Updated Nov 13/2020
A reef can make a beautiful addition to your saltwater fish tank, but caution needs to be taken when doing so.
Not all saltwater fish are considered reef safe.
Some fish will tear right through your corals, eat other fish, and cause chaos in your aquarium.
This is something you definitely want to avoid.
Building a reef tank can take a lot of time, money, and hard work. It’s important to research ahead of time and plan out your livestock accordingly.
But what fish are considered to be reef safe, and what fish will create underwater chaos?
Here are 9 reef safe saltwater fish that will not bother your corals.
Reef safe saltwater fish
These following fish are considered to be fully safe to purchase if you own a reef tank. They should not bother your corals in any way.
- Yellow Watchman Goby
- Yellow Tang
- Blue/Green Chromis
- Carpenter’s Flasher Wrasse
- Clown Tang
- Coral Beauty Angelfish
- Lyretail Anthias
Clownfish are considered to be 100% reef safe and are the ideal fish for beginners.
Clownfish are typically found living among reefs and anemones which you can replicate in your aquarium.
There are many different species of Clownfish including the:
- False Percula Clownfish
- True Percula Clownfish
- Skunk Clownfish
- Tomato Clownfish
- Saddleback Clownfish
- Clarkii Clownfish
- Maroon Clownfish
Each of these species should thrive in a saltwater reef aquarium with the exception of the Maroon and Clarkii Clownfish.
It’s possible for them to snack on small shrimp but they should leave your corals alone.
The Maroon and Clarkii Clownfish tend to be larger than most other clownfish at maturity and may exert aggressive behavior.
They are both known to be very aggressive not only to other tankmates but to you as well. I have been attacked and bitten by these guys while performing maintenance on the tank.
They have quite a bite!
So if you are looking for peaceful clownfish, avoid the Maroon and Clarkii.
#2. Yellow Watchman Goby
Gobies fall into three different categories: small gobies, shrimp gobies, and sand sifting gobies.
The Yellow watchman goby is a sand sifter.
These fish are considered to be non-aggressive and will not feast on your coral.
These fish are carnivores and will welcome a variety of foods including Mysis and brine shrimp.
Their lack of aggression and interest in coral makes them the ideal choice for home aquariums with reefs.
#3. Yellow Tang
The Yellow Tang is a surgeonfish which is a thin, deep-bodied marine fish. These fish are herbivores and will mostly eat algae.
They won’t munch down on your invertebrates or corals.
While Yellow tangs do well in saltwater reef tanks, it’s important to note that these fish can grow up to 8″ long.
They will need a 100-gallon tank or larger when fully grown.
#4. Blue/Green Chromis
One of the most popular fish to keep in reef tanks is the Blue/Green Chromis.
These are small schooling fish that will only reach around 2″ long.
They are peaceful with lots of personality. They will swim throughout most areas of the tank but spend plenty of time schooling at the top.
The Blue/Green Chromis is a fully reef safe and peaceful fish that will not bother with corals or invertebrates.
It is best to keep them in reef tanks that are 30 gallons or larger and kept in groups of 5 or 6.
#5. Carpenter’s Flasher Wrasse
The Flasher Wrasse is a very unique fish that is highly sought after. Many people love to keep these fish due to their personalities and colors.
They are easy to keep and peaceful which makes it a good choice for beginners.
The only time you need to worry about aggression with them is with another wrasse in the same tank.
The Carpenter’s Flasher Wrasse is a carnivore and can be fed frozen shrimp, crab meat, Mysis, and brine shrimp.
They should be fed a few small meals each day.
A concern with these fish is they are known to be jumpers so a tightly fitted lid on your tank is required.
#6. Clown Tang
If you have a very large reef tank, then consider keeping a Clown Tang. These fish can reach up to 15″ long and require a tank size of 250 gallons or more.
They have impressive colors and are a very active fish. They will swim throughout all areas of the tank and are fast-moving. They can easily startle slow-moving peaceful fish.
Because they are large and fast-moving, it’s important to prevent rocks and corals from tumbling over.
The Clown Tang is a peaceful fish when small but can become aggressive as they mature. You need to choose their tankmates wisely.
With that said, they are considered to be reef safe and can be kept with corals.
#7. Coral Beauty Angelfish
The Coral Beauty is actually labeled as reef safe with caution but I consider them to be reef safe.
They are one of the most commonly kept angelfish and can be kept with a wide variety of fish and invertebrates.
They can reach a full-grown size of 4″ and should be kept in a tank size of 70 gallons or more. A 55-gallon tank is suitable when they are young.
Some people have had issues keeping a Coral beauty with certain corals, but I personally have had no issues with the ones I have kept over the years.
It really depends on the fish. They are known to pick and graze around certain corals like zoanthids and soft corals.
I find that they will only pick around the coral and not the coral itself.
If you are considering adding a Coral Beauty into your reef tank, I would recommend it providing other tankmates are suitable.
The unique appearance of the Lionfish makes it another favorite among reef tank enthusiasts.
Many people believe that the Lionfish can not be kept with corals. But that is not correct. These fish do well in coral reef aquariums and they will not harm corals.
With that being said, choose their tankmates wisely as they will eat smaller fish. If it will fit in their mouth, it will end up there.
Invertebrates like snails and crabs have no chance and will be eaten by Lionfish.
They are a predator fish but not aggressive towards others that are larger than them.
It’s possible for them to be bullied by more active fish like Triggers and Angelfish.
Lionfish do best when in reef tanks on their own, or when paired with larger, non-aggressive fish.
#9. Lyretail Anthias
The Lyretail Anthias is the most popular schooling saltwater fish. They should be kept in groups of 5-8, with at least 1 male and the rest females but individual species can be kept.
They are very unique as they are hermaphrodites meaning if a dominant male were to die, then the largest female of the group will take over as the male.
These fish are very colorful and have plenty of personality.
The Lyretail Anthias also needs a large tank of 125 gallons or more with plenty of open swimming space. They can grow to be 5″ in size.
They are not considered to be a fish for beginners as they have very unique feeding requirements.
Due to their constant activity and metabolisms, they need to be fed several small meals throughout the day.
They are carnivores and may be reluctant to eat when first introduced into your tank.
Once established and comfortable, they will eat a variety of meaty foods.
It’s a good idea to have a refugium with a healthy supply of copepods and amphipods for them to have a continuous supply of food.
Lyretail Anthias are completely reef safe. They will not harm your corals or invertebrates.
Fish considered to be reef safe with caution
This fish is considered reef safe with caution and you need to pay special attention as it’s possible that they may harm certain corals.
These fish make a beautiful addition to a fish only or fish only with live rock tank (FOWLR).
They can be kept with certain types of corals but are known to pick at coral polyps. They can also pick at soft corals.
It’s common for them to also bother clams and invertebrates so caution needs to be taken when adding Flame Angelfish to your tank.
There are many saltwater fish that are reef safe. The fish mentioned here are just a few. Reef tanks can be very expensive and a lot of work goes into keeping a thriving reef tank.
It’s important to research prior to purchasing fish to ensure that they will not harm your corals as this can be a costly mistake.
Also consider the fact that even though a fish may be considered safe for corals, it may not be safe to keep with invertebrates.
The great thing is you have many options for fish that are reef safe.
Probably more than you think.