Book Review: The Conscientious Marine Aquarist

by Andrew Blumhagen

The Conscientious Marine Aquarist
By Robert Fenner
Microcosm Ltd.
ISBN 1-890087-02-5

Has this ever happened to you? You’re in your favorite aquarium store looking for a new sponge filter, or perhaps contemplating a pair of exotic cichlids when it starts. First, a glance over your shoulder. Then, a longer look at other customers in that section. Finally you find yourself sucked into the marine aisle, gazing at the vibrantly colored fish, bizarre invertebrates, or even a Tridacna clam. A shuddering feeling of disgust, or even guilt, jolts you from your transfixion and you quickly make your transaction and head for the car all the while looking about nervously to make sure that no one you know saw you. Well, it’s OK, and you are not alone. The Conscientious Marine Aquarist is a beginning on the long road of recovery from marineaquariaphobia.

The Conscientious Marine Aquarist is a book for beginners in the wonderful world of marine aquaria. Many people have preconceptions about marine fish tanks, feeling that they’re too expensive, too large, too complex, too difficult to maintain, too destructive to natural environments, or that the fish simply won’t stay alive. These and other myths are dispelled in the book, which offers instructions and advice on how to be successful with a saltwater aquarium in simple, clear language.

You will find that The Conscientious Marine Aquarist is organized much like beginner’s freshwater aquaria books, starting with sections on equipment, systems, and water chemistry. Later the book moves towards fish and invertebrate health, feeding and maintenance. Finally are descriptions of the fish and invertebrates, organized by family. Throughout the book, there are attractive, accurately labeled photographs and helpful illustrations to support the text.

There are a couple of things that make this book stand out among others. A broad range of aquarium systems are described, including a small and inexpensive twenty gallon system that supports a light fish load and a number of hardy invertebrates like feather-duster worms and common cleaner shrimp. Also discussed is a fifty-five gallon fish-only system. Of course, the challenging micro-reef systems are included as well. Remarkably, these systems are not only described for starters, but each are advanced from a relatively simple beginner’s tank to more complex systems as the hobbyist gains experience.

The fish and invertebrates sections are particularly well and aptly written. A description of each family of commonly kept specimens precedes the actual species descriptions. Most individual species are described but briefly, with longer descriptions reserved for those animals which are especially good choices or, more importantly, especially poor choices. There are a number of charts which outline which species in a family are good and bad selections, including the butterflyfish and triggerfish families. This, combined with a previous section on selecting healthy livestock, will help you avoid the disastrous experiences which often plague would-be marine aquarists. As a side note, there are a number of species described that are bred in aquaria, including a few mouthbrooding species (that oughta perk up a few ears!). I won’t say which ones; you’ll have to buy the book to find out.

Some things you will not find in The Conscientious Marine Aquarist: It is not intended as a fish atlas which might describe every species found in a fish store, and many which are not. Advanced topics such as fish breeding and coral propagation are touched on only briefly. While it is clear that the author has a grasp of incredibly technical details such as cell biology and the physics of light spectra, these are not discussed in the book, as they are probably not useful to the beginner. What you will find is a well-written book that may inspire you to discover, or re-discover, marine aquaria.

The Conscientious Marine Aquarist is available through online ordering services and large chain bookstores for around $40; however, please spend a few extra bucks to support your favorite independently owned fish or pet store. They will be happy to order it for you if it’s not in stock. If you don’t support these stores, that pair of exotic cichlids that started this whole mess may not be easily available when they are swallowed by industry giants.

This article first appeared in PVAS’s Delta Tale, Vol 30 # 2-3