…..It’s a vivid memory to me still:
After almost a decade and a half, I can recall perfectly the instances and circumstances, that led me to purchase my very first piece of small polyped "stony" coral. SPS - It was an intimidating acronym. I would browse the SPS lover’s forum and read and wonder with bewilderment about topics that seemed as complicated as they were confusing, and beyond my level of understanding.
But in spite of that feeling I was drawn to these things. Just the sound of the words “es pee es” had a delectable beacon-like ring to me. I knew very early on as a hobbyist that I would inevitably get my hands on what was considered the truest challenge in reef keeping. – a species known as the - Acropora.
The only fish store near me was a tiny “mom-and-pop” called Ken’s Animal House in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, that had been in business since 1979. Ken was an “old timer” and he had been doing this a long while by the time I first walked in the store looking to start up a saltwater tank.
Ken was the king, Junior only by a decade or so, to the featherless, aging parrot, that lived in the back of the store. Now when I say “old timer”, I mean he had been keeping aquariums since the 1960’s and would tell us stories about how he used to be able to get sea turtles and other “oddities” that you would never dream of being traded today. He had a 25 plus year old “softy reef” in the store, with decades old leathers and toadstools that stretched nearly the entire length of the 8 foot tank. On the stand below the tank hung a sign boasting about how it had never seen a single water change. The sound of the luft pump that drove the tiny lime wood skimmer could always be heard while standing in admiration of it. This was Ken’s pride and joy and he never got tired of people praising him in amazement over what he had living inside there. I wish I had a picture of the tank for this thread. I really do. It was an inspiration to all of us and was our first real “introduction” to what a thriving marine reef tank could potentially look like if you “really knew what you were doing”.
But the truth of it was, that as spectacular as a testament to “old-school reefing” practices as the tank was, it was a disaster of a reef tank to any modern standards. Housing a welcome swath of Manjos and Aptasias, and countless other “nuisance” organisms that were cared for with grace like proper residents. They all thrived amid a multitude of other “quirks” and maladies in water that would probably vaporize any newly introduced invert instantly. Still, this was a thing of beauty for reasons far beyond that of the actual aesthetic. It was a living piece of reef aquarium history. In the early 2000’s, this tank was almost as old as I was, and that blew my mind.
At the time SPS was still a very foreign word to me. Ken had never brought anything like that into the store, ever. I did spend a lot of time at Ken's though, and when the new livestock sheet would come through the fax machine listing what was available to order that week, I often got the privilege of having first crack at something that sounded interesting or, a fish that may not come in as often. On one of those occasions he rattled off something along the lines of : “Acropora - blue and Acropora – green”. I didn’t really pay much attention at the time, but a small seed was planted.
When I went home, I started to research a little more about what I had heard. Yeah, this was the “good stuff”! Those reefs I had seen pictures of and drooled over, far beyond the stature of what “old Ken” had housed in his vintage wonder. This was the coral I wanted to keep and everything I had read about it assured me that this endeavor wasn’t going to be easy, which made the allure even stronger. The very next day, I went back to Ken’s, and said to him: “order me that blue one, I am going to go for this!”
A few days later it arrived. Not quite a colony, and not quite a frag, (not that I would've even known the difference), but there before me was the very first piece of living SPS coral I would ever see. Ultimately, pretty underwhelming, and not a hint of blue to it, but I did not care at all. My nervous excitement was in control, and the actual appearance of this thing meant nothing to me. This was an SPS coral, and it was now mine!
I managed to keep it alive, mostly by luck I'm sure, and it grew into a decent size colony over the course of a couple years. Never a standout, but it held an allure with a badge of sentiment that meant more to me than aesthetics. Or so I thought. As I ponder, my memory of that coral’s exact fate - is a bit foggier. I believe that the colony never made it into a new system after an upgrade. Abandoning all sentiment for “prettier coral”. Sadly, it was a rather un-ceremonious end to the acro that was my passage into the entire realm of SPS keeping. Below that is a pic of the 90 gallon it grew up in, loaded with other SPS from Phil, Chad, Dave, Carlos and Menard! Actually now that I think about it, the day I first met Phil deserves its own write up entirely. That was a good day...
This was an extremely exciting time for me as a hobbyist. As I reminisce about it, I am reminded about how far this hobby has come in just the years of my own relatively short involvement. Around 15 years now, as of this writing.