Remember your first reef aquarium build?

Everything about it was so exciting! Learning what each piece of equipment does, the roles different livestock play in the ecosystem and just trying to wrap your head around the science of proper water chemistry was exhilarating.

It is easy to forget in this frenzy of shopping and research that it is going to require a lot of time, patience and hard work for your new reef tank to be successful.

From daily feedings and supplement dosing to weekly water changes and testing, the amount of time it takes to properly maintain a reef aquarium is often more than many of us bargained for when we originally had the bright idea to start a tank.

The good news is there are secrets super-busy (and successful) aquarium owners have learned over the years to maintain healthy, vibrant reef tanks and live an active lifestyle … and we are going to share them with you!

Get a Controller

An aquarium controller will seriously change your life when it comes to maintaining a reef tank. First off, all of your equipment is easily accessed from a single control interface. You can then automate just about every task that your tank requires via the use of the controller.

You can shut down your skimmer, reduce the flow on your powerheads and feed your tank with the push of a single button. You can automatically dose supplements into your aquarium on a set schedule, eliminating the need for daily attention to water chemistry. You can program custom light schedules, set up a cool wavemaker and even mimic natural weather events like storms, sunrises/sunsets and moon cycles. Integrate your ATO, control a calcium reactor and/or set up a water alarm in case your tank floods or overflows. You can even create an automatic water change system! The capabilities of an aquarium controller are virtually endless; the only limitation is your imagination.

An aquarium controller also monitors and logs data for certain parameters such as pH, temperature and ORP which will help you to understand more about your aquarium without the need for frequent water testing.

With recent advancements in aquarium controller technology, you can now access your aquarium from remote locations via the web, providing added security and the ability to watch over your tank from anywhere in the world at any time. You can even slap a webcam over your tank for real-time viewing when you are far from home!

Use a Dosing Pump

Dosing pumps are one of the most underrated pieces of aquarium equipment. Many hobbyists move past the beginner stages into more advanced reef keeping without even considering the use of a dosing pump. They do not realize how much a dosing pump can relieve you of performing some of the more tedious duties of keeping a healthy reef.

A dosing pump automatically doses liquid supplements and foods into your aquarium for you. Many of them have built-in digital controllers that allow you to program a custom schedule based on your aquarium's needs. If you use a two-part solution, mix your own supplements or simply feed corals in your tank, a dosing pump can save you some time.

Another great benefit of a dosing pump is that it will create a much more stable environment in your tank. It allows you to slowly and precisely add supplements to your aquarium on a schedule without drastically changing your water chemistry and shocking the animals in your tank.

Install an ATO

This is kind of a no-brainer. Any reef keeper, new or old, should have an automatic top-off system (ATO). An ATO system will help keep your salinity level correct and provide a more stable environment for the animals in your tank. An ATO also keeps your water level constant, which helps your skimmer perform more consistently and your tank run quietly. A steady water level also reduces the risk of pumps running dry and avoids the dreaded micro-bubble storm in your display.

Without the need for daily top-offs with fresh water, you can spend more time planning that dive trip to the Caribbean and less time worrying about your tank!

Exploit Friends and Family

One of my favorite things to do as the owner of a living reef is educate friends and family about marine life and aquarium keeping. My daughter immediately springs to mind because she loves asking me questions about fish and corals. She even enjoys getting her hands dirty and cleaning my protein skimmer cup for some odd reason. Hand-feeding the Tangs with seaweed is something she now looks forward to each day.

This is wonderful quality time I enjoy spending with my daughter. But all the while she is learning about the fragility and beauty of life and how to maintain a successful reef tank. Find a way to get your husband or wife on board. If they share a bit of your passion, they are less likely to blow a gasket when your bank statement arrives after your next equipment or livestock purchase.

Having someone in your home or within a short drive that is interested and invested in the success of your reef can be a real asset. They can share the responsibility of tank ownership with you or perform some of the routine daily tasks if you get busy or go on vacation.

Join a Reef Club

Joining a reef club might seem counter-intuitive for a hobbyist that can barely find the time to feed his/her tank. While it is true that attending meetings and participating in your local reef club will demand more of your time, you are gaining an invaluable asset: a community of hobbyists just like you that will support you and help you succeed.

Having trouble identifying that weird hitchhiker that found its way into your reef? Maybe you just need an experienced hobbyist to come over and check out your system and offer some pointers. Someone in your local reef club will gladly offer to help—in exchange for a beer or coral frag!

I have been a hobbyist forever and have worked professionally in the aquarium industry for 10+ years. I still learn something new every day. In this hobby, the learning never stops. If you truly have a passion for aquariums and are eager to learn and grow, I highly recommend joining your local reef aquarium club.