The Salty Side: Saltwater Aquariums for Beginners

Non Aggressive Saltwater Fish

As a beginner to saltwater fishkeeping it can be hard knowing what fish to get for your new reef aquarium.  The local fish shops (lfs) normally have an array of stunning looking marine fish but not all are great to start off with. 

If you are at the stage of considering your fish for your first saltwater aquarium, have a look at our super insightful ebook that will help you through the process too.

Below we will look at some of the most common non aggressive saltwater fish (and invertebrate in this case) particularly suited to beginners.

best non aggressive saltwater fish

The Shrimp Goby and the Pistol Shrimp

At the top of our list of non aggressive saltwater fish, are the shrimp goby (Amblyeleotris randalli) and pistol shrimp (Alpheus randalli)1.  The symbiotic relationship seen between the two is very endearing and are one of the easiest to establish in your tank.

You do not need to worry about whether or not they will like to be in each others company or not, as they are predisposed to seek each other out.

Neither do they need to be introduced at the same time, which is in my experience very hard to achieve if you are looking for a specific shrimp goby and a specific pistol shrimp.

You can simply add your chosen shrimp goby, and when you find your pistol shrimp it can be added then, or visa versa. The shrimp goby has a natural instinct to associate itself with the pistol shrimp, and will do so in your tank when it realises that one has taken residence.

This can be immediate – when the shrimp goby sees the pistol shrimp being added, or it might take a while for realisation to dawn. For more information about pairing a shrimp goby and pistil shrimp click here to see our article.

Randall's Goby (Amblyeleotris randalli) and Randall's Pistol Shrimp (Alpheus randalli)

The reason the shrimp goby is the perfect saltwater fish for beginners is invariably newcomers to marine start with smaller tanks. The shrimp goby will inhabit a hole with his pistol shrimp buddy and will not move very far from it.

This pair do not need a lot of space to be happy. They are happy in each others company.

As a bonus, neither of them are fussy when it comes to their dietary requirements!


Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)2 are the most recognisable of all marine fish, bringing immediate colour to your tank and adding that bit of lovable wiggling quirkiness we see in their swimming behaviour. I think most people will agree too that they are one of the coolest saltwater aquarium fish for beginners to add to their tank. Kids love them! They definitely deserve a top spot on our list of non aggressive marine fish, although there are some that turn aggressive during breeding time, such as the Clarkii clownfish.

They are available in every marine fish outlet everywhere and there are many different species to choose from, the most recognisable being the Ocellaris or Percula Clownfish.

non aggressive marine fish
Ocellaris Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)

They are quite comfortable in a smaller aquarium, often adopting a corner, or a coral, or a rock as their own and not straying very far from it. They will eat anything you put in the tank and can become quite friendly at feeding time making them the perfect saltwater fish for beginners. You will often find them bobbing their heads out of the water to be the first nab the next meal.

Of course, Clownfish are also associated with anemones. In fact, you probably already know that Clownfish can form a symbiotic relationship with an anemone. This is not always the case though.

Watch this video below to see how to care for clownfish:


Royal Gramma Basslet

The Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto), or Fairy Basslet3, is a fantastic non aggressive saltwater fish for a beginner to have in any aquarium, darting in and out of the rocks, adding an additional splash of colour.  It is one of the most beautiful reef safe fish.

They do have a bit of an attitude, and warn other fish that come too close to their chosen bit of the tank. It can be quite comical watching the confrontation but they are not an aggressive fish and the warning is merely a threat and nothing more.

most beautiful reef safe fish
Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto)

Much like the Clownfish, they are very aware of what is happening outside the aquarium environment and know exactly when food is on the way. You can only keep a single Royal Gramma in a tank, and quite often when you are looking in, he’ll be looking straight back out at you. For more information on the Royal Gramma and distinguishing it from the Royal Dottyback can be found here.

If you are new to keeping a saltwater aquarium, we recommend our super detailed ebook on successfully setting up a tank. This ebook will help you side step the issues I have experienced during my years in the hobby.

Follow this link for all the info you need.  

Algae Blenny

Okay, they are not the prettiest saltwater fish you will ever see, and they to tend to blend into the background, but their personality more than makes up for that. They are also one of the most peaceful saltwater aquarium fish you can come across.

Not only are Algae Blennies (Salarias fasciatus)4 an active part of the tank, they are also the first to investigate a new fish. When nori is added to the tank (daily for herbivorous fish), they will be the first to take a bite.

The manner in which they attack any algae in the tank, be it even the smallest amount, with a large mouth taking huge ‘chunks’ on each throw of the head…and leaving lip marks on the glass with eat bite taken makes them a firm favourite of mine. They are great non aggressive saltwater fish for beginners.

Saltwater Aquarium Fish
Algae Blenny (Salarias fasciatus)

In addition to the Algae Blenny being a character, he also plays a vital part in eating any algae in the tank. It could be algae film on the glass or hair algae on the rocks. In the absence of algae they should be fed nori.

Blue-Green Chromis

These small non aggressive saltwater fish, Blue-Green Chromis, are well known for their schooling habits and are probably one of the more hardy saltwater fish available at your lfs.  These are such a pleasure to watch.  Like all fish, they can become feisty when establishing dominance but are still the least aggressive to other fish.  

schooling saltwater fish
Blue-Green Chromis (Chromis viridis)

So there you have it

The importance of proper research before buying fish will help your stress levels (because you won’t be forced to see one fish bully another to death, or begin to hate a fish you so willingly bought), and will ensure stress levels in your tank are negligible because all your fish will get on.

Why not take a look at this article in which I mention which fish I’d strongly recommend leaving until your saltwater tank is more established and you have a bit more experience in marine fish-keeping.


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