If you’ve been “around the block” a few times in this hobby, you’ll often hear fellow hobbyists dispensing words of aquatic wisdom to anyone who needs it. You know, the usual stuff, like “you need to quarantine new animal purchases”, “Use common sense when stocking tanks”, Perform regular water changes”, etc. This stuff forms the “religion of our hobby: Core beliefs -or unshakable truths- which we pass on to all those who join our ranks. Fundamental, knowledge which we all feel that you need to have at least a working knowledge of to attain success in the hobby. It’s beautiful that most hobbyists are so willing to help out their fellow reef geeks by sharing this acquired wisdom- a true testimony to the quality of people in the aquatic world.
Interestingly enough, you’ll also see a large number of people out on the hobbyist message boards, websites, hobby conferences, and blogs, passing on “wisdom” that might be of dubious accuracy and origin- or, at the very least, information that may be generalized and passed on without experience in the given area. Classic examples are things like “You can’t keep that fish alive”, or “If you use that product, you’ll have this problem in your tank”. Often, the advice is dispensed with such authority and confidence that a typical hobbyist will not even question it.
The scary part is that some of this “advice” is dispensed by a casual hobbyist with limited-or even no– experience in the given area. Advice based on third-party experiences (“Don’t keep that animal. This guy up in New York had one of those and said that it nuked his tank”), sweeping generalizations “Deep sand beds will crash your tank”, anecdotal evidence (Garlic “cures” ich), and outright hearsay, (You can’t keep corals alive long term with LED’s”), can really do harm to the hobby, in my opinion, discouraging progression and the desire to try new things.
Yet, you see it all the time…I call this hobby practice the process of “regurgitation”, meaning the dispensing of advice in an authoritative manner without the personal experience or depth of knowledge to back it up. Although the intention might be good, the result is often that an interested person is chastised to the point where they are discouraged from testing their well-thought –out theory or new idea on how to do something. Getting flamed on message boards and basically pummeled into submission by “the establishment” is not good for the hobby.
Sure, it’s good advice to discourage the guy with a toddler to refrain from creating a 240 gallon 12” high touch tank full of venomous Lionfish in his living room. or the outright beginner from keeping a school of rare Anthias. That’s a no-brainer. No one wants to see a fellow hobbyist get hurt, fail, or kill helpless animals. What I’m referring to here is the outright dismissal of creative hobby thinking. I mean, how do we progress without a few persons making the decision to take the risk and try something seen by the general hobby establishment as “risky” or “impossible”? Just because “that’s the way everyone does it”, or “it’s always been done that way” does not mean that it’s right.
Think about it. It really wasn’t all that long ago that the concept of keeping reef-building stony corals was considered a pipe dream. Now, almost every weekend somewhere in the world you can find a local frag swap, with hobbyists of all experience levels trading, selling and sharing home-propagated corals once though to be near impossible to keep.
Remember when the idea of rearing a clutch of larval Clownfish was considered a very shaky undertaking at best? Not anymore. Seems like you can find a dedicated “basement breeder” doing great work almost everywhere you look. Not that the rearing of larval fishes is no big deal- it still excites us all-but the frequency with which it is done is amazing. Thanks to advances in equipment, food, husbandry techniques, and good old hobbyist tenacity and ingenuity, what was formerly thought impossible is almost routine.
My over-simplified point is that there is always someone who has to be the first to accomplish something great. Someone who can overlook the negativity and smack talk to fly in the face of convention while taking the road less traveled. This is how we progress. This is how we will continue to progress in the hobby. Where would we be if an intrepid hobbyist like Matt Pederson heeded the ceaseless admonitions not to mess around with the Orange Potted Filefish? Not only did Matt’s tenacity and courage help unlock the secrets of their husbandry, it lead to captive breeding and larval rearing of a species once thought to be near impossible to keep in captivity. And more important, it inspired a new generation of hobbyists to follow his lead, for the benefit of both the hobby and the animals that we cherish.
I’m not advocating the abandonment of reason and common sense. Everyone should not put down their laptops and rush out to buy a school of Moorish Idols, full grown Groupers, and Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasses for their 125 gallon reefs. What I AM pushing is that we (and by “we” I mean every one of us in the hobby) should encourage those who want to experiment and question conventional wisdom to follow their dreams. If someone has a plan- a theory, and some basic hobby experience, there is certainly nothing wrong with that. Yes, there is the sad fact that some animals might be lost in the process. It’s hard to reconcile that…and harder to stand by it when animals are dying. Yet, that may be the cost of progress.
The cost of not progressing might be far higher: The loss of countless species in the wild whose habitats are being destroyed, while those of us with some skills, dreams and respect for the animals sit by idly -watching them perish, failing to even attempt captive husbandry and propagation for fear of criticism and failure. Who knows what populations might soon only exist swimming in our tanks? Who knows what opportunities might be missed if we fail to persue our goals?
Think about that the next time you have the urge to shoot down someone’s idea to try a different approach. Then, think about the future of the hobby, the reefs, and mankind himself. Let’s continue to express concern if something seems irresponsible, and pass on our personal experiences, but let’s also make a concentrated effort to encourage those with a logical plan to persue it. And most of all, let’s continue to share.
Till next time,