There surely is little argument, if any, that a successful marine display aquarium is really eye-catching. That must be one of the major reasons or the reason that this hobby has grown so large and is still expanding. The size of the hobby of course generates manufacturer’s interest – where there are likely to be reasonably large numbers of sales there is profit to be made. Competition ensures that manufacturers don’t sit on their laurels: they innovate and attempt to make their product more advanced and efficient, and therefore more attractive to the hobbyist than the products of others.
Novice marine aquarists have an easier time of it nowadays. Though there is quite a lot of research to be done with equipment and stocking, the information is all easily available both in books and on the internet. The novice has a really good chance of success.
Experienced aquarists know their aquarium system inside out. All the electric motors on pumps hum quietly away day in and day out, but if this ‘music’ should change then the aquarist’s ears prick up, what’s going on? Maybe there’s a pump intake blocked, or a malfunctioning device. Matters are corrected without much delay. The livestock are healthy and settled and the reef very attractive. The price paid is ongoing sensible routine maintenance. Some experienced aquarists delve into coral propagation, and could even show a little interest in fish breeding.
Then there is the very advanced aquarist. All the routine maintenance is done as a matter of course. The display is truly stunning: a captive reef that is a magnet to anyone’s eyes, aquarist or not. It goes without saying that they know their system inside out. The very advanced aquarist has two ways to go: either just enjoy the success of their aquarium or delve deeper. Some may seriously start to propagate corals, using a specific aquarium designed for the purpose. They produce the usual corals to assist the local retailer and themselves, but may also try more difficult or very difficult corals, in the hope of success. Keeping notes will permit the spread of ‘the word’ if success is found. There may be attempts to breed fish. Success will be found with the more ‘easy’ species such as clowns, and attempts, hopefully successful, could be made with more difficult fish that others have bred successfully.
There are few aquarists that fall into this area – the pioneer aquarist. These are the ones who have progressed through the stages above and are digging deep into the technology and nature of the marine aquarium. They are maintaining a beautiful display and at the same time experimenting carefully to see if anything could be better, not necessarily more beautiful but more natural. A notebook is in constant use. Is the protein skimmer taking food (dissolved organics) away from corals? Let’s try and vary the ‘on’ period and note the result. Is the DSB (deep sand bed) deep enough or too deep? With lengthy test periods the depth is altered. Is there a way to automate feeding to try and create a more natural feeding cycle? Is electricity being wasted – can the lighting period be reduced and if so, by how much? Could a different filter system be introduced into the system which is more natural and would support life or cleanliness or both more effectively than a canister filter? So it goes on.
It may be that the pioneer aquarist is breeding, or attempting to breed fish. Success with clowns has been obtained and, again with notebook available, other fish that are currently only available from the wild reef are being tried. Some fish will never be captive bred, but there are others that will. In addition there could well be a coral propagation unit in use.
The pioneer aquarist is more likely to have a multi-unit system. The basic multi-unit system is the display aquarium and the sump, now commonly used. The very advanced system may have a sump, plus a coral propagation unit. There may also be a separate fish breeding unit. There may also be additional sump-like connections to the display aquarium. One may be blacked out completely to permit the growth of particular life forms. Another may be packed with waving tentacles sifting the passing seawater. Another may be full of algae with a seahorse or two, hopefully breeding. The pioneer may also be interested in the current arguments within the hobby, often based on whether this or that additive is truly necessary. An additive could be provided over a measured and fairly lengthy period and the growth and colour of corals noted. Then the additive is withdrawn for the same period and notes again taken. Perhaps the additive will need to be re-introduced if the corals show deterioration. Whatever the outcome, the hobby will get to know.
It is easy to spot the result of a pioneer’s efforts. When a scientific experiment has been concluded it will be reported under the experiment’s name and those of the scientist(s). When a very advanced aquarist or pioneer reports findings it is not a scientific result. So it will be termed ‘anecdotal’ or a ‘personal communication’ and the name of the aquarist given. The result is still respected. Scientists are coming to respect the knowledge of aquarists more and more.
So there is the novice, maybe a bit confused, but excited and building a system then maintaining it ‘as instructed’. Then experience arrives and full knowledge of the system’s requirements are known. Experience expands over time and the aquarist starts to support the hobby more. It could well be that experience develops to the limit and attempts to improve the aquarist’s captive system are made by carefully introducing experimental areas and noting the results for the benefit of all. The different levels of aquaristic experience of course could overlap, particularly in the very advanced and pioneer areas.
Once an aquarist has sufficient experience to successfully maintain the captive livestock, that is keep them healthy and vibrant, it doesn’t really matter if there is any further personal development or not. Hopefully there will be, for those aquarists who are at the top of the hobby are of benefit to us all.