Last summer about this time marks the demise of my oldest reef system. A faulty heater that stuck in the on position while I was away for the weekend turned my nearly 15-year labor of love into a frothy cauldron of putrid decay. The acrid smell of Lodo, as Rich Ross so eloquently put it, permeated my office so thoroughly we were forced to close for a few days as I cleared out the ghastly remains. It was a total loss. Gone were 15-year-old coral colonies and fish nearly the same age—the only survivor an ORA clownfish that somehow, inexplicably, was able to hang in and bear witness to the horror.

It was rough going for a few weeks. I have many other reef systems so it is not that I had lost my passion entirely, but still, old friends were missed and the fragile nature of our undertaking was stripped bare. Lots to think about, lots of decisions to be made, lots of options. I’ve always believed that with setbacks come opportunities, and I was determined to make lemonade out of lemons.

I decided to rip out the old system completely.  The tank was, after all, nearly 16 years old with the requisite scratches and rusty iron stand as proof.  Shortly after removal, one of those aforementioned opportunities presented itself in the form of a rather generous donation of a complete, custom built 220g. 3/4″ glass behemoth with cabinet and canopy and all the equipment and trimmings.  Talk about serious upgrade.  Talk about options and opportunities.  I was staring at an aquatic tabula rasa.  I could make this system into anything I wanted.  There were no animals that needed immediate housing, no time pressures, no aquascaping “blind” because of there wasn’t time to let the water clear with fish and corals in buckets waiting.

I had no strong feelings about what I wanted to do with this new system, but I did know I didn’t want another full blown reef despite the temptation of a gazillion new corals and actual places to put them.  My aquariums are on public display and I felt like showing a different face of the hobby while presenting myself with new challenges.  Because I had jumped almost immediately into the reefy end of things, and all my upgrades and expansions over the years involved bigger or better reefing, I never really had the chance to keep a huge range of amazing fish because the invertebrates were always primary.

So begins the new adventure, a FOWLR system — ok, ok I’ve already mentally committed to corallimorphs and other hardy, plentiful and stress-free inverts —-where the rockwork is the main design element and fish reign supreme. Which fish?  Well, that is a very good question.  A question I’ll tackle another time.

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