The End of my Marine Tanks
by George J. Reclos
Being a fish hobbyist means many things. You may ask ten hobbyists and get twenty opinions. One of the main issues associated with this hobby is the well being of the animals kept in captivity. Although this should be the basic principle for all fish keepers, it isn't and this may well be the difference between a fish keeper and a dedicated fish hobbyist.
I had been keeping those two Mediterranean marine tanks for two years now and, as time passed by, I had started to wonder if there was anything more to it than just the satisfaction of my ego. It is true that I managed to learn a lot of things, viewed wildlife as I had never seen it before and finally managed to keep those beauties for two years with only marginal losses. However, two things were quite clear to me. First, the look of a marine tank is more captivating, the complexity of the life in it is unsurpassed and - if the animals collected are compatible - the kind of interaction between the living organisms in such a tank is beyond any imagination. You can almost manage to "build" a complete trophic chain or, at least, feed the bare minimum and let the system work for you. This is the positive side of it and in this aspect, it had been a really great school for me.
Unfortunately, there is a negative side too. No matter how hard I tried I could never overcome the feeling that still it had nothing to do with mother nature. Fishes and invertebrates spawn, grow and die in nature. In my tank you could hardly see the second, you could definitely see the third (even if rarely) and there was no way to see the first. So, there was something missing. The other negative issue is that I always had the impression that whatever I was doing was just to satisfy my ego. To tell people that I have some marine tanks. And this was wrong - terribly wrong. Quitting at an earlier stage could well be interpreted as failing so it was out of the question - here comes my ego again. A couple of months ago I had a very interesting discussion with fellow hobbyist Thanassis Moschou to whom I expressed those thoughts. To my surprise, he, who was about to start a large marine system, expressed exactly the same considerations. After talking it over for some time, we came to the same conclusion. The decision was taken to return all these creatures to the sea.. The coming weekend was out of the question so I decided to do it during the one after it.
After two years one more week.. almost nothing. Yet, it was much more than nothing. A huge anemone died in the tank of the octopus and I failed to notice it. The rest just smelled (and was) disaster. After noticing the discomfort of the octopus, I took some readings from this tank and I was shocked. The pH had dropped from 8.4 to 6.4, the nitrates were out of scale and everything was about to go to hell. All this happened in less than 24 hours, after a large water change with natural sea water. The octopus was immediately transferred to the other tank but it was clear that the damage done to it was not reversible. Two days later it died. It didn't have to and if my initial plan was followed, it would be still alive.
I will not say that I was OK, I was as far from it as it can be. I was deeply sad, and it was with much pain that I collected all my living creatures, including, mussels, crabs, live rock and fishes and put them in large buckets. In the seaside, we (me and Johnny) took a closer look at my friends and then slowly we released them.
I can still close my eyes and see the Parablennius gattorugine getting out of the bucket, stay there for some seconds, and then turning back to look at us - believe it or not. A silent salute ? A last farewell ? Just a thanks ? I don't know. All I know is that seconds later another guy of its kind came close and then they both left.. I am almost sure that mine was fatter and stronger though..
The tank which held the octopus was donated to a friend. There was no way I would keep it anymore. It looked more like a grave and less like a tank to me.
Two weeks later, I am absolutely convinced that this was really the right thing to do. Every time I see a Thalassoma pavo gracefully swimming in the sea I tell myself that this may well be "our" T.pavo.
Last, but not least, I would like to thank all those people that helped me during those two years. I would like to wish to those who have turned their tanks to Meditarranean marine ones, a great success. Finally, a big thanks to all of you who stayed with me all this time and had the patience to read this huge diary. Before closing this chapter in my fishy life, a last, big "sorry" to Thanassis..