Trade offs or "sacrifices?" Or, just the price of love...

I was called recently by an author writing a piece for a "lifestyle" magazine, wanting to find out the "inside scoop" on what it's like to be in the aquarium hobby. He's doing a piece on hobbies and the people who engage in them, and was curious how we feel about the things we give up to enjoy what we do.

It gave me some pause, and I thought that I'd share my thinking with you...

The aquarium hobby is just that- a hobby. However, unlike many hobbies, it’s engrossing, all-encompassing, almost obsession-inducing for a lot of people. Many hobbyists invest enormous amounts of time, money, and themselves into creating and maintaining an aquarium. It’s almost scary to the outsider, yet interestingly, just “par for the course” to a fish geek! This enormous resource expenditure often leads to rewards for you as a hobbyist, but only after a surprisingly large number of early-on “sacrifices”, right?

Ever looked at it from this perspective? It’s kind of interesting, if not a bit...well- scary! For example, look at the basics on this “list” of stuff you give up:

Sacrifice #1) Cold hard cash- Yeah, it’s not something easily avoidable for most of us. To build a reef aquarium requires capital. Tanks, gadgets, gear, livestock- even water- all cost money, and that’s a reality that doesn’t end once your tank is up and running, right? I mean, there’s the ongoing expenses of operating a tank…Foods, chemicals, plants, fertilizers, gadgets, fishes…It keeps adding up.

Sacrifice #2- Time- Well, of course, it takes a lot of time to plan, assemble and create a great reef tank. Now, you can say that it’s not really a “sacrifice”, I suppose- because doing all this stuff is what makes it a hobby! However, I know a lot of hobbyists who make the vacation week “tank build week”, or who have given up going to other events because they’re re-plumbing their system, etc. And think about all of the club people who volunteer their time during conventions. They’re giving up something, weather you see it this way or not.


Sacrifice #3- You’re dealing with live animals and it may not work- Yeah, THAT one kinda sucks. Let’s face it, your idea to maintain 4 male Lamprologus in a 60 gallon multiple-rock formation aquascape looked good on paper, perhaps- but the animals will dictate what works. It’s easy to theorize about a mixed livebearer tank, a lot harder to execute! The rear Angel may not acclimate...Sometimes, despite our best pals, stuff just doesn’t happen the way we think it will. This may result in loss of life, discouragement, and other issues. All are tragic (with loss of life being the worst!), and each one is a sacrifice in and of itself.

Okay, now I’ve just dropped a huge "buzzkill" on the whole hobby, so maybe it’s time to look at the positives…What about the long-term positive results of such sacrifices?

Long Term Benefit #1- You’re in complete control- sort of. Yeah, you can create the exact type of environment you’re trying to replicate, complete with water chemistry, lighting, flow, and associated corals and animals. Sacrificing “having everything”  (ie; the “community tank”) gives you more control over what you DO decide to keep. This is something that is often overlooked during the planning and creation process of a specialized aquarium.


Long Term Benefit #2 - You can even learn from failure. Nothing is ever really wasted. Despite setbacks and near disasters, it seems like every experience we have in reef keeping can be a learning experience that makes us better reefers. Often times, recovery from failure can teach us more than success right out of the blocks. Seeing what CAN go wrong and what steps work to rectify the situation is valuable knowledge- heard-won, but exceedingly useful. Which brings us quickly to the next, related benefit:

Long Term Benefit #3- You learn what works- and what doesn’t- quickly- and you get to keep the skills! In other words, if something kills your fishes, you’ll get a really great read for what works and what doesn’t…And you’ll make those adjustments if you want to continue to play the fishkeeping game…And you will have that experience to fall back on.


Long Term Benefit #4-  You accumulate friends and experiences to share. These are the priceless intangibles of this hobby and journey… the things that really matter in this whole game of fishkeeping are often the things that matter to us in the rest of life- friends, relationships, etc. 

In the end, are any of these things really “sacrifices?” Are any of the lessons we learn from this hobby- the experiences that we accumulate- are any of them truly a “sacrifice?” I think it all depends upon how you look at things, in actuality.

That's not so bad at all, right?

If you’re successful- and sometimes even if you’re not- you make your mark, influence people, interact. Win. And you can contribute to the body of knowledge that is aquarium keeping...what a HUGE win, right?

Think about that today! 

Stay engaged. Stay dedicated. Stay diligent.

And stay wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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