Updated: Apr 27
By Sue Brasel
Years ago, my husband Dan traveled out of town for two weeks. Before his trip, he left computer-generated instructions to use as a reference while caring for his fish. I was given the awesome responsibility of caring for his three large salt water aquariums - lucky me.
I mentioned several times before the trip that I was feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of such a huge task. I didn't want to be responsible for hundreds of dollars’ worth of fish going belly-up under my care. I enlisted the help of my son, Ryan so we could share the burden or the blame if the fish perished, but he wanted no part of this chore. In hindsight, I think that he knew that this experiment would end in disaster. Oh. My. God.
I read the instructions and graphs and saw that Dan had outlined an hour-by-hour schedule of a day in the life of a filamented flasher wrasse paracheilinus filamentosus. He had pinpointed, in great detail, temperature ranges, lighting, pH, ammonia levels, phosphate and nitrate measurements, toxins, flow tides, pump functions and dietary needs. He even described what to look for in each fish scale and tail, in case they were stressed.
I read the instructions, looking for the part where I would have to observe each fish's eyes to feel its mood. My eyes glazed over as I perused the rest of my instructions on how to keep 50 fish alive for two weeks.
When two weeks were almost over, my stress became overwhelming. The fish seemed happy, but how was I to know? The water appeared to be clear… or was it? I accomplished nothing during this time other than going to work and racing home to assess the well-being of Dan's precious fish, not to mention corals and rocks that apparently had their own set of dangerous conditions.
The pipes and valves snaking out of the aquariums into the outside pump station in the garage gave me palpitations. If I neglected to measure chemical levels or turn one valve the wrong way, my entire town's water supply was in danger of draining out. I actually heard leaking water in my dreams. Several times I raced downstairs in the middle of the night, only to find fish leisurely swimming along and staring, as if to mock me.
The morning Dan was to arrive home, I counted the minutes towards turning the reins back to him. The responsibility had rendered me a sniveling mess. I was, however, happy to receive the praise from him that I deserved. This reef-keeping was not for amateurs.
The clock reached one hour before Dan's arrival home when I heard the alarm signaling a possible water overflow situation. I raced downstairs to find the entire basement floor flooded. Water gushed from the top of one of the aquariums at a rate I could not possibly control. Water seeped into the legs of the furniture upholstery. I raced from valve to valve with no clue as to how I would stop the sheets of water escaping the tank. Fish swam frantically away from the spewing water and my heart sank. All these weeks of earnestly caring for this livestock, only to lose everything in an instant. I was sure that PETA would be at my doorstep soon to persecute me for the inhumane treatment of the genus Pisces.
I cut off the power source and waited for the gushing to slow down. The leaking slowed to a drip, and I desperately searched for the wet-vac. I couldn't have Dan come home to find this catastrophe, after all of my hard work. After an hour of vacuuming up the stinky salty water, I knew that both my basement and my ego would never be the same again.
Dan returned home to find one of his precious tanks half-full and went about finding the source of the leak and restoring the lost water. I gave him the fish eye and marched upstairs. I vowed that if he said one word about this last-minute calamity, after all of my dedication, I would dunk him head first into one of his precious tanks. He would swim among the fishies, and I would wash my hands of him.
Today, such a calamity would never happen. With the amazing technology of our Neptune Apex Fusion, integral conditions such as temperature, lighting, pH, ammonia levels, phosphate/nitrate measurements, toxins, flow tides, pump functions and more are all now automated. I have been thankfully spared the role of reluctant aquarium keeper when Dan travels out of town for business, and I can breathe again.