Throughout the history of the saltwater and reef keeping hobby, many of the ‘thought leaders’ in the hobby shared their success and secrets about their tanks and what they were doing with their fellow hobbyists. Before the internet and social media were available, gurus such as Tom Frakes, Greg Scheimer, Dana Riddle, Julian Sprung, Charles Delbeek, Richard Harker, Martin Moe and John Burleson among others, shared this information via magazine articles, through talks at local clubs, or marine society meetings and via the reef club’s newsletters.
This information showed not only what they were doing, but also included many beautiful pictures of their tanks including the awesome fish and corals that they were keeping and growing, and also the equipment they used. As the hobby grew, these meetings grew in size and eventually grew into major events such as MACNA, IMAC, Reefapalooza, and ReefStock. In similar fashion several magazines cropped up catering to the rapidly growing hobby.
As a result, many of these individuals came to be known as “gurus” within the hobby and this was deservedly so, as many of these individuals shared the innovations and breakthroughs they discovered to us fellow hobbyists. At that time many of these successes were due to trial and error and often at a great expense to these hobbyists.
Unfortunately, as more individuals gained notoriety for their tanks and what they were publishing and doing, numerous individuals began copying what they were doing and began writing articles on various topics related to the hobby from a somewhat different perspective. Their articles and talks were either copycat ideas from these authors or were more theoretical in nature and often stressed a kind of “my way is the only way” approach to reef keeping and how they thought we should do things. This would have been all well and good, except some of these individuals either did not actually have actual reef tanks or the tanks they had would be considered unsuccessful.
Having watched these individuals give talks and write numerous articles, the thing that stands out most about all of them is that they virtually never showed a full picture of their tanks. If they did show any pictures it was of an individual fish or coral or tiny section of some tank or a shot from the ocean. Never was there a full blown tank shot showing their success. Sadly in those days they were rarely called on this and some of these individuals garnered a large number of followers.
Fortunately with the advent of the internet and the rapid dissemination of information that it brings, many of these individuals fell out of the limelight, although some still pop up from time to time. Unfortunately the internet has now produced a new group of similar individuals. These individuals fall into a couple of groups: the ‘serial poster’ and the “my way is the only way poster”.
The chronic poster has hundreds if not thousands of posts in various forums, and as a result is thought to be knowledgeable simply due to the huge number of posts they have made. Like their predecessors they never post a picture of their tank. When asked about this, the response is they don’t have a camera or they can never get a good shot, or they just broke down their tank etc. If they are really called out, they merely move to another thread and begin anew.
In a similar fashion the “my way” poster flames anyone who disagrees with how they do things or what they say, again without any visual support especially long term, that what they are doing is superior. Their power comes from acting like an alpha male and calling out all who anyone with a difference of opinion.
Neither of these individuals would be important, except that many of us rely on the internet to get much of our information and to keep up with the innovations in the hobby. Because of how we get this information, it is important that we get it from a reliable source. This may sound like common sense, but before I listen to what someone tells me about how to do something in the hobby, I always ask to see a picture of their tank, and preferably over time.
Much like online dating, anyone can say anything about themselves or their hobby, but unless you see a picture to justify the source, you are taking a risk that is not worth it. So before you listen to someone about the hobby, make sure that at the very least they have a tank and even better see that what they are doing is how you want your tank to look. Even simpler just ask how long they have been doing this or doing what they are promoting, but do it in a nice way, as most people in the hobby actually mean well.
This other article by Mark van der Wal is a great read to follow up: Reef Aquarium Demagogues