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Art,
If you owned an LFS, how would you set it up?

Around here, there are literally thousands of active reef hobbyists, most of whom have $5k-$10K+ tied up in their systems and a burning desire to collect one of everything. Any reef store worth their salt has well heeled guys waiting as new stock arrives (even these days), looking to cherry pick the best stuff. $500+ corals and fish are not uncommon with $75-$100 pricetags on mid-level stock.

Compare that to maybe 50-100 aquascapers in the same area, most with considerably smaller amounts invested. You might sell a few $10 plants, but within a few months the local supply is saturated as it passes through the usual sources. Are you really going to steer your customers into buying plants?

I don't intend to be doom and gloom, but I think there are some lessons to be learned. As Americans:

1) We love to collect. Rare, expensive, and colorful are big draws. We'll never see a huge range of species, but you're right, having some perpetually half dead crypts and swords in the back corner of every store isn't doing the hobby any favors. Healthy plants are a start, but also new varieties and species.

2) We love nice looking equipment and high tech gizmos. Nearly every piece of commonly available equipment for planted aquariums is outdated and/or very low grade junk (ADA the obvious exception, but still major price and availability issues). I know most current FW hobbyists are frugal, to say the least, but if you want to attract commited people, there has to be something better than 20 year old army green canister filters, finicky repurposed CO2 regulators, and warehouse strip lights.

What's interesting to me is the sheer number of reefkeepers who aren't into aesthetics at all. Scientists, engineers, and every type of craftsperson. The kind of folks who would never name their scape "autumn's silent whisper" while listening to Enya. They spend months and months building unbelievable life sustaining systems which take up entire rooms, and only 30 minutes throwing a pile of rock and coral in once they finish.

3) We want something that makes logical sense to us. <-- Biggest area for improvement

Reefing is straightforward in a sense. You brute force remove the bad things (pests, nitrates, anaerobic areas, phosphates, algae) and supplement the good things (light, flow, calcium, alkalinity..). When something goes wrong, there is often a straightforward path of resolution. It also helps that success is determined almost solely by the size and relative health of your collection.

With plants, we have this concept of balance, and to be fair, few of us have a clue as to what we're really doing. We follow our own religions because somewhere along the way we stumbled into a combination of methods that works for us. At least until it doesn't. Then we start a thread and 13 people throw out 13 different theories as to why we have pinholes.

Telling a newbie that plants need carbon/N/P/K/Micros (but just enough, not too much or everything dies + algae) and giving them 37 different ways to provide it (or not) is confusing. We have the EI/PPS wars. This amano guy sells lots of different substrate additives, but no science exists to if and why it works. Tough sell.

To top it off, the notion of what makes a great display great is still cloudy. Mostly, it's on a scale of how much it looks like something Amano has done, but I don't know if that's the right criteria. At the same time, we are forbidden from offering constructive criticism. Even when someone puts blue gravel and a bubbling treasure chest in their ADA 120P, we all have to pretend it looks great for fear of hurting someone's feelings. Ultimately, I think it slows the proliferation of aquascaping as an art form.
 

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What do we have in the US to compare?
A bit of a sidetrack, but America's art form and culture is the custom car. Nowhere else in the world will you find anything close to the level of enthusiasm you find here. There are thousands of amazing projects in progress in every major city (many of which fall into the >$50k, multiple year range). How many fathers pass down a lifelong interest to their sons? Generally speaking, the rest of the world looks at a car the same way they would a dishwasher.





 

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I want it easy, If I have to pay for easy that is fine. Life must go on.
So you're hiring someone? ADG?

A central theme to this thread and many others is lack of consensus on what works, even amongst us non-jetsetting types. We haven't even made it to the why part yet. I believe the hobby will grow exponentially if we ever do manage to piece together a reliable cookbook, but there has been very little interest from the scientific community, to date.
 

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Interesting discussions. Some rambling thoughts...

I have never kept a salt water (reef) tank, and I know next to nothing about them, so I am going to ask a few 'stupid questions' here regarding them. How do they compare to planted tanks, as far as ease of maintenance, and time to reach maturity/stability? Are there as many 'methods' to reef tanks as there are to planted? (PPS, EI, Sub-zero, Walstead, etc)
Two completely different leagues. Even with a room full of automation equipment, [nice] reef tanks are a ton of work. The hours spent just cleaning glass and maintaining sandbeds would drop jaws around here. This is why it's rare to see a reef hobbyist with more than 1 tank at a time whereas freshwater hobbyists will commonly juggle half a dozen.

As for maturity, we're talking about 2 different scales again. Growth rates vary of course, but it takes years for a reef tank to really fill in and look mature. Compare that to most planted aquariums where it's rare for an aquascape to even make it to the 1 year mark. Instead of a few inches of plant growth every couple weeks, many corals typically grow a few inches every 6 months (or longer). Do yourself a favor and check out this thread with 4 years worth of full tank shots.

At one time, there were at least half a dozen competing methods to running a reef tank. Now that a lot of the mystery has been uncovered, most have converged into a single model. Lots of light, high flow (but low velocity), big skimmer, no phosphate, heavy feeding, and calcium/alk supplementation. There are some variations, but those are the basics. A notable holdout is the Zeovit system which still has some support over in Europe, but is viewed with a lot of skepticism by US hobbyists.

I love finding out the 'why' and 'hows' of the mechanism to obtaining the desired result. But I certainly don't have the time to devote to it myself. I can see why folks just want to know how to do it, without necessarily wanting to understand the why you do it. Though knowing the 'why' gives you a much greater ability to correct problems when they occur.
This is the prevailing attitude of most hobbyists. Time and financial constraints are a big reason that many hobbyists end up on the freshwater side of the fence. But until we have more people aggressively pursuing the "why," this hobby will continue to stagnate. We need to snag a few motivated individuals before the reef hobby grabs them.

Reefs require lots of resources, but the hobby stills enjoys such popularity because there is well established A + B = C formula for success. In contrast, how demotivating is nuisance algae for us? How much of that downer is due to the physical labor required and how much of it is mental as we go through perpetual trial and error? How many times are we going to try excel, the algae eater dartboard, guess how much CO2, or the pull a nutrient lever game?

If your neighbor, who has never kept any kind of aquarium before, comes over and sees your beautifully planted, scaped tank, and says to you '...gee I love it! I want to set one up. What do I need to have a similar one?' What would you tell them? Would you keep it to a simple '...do this and this and this...' or would you go into an in depth discussion of methods/substrates/lighting, etc?
I tell them that banging their head against a wall while tearing up $100 bills and flooding their basement would probably be a better hobby :).
 
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