Most people start a reef tank in an attempt to keep a pair of ” Nemo’s ” and this is seen as a natural progression from gold fish , tropical fish through to Discus and or Malawis . For those that end up keeping marines or reef tanks , in most cases it remains a life long commitment and through my commitment to the hobby I believe I have developed a mere over view of both reef aquariums and reef aquarist . I wish to discus what I feel I have learnt in an attempt to assist any one who has or would like to own a reef tank .
I have no formal qualifications , and these articles will not have any references so it is far from being any where near to scientific , rather it is based on my readings of commercial material , published on line articles , reports , forum discussions and most importantly to me , my practical expierence and the experience of fellow aquarist , many of whoem I have developed long standing friendships with over many years now .
If a scientific model is based on the ability to predict an out come in a controlled environment , then in some ways I guess all dedicated reefers are scientist. Reef keeping does not only hold a scientific attraction but artistic one too . I have often considered that a reef tank is a single platform for both science and art , a canvas that allows one to realize the recommendation of Leonardo De Vinci when he once said that to expierence genius one must see the science of art and the art of science.
So how do start up aquarist go from simply wanting a pair of Nemo’s and possibly an anemone to go with them , to owning highly complex reef aquariums with filtration rooms that are so technologically advanced they could rival NASA’s spaceship building plants , or end up spending their lives researching reef life to the point that they have Doctorites in fields that formly did exist , like Quontum bio mechanics !
I think the starting point is when the excitement of having your first sea creature at home turns into having your first sea creature die within your care . The pursuit then of trying to ensure this never happens again for many becomes the foundation of a life time commitment . When this persuit is engaged , the realization that a reef tank is not simply a fish tank with salt becomes apparent . What is to unfold is journey that will last a life time , it will be filled with many ups and downs , a volatile emotional balancing act , set between the chemical balances of Ph , Kh , No3 , Po4 and Nh3 to name but a few .
Along side the discovery that an array of various supplements , medications and advanced filtration instruments will be required to
keep the replacement Nemo and his anemone healthy and alive second time round , also comes the discovery that a host of strange yet facsinating animals can be kept in the very same aquarium , and so , the intialization of a reef aquarium begins . Suddenly the nemos and their host anemone seems an outdated idea and the will to establish a captive reef is born .
So what is required to achieve this successfully , has marine aquariums become easier and why do so many people claim it’s constant hard work at best , and total failure is the only end result . The latter is certainly not true . The world over , privately owned reef tank are successfully running for many years . I define a successful reef tank as one that has , fish , coral and other invertabrates living in commune , in which all animals are desease free , growing , displaying bright colours and in the case of corals holding their true growth formations .
Unfortunately some do pack up the hobby after a short while , but I feel this is largely due to three vital errors :
• Not having the relivant information on hand .
• Not having the correct equipment .
• Selecting species of animals that are sensative and generally fair poorly in captivity .
From the onset try and see your aquarium as two spheres , the life support system and the eco system , each in turn has its components and provided they are in a state of balance and equally cared for , the establishment of a thriving display becomes simple . Great confusion and debate arises as to what components are actually required to set up a life support system and opionions can range from the out dated , to the practical and in some instances the out right bizar ! While many ideas over the years have been formulated into ‘ schools of thought ‘ and share both advantages and disadvantages it does seem that there is a common line . I have always focused my time working with what i call ” the international average ” . Imagine you could interview the worlds top 100 reef aquarist , what would be the common components employed , and it is this application that I have followed .
With information being so easily available to day , it seems the modern starter aquarist is more challenged with information over load where as years ago the problem was lack of access to information . But with enormous amount of readily available information comes confusion and anxiety . Almost all discussions seem to run into conflict , where one source would say ” DON’T ” do this , the next would say you ” MUST ” do this and so on , so the more you read and the more you speak to people the more you feel lost and confused , hopeless and helpless at times . As you need to carefully select equipement and live stock , carefully select the source of information you are going to work with . I believe a guide in a sense is the safest way , someone who has a tank , that is successful . For most aquarist the first point of information contact is the local dealer , but many a time , pet shops or aquarium stores merely have a little marine section as a bolt on to their store , and are not always equiped to assist and guide . Do not make the mistake of assuming that because they stock or sell a product that they are knowledgable aquarist that have your aquarium and it’s inhabitants intrest at heart .
On the other hand one could encounter someone who would be over eager to assist and offer advise and often they are prepared to help you at no cost to yourself , but many a times these are new aquarist , their passion for reef tanks are new and their bodies are filled with seratonin , so even though their intentions are sincere they might lack the knowledge and insight to help others , the advise they can offer you is merly subject to their limited expierence and adopting what has worked in one tank to another can often have disastrous consequences.
Reef keeping was revolutionized when the following innovations , systems applapplications and thinking was employed , started by European aquarist in the mid to late 70′s. This system was later called ” The Berlin Method ” and I feel remains a stable base on which the modern reef aquarium is built .
• metal halide lighting units
• strong , powerful water circulation
• live rock
• protein skimming
• activated carbon
• supplement addition
• addition of calcium hydroxide
• small fish population
• small partial water changes
Some might critasize the systems I employ as being over complicated but I have not often found other simple systems that can yield the same end results . I do however , very strongly believe that if ones budget does not allow for the purchase of the various reactors etc a beautiful aquarium can still be established , but it would never have the same density , diversity and field of depth in its composition . Trying to build a complex eco system with simple devices would require on going hard work , total to continuous dedication and the inhabitants well being will always be balanced on a knifes edge .
To consider just a short while ago pouring a bag of salt into your tropical tank seemed all that was required , to set up a tank for Nemo , a friend for Nemo and an anemone for him to sleep and play in . Now discustions spanning nearly four decades arise . It is this history of pioneering and discovery that complements the world of reef keeping , each aquarist is a pioneer within the field , each aquarist will be on a path of discovery , a fascinating journey into a world of fascinating organisms , some older than the dinosaurs . To consider that today we are capable of planting tiny coral fragments donated by fellow aquarist onto bare rock and watch an entire eco system grow from there is truely a wonderful thing. To know that it was through the efforts of all sorts of people , tirelessly working on their tanks that reef tanks today have become a common thing and that anybody interested could form part of this global community with the love of reef animals , their splendor as its common theme .