Will You Fall By The Wayside?

A marine aquarium can be tempting in several ways. Perhaps marine aquarium life has been seen in a public aquarium. Or maybe the local pet shop sells marine life. Or maybe a friends fish only aquarium or reef aquarium has been seen. Whatever, a seed is sown and the journey begins.

Sometimes when a preliminary investigation is made the cost of the various bits and pieces seems too much. Or, reading about it, it all seems complicated and too ‘techy’ and that’s as far as it goes. Often the project proceeds and the excitement of the venture begins.

It cannot be denied that setting up a marine aquarium is exciting. The aquarium arrives and its practical to put it in the space allocated straight away. If it is a ‘reef ready’ type then all that is needed is salt, water and livestock. Otherwise the equipment, such as a [tag-self]protein skimmer[/tag-self], heaters, lights etc need to be obtained. More often than not the advice of a local pet shop is taken. This is often fine, but not always so – the retailer stocks certain makes of equipment. Another marine aquarist may advise, and likewise this is usually fine but not always – sometimes the aquarist believes his/her way is the only way to go. The best way is to go to marine forums, and do other research on the internet and in up to date marine hobby books, but how often does this happen?

Anyway, the excitement builds and the budding aquarist is nearly consumed with impatience. Filling the aquarium with R/O ([tag-self]reverse osmosis[/tag-self]) water is slow and seemingly unending. Some don’t bother and use tap water. Some buy cheaper equipment (what’s the difference they think) to speed up the building process. Some, of course, do things properly and take their time.

Eventually, the aquarium is full of seawater and the heaters, lights and protein skimmer have been run. All seems ok. The excitement is nearly at its peak. The livestock must be added, waiting is not really an option, but many if not most manage it.

Finally, at long last, bio-filtration available, stock goes in. The new aquarist can step back and admire the display at long last. It looks wonderful, and, after a day or two, soft corals open up and the display is a real picture.

Stocking is usually the pinnacle of the excitement curve. More stock goes in, hopefully slowly, until the display is complete.

For quite a while all is well. Feeding is a pleasure and the picture remains beautiful. But so often trouble appears.

Algae appears. It could be green hairy stuff, or horrible ‘smear’ algae. This increases until the picture is no longer so beautiful, and the aquarist has to seek help in dealing with the problem.

There is livestock trouble. Fish are aggressive to one another. One kills another. An anemone eats a fish. A fish eats a shrimp. Again, help is sought.

The cost of running the aquarium, being higher than expected, causes problems. Salt isn’t cheap, nor is the cost of electricity. Corners may be cut because of this.

Some aquarists don’t change the fresh water they use, or feed in a disciplined manner, or change the lights when needed, or clean the protein skimmer regularly and the like. They don’t carry out the essential maintenance that all aquariums require. Or they just do the easy parts, such as cleaning the glass. And they fail.

The reason why some aquarists give up the hobby at quite an early stage is because they view obtaining the new aquarium in much the same way as obtaining a new TV. It is exciting, no argument, whichever it is.

Unlike the TV, the marine aquarium is a living miniature world, ultimately ruled by Nature. Nature is supported by various pieces of equipment, but nevertheless Nature allows life forms to develop where the environment will support it. For example, nutrient rich seawater will support algae, and algae will appear. If a shrimp eating fish is faced with a shrimp, it will eat the shrimp. That’s what in nature it does. The living marine aquarium is not controlled by buttons.

Faced with ongoing problems, the excitement, which had diminished anyway, fades more quickly. This isn’t what was supposed to happen. So the aquarium is maintained even less, and problems increase. It is likely the aquarium will be given up, the equipment and livestock being sold at a loss. Giving up is a good thing – the owner obtained little or no pleasure and the life forms deserve better.

It doesn’t have to be like that. Proper research before anything is purchased at all will answer questions. Cost of equipment and livestock, running costs, including the purchase of salt and electricity, are easily obtainable. Also easily obtained are livestock mix recommendations. These recommendations are often guidelines, as variations do occur, but the marine newcomer should take heed of the basic recommendations and enquire further if need be. It is also easy to list all the recommended maintenance requirements, such as regularly cleaning a protein skimmer, changing light bulbs, routine water changing, cleaning filters and changing media etc.

The potential aquarist can sit and ponder the financial costs and consider if they can be afforded. He/she can also ponder the cost in time of maintenance, and if that time will be willingly given. If there is any doubt, remove the doubt or don’t keep an aquarium.

It is clear to see that there are many, many successful marine aquarists. A look on the internet at all the wonderful displays that have been photographed is testament to that. These aquarists obviously started from basics and did something right – they researched, asked questions, and studied books.

It is true to say that many or most aquarists face a problem or two as time goes by. That’s the way of it. The difference is that, though the initial excitement has subsided, the embedded interest in marine aquarium life is still there and maybe always will be. Be it a big or small aquarium, interest is what gives the ongoing pleasure.