Photo by Kamp Fender.
Gordon Cashmore stands next to his saltwater fish tank in his home. Cashmore has been maintaining saltwater tanks for 6 years and has recently started growing his own coral.
Gordon Cashmore, a longtime resident along U.S. 280, said when he was a kid, he wanted to go into a career studying oceanography.
“I loved it, I was just fascinated by it. I love diving, too, I dive whenever I can when I go on vacation. I love sea life,” Cashmore said. “I always had pictures of National Geographic or stuff. When I was a kid, there was a bunch of that, and I would post all kinds of stuff all over my walls.”
Even though his parents ended up talking him out of it — “they said no money unless you get a Ph.D., and I was not a student that was going to get a Ph.D.,” he laughed — he is now able to explore his longstanding interest through his saltwater fish and aquarium hobby in his house.
“I’m now able to afford it. … It’s expensive, so that’s why I keep it at a minimum, but there are people who spend thousands and tens of thousands of dollars. I’m trying to keep it in the one- to two-thousand-dollar range,” he said.
Since he started, he said he’s been pretty good about sticking to his price range, though it can be difficult with so many different and interesting options available to put in his tank. Even though he wishes his kids were as interested in the hobby as he is, he said they will still come over and look at the aquarium from time to time, since the 90-pound tank is set up in the middle of the living room.
“It calms me down. I sit and watch them, and it’s just relaxing,” he said.
A lot of people set up auto-dosers, he said, or pumps that will automatically feed the tank chemicals and food. Cashmore said that’s also where some serious money can be spent, so he does most things himself, minus a top-level filter and a recently-bought light source he adapted for his tank. Maintenance includes changing the water every two weeks and cleaning the algae off the side of the tank to avoid big breakouts. Then, every six months, he does a big scrape and clean, which takes a little longer.
“I don’t have a lot of maintenance to do. I’ll add water because evaporation. I might put a gallon or two in during the week, it’s just kind of low-maintenance,” he said.
His fish include a few kinds of blennies — which he loves for their antennas and unique appearance — as well as clownfish, shrimp, hermit crabs, snails, some basic corals and another favorite of his, green star polyps.
Cashmore said the rarer the fish, the higher the maintenance and equipment needed. Since he doesn’t have specially-bought lights—last year, he assembled and adapted his own light source to the top of his tank so that he can keep corals—and doesn’t want to stress about careful monitoring, he is strict about what he keeps.
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Two clown fish swim amongst the coral at the bottom of the fish tank.
Cashmore’s yellow tang swims amongst the coral of his fish tank. He says his next purchase will be a companion for this lone tang.
A blenny fish swims above coral in Gordon Cashmore’s fish tank.
From time to time, he will introduce new fish, corals or reefs to the tank, most of which he gets from Reef Life Aquariums, a family-owned shop at 5511 U.S. 280 that he said “is very clean and focuses on saltwater needs.” He said having a specialty shop that close is unusual but really convenient to him, especially since they have been expanding their saltwater fish and coral selection lately. Sometimes, he added, he will even go in and chat with the owner or locals at the store about his hobby and what he could add to the tank.
“The owner [at Reef Life Aquariums] is starting to see that fish stock is tremendous, so he’s starting to get in a lot more and expand it a little more in his tanks. So for me, it’s much more of a better shopping experience now,” Cashmore said.
He added that in order to introduce new fish and corals to his tank, it takes a lot of research and care to make sure he does everything right, which is why it’s useful to have a specialty shop so close to his house.
Toward the end of 2018, he said some guys started the Birmingham Reef Club. Having a group of knowledgeable people ask saltwater fish and tank questions is extremely helpful, he said, especially when issues arise. Although the group is currently on a hiatus, he hopes the group will meet again so he’s able to talk about his hobby with other locals.
“It would be nice if there was one that met here locally,” Cashmore said.