Is It Appropriate to Mourn a Glass Box?

And would someone please play taps for me?

A bugler plays "Taps" during the fun...

A bugler plays “Taps” during the funeral of Caspar W. Weinberger, 15th secretary of defense, at his final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery Arlington, Va. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am a reefer.  For the uninitiated, reefer is the terminology used for a coral reef addict hobbyist. In a way, even if another definition for reefer comes to your mind, you wouldn’t be completely wrong. It is intoxicating.  There is sublime beauty in planning, building, growing, and maintaining a coral reef. There is the obvious, and not to be underestimated, beauty of the fish, live rock, algaes,corals, and assorted critters. There is the chemistry of the water, the additives, the salt used, and the creatures. There is the plumbing, the skimmer, the type of lighting used, manipulation of color for said lighting. From the very first addition of live rock to begin your “cycle,” called scaping, to the first explosion of diatom algae (ugly brown dust), the first pod (reef bugs) population explosion, and up, you’re hosting and growing a complete ecosystem.

And it begins with choosing a tank. Your glass box. Days and nights spent choosing each piece of equipment, planning livestock purchases, learning good husbandry skills, agonizing over the inevitable first loss of life–whether it’s an escaped snail, a carpet surfing fish, or a coral that couldn’t survive in its new environment. My tank is my frustration and my peace, my beach house dream downsized to the reality of broke in Manhattan.

Reefing can be an exorbitantly expensive hobby, but with planning, patience, and good fish freak friends willing to share frags, it can be done on a budget.  I bought my first tank and system used, from a local reefer who was “upgrading” to a larger, sleeker, system. He had bought it used a couple of years earlier, so when I got the tank it was third hand at a minimum. Sure there were prettier, fancier systems out there; but (at the time) I could afford this one, which made it perfect. 45 gallon display tank, questionable black metal stand, a 10 gallon sump I immediately switched for a twenty gallon during Petco’s dollar-a-gallon sale, no frills T5 lighting.  Yes, perfect. A living chemistry experiment in my living room. I reached out, made other reefing friends, made mistakes, I learned. Hours and hours staring into the tank with a magnifying glass, calling out to Man Child, Nerd Child, and Flower Child to come look when I saw zoanthid pooping, or my snails spawning. I enjoyed success and growth for a few years.

I even fought off the tang police.

Then, a neighbor got bed bugs. All the apartments surrounding the one that was infested has to be treated. I did the best I could, shut pumps, lights out, covered the tank…but the poison got into the system. And so, I experienced my first of what is known in the hobby as a tank crash. My incredible pipe organ– sick, montipora colonies–rapid tissue necrosis, red bubble tip anemone– gone, pocillopora colony–withered; the list went on of corals I had grown out from tiny frags to thriving colonies. I tried nursing the tank along, many generous reefing friends gave frags and colonies, but I was never able to recapture the glory days of this tank. At the same time, our budget got tighter, and I just couldn’t do what needed to be done in order to revive and maintain 65 gallons’ worth of system.

Again, my fish buddies came to the rescue; one sold me a dynamite little all in one 8.8 gallon acrylic tank,pumps and plumbing included for a ridiculously low price,  another  sold me a sexy as all get out LED light and fixture.  I’ve restocked and recrashed, and added 12 dimensions to my patience.

I prefer to think of it as I downsized to an upgrade, rather than I downgraded.

A life long, non-reefing friend had become intrigued, in the meantime.  How can you not? Science, beauty, playing God with your own glass box. So, I passed the old system to her, and she has been learning through trial and error, like the rest of us, for over a year now.

Yesterday, she called me.  The tank is leaking. Sniffle. A potential disaster that can’t be ignored, she’s going to buy a new tank today, upgrading to a rimless 75 gallon.

OK, one more for my fallen soldier.


  1. Your writing style is so engaging. Though I’m not a “reefer” my partner and I were tropical fish enthusiasts and breeders for years. I loved landscaping my glass boxes and creating habitats for specific fish species. I had 21 of them and most were 50 gallon. I look back on those days of playing goddess with fondness and I may resume creating waterly worlds again one day.


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