Reflections From the Reef
Not a Grain of Salt
Not counting the little 10-gallon aquarium I had by my crib, my first tank was a 20-gallon saltwater aquarium I set-up in the mostly unused living room of our house in Concord, California back in 1976. Back then the only coral available was dead and bleached. My last tank was a 40-gallon reef tank, which I regrettably left in Bangkok when I moved back to the US in 2007. In between I’d had many tanks and many sizes from Concord to Delano to San Francisco and finally to Thailand. So, after 30 years, I do have some thoughts about my experiences that might help the person thinking about getting into marine aquarium hobby.
I won’t to tell you what to do, how to do it, or what to get. I never went to Scripts, or took a single class in Marine Biology, so I don’t have the scientific knowledge to adequately deconstruct and evaluate my experiences. But I did self-educate myself by reading a lot of good books by the experts at the time such as Robert Straughan, Martin Moe, Stephen Spotte and later Julian Sprung, and I did learn quite a bit. I do recommend finding some good books and learning about filtration systems, algae and invertebrates including snails.
Reef keeping is a serious hobby. It can be tremendously rewarding and it can be tremendously frustrating. There may be a lot of manufactures out there that want you to think they have created a system that makes it easy. That their set-up is rock solid. And there are Reality TV shows that make it seem that anyone can do and that buying an aquarium is like buying a piece of furniture. Well, it’s not that simple and it’s not that easy. Not everyone is going to be successful at it. It may sound cliché but the biggest component in what you get out of the hobby is you.
Do you have an addictive personality? Will you be happy once the tank is stable? Will you want more and better? Are you a gear guy or girl? Do you change your mind? Are you easily bored? Can you maintain a routine?
Theses are just some of the questions you should ask yourself. Perhaps you don’t know the answer. If that’s the case, this hobby will answer those questions for you. When you decide to care for a fish tank it’s no different than any other pet. You are responsible for their continued existence. The life of the creatures you care for will inevitably weigh on your conscience, as they should. If you take it seriously, and a reef tank is serious, you’ll learn a lot about the natural world, better appreciate the diversity of life on earth, it’s chemistry, the mechanics of balanced systems and yourself.
Reefs around the world are disappearing. Your children’s children may live in a world without any reefs outside nature reserves. I suggest that at some point in your life, if you haven’t already, go diving or snorkeling in a real ocean reef.
Good luck on your new adventure.
The Well Tempered Aquarium
It’s been 10 years since I’ve been in the hobby, but the visit to Reef-A-Palooza helped me see how far the hobby has moved. There are many more options now then there were before. While I was living in Thailand, I was impressed by the German pre-configured reef systems that were available there. And I’m glad to see that Red Sea now has similar systems that are even more thought through.
Back in the day noise was always an annoyance. There were things you could do to keep the noise of falling water and the hum of the pump in your sump from keeping you awake at night. But you were jury-rigging an elaborate system with a hack. Companies like Red Sea and Eco Tech Marine have thought this through now with their new systems. This seems like a small advancement, but it was those little annoyances that used to wear you down. I once had to seal my 70 gallon San Francisco tank’s stands like a time capsule with plywood and foam to get a good night sleep. It was so sturdy in fact that when I sold it the guy who bought it dropped it down a flight of stairs by accident and it only suffered a small dent. It was an amazing thing to see that big stand roll down those stairs thinking it was going to fall apart any time but it never did. Make sure you have good stuff.
So, is this pre-configured Red Sea Max-S or similar system the best way to go? The answer is it can be. You can also buy a used set-up form an old reefer getting out of the hobby or moving. The configuration you need depends on how you plan to stock the tank, what type of live or synthetic rock, corals, and invertebrates you plan on getting. These system will be pre-configured, in other words, for a particular range of choices or bio-loads; if you over-load it, or put it next to a window, or do something inconsistent with that configuration, you may have issues. You may also not fully appreciate the system and it’s strengths unless you assemble it yourself. Do the reading and research ahead of time so you know the pros and cons of each type of filtration. Read the problems people have from Wet Web media and Reef 2 Reef. Get good stuff and know your Purigen from your Hydro Carbon. Finally, be cautious of people who show off newly set-up aquariums and claim they’re doing everything right. Rely on systems that have been established for a couple of years at least as a template.
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