How to tell if your aquarium sucks ("What did you just say, Fellman?")

Let’s say you’ve been in the hobby a while, and your reef is just kind of…average. Maybe it’s not even average. Or maybe it's amazing...
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    Ok, maybe after a while writing these columns, you sometimes have to tell things like they are, right? The following is one of those examples of me having a bit of an attitude today. Some of this stuff may seem a bit mean-spirited to some of you. However, in the interest of making you be a better reefer, I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t give you some of my opinions, right? Sometimes, those opinions are “tough love”, and they aren't pretty…

    Ok, here goes.

    Let’s say you’ve been in the hobby a while, and your reef is just kind of…average. Maybe it’s not even average. Or maybe it's amazing looking...but even if it is- maybe it…sucks.

    Huh? What?

    This reef doesn't suck. Or does it?

    There are many reasons why a reef can suck…Yup, you never thought that you’d read that in a blog on R2R, huh? So let’s look at some of the less obvious signs that your reef…sucks.

    They might be not what you think.

    Your reef looks just like the “Tank of the Decade/Year/Month/Week/Day” - Yeah, that’s right. The fact that your reef looks just like the one that just won that coveted title is not such a great thing, IMO. I mean, you’re a reefer! You’ve invested tons of time, money and effort in creating and maintaining your reef. So, why would you want to have it look like ANYONE else’s reef? Your reef should reflect your taste, your style, YOUR dream.

    I hate seeing reefs that are purely imitative. Why? Because with all of the aforementioned time, money and effort, you could have come up with reef completely of your own design. Please, please, please…be yourself. You’re really good! The reef you create as an homage to someone else’s work is never as good as the one you can create from your own imagination.

    Steve Weast's tank. Perhaps the "Tank of the Century." But if you mimic it, even Steve will tell you that your

    See. that wasn’t so bad, right?

    Oh, it will get worse.

    Your reef has too many pumps/filter outlets, and other technical “props” that are showing. “Oh, c’mon Scott! Don’t be such a smart—-! It’s not easy to disguise all that stuff.” No, it isn’t. And I don’t apologize for that. You gotta up your game and hide some of that stuff. It’s so totally distracting to see technical gear in the reef aquarium. It just stares at you and screams, “I’m a heater! I’m a powerhead!” Yuck. You can use rocks, angles, even design elements to hide these props, or at least minimize their obvious impact on the overall aesthetic of your reef! Please, please PLEASE make sure that you do your best to hide these things.

    Keep the tech stuff under the hood, ok?

    You won’t share advice, time, or frags with other reefers. I remember fondly hearing a local reefer once use this great excuse as a reason not to participate in our local club frag swap: "No one has anything as nice as me. Why would I want to swap for anything?" OMG, she didn't get it. It's not just about trading- it's about sharing. For goodness sakes, why would you NOT want to do this? Kharma, man...Kharma. Spread the love. It's not just about YOU. Nope. As beautiful as her reef was, it will forever suck in my mind because of that attitude. By being closed off, not only do you miss the opportunity to help expand the hobby, preserve corals, and educate others- you’ll miss the chance to enjoy new friends as well. So, in my opinion, if you (and I mean it in the generic sense, of course- you’re not that guy) are a selfish, closed minded person, even if your reef looks amazing- it sucks in my book.

    My pal Tony Vargas gives so much advice that he had to write it in a book, with info from dozens of successful reefers.

    You perform no regularly scheduled maintenance tasks on your reef. No, throwing in a cube of frozen food is NOT maintenance. Grab a siphon hose and commit to making at least a small water exchange on a regular basis. Form good habits that will make sure that your reef is around for the long term. Not a spectacular showpiece for a few months or a year, and then a slowly declining disaster…This happens more than you think, and “Tanks of the (insert time period) that look great for a while then decline into ruin because of apathy…suck.

    Your reef relies on automation for everything. What? Automation is cool! Yeah, it is…and it’s cool when it’s HELPING you monitor or maintain your reef…It’s all cool. However, when you are relying on automation to do everything- water monitoring, water changes, top off, dosing, etc., you’re ceding control to technology…Sure, it’s important to have these systems, and I will not fault any of them. But if you feel that you’re installing that fancy controller so that you won’t have to get your hands wet, check manually on your tank, change water, or do testing ever again…your tank sucks. If you want to incorporate fancy electronics, that's cool. But if you want to be a reefer, put down the iPad and pick up the test kit once in a while. Yup, I said it. It may be a technological marvel, but you need to actually get your hands wet once in a while…Looking at a readout of status on your iPhone is not “observing your tank.”

    Cool, and helpful. But it's not a substitute for "getting your hands wet."

    Wow, I’m getting rather brash and nasty here, huh? The point is not to be a pompous jerk, or a guy filled with self-righteous indignity borne of several decades in the fish world. I’m not pining away for the days of under gravel filters and Vita-Lites. I'm not telling you that if you do some of these things that you're a bad person or a lousy reefer...What I am making a big stink about is for you, as dedicated reefers, to recognize when you are getting “off course”, and losing touch with your beloved hobby.

    You need to sometimes step back and look at how you’re doing in this hobby. We need to put more of “who we are” into our reefs…A reef tank should be an embodiment of who we are, what we are…It’s not about trying to impress your friends, display your vast wealth, or to pound your love of a certain brand’s equipment into everyone’s head. It’s about expressing yourself, your talents, your unabashed love for the hobby in a way that everyone can benefit.

    Oh, this may sound like a lot of psychobabble from the crazy coral vendor guy…And it might just be. However, I think you’ll agree that it makes sense to look objectively at where we are and why we do what we do in the hobby. Listen to yourself…listen to the suggestions and occasionally- the criticisms- of fellow reefers. Engage others in discussions about reefkeeping. Communicate with fellow reefers on forums and at shows, events, etc. Realize that you’re pretty good at what you do. You can teach others- and learn from them, too. And when you lose touch with who you are as a reefer, it will show. Your reef will….suck.

    Share with us other reasons why a reef can...suck. It's cleansing, and helpful. Seriously. No judgement here...just sharing. Breathe deeply...

    Make sure that your reef doesn't suck, okay?

    Until next time,

    Stay Wet

    Scott Fellman
    Unique Corals

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