwater aquarium is new and the water will not be completely stable. Another reason is that as aquarists, we all make mistakes at one time or another, and with having a hardy fish they are more forgiving to these mistakes.

You will probably have an idea as to the type of fish you would like to keep in your aquarium therefore it is imperative that this fish you choose now will be compatible with future tank mates. If you added an aggressive fish for example at the start then whenever you decided to add a new fish there would be fighting in the aquarium. Not what you want at this stage really is it.

Below we list some of the easiest saltwater fish for the beginner.


Yellowtail damselfish (Chrysiptera parasema). Photo: Ian Reding

Available in a rainbow of colors, damsels are hearty fish with a healthy appetite. They willingly dine on live, freeze-dried, frozen, or flake foods. Damsels are closely related to the clownfish and achieve a similar size of approximately 2 to 3 inches in length. This beginner saltwater fish adapts well to the fluctuating conditions of a new saltwater fish tank setup. Be warned that damsels may shun other species and even pick fights with other damsels in their groups.

The life span of a damsel is much shorter than that of their clownfish cousins. Expect to enjoy your damsels for 2 to 4 years. Blue damsels are a popular choice with their electric-blue body and lemon-yellow accents on the tail fins. Green Chromis damsels are docile and mix well with other damsels.

Orchid Dottyback

The orchid dottyback (Fridmani pseudochromis) is a relatively peaceful fish which grows to around 3-4 inches in length. The good thing about the orchid dottyback is that they can be purchased tank bred.

One thing to be noted is that you should not mix this fish with other fish of the same shape (ie the royal gramma below) or with other dottybacks.

Once the fish has become adapted to life in your aquarium it will become quite bold and swim happily around the aquarium.


The normal firefish (Nemateleotris Magnifica) and then purple firefish (Nemateleotris decora) are great starter fish to add to the aquarium. Both of these are very colorful fish that grow to a maximum size of about 4 inches.

Firefish are small, friendly fish that swim together in a synchronized manner. They can eat a variety of foods and rarely pick on others in the tank. Because of their small size, they will need smaller places to hide.

Bigger tank mates might sometimes chase these little guys but they usually get along well with everyone and with small hiding spots, they are fast and small enough to be able to evade anything. Firefish do not get along well with eels, so if you are thinking of getting an eel, this species may not be right for you.

Clown Gobies

Most gobies are easy to keep. Clown gobies have cute little faces and will add an element of charm to your tank. They prefer to eat shrimp and either table or brine shrimp will keep them happy. They generally get along well with any of their tankmates and they prefer long coral branches and lush greenery to hide in. Gobies come in a variety of colors to match any aquarium decor.

Yellow Tang

If you are looking for a fish that is not seen in many saltwater tanks, the yellow tang is not it. This fish is commonly seen in saltwater tanks for good reason. The species are generally hardy and their bright yellow color makes them a beautiful addition to any aquarium.

They get along well with almost any other fish but they have been known to become aggressive with surgeonfish, so beware. To keep a yellow tang in the same tank as other surgeonfish, introduce them at the same time to avoid territorial issues.


After the movie Finding Nemo came out, it seemed as if everyone wanted a clownfish. While not an aggressive species, they will pick on other clownfish if not introduced to the tank at the same time or after another fish has established dominance over an area of aquarium real estate.

Most clownfish sold today were born in captivity and they like to eat meaty foods like shrimp as well as greens. These little guys need plenty of space to hide and can at times, be a comical addition to an aquarium.

You can keep these singularly or you can keep them in pairs. When kept in pairs the most dominant fish sometimes will turn into a female and the two may even end up breeding.

There is a misbelief that clownfish must be kept with an anemone. This simply is not the case. Clownfish will be more than happy in an aquarium without one. Anemones are quite hard to keep and at this stage of the aquarium’s life the aquarium is not yet ready for one, and possibly neither are you.

There are various species of clownfish, however, the best ones to start with are :

  • Common clown (Amphiprion ocellaris)
  • Black and white clown (Amphiprion ocellaris)
  • Percula clown (Amphiprion percula)

Clownfish can be purchased tank bred and if this is an available option it is recommended that you follow this option.

Flame Hawkfish

The flame hawkfish is a bright red fish with black fins. They grow to be about four inches long and are considered by fish keepers to be one of the more personable fish species. They eat a variety of meats and live-feeder shrimp and primarily hang out at the bottom of the tank. They need at least a 30-gallon tank and plenty of live rock to hide in. You will probably notice these little guys sitting on a rock waiting for food to swim by. If you are raising small shrimp in your tank, do not add the flame hawkfish unless you want your shrimp to become dinner.

Even if a fish is supposed to be mild-tempered, it does not mean a skirmish won’t happen every once in a while. Give all your fish plenty of areas to hide and if territorial issues start to erupt, move the rocks and decorations around periodically. Remember that a saltwater tank must be cycled before adding fish in order for them to stay healthy and happy. There is plenty of saltwater fish available that are good for the beginner and before long you’ll have a beautiful tank filled with happy fish.

Royal Gramma

Royal grammas (Gramma Loreto) are peaceful fish with the exception of their own kind and are very colorful fish with the colors changing from purple to yellow along the fish’s body.

There are other fish that can easily be confused with the Royal Gramma as they look very similar so ensure that it actually is a Royal Gramma prior to purchasing it.


Midas Blenny (Ecsenius midas)

There are a couple of blennies that in my opinion make good additions to the aquarium as starter fish and there are the Midas Blenny (Ecsenius Midas) and the Bicolour Blenny (Ecsenius bicolor).

These are both fantastic to watch. They both like to either rest on a ledge or find a hole and simply watch the world go by.


Chromis (Chromis viridis) are great to add to an aquarium. They are relatively hardy and if you have a larger aquarium then you can add a small group. They normally come in two colors (blue and green).

One of the good things about chromis is that they do not grow to be that large. They normally do not grow larger than 2 inches in length.


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