SW keeping in Europe - A Starters Guide


I've been working on this for several months now and I will keep on working on it for mostly my whole reefing "career" tbh. Simply put, I found it a nightmare to start out with the hobby in Belgium / Europe, as you barely got any decent communities in my area nor shops. In Belgium there are 4 decent shops or so, but still nothing compared to the US in terms of up to date materials and knowledge.

I imagine that there are many other Europeans out there that don't have any SW keeping representation in their country or area. As such I've been working on compiling this "guide" to clarify some differences and availability of this hobby in Europe. There is always a way to start, even if you are the only one in your area that is doing it and you need to get your materials elsewhere!

This is not meant as a guide on how to set up your aquarium, it merely is meant to guide you through the planning phase of your start up.

In no way do I claim that I'm an expert in the hobby, nor that I know a lot! I simply want to give some advice and a shortcut for starting your adventure. Searching weeks or even months just trying to find a decent shop, before you even can start it is a pain. Cause really, ain't... :


That being said, here goes!


European SW Aquarium Keeping Information


*) Introduction
*) Research
*) Conversion
*) Planning
*) Online shops (European delivery)
*) Share your information


My name is Kevin and I started with this hobby early 2012. That’s about a year now I believe. Now, I do realize that it’s a very short time and in no way do I claim that I know a lot nor that I'm an expert in keeping a saltwater aquarium.

Then why write this guide? Simply cause most information you’ll find will be based on US articles and most of all, US shops. There is nothing wrong with that, don’t get me wrong here! The US is far ahead in this hobby and most of the things they discovered about this hobby, didn’t even reach our shores yet. That, and only that, is the reason for this “guide”. To make it as easy as possible for European people to start with the hobby, cause trust me it ain’t all that stress free as some might like to let out.

When I started out, I based everything on what the shop owner told me. In theory that might sound great as they should be an “expert” in the field if they wanna sell it imho. Sadly enough, in Belgium there are perhaps 3-4 SW aquarium shops that are up to date with the latest information and materials. This alone is a huge disadvantage to start up an aquarium.
So that first shop I went too sold me the following:

Red Sea Max 250 – had a huge break in the glass and claimed it was off my own doing. I had to contact RS, which took around a month to get solved. This does not reflect to RS btw. The person in charge here for the RS business is actually not an employ of the firm, but someone that represents them as he sells their good sfor them.

After that month I started up the aquarium and noticed one of the pumps was broke. Again I contacted the shop and again they told me I need to contact RS myself and they are not responsible for it. I did that and again another month passed by.

Live Rock – After the RSM was set up I went back to the shop (as that was the only one close by at start) and bought Live Rock. He went to the back to weigh the rocks and came back and said ‘this is 20kg (40lb) and should be enough’. Ok I took it, paid 280 euro for it (14 euro / kg, trust me this is a huge rip off! Standard price here is 11-12).
I came home and decided to weigh it, as I found it surprisingly light to carry. I’m pretty skinny so no way I’m just lifting 20kg with 1 hand like it’s a purse.
Guess what! 9.5 kilo!!! I immediately called him and he got mad cause I accused him of ripping me off.

After a month or so my cycle was over so I bought my first fish. I drove 2h (including traffic jams) to get to another shop for it. Everything was going ok, but a while later the fish died.
I was 100% sure I did everything right, so I took a water sample to my grandmother (professor in chemistry and biology), who has access to lab grade materials to check the water. The water was contaminated with toxic residue from super glue. I could not figure out how that was possible, no glue came near my aquarium. I came home and started inspecting everything, took a magnifying glass even. Know what I noticed? The damn Live Rocks were pieces of smaller rocks glued together with super glue that wasn’t aquarium safe! (Only glue with Cyanoacrylate can be used btw)

Long story short, setting up an aquarium can be very, very stressful and pricy if not done right or shop owners give you wrong materials/information. Keep an eye out!


Before planning anything, start with doing research. You cannot research enough. Be it on the net or in books. Do it as much as possible.
I will list some sites, books, channels that are available in Europe through sites or bookstores. Most sites and channels will be US located, but they simply have the most up to date information and does not influence your start up. It only makes it better!

Sites and forums

Most of the the information you need you will on these sites. There are a lot more sites, but these have everything you need to start up your aquarium.

Youtube Channels:

  • Mr.Saltwater Tank – Great series of videos for beginners and experts alike. Focuses more on giving general short tips.
  • VividAquariums – Very good beginner videos. They explain everything in detail for beginners.
  • Bulk Reef Supply – Great site that offers a lot of information on how to start your aquarium, as well as product reviews. Note that products might not be available in Europe or is much more expensive here! More on that in the “Conversion” section later on.
  • NewYorkSteelo – This is more or less 1 guy that explains his process of starting up his aquariums and gives you information how he did. Take some things with a grain of salt please… E.g.: Even though he claims not to be doing any waterchanges at all, that’s nothing to be proud of. There is absolutely no shame in doing changes weekly!!! Never the less, general interesting information.
  • Tidal Gardens – Good information about corals in general.


With the information available on the net, books are not as needed to start as before. There are tons of books out there, but really more of an “extra” if you want to pay for them. I personally bought the ones I list below after I started my aquarium. I simply became addicted by this hobby and love to spend time researching stuff.
All these books are available throughout Europe, either in shops or through online orders.

Although I linked the UK version of amazon, I checked and the books are available in most European countries. Either in English or in some cases in your own language.


Imperial vs Metric

This is probably the most important part of this “guide”! Most information you will find is based on the imperial measurement system. Most research is done in the US, where they use that system.
However in most European countries (except UK etc) you will use the metric system. These days google makes it easy of converting these 2 systems, however simply converting one to another is not always the correct usage!

Imperial system usage in function of aquarium keeping

Length: inch (in), foot (ft)
Volume: Gallon (gal /G)
Mass/Weight: Pound (lb), ounce (oz)

Metric system usage in function of aquarium keeping

Length: Meter(m), centimeter(cm), millimeter(mm)
Volume: Liter (l)
Mass/Weight: Kilogram (kg), gram (g)

Giving you an example where you convert, but need to be careful with the conversion:

It is suggested to have 1 snail / gallon of water of your first clean up crew, on start up. However I've seen people ask the following : Do I really need 80 snails in my 80l aquarium?

Simple conversion is not right here, you need to fully convert the gallon to liter and not just simply replace the gallons to liter in the text. This is what I mean with “simple conversion”. The correct answer would be: 1 snail / 4l . 1 US gallon = 3.78541 liter. So 80 liter tank would be ~20 snails.

That’s a big price difference, for a small and quickly made mistake. How stupid it might seem, it happens more often than one might think. A lot of people are not used to converting things this way and are new to it.
This is actually a small mistake, but imagine a mistake like this when you are working with chemicals or additives!


With prices it’s a bit different. A lot of products people will come across in this hobby will be marked in dollar. As again, most up to date materials come from the US or are imported there first and broadly advertised on sites that you will do your research on.

Conversion will give you a general idea in what price range will be of that item you want to buy. However that will NOT be the price in Europe for the same product!
Most products need to be imported here and those prices for importation are far higher than shipping from one state to another in the US.
Shops also want to make a big as possible profit of the items, so they increase the price even further.

When I saw the Red Sea Max 250 series on marinedepot(cheapest at that time) they were around 1850 dollar, that’s around 1400 euro.
I called every reseller in Belgium and the Netherlands to find the cheapest one. I got the cheapest one for 1880.99 euro. That’s a big 500 euro difference. With that 500 euro I could have bought my live rock, some test kits and other stuff.

So you see that US prices do not always reflect the European prices or your country prices.


Once you know what you want, start planning. What you need to plan?

- Price: Plan ahead what you want to spend on it, then check what your end price for your total start up is. Calculate another 500-800 euro extra on that cause things can and will go wrong the first time! (My RSM was advertised to not need a cooler in my climate, but the heat produced from the lighting is too much for the standard fans, so had to buy a chiller, which is another 700 euro extra)

Do not forget to be careful with the price conversion as mentioned before!!!

- Size: Plan where you want the aquarium to come and measure everything good before ordering! Once you get the aquarium, it’s too late. Leave some space between the sides and the back of the aquarium, so you can reach everything. This is very important as well if you get a chiller or so. Some items will produce heat and that needs to be able to ventilate out. Don’t stack everything next to each other or the heat won’t be able to escape and build up.

Do not forget to be careful with the size conversion. If they mention the size in inch or foot and you convert it to cm or meter, add some extra. E.G: Length converted in cm would be 31.50, take 32.50 cm to be sure that it will fit!

- Placement: A normal aquarium is heavy, even when not filled! So plan ahead if you need extra help. Call some friends or family when they deliver it or when you need to go pick it up. You will need help, you simply cannot do this alone.(not talking about nano aquariums of 25l btw)

- Live Stock: Plan ahead what you want to have in your aquarium. Check their compatibility with each other and see if the aquarium you have in mind can maintain the species you want.

- Shops: Go visit some local shops that have a saltwater division and check which one seems good enough for you. Just tell the person there that you want to start an aquarium and want information on the start up and system. Write things down if you need too, but remember it!
After you got the information from each shop, compare it with the information you find on the forums or internet in general. If you see that on shop is making big mistakes or advertising things you don’t need, scrap that shop! By process of elimination you will find the shop that is good for you.

There are probably other things you will need to plan. Like how much time you want to put in this hobby. This is actually very important if you have a wife / girlfriend, if you get what I mean. ;)

Online shops

Over the year I’ve been in this hobby, I’ve noticed one major thing. There are very few decent online shops that have the same good grade materials as the US shops have. Shame for us, but there are some that have decent things and that I find trustworthy. The last is something you have to decide for yourself, I cannot tell you to buy from X shop if you yourself don’t trust it.


That being said, I will list a couple of online shops that I had dealings with in the past and came to a good end.

  • http://www.aquapro2000.de/en - Decent shop, perhaps a bit limited on some things. They do deliver on time and deliver quality items. If an item is broke, they will replace it without a problem.
  • http://www.coralbiome.com/ - Decent shop for corals and invertebrates. A bit expensive sometimes, but they deliver the specimen that you see on the picture. Never had a problem with it so far.
  • http://www.whitecorals.com/shop/en/index.html – Really happy with this coral shop. They are very fast and always deliver the specimen that you see on the picture. They lay a grid under the specimen on the picture so you can see yourself what size they are.
  • http://www.mycoralfarm.com/recentlyaddedproducts.aspx – Great shop, formed by several forum members of that site to promote the hobby. They are very fast in their delivery and prices are fair.
  • http://www.aquaristic.net/ - Great for general stuff like glue etc if not available close by. Never bought big stuff from it yet, just some glue and Kalkwasser.
  • http://hustinx-aquaristiek.com/ - Belgium shop in Hasselt that now has an online shop that ships to everywhere in Belgium.

Those are the ones I tried so far and I cannot comment on others that might be good.
If you want to help adding more shops to this list, please mail to: reefing.fun@gmail.com
Please add a short description of your transaction and preferably proof of the transaction (not needed to mention prices ofc) so I have some control over the credibility of this list.

Sharing is caring!

The European reef keeping community seems to be fairly small or at least not as “broadly” advertised as the US community. As such many people here are simply not aware of this hobby and the possibilities of starting one. I really want to bring some change in that in the future.
I actually don’t want that many more people to start with the hobby, but I do want to spread the basic information more in Europe. It is really demoralizing to see most sites and shops in the US and then you need to search for days, weeks, months for a decent shop or so in your area.

So please do share your experience with us! Let us know about the dealings you had with various shops, your adventure you went through to get this far in the hobby. Everyone can only benefit from this!

Last but not least, I thank you for reading this and I hope this will help future European hobbyist out with getting started!


Kevin aka ReefinFun
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Well-Known Member
Hey kev, great write up. I'm sure it will help a lot of folks.

I have to say I didn't think the US was in anyway ahead of Europe in reefing. I would have thought it was the other way around or somewhat equal. There are so many top manufacturers that are European, Red Sea being one of them. Intersting to get another point of view.

I will say LFS ignorance seems to pretty much be universal. If I just listened to those guys my tank would a mess. :D

Sent using Tapatalk 2


Hey kev, great write up. I'm sure it will help a lot of folks.

I have to say I didn't think the US was in anyway ahead of Europe in reefing. I would have thought it was the other way around or somewhat equal. There are so many top manufacturers that are European, Red Sea being one of them. Intersting to get another point of view.

I will say LFS ignorance seems to pretty much be universal. If I just listened to those guys my tank would a mess. :D

Sent using Tapatalk 2

Thanks Choff :)

There are many top manufactures in Europe indeed, but sadly enough they are not as much advertises in some countries as in the US. Most sites or online shops are US located and for example Red Sea doesn't really have their own stores, but uses resellers, so it completely depends on the amount of fish stores that are in that area. In my case there is only 1 store that still sell the RSM series. Availability was just a big issue for me.
That's at least how I saw / see it as a beginner to start it up.

Research is just far ahead in the US due to the amount of time and money being put into it there imo. Don't know any recent European Zoologist or so that published progress like Julian Sprung did tbh. I could be wrong here, but according to my grandma(doing research at "Aquarium de l'Universite de Liege" which is a member of EAZA), EAZA published a while back that they didn't have the resources to research marine life as much as they would like too. Universities in the US also get sponsored a lot more than in Europe (with the exception being the UK and Germany and perhaps Paris's University in France).

Anyways, it's nice to see people that see it different though!


That's a fantastic write-up Kevin.
Thanks for taking the time to lay it out in a format that is easy to follow for the likes of me.

Here in the UK, I personally find that the forums have a sense of "one up-manship", where everybody is trying to out-do each other and look down on those who fall behind.

It's really refreshing to have found Reef Sanctuary, with members from all over the world, who genuinely care about each other, who are concerned about each others progress and issues that they can offer help and advice.

It's the only website/forum that my computer is logged on to from dawn 'til dusk.

Wayne (aka YorkieUK).:hug1:


Been gone for what seems ages, but back in bussiness now. No tank, but still got the passion! Updated OP with an extra shop.