There has, without question, been something lost in the art and chase/desire for a fully satisfied SPS tank, filled with sprawling and mature small polyped colonies. A phenomenon I like to refer to as "nub tanks” - and whether a fad, or here to stay, has taken hold and has become somewhat of the new “norm” in reef keeping. There’s a couple obvious reasons I feel, one being impatience, and while I won’t put all the blame on greedy hobbyist that can’t seem to let their pricey sticks grow, there has to be some accounting for a selection that simply does not grow as fast as others. It’s a commitment for sure, and if your goal is to fill up a tank with mature colonies, then you’re in it for the long haul. But it seems that this chase/desire and reward is no longer as coveted as perhaps it once was but is illustrated beautifully here. It's an oldie, but I still drool over Menard's legendary 300 back around 2004!
You see, we have in recent years, chosen form over function in a way, opting rather to gaze endlessly at teeny, slow growing “nubs” with exhaustive amounts of color over that calcium slurping monochromatic stag. Now I get it completely - and have subscribed to the same school of thought myself for many years. Why wouldn’t I put the most insane looking frags in my tank? I mean - this is that stuff dreams are made of - right? I mean, you mash your nose to the glass and drool out loud while you take in all those mind blowing color nuances! Right?
But what do we see when we take a few steps back? That couch on the other side of the room that you lay in and ogle at your nubs, envisioning one day, long from now, that you will finally have something more to enjoy than these. What happens to those radiant little wonders?
I’ll tell you - All that blinding, oozing, and irresistibly expensive color: those pink tips and orange polyps - they disappear completely. What you are left with, if you have been disciplined enough to let them grow large enough to see from across the room is…………..STRUCTURE - and base color at best! No polyps, no contrasts, and absolutely no nuance. From the other side of the room, what you can really see, are the negative spaces and the welcome crowding of these spaces by branches of your thriving Acros in an effort to fill them, as illustrated brilliantly by Michael Moyes' Epic 500.
Mikes' reef is a perfect example of careful attention to structure. I'd say this one passes the across the room test quite well. Realize that stag in the middle is nearly 24" wide!
This is a concept that did not come to me quickly. In fact, I believe that until you’ve had and seen Acros grow up enough to fill a tank, does the consideration ever find you. While this is something I have thought about a lot in the past, I had never actually considered basing my own coral selections solely on structure, until I was forced to start over with my quaint, personal display, after a recent leak. Somewhere in the planning process I just had the thought - it was fast and obvious. This time I was going to abandon any consideration for fancy color in favor of structure and negative space respectively. I mean I’m not throwing big brown blobs in there, but I have focused primarily on how and where the coral is going to grow, and not what the color of the tips are or any other subtle nuance that would have in the past been the driving force behind my selective process. Now I was really studying some of the patterns of coral I’ve been looking at for years and have otherwise taken for granted. I was seeing things in them I had never seen before and possibilities I had never considered because originally I was way more interested in color than structure - as most of us are.
Hobby veteran Mike Palettas' amazing and albeit a little crowded, but well organized super-tank.
Being a vendor of lots of the same kinds of Acros, I am essentially now shunning myself, and throwing together a little write up about my escapades. This may seem counterproductive, and it is, without question. Or, perhaps I am really just using this as a debatably clever way to prop up some of the old forgotten bread and butter. Your thinking, “is he really telling us to buy “regular” looking coral?”, and to forget about all the hyped up super-color flavors of the day? Well yes and no. What I mean is, this is something that people need to think more about when considering what they intend to put in their tanks. Think less about the radiating colors of the frag you’re about to drop 1k on, and much more about what it’s going to look like as a mature colony among other mature colonies from across the room. See the coral as a small but essential part of a bigger grander picture. Of course personal taste will win in the end and I completely understand the desire to buy the prettiest coral you can find. But planning for and selecting coral that will complement and build on, and accentuate the space they will eventually take up, is truly an art, and one I feel that has either all but vanished, or perhaps never really even established itself as a whole but I have a feeling Dogboy Dave Turner would disagree with me on that one, as his reef has been the envy of many for years now, and is another exquisite example of proper attention to future potential at its finest.
In the end, keeping a mature SPS reef tank is not an easy thing to accomplish. It takes a lot of time and effort, and the kind of patience reserved only for “Saints” as they say. Maybe the majority of frags out there, never even hit the 2 year mark, let alone the 5, or 10 even. Whether they are fraged again and again, or enthusiasm fades and tanks come down, or maybe they just don’t thrive for reasons we never do figure out. Having a tank full of matures colonies, is without a doubt, one of the most rewarding and fulfilling aspects of this hobby. And when careful attention to details yet to be realized is imagined, the final reward will be the most gratifying and spellbinding of all, as you can clearly see in on of my favorite reef tanks ever. Observe PeteEichlers' 156 gallon beauty! A perfect testament that completely validates the entire idea of this write up!
Quick thanks to the pros that let me showcase their reefs for the one, and DL for the polish. You guy's are the creme of the crop!
I wish more vendors would include photos of the “mother colony” when you purchase a frag so you actually have an idea of what it would look like as a mature colony. Or are the mother colonies they frag from just too small?
Side note: The comments box has white text on a white background when you type so you can’t actually see what you are typing.
Rob Russin says:
Great Blog Post, I really enjoy reading all your posts! I have a 125g now and have kept fish only tanks for a long time. Only in the last year and a half, after buying a house, I have been able to keep corals. The one comment I can make is that having only a handful of beginning sps corals survive, and only one pink birdsnest the size of a baseball, my tank looks like a nub forest. Having a 125g with an empty aquascaping isn’t impressive. So, I have bought as many small frags as I could afford to make the tank look full. Finally getting my tank into a sweet spot, I’m finally able to see good polyp extension and some finally coloring up! As a SPS beginner and access to forums, it’s crazy to see the complete spectrum of success stories. My goal is to have a “tank of the month” tank with many large colonies of branching, encrusting, and tabling corals. But, I also have shared cuts of small frags with close friends, because no tank is an island. So I do see both sides of the coin. In the end, I see how many different people enjoy different aspects of the hobby and everyone has to start some where :) Keep on writing Adam, I know I have learned a lot and implemented your ideas with good success. I’ll be getting another frag pack asap!