Arguing against the arguments against stuff!

It’s been a lot of fun to mix it up here and chat with some many of you over the past few weeks. It’s been a great exchange of ideas, philosophy,...
  1. Definitely the weirdest title I've ever come up with!

    It’s been a lot of fun to mix it up here and chat with some many of you over the past few weeks. It’s been a great exchange of ideas, philosophy, and camaraderie,and I couldn’t be happier.


    In fact, this lively atmosphere has gotten the old gears spinning, as I contemplate my next step on the planning of my next reef aquarium. And what’s neat is that I think I’m going to incorporate a lot of “old school” thinking with “new school tech”, with more emphasis on diversity than any other reef tank I’ve worked with in a long, long time. I planned on taking a look at some of the things I’m planning on incorporating in my next tank, and when I started thinking of some of these concepts, I realized that they bring up a lot of old feelings and disagreements between reefers…perhaps you’re thinking of some of the same things,too,for your tank, and can remember the raging debates and such on them?

    Vincent Thomas Tank.jpg

    I figured it might be as much fun to think about the counterarguments for those…arguments to “not do that!” In fact, I like this idea so much, I think it might just be the topic of my next reef talk…Can you imagine the battles I could start? :)

    Here are some examples…I’m just going to give you a couple and let you run with it…or run me out of town or whatever…

    Well, let’s start at the bottom…literally! Substrates are, IMHO, a must have. I know all of the reasons why people don’t like sand and such in their tanks, ranging from the “nutrient sink blackhole” paranoia to “my VorTechs blow the $&(^)__-*&% out of it and create a sandstorm in my tank.” Yup- heard them. And I personally couldn’t care less. Grr…

    Why is that? Because, let’s face it. Every dive trip I’ve ever been on, every reef I’ve ever swam or surfed over…had sand. Not acrylic, glass, or whatever. And the fishes, animals, and microorganisms which inhabit them have adapted to this for eons. No, of course, the counterargument is that there are no pumps, heaters, gas walls, etc, in a reef. (Let’s not waste our energies on arguing that one, okay?)


    So, the reality, in my mind, is that a substrate of some sort is just the right thing to do in a biologically diverse aquarium.


    I think that part of the “knock” against sandbeds was that they were often managed in such a way as to work against the system they were implemented on. I mean, if you view a sandbed as a living, breathing microcosm of its own, and, as Ron Schimek and so many others preferred for years- actually feed and maintain it, the benefits are obvious and manifold. If you don't foster biodiversity within the sandbed, keep it stirred up a little bit, over-feed, are lax on routine maintenance, don’t have sufficient water movement and nutrient export systems in place, etc… Yeah, your sandbed will show you it’s displeasure by leaching the excess nutrients, etc. into your tank. I think the "arguments" are more outmoded than the issue!


    Oh- another question? Why are macro algae reactors the “big thing” of the moment? I mean- I love them…I've always loved macro algae, period. I had the opportunity to play with some of the first commercial Pax Bellum ones, and I was impressed by the growth of macro algae they produce. But really, why is everyone so crazy about them? Is it because everyone always loved chaetomorpha, but just hated floating it in a sump? Is it because they save space? Is it because…well, maybe…because it’s another gadget we can add to our system?


    I think so. I think gadget people love this kind of stuff. It's like a "hack" for them, I'll bet.

    REALLY, I love my fellow reefers. And I love the people who market reactors and such. But gee, how freaking difficult is it to grow Chaetomorpha in a reverse daylight area of your sump (for those who have one)? Has this always been a problem that we needed to solve? I mean, do you really need a reactor to do this? Or am I somehow missing the whole point? They do work very well, I’ll give you that…but I think they might also foster laziness for some. You know, you DO have to clean these things, and harvest the macro algae…a lot. I’m just sayin’…not “set and forget.”

    It’s all about reactors and stuff these days, isn’t it? I LOVE them, but the algae reactor idea mystifies me for some reason; not sure why. Just seems like a somewhat unnecessary way of doing something that we can already do just fine. I am still waiting for a sump manufacturer to simply create an "onboard" macro algae compartment with similar lighting, and then at least it will simplify things.

    Now that I've alienated every manufacturer out there, yet again...

    Bonus "nice guy" consolation argument FOR them: These things kick butt. They grow the heck out of macro algae. I think they are essential equipment for propagation facilities, fish hatcheries, and large fish only tanks. And could you imagine if you ran a macro algae propagation facility? You could just use them to grow algae- super
    quickly..or to grow plants like mosses for freshwater applications...The commercial applications for this technology are endless, and it's beyond my comprehension why, to my knowledge, that no commercial facility has really jumped on these for the purposes above.


    Back to the hobby level...

    Is there any limit to this stuff? Or do we always like to try to solve "pain points" that really don't need to exist?

    Is the next big thing a “refugium reactor?” Like, all of the stuff you normally just throw in a sump, you’d put it in an expensive piece of self-contained gear (ya know, another possible point of failure)….? Now, you get a pass if your system lacks a sump…but I’d hazard a guess that a very high percentage of reef systems (except maybe from the AIO crowd) have sumps associated with them these days… Of course, the counter-counter argument is that "A separate refugium" is another piece of complication...You said so yourself about the algae reactors, Fellman.."


    So, why we're on the topic- what’s WRONG with a refugium? What did they do to fall out of favor so badly over the past 5-8 years or so? The only arguments I ever hear is that they are “bioload” and compete with the corals for available nutrients…Sort of weak, IMHO. A refugium gives today’s “minimalist” reefer who likes limited biodiversity in his display aquarium the ability to have a tremendous, if not unseen- “supporting cast” of macro and micro life forms, including plants/macroalgae, crustaceans, worms, etc., all of which literally enrich the closed aquarium system with numerous benefits.


    Sure, haters will continue to make the suggestion that the extra biodiversity is really "bioload", or detracts from the prime focus of a reef aquarium for many people, that being to grow coral. I beg to differ, because production of natural food sources, nutrient processing, and biodiversity create a more "natural" system, less susceptible to the potential failings of near sterile, technology-driven systems with little "backup", and, in my opinion, reduce reliance on technological "props" and potential failure points. A little insurance policy against a biologically-impoverished system relying too much on reactors, controllers, and such is never a bad thing.

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    The real beauty of the refugium, in my opinion, besides the obvious benefits, like supplemental food production- is that it simply embraces natural processes and minimizes the shortfalls of some of the more aggressive approaches to aquarium husbandry. Of course, being virtually a separate aquarium in and of itself, the refugium offers yet another advantage to an aquarium it supports- additional water volume for the system . And, as we know, greater water volume translates into greater overall stability in a well-managed system. (“Hater argument” against THAT? “Get a bigger tank!” Urghh, there’s no winning…)

    These concepts might be considered “out of style” in current reef keeping “culture”, which makes no real sense…Mother Nature hasn’t gone “out of style for billions of years”, and the biological processes which govern these ideas work as they have for eons…Aren’t they worth another shot in your 75 gallon “SPS” reef?


    In my opinion, this is not just resurrecting an old friend- it's utilizing correct and useful technique to achieve what we all want- a healthy, thriving reef system. These ideas are just a few of many that would benefit from the latest technology (ie; controllers, electronic pumps, water testing, etc.). The arguments that embracing diversity in our aquariums is somehow “outmoded’ or locked into the 90’s or whatever, is just an excuse, IMHO to try to “bypass” the learning curve and process of understanding nature’s systems in favor of “technology” that makes life easier. If you don’t make the effort to understand the “hows and whys”, let alone the way your equipment works (read the owner's manual), the whole concept becomes sort of…lost.


    Deep breath...

    Okay, this whole piece was like an ugly and maybe even angry detour written by a grumpy old man…And perhaps a bit ignorant to some. But I had to share it! You know R2R is my "reef therapy" stop. I’d love to hear your "arguments against the arguments against doing stuff" in the hobby!

    I promise…no further provocations…for now, at least. Next week, we’ll actually have a nuts-and-bolts piece on creating a more biologically diverse reef aquarium system!

    Stay Bold. Stay determined. Stay engaged. Stay humble.

    And Stay Wet.

    Scott Fellman

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    About Author

    Scott Fellman
    My name is Scott Fellman, and I’m the consummate “fish nerd/entrepreneur/provacateur!" I’ve been keeping freshwater and marine aquariums since I was a kid, and during that time, I have maintained all sorts of aquariums, fish bowls, plastic boxes, and just about anything that can hold water. My passion is creating natural-looking and functioning biotope aquariums which represent unusual ecological niches. I love this hobby and the crazy people in it!

    I’ve written many of articles for numerous publications and many online venues, (including here on Reef2Reef) , as well as my daily blog, “The Tint”, on my Tannin Aquatics web site, where I blog on a variety of aquarium-related topics.

    In addition to my writing, I have racked up the frequent-flyer miles, traveling all over the U.S. and internationally, speaking at clubs and events (MACNA, etc.) about all sorts of reef-and aquarium-related stuff. I keep threatening to complete a book before this century is over…

    I was co-owner of Los Angeles-based online marine livestock retailer, Unique Corals, which specializes in sustainably-collected, aquacultured, and captive propagated corals, fishes, and invertebrates to the hobby. We enjoyed amazing growth and a large fan following in the four years I was with the company. Following my lifelong passion to embrace unusual aquatic niches, I sold my interest in Unique in 2016 to launch Tannin Aquatics, which specializes in providing what we like to call “aquatic botanicals”, as well as other goods and ideas for specialized aquatic hobbyists. We’ve enjoyed meteoric growth, and have turned on many hobbyists to this exciting speciality since we’ve been in operation.

    Stay Wet!