While my daughter Catherine was home for Spring break last week, I took her out shopping one day, and I am happy to report there is something more addicting than this hobby: shopping for a teenage girl. While we drove around, part of the deal was we would stop at a couple of local shops that were along the way.
Plus she actually enjoys going in to Aquaworld and Wet Pets as their staffs always make a big deal when she goes in with me as she has been visiting them with me since she was small. While there, I not only look over the livestock but I always seem to get into lively discussions about the hobby with the staff and the customers and that is always fun. After leaving the second shop she said something interesting to me. She said “You must really love the hobby”.
I asked why she said this. Her response was “I see you talk to friends and family all the. She then asked “what is it about the hobby that makes you love it”. After thinking about this time about a lot of things, but only when you talk about this do you really show passion”. I knew she was right and it got me to thinking about what it is about the hobby that makes me love it. It also made me curious as to what makes my fellow hobbyists love it as well?
I love a lot of things, like my dog, golf and the Steelers, but what is it that makes me, and us, love this hobby so much. It has to be more than just the colorful fish and corals, as we could just watch that on tv. So the first thing that came to mind is that because of this hobby I now have many friends that I have had for over 20 years, that I would not have were it not for this hobby.
I have been to their homes and they to mine, we have gone on road trips together, laughed at conferences together and shared lots of meals and adult beverages. But more than that, we have also shared in each other’s successes and failures and have learned from each other. We have not kept secrets from each other when something worked and have enjoyed each other’s triumphs.
I hope people getting into the hobby now can develop these same kinds of friendships but it won’t be the same as most now have at least some success right from the beginning, which was not the case for me and most of my friends. I think the many failures we suffered helped form the bonds that have lasted so long.
In addition to us sharing a lot of the same experiences together, which always helps in building friendships, this hobby has also been blessed in that many of the people who helped build it have always been accessible. Early gurus like Martin Moe, Tom Frakes, Terry Siegel, Charlie Veron, Helmut Debelius, the late Peter Wilkens and the incomparable Alf Nielsen when they came to conferences, were always willing to chat about what they were doing and what they thought and were genuinely interested in sharing their ideas and hearing from everyone.
Even though we weren’t perfect, as success came slowly through trial and error, having these greats talk to us helped make me come to love the hobby. I remember several nights spent drinking and laughing with the likes of Alf, Svein Fossa and other fellow hobbyists and acknowledging how little we actually knew and how steep the learning curve was. When I go to MACNA or Reefapalooza I still see this happening every night, so I hope this continues as one of the reasons why we love the hobby.
Fortunately today I still see the gurus in the hobby willing to talk with everyone. Whether it’s Sanjay explaining his latest work in lighting or technology or Julian being asked for the 1000th time “what is this”? They still seem just as excited about the hobby as when we all had hair.
Maybe it’s because even though they have been doing this for a long time they are still hobbyists at heart and thus still like to share their passion for the hobby, even if to some it is also now their life’s work. So how could you not love a hobby where everyone is still equal with everyone as despite how large the hobby has gotten everyone still talks with everyone else, there aren’t many prima donnas.
Everyone being equal with each other is one aspect of this hobby that makes it different from most and also may add to our love of it as well. I say that, as unlike most hobbies where once you are successful you pretty much know it, in this hobby anyone can have a tank totally crash overnight, or get electrocuted or stung, and as a result we all know that we can be humbled at any time. So maybe this constant fear and knowledge that no one is immune adds to the camaraderie that is one of the endearing aspects of the hobby.
And what else is unique is that if this occurs often times our fellow hobbyists will help us regroup by not only giving us support and insight as to what happened, but also often provide frags, and replacements to help us get back in the game. Again how can you not love a hobby that does that?
The uniqueness and ever changing aspect of this hobby is also probably one of the reasons so many of us love it. Having been in it since pretty much the start, it has been awe inspiring to look back and see how much change has really occurred. And while most of the changes have been positive, even when the changes did not bring any advantages to their use, they invariably taught us something that helped us down the road. Some of these changes include blasting our tanks with as much light as possible with little to no current to now where we can use less light and significant current and get better results.
Early tanks had incredible levels of nitrate and phosphate in them, which we then changed to tanks devoid of virtually any nutrients or food for the corals to now where we understand that corals need both nutrients and food for their long term success. Most people love to learn new things and with how much there is to learn about this hobby this aspect of it keeps it from becoming stale for a lot of us.
In addition to change always keeping this hobby fresh and adding to our love of it, another aspect that makes it unique and that keeps it exciting is that new creatures are constantly entering the hobby and as a result we need to learn the proper husbandry necessary to be successful with them. So there is always seemingly something new to learn.
There is virtually a sea creature for everyone or new ones for people who think they have everything. New corals of every color imaginable have been coming in waves for more than the past decade, so that just when you think you have seen everything a new coral that you must have to have comes in. The same can be said of fish with new varieties of wrasses, blennies, or anthias arriving quite frequently.
But this is just the start, in that if you don’t have room for a big tank you can now get beautiful small fish and small corals for a nano tank. If you don’t want a reef tank you can have tank bred seahorses, or cuttlefish that actually eat, or even a mantis shrimp. The level of knowledge that has been acquired in the last few years now allows us to keep almost everything alive for what would be its natural life span or longer in many instances.
This love of the hobby has also produced a cadre of hobbyists who no longer are satisfied with just keeping fish and corals alive but have dedicated themselves to finding out the secrets to breeding and raising many of the animals we want to keep. As a result, most clownfish are now commercially propagated as are many of the gobies, blennies, basslets and other small fish that we keep in our tanks.
This breeding success is also occurring more and more in commercial enterprises so that hopefully within the next few years, at least some of the fish that we now consider rare, endangered or that some legislative bodies want to stop us from harvesting will be raised within the hobby itself. I want to congratulate all of you that are working to improve our knowledge in breeding and raising all of these marine animals because as we all know it is for the most part a labor of love more than anything else.
Lastly, I think that one of the additional reasons that we love this hobby is that it is just fun to be able to tell and show people that we have live corals, like on a reef, in our homes. I know that when many people who aren’t in the hobby see our tanks their first response is “Wow you have Nemo and Dory in your tank”.
And while this is kind of deflating to many of us, as they miss entirely that they are surrounded by corals that many of us have grown out from frags that Jacques Cousteau himself would be proud of, it still gives us some satisfaction knowing what we did. Personally I know I also love the hobby as to me it allows me to escape from the stress of work and to relax. I can relax by just sitting in front of my tank and enjoying what I have done.
I even relax when I am working on the tank and whether I am doing a water change or fragging a coral or just cleaning a skimmer, when I am doing it I pretty much forget everything else that is going on in my life. I don’t know if it is the same for you, but I have to assume it is relaxing for most of us.
This hobby has now been around for over 3 decades and it popularity has grown immensely over that time. From when we started doing this to today I never would have believed that it would have grown so much nor that our understanding had also grown to the level it is at now. This hobby is more than just having colorful fish and sticks of various types in a glass box as evidenced by the level of passion that the people who are in it show.
As I wrote recently it is a hobby that can be addicting in some ways, but it is also a hobby that people truly love being in. And as Neil Young wrote “Yes only love can break your heart”. And sadly many of us have had our heart broken in it, but fortunately most of us have gotten back on the horse and tried again.
I think I know what makes me love this hobby, but I would also enjoy hearing from you as to why you love it? And yes you can also tell us how your heart was broken as well, except no flatworm eating acro stories?