From time to time one of my friends will comment about how they find it amazing that I still seem to have the same level of excitement about my tanks and the hobby as I did when they first met me. Invariably, this leads to a discussion about why the hobby has remained fresh and exciting for many of us.
It actually is an interesting topic in that at least a few of us have now been doing for this for the past 25-30 years, with little interruption and with seemingly the same level of interest as we did when we started. It is funnier still when you think that for us the hobby has lasted longer than marriages, jobs or other interests do, so what is it about this hobby that keeps us dedicated and in it with the zeal of a teenager getting their first video game? And why have we remained in it, while many we have known have gotten out?
In my own case, keeping an aquarium has pretty much been a lifelong passion, as except for the first five years of my life, I have had an aquarium of one type or another going. Even in my college dorm I kept a small tank on my desk housing killifish. So there has always been something about this pastime that has drawn me and others to it.
Looking back, one of the things that comes to mind is that the hobby has always presented a challenge in one form or another. Once I mastered livebearers I moved on to angels and discus. Once those bred for me I moved on to rift lake cichlids and from there to saltwater fish and eventually reef tanks.
So from my point of view there has always been something more to move on to. When I talked with my friends who have been in the hobby since childhood, they too for the most part also had this same type of progression and also felt that they always felt that the hobby challenged them in one way or another.
When we started in saltwater, the challenge was just to keep the fish alive, there were no corals to speak of, because in the beginning no one was even doing this with great success. Once we moved in to keeping “mini-reefs”, and this may sound crazy now, but many of the “gurus” and directors of public aquaria told us we were nuts for trying to keep corals alive as it was impossible, even for them.
But fortunately we did not listen and accepted the challenge that there would be losses, but with time we would learn enough to be successful. Even once we showed that we could keep leather corals, mushrooms and Sinularia alive and started looking for the next challenge the naysayers did not stop. So we accepted the challenge and moved onto sps corals and over a relatively short period of time we conquered the keeping of Acropora, Montipora, Pocillipora and the other sps corals too.
So maybe for new hobbyists the degree of difficulty and hence the challenge is not there like it once was. However, there are now more new corals and fish available to challenge us than have ever been available before, and despite some touting how successful they are at doing this, it is still my opinion that while we do know more, we still actually know very little about our charges and why we lose them.
I say that from my own experience and from talking with people I respect, they all say they wish they knew why they lost a coral or a fish for seemingly no reason, and we all laugh when we hear someone say they never lose a coral. We laugh because we all know that we still lose things at least some of the time, and we still can’t always explain why. To many of us coral diseases and coral nutrition are still challenges we are trying understand.
And while the challenge is still there for many of us in this regard, that is only part of the way we keep it fresh. In my own case I have kept things fresh by doing a few things. First, and everyone who has done this for a while agrees, starting a new tank does keep the hobby exciting. So in this regard I have started 3 new tanks in the last year or so.
And to keep things really different, each tank is unique in some way from my past tanks. So to keep things interesting, I have set up a tank that is primarily lit by sunlight, a tank based on the Triton method, and a freshwater plant tank. Each of these tanks has offered challenges and successes so for me this has helped to keep things fresh and also allowed me to keep even more different fish, corals and plants than I could if I only had a single tank.
And truth be told, most of my old friends who have done this as long as me also have multiple tanks including some experimental tanks like mine. I realize that not everyone has the time, space or financial wherewithal to have multiple tanks to keep their interest going, so what are they to do? As I recently saw with Sanjay’s tank, they can be like him and basically redo their tank, or in his case redo a third of their tank at a time, in order to add more corals that he wants and to keep in order to keep his interest going.
As I have shown and he shows in his talks and pictures, he literally grows corals out of the water, but he hates to maintain them like a bonsai gardener with constant pruning. So rather than constantly cutting the branches and keeping things small and controlled he has decided to remove some of the larger coral colonies from his tank in six month increments. That is, he cuts back or removes one third of the corals from his tank every six months in order to keep things interesting.
On my last visit he had taken out from the right side of his tank a large lps coral that had grown to the size of a basketball as well as a brown gorgonian of similar size. In their place are frags of the colorful sps corals he had gotten at Reefapalooza. This followed what he did six months ago when in similar fashion he had restructured and removed corals from the left side of his tank.
By doing this re-aquascaping, he said it kept his tank new for him – and by adding new corals he had not had before his tank became more interesting again. He also thought it would be interesting to see what these corals looked like once they grew into large colonies, since he, like most of us, had only seen most of them as frags.
If you decide to do this I suggest you might talk with some of your nearby fellow reefers and share the wealth. That is, this seems like it would be the perfect opportunity to share your success with others by giving them or trading with them some of the large chunks of coral you want to take out of your tanks for some of theirs. In that way you can also help them to stay interested and excited too (but don’t forget to quarantine your corals!).
While we all agree that adding new corals or new fish does help to keep our level of excitement in the hobby going, so too does adding or changing some of the equipment we are using. To me, a new piece of equipment in the tank does help to keep my level of interest high.
In the past two years I have switched over from metal halides to Radion LEDs, added a gyre to my Tunze powerheads to improve and increase the flow in my tank and took off my old return pump and replaced it with a much more efficient DC Vectra pump. While I must admit making these changes took some time and effort, and were also done with a little bit of fear, the results have made it much easier for me to maintain my tanks.
And while challenges may help to keep our interest level high, making things easier and allowing us more time to simply sit back and enjoy our tanks may add enough enjoyment to keep us interested as well. In similar fashion I have also seen where other hobbyists added to their enjoyment simply by streamlining all of their equipment and making things easier. I wish I had the space, but for those that do, having a elegant clean set of equipment also helps to keep their interest from waning over time.
So there are quite a few things that can be done to keep our excitement for the hobby going. In addition to adding new tanks or equipment, I also found that going back and reading old books, journals and articles also reignited my interest in different aspects of my tanks and made me try a couple of things that had been presented in the past which I had forgotten.
It amazed me that even though I had read these articles and books when they came out how useful some of the information was, even though some of it was almost ten years old. I was also impressed by how detailed some of these articles were compared to the quick threads online.
Now I know most of us get much of our information from the net, but the degree of information I gleaned from these articles was to me far superior and really got me excited again about trying some new things. So doing this seemingly simple task may be yet another way to keep one’s interest going.
Lastly, as I have discussed in the past, one of the best ways I have found to stay excited about the hobby is by visiting other people’s tanks. Luckily one of the benefits I get when I give a talk or travel is that I try to visit other hobbyists and see their tanks.
When I do this I am always impressed by the tanks I see and more importantly I always learn something new that I want to try when I get home. This learning and trying new things is one of the key aspects to the hobby that I think keeps me excited about it more than anything else. So if you feel you are getting bored or that the hobby no longer produces the excitement it used to, hopefully some of the suggestions I made will get your juices flowing again.
I know I have only scratched the surface of some of the things that keep me excited about doing this. Hopefully some of you will add some additional suggestions and ideas as to what keeps you excited about doing this too.