Temperate Aquaria

Temperate Aquaria

Types of Temperate Aquariums

Temperate reef aquaria generally require water temperatures ranging from 50˚-70˚ Fahrenheit. Temperate reef aquarium setups are categorized into the following types of aquaria. Fish only (FO), fish only with live rock (FOWLR), reef, forest tank, macro-reef (MR) and tidepool (TP).

Fish only (FO) - Fish only tanks are generally the novice aquarist first marine tanks as fish are not as costly as corals. However waste outputs are higher in these systems, due to the fact that in cold water bacteria have much slower metabolisms. Water changes and excellent filtration are a must in these systems. Since there are no well known temperate marine livestock providers, people desiring species tend to either collect there own specimens or search for temperate fish sometimes sold in tropical marine retail stores (or online).

Fish only with live rock (FOWLR) - With fish only with liverock tanks you can either use native rock or calcium based liverock. Native rock (usually granite) often has little value as a biological filter due to the density of the rock. Therefore as with the FO tank excellent filtration is a must. When using liverock from tropical regions let it be known that the creatures in these rocks are tropical species not temperate. So you are likely to have a lot of die off. To prevent the over load of waste in the aquarium simply cure the rock in a separate container. This will leave only the most hardiest species alive.

Reef - Now we come to reef tanks. Since most cold water corals are found in deep regions of the temperate seas, anemones tend to replace corals in these setups. Gorgonians, hydrocorals, sponges, etc. also frequent home aquaria reef systems. In the temperate reef excellent filtration is required as marine reef life obtain all their food in non-photosynthetic ways i.e. plankton, oyster eggs, rotifers, etc. This means that since there is so much food going in the aquarium it is hard not to "over feed". A protein skimmer is essential in these set-ups.

Forest tank - The forest tank is a temperate aquarium dominated by kelps and other macro algae. These tanks often replicate kelp forests, but on a smaller scale. Forest tanks, along with macro reefs, are noted in the temperate hobby for needing powerful lighting required by the kelp. These types of aquaria require excellent flow to keep detritus and other algae off of the kelp fronds.

Macro Reef (MR) - Macro Reef (macro-reef, planted marine) aquariums get there names from the fact that they are filled with macro-algae and and also are host to reef organisms. These aquariums tend to resemble a blend of the forest tank and reef environments. Like in the forest tank, strong water movement is needed to keep macro-algae thriving. Often a seasonal trim will be required. High lighting for tropical macro-algae can and must be used in these types of aquaria.

Macro Reef
Macro reef aquarium - Photo by Jon Olav

Tidepool (TP) - The tidepool aquarium is in essence a paludarium. It is the aquarium parallel of tidepool settings found on the oceanic coastlines. Tidepool aquaria often mimic the tides movement.

Filtration & Chillers

Excellent filtration is required in temperate aquaria due to the diets of aquarium life which require copious amounts of planktonic like foods. A reason for the need of these kinds of food is that in the wild the fertile waters of the temperate seas are optimal conditions for the growth of massive phytoplankton blooms which in turn fuel the growth of zooplankton growth both of which form the cornerstone of the temperate food chain.

Mechanical filtration can be used to cleanse the water of any visible impurities. Filter media such as sponges and/or polyester material will suffice for this purpose. Canister filters are not recommended for usage in temperate aquarium systems or any marine aquarium for that matter. Though they can be used for circulation it is instead recommended to incorporate a section of a sump for sponge media. Protein skimmers are a must in these setups. They will effectively oxygenate the water and remove dissolved organic matter from the water. Protein skimmers work just as efficient in the lower temperatures of temperate aquariums as in warmer water in tropical aquariums.

In temperate aquariums the water needs to be chilled down to that of around 50-70˚Fahrenheit depending on where the livestock being kept comes from. Chillers can be purchased from many aquarium supply retailers which can be found online or at local fish stores. While homemade or DIY chillers can be easy to put together the beginner aquarist would be right to purchase one.


When it comes to lighting the temperate reef, you can keep it simple. Since marine life in these ecosystems are mainly non-photosynthetic, expensive lighting systems selling for hundreds of dollars are not a necessity. The only time good lighting is required is when one is keeping a macro reef aquarium or an aquarium containing marine plant life. Marine plants come in brilliant reds and greens and in a multitude of sizes and in order to keep them looking their best it is essential that you have good enough lighting. A simple 10K bulb will suffice for this purpose. Lights can be purchased at reasonable prices from online retailers or a local aquarium supply store.