If you’re looking for a list of beginner saltwater fish to keep in your aquarium, read on….

Deciding which ones from hundreds of species commonly found in aquarium shops is both exciting and a little confusing for many new hobbyists.

It is quite hard to resist the temptation of keeping the more exotic saltwater fish and the more colorful ones such as butterflyfish, angelfish, lionfish, etc.

As a beginner in the hobby, you should really try to avoid these species of fish.

You wouldn’t want to spend a lot of time and money setting up your aquarium, then after a couple of days or weeks have a sick or dying fish.

So to save your hard earned dollar and to prevent fish loss, it will help if you do your research on deciding which beginner saltwater fish to keep before actually purchasing even a single fish.

It is a general rule to start slow and keep hardy fish first that can handle and can survive your mistakes.

Fortunately, there are hundreds of attractive hardy fish that are relatively small. Smaller hardy fish are the best ones to keep since a couple of beginners have aquariums that are smaller. So most of the larger species have to wait.

The listings that follow represent some of the best choices for beginner saltwater fish.

Damselfishes (Family Pomacentridae)

Green Chromis

One of the best beginner saltwater fish for a saltwater aquarium are damsels.

They are hardy fish which are able to withstand worst water conditions than most other saltwater fish. They are also inexpensive, not a picky eater, colorful and active.

Yellow Tail Blue Damsel

Damsels are also great in “breaking in” a new aquarium. Meaning, they are good to keep during nitrogen cycle. They are also not a threat to corals, clams, or invertebrates.

Unfortunately, they are also some of the most territorial smaller fishes on the reef. If they are the ones to be introduced first in your aquarium, they will harass many fo the new fishes added later after them.

Some species of damselfish adapt well to the average aquarium. They grow to up to 2 to 3 inches in length. Most of them though are usually sold at very small sizes. This makes their aggressiveness hidden when you purchase them.

Three Stripe Damselfish

But as they grow (some grow quite large) their true nature comes out. Try to keep only one damselfish per aquarium or a group of 3 or more to spread their aggression.

The only expetion is when you try to keep chromis species. They should be kept in schools.

Damsels are closely related to clownfish and are found throughout the world.

Recommended species: Blue Green Chromis (Chromis viridis); Black-axil Chromis (Chromis atripectoralis); Neon Damsel (Pomancentrus coelestris); Yellowellied Damsel (Pomancentrus caeruleus); Blue Damsel (Chrysiptera cyanea); South Seas Devil Damsel (Chrysiptera taupou).

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Blennies (Family Blenniidae)


Blennies are also perfect beginner saltwater fish for home aquarium because they are relatively small.

If you are to keep this species in your aquarium, be sure to provide it with a cave or a small nook to use as a home base.

They are bottom dwellers and spend most of their time moving from space to space while they graze algae from live rock. Blennies can reach a size of three inches.


Many of these fishes swim only in short distances. Making it look like they are hopping from one place to another.


They are also territorial and will defend it against all intruders, even of those the same species.

Try to only keep one species of blenny in your aquarium. They also require a diet high in vegetable matter.

In the wild, they graze on algae. So a good growth of microalgae are important to successfully maintain them in captivity.

Recommended species: Bicolor Blenny (Ecsenius bicolor); Dusky Blenny (Astrosalarias fuscus); Lawnmower Blenny or Jewelled Rockskipper (Salarias fasciatus).

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Clownfish (Family Pomacentridae)


Clownfish is the first choice of most of the hobbyists as their beginner saltwater fish. It is just quite a scene when you see a pair of clownfish swimming and frolicking in an anemone.

Most of the clownfish available are easy to keep and can live in your saltwater aquarium for many years.

Pink Skunk Clownfish

Clownfishes will actually thrive and even reproduce in a home aquarium without their host anemone present.

To get a pair of clownfish established, you need two small clownfish of the same species to be introduced together into the aquarium. The bigger of the two will develop into the female. Yes, “develop into the female.”

They actually all start off as males, then the largest of the group or the larger of the pair will become a female. Weird but true!

Maroon Clownfish

Females will be more aggressive in defending their territory and attacking other fish than the males. Male clownfish acts only to serve the female. (I like this idea! =})

Clownfish do not tolerate other clownfish species being present in their territory. So try not to house different species of clownfish in your aquarium.

Recommended Species: Ocellaris Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris); Pink Skunk Clownfish (Amphiprion perideraion); Maroon Clownfish (Premnas biaculeatus); Clark’s Clownfish (Amphiprion frenatus).

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Gobies (Families Gobiidae)

Yellow Shrimp Goby

The Gobies has the largest family of fishes in the sea. This diverse group of fishes are small, colorful and not aggressive to tankmates and acclimate well to captivity. Therefore will be another good addition as a beginner saltwater fish.

Firefish Goby

As long as their tankmate is not too aggressive, they are one of the best addition to a home aquarium. Also, keep only one of each species per aquarium.

Grated shrimp is the best food for gobies since they are small. Prawn eggs are also one of the many choices of food for them.

Neon Goby

Sometimes, it is necessary to place the food near the bottom so they can readily get to it.

Some species of gobies are not recommended for new aquarists like sleeper or signal types of gobies. They deman special feeding or a very large expanse of well-populated live sand.

Recommended group for beginners are from the shrimp or watchman gobies (e.g., Amblyeleotris and Cryptocentrus spp.). The gobies lives in a burrow that has been excavated by shrimp.

Recommended Species: Firefish (Nemateleotris magnifica); Purple Firefish (Nemateleotris decora); Neon Goby (Gobiodon citrinus); and various members of the shrimp or watchman goby clan.

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Dottybacks (Families Pseudochromidae)

Sunrise Dottyback

Dottybacks are hardy and very colorful creatures. They are also relatively small in size and are pretty aggressive.

Despite their aggressiveness, they are a another one of the many species that are perfect addition as a beginner saltwater fish to most aquariums.

They are most aggresive to similar fish, such as wrasses and assesors and same family of fishes. Recently added fish will be a target once they have established their territory.

Bicolor Dottyback

Like other species, the largest members are the ones likely to do all the damages. So keep only one individual of the more aggressive dottyback species per aquarium.

It should also be the last ones of the fish that needs to be added in your aquarium.

Recommended Species: The best choices are these three less combative species: the Orchid Dottyback (Pseudochromis fridmani); Springer’s Dottyback (Pseudochromis springeri); and Sankey’s (Black and White) Dottyback (Pseudochromis sankeyi).

Species to avoid: Member of the following species – Ogilbyina and Labracinus— such as the Australian Dottyback (Ogilbyina novaehollandiae); the Sailfin Dottyback (Ogilbyina velifera); and the Red Dottyback (Labracinus cylophthalmus). These are large, fierce and capable of terrorizing an entire aquarium.

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