I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen amazing aquariums complete with vibrant fishes and artistic, aesthetically interesting aquascaping, and decided I was going to do something similar in my own aquariums.
There are a lot of these “ooh, aah” moments in the aquarium hobby. It’s easy to fall in love with a style of aquariumkeeping after we see pictures of a stunning planted tank or an intricate, vibrant reef aquarium.
Behind the Veneer
What we don’t get to see behind these beautiful pictures in magazines and on the Internet is the work that went into building the aquariums pictured. Photographs capture a moment in time and don’t represent a system in a static state.
Aquarists who create the picturesque systems we admire so much have to spend a great deal of time planning their systems. They must educate themselves as to the processes and biological needs of their proposed systems. Most of all, they must invest time, energy and money into establishing their systems.
The truth is, some systems are simply out of the reach of all but the most dedicated, educated, serious hobbyists. While it is great to want to aspire to this level, we need to be realistic with ourselves. Unrealistic expectations have a way of coming back to hurt the hobby.
Shooting the Moon
All aquarists don’t have to take this approach. Ultimately, if everyone expects to achieve the amazing results they see experts achieving, they’ll likely be disappointed and leave the hobby.
In many cases, I think high expectations actually hurt the overall hobby. Consider, for example, all of the high-end paraphernalia in the hobby.
We have Starphire glass aquariums, rimless tanks, expensive controllers, elaborate CO2 setups, and even all-glass CO2 diffusers, to mention just a few. Never mind that those glass pipettes will eventually be green with algae: we’re in love with an image.
All of these items definitely have a place in the hobby, and I’m not saying they aren’t useful. Many high-tech gadgets and systems are excellent for the planted tank hobby, especially in the case of high-tech CO2 equipment. The same is true for the reef aquarium hobby.
But a budding aquarist with high expectations faced with the daunting task of sorting out all of this information and calculating the costs of these more-elaborate systems is more likely to just give up and take up a less-demanding hobby than an aquarist with realistic expectations and achievable goals.
If our standards require us to purchase ever more expensive equipment and dedicate all our free time to our hobby, we’ll create barriers to entry that could end up killing off the entire hobby.
Doing Our Part
Aquarium hobbyists have to make it their priority to let new hobbyists know it doesn’t have to be this way.
Sure, you might want that jaw-dropping reef tank you saw at the aquarium show, but you need to take a realistic route to get it.
Everyone loves beautifully aquascaped planted tanks, but do we have to get it right the first time we try?
The message we send in both cases should be one that encourages new hobbyists to strive for these goals in a sustainable way with realistic expectations.
In this digital age of instantaneous wish fulfillment, the aquarium hobby stands as a testament to a time when we only got out what we were willing to put into our endeavors.
For this reason alone, I believe the aquarium hobby is still one of the best hobbies on Earth. Digital information is wonderful, and ease of living is fine, but we still have to pay the balance at the end of our own trip, just like our ancestors did, and just as our descendents will continue to do.
Our aquariums can teach this to us. As much as our living glass boxes may seem like antiquated television sets, we can’t just change the channel when we get tired of our fishes, our algae grow out of control or our system crashes.
The dividends of our hobby will always reflect the quality of the investments we put into it. Help new hobbyists find their way by showing them how to pick their battles, find the right information and aim for realizable goals. Trust me, as these same new hobbyists mature and pass on our example by supporting the hobby, we’ll be glad we gave them the right tools to succeed.