6 Comments Non-Hobbyists Make When Viewing Marine Aquariums

non-hobbyist-comments1The other day, two installers were in my home laying a new vinyl floor in my kitchen when they took note of my aquariums. One of them was especially enthralled by my reef tank (which is ironic—more on this later) and asked about a dozen questions. He even took out his phone and snapped a picture of the tank to show his wife.

It’s always interesting to hear non-hobbyists’ reactions to my aquariums because they’re surprisingly consistent and, I suspect, give a pretty good sense of how most non-salties perceive our avocation. Here are just a few of the more common questions and comments I hear. Perhaps some will sound familiar to you.

1) “Is that a freshwater or saltwater tank?”

Now, I’ve been asked this question aplenty, but it still surprises me a little bit every time. To a saltwater aficionado, this is somewhat akin to being asked, “Is that the sun or the moon rising there in the sky?” Then I remind myself that not everyone out there is an aquarium addict constantly jonesing for a saltwater fix.

2) “Aren’t saltwater tanks much harder than freshwater ones?”

I always emphasize that anyone who has successfully kept a freshwater aquarium has the necessary skills to succeed with a saltwater tank. In fact, some of the more advanced freshwater systems (e.g., high-tech planted aquaria) are even more demanding than your basic saltwater setup.

3) “Are those real or artificial (corals)?”

To some non-hobbyists, it seems counterintuitive that live corals can be kept in aquariums, so the most likely explanation in their minds is that they’re actually very convincing artificial replicas. One person was so confident I was joking when I said my corals are real that I had to prove it by gently nudging one so he could see its polyps retract!

4) “Wow, that’s the most beautiful tank I’ve ever seen!”

This remark is usually made in reference to my 75-gallon reef tank (most recently by the flooring installer). I’m including it here not to boast but because it’s actually rather ironic as I alluded in my opening. You see, only a non-hobbyist would call my reef tank in its present state “beautiful.” Any experienced reefkeeper looking at it would say something like, “Wow, nice tank full of weeds you’ve got there!”

This tank has been in operation since 2001, and what was once a nice mix of different soft corals, zoanthids, gorgonians, and LPS corals very gradually morphed into a monospecific mess of green star polyps (admittedly, I really let them get away from me). There are still a few other species in there, but the tank is essentially an ugly sea of green. Regular Saltwater Smarts visitors may recall that I wrote about this tank last December in my “Corals Gone Wild” post. (Nope, I still haven’t gotten around to redoing it. I blame “Caribbean” Chris for not nagging me enough!)

5) “I could never afford a tank like this!”

If they only knew how much the average self-employed writer/editor pulls down these days, they’d realize how amusing this remark is to me. I would argue that keeping a marine aquarium doesn’t have to be more expensive than golfing, bowling, or any other hobby (don’t even get me started on boating!) if you simply match your scale of involvement to your budget.

6) “I’ll bet that tank takes up a lot of your time!”

No, not really. On most days, my total time investment for the two tanks I have is quite minimal—no more than maybe 20 minutes to a half hour, but usually less. On water-change days or when introducing new specimens, I might invest several hours.

Of course, just as the dollar investment has to match your budget, you have to make sure the time investment—which is going to depend on factors such as the number and size of tanks you have, how you apportion maintenance tasks, how much of the system is automated, etc.—fits your day-to-day schedule.

What do the uninitiated say about your tank(s)?
So, fellow salties, what remarks have I left off the list? Let us know in the comment section below.

Photo credit: Josh Hallet


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About Jeff Kurtz

Jeff Kurtz is the Co-founder/Editor of Saltwater Smarts, former Senior Consulting Editor for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, and the aquarist formerly known as “The Salt Creep.” He has been an aquarium hobbyist for over 30 years and is an avid scuba diver.


  1. Chris Wilson (West Texas Aquarist) says

    I’ve heard all of these at least once or twice, I might have even said a few of the before getting into the hobby.

    • I’d probably have to admit I made similar comments back in the day. Thanks for sharing, Chris!

    • You said adding new animals takes up a couple hours of time, Thats the best part. Watching them and nursing them.

      • You’re so right, Scott! I probably should have clarified in the post that adding new animals is one of those times when we hobbyists are more than happy to make the time investment.

  2. Paul Baldassano says

    People usually look at my tank and ask: Can I borrow some money?

  3. look its nemo.

    • Jeff Kurtz says

      Ah, yes! I get that one with some regularity too (though, technically, I have a percula clownfish, not an ocellaris).

  4. I know this post is a couple of years old but still valid, even today. We have had a lot of trades in and out of our house the last few months and the most consistent comment I get is how clean my tanks look compared to others they have seen. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I’m religious when it comes to maintenance so it’s nice to hear the hard work is noticed.

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