The marine reef aquarium gives the opportunity for aquarists to own and view something special. In the world of hobbies this must rate near the top if not at the top. Photography is an embracing hobby to its devotees, but produces copies of the real thing even if done artistically.
The captive reef is something else. For a start it is the real thing. I can hear some say ‘but it isn’t a real reef, they’re in the sea’. Correct, wild reefs are in the sea, but the captive reef is the real thing, a living multi-organism, accepting that the life forms present are not so diverse. It is a world in an aquarium, with Mother Nature the main architect and the aquarist her accomplice.
Accepting the restricted space available on the captive reef the aquarist can choose from so many different life species. There are fish of course, in different shapes and colours. Some may be algae eaters, some plankton eaters, some omnivores. With a little care the mix of colours and shapes is amazing. Some of the fish may be open water swimmers, some rock ‘sitters’, others take an anemone as home. Now there’s something amazing, fish living in an anemone safe from the stingers and protected by the same.
The word ‘reef’ conjures up thoughts not only of colourful fish but of corals. Once again there is a choice of type; some may choose soft corals and others hard types. Soft corals with their lovely pastel colours, the taller ones swaying in the seawater currents as the fish flit between them. Hard corals that are more mentally linked with the words ‘coral reef’, some with short thick branches, others with long ones depending on the area of the wild reef they would naturally inhabit. Clustered on the captive reef they look magnificent.
Not even mentioning some coral types that could be kept it goes on: hermit crabs wobbling along on their way, always looking for something to eat, comical and colourful, snails smoothly cruising, some with their snorkels extended, and both hermits and snails supplying entertainment and interest to the observer. Maybe there are some shrimps to be seen, their long white antennae waving.
If there is an anemone it could well have fish nestling in its tentacles as mentioned. If not, look closer; is there a tiny crab, beautiful patterns on its shell, nestling among the tentacles? There could be.
Look closely at the rocks, above and where possible below, there could be tiny fanworms to be seen, ready to shoot back into their small tubes. There could be much larger fanworms to be seen with their larger tubes standing out from the rocks, and their magnificent fan ‘heads’ on display gathering food. There may be growths of algae, perhaps of red or green or brown.
Look at the sand bed closely. There may be thin white worms waving up into the seawater and sweeping the area around them for food. Particularly after dark tiny crustaceans could be seen scurrying about on their urgent errands, if the aquarium is aged there could be hundreds. Plus there could be strange worms with bristles and other alien looking creatures.
It doesn’t end there – there is more life yet. Consider the colours on the insides of the aquarium, particularly the back. Where permitted encrusting algae grows with colours of pink, red, green and many hues of brown. Very natural and very wanted.
Sit and watch. The fish swim about as they would on the wild reef, wary but ready for that next morsel. The corals are extended and beautiful. All of this feeds the aquarist peace. As the lighting steps down towards ‘sunset’, the fish prepare for the night, moving closer to their night quarters and then disappearing into them. After dark, some corals close down to await the next day. With fish gone the night shift appears, these being the majority of the tiny crustaceans already mentioned. They are so busy, everything is so urgent. With the return of light, as the lighting steps up with ‘dawn’, the day shift starts to re-appear and the tiny nightlife once more hides.
Are we reef aquarists just lucky? Well, no, we’ve had a few ups and downs and spent some money. We’ve researched and done everything possible to ensure our charges are healthy and safe. We change some seawater regularly, test the seawater for quality, ensure lighting is adequate, check the support equipment, enjoy feeding the reef inhabitants and the like. So we’ve done and do our bit to assist Mother Nature, and it works.
But then again, are we lucky? Well, yes, we are.