(The last installment- I promise- of what has been a sort of "preachy" series of "dissertations" of late on the hobby of late! Had to get some stuff out of my system, I suppose!)
I've had the good fortune to be in this hobby my entire life, and to work with a lot of incredibly talented people during that time- most more talented than I could ever hope to be. Over the years, I've seen countless hobbyists find incredible levels of success, while others have found nothing but continuous failure. Seriously. Now, I have a hunch that there are things we can do to avoid failures in the hobby. Among those who had the most difficulties in the hobby, I've found a few "commonalities", if you will- some things that those who struggle repeatedly seem to do. Many of these are things that can be prevented or avoided, creating happier outcomes for everyone!
Obviously, most of you reading this won't need this advice personally (I hope). However, many of you find yourselves in a position, now and again (or more often) as "mentors" or "Admins" on forums and in clubs, to advise other hobbyists...And sometimes, it's nice to have some additional viewpoints to draw upon in order to be a better helper...So, I offer these to you for that purpose!
Here are 4 of what I feel are some of the most common "fatal" aquarium-keeping mistakes and how you can help others avoid/fix them! (Sort of written from the context of advising YOU, but apply appropriately to those you counsel, of course...)
1) Not trusting your instincts- or "If they say it's supposed to be done this way than I better do it that way or else!"- Sure, starting an aquarium can be a bit duanting- we all know it can be expensive! It's super easy to second guess yourself as the challenges mount, but it's really important to "go with your gut" on some things and just forge ahead if you believe in what you're doing. Just because "they" say it's supposed to be done this way doesn't mean that a variation or slightly different take on "it" won't work. I mean- look at us here...I'm just sayin'... Obviously, being arrogant is not a good thing, but you need to be confident in your skills and beliefs. As long as your idea isn't completely absurd (like using a radioactive isotope to heat your system), environmentally wasteful/morally distasteful (stocking a display of large predatory cichlids with expensive, small Tetras), or downright dangerous (keeping an Electric Eel touch tank in a preschool classroom aquarium), then I say take a chance and go for it! You might just be able to show others a new way of thinking...Don't accept the status quo "just because..."
2) Biting off "more than you can chew.."- It’s awesome to start a new tank loaded with the latest gear, advanced lighting, crazy plants, and uber-rare fishes. That being said, I’ve seen a lot of well-heeled, well-intentioned, but totally unprepared hobbyists crash and burn spectacularly with mega-priced setups that they simply did not have the experience to operate on a sustainable basis. These were often accompanied by amazing “build thread” and displays of expensive equipment along the way (which I touched on in yesterday's blog about patience...). Once things get underway, the reality is that a newbie hobbyists may not have the fundamentals to operate a 500 gallon mega tank, or hyper-sophisticated smaller tank, particularly if he or she has had little experience with a much smaller. less sophisticated system.
Look, I’m not discouraging mega-dream tanks, build threads and such…What I AM discouraging is jumping headlong into mega-pricy, highly complex systems that you simply cannot effectively operate long term. You gotta dream big! However, think of this somewhat sobering reality: If you can’t deal with hair algae and environmental stability in your 50 gallon tank, there’s no way you’ll be able to deal with them in your 500 gallon tank…trust me. Sure, you can learn...but in the mean time, at the very least, hire a competent aquarium service company to assist you if you’re simply not experienced enough to manage such a behemoth or technically-challenging system. Enough said.
3) Not soliciting advice from others- Okay, almost the antithesis of #1, but really, I’m talking about interaction and camaraderie. We can certainly impress upon our friends who are struggling that, in this vast, internet-enabled hobby of ours, it’s very unlikely that there isn’t someone out there who has experienced the same thing they are during his/her startup. There are so many innovative and bold hobbyists out there that it’s quite likely someone has been in his/her shoes before, and can offer some great, solid advice based on experience- not regurgitation of some old third hand information. May be it's YOU! Get out there on the forums and chat it up with other geeked-out hobbyists! You might just make some friends- or worse yet- learn a few things you may not have known! Yikes!
4) Expecting stuff to be "easy"- Wow, I sound like a buzzkill, but the reality is that the hobby is complex. I mean, not only are you dealing with plumbing, hardware, and construction- you have the other variable of live animals and their needs, reactions, and issues. You know, living things. Nature. Unpredictability. A lot of "moving parts" in an aquarium- literally! You can easily be tripped up by something as simple as adding the wrong animal, or misreading a test kit and making an ill-fated “correction” to you water chemistry…A lot of stuff can go wrong quickly.
That being said, it’s not all doom and gloom, and we need to preach this to neophytes- but the reality is that creating a great aquarium isn't ridiculously easy- and it’s not always cheap, either. (My industry people readers finally have something to be happy with me for!). To do it right involves research, effort, planing, observation, patience, and skill building- things that aren’t just handed to you. It’s part of the delightful "learning curve" of the hobby. Trust me, an avoidable ich outbreak or hair algae infestation in your planted dream tank is about as awful as it gets- but the skills you’ll acquire while combatting it will help you to be a solid resource for other hobbyists; a grizzled veteran of the aquarium universe that can make life better for a lot of other hobbyists.
Nothing’s ever wasted in the aquarium hobby, really.
Okay, there are doubtless countless other potentially “fatal” mistakes in aquarium keeping, but these are a few that I see all the time, as you no doubt do, as well…If we make it appoint to learn from our mistakes, and to share our hard-won knowledge with other hobbyists in a gentle, but supportive way- the hobby will continue to be an amazing place where we get to live our our dreams every day!
See you soon..Stay happy, stay educated..Stay patient with newbies...
And Stay Wet!