Reef Safe Saltwater Aquarium Fish

Not all marine aquarium fish are "reef safe." Many saltwater fish will tear up corals, consume fish and otherwise destroy other tank inhabitants. The marine fish species listed below are some (not all by any means) generally considered by experienced reef tank keepers to be safe for reef tanks. Keep in mind that nothing is "foolproof" when it comes to saltwater aquariums and live animals. There are renegades in any species, so if your new tank critter doesn't work out, remove...MORE it before it can do serious damage.

  • 01 of 09

    Angelfish (Centropyge)

    Emperor angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator) swimming past soft corals (Dendronephthya sp). Egypt, Red Sea.
    Georgette Douwma/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

    The smaller Angelfish species work well in larger reef tanks. However, larger species such as the Emperor Angelfish (Pomacanthus imperator) will eat corals and shrimp and should be avoided. Even the smaller (Dwarf) Angels will occasionally pick at corals in a small tank unless they are well fed. The beautiful Japanese Swallowtail Angelfish is one of the few truly reef tank safe Angelfish which does not bother corals or other invertebrates. See Angelfish Profiles for more information. You can...MORE click on the links below to see individual Angelfish species photos and profiles.

  • 02 of 09

    Angelfish (Centropyge)

    Flame Angel. Keoki Stender
  • 03 of 09


    Debbie Hauter

    These colorful, gentle, amusing little fish are a favorite reef safe fish. The Maroon Clown is a possible exception, due to its aggressive behavior and larger size at maturity. See Clownfish Profiles for more information on these beautiful fish. You can click on the links below to see individual Clownfish species photos and profiles.

    • False Percula Clownfish (Amphiprion ocellaris)
    • True Percula Clownfish (Amphiprion percula)
    • Tomato Clownfish (Amphiprion frenatus)
    • Clarkii Clownfish (Amphirion clarkii)
    • Fi...MOREre, Red & Black or Cinnamon Clownfish (Amphiprion melanopus)
    • Pink Skunk Clownfish (Amphiprion perideraion)
    • Saddleback Clownfish (Amphiprion polymnus)
  • 04 of 09

    Dragonettes & Mandarinfish

    J. Hendrix

    These docile fish can be difficult to keep in an aquarium, due to their specific diet requirements. However, given an ample supply of Amphipods and Copepods, these fish can do quite well. See Mandarinfish Profiles for more information on these beautiful fish.

    • Green Mandarinfish (Pterosynchiropis ​splendidus)
    • Psychedelic Mandarinfish (Synchiropus picturatus)
    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09


    Firefish Goby (Nemateleotris magnifica)
    Firefish Goby (Nemateleotris magnifica). Photo by Kyron Cochran

    Most Gobies are great little reef safe fish, however, some species may eat small ornamental crustaceans. Not aggressive in nature, they will consume algae, Amphipods, and Copepods. Blennies fall into 3 basic categories: ​Sand Sifting Gobies, Shrimp Gobies, and Small Gobies. See Blenny & Goby Fish Profiles for more information.

  • 06 of 09

    Sand Sifting Gobies

    Tiger Sleeper Goby. D. Craig

    Sand Sifting Gobies plow through the tank substrate, sifting/straining algae, detritus and uneaten food from the sand. This not only removes unwanted nitrate producing substances, it also stirs and aerates the sand (very important for Deep Sand Beds), releasing toxic gasses.

  • 07 of 09

    Shrimp Gobies

    Pink and Blue Spotted Watchman Goby. Frank Ungaro

    Shrimp Gobies get their name from their behavior of sharing their burrows in the sand with small shrimp, such as the Pistol Shrimp. These Gobies warn their shrimp roommates (which have poorer eyesight) of approaching danger in time for them both to retreat into their burrow. In return, they share their food with the Gobies.

  • 08 of 09

    Small Gobies

    Firefish Goby. Kyron Cochran

    Small Gobies are some of the most colorful, entertaining fish in an aquarium. These Gobies adapt well to aquarium life and remain small (2" and under) even as adults.

    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Tangs (Surgeonfish)

    Achilles Tang.

    Surgeonfish make great reef tank occupants. Being herbivores, they eat only algae, leaving your invertebrates and corals alone. The size to which some tangs grow may cause a problem in smaller tanks in the future.