Coral care and saltwater fish statistics

Powerful coral care and saltwater fish statistics

In Mid-2020, I conducted a survey among Saltwater Aquarium Blog Newsletter readers to get some important coral care and saltwater fish statistics.

More than 200 aquarium enthusiasts took the survey, contributing thousands of data points. A summary of the most interesting stats is included below.

What saltwater fish types are most successful in a home aquarium?

Which saltwater fish types are you most likely to be successful with, and which are the most challenging to keep? That question has been difficult to answer with precision, until now.

We asked 234 aquarium enthusiasts to share with us the saltwater fish types that they have had success keeping, and those that they have been unsuccessful keeping. We then tabulated up more than 1,400 individual votes to help figure out the answer to the question which saltwater fish types are most successful in a home aquarium.

The 10 saltwater fish with the most experience (successful + unsuccessful)

This first chart below shows the results for the Top 10 Saltwater Fish with the most responses. These are essentially the 10 most commonly kept saltwater fish types, demonstrated by the most people having experience with them, either good or bad.

From these data on the most common fish, we can glean, at a glance, the relative popularity of a given saltwater fish type and the relative magnitude of how often the respondents indicated SUCCESSFUL or UNSUCCESSFUL with that type.

Saltwater fish care statistic: 95% of clownfish owners have been successful caring for them
Saltwater fish care statistic: 95% of Clownfish owners report having success caring for them. n = 133

These graphs remind me a bit of a ‘tug-of-war’. You can see reasonably convincing ‘wins’ among the Successful crowd below.

The 10 saltwater fish types that aquarium enthusiasts had the least success with

As we get to the bottom of the list, which was sorted in popularity (total number of votes), you can also see a correlation to higher UNSUCCESSFUL tallies.

The 10 most challenging saltwater fish types to care for were:

  1. Grunts & Sweetlips (0% success)
  2. Pipefish (30% success)
  3. Jawfish (44% success)
  4. Dragonets (52% success)
  5. Eels (53% success)
  6. Butterflyfish (54% success)
  7. Boxfish (55% success)
  8. Groupers (56% success)
  9. Seahorses (64% success)
  10. Tilefish (67% success)
Saltwater fish care stat: only 3 in 10 are successful caring for pipefish in a reef tank aquarium
Saltwater fish care statistic: Only 3 in 10 who attempted to care for Pipefish were successful.

Table with the success rate for every saltwater fish type

To get to a more precise representation of what these data tell us about the relative nature of the fish types, I created a SUCCESS RATE metric, which is equal to the number of times a fish was voted as SUCCESSFUL divided by the total number of votes (SUCCESSFUL + UNSUCCESSFUL).

Here are the results in table form, from the most successful (highest success rate) to the least successful (lowest success rate), as well as the number of total votes for that fish type (n):

Saltwater Fish TypeHad success withSuccess raten
Assessors or Marine Bettas3790%41
Tangs or Surgeonfish7190%79
Grunts & Sweetlips00%3
Saltwater fish statistics: fish type success rates. n = 1464 Responses

While not as beautiful to look at as the stacked bar graph, the Success Rate score with the sample size gives a clear articulation of how many people were successful out of how many attempted.

It feels like the success rate is fairly easy to use, too. For example, clownfish, a fish type that everyone knows is a great fish, had a 95% Success Rate.

Next, we need a statistic to help us understand what good or bad results are. Clearly, the fact that 3 different people tried Grunts/Sweetlips and each was unsuccessful is a bad score, but what’s average?

Turns out the average gets skewed a little low because of the low sample size and low success scores at the bottom of the list, so it looks like the better statistic for comparisons will be the median or middle result.

To calculate that value, I had to split the results between the Basslets/Gramma and Chromis to get the numerical result of 77.5%. But that exercise also gives us our comparison fish.

Basslets/Gramma and Chromis as our “average” fish.

Above them are saltwater fish that are easier than the “average” to care for, and the fish below them are more difficult than the “average”.


You may not have seen my fingers, but those were “air quotes” around the word average for those out there who had a similar math teacher as I did.

What aquarium coral types are most successful in a reef tank?

The 200+ survey volunteers also answered a similar question about the corals they have attempted to keep, with a sample size of 1,249 individual votes.

Coral statistic: 92% of mushroom coral owners are successful caring for them
Coral care statistic: 92% of mushroom coral owners reported success caring for them. n = 138

The average in this data set is 68% and the median is 67.5%, so we can just use 68% and talk about the average here without the air quotes.

Coral typeHad success withSuccess raten
Mushroom corals12792%138
Green star polyps10085%117
Sarcophyton (Toadstool)7582%91
Cabbage (Sinularia)3071%42
Favia or Favites2766%41
Trumpet & Candy Cane3462%55
Colt coral1761%28
Goniopora flower pot2558%43
Fungia plate1450%28
Coral care statistics: coral type success rates. n = 1186 responses

I guess you could call this data set more…”normal.”


Apparently, there are two things I can’t resist in this world and the first, is air quotes…

If we use the same comparison as we did with the fish, we can see that aquarium enthusiasts had greater than average success with the corals above Euphyllia and worse than average success with those corals below.

Euphyllia corals statistic: they have average success rates and above average popularity

We see lower success rates with corals compared with fish overall. A lower high score and a lower mean and median score as well.

It is interesting to point out, however, that the lowest low, for any coral has a higher success rate than the three lowest fish scores. The probability of success or failure with those least successful corals are a flip of a coin.

10 Coral types that aquarium enthusiasts had the greatest success with

The 10 corDamselfishquarium enthusiasts had the greatest success with were:

  1. Mushrooms
  2. Green star polDamselfishXenia
  3. Sarcophyton (Toadstools)
  4. Blastos
  5. Zoanthids
  6. Gorgonians
  7. Seriatopora (Birdsnest)
  8. Acans
  9. Sinularia (Cabbage)

Which are the most challenging coral types for a home aquarium?

The 7 most challenging coral types that aquarium enthusiasts had the least success with were:

  1. Fungia plate
  2. Trachyphyllia
  3. Acropora
  4. Porites
  5. Montipora
  6. Goniopora
  7. Chalices
Coral care statistic: only half of Trachyphyllia owners (50%) report success caring for them.
Coral care statistic: half of Trachyphyllia owners were unsuccessful caring for them.

The 6 corals that aquarium enthusiasts have the most experience with are:

  1. Mushrooms
  2. Zoas
  3. GSP
  4. Euphyllia
  5. Toadstools
  6. Xenia

After # 6, Xenia, there is a significant drop off in the number of responses.

What are the most popular first saltwater starter fish to be first in a new aquarium?

The 200+ survey respondents were also asked what their very first saltwater fish was. 209 answers were tallied and summarized in the table below.

Here is a list of the most common 1st saltwater fish in an aquarium, ranked by popularity:

Saltwater fish type% First Fish
The % of time a saltwater fish type was the very first fish in a new aquarium. n = 209

I’m glad to see clownfish are number 1, by a healthy margin, and not damselfish, given the high success rate of clownfish (95%) and the relative problems that damselfish can sometimes cause in a tank due to their somewhat aggressive dispositions.

Saltwater aquarium fish statistic: clownfish are the first fish in half of all new saltwater tanks

There were a few surprises on this list of the 10 Most Popular 1st Saltwater fish. First, the fact that 1 in 9 tanks started with a Tang or Surgeonfish, the 3rd most popular fish type, was much higher than I would have thought, given the relatively large tank size requirements and cost of these fish.

It was also surprising thDamselfisher Angelfish was the type of fish this survey group had the most experience with, but they represented only 1 % of 1st fish. I wouldn’t usually recommend an Angelfish as a 1st fish anyway, but I wouldn’t recommend a Tang either.

But relating to the earlier table, we saw nearly twice as much experience with Angelfish vs. Tangs (135 vs. 79). Yet, the tangs were 11x’s more commonly a 1st saltwater fish, seems to indicate their use as a first fish driving some of the popularity.

Gobies were also conspicuously absent, falling below the Top 10 First fish in a 5-way tie for 11th place.

What type of clownfish is the most common saltwater starter fish (the very first fish in a new marine aquarium)?

Diving one level deeper into the clownfish results, we see that the majority of responsdents did not specify the type of clownfish they had, as their first saltwater starter fish.

Of those who did specify the type, the Ocellaris clownfish was the most common, followed by Percula, Maroon, Tomato, Clarkii, Saddleback, and more specifically articulated designer Ocellaris strains, like Black Ice, Snowflake, Black Snowflake and Black.

Clownfish Listed as 1st Fish.%
Unspecified (Ocellaris assumed)70%
Ocellaris (Designer type, if any, not specified)10%
Black Ice (Ocellaris)2%
Black snowflake (Ocellaris)1%
Snowflake (Ocellaris)1%
Black (Ocellaris)1%
n = 105

The question was an open text response, meaning respondents could type in anything they wanted, and there were no requirements in terms of the specificity of the response.

The Damselfish most commonly mentioned as the 1st saltwater starter fish was the Blue Damselfish (or Blue Devil)

Within the Damselfish identified as 1st Saltwater fish, the Blue Damselfish (also called Blue Devil Damselfish) was the most commonly specified species, followed by the Yellowtail, 3-Stripe, 3-Spot, and Azure.

Damselfish as 1st Fish% of Time
Damselfish (unspecified)45%
Blue Damselfish26%
Yellowtail Damselfish16%
3 Stripe Damselfish6%
3 Spot Damselfish3%
Azure Damselfish3%
n = 31

What are the most popular first corals chosen for a new saltwater tank?

Here is a table with the responses to the question: What was your very first coral?

Coral% First TimeCoral% First Time
Leather coral14%Blastomussa1%
Euphyllia10%Candy cane1%
Xenia7%Birds Nest1%
Green star polyps6%Favia1%
n = 168

2 out of every 3 new saltwater tanks start with one of the same 5 most popular types of coral. Those 5 most popular 1st coral types are: Zoanthids, Mushrooms, Leather corals (mostly Toadstool), Euphyllia corals (Hammer, Frogspawn, Torch), and Xenia.

Coral statistic: Zoanthids and Mushrooms are the most common 1st coral introduced into a reef tank

What is your favorite type of saltwater fish?

We asked 200+ aquarium enthusiasts what their favorite saltwater fish was. This was a difficult question for many to answer–because they loved so many more than just one fish.

Here are the results:

Fish Type% FavoriteFish Type% Favorite
1. Clownfish19%12. Marine Betta2%
2. Tangs & Surgeons16%12. Dartfish2%
3. Angelfish11%12. Pufferfish2%
4. Goby7%12. Rabbitfish2%
5. Wrasse6%16. Anthias1%
6. Blenny4%16. Grouper1%
6. Triggerfish4%16. Boxfish1%
6. Dragonet4%16. Cardinalfish1%
9. Butterflyfish3%16. Damselfish1%
9. Hawkfish3%16. Seahorses1%
9. Lionfish3%16. Sharks1%
n = 214

The Top 5 favorite saltwater fish types were Clownfish, Tangs & Surgeonfish, Angelfish, Gobies, and Wrasses.

Even though Angelfish were the #1 fish in terms of reports of either Successful or Unsuccessful care, they were surprisingly only selected by 11% of aquarium enthusiasts as their Favorite fish type, which made them the third most popular on the list.

Not surprisingly, Clownfishes were the most commonly reported Favorite Fish Type.

What specific species of fish is your favorite?

As mentione before, since this was an open text answer, the respondents could enter anything they wanted. The majority of the open text responses listed just the saltwater fish type, not a common name for an individual species, but when the individual fish type was listed, here are the top 15 Favorite Saltwater fish.

Saltwater fish statistic: Mandarinfish are the number 1 favorite
  1. Mandarinfish
  2. Coral Beauty
  3. Flame Angelfish
  4. Yellow Tang
  5. Ocellaris Clownfish
  6. Marine Betta
  7. Regal Blue Hippo Tang
  8. Foxface Rabbitfish
  9. Copperband Butterflyfish
  10. Flame Hawkfish
  11. Yellow Watchman Goby
  12. Porcupine Pufferfish
  13. Clown Triggerfish
  14. Firefish
  15. Diamond Goby

What is your favorite type of coral?

When asked which coral type was their favorite, there were almost as many distinct answers, as there were aquarium enthusiasts answering the question.

Coral Type% FavoriteCoral Type% Favorite
Hammer Coral12%Soft corals4%
Torch coral including Dragon Soul, Aussie Gold11%Frogspawn including Gold Tip3%
Zoanthids, including Rasta, Magician10%Acans/Micromussa3%
Xenia5%Candy cane/ Trumpet3%
Goniopora5%Green star polyps3%
Brain coral including Diploria cerebriformis5%Bubble coral2%
Acropora including Staghorn5%Mushrooms2%
n = 153

The top 5 favorite coral types were: Hammer coral, Torch coral (including specific mentions of Dragon Soul and Aussie Gold), Zoanthids (including mentins of Rasta and Magicision), Mesmerizing Xenia, and Goniopora Flower Pot corals.

Coral statistic: the hammer coral is the # 1 favorite among aquarium enthusiasts

The biggest challenges that more than half of aquarium enthusiasts involved dealing with and fighting problem algae (30%) and getting water parameters to cooperate, get to the desired level, and stay there (23%).

What is the biggest challenge you have faced with your saltwater aquarium?

218 respondents answered the question: what is the biggest challenge you have faced with your saltwater aquarium? The answers were free text, but were aligned to these 8 primary areas:

Biggest challenge%
Fighting Problem Algae30%
Water parameters23%
New Tank3%
n = 218
Aquarium statistic: dealing with algae is the number one challenge faced by aquarium owners
Dealing with Algae is the #1 challenge faced by aquarium owners.

What are the biggest algae problems they faced?

When dealing with algae-problems was the biggest challenge, 38% mentioned algae problems generally, 23% specified green hair algae was the problem, while 12% mentioned Cyanobacteria, 9% Dinoflagellates, and 9% Diatoms or Brown Algae.

Algae problems%Algae problems%
Green Hair Algae23%Bubble2%
Diatoms/ Brown algae9%Chaeto2%
n = 66

What were the biggest water quality issues they faced?

When dealing with water paramters as a top challenge, 29% were having trouble keeping the ideal parameters in balance, 29% were challenged to control high levels of nitrates, and 12% were fighting phosphates.

Water parameter issue%
Calcium & Alkalinity2%
n = 51

While there was a higher likelihood that the water parameter issue was regarding Nitrates or Phoshpates, there was a very long tail of individual issues with most of each of the other water paramters (salinity, pH, temperature, Calcium, Alkalinity, Hardness, etc.).

Aquarium statistic: nitrates are the number one water quality issue faced by aquarium owners


There are a lot of coral care and saltwater fish statistics to digest in this article, I hope you found a few stats interesting and helpful for your own quest to master the saltwater aquarium hobby.

All the respondents in this survey were members of the Saltwater Aquarium Blog Newsletter Community. If you want to be a part of the community, join the newsletter and get a chance to take the next survey, you can join the group here.

Related posts

If you are looking for other posts that are backed by some serious survey data, check out these other fantastic statistics and survey posts:

Aquarium Industry Statistics

Saltwater Aquarium Hobby Statistics

Ocellaris clownfish care guide

Six line wrasse care guide

What to read next

Coral care and saltwater fish statistics article cover image


2022 Saltwater Aquarium Blog Survey



, ,




2 responses to “Powerful coral care and saltwater fish statistics”

  1. Chris Wheeler

    Great study. Thanks

    1. Thank you, Chris. Glad you enjoyed it! Great to have some quantitative insights. Thanks again to all who contributed by taking the survey

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *