As you navigate the kind of muddy waters of “New-to-Reef-Aquariums-Land”, you’re bombarded by tons of different messages about what you need, what you don’t need, what you SHOULD do, what you SHOULD NOT do…it’s a very noisy world.
So, here I come, adding a bit to the noise for the purpose of giving you my two cents worth on a few things!
You’ve made it this far…you’re on the “final approach” to actually pulling the trigger on your first reef tank…Now it’s time to open up the wallet, right? And the good news is that you just saw a forum post about a guy who runs his tank without all of the expensive gadgets that everyone else does…Like, no protein skimmer! And man, his tank is just killing it, right? You totally want to run your tank like he does!
Once again, you need to separate reality from well…reality without all of the crucial data…
Okay, so this guy runs a 60-gallon mixed reef tank runs without a protein skimmer, and has 64 different corals and fish in there, and his tank is “Tank of the Week” on some forum somewhere. His tank looks amazing. A blaze of colorful frags and fish…And he never used a protein skimmer!
Now, that’s cool…a tank powered largely by Mother Nature, with a little intervention from the hobbyist…And it seems great! Think of all the money you can save by not purchasing an expensive protein skimmer and dealing with all of the effort required to maintain it!
Not so fast.
See, there’s always a catch. Sure, you can run a reef tank without a skimmer. Yup. However, you’ve got to compensate for not having that first line of defense…and what do you think the “first line of defense” consists of? Yep…other nutrient control and export mechanisms, mainly water changes, regular use of chemical filtration media, perhaps a refugium, definitely stepped-up husbandry, and more water changes.
I mean, even with a protein skimmer in place, you still need to make the effort to conduct water changes and incorporate other methods of nutrient control and export into your aquarium and your husbandry routine. There’s just no escaping it. Your “reef” resides in a glass or acrylic box that requires inputs and export from outside…in other words- YOU. It’s simply not reality to think that all there is to it is carefully stocking and feeding your tank, maybe performing an occasional water change, and that’s it. The “filter” or “the bacteria” will do the rest… you’ve heard that before, right?
It’s just as unrealistic as the marketing copy you read that promises “no more water changes” or whatever if you use this piece of gear or add this liquid to your reef. Yes, there are two sides to every coin. And we’re just using the protein skimmer as one example here. There are many different applicable items and practices.
I’ve always adopted the approach of equipping my reef tank with gear which I feel provides benefits and becomes part of a multi-pronged approach to maintaining my system. In other words, a very “holistic” sort of approach: The right sized tank, the correct sump or filter, a protein skimmer, basic chemical filtration media, a calcium reactor or multi-part dosing regimen, if required. In other words, equipping your tank and managing it in a way that provides “layers” of benefits, protection, and some redundancies.
Take away a critical piece of nutrient export equipment like a protein skimmer, and you have to step it up somewhere else. Kind of like that table at your favorite restaurant that wobbles, right? It will keep wobbling until the server puts something under the short leg to compensate. In a reef setting, this analogy, although perhaps a bit unorthodox- is perfect! Everything is dependent upon everything else, and you need to compensate in your equipment and technique of something is lacking.
So, yeah the skimmerless “Tank of the Week” runs well…because the owner does other things to compensate for not having a skimmer. It’s that binary.
There is always someone who seem to be doing things contrary to what is considered “best practices” for reefkeeping- and I commend that. Pushing the envelope and questioning the status quo is cool. However, you need to be able to ascertain if equipping or managing your reef some alternative way makes sense for YOU- and if YOU are willing to compensate. Look behind the initial shocking headline and think about it for a moment.
Do you want to start your first reef tank partially outfitted?
Didn’t think so.
Reality check. This piece happens to be appearing in a blog which reviews lots of sexy aquarium gear. Trust me, although it might look like a thinly veiled plot to conspire with the aquarium product manufacturers in order for them to sell you more stuff, it’s not. Believe me. It’s about making the right decisions to equip your first reef.
It’s about not skimping on essentials just “because it’d be cool to run it that way..”
I’m notoriously “gear challenged”, and am not the kind of reefer that HAS to have an electronic controller and monitor looking over every function of my tank, or who needs every sort of reactor to do the job. Nope…that’s a different sort of “extreme”, if you will. Some people just love lots of tech. I’m not that guy. I respect it. Love seeing what it does, but you won’t find me shirking a siphon hose for an automatic water changing system. The time it “saves” is not that big a deal to me. Part of the fun in my opinion, is being involved with my tank; getting my hands wet. Towels are part of my life. I have enough gear to provide a “supporting role”’ to the expenditures of effort which Im willing to make, because that effort is just part of the hobby to me. Just as programming a controller is to someone else.
If you love gear, gear it up! If you hate gear, grab siphon hose and make a lot of saltwater. There is no “right” or “wrong” here- but it’s important to consider the realities of both camps, and plant yourself where you feel comfortable- likely somewhere in the middle, but possibly not! Just understand that tradeoffs and compensations must be made.
Part of life. Part of reefkeeping.
Simple as that.
Ponder that thought the next time you get that table at your fave restaurant with the uneven leg!
Stay inquisitive. Stay enthusiastic. Stay skeptical.
And Stay Wet.