Reefkeeping Happiness Is…

It's certainly cause for celebration when a reluctant feeder starts eating in your aquarium

It’s certainly cause for celebration when a reluctant feeder starts eating in your aquarium

In discussing the myriad rewards of reefkeeping, we marine aquarium hobbyists tend, at least in my humble opinion, to exaggerate the “soothing and relaxing” nature of our systems. If I’m being perfectly honest, on balance I probably derive more tension than tranquility from this hobby—or at least both elements in equal measure.

In part, this can be attributed to my characteristic pessimism. As my wife of nearly 25 years can attest, I’m rather a “glass-is-half-empty” sort of guy. When problems arise in any area of my life, it’s in my nature to fret about the outcome. Still there’s no denying that reefkeeping can be something of a “white-knuckle ride” for even the most upbeat hobbyist.

My anxieties notwithstanding, there are certain simple joys I derive from marine aquarium keeping in addition to the obvious beauty the hobby brings to my life. Some of these might seem a little odd in the grand scheme of things, but they give me a sense of satisfaction and keep me coming back for more. Here are just a few examples:

A completed cycle

As I’ve written here many times, cycling an aquarium demands the patience of Job. But what an emotional payoff when the ammonia and nitrite levels finally measure zero, nitrate is just detectable, and it’s safe to start adding livestock! I can only assume an artist feels much the same way when given a blank canvas.

The end of quarantine

Another lengthy process that demands considerable patience, quarantining a new specimen can seem like an interminable slog. Yet it’s oh so gratifying when you reach the end of that four-week period and you have a well-acclimated, feeding, disease-free specimen that’s ready to make the move to your display tank.

My tank right after a water change

Never does my tank sparkle more than the hours and days immediately following a water change/glass scraping. The fish are at their friskiest, the corals and other inverts exhibit their best extension, my view is unobstructed by unsightly algae, etc. This sense of satisfaction always makes me wonder, “Why don’t I do these more often?”

The arrival of a live rock shipment

Even more so than a new fish or coral, receiving a new shipment of live rock gives me a kick. It’s like getting a coral-reef microcosm in a shipping box. You never know exactly what might emerge from the rocks over the ensuing weeks and months to add interest or a challenge to your aquarium-keeping experience.

A brand-new bucket of salt mix

Okay, I know this is a weird one, but getting a new bucket of sea salt does give me a certain sense of satisfaction. Maybe it’s just the comfort/confidence of knowing I’ve got my water-change needs covered for a while—sort of like having a full tank of gas when you head out on a long drive.

A finicky feeder finally feeding

One challenge I’ve encountered on more than one occasion in this hobby is acquiring a new fish that refuses to feed once I get it home, even though I saw it eat heartily at the LFS. In some cases, these “hunger strikes” have persisted for upwards of a few weeks. When, after all my cajoling, target feeding, and experimenting with different foods, the reluctant feeder finally takes that first nibble, I could practically dance a jig! And don’t judge me if I happen to be dressed like Carmen Miranda when I dance that jig!

What is reefkeeping happiness to you?
So, fellow salties, keeping in mind that “sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most,” what aspects of reefkeeping make you feel happy and contended? Let us know in the comment section below.


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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. Since I’m new to keeping saltwater fish, I keep it simplistic. I have been faced with more challenges than I ever did when I started my freshwater tank (learning about the different fish, requirements (food, temp, salinity, etc) of said fish, and figuring out how to make it work in one “ecosystem”). Additionally, I’m a problem solver by nature, so I have been able to overcome issues with the help of the owner of my LFS (been in the business since the early 60’s) and blogs like this. It’s the routine things that relax me…preparing my water for changes, vacuuming the sand, and keeping the glass clean. All of that work pays off when I get ready for bed at night and see healthy, active fish swimming about. Makes it all worth it…

  2. It’s definitely a love/hate thing sometimes but I really enjoy the challenge and the reward of the growth & longevity I can achieve. I do enjoy it more for the tinkering aspects and appreciating the area I originally wanted to get a career in (Marine Biology) but have not due to reality settling in. It also helps keep a piece of the ocean in a landlocked area.

    • Jeff Kurtz says

      Reality definitely has a way of changing our plans, especially when the kids come along. As a fellow landlocked hobbyist (not counting Lake Erie and the nearby Maumee River, which, I’m sorry, just can’t compete with the ocean), I too am kept sane (well, nearly so) by my little slice of coral reef.

  3. Sitting in front of my tank with a nice glass of Grand Marnier. After so many years of this I don’t have those problems you speak about and my fish are not allowed to get sick so it is all enjoyment. Especially the Grand Marnier. (maybe I do have those problems and just don’t know it)

  4. Hi everyone just started my aquirium after months of getting everything together. Having major problems with high nitrate and ammonia really can seem to get balance right. Got two fry clown fish in there have done water changes and cleaning . Not sure if it’s got to do with my protein skimmer. Any advise please

    • Hi Daniel,

      Can you provide some background info on your system?
      1. Tank Size + sump: Total water volume?
      2. Amount of Live rock and Biologic surface area?
      3. Filtration System Configuration (Protein Skimmer, Refugium, Carbon dosing, Carbon/GFO)?
      4. Bioload? Just 2 clownfish?
      5. What’s your Maintenance schedule?

      You may want to start a thread on one of the major forums to get better feedback responses.
      If you do send me a link and we can chat there and open it up to others to chime in as well… 🙂 I’m on Reef2Reef and ReefCentral – Great community of resource in those forums.


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