Marine aquarists have to make a decision before the planning of an aquarium system even begins – is it to be a fish only aquarium or a reef aquarium. For the most part the desire is for a captive reef.
Choosing a captive reef system is entirely understandable. What could be more challenging and exciting than with both the construction and ongoing life of a captive reef? Just viewing some of the reef photographs on the internet is enough to sway the choice. There is a cost, however.
The fish only system may be chosen because it costs less to set up (there is actually not a great deal in it, it is the reef lighting and live rock that increases the cost. If a fish only with live rock – FOWLR – is chosen the cost difference shrinks). The great advantage is that, provided the fish stocked are compatible and sized to the aquarium dimensions, there is a great variety of fish available.
That is the cost of choosing a reef system, the fish. For a start, a reef system cannot hold as many fish as a fish only, because of concerns for water quality. In addition, many of the fish that would be suitable for a fish only system are not suited to the captive reef, simply because they are not reef compatible. Fancy seeing a prized coral being munched by a butterfly fish!
Most aquarists have one or the other of the two systems. There are some lucky ones who have both. What a wonderful display, a reef system alongside a fish only one. All the interest of the reef and fish types that really attract the eye – larger angels and butterflies for example.
The next thought is, let’s combine the systems and run them in a loop. What an idea! Hang on, no it isn’t. The water quality must be high in the reef aquarium, the fish only water may put downward pressure on it. Nevertheless, if there is the space it can be done, without interconnection, with two individual (matching?) aquariums. If there is the space for a sump it can be attached to the reef system. If plenty of space the fish only can also have a sump. Wow! What a thought.
Of course, cost becomes a definite major consideration if there is the space in the first place. With two systems, the aquarist has increased routine maintenance including water changes. This would have to be acceptable.
I can see it though. Marvellous – everything an aquarist could wish for. Ah well, most of us just have the one system. Complaining? Me? No, I look at my reef and I’m satisfied.