Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: Sacramento, CA
Casino cash: $170590
For freshwater, I think cichlids are definitely the way to go, but I have always been partial to saltwater, fish with live rock or reef. You have to decide if you want a reef or want some exotic non-reef-safe fish, or even a predator tank (Lionfish, stonefish, etc?). I like the look of a reef tank, so I went with a full SPS/LPS/Soft coral setup.
It's all been said, but I will back up what DJ said about saltwater. I've been into reefkeeping for a few years and it's not harder than freshwater, but it is expensive to get started. The key is to look for someone who is 'tearing down" their tank on CL so you can get all the right equipment.
Just a few key points for the starting marine aquarist:
1. Rule #1 of saltwater is that good things happen slowly, and bad things happen quickly. You will hear this over and over, but it is true. More on this later.
2. Start out with a minimum 55 gallon tank, but larger is better. As DJ mentioned, small saltwater tanks are much harder to maintain. Why? The water parameters for reefkeeping or saltwater change much too quickly in a small tank. Unless you are testing your water every 2 days, you might not catch a problem until your tank is wiped. Water volume is your friend. Get a tank that is either drilled or has a built - in overflow. Hang-on-back overflows with a siphon can work well for years, but it's only a question of when they are going to fail and flood your carpet, not if.
3. When buying equipment, get a good skimmer, and use live rock and live sand. Find used, cured live rock from CL if you can, just be sure it is pest free. Don't skimp on the skimmer. I can write pages on pests endemic to live rock, but in a nutshell - ask the guy/girl if they've ever had problems with aiptasia. If so, don't do it! Go for 1 to 1.5 pounds of LR per gallon of water volume.
4. Use a sump and if you have room, a refugium with chaeto. If you need some, it is shippable and cheap.
5. Lighting - I prioritize skimming over lighting if I have to choose where to upgrade, but that's because there are so many good options with lighting. The best advice is to see a tank with metal halides, T5s, and LEDs, and decide what look you like best. I'm a metal halide guy myself, but I like the shimmer and I am still waiting for LED technology to mature. It's still being debated whether or not LED's can produce the same growth rates and coloration as properly configured T5s or MH.
6. Read up on the process for cycling your first tank. Just be aware that you will most likely spend a month with only water, rocks, and sand in your tank. You can use the salad shrimp technique, or a damsel. I use a couple of damsels, but beware - they are the Oakland Raider fans of the fish world. Once you put other peaceful fish in your tank, the damsels may terrorize them. And the little buggers are VERY hard to catch.
** A rebuttal on the test kits - API kits are ok for freshwater, but for saltwater, you would be well advised to go with Salifert or ELOS. I prefer ELOS. For Ammonia and Nitrite, get the cheaper API kits, because you won't be testing for these too often after your initial tank cycle. After the cycle, you can test for pH, PO4, kH, Mg, Ca with ELOS kits.
I'm getting long-winded, so if PM me if you have any questions about setup, equipment or livestock selection, or tank cycling. I'll be happy to help. My intention when starting the thread reply was to merely make the recommendation that you consider a marine aquarium - the challenge and reward is worth it.