The Truth About Saltwater Aquarium Cost

How Much does a Saltwater Aquarium Cost

Saltwater aquarium cost

Jeff Hesketh

What’s going on Salt-Nation! Jeff Hesketh here and today we are going to break down the cost of owning a saltwater aquarium but before we get started with that I wanted to invite  you to sign up for our Newsletter and if you’re new to saltwater aquariums I strongly suggest you start with our Start Here page. enjoy the article and feel free to email me if you have any question at

I recently read an article from titled “The Real Cost of a Saltwater Aquarium: Recreating the Ocean” and after reading it I came to the conclusion that has no business writing about saltwater aquarium cost. The article breaks down what they believe to be the total cost of owning a saltwater aquarium into sections and the cost associated with that section. They believe that the total cost of setting up a  a 90 gallon saltwater aquarium is $17,334.

My second saltwater aquarium was a 90 gallon and I can assure you I did not spend anything close to $17,334 for it. below I have broken the rest of this article into sections that were spoke of in Bloomberg’s article to give a better understating of the TRUE cost of setting up a saltwater aquarium.

The Cost Of My 220 Gallon Saltwater Aquarium Setup

Before you start.

There are many things that can go wrong with a saltwater aquarium. Being new to the hobby and uninformed can lead to disappoint. The most important thing you can do as a new hobbyist is educate yourself. Planning a saltwater aquarium, right can set you up for success. There is a ton of free information available on the web, take advantage of it.

Bloomberg’s article suggestions:

  • $36: The Conscientious Marine Aquarist —
  • $90: The Reef Aquarium, Vol. 3: Science, Art and Technology —
  • $20: Join Marine Aquarium Societies of North America —
  • $0: Visit,,,

Bloomberg’s Running Tally: $146.00

Our Suggestions Saltwater Aquarium Cost:

  • $0: Research saltwater aquarium videos on I would check out channels such as Bulk Reef Supply, Mr Saltwater Tank and of cores Mad Hatter’s Reef.
  • $0: Visit information websites such as, and of corse
  • $0: Join a forum such as and

Total cost: $0.00

The Aquarium.

Selecting the aquarium is one of the most important aspects of setting up a new saltwater aquarium. Aquariums come in many shapes and sizes. Things to consider while shopping for a saltwater aquarium is location, size and the need of the critters you would like to keep. They’re a few things you can do to keep the cost of setting up a new aquarium down, you can find more information here.

Bloomberg’s article suggestions:

  • $1,200: 90-gallon Monterey tank, stand, cabinet, glass top, canopy.
  • $12: Self-adhesive solid black or royal blue background.

Bloomberg’s Running Tally: $1,358

Our Suggestions Saltwater Aquarium Cost:

  • $100-200: Buy a used 90 gallon aquarium.
  • $100: build a aquarium stand.
  • $50: Build a canopy.
  • $5: Paint the backside of the aquarium.

Our Running Tally: $355

Live Rock.

Live rock, is rock harvested from the Ocean for the use in saltwater aquariums. The term live rock can be a little misleading, it’s not suggesting that the rock itself is alive but providing habitat for many living organisms. These living organisms add biodiversity of your saltwater aquarium and can also help the aquarium become more stable over time. Live rock does not only offer many forms of micro and macroscopic marine life, its also has impressive biological filtration qualities.

Additionally, live rock  can be expensive and looking on websites such as for people who are getting out of the hobby and selling their saltwater aquarium off can save you a substantial amount of money. $2 -3 a pound is a really good deal on live rock.

Bloomberg’s article suggestions:

  • $809: 90 pounds of cured live rock

Bloomberg’s Running Tally: $2,167

Our Suggestions Saltwater Aquarium Cost:

  • $180: 90 pounds second hand live rock on

Our Running Tally: $535

Live Sand.

Just the same as live rock the term live sand does not imply it’s alive. The term is not suggesting that the sand itself is alive but providing surface area for nitrifying bacteria which can help cycle the aquarium faster. I typically do not recommend buying live sand send it is often overpriced and  too often the nitrifying bacteria dies during transportation. Any dry sand of your choice will do just fine.

live sand can be expensive and doesn’t always deliver as promised. I recommend using dry sand mixed with aragonite. Often I have found discount on sand due to damaged packaging.

Bloomberg’s article suggestions:

  • $140: 80 pounds of live marine sand

Bloomberg’s Running Tally: $2,307

Our Suggestions Saltwater Aquarium Cost:

  • $50: 90 pounds of sand.

Our Running Tally: $585

Mixing Saltwater for a Saltwater Aquarium.

Mixing saltwater as a beginner in the saltwater aquarium hobby, can be frustrating. It took me the better part of my first year to get it down, and make the process become second nature for me. Today, the way I mix saltwater is done on a much larger scale due to the fact that I maintain over 1200 gallons of saltwater aquariums. It will be a ongoing cost to maintain a saltwater aquarium but if you look hard enough you can find deals on the web.

Bloomberg’s article suggestions:

  • $350: Setup by two technicians
  • $260: Spectrapure 90 Gallons Per Day RO/DI unit to create deionized water that is mixed with salt
  • $140: Tropic Marin Bio-Actif Sea Salt (two buckets will last a year)
  • $140: Additional salt for saltwater creation throughout the year

Bloomberg’s Running Tally: $3,197

Our Suggestions Saltwater Aquarium Cost:

  • $75: RO/DI Unit
  • $50: 200 gallon salt mix

Our Running Tally: $710

Saltwater Aquarium lighting.

The more common species of saltwater fish available to hobbyist are accustomed to strong lighting. Many fish only systems do just fine with simple fluorescent lighting. Beyond the basic lighting there is a large array of more expensive choices often needed to keep corals. The corals you wish to keep will determine your aquarium lighting requirements.

Bloomberg’s article suggestions:

  • $1,500: two 18-inch Acan Lighting 600 Series Prism LED Lighting Fixtures

Bloomberg’s Running Tally: $4,697

Our Suggestions Saltwater Aquarium Cost:

  • $150: 6 bulb t5 lighting

Our Running Tally: $860

Cleaning Crew.

A clean up crew is a group of invertebrates that are kept in a saltwater aquarium for the sole propose of consuming algae, detritus and uneaten fish foods. This is why they have been given the name clean up crew. Verity is key when it comes to a clean up crew different invertebrates consume different materials.

Bloomberg’s article suggestions:

  • $162: Algae Attack Pack-Deluxe for 75-gallon tank (includes mix of 65 Hermit Crabs, 30 snails, 3 Abalone) —
  • $50: Blue Linckia Starfish
  • $50: Red Fromia Starfish
  • $120: Red Crinoid (Feather Star)

Bloomberg’s Running Tally: $5,079

Our Suggestions Saltwater Aquarium Cost:

  • $50: Blue leg hermit crab (50)
  • $30: Astra snail (30)
  • $15: cleaner shrink

Our Running Tally: $955


There are many types of corals, that have different requirements. Keeping corals is for advanced saltwater aquarium hobbyist. If you are looking to get into the hobby I would recommend starting with fish and invertebrates first and if you can maintain them move on to corals. A saltwater aquarium should be established before introducing corals.

Bloomberg’s article suggestions:

  • $65: Sinularia Leather Coral
  • $375: Acanthastrea Lordhowensis
  • $150: Orange-eye Favia
  • $175: Branching Green Hammer Coral
  • $150: Bleeding Apple Scolymia
  • $200: Wellsophyllia Brain Coral
  • $250: Blue-Eye Lobophyllia Brain Coral
  • $70: Orange Cycloseris Plate Coral
  • $80: Dendrophyllia/Tubastrea (nonphotosynthetic)
  • $80: Green Slimer Acropora
  • $80: Red Planet Acropora
  • $200: Orange Capricornis Montipora
  • $100: Micromussa
  • $130: Seriatopora (Birdsnest Coral)
  • $50: Stylophora
  • $125: Pulsing Xenia

Bloomberg’s Running Tally: $7,359

Our Suggestions Saltwater Aquarium Cost:

  • none

Our Running Tally: $955

Fish and Invertebrates.

Most people looking to get a new puppy spend hours researching breeds to find the perfect match for them. Qualities such as the size of the breed, activity level, temperament and overall care needs are all considered before “adoption”. After the potential dog owner creates their list of potential candidates, they make their decision based on the breed best fit for them.

I would recommend is making a wish list of marine fish you would be interested in keeping. Ideally, this would be done before you purchased the aquarium because the needs of the fish, will dictate the size of the aquarium, equipment need and habitat requirements.

Bloomberg’s article suggestions:

  • $100: Pseudochromis springeri (wild specimen)
  • $100: Helfrichi Firefish
  • $250: Purple Tang
  • $250: pair of Onyx Percula Clownfish
  • $300: Scott’s Fairy Wrasse
  • $20: Blue/Green Reef Chromis
  • $40: Green Mandarin Dragonet
  • $250: Chevron Tang
  • $1,000: Earli Wrasse
  • $50: Yellow Watchman Goby/Tiger Pistol Shrimp pair

Bloomberg’s Running Tally: $9,719

Our Suggestions Saltwater Aquarium Cost:

  • $40: Pair of clownfish
  • $30: Yellow Tang
  • $6: Blue/Green Reef Chromis (3)
  • $15: bicolor blenny
  • $15: Cardinalfish (2)
  • $35: Flame Angelfish

Our Running Tally: $1123


Bloomberg’s article states “You don’t give fish supplements so they get big and strong. Instead, fish need them just to survive.” This just isn’t true.

A 10% (of the total volume of the aquarium) water change weekly is just a effective if not more effective than using supplements. I would never recommend a new hobbyist to experiment with saltwater aquarium supplements until they had a full understanding of how to use them and their effects. A properly mixed batch of saltwater has everything your aquarium needs.

Bloomberg’s article suggestions:

Initial setup:

  • $20: Brightwell Aquatics Lugol’s Solution (iodine to detoxify excess oxygen)
  • $20: Brightwell Aquatics Liquid Reef (to promote growth of corals)
  • $20: Two Little Fishies Marine Snow (filterfeeder food for certain corals and invertebrates)
  • $50: Red Sea Reef Energy A & B (amino acids and carbohydrates)
  • $170: Zeovit Pohl’s Xtra (to enhance the contrast and intensity of coral color and increase growth)
  • $780: After initial setup, additional cost for one year

Bloomberg’s Running Tally: $10,779

Our Suggestions Saltwater Aquarium Cost:

  • None.

Our Running Tally: $1123

Fish Food.

We all gotta eat and so do fish. It’s good for them to have a varied diet with a mix of flake, freeze dried and raw foods. The trick is to understand your fish and their diet needs. Some fish only eat algae, some only meat and others a mix of both.

Bloomberg’s article suggestions:

Initial setup:

  • $19: Kent Marine Nautilus Sea Squirt Feeding Prong
  • $12: Frozen Piscine Energetics Mysis Shrimp cubes
  • $6: Frozen San Francisco Bay Marine Cuisine cubes
  • $15: Frozen Argent Cyclop-eeze (for fish and corals)
  • $15: Hikari Marine-A dry pellets
  • $20: Brightwell Aquatics Garlic Power food soak (to stimulate eating and reinforce immune system)
  • $13: Brightwell Aquatics AminOmega food soak
  • $20: Brightwell Aquatics Vitamarin-M Multivitamin Supplement
  • $723: After initial setup, additional cost for one year

Bloomberg’s Running Tally: $11,622

Our Suggestions Saltwater Aquarium Cost:

  • $12: Ocean Nutrition Prime Reef Flake Food.
  • $5: Ocean Nutrition Seaweed Selects Green Marine Algae.
  • $10: San Francisco Bay Brand Freeze Dried Krill.
  • $10: Raw Shrimp (from the grocery store).

Our Running Tally: $1160

Saltwater Aquarium Equipment

The equipment needed to maintain a saltwater aquarium can be the most expensive part of the hobby. Having said that, just like most things in the world it’s as expensive as you make it. If you are one who excepts nothing but the best than the cost can be substantial. But, if your a DIY’er and have the time you can reduce your overall saltwater aquarium cost.

Bloomberg’s article suggestions:

  • $1,100: Precision Marine 36″ x 18″ Reef Sump ($600), Iwaki 55 RLT Water Pump ($500)
  • $860: Diablo 2500 Protein Skimmer by CoralVue ($500), 25-watt Ultraviolet Sterilizer ($360)
  • $135: Quiet One 1200 Water Pump ($60), plumbing supplies ($50), grounding probe ($25)
  • $45: Eheim Jaeger 300-watt Aquarium Heater
  • $870: MTC Calcium Reactor ($700), CO2 canister ($170; 5 lbs.)
  • $1,400: Coralife 1/4 HP Chiller ($1,200), Pressure regulator ($200)
  • $110: Mag Drive 500-GPH Water Pump
  • $795: Ecotech MP40 Wireless Powerhead ($475), Ecotech MP10 Wireless Powerhead ($320)
  • $100: Two 30-gallon HDPE water barrels with tops with bung holes to change 25 percent of the water every month —
  • $12: Mag-Float aquarium glass cleaner to remove excess algae

Bloomberg’s Running Tally: $17,049

Our Suggestions Saltwater Aquarium Cost:

  • $30: Aquarium sump (old or used aquarium)
  • $150: Aquarium Lighting
  • $35: Powerhead(s)
  • $50:Return Pump
  • $25: Plumbing
  • $30: Heater
  • $20: Light Timers
  • $25: Protein Skimmer (DIY project)
  • $40: UV Sterilizer (pond model)

Our Running Tally: $1565

Saltwater Aquarium Water Parameter Testing.

Testing aquarium water parameters should be a part of your weekly maintenance routine. Tests such as Salinity, PH, NO3, Calcium and Phosphate can keep you ahead of the game and help you make corrections before things go south. I’ve heard hobbyist say “I can tell whats going in the aquarium just be looking at it.” Well… If your coral is dying I’d say it’s a good bet something is wrong.

Bloomberg’s article suggestions:

  • $60: Red Sea Marine Master Lab Test Kit
  • $60: Red Sea Reef Foundation Pro Test Kit
  • $10: Seachem Marine Buffer (pH buffer keeps the pH high enough with dissolved mineral content for the fish)
  • $130: Refractometer (measures the salinity of the water)
  • $25: Digital thermometer

Bloomberg’s Running Tally: $17,334

Our Suggestions Saltwater Aquarium Cost:

  • $15: Hydrometer.
  • $5: Thermometer.
  • $20: API Saltwater Liquid Master Test Kit.

Our Running Tally: $1605

Final Tally.

Bloomberg’s The Real Cost of Saltwater Aquarium: $17,334

Our total saltwater aquarium cost for a 90 gallon saltwater aquarium: $1605

In my opinion the individual who wrote this article has no idea what they’re talking about and I think it does the saltwater aquarium hobby a injustice, also would deterring people from the Hobby. I’m not sure the as to what the purpose was of their article other than to promote ignorance.

If you are looking to get into the saltwater aquarium hobby believe me it’s worth every penny. For more information on getting started with the saltwater follow the link.

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