RSS No Need For Speed

MASA Admin

8 May 2007
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As we have all undoubtedly been told Patience is a virtue and all good things come to those who wait. However, when every piece of information we could ever want is at our fingertips and we can have anything we want with two-day shipping, we have become a society of immediate gratification. 30 years ago at a lecture I gave in Toronto I made the statement that nothing good ever happens fast in a reef tank, only bad things happen fast. After being in this hobby slightly longer than that this truth about the hobby has not changed, much to our dismay.

I have yet to walk down and see my tanks one morning and find that the frag I glued in the night before has become a beautiful colony, conversely I have seen a colony turn into a frag overnight. So knowing that this the case why do we still not understand the value and need for having patience in the hobby? And I include myself in this we, as my family would definitely testify that I am the most impatient person they know. However I have become more patient over the past couple of decades and I can only attribute that to the hobby changing me at least a little.

So considering this, why are we still surprised when success is not immediate or when things do not happen as quickly as we expect them to? Case in point, I have now set up dozens of tanks for myself and for others, yet I am still shocked that no matter what I do or how meticulous I am, there is still an ugly tank phase shortly after the tank is set up where there is an algae bloom and cyano takes off and I lose corals if I put them in the tanks during this phase.

I know that I am not alone in having this happen, but despite all that we have learned and all of the additives and bacteria cultures and everything else that is now available to make starting a tank supposedly easier, this still happens. What amazes me is that in the early days of the hobby we understood that it would take at least a month for a tank to be ready biologically before we could add anything of value as the nitrifying bacteria were not at adequate levels to keep ammonia from killing off the fish.

Now with bacterial cultures and enzymes and a host of other additives to get the bacterial load to optimal levels seemingly overnight we no longer need this waiting period so we start stocking the tank almost as soon as the salt is dissolved. As a result we rush stocking the tank before it has reached a kind of equilibrium. I know as I just experienced this and I took everything live that went into the tank from established tanks including the water and still the tank had an algae and cyano bloom.

My need for immediate gratification and rushing the tank caused me to lose half of the corals I placed in the tank while if I had not rushed and let the live rock, skimmer, lights and everything else settle in this would not have been the case. I should know better yet I still rushed the process and consequently paid the price.

Here are two corals a year after being placed close together with little aggression being seen since they grew up together

Just as we tend to rush to initially stock a tank, we also tend to rush as we stock it. We tend to underestimate how big and how fast our corals will grow especially now when many of us are stocking our tanks with frags. As a result, we place the small corals too close together as there is nothing we hate worse than the seemingly open space around a coral. I am including the me in the we, as I still hate open space as the “packed” nature of my tanks show. However, in my own defense when I initially start stocking my tanks I have learned the value of  giving the corals time, so when people ask how I have gotten them so packed the answer is actually when I did initially stock them I did allow for space for growth.

The interesting thing I have found is that when given space and time to grow most corals will grow just to the edge to the coral next to them with the preference being for peaceful coexistence rather than a chemical battle. So when I have given frags space to grow they usually do not fight their neighboring corals. However I will admit that those pesky plating Montiporas will still try to overgrow all corals in their path.

The “demilitarized zones” between Montiporas that were allowed to grow from frags can easily be seen

And corals need not only space but time to grow. Another time when we are impatient is that if we do not see the kind of growth we expect or a coral looks a little off we tend to move it around in the tank. It has been my experience that every time a coral gets moved, even if it is a small amount it takes significant time to recover and for growth to really take off. So in this regard patience it warranted to keep our hands out of the tank and to quit moving our corals around as they do not like musical chairs.

This need for speed also manifests in our not quarantining everything we add to our tanks. I have already written about what I do to quarantine all invertebrates, but I also quarantine every fish that I add to my tanks. On at least two occasions I have wiped out most of the fish I had in my tanks when a new unquarantined fish was introduced and it acted as a piscine “typhoid Mary” and wiped out much of the tank. So now all fish are quarantined for at least a month before they are added.

The acclimation cage I use for acclimating new fish to reduce aggression

In addition to quarantining all new fish I also now use a secondary process to introduce them to their tankmates by placing them in a plastic or mesh box within their new home so their tankmates get accustomed to them. While this slows the process for having adding new fish it has dramatically reduced the mortality of newly added fish.   Haste should also not be the key word even when picking fish or corals to add to a tank. Before buying anything to add, take your time and do your homework to make sure it is compatible. Marketers love to induce impulse shopping, but don’t let it sway you to buy a fish or invert that is not suitable for your tank. Take the time to do your homework and to make sure that it is healthy.

Picture of Sanjay’s tank with no Acropora

Same tank soon after Acropora frags were added

The need to do things quickly also occurs in a lot of other aspects of the hobby. I have seen many tanks that were set up quickly, even by professionals, without consideration being taken as to how the tank would be maintained long-term. My general rule is make doing things like cleaning filters or pumps easy with ready access and they are more likely to get done. So when planning a tank take the time to make your life and maintenance easier long term. As a result of learning this rule the hard way virtually nothing in my tanks is plumbed or glued so that it can’t be readily cleaned or replaced. The technology of the hobby is improving quickly so the pump or powerhead that is state of the art today may be obsolete very quickly so make it so this can be done. The only things you want to last forever in your tank are the tank itself and its inhabitants.

Tank a year after frags were added

Time passes very quickly in a reef tank.When you take your time and do things right those little frags you attached to the live rock today will be nice sized colonies in a relatively short time. So plan accordingly and use time as your ally rather than rushing things. Most things should not be rushed in the hobby and the biggest thing that should not be rushed is to take some time every day to sit and actually watch your tank. I know most of us have hectic lives and it seems like getting 5 minutes to ourselves is a luxury. However one of the things I have found that most successful hobbyists do is they take some time every day to just sit and watch their tanks.

This may seem intuitive, but sadly the fast pace of life often keeps this from happening regularly. In my own experience I have found that taking as little as 10 minutes each day to look at my tanks has dramatically reduced my losing things due to their falling into or growing into one another. Or seeing that a fish was being harassed so I knew to remove it. Or noticing that a piece of equipment was not functioning the way it had been. These may seem trivial but over time these kind of losses add up.

Everyone who gets into this hobby should do so with the intent of it being a long-time pursuit and not just like turning a tv on and this requires patience and planning. I know that it has had a positive impact on my life as recently a couple of colleagues commended me for showing patience. I responded by saying “what do you expect I raise coral as a hobby”.

Tank 16 months after adding frags

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