We all know that a successful marine aquarium doesn’t get that way all on its own. Nature has a very large part to play, and the aquarist needs to carry out ongoing maintenance.
Marine aquariums nowadays are generally successful. There are those that fail for one reason or another, sometimes because of a basic error by the aquarist such as an inadequate bio-filter. As said though, most are successful greatly helped by the amount of knowledge gained from experience that is available on the internet and in books. Science can tell us a lot but there is more to it than that – there needs to be integration between technology and Mother Nature. Skill if you like. All the gadgets that are available helps towards this, gadgets such as protein skimmers, calcium reactors, power heads and the like, not to mention the high quality dry salt mixes that are available now and have made such a difference.
In the early days marine aquarists weren’t so lucky, dry salt mixes were not available for a start. Aquarists could look up the suggested mixes and obtain the ingredients, what was produced was a brew very unlike natural seawater, with many parts missing. Protein skimmers and calcium reactors had not been invented, at least not for the fledgling marine hobby, so a lot of ingenuity was required. The actual ongoing seawater mix would be unknown – how for example could calcium be measured by a hobbyist? These early aquarists were the ones who kicked it all off though, maybe for the challenge.
The early aquarists couldn’t dream of keeping corals or shrimps, how they would gape in awe at a modern reef system! They kept fish only aquariums, which were decorated with dead coral and various base coverings. Fish were lost as a regular occurrence and it must have been a mystery and a nightmare. They wouldn’t know the fish were poisoning themselves – no bio-filtration! Longevity of the fish was perhaps assisted by seawater changes? Fish were also lost because of the dreaded ‘white spot’ or ‘velvet’, the parasitic diseases.
Looking for cleanliness which the lack of was thought to be a reason why fish didn’t live long, an invention eventually arrived called the undergravel filter. This was a real milestone as oxygen laden seawater moving through the substrate caused the creation of a bio-filter. The inventor of the undergravel filter, a man called Stratton if memory serves me correctly, didn’t believe that the change was anything to do with bacteria as eventually science advised, but continued to believe it was enhanced cleanliness that increased the health of the fish. He was correct in a way; fouling toxic ammonia and nitrite were being removed.
The next big jump was the arrival of the protein skimmer. A remaining scourge of the aquarist was the fish ‘wipeout’, when all fish were lost for some strange reason. The arrival of protein skimmers, quite crude and not very efficient at first, sorted that out.
So it has gone on until the present day. Now success is the normal outcome for an aquarist. Seawater quality is high, fish are healthy and corals, shrimps and all manner of reef life are being kept in good health.
So we can sit back and just gaze at our fish and/or corals. Certainly we can, and that’s one thing I do particularly after a maintenance period.
A successful aquarium has high seawater quality, good seawater movement and adequate lighting. So the livestock should feel at home. They no doubt do – as do uninvited guests!
The gardener loves the display that has been created, apart from those weeds that keep popping up and spreading if allowed.
The marine aquarium is the same. Now that conditions are so good all manner of pests can arrive, perhaps with live rock or coral rock. Aiptasia (aaagh! I hear the cry!). Sailor’s Eyeballs too. These pests if not controlled will spread alarmingly, as will red flatworms. Some flatworms can also attack corals. Then there are nudibranchs that could be imported on the coral rock that their target prey is on. Not to mention some snails. There are more.
So the modern marine aquarium is becoming more natural to the livestock it holds. Because of this there is greatly increased success in livestock health and longevity. It follows that the captive reef in its modern splendor could become home to unwanted life too.
The problem, if it can be called that, is that the captive reef will never be able to hold the diversity of life that the wild reef can. Some of that diversity of life is predatory, and it predates on the pests that we battle with. There is a balance on the wild reef that we aquarists will not be able to match.
So the aquarist has to become the predator. He or she has to spend a little time attacking the pests so that they don’t get out of control. It can be a pain but, like the gardener, it’s worth it for the sake of everything else.
All that is required is vigilance and that is part of good husbandry anyway. If the pests are kept under control which needs a little extra attention, it is a small price to pay for the rewards.