As the Rolling Stones once sang “Time waits for no one, he won’t wait for me”. With the passing of yet another long-time hobbyist, Albert Theil, recently it got me to thinking about time and its relationship to the hobby.
I thought about it in terms of a number of contexts such as how much time has passed since I got into the hobby and how seemingly quickly this occurred. I also thought about how over that time how many of my friends in the hobby had passed away or left the hobby for various reasons.
Sadly, a significant number have left both ways. I also thought about how much time I have spent and still spend on the hobby and how much of it was “wasted time”. And I also thought of how we measure time in the hobby by either how our corals have grown in our tanks or how many tanks we have or have upsized to.
And lastly I thought about how much time I spend enjoying my tanks or the tanks of others versus how much time I spend working on them, thinking or worrying about them or tinkering with them. So while losing another friend in the hobby is one way of measuring time, there are also a lot of other ways that time is an integral part of the hobby that I think I have not taken into account enough.
Whenever another friend leaves the hobby for whatever reason, I’m sure many of us think back to the times we spent with them and how much time we spent enjoying the hobby with them. I think part of why we enjoy the hobby so much is that like golf or poker we can also go back and share a particular moment or memory.
I think part of the long term enjoyment from this hobby at least for me comes from the time I’ve spent with my fellow reefers whether on a road trip, at a show or having people over to see my tanks or visiting other’s tanks. To me this has been some of the best time I have had in the hobby.
Luckily I have been in this hobby long enough that I already have a lifetime of memories to look back on and think about the times I shared with these friends. Some have been educational, while others have been confrontational, yes not everyone always agrees with one another, but looking back, all of those times have been enjoyable.
Hopefully as more and more people get into this hobby they will take the time to enjoy this aspect of the hobby and most importantly enjoy being with the other people who are in it. Unfortunately, in some respects the internet allows us to become insulated from many of the people that are in the hobby.
As I have written about, it is no longer necessary to go on road trips or listen to speakers to gain knowledge, but I think in not doing those things we miss out on spending quality time with others who share our passion. So even if you feel you don’t need to, I feel it is time well spent even if it’s just a trip with a couple of other hobbyist friends to shop that ends up being disappointing.
As I’m thinking back on the friends who have left the hobby as a measure of time, so too do I look back on all of the manufacturers who have come and gone during the time in the hobby as well. Companies selling everything from circular magnets to magnetically take the dirt from the water to filters that never need cleaning to died blood or bottles that smelled like decaying snails have all been in the hobby over time.
While I may lament how much time has passed since these “innovative” companies have left their mark, I do appreciate that time and the internet have seemingly reduced these numbers of snake oil salesmen, at least in terms of bad equipment. I still see them from time to time in a different context selling corals or frags, but even here time has taught us that trying to sell something that is not what it actually is will not allow a company to remain in business long.
One other way that I know I measure time in the hobby is by looking at how things have grown in my tank over time. As with my children, unless I took pictures I really did not realize they were growing until they were full-grown. So in this regard I am now taking more pictures so that I can see how my tank and the corals within it change over time.
Since I usually fill my tank with frags or small colonies it is easy to see how they grow over time since I now try to take at least some monthly pictures. From my own perspective I know seeing pictures of my own tank over time is kind of boring, but as with my kids it is now giving me a perspective of how corals grow over time as well as providing me with a template for which corals grow fast versus which grow slow and if a change is made in a tank how it affects the growth of different corals.
What is kind of ironic is that I actually have more photos of Sanjay’s tanks over time than I have of my own. As I said looking at my own tank daily gets boring, but seeing his tank once or twice a year, and recently every month, has made me realize how important taking photos is to see how things change over time.
If I had not done this I would not have realized how easy it is to see different rates of growth over time, even short periods of time as I did not regularly take photos of my tank. One thing I have found funny over the years is how most people perceive that corals grow at an infinitesimally slow rate over time.
I remember being on a dive boat in Fiji and the dive master telling us not to touch the corals as corals only grew at the rate of 1cm per year. Looking below the boat was a table coral that was at least 8 feet across. So I asked him” if that is the rate of growth that means that table coral is at least 250 years old”. He said yes. So I then said: “if that is the case there have been no heavy seas, predators, cyclones or anything else to disturb that coral for all of that time? How likely is that”?
I wasn’t trying to be a smart aleck, but that is how most people other than people in the hobby perceive the growth of corals to be over time. So in my opinion, being able to show how this is not the case and that corals grow fast is a good way to show non-reefers what we are doing is not harmful and that we can grow corals at least as fast as they grow on a reef.
In terms of time in the hobby, it is hard to believe that I have been keeping corals, it wasn’t called reefkeeping when I started, for now over 30 years. As the old axiom goes if I knew then what I know now, I still would have gotten into the hobby, but I probably would have done it as my career as it has always been my passion and with how many people are now in it I probably could have made a decent living at it and I would have enjoyed going to work every day.
But as the other cliché goes: “Hindsight is 20-20”, so I realize that having this as my hobby, despite how passionate I am about it has probably been what was meant to be. But looking back on my time in the hobby I realize I have spent a significant amount of time doing things in it.
While like everyone I have spent significant time planning, setting up, maintaining and worrying about my tanks. I have also made countless trips to speak, visit shops and other’s tanks, go to shows and even go on coral collecting trips. I have considered those all to be worthwhile, but I also now realize I have spent a significant amount of time doing those.
While we often lament how expensive this hobby has become, I think we often only look at it in terms of dollars spent. I also think we need to look at it in terms of how expensive it is in terms of time spent on it. If we figured how much we make per hour on our jobs and then figured out how many hours per week we spend on our tanks I think we would get a better idea of how expensive in terms of time this hobby can be.
I actually did an analysis of how many hours per week I spend in total on my six tanks, and the analysis was not pretty. On average, up until recently I spent about 10 hours per week managing, feeding, cleaning, testing and maintaining and just looking at all of these tanks. When I put in my hourly wage I realized that if I earned what I make per hour while doing this it would easily be paying my daughter’s tuition for college.
As a result of this analysis, I spent extra time, yeah I know the irony is not lost on me, planning and organizing and trying to streamline what I was doing, so I would not “waste” as much of my time as I was doing these things. I tried to organize things like all of the wires and electricals around my tanks so that when I needed to clean, maintain or turn something off it would not take 20 minutes just to find the proper wire to turn it off.
The flow was improved in every tank, so that there was less chance for detritus to settle out, so cleaning the tank including the front glass became a less frequent needed task. I also started using easier to use test kits and more monitors, so that testing was both easier and faster. Lastly, I consolidated three of the tanks onto the same sump and with the same pump so that they no longer had to be tested or maintained individually and when things needed to be cleaned it only required one pump to be cleaned and not three.
Better time management is one thing I think that would make everyone enjoy the hobby more. While there are tons of articles on the proper parameters and how to maintain them and what to feed or not feed the tank for maximum growth and coloration there is virtually nothing on how to manage your time so that you can enjoy your tank more. In my own experience, I tried to see how much less time would be required for a nano tank versus a 90-gallon tank that sat beside it.
Whether it is a character flaw of mine or simple stupidity they both required approximately the same amount of time to keep at the level I wanted them to be at. So obviously, size is not the chief arbiter of how much time we spend on our tanks. So what is it that makes us spend so much time on our tanks?
My next thoughts were that it is what I keep in my tanks that determines how much time I spend. Obviously sps corals are more temperamental than soft or lps corals and since I mainly kept tanks with sps corals maybe that is why I spent so much time on my tanks. In order to test this, I set up a tank that predominantly housed soft and lps corals to see if I could indeed spend less time working on and maintaining it.
After keeping track of the time spent this tank did indeed require less time than did any of my sps tanks. By my estimation I spent about 25% less time working on this tank than I did my comparable sps tanks. This tank required fewer and smaller water changes, no additives were added, little testing and the only calcium/alkalinity that was required came either through water changes or the addition of kalkwasser.
To be honest this tank is at least as enjoyable to sit back and watch as are any of my sps dominated tanks as it also houses a lot of fish. I should note that when I did this I kept a daily log of what I did and how much time I spent on each tank, but I did not include this log time when estimating the time spent. I noted this as it made me laugh as I was putting this together.
Also when I did the estimate of time spent on each type of tank I did not include what should be the most important time spent on each tank: sitting back watching enjoying it. Unfortunately, with how busy I often am and as I know many of you are I think we often forget about the main reason we set up these tanks in the first place: the enjoyment from taking the time to see a live coral exhibit in our homes or workplaces.
I know that especially with summer approaching and more outdoor activities occurring many of us do not take the time to sit back for any length of time and enjoy what is going on in our tanks. We rush to feed them, we reduce the time we have to maintain them and we barely take the time to just sit in a chair to observe them.
They become more like a trophy that we enjoy having won and have stuck on a shelf rather than one of the enjoyable relaxing aspects of our lives. So in this regard, at least for me I need to better organize my life so I can take the time to enjoy my tanks and this hobby. And in talking with a lot of my fellow hobbyists this seems to be the case for many of them as well.
To me, the time I have spent and still spend on the hobby is time well-spent. I also now realize that many of the best moments I have had are when I have taken the time to share this enjoyment with others. Whether it is explaining symbiosis between a clownfish and anemone to a room full of my children’s classmates or why a coral is an animal to a visitor passing this knowledge on to others is time well spent.
Since it is Mother’s Day weekend I suggest that all of my readers out there take the time and sit with your mother if you can in front of your tanks and take the time to talk with them about your hobby and why you are passionate about it. I try to do this every Mother’s Day, yeah I know I should do it more often, but at least this one day a year the glass is clean, the notice when it’s not, and I sit and tell my mom about each fish and coral in at least one of my tanks.
It may not seem like much of a gift, but my mom recently told me that she actually looks forward to me taking the time to tell her about this hobby that has taken up so much of my time over the years. So I hope all of you that can will take the time to do the same with your mothers this year. The Rolling Stones also sang that “Time is on my side, yes it is”. And in this regard, I think taking the time with your mother shows that it is.