Reef Tank and Fish Tank

Reef Tank and Fish Tank: What’s the Difference?

There are many different ways you can set up an aquarium depending on what you would like to keep and what interests you most in the hobby.  Accordingly, hobbyists tend to put names on the different types of aquariums that can be set up because they have similar general requirements depending on the classification of the tank.

Fish Only Tank

A Fish Only Tank is a tank that is dedicated to keeping fish, without any sort of corals, anemones, or clams. They can contain some mobile invertebrates mainly for helping keep the tank clean. This setup is easier to set up and less costly than a reef tank. This type of tank can be classified into two different areas as well, fish only or fish only with live rock.

Reef Aquarium

A Reef Aquarium contains a lot of life with the main focus being corals or anemones. This type of system generally contains a huge variety of species that require an extremely specialized setup. The needs of the corals or anemones take priority whereas fish in these tanks are considered secondary. Although we generally classify all tanks with corals in them as reef tanks, there are still different types of reef tanks such as softy, LPS (large polyp stony), and SPS (small polyp stony) tanks. These three tanks also have different requirements as well.

Here is a brief summary of some of the different equipment requirements for the two types of tanks.

Requirements Reef Tank Fish Only Tank
Alkalinity Yes Optional
Canister filter No Optional
Calcium reactor Optional No
Calcium Yes Optional
Hydrometer Yes Yes
Intense lighting Yes No
Live Rock Yes Optional
Live Sand Optional Optional
Nitrate Yes Optional
Protein Skimmer Yes Yes
RO/DI water Yes Preferable
Sump Preferable Optional
Refugium Preferable Optional
Kalk Dripper Preferable Optional
pH Yes Yes