RSS How to reach your goals as a Reef Aquarist

MASA Admin

8 May 2007
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This past week, one of my favorite high school teachers passed away. Let me be more specific, he was not one of my favorite teachers while I was actually in high school, as he rode me like a rented mule, but once I graduated over the years we became good friends. Why this is relevant to this weekend’s article is because his passing reminded me of the quote that was emblazoned behind his desk:

“Disappointment is not the result of never reaching one’s goals, disappointment is never having goals to reach”.

This got me thinking about what goals I have now as well as those I once had in the hobby, as well as what goals other hobbyists might have. So my goal in this article is to stimulate people to think about having goals above just setting up a tank. This may sound simple or contrived, but I have come to realize that I am much more successful when I am striving to reach a goal rather than when I am simply completing a task. So hopefully if I can show the value of having goals other hobbyists will see the benefit as well.

If you want to experiment you can do something like I did and set up an experimental tank in a different way like this sunlight tank

Looking back when only a few of us were actually trying to keep corals in our “mini-reefs”, we were considered crazy by the majority of people in the saltwater aquarium hobby. Back then we had one simple goal: keep whatever you had alive, even if it was something seemingly simple like Caulerpa or a sponge let alone the hard-to-get coral.

Now that might not sound like a very lofty goal today, but back then we literally had to make our own equipment as there were no useful protein skimmers, or high intensity lighting systems, or even something as simple as an overflow box and a sump. As a result of this, one simple goal most of us trying to do this knew one another and we shared the few successes and many failures that we had.

Fortunately this sharing led to better and better husbandry of the easy to keep corals like leather corals, star polyps and mushroom corals, so that the number of people doing this gradually increased. Over time, and actually now looking back a relatively short time, the goal of most hobbyists was to expand our knowledge and keep more and more difficult animals alive.

First it was the true large-polyped stony corals like Bubble corals, Elegance Corals and Euphyllia. Then the goal became to keep the true reef-building stony corals alive like Acropora, Montipora and Pocillopora. It may sound crazy now, but around 20 years ago many of the directors of the public aquariums actually thought that hobbyists should not be allowed to keep these corals since at that time the public aquariums were having little success in keeping corals.

If you have been in the saltwater side of the hobby and your goal is to try something different you can go to a high end freshwater system, which I have recently seen a number of old salts do

Fortunately, many of us in the hobby did not pay them attention and continued to spend our money buying and losing corals while we set our sights on unraveling the puzzle of keeping these corals alive. I am convinced that since it was a goal, rather than a series of tasks, this is why we were able to succeed.

That is, there was no coral cookbook at that time which said ‘if you did this and added that’ you would always succeed. Instead there were dozens if not hundreds of individuals each striving to reach the goal of getting these corals not only to survive, but also thrive and grow and eventually reproduce. This is also probably why even today there is not one perfect way to keep a reef tank.

f you are a glutton for punishment you can make your goal something really useful like unraveling how to keep difficult fish like Moorish Idol or these Anthias

On the good side, this allows anyone and everyone to tinker and manipulate things just a little bit to make each of their tanks unique and their own. However it also allows for a lot of flaming and derision when someone promotes or supports something that is seemingly out of the mainstream or differs from how one of the “experts” does it.

Even after 30 years most of us who have been in the hobby this long will still admit that we make stupid mistakes and that we lose things by being dumb or lazy and that more than anything one of our goals still is to learn. I do not write these articles to educate myself as I have never learned anything new from my own words or writing, but rather they give me the opportunity to talk with many of my fellow hobbyists and learn from them and then pass the information on. And to be honest, some of what I hear is brilliant and some of it is not as well thought out, but to me the goal is still to learn to be the best at this I can, so it is worth listening to all of it.

While clowns like these are relatively easy to breed they could be a good start if your goal is to eventually breed hard to or never before bred fish

So since the one simple goal for all of us since the beginning has not really changed: keep everything alive, what are some of the other goals that should be considered whether you are just setting up your first tank or you now filled your home with larger and larger tanks. First and foremost after this should be not wasting money in the hobby. This may sound difficult with everything in the hobby seemingly getting more and more expensive, but wasting money is different than spending money.

To me, wasting money is buying the same species of fish or corals multiple times and thinking that you can keep it alive and not learning from your mistakes, or being too stubborn to ask someone and then having to replace it. Or buying the cheaper piece of equipment that lasts six months or does not do what it is supposed to do and replacing it several times.

If your goal is to break even or possibly make money then growing high end corals in a frag tank like this one may be the ticket

When the goal is not to waste money then it is up to the individual to do their homework and see if a fish can be kept in the tank they are providing, or if others have had problems with a specific piece of equipment. In this regard the internet is very unforgiving of poor quality equipment or of fish with poor track records. So this is a common goal that we can help each other with.

Similarly we also want our corals and fish to thrive and grow. However, now it is possible to have the goal of propagating fish or corals and trying to break even in the hobby. I say break even rather than make money, as I am trying to set up a realistic goal, as unfortunately very few hobbyists selling frags or breeding fish actually make money doing so, so at best the goal should be not to lose money. This goal is also good for the hobby as it allows for rare one of a kind coral to be spread to many hobbyists, rather than being held by one individual for whom it eventually dies and thus is lost to the hobby.

In the same manner, the passion and compulsiveness of hobbyists is what produced many of the breeding techniques and successes in spawning and raising saltwater fish that is now taken for granted. There are still literally hundreds of fish that we would like to keep in the hobby so another goal of hobbyists can be the breeding of these fish, some of which are incredibly rare and expensive. So if any of you are successful at breeding Debelius or King Angelfish as a result of reading this article, please keep me in mind for the offspring. That’s a joke, as I know I will get flamed by someone for saying that.

If your goal is to go bigger and bigger you can do what I did and move up from a 560 gallon tank to a 1200 gallon tank

As I said, we still do not know all we need to know to be totally successful, so another goal for hobbyists would be to try new things. Twenty years ago I tried and wrote about Miracle Mud and while I have gotten a fair amount of grief about it over the years, I still use it and have been thanked by countless hobbyists over the years for bringing it to their attention. There are lots of other techniques and products out there that I’m guessing could also help in the hobby, so if you find something that works, bring it to people’s attention.

I currently am running six tanks, but the goal is not just to have 6 tanks, but a couple of them are experimental tanks that I try new things in, rather than experimenting on my 300 gallon tank that if it crashed would bring me to tears. So if your goal is to try new things, then setting up one or a few experimental tanks may be the ticket.

If your goal is to be successful I strongly suggest you read as much as you can about the hobby

While the goals I mentioned above are seemingly worthwhile for everyone in the hobby, there are several other goals that hobbyists can also explore. If after doing this for a while you find it is your passion, as it is to many of us, you can try to make a career in it.

There are lots of ways to do this from working in a wholesalers or a LFS to taking it to a whole new level and working for a collector or some of the aquaculturing or mariculturing facilities. There is even taking the bold step of starting your own store, which I plan on talking about in a future piece. Right now with how fast this hobby is growing you should not be limited to what your goal in the hobby could be.
When friends pass we often look back on what they gave us and remember the good things they did. For my friend I remember him passing on the concept of always having goals and always working towards them. In this regard, my goals in the hobby have always been to learn as much as I can and to share what I have learned, to have tanks that I enjoy watching and working on and to try and keep my competitive nature in check and not make the hobby a number’s game. Hopefully I have provided some incentive to have goals in the hobby more than just having the most posts online, but to actually do something that helps the hobby continue to flourish.
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