It’s no secret that many of us have a bit of love, so to speak, for saltwater. Wether it was a quick stint with a bunch of clownfish once, or a full-on reef not all that long ago, saltwater is not a strange “media” to most of us in the aquarium community. However, for some reason, in recent years, there was this “stigma” associated with even liking saltwater- let alone admitting that you had a saltwater tank. It was a real risky proposition for your “cred” as a breeder or something. Like, you crossed over to the "dark side" or whatever. It was much the same in the saltwater world, if you must know. As recently as a couple of years ago, I remember getting gently teased by my reefer friends when I professed my love for freshwater. And I also remember attendees at my talks around the country coming up afterwards and sheepishly “confessing” that they had a soft spot for freshwater, too!
Funny how times change.
With the advent of so-called “high-end” planted freshwater planted tanks, with their associated concept, CO2 injection, reactors, lighting, and such, there has been a palpable shift in the aquarium hobby’s collective mindset about the “complexity factor” of saltwater tanks. Suddenly, it’s in vogue to not just talk about, but to aspire to- or even own, a saltwater system- particularly one of the “reef” systems, which are the freshwater equivalent of an "ADA Style" planted system…I can’t help but think that the gadgetry/systematic approach and ‘exclusivity” factor of these reef systems is part of the “new appeal.”
There are many, many compelling reasons why a freshwater hobbyist SHOULD own a saltwater tank (I'm really referring to a "reef" aquarium when I say saltwater, btw)…I’m throwing out a few that come to mind just to spur some further discussion and provoke you to try one if you‘ve been on the fence a bit. Here they are- in no particular order:
*Reef aquariums offer a totally different aesthetic experience- Yeah, imagine a tank that you light with a bluish white light to "glow" the resident corals? No "shop light" look here, baby. And the greens, blues, bright yellows and pinks of corals, "live rock", and invertebrates offer an entirely different palette to work with.
*Reef systems embrace biological and chemical principles that will better help you understand things like nutrient cycling, trace element uptake, etc.- If you like dosing stuff into your planted aquarium, you’ll love a well-stocked reef system! You can explore the effects of supplementation on coral growth, and have real time results. Corals seem to respond even more quickly than plants to changes in their environment, so they can really “keep you on your toes!”
*Reef systems challenge you in different ways than a freshwater tank- In a reef system, there is a lot less emphasis on gadgetry, plumbing, and such. Rather, your greatest energy is expended on actually managing and running the tank itself. You will learn to recognize growth patterns of the corals that you keep, how the fishes that you select actually benefit the system, etc. Learning the relationships between marine fishes, corals and invertebrates will make you a better, more alert freshwater hobbyist.
*Reef systems can be less forgiving- Okay, this may ruffle a few feathers and perhaps provoke violent disagreements and accusations of gross over-generalizations from my Discus and Angelfish breeding friends. However, for the most part, many freshwater animals and planets are more adaptable and accepting of variations in their physical environment than marine organisms, which have evolved over time in ridiculously stable environments, and are therefore less accepting of changes. What this creates for the busy reefer/FW artisan is challenge! They keep you on your toes, trust me.
*Reef systems offer you a chance to rediscover the “soul" of fish keeping- Yeah, there is an “art” to our hobby…lost somewhere in a cacophony of LED lights, electronic controllers, debates over “LE” coral names, etc., etc. so prevalent in the marine sector. A freshwater expert is a more “core” aquarist, IMHO, so a reef offers you the opportunity to get back in touch with skills, techniques, and yes- emotions- that you may have either never felt before, or simply lost track of in the freshwater universe.
*Breeding freshwater fishes helps you get your feet wet with skills and protocols that will help you in marine fish breeding efforts- This is a very important, possibly overlooked benefit of freshwater aquarium keeping. Captive breeding is the future of the marine hobby. IMHO, everyone needs to have at least a rudimentary understanding-if not a basic working knowledge- of breeding aquatic animals. If you can’t raise a baby guppy, you have no chance with a Clownfish, trust me. ‘Nuff said.
I can go on and on…I can hear arguments from both sides (“The Cardinal Tetra is nowhere near as colorful as a Majestic Angel”, or “A reef tank looks like a fruitstand compared to the natural appearance of a planted FW tank.”, etc., etc.) The point is not to create rivalries or foster animosity between the two hobby factions…The idea here is to demonstrate to you that the skills, techniques, and philosophies behind the two aquatic “media” are not only analagous- they are surprisingly interrelated. I suggest that not only do you keep a reef aquarium, but that you attend a marine aquarium conference and see what these amazing people are all about. Their hobby “culture” is not all that different from the one you're familiar with- and the chances and benefits of “cross-pollenation” are many and profound!
I hope that I never see another one of those “reef tanks are to complex. The hobby is an expensive joke” kind of posts again. Really, the only real joke is that we have this amazing opportunity to learn new skills- or perfect existing ones- that will benefit both sides of the aquarium hobby for generations- and have turned away from it with an elitist attitude in some quarters. Reef hobbyists are dedicated just like we are- perhaps svn to a greater extent..They’ve only been doing it with reefs for around 30 years…Even in that relatively brief time, do you think they might have learned a few things that can benefit us? Yeah. And, there are a LOT more serious and highly skilled FW hobbyists than reefers by an enormous margin..An untapped “market” to develop new, super-talented reef keepers, trust me.
Final side benefit of aquatic “cross training” with our reef keeping friends: If we introduce some experienced reef enthusiasts with love to the freshwater world, not only will many give it a try and make the effort to understand our world- they will attempt to convert others…bringing not only new blood, new skills, and new friends to our midst- they will help strengthen the hobby, providing a larger, more widespread understanding of what we do, and helping to stand up to the very real external pressures our hobby now faces.
With that, I’m curious how many of you have reef tanks in your homes, or plan on setting one up…If you spurned saltwater for a time, never lost the fire, or simply enjoy it as another aspect of aquarium keeping…I’d love to hear/see your experiences, as would our readers!
Remember, to keep the reef hobby vital, we also have to keep it “salty.”
Today’s tale of aragonite sand, soft coral, and protein skimmers…
Regardless of your water’s specific gravity, I encourage you to stay engaged, share all you know…
And to stay wet.