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Top 20 Best Beginner Saltwater Fish

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Are you thinking about getting into the saltwater aquarium hobby, but don’t know where to begin?

Finding the right fish to start out your tank can be challenging, especially if you have never had any before.

To help you get started, here are the top 20 best beginner saltwater fish. 

Ocellaris Clownfish

  • Scientific Name:
  • Amphiprion ocellaris
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Temperament: Peaceful
Ocellaris Clownfish

If you’ve seen the movie “Finding Nemo,” then you’re probably familiar with clownfish. The ocellaris clownfish is what the character Nemo was modeled after, making it one of the most popular fish in the saltwater hobby. 

These fish are extremely easy to take care of because of their peaceful temperament and omnivorous diet. They are easily noticeable because of white or black bands on their body, although there are dozens of different types of color and pattern variations. 

Some can be bred in captivity, or be caught in their native habitat. They can be found in the Red Sea and Pacific Ocean.

Green Chromis

  • Scientific Name: Chromis viridis 
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons 
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Temperament: Peaceful
Green Chromis

Known as one of the easiest fish to care for, the Green Chromis fish is one of the best fish to start out with as a beginner aquarist. They are not only beautiful fish, but tend to be very active swimmers. 

Keeping multiple green chromis fish can also create a unique look to your tank, as they tend to do best in schools. At their largest, they can get up to 3 inches long. Natively, they are from the indo-pacific region.

Yellow Watchman Goby

  • Scientific Name: Cryptocentrus cinctus 
  • Care Level: Easy 
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons 
  • Diet: Carnivore 
  • Temperament: Peaceful

Yellow watchman gobies, like all gobies, is one of the most entertaining fish to keep in an aquarium.

They have a ton of personality, especially when placed with some saltwater shrimp. Because the shrimp are usually blind and the goby is susceptible to predators, the pair bond to help each other out when searching for food and keeping a home.

Although this is not recommended for beginners, it can be something to look forward to as you grow your tank.  Yellow watchman gobies can be found in Indonesia and can grow up to 4 inches long.  

Striped Blenny

  • Scientific Name: Meiacanthus grammistes 
  • Care Level: Easy-Moderate 
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons  
  • Diet: Omnivore 
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
Striped Blenny

The striped blenny is one of the most unique fish for a beginner tank with their bright yellow color, striped and spotted detailing toward their tail, and torpedo shape.

Although they can exhibit semi-aggressive behavior, they are usually not a threat when placed in at least 30 gallons or larger with plenty of live rock.

The live rock allows the fish ample amounts of places to hide and seek food. They can be found in Indonesia.

Banggai Cardinal

  • Scientific Name: Pterapogon kauderni
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
Banggai Cardinal

Cardinalfish are another type of unique schooling fish that are great for a beginner tank. They are semi-stationary, meaning that they won’t move around the tank a lot. However, they will form a solid structure while swimming. 

They should be kept in at least 30 gallons to give enough room for a small school. The pajama cardinalfish is perhaps the most popular of all cardinalfish, enhancing a tank with their dotted red, beige, and black appearance. They are native to Fiji, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.

Canary Blenny

  • Scientific Name: Meiacanthus oualanensis
  • Care Level: Easy-Moderate
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive
Canary Blenny

This bright yellow beauty will add a flurry of motion to your new tank with its smooth, gliding stature.

The canary blenny will also add plenty of personality to your tank; because of this, it is recommended to keep only one of these fish in your tank at a time.

They can display semi-aggressive behavior if attacked by another fish or if they perceive something else in the tank to be food.

A minimum of 30 gallons is recommended because they are such frequent movers and should be monitored for jumping.

They are native to Fiji and can grow up to 5 inches long.

Diamond Goby

  • Scientific Name: Valenviennea puellaris
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 25 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Temperament: Peaceful
Diamond Watchman Goby

The gorgeous diamond goby gets its name from the diamond-like orange pattern on its body.

Not only are they easy to care for, but they are known to be shy and non confrontational – making them the perfect addition to a beginner tank.

They are a sand-sifting fish, meaning they will eat different foods as they filter the sand on the bottom of the tank.

Therefore, they should not be kept in bare-bottom aquariums. They can grow up to 6 inches long, making them one of the larger starter fish for beginner tanks.

Spotted Watchman Goby

  • Scientific Name: Cryptocentrus leptocephalus
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Temperament: Peaceful
Spotted Watchman Goby

The spotted watchman goby, otherwise known as a shrimp goby, is a beautiful addition to any new tank.

Like other gobies, they sift through the sand to get their food meaning they should not be kept in bare bottom tanks.

They are extremely territorial, but have a generally peaceful disposition toward other fish. This goby will build “caves” throughout the tank, so they are extremely entertaining fish to watch.

They are native to the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, and Cebu. At their largest, they can get up to 4 inches long.

Engineer Goby

  • Scientific Name: Pholidichthys leucotaenia
  • Care Level: Easy-Moderate
  • Minimum Tank Size: 55 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Temperament: Peaceful
Engineer Goby

Engineer gobies, or convict gobies, have long been considered a staple for larger beginner tanks due to their peaceful temperament.

Although they look small in their youth, these gobies can get up to one foot long – making them perfect for tanks 55 gallon or up.

They need a lot of hiding places and a tank with a deep sand bottom.

They flourish in tanks with more than one of their kind, especially when put in pairs.

Engineer gobies also provide a unique look to an aquarium because their looks constantly change from youth until maturity. They are originally from the Info-Pacific region.

Midas Blenny

  • Scientific Name: Ecsenius midas
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Temperament: Peaceful
Midas blenny

The midas blenny is originally from the Indo-Pacific region of the world. They are beautiful fish that have an exuberantly-colored yellow body and a bright blue rim on their eyes and chin.

Because of their peaceful nature and fluid movements, they are a great addition to any tank 30 gallons or larger. 

They must have this size because they are such an active fish and can grow to be up to 6 inches long. They are native to Africa and the Maldives.

Royal Gramma

  • Scientific Name: Gramma loreto
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Temperament: Peaceful
Royal Gramma

Royal gammas are a good beginner fish because they are small with an easy temperament.

These fish need to have at least 30 gallons to flourish, align with plenty of live rock and dim lighting.

They have a peaceful temperament towards other fish, so you won’t have to worry about them becoming aggressive to their tankmates.

They will establish their own territory within the tank, so they may hide often. They are brightly colored, with their purple and yellow bodies creating a splash of color in your tank.

They are native to the Tropical Western Pacific and the Caribbean.

Lawnmower Blenny

  • Scientific Name: Salarias fasciatus
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Herbivore
  • Temperament: Peaceful
Lawnmower Blenny

The lawnmower blenny, otherwise known as the sailfin/algae blenny is a uniquely marked fish that is a common recommendation for beginners.

Like other blennies, it can grow to be up to 5 inches long and requires at least a 30-gallon tank. Originating from Fiji and Indonesia, they are used to intricate, rocky areas with plenty of places to explore and hide.

They often perch on rocks, so you will need to have plenty of them in your tank to keep this blenny satisfied. They have a peaceful demeanor and are easy to take care of.

Yellow Tail Damsel

  • Scientific Name: Chrysiptera parasema
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive

Like all damsels, the yellowtail damselfish can be semi-aggressive towards other fish in the tank.

However, it is much less aggressive than some other breeds. Because of this, it is important to keep it well-fed and stimulated.

Yellowtail damsels can add a pop of color to your tank with their bright blue and yellow bodies.

They will only grow up to 2.75 inches, so they only need around a 30 gallon tank.

They originate from the Indo-Pacific region of the world. They are reef-compatible, meaning you will be able to keep coral in the tank with them.

Firefish Goby

  • Scientific Name: Nemateleotris magnifica
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Temperament:  Peaceful 

As one of the most common fish for a beginner tank, the firefish goby is known for being extremely easy to take care of and having a peaceful temperament. Its bright, bold, and beautiful coloring makes it the perfect addition to any tank 20 gallons or larger.

 They only get up to 3 inches long, so they are often put into tanks as pairs. They are known to flee a situation if they get stressed, so they need plenty of hiding spots within the rock structure and sand. 

Like many other gobies, they are known for being jumpers so they should be kept in tanks with a lid.

Percula Clownfish

  • Scientific Name: Amphiprion percula
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 20 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Temperament: Peaceful

The percula clownfish is often confused with the ocellaris clownfish simply because of their looks.

However, they have a thicker black band than the ocellaris and tend to be more brightly colored.

These clownfish have a peaceful to semi-aggressive temperament, depending on what other fish they are placed with. They usually get along with other fish with no problem, however.

Often put in tanks as pairs, the female will get larger than the male. Many percula clownfish are captive-bred, creating different variations in color, size, and pattern.

They need at least 30 gallons to survive and can grow up to 3 inches long.

Clown Goby

  • Scientific Name: Gobiodon okinawae
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 10 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Temperament: Peaceful
Clown Goby

Clown gobies are some of the most peaceful fish you can keep in an aquarium, as they get along with many other other types of fish.

They only grow up to two inches long and require 10 gallons to survive. They are great to keep in beginner reef tanks with easy to care for soft corals.

They are yellow in color with light blue accents around their eyes and fins, making them a beautiful addition to a small tank.

The clown goby originates from Africa, Fiji, Indonesia, and the Maldives, so they are used to living in large reefs where they can rest on corals.

Orchid Dottyback

  • Scientific Name: Pseudochromis porphyreus
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive

The purple dottyback is another great fish to add to a beginner tank if you want a pop of color.

They are native to Fiji, Indonesia, and New Caledonia, but can also be captive bred.

It is recommended that these fish are the last added to the tank, as they tend to be territorial and semi-aggressive towards other fish if found to be a threat.

They also eat bristle worms, which can be a huge burden on a new tank.

Sixline Wrasse

  • Scientific Name: Pseudocheilinus hexataenia
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive

Contrary to most wrasses, the six line wrasse is easy to take care of and integrate into your beginner tank. 

They are extremely active and enjoy weaving in and out of a live rock. Because of this, they will require lots of places to hide and scavenge. 

They will eat things that could be potentially invasive to your tank such as specific species of flatworms and snails. These fish rarely act aggressive toward other fish, except ones that have a more peaceful temperament than them.

Coral Beauty Angelfish

  • Scientific Name: Centropyge bispinosa
  • Care Level: Easy-Moderate
  • Minimum Tank Size: 70 gallons
  • Diet: Omnivore
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive

While a coral beauty angelfish may not seem like the type of fish that you would want to add to a beginner tank, they are fairly easy to take care of.

However, for someone wanting to start out with a reef tank, be sure to keep this angelfish well fed. They are prone to pick at corals if they are hungry.

These beautiful fish need at least 70 gallons to start out with, filled with lots of rocks to hide in. They can get up to 4 inches long.

Flame Hawkfish

  • Scientific Name: Neocirrhites armatus
  • Care Level: Easy
  • Minimum Tank Size: 30 gallons
  • Diet: Carnivore
  • Temperament: Semi-aggressive

The flame hawkfish is a beautiful addition to any tank, especially a beginner one.

Similar to the coral beauty angelfish, the flame hawkfish is a fish that should be added to any potential reef tank with caution.

They tend to nip at soft coral if they become hungry. Most of their time is spent lounging around the tank and swimming among the coral, however.

With their semi-aggressive temperament, they can get aggressive toward some fish if they encroach on their territory.

For the most part, though, they are a peaceful fish that enjoys spending time at the bottom of the tank.

They can grow up to 4 inches long and originate from Tahiti.

Frequently Asked Questions

Saltwater tanks can be extremely complex to take care of, or they can be as simple as a freshwater tank. The level of maintenance that your tank requires is completely dependent on what you aim to get out of it. However, it is possible to have a saltwater tank that does not require a significant amount of maintenance each week.

30 gallons is the recommended starting tank size for a beginner. It is small enough to where you can add in a healthy and diverse array of fish, but not large enough that it becomes cumbersome or burdensome.

Ready to Get Started?

After learning about the best saltwater fish for beginners, you’re probably eager to get started on your own aquarium. However, it’s important to do the proper research before you start putting fish into your tank. Keep checking back for more information on great advice about the saltwater aquarium hobby.

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    My name’s Austin, and I created OtterAquatics to teach aquarists of all skill levels on how to succeed in the hobby.