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Tips before purchasing tropical fish

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(CNN) -- For those thinking of buying saltwater fish as pets, Pete Schlein, curator of the University of Georgia's Marine Education Center and Aquarium in Savannah, has some suggestions, many of which reflect that the fish are a considerable responsibility.

"These are live animals. They are not wind-up toys," said Schlein.

A small fresh water tank may be a good way for a family to see if keeping fish is something they are going to stick with.

"There are fewer chores involved, and the equipment is less complicated and less expensive," said Schlein.

Some things that should be considered before getting a saltwater setup:

• Water must first be de-chlorinated, then mixed properly with artificial sea salt and changed regularly. Between 20 percent and 50 percent of the water should be changed out at least each month.

• Don't try to crowd too many fish into a tank.

• Be sure that the fish you buy are compatible so they don't attack each other.

• Find out how big the fish could get. Be sure they won't outgrow the size of tank purchased.

• Look at your fish often. Patches of discoloration, fins that are held in an unusual way may indicate an ailment that can be cured. But if the symptoms are already dramatic it may be too late.

• Be prepared for a long term commitment. Some fish live for decades in captivity.

• Be aware of the financial commitment involved. A beginner saltwater setup will cost about $200, and each clownfish is a $20-plus investment.

• Before going to the pet store, Schlein recommends going to the library or bookstore for books on fish care.

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