Reef2Reef’s David Hammontree Talks About Staying Passionate, Buying Competitor 3reef, Dinoflagettes In His Dream Tank, and What He’s Binging on Netflix

Reef2Reef is one of the largest and most influential saltwater aquarium communities. What inspired you to start the site 10 years ago and what motivates you to keep it going 10 years later?

David Hammontree (aka revhtree), Reef2Reef’s Owner/Administrator: Let me start off by saying that to hear the statement “one of the largest and most influential saltwater aquarium communities” and Reef2Reef used together is a truly humbling experience and yes it’s been 10 years going on 11! It’s crazy to think that a little handful of zoanthind lovers has turned into what now is the most active saltwater aquarium community in the world! I say zoanthid lovers because that’s where Reef2Reef got it’s start!

I have been in the hobby myself for almost 14 years and when I finally got my feet wet I really took a liking to those little colorful flower-looking buttons called zoas or palys. You could get them in a variety of colors and they would reproduce pretty quickly and were for the most part easy to keep alive. The zoanthid hype started taking off at the same time I came in so naturally I went all in! I loved trading with other hobbyists with the same interest and so we begin to really talk about zoanthids and with that we begin to talk about trading with one another.

The forum we were on was very active but the moderating staff didn’t want us to discuss trading within the zoanthid forum and so we had an idea. We decided to create an invite only forum just for people who loved zoanthids and wanted to trade with one another. That’s all it was about, Zoanthids. My friend was actually the one who had some knowledge on setting up a forum and so he bought the domain name, set up the forum and www.Club-Zoa.com was born! Or CZ as we liked to call it.

Long story short, my friend got burned out after about a year and I purchased all the rights from him and renamed the community to Reef2Reef. The rest is history!

Some aquarium message boards still look and operate the same way they have since the 90s when they first launched. Conversely, R2R has undergone a number of redesigns and steadily released new features and functionality to improve the user experience. How do you find time and resources to continually tinker and refine the site? Do you keep a day job or is R2R a full-time gig?

You are correct and one of the reasons I believe we have grown and continue to grow is the fact that we adapt and move with the times as much as we possibly can. People are using many other forms of social media and these mega companies have all the money and resources at their disposal so staying up to date to match the quality and functionality of other platforms is a major part of our vision for continued growth. It is a tough job but honestly I love it!

This all started as a hobby for me. It didn’t start because I saw a financial benefit and that’s probably one of the reasons we were able to grow when others were declining. With anything in life I believe passion is a main ingredient to success. It’s not always easy staying passionate but at times we must take a step back and again do the things that inspired us in the beginning! For me that’s keeping my own reef.

Circling back to “features and functionality” I would like to say that our current website and forum have run it’s course. That’s why we are currently working with a company on a whole new redesign of the looks and some functionality of the forum. The software we are using is the latest in forum software so that is not going to change! There are going to be some nice new things added and of course the big thing will be the design or look of the community. I’m really excited!

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What are some of the most recent additions to the R2R website that our readers may not yet be familiar with but should definitely go explore?

We try to keep improving on old features but also adding things that we feel will not only make it easier for our members but will contribute specifically to making reefing more fun and easy.

The latest addition is to our community market place forums where members buy, sell and trade live and drygoods. The feature now requires that our members select what state they are in and that state is shown as a prefix to the sale or trade topic when it is listed. This makes it easier for those looking for items they may want to go pick up in person or also helps them decide if they want to ship livestock certain distances or not. One of the top responses in selling threads is “where are you located?” This helps with that!

There are many little things we add on a regular basis but we have some super BIG dreams and ideas that we plan on implementing in the very near future! Stay tuned!

R2R acquired competing reef aquarium community 3reef in 2017. What spurred that acquisition? Were you able to successfully integrate their data into R2R? Are there big picture plans to consolidate more reefing communities under the R2R banner?

Well this is a good question and one we are still trying to answer for ourselves. There is still definitely some great info to be gleaned from at 3reef as at one time it was a pretty thriving community. I had become friends with the owner and after some things in life led him in a different direction the forum fizzled and we were given the opportunity to purchase it. We purchased it with the plan to integrate the data somehow and at some point. We still have these plans!

As far as other forums and blogs go there is always the chance that we might go after a few in the future. For now we are pretty confident in our community and the value that we offer and anything else we can add would only be a benefit to the saltwater community as a whole.

Tank build threads are among the most popular on R2R. You have a pretty kick ass tank yourself these days. What can you tell us about it? Where can our readers follow your adventures in reefkeeping?

This question is sort of an ongoing joke between some of our members. Yes I do have a tank but the updates are very random due to the issues I have dealt with since kicking it off in early 2017. You can see the build here.

I’ve always had a reef tank since I began this hobby over 14 years ago but this one is the “dream” tank for me. The display is around 380 gallons with a total water volume of around 450 gallons after you factor in the sump, a frag tank and the displacement of water due to sand and rock. Or something like that!

The tank is located in the finished basement of my house and is “in-wall” between the den and a dedicated fish room. It is 8ft x 3ft x 2ft in diameter and is lit by six EcoTech Marine Radion G4xr30 Pro LED lights. The heart of the system is an Abyzz A200 DC return pump. Filtration is accomplished via a Reef Octopus 300int skimmer. Various pumps provide flow inside the display and include pumps from EcoTech Marine, Neptune Systems, Maxspect, and Rossmont. And of course a Neptune Systems Apex controller controlling it.

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This is the most electronic and equipment savvy tank I have ever owned but it is also the tank I have had the most issues with dealing with the devil algae as I like to call it, Dinoflagette! I think I have finally figured out why I have been having such a hard time and am now seeing real progress in eliminating it. 

R2R has a reputation for being a friendly place where hobbyists of all levels of experience along with industry folk (like us) can commingle to talk about all things aquarium. Do those good vibes and positivity trickle down from you? How do you set and maintain this tone of benevolence for all 90K members?

Thank you and that means a lot! Being raised a pastor’s kid and being one all my life I have been around a lot of people. I was taught to respect people and to treat others like you want to be treated. I’m far from perfect but I believe that has played a part in how our community responds to one another.

From the very beginning of R2R we wanted to build a strong foundation where people from all different walks of life and backgrounds could not only get along but respect one another even with opinions that strongly oppose one another. From the beginning we fostered a “family friendly” and “flame free” policy that was not only accepted by the membership but embraced. There is so much negativity in the world today that we don’t need it in our hobby, the very thing that is supposed to help calm us and be something we enjoy.

Since we started with that belief the foundation has stayed true and built a strong community of aquarium minded individuals who in most part police themselves. There are still those instances where we have to remind one another but for the most part it’s a great atmosphere. Everyone is welcome at R2R and those that “buy in” to what we believe really blossom and contribute greatly to the community. By the way we almost have 90,000 members now! We have also just recently surpassed 200,000 Facebook fans and have over 1 Million visits and 4 Million pageviews each month on the forums!

R2R is a stalwart at aquarium events big and small. What 2018 shows do you plan to participate in?

Oh we love to travel and we certainly love to meet hobbyists and industry professionals. What’s not to love about saltwater aquariums shows? We love to hang out with our members and meet would be potential members as well. That’s mostly what we do at the shows. We like to have “reef swag” as it’s called to give away to people along with popcorn and other goodies.

One of the main draws to our booth is the fact that we have great raffle prizes for people to win at the end of the show and the raffle tickets are free! We don’t sell tickets but we provide a way for people to hopefully win some cool gear or live goods. By the way thank you Marine Depot for helping provide prizes for these giveaways like you have done in the past and already promised to do in the future!

We have already had the pleasure of attending the Florida Frag Swap in Lakeland in early February and we’re super excited about a new show in Charleston SC called Reef Dreams that we are proud to be a part of! And of course we will be attending what I believe to be one of the best if not the best show for hobbyists in the world which is the Reef A Palooza. We are already set to be in Orlando and New York for those and working out the details to hopefully be at RAP in California as well.

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We have also attended many MACNA shows which is the industry “go to” show and have plans to also display with them again very soon. Other than that we would like to attend more club level shows and any other new shows that may take us new places to see new faces! The only issue is that there is not enough time in the year for so many great shows.

What new trends in the aquarium hobby excite you? Are there any new products or services you’ve tried recently that surprised or delighted you?

Honestly there are so many new and exciting things on the horizon for our hobby. Really the things that get me most excited are the breeding of new fish and inverts that had not been realized before. It’s not only good for our industry but it’s great for sustainability of our oceans and reefs.

I have always had a love for clownfish and how they reproduce. Seeing those little baby clown fish swim around is something extremely beautiful and satisfying to me. We have many wonderful breeders as a part of our community but in the future I would really like to do more as a community to foster these types of members, companies and projects. Basically get more involved in doing our part. As much as I love it, I have never been successful breeding anything. But in the future I would like to give it a real shot. Major kudos to the men and women who make it happen!

Oh and I can’t forget to add that I am super stoked about automatic testing of Calcium, Alkalinity and Magnesium on the hobbyist level!

You must get tired of talking about aquariums now and then. So let’s talk about something else. What shows are you binging now on Netflix?

HA! Yes one would think but it’s rare! 🙂

I do however love to watch shows with my wife Tonya! We love our late night rendezvous in a comfy bed and our favorite TV shows! Just lately we found out about a funny show, and you may have heard about it, called The Office. I’m sure you have. At any rate we have been watching about 4-6 of these shows each night and just started season 8. Admittedly we are kinda bummed. It’s not starting out too great without the old office manager himself, Michael.

In closing I would like to thank God for the opportunity He has given me to be able to go to work everyday and do something that I love. Without Him I am nothing. A huge thanks to my beautiful wife of 20 years Tonya for allowing me to chase this dream and put up with all the years of stinky skimmate and dirty glass! She’s my soul mate. I would also like to thank the men and women of Team R2R and the Reef Squad at R2R for all of their hard work and dedication to the community. They are amazing people who do amazing things for this amazing hobby! Finally thank you to Marine Depot for being a long time sponsor of our community and for this wonderful honor.

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