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I was sort of pondering the state of the hobby in a recent philosophical moment, and I realized that we are at a sort of “crossroads” in the hobby and industry, with very real pressures on us from outside forces who know little of what we actually do.
As a group, marine aquarium hobbyists have a good sense of the responsibilities that come with acquiring and caring for aquatic animals, don’t we?
We understand the impact of irresponsible collection, improper handling, and incompetent husbandry on the animals we love. We’ve worked very hard to elevate the state of the art, promote responsible stewardship of precious natural resources, and perpetuate the species that are under our care. Most importantly, we’ve worked hard to communicate responsible practices to others, both within- and outside of -our small, but growing community.
Yet we still seem to be the easy target for critics who seek to assign blame for the degradation of natural reefs, don’t we? We’re the “low-hanging fruit”, so to speak. Why is that? Probably because we don’t seem to speak to the general public with a unified voice. Organizations like “For the Fishes” and people like “Snorkel Bob” tend to make interesting sound bites for the masses obsessed with assigning blame for a multitude of ills to someone- anyone.
We in the reef community take great pride in the efforts that have been made to understand, care for, and propagate corals, invertebrates, and fishes, so that the world’s reefs will be around for centuries to come. We seem to gently (and maybe not so gently, sometimes!) “correct” our fellow hobbyists when they lapse into poor judgement (“You put HOW MANY Tangs into that 75 gallon aquarium?”), admit our wrongdoings, and take responsibility for our mistakes. As a community, we occasionally have to rally together to address the unfair accusations from our hobby’s detractors (Ya hear that “Snorkel Bob”?)- and, more often than not- we open our minds to the very real problems (coral bleaching, negative impact from sewage runoff, unsustainable collection practices, etc.) that impact our beloved natural reefs and the animals that we cherish. However, I believe that we do need to do a better job of educating the general public about our hobby, our passions, and the state of the world’s reefs.
We need to “propagate, replicate, and appreciate” (to borrow someone’s avatar…) the corals that form the crux of our hobby/obsession.
As a group, we’ve done a pretty good job, haven’t we? Consider that any modern “frag swap” consists of large numbers of hobbyists trading, selling, and sometimes giving away (yup!) captive-propagated corals and animals. Our collective hard work has resulted in many new fishes being bred successfully, and a wide variety of propagated corals appearing on the market that have never even been on a natural reef. Dedication, care, discipline, and passion are paying huge dividends for the hobby, and for the priceless natural treasures that we so admire.
The responsibility of being a reefer is more than just occasionally speaking out, or reacting to an external threat. It’s having the intellectual honesty to question ourselves and members of our community- to be accountable for our actions or in-actions. While we can’t take ourselves too seriously, we cannot allow our community/hobby/industry to be portrayed to the general public in an irresponsible manner. We need to weed out the bad actors by refusing to support those who engage in irresponsible practices. It is our responsibility to police our ranks, lest government agencies do it for us, perhaps closing down the importation or trade of marine animals altogether. We need to question anyone who detracts from the real progress that we have made.
And we need to question ourselves as individuals- and take personal responsibility for what we do-or don’t do-to communicate with non-reefers about our hobby.
I admit that I’ve made many poor decisions over my hobby “career”, which have resulted in loss of life to precious animals. We all have. I’m sure most of you do what I have done: Own up to them, learn from them, and share the lessons learned, so that others will not duplicate these costly mistakes.
It is our shared responsibility. The responsibility of being a reefer. Kind of goes with the territory here.
We need to educate; to make sure that we share what we know with open hearts and patience. When we have the opportunity to show the general public what we’re all about, we cannot waste that opportunity. We need to hold ourselves accountable to nature and the life forms that we work so hard to protect. To educate those who don’t really understand about our dedication and caring to the animals in our care, and on the world’s reefs. We must continue to expand our knowledge and skills, and teach them to neophyte reefers, so that future generations will continue to enjoy our hobby-and the natural reefs.
This is a remarkable time in our hobby, and in the fight to preserve the world’s precious reefs. We have a unique opportunity to share with the world the true value of what we do, each and every day as reefers. We can be a visible, approachable, and helpful resource for all who treasure aquatic life.
Let’s continue the legacy of caring and teaching, for the good of all who love nature. Take the time to explain to non-reefers just what we do every day, and how we treasure the aquatic environment as much- if not more- than any other group on the planet.
The future of the hobby is in our hands. Please, let’s not let it slip through them because we don’t recognize and correct our own mistakes, and share with others our true love for this magnificent hobby.
Until next time,
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