It seems as though not a day goes by in the aquarium world when you don’t hear about some new product, animal or technique that will help change the hobby forever. New things that promise to simplify and improve our hobby experience. Yet, for some reason, many of us in the hobby seem mired in the past, with a “more complicated must be better” philosophy. Not only do we typically attempt to recreate the entire aquatic ecosystem in our systems with many layers of biological complexity, we equip our systems with tons of gadgetry to mimic this environment. Our equipment choices and husbandry techniques need to be broadly focused to match the goal of being all things to all creatures.
Rather than the shotgun approach, it would seem logical to design, equip, and manage our systems with a more precise focus. Why not zero in on the specific needs of the animals that we are keeping? Why not take a more focused approach to husbandry, emphasizing some degree of simplicity to get the job done? Equipping and managing systems to maintain the widest variety of organisms certainly has its merits – to some extent.
However, I find myself turning to a more disciplined and specific approach to aquarium keeping. For example, my love of biotope aquariums is directly attributed to learning about and desiring to replicate a specific part of an ecological niche— not the whole darned thing! With equipment, husbandry technique and aquascaping to match the biotope I’m attempting to replicate, it’s a great approach to manage a reef tank in my opinion. Do you ever wonder why we collectively seem to like to make things so darned complicated? I attribute this “complication syndrome” to a few possible factors:
I am not bashing everyone with a complex aquarium system with tons of cool gadgets and exotic husbandry protocols. What I am doing is questioning the need for such complexity. Sure, I’ll be the first to tell you that water quality management is paramount to success in the hobby. However, I’ll also be the first guy to tell you that picking up a siphon house weekly or more frequently is the ultimate expression of water quality management. All of the technology in the world is not going to save your system if you don’t have the fundamentals down.
Thank goodness we are collectively starting to rethink some long-held hobby beliefs and simplifying our approaches — to the benefit of both our animals and our pocketbooks! A great example of this is the wonderful way we have traditionally applied water movement in our systems. If you need to create intense flow patterns, it’s long been held that you need an armada of pumps, baffles, closed loops, powerheads, and other flow-enhancing devices to do the job. While all of these devices have their places, the truth is that you can create outstanding water movement with the logical application of a few very modest powerheads directed in a thoughtful manner.
I think we make things awfully intimidating for the new hobbyists with some approaches. Advising the newbie to equip his or her small tank with every conceivable technological prop for success perpetuates the myth that aquariums are tough to keep. Yes, there are some minimum equipment requirements that you have in order to outfit a tank. However, I can’t help but wonder if equipping the neophyte hobbyist with some extra food and a siphon hose and the admonition to use both regularly and frequently would benefit him/her far more than any electronic controller would.
Again, don’t get me wrong. All of the cool technology and equipment has its place. However, in this new era of the hobby, I think that it’s important to step back once in a while and re-evaluate what we’re trying to accomplish, why we are doing what we’re doing, and what really works. I’ll hazard a guess that we can simplify things and still enjoy great success.
Focused approaches are used every day by the enterprising hobbyists that are breeding fishes and propagating plants. Their systems, husbandry techniques, and approaches are based upon a specific need — fish and plant reproduction, and the results of this focused approach are demonstrating daily its virtues. The bigger picture here is that the application of a more focused approach can — and has been — leading to huge advancements in the hobby. In summary, I’m not admonishing you to abandon the fun of the community tank or the diverse aquatic garden. I am encouraging you to step back now and then and channel your energies to a specific purpose, and to share your technique and philosophies with the hobby. One day in the not-too-distant future, importation of wild fishes and plants may be severely restricted, or even non-existent, so developing focused approaches to keeping and breeding aquatic organisms may be absolutely critical to the survival of the hobby.
Until next time…Stay Focused — and Stay Wet