Forming habits.

Are you "set in your ways?"

You know, kind of in a groove, on "cruise control", just sort of doing exactly what works for you?

I know I tend to get in that groove now and again. In some areas of life, people refer to it as a "rut"- in the fish hobby, we refer to it as "technique". Or perhaps, "habits?"

Habits can be good and bad, as we know. Scarfing down your cholesterol-laden "McMeal" while driving on the 405 Freeway at rush hour (Sorry for the SoCal reference...LOL) smoking a cigarette, picking your nose while on a date, or leaving the toilet seat up are generally agreed by most upright-walking humans to be examples of bad habits. What I'm talking about here are are GOOD habits...forming and keeping them. Habits that can make you a very successful aquarist if you embrace them.

With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite habits that I am virtually certain can lead to more successful aquarium-keeping experiences for the bulk of hobbyists out there. I'm sure there are many, many more than I touch on here, and that's why this is "open source"- I'm counting on you to add to this, for everyone's benefit! 

Here goes:

1) Frequent small water changes: Omigod, you must think I sound like a broken record, but just like eating 5 servings of veggies a day and changing the oil in your car regularly, in my opinion, the industry has failed to come up with a better or more beneficial “additive” for your tank than a water change with fresh water! 

Not only will frequent water changes help “reset” the trace element levels in your tank, they will help dilute accumulations of organics, toxins, and other substances that can degrade your water quality. Surprisingly, water changes are one of the least expensive, and most beneficial maintenance practices that you can employ to assure success.

(Aquarium keeping's equivalent of the F-22 Raptor-a true high tech weapon...)

2) Conducting a daily “once over” of your tanks: Now, we all like to ‘zone out” in front of our tanks- that’s part of why we have them, right? Well, before you head off to your private underwater Nirvana, take a few minutes each day to assess your aquarium and make a mental check of the status of the system. Go from the most basic (Are the pumps on?) to the obscure ( Is the bubble counter on my CO2 system operable?).

Get in the habit of “checking under the hood” of your tank every day, and you’ll have a real “baseline” for what is “normal” for your system. Not only that, you’ll be so intimately in touch with your system that it will become immediately obvious when something is not right. Straight observation is one of the best general aquarium habits we can do. Whether it's via your webcam, checking your controller readings via your smart phone, or actually looking at your aquarium (the best way- sorry tech heads...get your heads out of your screens and look at the darn tank for a minute! LOL) Who knows what kind of disaster could be averted by developing this habit?

3) Thawing and rinsing frozen foods before feeding: Do you just toss a few cubes of frozen food into your tank each day, or do you “thaw and dispense” them? Yeah, this seems like one of those pain in the rear things that exceptionally anal aquarists tend to do, but it’s a really great idea. I know, there have been lots of discussions about how much nutrients (phosphates, etc.) really are in the packing juices that accompany frozen foods, and it's been argued that it's not that much by well-educated people, but the fact is, most of this stuff just goes right down the filter, without being utilized by your fishes. You know it and so do I..To quote Elton John in the classic song, "Rocket Man", "...All the science, I don't understand. It's just my job 5 days a week..."

Instead, it accumulates in filter socks, sponges, the substrate, etc….and decomposes, potentially degrading water quality. EVEN IF there is a negligible amount of organic material in these “juices”, why would you want to have it accumulating in your tank? Over time, this stuff WILL contribute to reduced water quality. It takes a few extra minutes to thaw out the food and rinse it before tossing it into your tank…Time well spent, if you ask me.

You don't want this guy feeding your tank, trust me.

4) Quarantine EVERYTHING!: Yup, beating the proverbial dead horse again, but man- if I had a dollar for every time I hear of a tragedy that could have been prevented by employing a simple quarantine protocol, I wouldn’t have to sling botanicals for a living! Seriously, though- You’ll find that in the end, it’s way easier to quarantine fishes for 3 weeks before they are placed into your display than it is to deal with disease once it’s in the tank! 

A 10 gallon tank, sponge filter, heater, and water from your display tank will create the most basic and effective quarantine tank you can have. And it doesn’t require a major investment in equipment. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be permanent. Just set it up when you need it and break it down when you’re done. Stupidly simple, and the cost/benefit ratio is off the charts! Just DO IT!!

"Quarantine tanks require too much equipment." Really? Put down your controller manual, smart guy....

5) Avoid the impulse buys: OK, it seems kind of funny that I, as a former vendor of marine livestock, would be admonishing you NOT to buy everything in sight, but it’s only the right thing to do. You can’t just add everything to your aquarium that looks good…I mean, it seems like common sense, but it’s actually a tough lesson for many reefers- novice AND advanced alike- to comprehend. Interactions between seemingly innocuous fishes can create an environment that is hostile to everyone. 

Think about the potential that exists for the fish you're about to buy to cause trouble.  Consider its habits, growth form, and potential size. All are worth thinking about BEFORE you plunk down your money!

Okay, okay, these are just a few good habits, but they are some of the most important ones that you should develop as you gain experience and skill with aquarium systems. Habits can be good and bad, so why not develop some good ones for your hobby? They can only help ensure greater success!

Let’s hear some of your recommended “best good habits” for successful aquarium keeping! What habits have you employed to get your reef where you wanted it? Your fellow fish geeks want to know, so don’t be shy!

I gotta run and check the readouts on my controllers while I start my day...Just kidding. 

Develop good habits.

Until next time…

Stay wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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