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A Tale of Three Mistakes

Impulse buying can lead good-intentioned aquarists down a reefkeeping path filled with chuckholes, blind curves and dead ends.

Posted: June 5, 2009

By Jackie Franza

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Clownfish and Anemone
Nemo loved his anemone and actually seemed sad after it died.
Butterflyfish
The coral-eating butterflyfish that killed our hammer and torch corals.
Sailfin Tang
Our tank wasn’t appropriate for an active and delicate tang.
Anyone involved in reefkeeping has no doubt learned early on that this hobby has a steep learning curve. I think most everyone can relate to making at least a few mistakes, and some of us have made a ton of mistakes!

I admit, in the beginning, my fiancé and I made a lot of mistakes. Some mistakes were costly (buying the wrong equipment); others were just sad (when a creature died in our tank). Some were both costly and sad, a double whammy.

At the root of most of our problems were impulse buys. We’d be at the LFS (local fish store), buying saltwater or fish food and spy a pretty fish for sale. Without taking the time to do the necessary research ahead of time, we’d just buy it and throw it in the tank. Not a good idea! We often asked the LFS employees for advice, but they didn’t always lead us down the right path. We figured since they were the ones selling the stuff, they knew everything about reefkeeping, but this isn’t always this case.

Early on, we made three big mistakes all around the same time. All could have been avoided if we would have done our research first. Just so you know, I don’t blame these store employees for our mistakes. Although the advice we received in these three instances was not good, we should have done the research ourselves, before we headed over to the store and made impulse buys. It’s never a good idea to buy any living creature on a whim.

Mistake No. 1

Us: “Do we need to do anything special to keep an anemone in our tank?”
LFS: “No, anemones are easy. This one will do fine in your tank.”
After we brought the anemone home, I did some research (what I should have done before buying the anemone) and realized that “nems” need pretty strong lighting — which we did not have.
The $30 anemone ended up costing us $700. We were so enamored with the beautiful anemone that we shelled out the cash to upgrade our lighting to a metal halide fixture (love that shimmer!).
Even with the new light, our nem did not thrive. We fed it pieces of fish once or twice a week, but it just wasted away over time. Our tank was not mature or stable enough to support the delicate creature. We didn’t know that anemones aren’t really for beginners or new tanks. It was both a costly and sad lesson learned.

Mistake No. 2

Us: “Those butterflyfish are pretty. Are they reef safe?”
LFS: “I don’t think this one will harm your corals.”
Now, this one was tricky because some butterfly species do OK in reef tanks. Others don’t. We brought the fish home and hoped that she would not nip at our new coral frags. At first, she ignored them. Within a month’s time, however, she realized that she LOVED coral; apparently it tasted much yummier than the boring food we were feeding the tank. She chowed down on our two LPS frags (a hammer coral and a torch). We decided to bring her back to the fish store, but of course, she was impossible to catch. After trying a few different methods, I bought one of those commercial fish traps and caught the ruthless coral-eater, but it was too late for our frags, which died.

Mistake No. 3

Us: “Can we add that sailfin tang to our 50-gallon tank?”
LFS: “Yeah, no problem!”
Of all the mistakes we have made over the years, this one breaks my heart the most. We brought home that gorgeous tang, and I was just in love with her. She was so pretty and had such an interesting personality. I would spend hours watching her swim around. Unbeknownst to us (again, we didn’t do our research!), the tang was cramped in our little tank and didn’t want to eat. She was slowly stressed and then eventually died. It was tragic to watch such a beautiful fish suffer and die, and I cried all night. I felt even more horrible when I learned that we never should have put her in our tank to begin with.

At Least I Learned From my Mistakes
Yep, we’ve made mistakes (and I’m sure we will make more in the years to come), but we learned a huge lesson. We never, ever buy anything for our tank without researching the heck out of it first. Impulse buys are almost never a good idea. Unless you know a creature will live and thrive in your tank (and not destroy the other creatures in your tank), you shouldn’t put it in there. Period.

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Reader Comments

Dawnna    Eaton Rapids, MI

8/11/2009 6:32:09 AM

I've made a few of the same mistakes. I bought a vlamingii tang, which would have been to big for my 76 gallon, so I put it in my 155. It still got to big so I returned it to the LFS.

Tanner    cosh, OH

7/19/2009 11:53:34 PM

So true

Dave    Cumming, GA

7/6/2009 5:56:01 AM

I've been doing the fresh and salt thing for over 35+ years (on and off) I've been into the reef tank syndrome for about 7 months now and love it. Like you stated learn all you can. I read and asked questions for about 6 months prior to starting my 1st reef tank, I have 3 at present (72g, 55g and 30g). Even though I have been doing the salt thing for many, many years I keep reading and learning daily. No matter how much you know there will always be others who know more. A thing for all to remember even the good LFSs are in the business to make money. The really good ones will not sell you things they know will not survive in your tank if you ask questions. Hooked for life.

Mark    Chicopee, MA

6/22/2009 3:34:40 PM

thought it was good.I'm looking into starting a marine tank.And the blogs give me a lot of info to think about.

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