Reef Sources Guide - Introduction

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A Simple Guide to Establishing and Maintaining a Reef Aquarium


It probably all started 30 some odd years ago with a goldfish in a bowl of colored water that I won at the fair. Many tanks and a lot of money later it is still in my blood. I cannot pass a tank, any tank, without a careful inspection of the contents. Except in rare cases, I am always left with just a little more inner peace and a little bit of wonderment and awe.

I can remember the small fish store where I eyed my first yellow tang. From that day forward, the cichlids would just never do any more. Then, in the 80’s, I saw a full-blown reef, and I lusted after it for years. Finally, on a recent trip to the Gulf Coast, I visited an arcade with my children; Morgan’s in Destin, Florida. Morgan’s has several reef tanks set up and maintained by Kathy and David Smith of Reef Encrustaceans. I was instantly hooked again.

With my renewed lust for reef aquaria, I began to research heavily all of the latest trends in reef/fish keeping. And now, unlike my other forays into fish keeping, I have the Internet as a research tool, and what a tool it is. The Internet allows me to talk and listen to virtually thousands of people, and collect both scientific and anecdotal information that has made this my most successful and enjoyable fish keeping experience to date.

This same Internet that allows me to consume information, also allows me to share it. Therefore, it is here that I choose to synopsize what I have learned, and hopefully help a few people be successful in fish/reef keeping. This is not a purely selfless act. I have some selfless as well as selfish reasons to motivate me.

Hopefully, this text will serve to educate the neophyte as to what is necessary in reef/fish keeping, and dissuade those who are not willing to do the work. Irresponsible hobbyist and fish dealers, if left unchecked, will ruin this hobby.


Ecological Impact

Many things affect the health of the reef and its inhabitants. Coral and fish collection, when done properly, is of only minor impact to the coral reefs. The majority of the destruction of the reefs can be attributed to commercial mining of limestone from the reefs for construction materials and non-organic run-off from onshore farming efforts. These things, in conjunction with coral bleaching and mass die-offs, attributed to global warming, are destroying reefs at an alarming rate. None of these things though, are as visible as the brightly colored fish and corals in the local fish store. Therefore, when the environmentalists are screaming about the destruction of the reefs, it is the aquarium hobbyists that are blamed.

To combat the laying of the blame, we as hobbyists must take and environmentally friendly position, and make it visible. These are reasonably simple steps. First, buy only net caught fish from a supplier you can trust. The reason behind this is twofold. Net caught fish will fare better in you tank than similar cyanide caught specimens, and no reef destruction is affected with a hand net. These fish will live longer, and reduce the demand on the reef to produce more animals. Along these lines, buy tank-raised fish wherever you can. They may be a bit more expensive, but from a longevity standpoint, quality beats quantity every time. Also, make sure that the fish you covet has a good reputation as an aquarium subject. Except rare cases, Orbic Bats, Moorish Idols, and such, quickly starve in an aquarium. This is a waste of money, but more importantly, a waste of life. If you don’t buy the fish, your store won’t stock it, the wholesaler won’t import it, and it stays in the reefs…less ecological impact.

Also, if you want to keep a specimen with a special requirement, make darn sure that you can provide that special requirement. If you cannot, it will be a slow and certain death. More important though, is to find out about that special requirement BEFORE you bring the specimen home.


Once you get the fish or coral home, you should treat it like a child, or at a minimum, with as much care as you would provide your cat or dog. It is no different. You have removed an animal from the wild. Therefore, your are responsible for the well being of same. You can’t ignore them. They must be fed, the tank cleaned, bulbs and filters changed, and several other tasks.

These animals, at least in my case, represent an emotional and financial commitment. With the price of these specimens, and the cost of equipment, a decently stocked reef tank can easily run to $50-per-gallon. That is $2000 for a forty-gallon tank, up front. Then there are recurring costs for chemicals, bulbs, hardware, food, etc. This is not a cheap hobby. When I lose an animal though, my mind does not go to the money, but to the life lost. So I do everything I can to not lose an animal. I hope you will to.

The Plan

I am a planner. I like to know where I am going before I leave. That way I will always arrive at where I thought I would. Hopefully in the next few pages you will find some inspiration to plan. It will help you be successful, as well as minimize the loss of life, money, and patience. I must say though, before formulating a plan you need to do three things; read, read, and read. This web site is as good of a place to start as any, but far from being the only thing you need to read. Also, I have included several book reviews of texts that I feel should be on all serious reef keepers shelves. “Plan the work and work the plan,” I always say…sometimes.

I sincerely hope you gain something from this, and that you deeply enjoy fish/reef keeping as much as I do.

scott brown


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Copyright © 1999-2000, Scott Brown, except as otherwise noted. All rights reserved. This work may not be reproduced, in part, or in full, without the express written consent of the copyright holder.