In the (very) beginning...

Sort of continuing with our recent theme here at Tannin, about “experts”, advice, and experience…

I was chatting with a brand spankin’ new aquarist at Unique Corals a couple of days ago...I mean- brand new, “untainted-by-the-message-boards-and-super-trendy-coral-gossip” new. Like, “didn’t-have-any-opinion-on-which-LED-system-is-the-best-new”... 

Yeah. That new.

And I’m being generous when I use “aquarist” to describer her, ‘cause she wasn’t!

She was asking me for some advice on what corals and fish she should be keeping in her new reef tank. Uh-oh...advice. That made me think a bit...Well, a lot, actually. In my hobby and professional career, I have given lots of advice to new hobbyist as many of you haves,…

But not to someone this new and well- detached, I guess you could call it.. 

I mean, what a responsibility! She had absolutely no clue on a lot of stuff, not a single clue. Never kept fish before. She just wanted a great-looking reef tank and kind of thought it was like throwing together a scrapbook: You just toss a few things together and it’s ready to impress everyone. 

(I want it...NOW!")

Most discouraging to me was her desire to “impress” her friends and visitors to her home with how cool her reef aquarium would look. This of course, raise the “red flag” for me, a hardcore hobbyist...Was she in it for the wrong reasons? Did she even give a darn about the animals that would be under her care?  And, is it my place to judge? 

I thought that she would be an ideal candidate for an aquarium maintenance company, so at least her animals could be looked after by someone who knew what he/she was doing...Yet she would have NONE of that! SHE wanted to be in charge of the tank.

 Well, I could at least relate to that.

However, when she whipped out her ipad and showed me pics of random fishes and corals that in no way belonged together, I formulated my response:

“I think before you start this project, you should arm yourself with a good book, visit the aquarium of an experienced reefer, and educate yourself on the fundamentals of aquatic husbandry..Your chances for success are much greater with some education and fundamentals”

Oh, that didn’t go over well at ALL:  “Do you think that I am stupid?” (well, yes, now that you mention it...).  She literally said that. She was very insulted that I would suggest anything other than a bunch of random specimens and a nod of approval for the “stocking plan” she proposed for her tank. She gave no indications whatsoever of having even the remotest amount of interest in actually caring for the fish and corals, and quite frankly, I was annoyed at her attitude that she could just ignore the realities of owning an aquarium, skip over the learning process, and get whatever she wanted because she had a few bucks to spend.

In the ended, we parted ways with me reiterating my advice to get some background before proceeding. I know that fell on deaf ears...

(No shortcuts to this destination...)

Happily, this lady belonged to a very small minority of persons (lets just call them idiots) who enter into the aquarium world with nothing more than arrogance and lots of cash, and no regard for the lives of the animals under their care. Look, I’m not saying that you have to be a hardcore, super-glue-loving, multiple cichlid-breeding, central-filtration-system-fishroom-owning, skimmer-cleaning fish geek to keep an aquarium.

What I AM saying is that you should at least have some fundamental knowledge of aquatic biology and the needs of reef animals, and even a dose of compassion. You certainly wouldn’t buy a puppy or kitten without knowing how to feed it and keep it healthy, so why are fishes and corals such an easy target for people like this? 


Ok, I’m preaching to the choir here, but we’re a community, so this has some therapeutic value for me…LOL

And perhaps you encounter this attitude yourselves- so we in the hobby have a sort of “duty” to spread the right messages, IMHO.

What I do know is that if someone doesn’t want to take our good advice, there is little we can do except to discourage them from keeping an aquarium. That was my best advice to her...

My other best advice for anyone is to not take anyone’s advice as the last word on the subject. Take any and all advice on aquariums with a grain of salt, regardless of who it comes from. Be skeptical. Read. Discuss. Listen. Ask questions. Most important, make up your own mind...think things through so that you have a clear understanding.

However, even if you know you are right, never, ever be arrogant. And if you are not right, admit it freely and move on. Others can learn from your mistakes just as easily as your big deal.

What would your best advice be to a new aquarist? Is there one solid, fundamental piece of advice that you could offer to someone just starting out? Someone with genuine interest in aquarium keeping? 

Let’s hear it!

Stay focused. Stay engaged. Stay Wet,


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics







Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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