So, you’re ready to set up your first reef tank! You’ve seen all the cool pictures, read all of the tank build threads on the popular forums, and drooled over all of the awesome corals that are available…Yeah, you’re really ready to go!
But, not so fast.
As you know, a reef aquarium isn’t as easy as just throwing some stuff into a tank and BLAM- “Tank of the Month.” It requires some things out of you before you ever even get to the “Whoa, check out the Pulsing Xenia!” phase…
Yeah, I’m not trying to be a “buzzkill” here, but you need to prepare yourself mentally as much as you do technically and well- economically…
Trust me. I know this. Having been in the reef aquarium world many decades (let’s just say I actually have the FAMA magazine when the whole “Mini-reef” concept was unveiled to North American hobbyists.) I’ve actually seen a bunch of this stuff from the beginning. I’ve personally killed more fish and corals than you hopefully ever will…most of them because I disregarded the very advice I’m going to give you right now.
A reef tank doesn’t just require some technical knowledge. It requires an attitude. An adoption of a mindset of open-mindedness, diligence, and above all, patience. It’s so easy to look at all of those tanks you see here and elsewhere and just want to get from “Point A” to…there– like, right away.
Guess what? As you’ve probably surmised, you can’t. And that’s good. Embrace that idea and don’t let it go.
It takes time. And in between, there’s algae outbreaks, that pesky nitrogen cycle, lousy advice from “them”, pump failures, water spills, protein skimmer adjustments, photoshopped corals, light timer programming, and at least 50 other equally frustrating things- before you get “there.”
Right now, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Really? This guy is the human equivalent of valium and tequila….What a downer. Reef stuff is supposed to be FUN!”
Well, I should say, it is- IF you have the right attitude. If you understand that everything we do in reef keeping is a part of the process. And the process- the journey– is every bit as enjoyable as the destination, and perhaps way more important. You can’t rush it. Sorry. I don’t make this stuff up. “Sugar-coating” it and telling you it’s all flowers and unicorns only sets you up for real disappointment when stuff goes wrong. I’m a realist.
It’s a process.
You can try a few “tricks”; take a few “shortcuts” along the way…but some carry risk and consequences if stuff goes wrong. Going into this thing-this crack at your first reef tank- isn’t super hard. However, it can test your patience in ways few other areas of the aquarium hobby can. You’ll get away with some errors in judgement; some bad decisions…for a while, then they’ll bite you on the rear. I’m not going to tell you otherwise, because that’s not what you need to hear. You’re dealing with a miniature version of what is the most stable, yet dynamic environment on earth. There’s a lot going on. A lot that can go wrong. Especially if you compound it by trying to “cheat” a bit.
The good news is that you can always learn from every mistake- every error in judgement…every rung on the ladder. And you can roll with stuff.
Deal with it. You’re going to get a nasty algae outbreak. You’re going to spill saltwater, misread your refractometer. You’re human.
That’s your strength, if you let it be.
So why not enjoy the hobby the way only a human can? By deploying massive amounts of patience, enthusiasm, and humility. Let yourself savor where you are in the process, even if it’s staring into an algae-filled rock pile. Embrace it. Know that the tank full of algae is that way for a reason. Find out what the reason is. Take the appropriate action to eliminate it. Rinse and repeat.
Enjoy the experiences. Every single one of them. And share them with your friends. It’s more fun that way, trust me. Battle scars are cool. Learn to love this stuff. Protein skimmer effluent could smell a lot worse, actually.
That’s’s the hobby. It’s what you sign up for when you see that sexy reef tank on that forum and say to yourself, “I want THAT!
It’s a process.
Before the tank is purchased. Before the equipment is set up. Before a single drop of saltwater is mixed, the process begins. And it never ends, hopefully.
Stay engaged. Stay excited. Stay patient. Stay with it.
And Stay Wet.