There's a new wave coming.
You've heard this expression before in lots of different things...art, music, cuisine, etc....However, the aquarium hobby does have a new wave coming. In retrospect, you might say that it's already here.
The freshwater hobby is entering a new "renaissance" of sorts. An incredible time, filed by new ideas and innovations. Yet, not everyone seems to have gotten the message.
I received a call from a pretty advanced cichlid breeder the other day, who was relaying to me some of the scathing teasing and criticism she was receiving from some reefer friends over the past couple of years, who went out of their way to remind her that she was operating in the "minor leagues" of the aquarium world, "wasting her talent" on the "brown fish."
As a reefer, I found the stuff that they were saying to her insulting, short-sighted, and remarkably typical of some of the rhetoric I've heard over the years. It made me think the reef keeping side of the hobby is starting to "show its age" a bit. It made me a bit angry, actually.
I received some of this same criticism when I started Tannin..."good old boy" humor that I think carried the undertones of a detrimental "cultural belief."
It's a well-known fact that some reefers seem to love to gently "trash talk" the freshwater side of the hobby. Much of it is good-natured, of course. Yet, a surprisingly large amount of it is unwarranted, based on uninformed, superficial observations of the popular side of the freshwater hobby. The freshwater side is often seen as a sort of "quiet backwater" in comparison to the "high-energy" reef hobby zone. A lot of reefers incorrectly and unfairly stereotyped the freshwater hobby as a bunch of old 1970's people excited about keeping brown fish in metal-framed aquariums filtered by under gravel aquariums.
And as someone who comes from the reef world/culture, was a well-known speaker and author in that world, and co-owned one of the hottest coral propagation facilities in the U.S., and now owns Tannin, which has garnered a sort of "cutting edge" reputation, I think I have a pretty decent read on the vibe of the reef hobby and the freshwater side.
I think the tide is turning. I think that the reef world, dynamic and fascinating as it is, has become a bit...well, how can I put nicely? Predictable?
In freshwater, we're seeing the beginnings of a new influx of ideas, technique, technology...thinking. Experimentation in all sorts of areas is leading to awesome breakthroughs, new techniques, etc. And it's not just dependent upon the development and release of new expensive toys. It's about good old fashioned technique!
The reef aquarium hobby, which has been the red-hot darling of the aquarium world for the last couple of decades, is, in my opinion reaching a sort of "asymptotic limit", where the new huge breakthroughs are leveling off, or becoming a bit less spectacular. Coral propagation is a given. You can get great frags everywhere that have never even touched the ocean. Marine fishes are being bred in captivity to the point where we really no longer need to rely on wild imports for most varieties of Clownfish, many Cardinalfish, and some other popular varieties. For the first time, we're actually seeing internal pressure within the marine breeding world for breeders to "move on to some other species."
Now, don't get me wrong. I love reef tanks.
Reef aquariums are amazing little captive microcosms, but they are rapidly becoming sort of, well...ubiquitous. They're everywhere. Now, don't be misled, the reef side of the hobby is thriving, new products are debuting almost daily, and beautiful tanks are popping up constantly. However, having stepped back from that world, I've noticed some things that are well, interesting. In my opinion, the things you see the most of in the majority of the media on the reef hobby are: 1)new expensive hight-tech gear, and 2)new crazy-expensively-equpped reef tanks. Oh, and a ton of frags.
Now, all of these things are cool. All of them are engaging...But it's like there has been a technique progression that has almost reached a limit for now, and a lot of the changes in the reef side are being driven by technology breakthroughs, or the "gear" side of things. With a few exception, the "art" or technique side of the reef hobby has sort of "leveled off" for the time being, as everyone's eyes are on the latest reactor, controller, or pump. Sure, the new technology is creating new dynamics and possibilities that hobbyists will develop techniques for as they "catch up" with it over time.
New products are really cool, but how many different versions of a protein skimmer, LED light, or reactor do you need? Pump technology is cool, and DC motors are creating amazing energy savings. Great stuff. But what about techniques? What about the "art" of reef keeping? Time to return a focus to technique a bit, IMHO.
And, just because the bulk of new equipment and flashy toys are being marketed towards the reef world doesn't mean the freshwater world is moribund.
Short-selling that the freshwater world is "for beginners", "mired in the past", etc. is just wrong. It's out of touch with reality, and shows an ignorance that is really disturbing, if not laughable.
Guess what? You can do both. Your skills cross over. Notice I said "skills?" Great reef keepers make great freshwater hobbyists- and vice versa. And just because you can keep a cool, gear-heavy reef tank doesn't mean you can "nail" keeping wild Altum Angelfish from day one, any more than an IAPLC winner can keep a stunning Acropora tank right away. You have to hone up on your aquarium technique. You'll have an advantage if you're a skilled hobbyist- not because you spend $37,000 on an over-the-top, uber high-tech, gadget-driven reef tank or high-tech planted tank.
To my reef friends who have this attitude: Enough. Wake up. The "new wave" is here. Time to leave the attitude at the door, "cross pollenate" and have everyone share all of our amazing experiences for the betterment of the aquarium hobby as a whole.
Join in on the fun.
In the freshwater world, we're seeing the beginnings of a new influx of ideas, technique, technology...new thinking. Some of it is coming from well-known FW hobby people we've known, loved, and respected. Some is coming from a new generation of "resident freshwater" hobbyists. And some is coming from people from other ends of the hobby- Reefers, Frog people, planted tank enthusiasts, etc...
Almost every day, I'm talking to a different reef hobbyist who can't wait to play around with new freshwater tanks! They get it.
It's an amazing time that we should all be enjoying together. With the crossover technologies, the power of the internet, the talent, and the killer ideas flowing from all sorts of hobbyists, it's time to create a new and open-minded culture, taking in the best ideas from both sides of the "salinity line", for the advancement of the entire aquarium hobby! There is so much to learn from each other.
Break down the barriers, cast aside antiquated notions, open your eyes...and share.
Yeah, the New Wave is here.
Stay open minded. Stay experimental. Stay focused on FUN.
And above all...