RSS Longevity in the coral reef aquarium

MASA Admin

8 May 2007
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Recently while perusing the web, I came across an interesting post by Paul B regarding his reef tank now being 44 years old. And while I have been doing this a long time none of the tanks I have ever had have gotten close to being set up for this length of time. After reading the many posts and comments about this great tank it got me thinking about longevity in this hobby.

I know today where most things are thrown out as soon as a part breaks rather than being repaired, longevity is kind of a forgotten concept. And actually when you think about it there are actually a lot of different aspects of longevity that can be considered in this hobby.

The first aspect and possibly what may be the most important in terms of longevity is longevity in the hobby. That is, how long has someone been maintaining tanks, reef, saltwater or even freshwater. While we may pooh pooh those who don’t share our love for reefs, staying in any aspect of this hobby for a prolonged period of time does take a certain type of person.

As we all know it can be time consuming, expensive and frustrating. In addition, very rarely are the costs, smells, and messes enjoyed by both members in a relationship, which can be strained as a result. In addition life can often get in the way of enjoying the hobby over the long term. Moving for career or family as well as just travel for work can make it difficult to stay focused on the hobby over the long term as it neither easy to move a tank from place to place nor is it easy to keep one going when you are on the road all the time.

All of these factors plus many more that I am undoubtedly forgetting all contribute to why so few of stay in the hobby for even close to the 44 years of Paul B. I have known a lot of individuals for over 25 years including Julian, Sanjay, Charles, Scott, Richard, Tony and Eric and we have discussed on numerous occasions how many of the people we have known over the years have dropped out of the hobby over time. The other thing that amazes us is how quickly the time in the hobby has gone by.
Reading Paul’s posts another aspect of longevity was evident: not only has he had a reef tank for 44 years, but the same tank itself has been set up as a reef for that long. To me having a single tank set up as a reef for 44 years is almost unfathomable, no pun intended. The longest tank that I have ever had set up without breaking it down or moving to a larger tank, was my 580-gallon tank and that was set up for the relatively short time of slightly over 11 years and which to this day I still regret breaking down.

Thinking about all of the tanks I have had or have heard about that fractured, leaked or cracked I am amazed at the quality of the tank that has withstood the test of reef tank time by lasting that long. The only tank I have heard about being up even close to that length of time was Terry Siegel’s tank, which if I recall correctly, was up for almost the unheard of time of over 30 years. As I mentioned above, being able to keep a tank up for that long without life getting in the way or having the tank lose structural integrity is amazing.

I’m curious as to how many of us in the hobby could do this today considering how frequently most of us move. I myself have lived in 4 houses over the past 30 years and most of the people I know in the hobby have moved with similar frequency. Therefore I am pretty certain that Paul’s record, when he decides to get it into the Guiness Book of records will be difficult to surpass.
Fortunately there are other aspects to longevity that we should all look to match or surpass. The first of these is maximizing the longevity of the corals in our tanks. As I travel about and see lots of tanks it has become apparent that very few hobbyists are maintaining colonies of corals for very long periods of time. With the demand for corals, especially “rare” or named ones being so high most corals are fragged as soon as a sellable branch occurs.

I am curious as to how many of these corals will still be around, ten, fifteen or twenty years from now. I say that as looking back on pictures of tanks I have from just five and ten years ago very few of the corals that were being kept then are still in these tanks. Granted a lot of the corals we see today are better colored or “rarer” but I wonder what happened to these corals, especially since to me a large colony of even a brown or green coral is far more interesting than a ¾” frag of a named coral that I have often seen in the place where old unnamed colony rested.

In this regard I would enjoy hearing from people who have colonies of corals over 10 years of age or greater. I would also love to see pictures of these corals from the past to the present. I am curious as it would be interesting to see if the “advanced” techniques we are employing today compared with those of ten or more years ago has morphed the corals in terms of coloration or structure.

The Stuber Acropora has been growing and propagating in captivity since 1982

In addition to seeing how colonies have changed, I know there are 4th, 5th and greater generations of “named” corals from original colonies out there that are over 20 years old and these I have seen morph. One of these is the famous Stuber Acropora which is quite possibly the first Acropora to be successfully cultivated and propagated. When I first saw this coral and received a frag it was just brown and I mean a completely brown Acropora.

Now when I see it online it only has a touch of brown while the rest is blue or green depending on who’s selling it. So I’m curious as to when this change in color took place and more interesting to me is what caused it to change color. Since this completely brown coral has morphed in coloration over time I would love to see if this same thing has occurred with large colonies of corals over time.

Personally the oldest corals I now have in my tanks are three 11 year old corals including a Pink Pocillopora a green table and a turquoise stag. I would give the species, but except for the Pocillopora all of these corals have morphed a great deal over the years. In addition I also still have a small colony of the “Paletta pink tip”, but as has occurred with most of the corals I have kept of the long-term, at times they have died back and then with proper TLC I was able to bring them back and grow them back into nice sized colonies.

As a result of these die backs each time they came back the colony looked different than it did before it died back. It would be interesting to see if this also occurred in the colonies others have kept over a long period of time.

The 40+ year old sixbar angelfish at the Nancy Aquarium in France

The last inhabitants of our reef tanks whose longevity would be interesting to assess is that of the fish. In the summer 1986 issue of SeaScope, the ages of a large number of fish at the Nancy Aquarium in France were documented. At the time of this publication seeing the age of some of these fish was astounding, especially when considering at that time most hobbyists were still having difficulty keeping fish alive for any extended period of time.

It would be interesting to see if any of these fish were still alive as well as to see what the records were for the age of various fish since they kept such meticulous records. [Ed. Note. A sixbar angelfish at the Nancy Aquarium is over forty years old]. It would also be interesting to see how the age of these fish compared with the ages of some of the fish that we are keeping in our tanks today.

I know that many of us may take for granted how long some of the fish in our tanks are around, unless it is a rare or “favorite” fish. At least I know this is the case for me as the only fish that I know I have kept for a long time are my Red Sea Regal Angel at 12 years, my yellow tang at 14 years and my marine betta, which my children named “Buck” which is 16 years old. Further it would be good to know how the ages of our fish compares to what their natural life expectancies are.

An excerpt from a 1986 issue of Seascope showing how old some aquarium fish were back then.

While it is unfortunately still true that we do lose fish and corals as well as a tank from time to time our ability to keep marine animals over the long-term is now at unprecedented levels and should only continue to improve. Now that I know I can keep a difficult angelfish for over ten years maybe I can justify getting an expensive one and figure that ?I can keep it that long so that in my mind it only cost $50-$60 per year. At least that is what I will tell the person who watches my finances.

Since keeping records of the longevity of all of the things I’ve mentioned has not been done for a long time as far as I know I would love to hear from all of you if you have kept anything for a long time? The only way we are going to know how good we have gotten is to know how long each of us have kept things and if we are good it might justify the price we pay for some of our charges.
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