While sitting around with Julian, Jake and Sanjay, an interesting discussion developed as to what traits make a great reefer. It was a lively debate as each of us had our own ideas of what traits really differentiate great reefers from others. We realized that we did not know of anyone who possessed all of the traits, but rather we knew a lot of successful individuals who possessed a lot of them.
The first and by far the most important personality trait we could think of, was patience. From the first time you mix salt in water and have to wait to add it to the tank lest it kill everything, you learn that patience is paramount in this hobby. Even the worst hobbyist knows they can’t walk into a store, grab a tank, a bag of salt and a pair of clownfish and have a successful tank.
We have to wait for the tank to cycle, we search for months or years some times for the perfect coral or fish to add to our tanks. Most amazing of all, we start a tank, fill it with tiny coral fragments and then wait seemingly forever for everything to grow in and fill the tank. This is the only hobby that we could think of, where this kind of patience is rewarded so handsomely, and every great reef hobbyist we knew of possessed patience.
Similarly, most of the great hobbyists we knew were all obsessive about their tanks; They watched, touched, cleaned, and fiddled with their tanks to some degree almost constantly in the hope of having their tank be successful. For these individuals, even the tiniest patch of algae needed to immediately be removed once it made an appearance. Corals were pruned as soon as their advancing branches came close to their neighbors.
For these obsessive hobbyists, cleaning in and around the tank is almost second nature and done on a regular basis, water testing too. As a result of this obsessive attention, there are rarely any major surprises in their tanks. Some might even consider them compulsive, but the success of their charges is of paramount importance so they continuously work on the fine details of their tanks to make ensure the long term survival of their tank.
Going hand in hand with being obsessive, these successful hobbyists are also meticulous. They know where every coral is in their tanks, even the tiniest of frags. They know when one has been blown off its perch and will spend hours trying to find and save it. This meticulousness allows them to simply look at their tank and know that everything is good or know when something is amiss.
They can look at a new coral or fish and know it is going to make it or that it is in trouble. There is no salt creep on these hobbyists’ tanks and their sump area or fish room are clean and as meticulously maintained as a surgery suite. These individuals also usually not only know the Latin names of their fish and corals but also the crazy trade name that they have been given.
All of these traits also tend to make the peers of these hobbyists consider them to be passionate. These individuals have a strong desire to be successful in the hobby. As a result they are, for the most part, willing to do whatever it takes to be successful. Some times this means staying up all night trying to nurse a fish back to health, or trying to reposition the live rock they started playing with right at bed time. Or it may mean driving a great distance to see a tank or get a fish or coral that they just have to see or have.
Along with this passion comes persistence. Most of these hobbyists have lost innumerable fish and corals, but they keep coming back striving to have a successful tank. Every successful hobbyist we could think of had at least one major crash or disease outbreak or other tragedy befall their tank. Despite this, we all knew these now successful hobbyists did not give up and tried again. We all discussed that success in the hobby rarely came without setbacks, but that the most successful hobbyists we knew did not let this keep them from being successful over the long term.
Part of the reason why we thought this persistence did payoff is that most of these successful hobbyists possessed a natural curiosity. Despite their failing at some point, they read or asked someone or somehow found out why they failed and used this failure to expand their knowledge and make their tank better.
This curiosity also leads to many of them not being satisfied with the status quo and as a result, many of them constantly experiment with something on their tanks. They try little things like tinkering with their lights, adding or not adding a trace element or food and seeing what the impact is. This natural curiosity has led to many of the incremental improvements in the hobby that many of us now take for granted.
One of the interesting traits that we came up with that many successful reefers have is a great sense of humor. How else can you explain why all of us have lost a prized fish or coral due to something stupid we did, and the successful hobbyists do not lose their minds over it? We have all learned that it is better to laugh at our mistakes rather than get angry or upset as we all know it is going to happen. We all shared the same story of having a prized fish jump through the smallest opening possible without explanation and when we shared the story we all laughed about it. And we all knew that almost every hobbyist we knew had a similar story.
Despite laughing at our stupid mistakes we also know that successful hobbyists are very conscientious. They truly care about every animal under their care. How many of us have found an animal that is wreacking havoc in our tanks, yet when we finally get it out we don’t destroy it, but we try to find it a good home?
We read about every bleaching event, tsunami and typhoon and are genuinely concerned about what effects they will have on the natural reefs. We understand that the reefs are in danger so we buy maricultured and aquacultured fish and corals so that our impact on the reefs is minimal and actually may be benefitting them by making them more valuable for the people who live there.
Being conscientious also makes most successful reefers be generous. They may give away some frags, but their generous nature really shows with the time they offer. They share their ideas and what they found that works with their fellow reefers. They try to teach their kids and their friends about the reefs and the animals that live on them. They spend countless hours trying to learn and when they find something valuable they share it with others. They have people to their homes to share in the enjoyment of the hobby. This generosity has greatly contributed to the unparalleled success which the hobby now has.
The last characteristic that we came up with that successful hobbyists have is that they are humble. Every hobbyist that is successful knows that due to an electrical malfunction or putting one wrong fish or coral in their tank or one other seemingly harmless act can lead to the rapid reversal of the success that they have had. As a result most successful reefers are humble about the success they have achieved. Knowing that all of us in the discussion have had failures and knowing that despite our best intentions this could happen again, made us realize how humbling this hobby can be. That led us to one final realization, that all of the successful hobbyists we know are imperfect. Which is probably not a bad characteristic to have in this hobby.