My objective was to create an environment
with plentiful hiding places and structures
that would break lines of sight and thus
reduce aggression. I will admit that I
stock my tanks more heavily than most.
Maintaining a healthy and safe environment
for all fish in this scenario requires more
effort. I’ve often had to return a fish because
it became apparent that it had upset the
balance established in this small cube of
nature in my living room.
Another key to maintaining the balance is
ensuring that every fish is fat and overfed.
If a fish doesn’t have to focus on finding
food, which draws out its primal instincts,
it is likely to be less aggressive. But this also
means you must closely monitor your water
quality, because overfeeding can contribute
to many common issues that are difficult to
I’ve kept my fair share of larger fish, but
I’m selective when choosing fish, and very
careful about how I introduce them into my
tank. I generally choose juveniles and switch
them out when they grow too large. In a way,
this provides a service to fellow hobbyists.
For instance, powder blue tangs are difficult
to keep, and many people purchase them
only to have them become sick, stop eating,
and eventually perish. But when I buy a
fish like a powder blue tang, I buy it as a
juvenile, raise it in my tank for a few months
to a year, acclimate it properly, and train
it to eat frozen foods to help it regain the
strength and muscle lost during its arduous
journey from the collection point to the local
fish store. If it outgrows my tank due to the
amount of feeding that I provide, I might sell
it to a fellow hobbyist who can care for it
properly and seek out a new challenge.
My favorite thing, however, is to keep
many nano fish in a large system. Sometimes,
I might not even see certain fish for a
month, but when I do, it’s like discovering
an entirely new fish! This, I find, keeps me
interested and engaged, not knowing when
or if I might rediscover a favorite fish. Also,
I want my tank to be both beautiful when
viewed from across the room and also when
scrutinized up close. Keeping smaller fish is
a fun way to achieve this.
What I do with my tanks may go against
the advice of most purists, and that is
fine. In fact, you might rather follow the
conventional advice, because my method
is probably more difficult. I don’t enjoy
testing my water (note that this is not good
The aquarium included a homemade acrylic box with holes drilled in it (at top left) used
for introducing new fish to the tank.
A peppermint basslet (Liopropoma rubre) in the author’s “reef cube” setup.