Top 10 Traits of a Successful Reefkeeper

Surprisingly, the right stuff that is required to succeed in this hobby can't be bought at a store

Surprisingly, the “right stuff” that is required to succeed in this hobby can’t be bought at a store

As marine aquarium hobbyists, we can buy a lot of things to make our experience better and easier, but when it comes to long-term reefkeeping success, the “right stuff” doesn’t come from a store. In addition to a genuine love for marine life, the following 10 traits will serve you well on your journey to a thriving reef system:

1. Attention to detail

Reefkeeping, like flying an airplane, is basically a never-ending series of small corrections. You must be sufficiently detail-oriented to observe the very subtle changes or parameter shifts that can lead to major problems if left unaddressed, such as that first bubble algae vesicle or Aiptasia polyp, calcium and alkalinity levels just beginning to trend out of balance, or a fish that isn’t behaving quite right..

2. Willingness to learn

There’s a tremendous learning curve to this hobby just to grasp the basics, but the learning mustn’t end with the fundamentals. Successful reefkeepers continually absorb new information—from aquarium literature, trusted online sources, fellow hobbyists, etc.—so they can improve their husbandry techniques and better meet the needs of the animals in their care.

Of course, being open to learning also means making an effort to learn from your mistakes so you don’t repeat them over and over again at the expense of your livestock.

3. Being proactive, not reactive

Successful long-time reefkeepers have learned that with a little modest upfront effort to maintain proper, stable aquarium conditions, they can usually prevent intractable problems, such as cyanobacteria or hair algae outbreaks, from arising in the first place. Reacting to problems after they occur invariably results in much more aggravation, effort, and expense.

4. Patience

Ours is a culture fixated on immediate gratification, but unfortunately, every desirable aspect of reefkeeping takes a long time to materialize. It’s an old hobby adage that I’ve borrowed time and time again, but it bears repeating: “Only bad things happen quickly in the reef aquarium hobby.”

5. Persistence

Here I’m referring not just to staying the course with reefkeeping in general, but also to sticking with proven husbandry methodologies long enough for them to pay dividends rather than constantly adopting and then abandoning different techniques with the changing tides of hobby opinion.

6. Adaptability

The persistence “coin” does have a flipside. That is, having the ability to recognize when your approach is not paying off or actually producing negative results and then being willing to change course and make sensible adjustments to your techniques.

7. Knowing your limits

Another key to long-term success is choosing livestock that is commensurate with your level of experience and expertise. For example, the average novice reefkeeper will be much more likely to stick with the hobby if he or she starts out with beginner-friendly soft corals and polyps rather than more demanding stony corals. Of course, as your knowledge grows, so too will the number and variety of species that might make appropriate choices.

8. Budget-consciousness

A reef aquarium doesn’t have to cost a fortune, but it will require a significant cash outlay, even for a relatively small setup. Oftentimes, hobbyists meet the initial setup costs but then fail to account for ongoing expenses, such as synthetic sea salt mix, replacement light bulbs/tubes, calcium/alkalinity supplements, test kits, energy costs, etc. It’s the wise hobbyist who works these items into his/her household budget.

9. Humility

Few hobbies can humble participants like reefkeeping can. Every time I think I’ve got a really good handle on water quality management, livestock health and compatibility, irksome algae or pests, etc., some problem arises to put me in my place!

10. Love of the journey

Last but not least, successful hobbyists learn to love every step along the reefkeeping road—because there really is no destination. There’s no point at which you break the plane of the end zone, spike the football, and do a victory dance. Every reef system is by its very nature a work in progress. You have to enjoy the journey!


If you enjoyed this post, subscribe to get our new posts in your email.
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. Invariably when people look at my tank they always say: I hear that is a lot of work.
    I always say “there is no work involved”. If you consider any of this work, you should get another hobby like trying to guess the phone numbers of Supermodels. Work is something you do so you can afford to have fun, and reefing should be fun. If it is not, why are you doing it? I love changing water, cleaning the glass, feeding the fish and talking to them. Most of them just don’t understand me but they are from the South Pacific and only understand French and the only word I know in French is Brigit Bardot.
    I have been doing this since the only pets were trilobites and I still get a thrill every morning when I look at the tank and think, Wow, it still has water in it. Like Jeff said, this is not a contest, it is more like sailing. If you go sailing, you are doing it for the journey, not really to get anyplace. If you really needed to be someplace would you get into a vehicle that goes maybe four miles per hour? Reefing is a life journey and a good one. It offers you the opportunity to have something to do when there is nothing else to do while at the same time lightening up your wallet so when you get into that sailboat you don’t have any money to get wet.

  2. Well said I agree with you 100% on all the points I just wish others who have just entered into the hobby would see it this way too and not expect to see instant results

Speak Your Mind