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Note from the Editor:

These profiles are only possible with the help and participation of aquarists willing to talk about their tanks and practices and answer a long stream of questions. Reef2Reef thanks @4FordFamily for letting us profile him.

It's always interesting for readers to get to know the staff of Reef2Reef. @4FordFamily is a staff member. He takes his aquariums very seriously and is an expert on fish health and disease treatment. If you look at his identity on the forum, you will see that he has many badges under his name. He comes by them honestly.

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When did you set up your first tank?

My first aquarium was when I was about five years old. I remember it well--a 20-gallon-tall tank, black gravel, plants, and a red/tan rock with two holes in it. My first fish were 2 Giant Danios, 2 Red Platys, and two other fish I can't remember. “Frisky” and “Speedy” were the two Giant Danios. One killed the other in a bloody bath within the first week, and my parents made me “freeze it” to put it out of its misery. This was particularly scarring for me, but an important lesson. The pet store should have given them better advice. Over the years I had 3-5 tanks at a time, from community fish to cichlids. Nothing larger than a 20 gallon, however.

First SW tank?

It was 2004 when “my” first marine tank was set up. I use quotations because in actuality, it was my best friend and his parents that allowed me to delve in to saltwater. My father wasn’t allowing it in his house, but they were interested. I started working for a LFS (local fish store), and they wanted me to take over the “fish room”. I knew nothing. So I figured, why not jump in? How hard can it be?

We set up three tanks within the first year, the first was a 75-gallon mixed reef. Looking back it was pretty old, and not a great tank. My best friend was stung by a foxface (rabbitfish) during the move, a moment I will forever cherish. To this day, I’ve never been stung by a fish, other than a catfish when I go fishing for them.

The second was a 90G FOWLR, and the third was a 125G FOWLR. With an employee discount, we went a little crazy. We broke just about every rule in the book. Tangs galore, triggers, lionfish, puffers. Disease was far less of an issue then; we had little trouble, except with Powder Blue tangs.

Fun fact: all three tanks are still operational. All three tanks were old when we purchased them 15 years ago, and they are still at my friend's parents’ house. I cannot believe they still hold water, I sold them an acrylic 180G to condense things into that they’ve not yet set up.

The lovely wife of @4FordFamily and their in-wall 500g FOWLR tank (Fish Only with Live Rock).
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This photo is courtesy of @4FordFamily ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

Early mistakes as an aquarist?

Oh boy, I made a lot of mistakes. Using tap water, using copper in a reef tank, stuffing too many large fish in small tanks, not quarantining fish, etc. I am not very handy, my plumbing and overflow work is subpar at best. That made for some very wet times….

One big mistake I learned twice was buying used glass, and using it. After starting a house fire in my brand new build house in 2012, I decided I would keep buying used tanks but I would always replace the glass, new. That was not a good time. It also ruined the carpet. I caught the fire early, so it worked out. The water leaked down the wires in to my power strips and then the papers and boxes underneath worked as effective kindling. The importance of a “drip loop” was illustrated, clearly.

Tell me about your philosophy of reefkeeping.

Less is more, except when it comes to quarantine. I say that in part because I don’t keep high-end coral. Even expert-level fish are more forgiving, in general, to high parameters other than salinity and ammonia. With everything else on my plate, and given that I am almost never home without the responsibility of watching my young children (wife works nearly an opposite schedule, including many weekends), I just don’t have the ability to keep up with more. Trying to do maintenance with screaming and fighting kids is not easy. I distract easily and am not a multitasker.

Overstock, over-skim, and be overly cautious with disease. This segues nicely into your next question, I imagine.

Desjardini tang.
r2r4fordDesjardini.JPG

This photo is courtesy of @4FordFamily ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

Do you quarantine?

If I have learned any lessons in this hobby, this may be the most important and difficult lesson. I quarantine everything. Or, more recently I let @HotRocks quarantine. He’s like family to me, and he’s local. He’s also crazy enough and meticulous enough that he borderline enjoys it. Anything wet runs fallow; all fish are quarantined. My other fish in my display tanks are my first priority, keeping them safe from ailments is job one.

I didn’t quarantine for the first ten years I was in the hobby. It was a different time. Fish were lost to parasites on occasion, but by and large my livestock choices and the far better state (in my view) of the distribution system made living without quarantine far more viable than it is today. I was so active in speaking against quarantine publicly that I was actually banned from the “other” forum. I had some success but my own bias kept me from seeing the truth. As the condition of fish I received worsened, I eventually saw reality.

On occasion I’d try quarantining fish once they were sick but I continually had loss in quarantine. As I’ve learned and practiced for five years I’ve learned that ammonia was a big killer. I also mixed prime and copper together before I knew that it was deadly, and I’ve learned that the copper testing methods are ineffective at best. No wonder few made it through.

These days with the Hanna copper checker, ammonia alert badges, biospira, and other quarantine must-haves, it’s far easier to treat with copper. What’s worsened is the prevalence of other parasites and ailments such as uronema, Brooklynella, internal infections and parasites, flukes, and external infections. Even marine velvet is far more common.

So quarantine isn’t a walk in the park but we keep trying to get ahead of it. My display tanks are full of healthy fish now, so that’s a positive thing. Quarantine and fish behavior or fish in general are my biggest passions here. This is where I feel I have the most to offer others. Tangs, angels, and wrasses in particular.

Tell me about the ups and downs--any big mistakes or big problems or big happy surprises?

This hobby is all about ups and downs and I have historically been about “cutting corners”, which has led to much of this. I seem to always need to learn the hard way. As I said, quarantine is a constant battle that Kyle and I have fought on a large scale while stocking our large tanks. This is probably my biggest frustration, ironically. Humblefish AKA Bobby was my mentor with all of this. I’ve learned much from him and could not have done it without him.

Emperor angel.
r2r4fordEmperor.jpg

This photo is courtesy of @4FordFamily ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

Do you have a build thread I can read?

https://www.reef2reef.com/threads/4fordfamilys-500g-10-foot-in-wall-tank-featuring-hotrocks.473870/

I am horrible with build-thread updates, my 180-gallon reef is less of a reef these days as I’ve hyper focused on fish, but here’s an update that isn’t very recent:

https://www.reef2reef.com/threads/modest-beginnings-of-my-last-180.327776/

A radiant wrasse.
r2r4fordRadiant Wrasse.JPG

This photo is courtesy of @4FordFamily ©2019, All Rights Reserved.

What advice would you give to beginners?

My biggest piece of advice would be that “nothing good happens quickly” in this hobby. Slow down. No matter your pace, slow down. I don’t always practice what I preach; my temperament has never been one that comprehends moderation. I’ve always been an “all or nothing” person. This has served me well in my career and other hobbies. It has not for this hobby.

Build your tank for the worst case scenario. It’s not a matter of if, but when, generally. Things will go wrong; be prepared and spare no caution in the design and equipment selected. If you’re unsure, seek help from those more certain. We can learn a lot from other members here.

Soak up knowledge, and research your sources. There are a lot of opinions out there, vet your research and seek “subject matter experts”. Be wary of seeking what you want to hear versus what you need to hear. This is a normal human bias and I, too, suffer from it at times. Think outside the box, share your experiences (failures and successes), and when you find your best talents help others along the way with them. This facilitates your own knowledge and growth, as well as benefiting the reefing community.

Know your limits. Be honest with yourself. For me, tackling an SPS tank is too unknown and demanding both financially (remember, I don’t understand moderation) and from a time-commitment perspective. I stick to my bigger passion and slowly branch out.

I know my limits, and so I impose them. This is difficult to do sometimes, especially if you’re stubborn as I am.

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Editor Profile: Cynthia White

Cynthia received her BA in English from NYU a long long time ago. She has been a freelance writer and editor for over 20 years. Now she is a writer and editor on staff at R2R, where her forum nickname is @Seawitch.