When I first acquired my reef tank, I made jokes about keeping “a box of water with rocks.” For the first three weeks, that’s all it was. A box of water with rocks I balanced atop one another to form a kind of “reef.”
Three weeks in, the live rock and live sand (meaning rocks and sand full of beneficial marine bacteria) had “cycled” enough to add a fish.
But not a seahorse. Seahorses’ delicate nature and special needs meant six more months must pass before I could add one to the reef.
I needed something hardy, yet peaceful enough to share a tank with a seahorse. To the Internet! Several hours of research later, Emperor Max came home.
In the weeks that followed, while waiting for my lights, and then for my seahorses, I spent many hours reading about the types of corals and fish that live in peace with seahorse-kind. I planned and plotted and changed my mind, until I decided exactly which corals (and how many) I could have and where to place them.
I designed my reef with all the enthusiasm of a landscape architect laying out a botanical garden. I knew, to the inch, how many corals I could place and where they all would go. This was an art form, after all, and I’d studied and thought and planned it out. I designed a reef! And I was proud.
But all my planning and craft-like precision failed to account for one important point:
More than half the corals I’ve bought didn’t want to live in the part of the reef I assigned them. Fortunately, I bring them home only one or two at a time, so I have freedom to move them around a bit and find a place they appreciate. Most of the time. On two occasions, I’ve had to admit defeat and return the coral to the store (exchanging it for another) because the specimen didn’t like my tank – in one case, because the flow was wrong, and in the other … for reasons I still can’t figure out.
I thought reefkeeping was like a craft – after all, I get to use glue to secure the coral frags to the reef – but as it turns out, it’s more of an art-meets-science. 80% of it has to do with water parameters, chemistry and flow, as well as picking specimens that live well together. But that last 20% or so is really more of an art – finding the place where each coral decides it’s happy, and then not moving someone unpleasant into the neighborhood later on.
So there you have my contribution. Part art, part science – and maybe just a little bit of a craft.
After all, I do get to use the glue.