Recently, while going through the motions of an overdue water change in my 125-gallon FOWLR tank, I found myself reflecting upon this bizarre obsession of ours. I wondered why, given all the cost, effort, and frustration that go into setting up and maintaining a marine aquarium, anyone with his or her full faculties would actually pursue this hobby, let alone stick with it for years or even decades.
So, in my mind (I don’t think it was out loud this time), I ran through the various points that people like me usually write about when attempting to explain our fascination with keeping marine life:
A matter of aesthetics?
Perhaps it’s just the beauty of the thing, I mused. After all, there are few sights more visually appealing than a thriving coral reef in all its splendor. But then, if it were a simple matter of aesthetics, a painting, screensaver, or other artificial rendering of life on a coral reef should serve the same purpose with much less effort, right? That doesn’t explain why we feel compelled to keep a slice of the real thing in our homes.
A source of serenity?
Hardly! We may experience an emotion akin to serenity in those rare moments when all our livestock is healthy, everyone seems to be getting along nicely, all the water parameters are in the right ranges, the stars are otherwise aligned, and Neptune is on his throne, but let’s face it, on balance, marine aquariums are usually more a source of consternation than tranquility.
Certainly, keeping a marine aquarium can help satisfy the intellect of those with inquiring minds, but so can books, articles, blogs, lectures, documentaries, etc. For all intents and purposes, you can learn everything you ever wanted to know about marine life without getting your hands wet, so that can’t exactly be it either.
A teaching tool?
Of course, there’s also the educational aspect of a marine aquarium. What better way to teach our kids, both at home and in the classroom, about marine life and the interconnectedness of the natural world than to give them a glimpse of the real thing? But then couldn’t one impart a similar lesson with a planted terrarium or even a freshwater aquarium?
What is it then?
Clearly it isn’t one of the above that explains completely why we’re drawn to marine aquarium keeping. Even taken all together, these points don’t really get to the root of our obsession.
There must be something deeper, more primal. Something in our souls draws us to the coral reefs—perhaps as others are drawn to mountains, forests, or deserts—and compels us to at least attempt to recreate them in our glass or acrylic boxes.
Precisely what that “something” is I’m sure I don’t know. Perhaps you can explain it in the comment section below.