Spotlight Book Review--The Marine Aquarium Handbook: Beginner to Breeder by Martin A. Moe, Jr.

A book review of Martin A. Moe, Jr.'s landmark book, essential for the reefer's library.


  1. The author's dog-eared copy of Moe's book.
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    Photo courtesy of @Seawitch, ©2019, All Rights Reserved.


    The Marine Aquarium Handbook: Beginner to Breeder by Martin A. Moe, Jr.

    • Paperback: 352 pages
    • Publisher: TFH Publications, Inc.; Revised, Expanded edition (September 1, 2009)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 9780982026212
    • ISBN-13: 978-0982026212
    • ASIN: 0982026218
    Clownfish in an anemone. Martin A. Moe started breeding clownfish commercially in the early 1970's.
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    This is royalty-free image courtesy of Carolina Mariani from Pixabay.

    There are some books that are indispensable for the marine aquarist. These are books written by the marine legends such as Moe, Delbeek, Fenner, Sprung, Borneman, and Tullock. These gentlemen are some of the folks that paved the way for the rest of us to have saltwater aquariums.

    If we were to create a collection of must-have books in this hobby of ours, this book would be on the list. The book was first published in 1982, but it has been reissued and updated at least twice since then. So, it's as important and relevant now as it was almost 40 years ago.

    Martin A. Moe, Jr. is an ichthyologist with a master's degree from University of South Florida, and who began his professional career in the early 1960's. He is one of if not the first person to breed marine fish commercially--from his garage. Today, he lives in the Florida Keys, and is studying and breeding Diadema antillarum, the long-spined sea urchin, which is a very important part of the Florida offshore marine ecosystem.

    The book starts out with talking about aquarium shapes and sizes. He devotes some time to how to work with glass and make your own aquariums, although I'm not sure I'd advise that to a beginner. Then he briefly covers the different parts of a marine aquarium, including how water circulates or could circulate depending on your system. And he discusses the pros and cons of using natural seawater versus artificial seawater.

    Chapters 3 and 4 cover filtration. Moe discusses at length the benefits and how-to's of an undergravel filter. I honestly don't know anyone who uses an undergravel filter anymore, but I still find it useful to understand how it works. You can always skip to chapter 5 and learn the physics and chemistry of reef tank.

    Chapter 6 is about set-up and maintenance, and then chapters 7, 8, and 9 are about fish selection, quarantine and disease. He seems most worried about preventing or treating marine velvet, Amyloodinium ocellatum, and I'm not sure if reef aquarists are most worried about velvet today.

    One point that I noticed was that Moe says that the most important parameters to match when transferring fish are pH and temperature, as opposed to salinity, which is what we often hear these days. Interestingly enough, I asked this specific question to Bob Fenner at WetWebMedia a few months ago, and his staff told me the exact same thing. That's it's most critical to match temperature and pH, and salinity is less important when transferring fish from one body of water to another.

    In chapter 10 he covers foods and nutrition, and then in chapter 11, he talks about breeding. It's important to keep in mind that Moe is most famous for breeding. So, I think the whole book is really geared toward fish and breeding marine fish. When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

    There is not a lot of discussion on invertebrates or coral or macroalgae, but in fairness, that is or at least was not his thing. However, if you read the book understanding that he wants to create the best and healthiest environment for fish because only in this environment can fish potentially be bred, then the book is certainly required reading.

    And if you are at all interested in breeding, he does include quite a bit of information on how to raise the different microscopic critters necessary for feeding fry. There is also a terrific section on Selected References for further reading and information.

    Depending on which edition you read, the book can, at times, feel a little dated. Do not let that put you off. If you were to have only one book on your shelf, it should be this one. Enjoy. And if you like this one, he has also written a few others, including Breeding the Orchid Dottyback: An Aquarist's Journal.

    Here is a video uploaded by Bulk Reef Supply of Moe's lecture at the 2018 MACNA convention on his research with the long-spined sea urchin.


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    Author Profile: Cynthia White

    Cynthia received her BA in English from NYU a long long time ago. She has been a freelance writer and editor for over 20 years. Now she is a writer and editor on staff at R2R, where her forum nickname is Seawitch.

    Cynthia has been accused of hoarding books.

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