I had a friend call me a couple of weeks ago regarding some issues that she was having with her fabulously-equipped, obscenely expensive 200 US-gallon "mixed reef" aquarium. She’s got the usual littany of high-tech reef toys- high-end German-engineered protein skimmer, kalkmixer, calcium reactor, electronically controlled water pumps, and a sophisticated electronic controller that would make NASA jealous!
Seemed like all was good, and that she should be at the top of her game with her $10,000-plus USD investment, right? Yet, for some reason, her system just didn’t look right. We've all been there, huh? In her case, her corals seemed off-color, fish were sort of listless, and the system just didn’t look “right”. You know, after you've been in the aquarium game for a while, you can just "tell" when things don't seem right!
Of course, we went through the usual questions: “Any new fishes added recently?” , “Dose any additives?”, "Changed your maintenance procedures lately? “When was the last time you did a water change?”….As it turned out, she felt that her super high-tech system made her exempt from basic husbandry practices…Not an uncommon malady in the splashy reef aquarium world. Not only had it been literally months since she did a water change, it had been an equal number of months since she checked the probes on her controller! You know, the expensive, obscenely high-tech device that she charged with "managing" her whole system, with lots of numbers and light and stuff.
Upon inspection, it turned out that one of her controller’s probes cracked, and the redox probe was not even submersed in the water! Her super system was operating with incorrect information, and environmental adjustments that were not necessary (i.e.; ozone injection and adjustments to buffering) were being made. Fortunately, we stumbled on this before things got out of hand and fishes and corals started dying. It was surprisingly easy "fix" from a technology standpoint- a more difficult one, philosophy-wise.
For all of her "techno-props", my friend overlooked some basic tenants of "postmodern" aquarium-keeping, freshwater, reef, or anything in between:
1) You can’t blindly rely on gadgets to control your system without glancing at them occasionally to ascertain if they are working correctly.
2) You need to adhere to some very basic husbandry practices- such as water changes, to dilute metabolic waste products, regardless of the technology you employ.
3) Know what "normal" is for your aquarium and its inhabitants. That involves more than just looking at numbers. It involves engaging all of your senses- sight, sound, smell. That "feeling."
Basic stuff, yes- but vital if we are to enjoy long-term success with captive animals. We can't lose that "touch" we've developed as hobbyists over the past century or so of aquarium keeping, just because we have some high-tech gadgets to take away some of the "onerous" manual practices we engage in to keep an aquarium.
I’m frequently blown away how seemingly "advanced" hobbyists tend to overlook the most basic aspects of aquariology- observation of their systems and attention to regular husbandry. It's like a technological "dependency disorder" or something! I literally know hobbyists how have spent enough on their aquarium to purchase a small car yet cannot figure out anything about what's going on in their tanks beyond the numbers reported on their wi-fi-enabled controller readout-and even then, they don't really know what to make of them! This is a scary practice that has to stop! I know at least two people who have experienced outright disasters which could have been easily prevented had they simply "gotten their hands wet" from time to time. Having technology is great, but it shouldn't become a substitute for the "art" of aquarium technique.
Otherwise, we're "aquarium monitoring technicians" instead of aquarists! That sounds more like a job than a hobby to me. Technology out of control! Or is that, in TOTAL control! Er, whatever, you know what I mean.
For those of you who are heading this way and know this- or if you know someone that is-and I think you might, a plea: If you know you or your fellow hobbyist is a little deficient in the actual "practice" of aquaristics- less time should be spent shopping for that “limited edition” coral or crazy-rare cichlid, and more time just looking at the aquarium! Get you or your fellow hobbyist back in touch. A beautiful return to the basic “core” experience of keeping an aquarium, and get involved with the system on a more intimate level.
Our fishes, your investment- and the hobby itself- need you and your full attention.
Get your hands wet!
Stay focused on the right stuff. Stay in touch. Stay engaged.
And Stay Wet.