How I Got Started in the Hobby in 1971

How and when this hobby started (for me at least) in 1971. I think it was on a Tuesday about two or two fifteen in the afternoon. I know because I was there.

Here in New York where I live there used to be a very large aquarium store in Manhattan a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center. I would go there as a kid and buy my fresh water fish. They were the largest store by far so they had all the unusual stuff including sea turtles.

A couple of days after I returned from my service in the Army I went there to get some livestock fro my freshwater tank and I saw some brackish water fish. There were bumble bee gobies, scats, archer fish and figure eight puffers. I bought all of them.

The next time I went back there they had fish I had never seen before. Blue devils. I thought they were fake as I never saw such colorful creatures. I had to buy a few but of course this meant I had to put more salt in my brackish tank. I went down to the Long Island Sound at the start of the East River and collected some water. Then I removed the fresh water aquarium gravel and noticed that my neighbor has this crushed blue rock in his driveway, so I collected that. I then "acclimated" my brackish water fish rather quickly because those blue devils were in a bucket. They didn't seem to mind. I put everything in the tank and for a day or two everything was great.

Then they got ich. In those days salt water ich was called oodinium but who new? There was no salt water medications so I am sure I used whatever I had for fresh water. Fresh water meds consisted of beautiful flourescent colored liquids so I used that. I am sure I mixed them all up as I didn't know what I was doing but neither did anyone else.

I found a scientist, or marine biologist (but he could have been an entomologist or accountant) that looked intelligent so I went to see him. He told me those were parasites and copper kills parasites. The only place to get copper was from pennies. (Today pennies are made out of old VHS tape players and don't contain much, if any copper) I found in Robert Straughn's Book "The Salt Water Aquarium in the Home" the dosage. I think it was 20 pennies to the gallon. I put the pennies in a spring so they would stay upright figuring the copper would dispense better and guess what happened?

I don't actually remember but I am sure many of the fish died. None of the brackish water fish as those you can lay in the street and have a bus run them over and you still couldn't kill them. Especially a scat, to kill one of those you would need a good size garbage truck.

Anyway, I got some more blue devils (which were not very cheap) and I added the pennies before I added the fish. Remember, there were no cell phones, credit cards, MP3 players, Lady GaGa, controllers, digital watches, artificial salt water, or test kits so it was all by experience and mostly luck.

If the fish developed sores on theuir sides, you had too much copper and you had to remove some pennies, maybe five cents. If the fish died but still had spots, youdidn't have enough pennies and had to add three or four cents.

Keep in mind that copper keeps falling out of solution but it also keeps disolving off the pennies.

Today you buy a bottle of copper, read the directions, search on this forum and cure the problem, but anyone can do it like that. Some day when you have nothing to do, find some thirty year old pennies and try it.

Eventually those fish thrived and in 1972, they spawned and I tried, unsucessfully to raise the fry. You could not get rotifers then. You could barely get color TV.

Virtually everything for aquariums was built for fresh water. Lights were made out of aluminum as were powerheads which were not submersible. At least not on purpose. There were no GFCIs which made turning on the light or doing maintenance "interesting". I don't know how many times I was thrown across the room from getting shocked because salt creep covered everything.

Those powerheads were metal, hanging a half an inch over the water and always covered in wet salt. I had a skimmer that used an air pump. Air pumps were piston pumps and needed to be oiled every few days. That would allow a little oil into your tank which was alright because it looked like an Exxon oil spill. The bubbles from the skimmer would coat the light so you had to turn it on and off with a stick.
We also used HOB filters which were filled with fiberglass fiber. That will give you cancer if you live in California, but if you are in Boston, New Jersey or France, you will be fine.

Fish food was dried ants. Eventually you could get Wardley's flakes which I think were made out of dried ants. I used earthworms or caught my own ants as I figured they were fresher. I also caught flies to feed my archerfish. My figure 8 puffer loved earthworms.

Eventually I dicovered live blackworms and started using them. In seven weeks my blue devils spawned and I discovered I no longer had to keep copper pennies inthe tank but that is for another article.

After a few years my puffer developed a large tumor inside his belly and I really loved that fish. I checked his insurance and removed him from the water to a dish with wet cotton in it. I made an incision over the tumor with a razor blade and carefully scraped out the tumor. I then put some iodine on the cut and placed him back in a small tank. He didn't look happy and wouldn't move but I think he winked at me once.

I collected some earthworms and I gently gfrabbed him. When you do that to a puffer they try to blow up. To blow up, they have to open their mouth and using a tooth pick, I pushed the worm all the way down his throat.

I did that for a week then returned him to the main tank where he lived for another eight years.

The first fish available were blue devils, sargent majors, dominoes, then in a year or so, copperband butterflies, and oddly enough moorish Idols.

In a couple of years you could get anemones, arrow crabs, hermit crabs and coral banded shrimp.

This continues up until today but that is all for now.

Blue devil over his nest of eggs Circa 1972.

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Paul B
I have been keeping fish since about 1952. I started with saltwater the week they were imported to New York City in 1971.

My first SCUBA dive was on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia while I was on R&R from Vietnam in 1970, and since then I have acquired almost 300 dives. About half of those were in New York where I mostly dove for lobsters, urchins or just exploring some of the 2,000 wrecks around Long Island.

I have bred blue devils, clownfish, seahorses, pipefish, bangai cardinals, watchman gobies, clown gobies and a few others. My 100 gallon reef tank was started in 1971 and is currently still running.

I have two aquarium related patents. The first patent was a seahorse and reef fish feeder and the latest one is the Majano Wand. I recently published a book called "The Avant-Garde Marine Aquarist" and have spoken four times at aquarium clubs.

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