Matthew is in the BRStv studio for the first time and joins Ryan as he reflects upon the most important lessons he's learned over the past 15 years. This list is an introspection into Ryan's journey through the reef aquarium hobby and extracts the profound ideas and concepts that shaped the way Ryan views his own reef aquariums.  

1. Ask yourself " What would the fish and coral want me to do?".

When it comes to making a decision for your aquarium, put yourself in their shoes.  What would your fish and coral prefer that you do? Do you think fish and corals want clean water? Do they need high-quality foods? Do they want to have a suitable habitat?  Do they want to be fending off other aggressive fish?  

When you adopt this perspective, it simplifies decision-making because you probably know the answer 99% of the time without having to do any research. 

2. Water changes replace everything & hobbyists who do them are more successful.

While a small percentage of hobbyists succeed with minimal water changes, those who do them consistently experience more success.

3. The difference between and expert and a mentor is the willingness to weigh failures along with success. 

Experts provide facts and help you collect the tools you need to make educated decisions. Mentors share their experiences and tell you all of the things to avoid, helping you navigate the inevitable learning curves.


4. The best time to start a new tank is when life allows & the best type of tank is one that life allows.

The worst time to start a tank is when you don't have the time or resources the tank requires to be successful. No hobby is worth threatening your personal relationships or taking time away from your work-life balance. In this situation, its almost always the aquarium that suffers due to neglect. 

5. Everything GOOD or BAD that happens in the aquarium is not the result of a single decision rather it's a result of all the decisions.

The results in your aquarium are more like an intersection of multiple decisions rather than a singular cause and effect. 

6. Avoiding pests is great but learning how to deal with the inevitability of pests is more valuable.

Experiencing pests is inevitable and provides you with an opportunity to learn something new. Your aquarium can exist in harmony with many pests so long as you control them effectively. 

Euphyllia Reef

7. Documented compelling evidence produces more progress in the hobby than in peer-reviewed science.

While peer-reviewed science feels like the only way to be confident in your aquarium techniques and decisions, it's almost never going to be available because researchers do not research aquariums nor do they publish their results in a way that pertains to aquarists. Not to say science isn't a great resource, just understand that your aquarium is not the ocean and many of the things we do in aquariums are based on experience in the hobby. 

8. pH is more important than anyone suspects.

As documented by a vast amount of peer-reviewed science, we know that pH has the highest potential to cause the most severe damage to natural ocean reefs - more than temperature swings, more than pollution, and more than invasive species. Acidification in your reef aquarium inhibits your coral's ability to calcify and deposit skeletal material. The farther your pH drifts below 8.3, the more severe the effect it has on your coral's ability to grow.

9. Fish and coral don't just die.

Never justify the loss of livestock based on this misguided thought. Animals in our aquarium die because we've done something wrong in the way of caring for them. 


Caribbean Reef

10. Success is not defined by what lives, it's defined by what doesn't die.

The loss of livestock doesn't have to be the cost of doing business. A successful reef aquarist should gauge their ability based on keeping animals alive rather than looking at the end result alone. If you have a nice tank with healthy corals but were only able to sustain 50% of the livestock you purchased along the way, is this considered success?

11. Stop looking for poisons and start looking for toxins.

Poisons are something that causes a loss of livestock directly and immediately. This would be like spilling bleach into your aquarium; a rare occurrence. Toxins are those things that are not a threat right away, but over time will become problematic as they build up in your aquarium. This would be things like trace amounts of arsenic, lead, or mercury from your tap water that build up over time and eventually degrade the health of your tank inhabitants. Maybe you use a certain perfume or cologne that contains a toxin; putting your hands in the aquarium every day for a year could mean trace amounts of said toxin are being collected each and every day. 

12. None of us can ensure an outcome, we can only influence the potential of an outcome. 

No piece of advice can guarantee your success. You can only make moves that give you the best chance of achieving success. 

Mandarin Dragonet

13. There is a difference between a fish tank and a sustainable ecosphere.

A successful aquarium contains many moving parts that you must maintain for a long period of time. If you neglect even just one of those things, the entire aquarium suffers.

14. An ounce of wise council is worth a pound of posts.

It's easy to get confused with all of the conflicting information that exists online. The advice of a mentor is much more valuable and actionable than anything you can find in a forum post online. 

15. Choose your own adventure has a poor outcome with a reef aquarium.

Attempting to blaze your own trail or come up with your own recipe for success almost always results in failure.  It's best to follow a proven method of a mentor that has achieved the same level of success you want for yourself.