As marine aquarium hobbyists, we can buy a lot of things to make our experience better and easier, but when it comes to long-term reefkeeping success, the “right stuff” doesn’t come from a store. In addition to a genuine love for marine life, the following 10 traits will serve you well on your journey to a thriving reef system:
1. Attention to detail
Reefkeeping, like flying an airplane, is basically a never-ending series of small corrections. You must be sufficiently detail-oriented to observe the very subtle changes or parameter shifts that can lead to major problems if left unaddressed, such as that first bubble algae vesicle or Aiptasia polyp, calcium and alkalinity levels just beginning to trend out of balance, or a fish that isn’t behaving quite right..
2. Willingness to learn
There’s a tremendous learning curve to this hobby just to grasp the basics, but the learning mustn’t end with the fundamentals. Successful reefkeepers continually absorb new information—from aquarium literature, trusted online sources, fellow hobbyists, etc.—so they can improve their husbandry techniques and better meet the needs of the animals in their care.
Of course, being open to learning also means making an effort to learn from your mistakes so you don’t repeat them over and over again at the expense of your livestock.
3. Being proactive, not reactive
Successful long-time reefkeepers have learned that with a little modest upfront effort to maintain proper, stable aquarium conditions, they can usually prevent intractable problems, such as cyanobacteria or hair algae outbreaks, from arising in the first place. Reacting to problems after they occur invariably results in much more aggravation, effort, and expense.
Ours is a culture fixated on immediate gratification, but unfortunately, every desirable aspect of reefkeeping takes a long time to materialize. It’s an old hobby adage that I’ve borrowed time and time again, but it bears repeating: “Only bad things happen quickly in the reef aquarium hobby.”
Here I’m referring not just to staying the course with reefkeeping in general, but also to sticking with proven husbandry methodologies long enough for them to pay dividends rather than constantly adopting and then abandoning different techniques with the changing tides of hobby opinion.
The persistence “coin” does have a flipside. That is, having the ability to recognize when your approach is not paying off or actually producing negative results and then being willing to change course and make sensible adjustments to your techniques.
7. Knowing your limits
Another key to long-term success is choosing livestock that is commensurate with your level of experience and expertise. For example, the average novice reefkeeper will be much more likely to stick with the hobby if he or she starts out with beginner-friendly soft corals and polyps rather than more demanding stony corals. Of course, as your knowledge grows, so too will the number and variety of species that might make appropriate choices.
A reef aquarium doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but it will require a significant cash outlay, even for a relatively small setup. Oftentimes, hobbyists meet the initial setup costs but then fail to account for ongoing expenses, such as synthetic sea salt mix, replacement light bulbs/tubes, calcium/alkalinity supplements, test kits, energy costs, etc. It’s the wise hobbyist who works these items into his/her household budget.
Few hobbies can humble participants like reefkeeping can. Every time I think I’ve got a really good handle on water quality management, livestock health and compatibility, irksome algae or pests, etc., some problem arises to put me in my place!
10. Love of the journey
Last but not least, successful hobbyists learn to love every step along the reefkeeping road—because there really is no destination. There’s no point at which you break the plane of the end zone, spike the football, and do a victory dance. Every reef system is by its very nature a work in progress. You have to enjoy the journey!