RSS Reef aquarium secrets, good or bad, we need to share them

MASA Admin

8 May 2007
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Coca-Cola has secret ingredient 7X. What goes into Chanel No. 5 is known by only a couple of people and we have all seen a movie where discovering the secret formula was the plot. And truth-be-told, most of us know or have a secret or two that we keep to ourselves. Unfortunately this is also often the case in this hobby. For some reason a lot of us keep the secrets of our success, or failures, to ourselves.

Now, I understand why we may not want to share our failures and only tout our successes, but in my opinion, keeping secrets about what you are doing and not sharing them with our fellow hobbyists is not beneficial to anyone. I realize that the internet is both a great forum for discussion but also an open invitation to get flamed. As a result I think people tend to keep their secrets to themselves, especially when what they are trying differs from what is considered the “standard way to do things.”

Unlike light which we knew was important from the start, only when we saw tanks like this one from Dr. Ara Dukmejian in 2004 did we start to appreciate how much strong water movement could enhance SPS growth

The first secret everyone needs to accept is that everyone loses things. Yes, I hate to admit it, but I have actually had fish and coral die. And unfortunately these losses are often for either dumb reasons or for reasons we cannot explain. I have lost fish and corals for so many dumb reasons, it some times keeps me up night.

The fish that jumped out for the few seconds when my back was turned and the cover was off, or the coral that died because I was too lazy to reglue it in place when I saw that it was about to tip into a more aggressive neighbor, are just a couple of things that keep me up at night. But I rarely share these occurrences with others. Fortunately though, I have found out a fair number of my fellow hobbyists share many of the same secrets.

Even worse is when the losses I’ve had seemingly occurred for no reason that I could discern and – until recently – I thought only happened to me. These are the kind of things that should not be kept as secrets. An example of how important it is not to keep secrets when we lose things is when the topic of when two new pests came to light. Black bugs and Montipora-eating amphipods were two pests I had neither heard of nor thought I had encountered until they were brought up online.

The beautiful tank of Ben VenderNoort. The frags on the rack in front are frags Ben is donating. While to some say they may detract from the look, they are an example of how generous Ben is to others in the hobby.

Only after someone shared their losses and the “secret” as to what they were observing, did numerous individuals begin a discussion of how widespread they are and of possible ways to remove them or limit their damage. As we continue to get better-and-better at keeping just about everything alive, we are also finding out that there are more and more pests out there that can potentially destroy in a short time what it has taken us years to accomplish. For this reason we should not keep the finding of any pest as a secret. More than likely than not, it is not just affecting us.

Also, not keeping secrets should not just be limited to the internet. A case in point. I ran into a friend who loves zoanthids and a shop that we both frequent had just gotten in a bunch. When I told him what they had he told me he had stopped going there as he had found that his last purchases were infested with a zoanthid eating nudibranch and he was having a difficult time getting it out of his system.

Another secret that should not be kept is that if maintaining the ancillary equipment is too complicated it will be difficult to maintain over time

I had also encountered a similar problem, but since I get coral from a wide-range of sources, I could not pin down as to where the pest came from. Only by discussing what were similar problems were we able to pin it down to the source. The best thing though is that when we both told the shop owner about the problem, he accepted that there was a problem. This may not have occurred if both of us had not talked with one another and then approached him.

I know we do not like to talk about things that do not work, but in this hobby there is still a great deal of trial and error. However, by not keeping secrets about what isn’t working, we can we reduce a lot of the error that still is still rampant in the hobby. In this regard, I strongly suggest if you are trying something new or doing something different try to find someone else who is also doing it and compare notes.

A secret that should not be kept is that some fish outgrow our tanks. Here my friend eventually built a 1200 gallon tank to house the three 36 in. Vlamingi tanks that outgrew their previous 400 gallon home

First, it is always good to have a friend who is trying or doing the same thing that you are. Second, every tank is different. So different, in fact, I am confident if two individuals had the same equipment and same livestock and we let them do what they wanted, in a short time each tank would look like they had nothing in common. Finding someone who is using the same piece of equipment as you, is a good way to see if they are having the same success or the same problems as you are.

Despite all the advancements in equipment that has been made over time, there is still a lot of equipment that unfortunately does not live up to the hype. However, there are also still a lot of individuals who are not using it properly either. That is why I suggest that if you are trying something new or even something old in a new way, find others who are also using it and compare your results. Don’t keep your success or failure with it to yourself.

Unfortunately, this beautiful tank failed in 2005 not because of anything the owner did, but because the builder of the tank did not make it structurally sound. This problem was shared with many of us so that it would not happen again.

Even better, if you do have similar problems, share them with the manufacturer or supplier, and I don’t mean by flaming them online. No one making a product wants it to fail, so if there is a problem that happens to more than one of us, they usually want to fix it. So contact them directly and let them know the issue you are having. As someone who has beta-tested plenty of products, I am fairly confident in saying that most manufacturers do listen when there is a problem.

In the same vein, if you have a product that works well most of the time and on most things, but you notice that some fish or corals do not do well with it, share this as well. In this regard, Sanjay and I often compare notes and trade frags to see how the same coral does in our different tanks. Our tanks are fairly similar in terms of stocking and water parameters, so we always find it interesting when certain things do differently or color up differently in our tanks.

One of our more interesting findings is that Acropora millepora does not do well in either of our tanks under LED lighting. We find this surprising as most other corals do as well, or better under these lights than they did under metal halides. But under LEDs these corals simply do not grow, or grow incredibly slowly, compared with how they grew and thrived when our tanks were lit with metal halides. We have reported this finding to our LEDs manufacturer and they are now working on trying to understand why this occurs and what a possible solution to this may be.

Before LEDs and Photoshop colorful corals like this GARF Bonsai in 2002 helped us appreciate how colorful our corals could be

Since I am out speaking again, I am now having the opportunity to talk with a lot of old friends and getting to compare notes. Recently I got to hang out with Tony Vargas, Marc Levenson and our host Ben VanderNoort, when we were asked to speak at the MARSH conference in Houston.

Obviously when you spend three days almost constantly with reefers who are as into the hobby as much you are, you talk a lot about what you are doing, what your experience has been with different equipment, fish or corals and over time you reveal and find out some of the secrets that these people have. I hope I’m not speaking out of school, but since they speak publicly, I’m assuming their little secrets are out there in the public domain.

Tony’s secret is that he is obsessive about keeping phosphate from entering his tank. He looks at the contents for any food or additive he adds to his tanks to make sure that the amount of phosphate being added is minimized. As a result, Tony has little problems with algae and rarely has to resort to using phosphate removing compounds.

In contrast to this, Marc’s secret is that he really doesn’t worry about phosphate and if he does have an algae problem he just adds snails by the hundred to take care of them. My secret is that I try to do both things to keep algae from becoming problematic. Ben does not really have a secret, per se, other than he listens and reads almost constantly about the hobby and tries to evaluate everything with a very discerning eye.

Even back in 2000 we were still trying to decipher what kind and how much light was best. Fortunately Aquarium City was willing to share the secret to their success with us.

He also is one of the most generous hobbyists I know, as he donates not only his time to educate and help fellow hobbyists, but on more than one occasion he has donated a considerable number of valuable frags whenever he sees a cause that needs help. While his tank is very much “new school,” he is old school in how he is willing to help out fellow hobbyists in need. I think as a result of this, a lot of hobbyists are happy to share their secrets with him. As a result, I think it shows in how successful his tanks are.

As I noted above, everyone in this hobby has a secret or two as to why they are succeeding or where they failed. In my opinion, we need to share these secrets more. In in order for that to happen, we need to be less critical when someone is doing things differently than we are and also not be afraid to admit when we fail. Not to sound cliché, but when one of us succeeds and learns new things — we all succeed. So let’s not keep our secrets to ourselves.

Do YOU have any secrets or special techniques that you think have helped or hurt your reef tank now or in the past? Share them in the comments and let’s shine a light on all this secret reefing methodology we are all sitting on.
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