Beware Marine Aquarium Complacency!

Marine aquariumA funny thing sometimes happens to marine aquarium hobbyists who have a few years’ experience under their briny belts—they have a tendency to become complacent in their methods and attitudes. Once they’ve mastered the basics of aquarium keeping, it can become all too tempting for some to kick back, switch to “autopilot,” and say, “Hey, I got this!”

But this mentality can be detrimental on the road to long-term aquarium success. At the very least, it can lead to some unnecessary—and very avoidable—bumps in that road. Here are a few common symptoms of marine aquarium complacency to watch for:

Signs of benign neglect

Complacent hobbyists aren’t typically guilty of gross negligence when it comes to their tanks, but they often lapse into a somewhat lackadaisical approach that could best be described as “benign neglect.” That is, they get so comfortable and absentminded in their methods that problems sometimes arise very slowly and almost imperceptibly.

For instance, they may perform water changes of the same frequency and volume for many years without accounting for the increasing bioload in the tank as fish and invertebrates grow. As a result, nitrate and phosphate levels can gradually rise, leading to “unexplained” algae outbreaks and other issues related to declining water quality. For another example, they may wait too long between periodic cleanings of water hoses, pipes, and pumps, so the gradual buildup of gunk inside them slows water flow in the system to a crawl.

Too cool for water testing

Water testing? That’s for beginners, right? Heck, I can check my levels just by sniffing the water! Okay, maybe that attitude is a slight exaggeration, but if they’re being perfectly honest, many complacent hobbyists would probably admit they don’t test their water parameters as often as they should (or at all). They might also have to acknowledge that they occasionally grapple with drifting water parameters as a result.

Truth be told, I’ve been guilty of this myself. More recently than I care to admit, I discovered that the specific gravity in my reef tank had drifted…well, let’s just say pretty far afield. There’s nothing to blame for this experience other than my failure to check the SG for a long period when I was “too busy”—not a very good excuse for neglect!

Overgrown invertebrate livestock

Reefkeepers sometimes reveal a tendency toward complacency by allowing rapidly spreading or encrusting corals, such as zoanthids, pulsing Xenia, green star polyps, mushroom polyps, etc. to grow out of hand in their tanks. Now, I wouldn’t say this one applies to me, but after looking at the state of my 75-gallon reef tank with its obscene amount of green star polyps, practically everyone else in the solar system would. (The tank renovation is coming soon, I swear!)

Too set in their ways

Long-time hobbyists may also reveal their complacency by exhibiting a general reluctance to adopt newer techniques and technology, even when newer methods and gear are shown to be superior to their predecessors.

Once again, I’m probably as guilty as anyone when it comes to this manifestation of complacency. I say this because young hobby whippersnappers (I won’t name any names here, but the initials CC come to mind) are always telling me things like, “Jeff, you’ve got to take those bioballs out of your wet/dry filter!” or “Jeff, you really need to get rid of that HOB overflow!” or “Jeff, it’s really disturbing when you perform water changes in nothing but a Speedo and sombrero!” Well, you get the idea.


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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. Amen to that! Don’t be too complacent it will indeed turn into issues! Well done

  2. I sometimes get complacent for a couple of years at a time. I once put in one of those shark eggs and forgot about it, a few years later I came home and noticed a guy had broken into my home and was about to cut the fins off the Great White to make shark fin soup. Luckily, the ray embrio I had turned out to be a manta and his tail tripped the guy as he tried to get away. Once my water evaporated so much that there was a saguro cactus growing where my codium seaweed used to be. But my fish don’t seem to mind these little inconveniences and have learned how to hold their breath and even clean the glass themselves. Now I only keep lungfish as they can go 20 years in a dried up state as long as they don’t hear rap music.

    • Jeff Kurtz says

      Now I’m wondering what happens to a lungfish if it’s exposed to rap music. Is it anything like getting a mogwai wet?

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