How I got into reef keeping – A little background.
If you listened to the introduction to the very first episode of this podcast your heard me reminisce about one of my earliest memories. I talked about making friends with a retarded drummer kid and my parents deciding it wasn’t good for me to be hanging out with him, and so forbade me from seeing him. Ever since then, I’ve had a strong empathy for the marginalized. I know how it sounds. I can hear you rolling your eyes – if I can use a mixed metaphor. But the more I reflect upon my earliest memories, the more I realize what an impact they’ve probably had on my life.
Which gets me to my interest in fish. At that same house from the first episode, for example, was the crib in which I was placed as a newborn babe. In the same room as the crib was a little 10-gallon tank. I wasn’t allowed to mess with it, and wasn’t particularly impressed with the little fish inside, but as I eventually evolved to the point where I could sleep in a bed I did grow fond of watching them and listening to the pump and the bubbles every night.
When we finally moved to a more suburban home, my attention briefly turned to my dad’s Beatles records. I’d sit in front of the speakers and thumb through a copy of Boy’s Life magazine while Ringo banged on his drums. Often I’d come across these weird ads in the back of the magazine. One, for example, was for see-through glasses that guaranteed you could see through peoples clothes and it had weird spirals on the front, one was for some kind of spy pen camera, and one was for seahorses. I had not as yet reached my first decade of life, but even with my life experience measured by a single digit, I somehow realized that these things weren’t real, or were at least highly suspect.
Nevertheless, I was intrigued by them enough to giver one a try. I opted for the seahorses. They arrived in a little bag with a little plastic “aquarium” container just as advertised – but a lot smaller. They were so tiny, barely more than an inch. But they were real seahorses. It was pretty cool, and they did pretty well considering the crude plastic set-up. I witnessed the male give birth to tiny baby seahorses one by one. I even got the babies to eat for a while. But unfortunately they all died eventually.
It wasn’t long after this that my mom took me to the local pet store. As it happened, the proprietor was quite knowledgeable about fish. He told me the seahorses were Dwarf Seahorses from Florida and that if I wanted to have fish from the ocean, I’d have to set-up a proper salt-water tank – a far more advanced and sophisticated system then the little 10-gallon fresh water tank I had had in my room a few short years before. Most kids my age, he said had no interest in such things. This sealed the deal an I was hooked ever since.
Somehow I got my mother to buy me a 20-gallon aquarium, a Nektonics under gravel filter and, apart from Paddington, my first real book “A Salt Water Aquarium in the Home” by Robert P. L. Straughan.
The pet shop owner also introduced me to another series of small pamphlet/magazines by the same author called “Salt Water Aquarium” magazine.(1) These magazines came once every other month with a progressive set of page numbers. There was a sturdy half sized binder you could buy with the title of the magazine and a beautiful fish on the cover. I believe mine had a Copper Banded Butterfly. Each magazine profiled about 3 new fish or invertebrates and had bright color photos. They were visually stunning, at least to my young eyes. The idea of the magazines was to add each by-monthly issue to the binder and have an encyclopedic reference book by the time the series ended. But this also encouraged you to collect each issue – which I did.
In my interview with Julian Sprung in Episode 17, I confused this magazine with Julian’s own “Aquarium Frontiers,” which came out much later. Salt Water Aquarium magazine was published in the late 60s and early 70s – if you can believe it. Julian’s material came out in the late 80’s.
When we moved again, I had to disassemble the aquarium and I believe we gave everything away. But later in Jr. High school, I managed to get myself excused from P.E. a lot somehow, and on the library shelf I found the second edition of Salt Water Aquarium by Robert P. L. Straughan. (2) I re-read the book with more knowledge and experience this time and shortly thereafter set-up another tank. Over the next 15 or 20 years there were a lot of books about the aquarium hobby but I was a bit of a snob. I’d been spoiled by the images, detail and depth of knowledge of Straughn’s books. For a very brief period of time I even entertained the fantasy of going to Scrippts Institute of Oceanography after graduating high school. But the fact was it was way beyond the means of my parents, and probably didn’t have the grades to get in anyway.
So I stayed in the hobby, built up my aquariums year after year, and although there were many good aquarium books such as those by Peter Wilkins, Martin Moe and Stephan Spotte, I hadn’t really found anything too exciting until Julian Sprung’s books hit the shelves in the late 80s. Finally, I thought, a set of books that rivaled, and in many ways surpassed, Straughan’s. The covers had beautiful images, the writing was engaging and the depth of knowledge evident. And no better books, to my knowledge, have come out since.
Although today I have given up reef keeping in exchange for pug keeping, I never thought I’d have the chance to meet one of the true legends of the hobby. I hope you’ll enjoy my encounter with Julian Sprung.
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Salt Water Aquarium Magazine by Robert P.L. Straughan (Editor)
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