A few weeks back, I gave a talk at a hobby club meeting in The Midwest, and the topic was Nutrient Control and Export.” I’ve given this talk at reef clubs around the nation many times before, as well as at the big MACNA conference, and I’m frequently surprised by how much hobbyists like it. Although we touched upon such seemingly basic aquarium husbandry issues, the talk (and ensuing dynamic discussion) made me once again realize that there is a definite “philosophy” to aquarium husbandry that seems to be shared among the most successful fish geeks that I know:
“Doing the correct things in small amounts regularly and repetitively.”
Simple words, but what do they mean to the successful aquarist? A whole lot, actually.
The key to ultimate long term success in the hobby is not just having the ultimate system and the latest, coolest equipment- it’s the effort that you put in as a hobbyist to provide your animals with the best possible care.
The interesting, common thread seems to be that most of the successful aquarists whom I know share that basic philosophy in one form or another. Instead of panicked, "knee-jerk" reactions to problems, like corals dying or water quality declining, they proactively avoid many of these issues by following a regular husbandry regimen. Typically, this consists of stuff like modest (like 5%-10%) weekly or slightly larger (20%) monthly water changes, daily observation of major life support systems, frequent cleaning/exchanges of chemical and mechanical filtration media, and regular, but not obsessive water chemistry tests.
This stuff is really basic, but I am frequently surprised, when brought in to troubleshoot an “anomalous” tank “crash” or other issue, of the seemingly complete lack of regular husbandry procedure in some instances. As the sayings goes, “Nothing good happens quickly in an aquarium.” More often than not, in my experience- neither do bad things! They happen (in a lot of cases) over time, and the cumulative effect is what causes the ultimate decline in many cases.
Algae problems, for example, aren’t typically caused by sudden, isolated events. Rather, they often have their roots in something simple, like bad feeding habits (just dumping cubes of food, packing juices and all) right into the tank in large quantities over time, failure to execute water changes with any degree of frequency, allowing filter socks and other mechanical media to become saturated with detritus or organics, or the hobbyist forgetting to change the membranes and on his/her RO unit (I can’t tell you how many times this has been the cause of gradual declines in water quality).
Sure, sometimes there is a rare case of a ‘toxic “batch of salt mix (in a reef tank), or a genuine, downright poisoning, but typically, many water quality (and therefore environmental quality) issues result from lack of consistency in our husbandry practices.
My point of this rant is not to beat you over the head with the basics, especially after yesterday's rant about stability- but it IS to imply yet again that a simple, consistent effort on your part will lead to greater system stability, animal health, and ultimately greater success as a hobbyist. It's been on my mind a lot lately, as we have many hobbyists new to the botanical-style, bIackwater aquarium "genre", and they're curious about husbandry with "all that stuff being added..."
I know we’ve been discussing how important it is NOT to obsess over squeaky clean aquariums, and that things don’t have to be fanatically-maintained…However, it IS important to simply develop good habits. Just being habitual about good aquarium practice is enough, IMHO.
Force yourself to adopt good practices-most of us already do, but apply them in manageable tasks (many of us don’t- for example the “every 4-month water change” or “spring cleaning” of the tank). And do them often! It’s so much easier! A 5% weekly water change can make a huge difference in long term stability of your system. If you don’t believe me, give it a shot for a month and see if you notice a difference in your system…I’ll bet that you will. Oh, notice I said “stability”- not, “…will get your nitrate and phosphate to zero!” We’re not going there…LOL. We’re just talking about fostering good habits.
So get up, look yourself in the mirror, and then look at your systems. Ask yourself if you are making the hobby easier for yourself by following a sporadic husbandry program, or making it harder. I’ll bet that, after adopting a more regular, frequent maintenance schedule, you’ll be asking yourself more “unusual” questions, like “Why did my Apistos spawn again?”, or “Man, I have to net out those Rainbowfish fry AGAIN?”
Good “problems” to have, huh? Think about it.
So tell us- what are the husbandry tasks that you do most consistently on your tanks? Which ones do you feel are the most useful and important?
Stay diligent. Stay consistent. Stay inspired...
And Stay Wet.