Four Reasons Why Saltwater Tank Owners Burn Out

4 Reasons why saltwater tank owners burn out

I started this blog in 2009 as an experiment to see if I could help people who were starting their own saltwater tanks. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to meet (most of them virtually) a lot of great people. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to help all of them.

It still bums me out whenever I see a saltwater tank owners burn out and give up the hobby.

Generalizations are sometimes misleading, but overall, I tend to see saltwater tank owners burn out over one of these 4 reasons.

4. They tried to take on too much complexity

Let’s face it, there are a lot of great equipment options out there, there are more corals and fish than we can possibly hope to keep and at times we can create a bit of a rat race for ourselves when we get into the mode of chasing the next upgrade or pushing our skills to keep harder and harder animals in our tanks.

We start adding media reactors and macro algae reactors, dosing pumps, automatic top off units and we cram our tanks full of frags, we grow our own phytoplankton, rotifers, copepods, we breed, we frag, we set up additional tanks.

DIY Shelf unit for aquariums

Pretty soon that saltwater tank that used to be a relaxing outlet now requires significant manual labor and supplementation to keep up with the demands of the tank, and then…burnout. By the way, I’m not judging. I’m glad I didn’t have a total flame-out (probably because I had the blog obligations too), but I’ve certainly scaled back a few times over the years.

3. It costs too much money

The costs associated with running a saltwater tank tend to scale up with the complexity of the tank. Not just the big bucks for the tank and stand, but each and every piece of equipment that gets upgraded. Oh, and let’s not forget about the spinning electrical meters outside all of our houses.

At times I have wondered if I could claim a tax deduction for funding a local utility worker’s pension with all the electricity I’ve chewed up.

Cost isn’t always the biggest factor, but it is a pressure that adds up and eventually causes some people to reprioritize where they spend their time and money.

2. Shiny object syndrome

Every now and then, it seems like some saltwater tank owners burn out because of shiny object syndrome. Just like the fish we so love to take care of, many of us also love and get distracted by shiny objects.

The people most affected by this jump into the hobby because it is shiny and new and bounce back out of it once reality sets in and the tank is no longer the cool shiny object they desired.

1. They suffer big losses and give up

By far, the #1 reason I see saltwater tank owners burn out is that they suffer big losses and don’t have the heart to rebuild. You and I both know that it can be challenging to get our saltwater tanks healthy, happy and stable. We work so hard to get there. Everything gets easier once we do.

saltwater ich causes burnout

Saltwater ich outbreaks can cause saltwater tank owners to burn out

But we’ve all experienced, at some time, a pretty major setback. The tank leaks, a heater breaks, the tank overflows, a coral melts away and starts a chain reaction in the tank, bubble algae explode or saltwater ICH devastates your fish and wipes them out.


The lesson I learned when facing saltwater tank burn out was that a lot of the pressure I was feeling was self-inflicted. I stopped chasing the ideal, I stopped chasing the next hardest thing to prove to myself, I stopped trying to run a ‘fish room in my basement’ in addition to everything else I had going on.

As my job and family life got busier, I took a step back and created a tank that would be fun to watch and would be lower maintenance. After suffering massive losses twice (I’m a slow learner), I also become very rigid about quarantine and very slow about adding new livestock.

I wouldn’t have had the patience to go slow from the beginning, I needed to ‘get there over time’ by experiencing the burden it created.

Turning this back to you, instead of being all about me, regardless of what stage of enthusiasm you’re in with your saltwater tank, I encourage you to take a step back and look at your path—are you happy with your tank or are you always chasing the next thing?

Are you taking your time and doing things the ‘right way’ (eg. quarantine) or are you rushing through and taking risks? How complex has your saltwater tank gotten over time—will you be able to sustain that trajectory?

If any of those questions have you thinking…consider whether there’s a change you can make now that will alleviate some stress later.

What to do if you’re facing saltwater tank burn out

If you’re out there, and you’re stressed out about your saltwater tank—just know that a lot of us have probably already gone through what you’re facing and that many of us want to help. Very literally speaking, that’s why I set up this website and is the motivation behind writing this post.

Find me on facebook or twitter or leave a comment here and we can connect and chat—or find a good Facebook group and get some help. We don’t have all the answers and we can fix some problems, but sometimes it just helps to know there are others out there who have experienced the same thing and are there for support.

Anyone else out there who came close to quitting but glad you stayed in? How about anyone who quit and came back? Leave a comment and let us know what you learned along the way…and/or if you’re the type of person who wants to help, too.


  1. Great article and comeplety true about my 100 gallon . Time to slow down and not keep looking for the next frag or new pump or reactor. Last year my tank was much easier to care for.

    1. Author

      Tim, thanks for jumping in. Sorry to hear you’re creeping towards burnout. Glad to see you’re ready to take the next step in development which is figuring out which elements you most enjoy and allowing yourself to just focus there. Keep us posted. We don’t want to lose you 🙂

  2. I scaled down from multiple freshwater tanks with the plan to move to one big reef tank and I couldn’t be happier. I hated having to sell my turtle, Timmy, but in reality my setup is way simpler now than it used to be (I had a really nice homemade terrarium setup for my 165g tank). I was able to reduce some complexity by biting the bullet and investing in some better equipment (auto top off unit for instance). Also, I think I reduced some stress by going to only a single tank, as you describe.

    Love the blog, articles are always interesting and well written, and usually entertaining too. I am looking at trying to start using kalkwasser sometime soon, maybe we can see an article for kalk newbies soon?

    1. Author

      Jake, thanks for the comment and for sharing your scaling down experience. Thanks also for the prompt about kalkwasser. Here’s a link to an earlier article, more about what is kalkwasser and how is it different from the other calcium options. I’d be happy to take a closer look at spelling it out more clearly how to dose. Thanks for the suggestion.

  3. I made a huge mistake in starting off with a 10 gallon tank. Would have been better off with a 5 or 20 gallon. The first two years were very expensive in terms of finding proper lighting and heating and choosing appropriate corals and fish. I also fought aiptasia (which still occasionally rears its ugly head), algae, and every other horror known to tankers. Things are finely settling down, but so is the thrill. I’m also getting tired of doing water changes on a weekly to 10 day basis. This is a huge, long-term commitment. I have many other pets feathered and furred, but this is the most demanding!

    1. Author

      D.R. Sadigur, thanks for the comments and sorry to hear it isn’t going that well for you. As long as your water is testing okay, you could look at (carefully test) scaling back your water changes. Hope you find some more fun in it!!! Let me know if I can help or if you need help from anyone in the community!

  4. The thing I keep in mind is it is a hobby, not a job. Get good equipment to make it run smoothly but not so overly complicated that it becomes a full time job just to maintain equipment that was bought to make tank keeping easier.

  5. For me it is the frustration point when I am reading all the books doing all the stuff everybody recommends, checking the water parameters and then seeing it all turn to pot eve when my water quality is apparently OK , you go back to the drawing board and keep trying but there becomes a point when….

    1. Author

      Roy, thanks for the comment. For what it’s worth, I don’t totally ascribe to the ‘always be testing’–or at least–that’s not what I do, in practice. I do agree it adds to burnout!!! At some point in time, you start to develop an ‘eye’ for what things look like when all is well…and what things look like when something is up. If you can tell all is well by visual inspection, there’s less need to use a test kit to confirm it. There is risk with that, but that’s how I operate my own tank and I’m sure many others do. The challenge is figuring out when that is and being comfortable enough to know when you really know…but I would certainly advocate someone scale back their relentless testing (or maintenance) rather than burn out!!! Thanks for the good, provacative comment!!

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