I had a customer call me the other day regarding some issues that he was having with his fabulously-equipped, obscenely expensive 300 gallon mixed reef system. He’s got the usual littany of tech toys that scare off many freshwater folks making the switch to the "reef" side of the game- high end European protein skimmer, dosing system, biopellet reactor, turbo-charged external powerheads, and an electronic controller that would make NASA jealous. Seemed like all was good and that he should be at the top of his game with his 15k plus investment in this tank.
Yet, for some reason, his system just didn’t look right. Corals seemed off-color, fish were listless, and the system just didn’t look “right”. We went through the usual questions: “Any new fishes added recently?” , “Did you dose any additives?”, “When was the last time you did a water change?”….
As it turned out, he felt that his super high-tech system made him exempt from basic husbandry practices…Not only had it been literally months since he did a water change, it had been an equal number of months since he actually checked the parameters measured by his controller!
In fact, his "auto top off" system had failed some time before and was not adding fresh water to make up for evaporation...he was topping off the tank "visually" with fresh water as he noticed the level in the sump dropping from time to time. Upon checking, the specific gravity in the tank was 1.029! Yikes, that's saltier than the edge of a Maragrita glass!
One of the controller’s probes cracked, and the pH probe was not even submersed in the water, so he wasn't even able to get accurate technical information or clues about the increasing specific gravity!
For all of his techno-props, my friend overlooked some basic tenants of reef-keeping (aquarium-keeping, really): 1) You can’t blindly rely on gadgets to control your system without glancing at them occasionally to ascertain if they are working or not, and 2) You need to adhere to some very basic husbandry practices- such as water changes, to dilute metabolic waste products. 3) You cannot turn a blind eye to a problem; it may only get worse if left unchecked.
Basic stuff, yes- but absolutely vital if we are to enjoy long-term success with captive animals. 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. I don't know if it's the times that we live in, or what- but stories like this one are becoming increasingly common.
You can't just throw money and technology around and expect it to render you immune from the basics of aquarium care and stewardship. All the technology in the world will not replace your taking the time and making the effort to observe and care for your aquarium. You probably know this already...but I'll bet you have a friend or two who haven't figured this out yet, for one reason or another.
Spend less time shopping for that “limited edition” coral, "ultra rare" imported African Cichlid, and more time just looking at your aquarium! Return to the basic “core” experience of keeping an aquarium, and get involved with your system on a more intimate level.
Get- and keep- your hands wet!