Taking it Slow

by | Mar 17, 2015

By Russell Leiner

If you’ve been in the reefing world for any length of time (even a few weeks), then you’ve more than likely heard the phrase ‘take it slow’. This is a term used very frequently in this hobby/obsession we all share. I thought it was obvious what it meant. Apparently what appears to be obvious to one person seems to mean different things to different people. My interpretation of Taking It Slow is so vastly different from other reefers that I’ve felt like a leper at a beauty pageant. Let me explain. I set up my first aquarium, freshwater, back in 1971, when I was just a youngster. I can remember it like it was yesterday. I wanted the most beautiful, colorful fish in the pet shop. The bleached coral were fantastic. Much to my dismay those beautiful fish were saltwater fish. My dream of a saltwater fish tank started before I even set up my freshwater system. The dream would have to be put on a short hiatus.

Let’s jump forward a couple of decades (that’s taking it real slow in my book). It is now 1991 (20 years later) and I’m maintaining and breeding African Cichlids. While walking through a local fish store and looking at the marine fish and coral, I began to dream again. It was at this time that I bought my first book on coral. I wanted to see what the story was with the care and husbandry of marine animals. I studied that book for what seemed like forever. In actuality it only took 12 years, it was now 2003!

That first book provided me with an entire wish list of coral and fish. My first saltwater tank was going to be cover material for a premier reefkeeping magazine. Unfortunately it didn’t contain ANY information about the setup, equipment, cost, space requirements, lighting, filtration or anything remotely relating to the marine hobby.

It’s now 2003 and my studying of this book, for 12 years, took a bit of a turn. I was regurgitating the contents of this book from memory but knew nothing about reefkeeping. I figured it was time to start memorizing another book on my dream subject. This time I was going to do it right. A book with some technical information to teach me the intricacies of successful reefkeeping would catapult me right into the next phase of this dream, being able to talk to someone about marine fish and coral.

The book I decided to read had everything in it any fledging reefkeeper could possibly want. It addressed lumens, par and intensity. Calcium, magnesium, strontium, iodine and specific gravity were covered in great detail. Plenums, protein skimmers, fluidized media chambers and kalkwasser encompassed many hours of confusion. I didn’t understand anything I was reading. As expected, after 32 years of dreaming, planning, studying and preparing to venture into the world of saltwater I finally figured it all out. I needed to be a marine biologist with an advanced degree and possibly a doctorate! No way could I possibly undertake such a monumental project such as a reef. I was devastated.

The decision was made to scrap the thought of a saltwater tank. Heck, all I had was an undergraduate degree in accounting, and I wasn’t planning to go back to school to become a marine biologist with a doctorate. I figured I could just live vicariously through other peoples’ awe-inspiring displays. So I started to look at the beautiful pictures online of the tanks set up by these marine biologists with doctorates. I eventually stumbled upon an online bulletin board that people (regular people!) were discussing reefkeeping. I thought I died and went to heaven when I learned that real people were truly able to embark upon this glorious hobby and wanted to share their experiences and trials and tribulations.

My participation in the discussions on the bulletin boards was infantile compared to the advanced topics being addressed. I read and read and read. I would read until 2 or 3 in the morning, reading for four sometimes five hours a day, day after day. I felt like a sponge. I took in as much information as I possibly could handle.

After about three months of reading online and asking question after question, I finally decided to buy my first reef-ready tank. I was experiencing palpitations thinking I was moving much too fast, not taking it slow like everyone said. I mean, it was only 32 years of planning for heaven sake.

The tank was ordered in June 2003. It was scheduled to be manufactured and delivered in August 2003. I was like a little child. I couldn’t wait, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and started researching lighting. Before my tank was even delivered I ordered my lights. I thought to myself, self, this is easy. People are willing to sell me anything I want. The tank and the lights both arrived within two weeks of each other. I was on a roll. Forget this ‘take it slow’ stuff.

Next on my list was a protein skimmer, sump and RO/DI filter. The feeling of liberation came over me. I was becoming more confident with my decisions. It only took me three months of research to buy my protein skimmer and sump. The RO/DI was quick and easy. That only took about two months!

The calendar was quickly closing in on 2004. I only ordered my tank in June, seven months earlier. I was actually starting to think about attaching some plumbing and maybe adding water to the system. But wait, I still needed live rock and sand. Things were moving at warp speed now. I was really becoming excited. The research on the live rock only took two months. Many phone calls were made to ascertain that the rock I decided on would be available for delivery on the exact day I needed to receive it.

I made a ‘rush’ decision to order the live rock in March 2004. It was almost 33 years since the planning began and I was feeling overwhelmed with anxiety. Rushing things like this was totally against my better judgement and my nature. The moment of truth arrived. March 19, 2004 my live rock was delivered. It was do or die now, no turning back.

People were constantly saying all over the ‘boards’ to take it slow, and here I am with water in my tank, rock in the water and my skimmer running. Why should I be the one to rush things and not follow all the experts’ advice? I couldn’t keep beating myself up about rushing this. I tested my water twice a day. The cycle was starting. I remember my exuberance when my test kit showed there was ammonia in the water. I wanted to kick myself for rushing into this.

About a week later there were nitrites in my water. This occurrence prompted me to send PM’s to every reefer I knew (all five of them). I couldn’t understand why their reactions were so much less gleeful than mine. My cycle was finally complete at about four weeks.

Things went much faster than I had anticipated. I figured I could slow down now. I remembered reading that a mature tank is better than a young tank. Some theories were to let a tank mature for a year before adding any fish to it. That sounded about right for me. Even I didn’t think a year would be too soon.

I knew there was a good amount of die off in the tank from the live rock curing, so at about the six week mark I figured I should go hog wild and add a cleanup crew. Now this was exciting. I had life in my tank that I could see without my magnifying glass. It was becoming very apparent what the allure of this hobby was.

It’s now the middle of May 2004, two months after adding the live rock, almost a year since ordering the tank and over 33 years since the planning began. I couldn’t resist any longer. I needed to have a fish in my tank. I knew I was bucking the trend, flying higher than all the other reefers out there, but I needed that firefish before the one year anniversary.

Wow, was it a beauty. Hiding in the rocks, worrying about all the predators ‘out there’. After a few days it realized that the only predator in the tank was the overflow that tried to consume my poor little firefish. See what happens when you rush things. Overflows jump out of nowhere to devour our unsuspecting little friends.

I’ve since learned that my idea of Taking It Slow is slightly different than some others. After being in this hobby for a few years now, I’ve come to realize that there are those that measure the word slow in minutes as opposed to hours or days or even weeks. Those that measure slow in terms months are truly a rarity. Me, I’m just a leper at a beauty pageant.