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August 2012 Aquarium Fish International Editor's Note

The End of Reefkeeping

By Clay Jackson

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Aquarium Fish 

InternationalIn his article “Reef Collection: Part One,” author Ron Shimek, Ph.D., starts out with the question: “Could reef aquariums become illegal?” Impossible. That’s my short answer. For the author’s take, make sure to read his article.

But I do see where many of the wild-caught marine critters (frags notwithstanding — most of what populates our tanks is wild-caught) currently kept by aquarists could be legislated right out of our tanks in the ensuing years. One of the drivers behind livestock choices is the wow factor associated with particular animals and the spell they cast on certain hobbyists; the bewitched immediately see a particular coral, fish or invertebrate center stage in their own setup and make an impulse buy, often with disastrous results. Even many seasoned reefkeepers can only recount genus names, a husbandry tidbit or two and at what show or LFS they acquired many of their animals. Beyond this they know little about the natural history (i.e., how an animal lives and thrives in the wild and if it is even suitable for life in aquaria) of the marine animals they keep.

The forces aligned against reefkeeping are well-organized, well-monied, vocal and ever-growing. The typical reef hobbyist (a recent survey suggests some 700,000 domestically) is an army of one — a few may belong to an aquarium club or society, and some may even be actively involved. But most are content with the status quo, admiring, tinkering with, enlarging their setups, and adding more pretty fish, corals and invertebrates. Where are the next mariculturalists? Where are the next mentors?

Buying an animal simply because it looks pretty or it does cool things, even if it is hardy, is bad form. Individuals, clubs and societies need to draft, adopt and adhere to best practices. And they need to politely ask LFSs, wholesalers and even importers to not bring in and offer animals that are difficult to keep and have proven track records of nearly 100-percent mortality in aquaria. But what about the “expert” who wants to work with a particular animal? Most real experts shy away from such animals because of the reasons above. They have drawn a line in the substrate they won’t cross. They lead by example. Besides, if someone really desires death-prone livestock, they can special order what they want.

But I don’t want to steal all the thunder. Be sure to read “Reef Collection: Part Two” in next month’s Aquarium Fish International. Shimek will look at recent legislative attempts directed at the reef hobby, as well as things hobbyists can do to swing the pendulum of public opinion in their favor.

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