“What is interesting to see is that as the reef hobby “grows up”, we are starting to see a great deal of specialization”
I was reflecting recently with Jake about one of my favorite topics: The current trends and state of art of the reef keeping hobby. As usual, these conversations encompass a little review of the cool tanks that we’ve seen, what we’re doing, Â new products, who’s influential in the hobby, etc. Your typical chat about the usual “reef raf”. Of course, since Jake recently re-energized my interest in freshwater systems, we talked about the FW end of the hobby and our recent efforts there. His application of freshwater principles to reefing and vice versa is really visonary! One point that we brought up in our discussion is the fact that the freshwater hobby is remarkable for the sheer diversity of ideas and areas of specialization. You just need to peruse the web a bit before you realize there is a special interest group for just about everything! Â Biotopes? Sure! Aquatic plants? Take your pic: South American, Asian, or one of the 50 or so Amazonian study groups! Cichlids? Old World, New World, Â Rift Lake (and which one, Tanganyika, Malawi, or Victoria). Livebearers? Are we talking Guppies, Platys, or Halfbeaks- or for that matter, any of the other dozen possible varieties? I can go on and on, but you get the picture. They’ve been at it for over 100 years (in reality, much longer than that, but we’ll just use the twentieth century as a line of demarkation) and the state of the art has changed and the hobby has expanded…slowly but surely.
What is interesting to me is that as the reef hobby “grows up”, we are starting to see some of the same kinds of specialization, but at a much more accelerated pace, For all practical purposes, the modern marine aquarium hobby arguably arose in 1986, when George-Smit’s landmark article series in FAMA documented the “wet dry” filter and the arising state of the art Â of “reef aquariums” in Europe. With that, the reef craze as we know it hit and never looked back. Until recently, however, modern reefkeeping could really be lumped into just a few areas of specialization: “SPS” (I cringe when I use that term), “LPS”, and “Softies”. Your system neatly (ok- maybe not so neatly) fit into one of those broad categories. This was true through the nineties and the early years of this decade, IMO.
However, that paradigm has changed. In recent years, we’ve witnessed an explosion of new animals, new equipment, new techniques, and a whole new attitude about reef keeping. Â The state of the art changes almost monthly! Just look here at Â Reef Builders for proof! If you talk to a lot of reefers today, they might tell you that they “specialize” in SPS, but their area of interest is “Monties”, or “Tabling Acros”. There are whole systems devoted to (rare) “LPS”, Â Micromusa, Acanthastrea, and Zoanthids. We see more interest in non-photosynthetic animals than ever before (And thanks to technology and husbandry breakthroughs-more success, too!). Â A whole subculture of reefers has arisen, devoted to breeding fishes, propagating seagrasses, creating marine biotope systems (yay!), “farming” corals, growing live foods, and dozens and dozens of other areas of specialization that I can’t even touch on in the scope of this piece. The point here is that we have arguably accomplished more in 25 or so years than has been done in other areas of the hobby in a century! The interest and energy of today’s reefers is beyond description. I know at least a half dozen or so reefers locally who have literally “modified” their homes to create state-of-the-art systems that make public aquariums envious, and know hundreds more across the country. It’s no longer unusual to hear of someone locally who “breeds Banggais” or “grows frags” (and for that matter, specializes in certain coral species). The whole culture of “frag swaps”, coral “farmers markets”, etc. is a wonderful reflection of just how far we’ve come. Just look at the skills and interests that you have acquired since you’ve been in the hobby! It’s amazing.
In the end, were are all just reefers, obsessed with the animals and aquariums that we love so much. But what is cool is that there are soo many talented (and essentially unknown) hobbyists out there doing great things- specializing-and advancing the state of the hobby as we know it. Just take a look around at the next hobby event you attend: Â That lady over there with the purple Mohawk, full-body tats, and multiple body piercings? Oh, she breeds Filefish! That Â 14 year-old-kid with the dripping wet bag- he’s an ubergeek at phytoplankton culture! The breakthroughs in this hobby come from the most unlikely- yet most appropriate place in the hobby- the day-to-day hardcore obsessed reef geeks like us! And that’s the best part of this hobby! Â So what kind of reefer are YOU? I don’t think it matters, as long as you’re a passionate one. Get out there and share your knowledge, stoke Â a fellow reefer with some free frags, help a newbie (or experienced hobbyist) get her system going. Because not only is it cool to do, but you just might be helping create the next great breakthrough in the hobby!