As Neil Young sang “It’s better to burn out, than it is to rust, cause rust never sleeps”, is applicable to this hobby in a number of ways. First, as anyone who has had a tank for a while knows, saltwater generates more rust than just about anything else and second this hobby causes a lot of us to burn out on it over time.
I have now been keeping reef tanks for over 33 years, so I think I have a pretty good perspective on getting burned out and how to prevent or at least reduce the likelihood of it happening. The genesis for this article came from my talking with one of my long-time friends in the hobby and his admitting to me that right now he is a little burned out on the hobby.
What is curious is that his tank is as healthy and successful as it has ever been so I did not completely understand why he was feeling this way. But after coming home and talking with a couple of my other friends who have been doing this for a long time, I think I started to understand his feelings at least a little better.
As I said, at first I did not understand why he said he was burned out and kind of losing interest because his tank was so successful, as to me at least, this did not make sense. But then after thinking about this hobby and the things that makes it interesting and addicting I began to comprehend why he might feel this way.
His success has taken away one of the “fun” aspects of the hobby: it can be so challenging. Since he was no longer being challenged to the degree he once was, he was starting to feel burned out, or at least not as excited as he once was. At times I have shared this sentiment, but then I screw up and kill off something, so I jokingly told him he needed to do this to feel challenged again, he simply had gotten too good at this. While I said this in jest, I think in part it is true, we all need to be challenged, and not by doing dumb stuff, to remain excited about this hobby over the long haul.
That then raises the question: how we we keep being challenged by this hobby. I can only speak from my own experience and what I have seen others do to keep excited. One of the main ways I have done this is by having more or bigger tanks. Currently I have 5 reef tanks of various sorts. These include my 300-gallon sps dominated tank, a 90 gallon frag tank, a 26-gallon zooanthid nano tank, a 120-gallon Elos tank which is also sps dominated but is being filled with frags and small colonies grown out from frags exclusively and a 90-gallon soft coral dominated tank that uses natural sunlight as its main source of light.
So as you can see, one way to keep excited is by having different tanks. I have also kept my interest going over the years by having bigger and bigger tanks. My first reef tank was started in what then was considered “large” 55-gallon tank. Or as I like to refer to it, the “death reef” tank. I then got smarter and went to a 120, followed by a 240, followed by a 560 and then to top it off I build a 1200-gallon tank myself. Each of these tanks were up for approximately 5 years or so, so I am guessing that if most of you are like me, our attention span for keeping a tank run about this long.
So that then makes me wonder how other than by adding more tanks or eventually making your pool into a reef tank, can we keep from getting burned out or bored. One of the other ways I am now trying to keep myself excited about doing this is by trying to keep the more difficult fish and animals that have always been considered impossible to keep. I have also considered most of these fish and animals to be some of the most beautiful and interesting in the hobby, so that is an added benefit.
The first of these that I am trying to keep is a feather star (Crinoid). I decided to try keeping this beautiful animal after seeing it being done at the Denver Aquarium. There Zack Barnes had been keeping several alive for 6 months by feeding them a formula he had come up with multiple times per day. I readily admit that 6 months is not a long time, but when I saw them there they were not only not losing arms, but were actually growing, so I was pretty sure he was on to something.
Using his formula I have been able to keep two of them for now going on three months. The only thing different that I am doing is that instead of the generalized target feeding that he is doing I am feeding them directly by putting a plastic cup around them when I feed. This has reduced the amount of waste in the tank when I can do it. I say when as they are not always in a position where this can be done easily so when they can’t be fed this way I try to feed them by doing the usual basting them with food.
I also try to do this two or three time per day and also usually when the lights are off as that is when they seem to be in more of a feeding position. I would love to say I am having incredible success, but they are still alive after 4 months and after the initial phase where they were dropping arms this no longer is the case and at least to me I think I see regeneration on the spots where they broke off. But until I have success for at least a year I am not going to say more.
In addition to these, I am continuing to experiment on new foods for a Red Sea Regal angel as well as a Moorish Idol. The angel is difficult as at times for some unknown reason he stops eating and gets thin. When this happens I have needed to add live rock full of sponges for him to eat. Needless to say this is not an easy way to go so I am trying to wean him to other foods.
In this regard I have found oysters and mussels on the half shell will work. The only problem is is that he is the least aggressive eater in the tank so he often misses out. So to remedy this, I have discovered where he sleeps so I put the mollusks near his lair at night so when he wakes up he is first to notice this food. This seems to be working well so I am happy with this new way of getting him back to eating.
Keeping a Moorish Idol log-term has been more problematic as I have gotten most of them to eat, but even when they have been eating and fat I have had a couple perish for seemingly no reason. On the last one I did a necropsy and found that its gut was full of worms in addition to food. So my guess is he starved to death despite eating due to the worms in his gut consuming most of the food. So for the next Idol I get I plan on deworming it once I get it feeding to see if this leads to better long-term success.
Some individuals have taken this hard to keep fish challenge even further to stay interested by now trying to keep coral polyp eating fish in the sps systems. Orange spotted filefish and even some coral eating butterflyfish are now being shown in tanks where the sps corals are thriving. The opinion of these owners is that while housing these fish in their tanks is a bit dicey, so far it has not caused the demise of many colonies as the fish tend not to only pick at one colony so as long as multiple healthy colonies are present both fish and corals seem to be fine.
I will however note one caveat, the individuals doing this also report that these fish were eating things other than sps polyps before they were introduced to the tank and these owners were constantly looking for alternative foods for these fish, lest they suddenly go a feeding binge and decimate the corals. I look forward to eventually trying this in the future.
In addition to trying to keep hard to keep fish and animals some individuals have tried to keep from getting burned out by attempting to breed some of their charges. Having bred a few fish over the years I have to admit that getting any fish to spawn and then being able to raise the fry to a reasonable size does keep one captivated. While it does require time and effort, being the first to breed something new, which has been one of the hallmarks of this hobby, can keep one excited long-term as there are still so many fish that have never been bred successfully. So this is yet another way to stay excited about the hobby.
Despite the above listed ways to stay interested and excited these are not for everyone, and hobby fatigue can occur for a number of other reasons. As we all know this hobby has gotten considerably more expensive over the last decade so this can not be discounted as a possible reason why one can get burned out on the hobby. If you are constantly dumping money into a tank or tanks it can wear you out.
Over the years I have spent a tidy some, but like every other hobby I have I know any kind of entertaining enterprise or hobby costs money. So what I have tried to do is to set aside a budget and live within it. I have also come to realize that I do not need to have the most expensive fish or coral in order to enjoy the hobby. In the evening when I have the chance to relax and look at my tanks it is just as relaxing to look at the relatively inexpensive soft coral tank as it is the sps tank filled with rare frags.
In fact, to most non-hobbyists, the soft coral tank is more relaxing as in it the corals sway too and fro in the current so it is almost hypnotizing. So if you already are getting burned out due to the expense so might consider switching over to a soft coral tank.
Just as the expense can be a factor in burning one out, so too can the amount of time you can spend on the hobby.
To me at least, I can spend as much free time as I have working on my tanks doing maintenance or testing or what ever and I seemingly never get anything done. So as with money, one of the ways I have tried to minimize my getting burned out due to spending too much time on the tanks is to make things simple to do while at the same time budgeting my time.
That is I try to do all of the small things with regularity and this in turn reduces the likelihood that I will have to spend an entire day having to do a major project. So I now test my tanks on different days so it only takes 15 minutes rather than doing them all on the same day and taking two hours. Maintenance is done in the same way as are water changes and general tinkering. I also no longer start projects late at night or without proper planning as invariably this leads to massive time being spent and wasted that could have been saved had proper planning been done.
I know that most of us enjoy spending this time on our tanks, but unfortunately spending what is considered excessive time on a tank often leads to another source for hobby burn out: lack of support from family and spouse. If you are constantly spending time on the hobby whether it is working on a tank, or going to a show or being online or even watching “Tanked”, over time it can cause resentment from your family and spouse.
Having gone through a divorce where my ex said my building and setting up my 1200-gallon tank was the last straw, I can attest that lack of family support can cause hobby burnout. No one wants to be called out or criticized because they spend too much time on what should be a fun hobby. So to try and reduce the likelihood of this being a source for burnout, I have found it best to include your spouse and family in this activity. Take them with you when you go to a store or a show.
Ask for their opinion on what would look good when you aquascape or what fish or corals they would like to see you add. And most importantly don’t have them feel like you are neglecting them in any way when you spend time or money on the hobby. Also if you are smart you will try to have you spouse make friends with another “reef tank widow” so they can commiserate with one another. Just as our having friends in the hobby makes this more fun, so too will it for them when they have someone to talk with. Just make sure they aren’t looking to get divorced before you introduce them.
This has been my main hobby for a long time for many reasons. As I have discussed in the past, it can be addicting for many reasons, but over time this addiction can also lead to one getting burned out. While people will always leave the hobby for various reasons, one of which should not be because they got too successful and as a result got bored.
There are still countless ways and reasons to be excited about the hobby, and if you are getting burned out hopefully I provided some ideas to lessen this from occurring.