Boo and Happy Halloween. I am not really much of a Halloween person, I am much more into Christmas, but I understand how some people really get into it. In fact, I recently learned that humans are such an overwhelmingly dominant species that we design activities so that we are frightened like prey, something I would not like to be.
I much prefer activities that make me laugh, rather than make me feel scared as to me there are enough things in the world that frighten me, so I do not have to conjure artificial means to be do so. In this regard, there are a number of aspects in the hobby that scare me.
No, they are not things that go bump in the night or cause chills to run down my spine, but they frighten me nonetheless. Some of them are no doubt due to my being “old school” when it comes to the hobby or maybe because like many my age I still believe that the past was better than the present. Regardless of the reasons, there are enough things going on that I do fear for the long term survival of my favorite hobby.
The first of these is my fear that the hobby is in trouble due to the continued demise of local fish stores. I wrote about this last year and my hope was that more of us would recognize this and help to keep the remaining stores in business.
However, in my travels I have continued to see stores that I have gone to for years either fail completely or to me at least look like they were headed down that path. When I questioned their owners they most blamed the internet. They said they had difficulty competing in terms of price or availability of products or they just could not keep up with technology.
Some even said that livestock, long the ace in the hole for a LFS, was no longer a big profit center for them. When I pressed as to why, they said that they could not sell sps colonies any more as everyone wanted frags, and that they could not offer the variety or colors that were available on the net.
To me this was quite sad and when I looked around their shops most did not offer any sps corals and what they did offer was mostly common beginners sps corals. What is curious is that this is similar to what I heard in Europe over the last couple of years and the tanks in the shops there also were for the most part devoid of sps corals as well.
All of this is scary to me in that for most of us, the LFS is where our interest in the hobby started. For me at least, I first fell in love with the saltwater side of the hobby when I saw the amazingly colored fish in a 55-gallon tank decorated with those ghastly white dead coral skeletons. That and seeing clownfish on tv in an anemone are what got me hooked, pun intended, on the hobby.
So I worry that once these shops are no longer here, what will induce the next generation to get into the hobby. Just as scary, how will those of us that are impulse buyers get our quick fix, considering that frag swaps are usually infrequent and getting new things on the internet usually takes at least two days for us to receive them?
It is also scary that these stores are failing or closing up despite there being more money in the hobby than ever and prices as high as they have ever been. So this begs the question: if the LFSs are not making the money who is? Even scarier though is the worry of how long can these prices be maintained before the bubble bursts?
I ask that scary question, because I cannot see how the current high prices for things, especially unique fish or corals can be maintained. To me at least, much of the cause for high prices, especially for corals that can be propagated, is a kind of Ponzi scheme. That is a coral is shown on the internet at as high a price as the market will bear.
A few people buy it at the high price, with the hopes of propagating it and then selling off propagated pieces at a slightly lower price, make back what they put in, and then over time the coral becomes more widely available and over time the price comes down. However, at present, because demand is so high for “rare named pieces” I do not see the price for these unique pieces dropping significantly.
While I understand capitalism and supply and demand and I will never tell anyone how to spend their money, to me it is scary in that these high prices for rare corals are also now raising the prices for common corals as well. This is because from what I’ve been told by some wholesalers is that the collectors now see the high prices that some of these corals are getting, so now in order for a wholesaler to get these rare pieces they also have to buy some of the common pieces as well, and at a higher price than used to be the case.
To me the worry is that these high prices are now getting so high that the barrier to entry for new hobbyists is getting high enough that it is keeping more new hobbyists from getting into the hobby. This may not be the case yet, but eventually the prices will get so high that few of us will be left in the hobby. Sadly, when this happens, it will also mean that the incredible array of fish and corals that we now see will also diminish as the collectors will not be making the money that they are now making.
However, this diminution in availability, for both fish and corals may arise long before the price bubble bursts due to the continued onslaught this hobby faces from environmentalists and their colleagues on the courts and in the legislatures. While I understand their goals of wanting to protect the reefs and all animal life for that matter, unfortunately, this hobby is an easy target as on an emotional level it makes sense that if we are taking fish and corals from the reefs we are undoubtedly doing significant harm to the reefs in the process.
However, as we all know this is not the case and it is actually quite the opposite. Sadly, because many of us are either lackadaisical about this threat or we do not know how to combat it, we let them continue to control the argument and diminish what is available to us.
The recent case in Hawaii is the current hot spot due to the legislature trying to stop the ornamental fisheries from collecting fish for the hobby, the governor then vetoing the legislation and then the courts finding that the collecting should be halted. However, for those that have been watching this drama unfold over the years it is easy to forget that this is just the latest salvo.
This continued long –term program to keep the hobby from eventually being able to collect anything, started over 20 years ago when the collecting of most kinds of invertebrates and any coral from Hawaii was banned. This ban then went on to include live rock.
This live rock ban then moved to Florida and the rest of the states and along with it a ban on the collecting of any any coral. Now that fish collecting is trying to be banned from Hawaii what will be next? My best guess is next will be banning the taking of ornamental fish from all US waters.
After that will come a ban on bringing in fish through Hawaii, where many Indo-Pacific fish fly through. If that ban works then they will try to ban bringing in any fish through California and then eventually everywhere. I know some of you will doubt that they will try this, but having seen how patient the foes of the hobby are I am confident that this is their goal and that they are willing to take their time in getting it done. So this is another thing that scares me about the hobby.
While high prices and legislation may eventually reduce the number of hobbyists or availability of fish and corals I am also scared by the lack of the interest I see in the next generation of hobbyists. Just as I no longer see playgrounds or baseball diamonds or basketball courts filled with kids, I also rarely see many kids in the fish stores or at shows or frag swaps.
While growing up, me and many of my friends had tanks of our own with our parents primarily acting as banks or observers and who mainly acted to encourage our interest. Now what I am at these venues I see mostly parents in the hobby, and they are either alone or if they have their kids, the kids are on their phone or tablet or gaming and show little if any interest in following their father’s interest.
I saw this with my own kids, despite my trying to get them into the hobby or at least have it capture a little of their interest, and I had 500 and 1200-gallon tanks full of fish and corals while they were growing up, the hobby could not compete with a Gameboy or a smartphone.
Considering how much technology is now available to this next generation, how will the hobby be able to capture their attention and keep itself going? To me this is a very scary thought.
While technology is vying for the attention of our kids, I am also scared that it also has the potential to take away some of the enjoyment for us as well. While I use some newer technology on my tanks, I have for the most part not allowed the technology to completely control everything on my tanks.
That is, I still do the boring the tasks of testing the water, doing water changes and monitoring the parameters of my tanks and logging the results on a regular basis. While I agree that being able to have technology do some of these mundane tasks may make maintaining a tank easier, my worry is what happens when this technology fails?
I use everything from tablets, to smartphones to smart watches in my day to day life and work and I have yet to use one that did not fail from time to time. So it scares me when I see tanks where just about every aspect that can be controlled or monitored via technology is with what will happen when that technology, which is not nearly as well-developed as the other consumer technology I mentioned fails? When a tank fails due to technological failure I’m guessing that this too will lead many to give up on the hobby.
Just as reliance on all this technology scares me, so too does the reliance most of us now have for getting all of our information about the hobby form the internet. I may seem like a hypocrite as I am saying that while I am writing on the internet, but this piece is an opinion piece and that is my opinion.
Where my fear comes from, is when I read pieces especially on different forums, some authors seem to feel that the information came from stone tablets and it should not be questioned. As a consequence, if any one disagrees with them they are immediately flamed. Even worse is that many of these pieces are written without the authors either showing their tanks or showing before and after shots of how what they did changed things.
Even today this hobby is still very much a hobby of trial and error, where many of the seemingly overnight successes having been achieved after many failures. Sadly, few people are willing to share these failures, which at least to me, would better validate how they achieved their success.
I must admit that I love seeing pictures of other’s tanks and their successes. As I see nicer and nicer tanks I can’t help but be in awe of what we have achieved in a relatively short time in this hobby. However, these photos also cause me some concern in that the tanks that many consider awesome or amazing are primarily limited to high end sps dominated tanks.
To me this is scary, in that it tends to make hobbyists think, and especially new hobbyists, that they will only have a tank that is considered successful or that they will be happy with if they have a tank full of the latest named Acroporas, Montiporas or other stony corals. Having kept just about every kind of tank and still maintaining a bunch of them I know that this is not true.
Each type of tank offers challenges as well as beauty in its own right and all of them bring me enjoyment. My nano tank full of zooanthids and lps corals is not only colorful and enjoyable to look at, but it is stocked with small fish that would disappear if they were in any of my large tanks.
My soft coral tank is also quite enjoyable and watching the soft corals sway in the current is relaxing and this is even more so, since I do not have to be quite as meticulous in keeping the tank’s parameters perfect. Even my frag tank, which is full of a mix of different corals is enjoyable despite it not being aquascaped and the corals being of all different types and sizes.
I worry that if newbies are pushed to try and emulate only these high end tanks, which do require a considerable amount of expertise and expense, it will lead to a lot of them failing and getting out of the hobby. So in my opinion we need to celebrate non-sps or non-traditional tanks just as much to show that beauty and enjoyment can be found in just about any type of tank we now keep.
I also feel some apprehension me when I see how belligerent hobbyists are getting towards one another, especially online, when to me at least the goal is to share information rather than using information to belittle one another. For most of my time in this hobby, we tended to appreciate the contributions that we each made and when someone had a difference of opinion it was not a reason to put them down and embarrass them, but rather it was an opportunity to discuss why their opinion or what they found differed from what we had seen or thought we knew.
Now when I read through threads of any length I often find myself wondering how any new information becomes available, in that when I see a different opinion offered it is often met by condescension and ridicule. There is still no perfect way to do this hobby, if there were we all would do it that way, so when a different way to do something is presented I view it as a way to generate discussion and potentially find a better way to do things.
I realize that when I was younger I often enjoyed the fight and battling with my peers, but even so I don’t think any of us were as mean as I see in some of the discussions about the hobby or equipment or husbandry that I see today. And again this scares me, as I fear that this kind of behavior will either lead to a lack of meaningful discussions or cuase some to leave the hobby.
Lastly, it scares me that it will be a combination of these factors and our complacency about them will lead to demise of the hobby over time. I know in my own case that from time to time I get complacent about my tanks. That is, I test the water less than I should or do fewer water changes or simply am not as obsessive about my tanks as I need to be, and this usually happens when my tanks are looking their best.
It is at these times that I start to take things for granted. When this happens the quality of my tanks definitely go down and then I lament that I should have kept my eye on the ball, so to speak. As a result, I have this same fear about the hobby in that I worry that our success, which is now at unprecedented levels, will lead to us letting these things occur and eventually bring the hobby down.
Having done this for a while has led to me being a somewhat constant worrier about my tanks and the hobby. Hopefully I am wrong and there is really is no reason for me to be scared and I hope that is the case. But if I am right, then I hope my raising some of these points will keep these things from happening to the point where they reduce our enjoyment of the hobby.