I hope to see my fellow Reef Builders contributors jump in and share their take on MACNA 2010 in the coming days. Seeing the annual pilgrimage to the marine aquarium hobby’s nomadic mecca through multiple points of view may offer a greater insight into why such an event is generally pivotal, renewing or inspiring for all who attend. While I thought I had attended similar events in the past (i.e. various IMACs and other national events in related interest groups), in truth, my first MACNA was far larger and more overwhelming than I thought possible. Somehow I managed to avoid a recreation of “Fear and Loathing” in Orlando. Get the complete scoop after the break.
My MACNA 2010 story started 1 1/2 days before the event itself on a Wednesday night with two plane trips (you can’t get very many places from Duluth, Minn. in a single flight). After sleeping only two hours, I found myself facing the stormy Atlantic under the cover of darkness, fishing rod in hand, following the lead of Matt Wittenrich as we tried to fetch a monster from the deep. Only Matt was lucky enough to touch chrome that morning, but I had my tangle.
Later that morning, Matt initiated me to something I’d read about and written about here at Reefbuilders — the true calamity that is the invasion of Lionfish in the Atlantic. Seeing firsthand that Lionfish sightings outnumbered Blue and Queen Angelfish sightings combined during our time underwater hits home just how changed things are. Both Matt and I owed quite a bit of thanks to our host researcher Zack Jud. Without his invitation, this photo (which opened my tweaked filefish presentation with a word about “responsibility”) could not have been possible.
As you can see, MACNA isn’t always just about the three days of conventioning…often times a trip involves an extended stay to do something outside of MACNA itself.
By Friday morning, my voice was already gone and MACNA was in full swing. I managed to catch Randy Reed giving his insightful rotifer presentation, followed up shortly thereafter by an excellent introduction to seahorses by Christine Williams and Martin Moe’s elegantly simplistic design for his nine-zone reef system. No doubt videos of Moe’s functional model will pop up all over the internet, probably here on Reef Builders too, but what got me thinking was the practical applications this resurrected prototypical design might have when inserted into the public aquarium realm. I hope there were some institutional audience members.
The shock of the day was Steve Allen’s personal invitation to introduce the MASNA 2010 Aquarist of the Year. With a wink and a nod, he said “you should know” but never actually told me who I’d be introducing. Laying low on Friday evening, I feverishly wrote and practiced in a whisper, desperate to preserve my voice for a 10 AM talk on Saturday.
Saturday was a blur again. I barely remember being on stage, hitting on so much in so little time. Surprisingly (or not), the most thought-provoking question about Harlequin Filefish came from our very own Jake Adams, who asked about the implications my work with filefish might have on other species. In truth, I failed to answer that question sufficiently at the time. I sit here now saying, “Jake, you know, Pufferfish, Filefish, Boxfish, Triggerfish, all probably have similar reproductive strategies and needs. With Porcupine Puffers, Harlequin Filefish and Queen Triggerfish all being successfully reared, this group may well be prime for the ultimate takedown by marine fish breeders.” There…said what I should have said then. This experience is perhaps truly indicative of what MACNA may be to a lot of people…so many things you wish you got the chance to say.
Of course, attending the Marine Breeders Initiative (MBI) “Marketing Captive Bred” round-table is another such example. With anticipated attendance being maybe 10 to 20 and actual attendance being more like 60, few even got a chance to speak. Still, this round-table format was definitely thought provoking as evidenced by the number of hands still in the air when Steve Allen had to draw the gathering to a close.
Saturday night’s banquet rolled around and as my tablemates Fritz (Saltwater Empire), Benjie and Nancy can all confirm, I was truly nervous. My heart was pounding, but the nerves tend to come and dissipate before I ever step on stage. Standing with the 10 other MASNA award winners and feeling a bit out of place was surreal. I was beyond privileged to introduce Matt Wittenrich as the 2010 Aquarist of the Year. For that moment, as I ended my speech (all five pages of it Mr. Ross), all felt right with the marine aquarium world.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtriiTvG48M&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]Video of Matt’s stunned acceptance speech, posted on Youtube. Thanks for shooting it Gary Parr of ReefThreads!
You would have thought the surrealism ended at that point. Really, where else could the night go? Well, David Vosseler’s presentation on PNG may have been taken as a “sales pitch” by some, but in truth, it answered a lot of tough questions I had asked David directly over the past couple months. SEASMART brought a polished, professional presentation to the table…it was absolutely fitting and if you felt “sold” well, it’s because the presentation was truly compelling. Of course, sitting in the back of the room and hearing the crowd erupt in applause when video of the Lightning Maroon Clownfish came onto the screen was nothing short of heady and a reality check at the same time. Around 1,300 people (guesstimated) are applauding for a fish that is swimming around in my Minnesota basement??! Holy crap, talk about renewed pressure just days after I felt comfortable enough to introduce it to a female (which could have gone very badly).
The practical upshot of this pressure was a renewed thirst (for a drink). After days of playing nice, my responsibilities were met and I was ready for an all night marathon of talking with friends I never see enough of. Getting photo-bombed by Jessy Timko and John Ciotti is just one sign of how the evening would progress. Of course, later that night, Justin Credabel would get me too, but that picture will remain in my private collection!
No fish-related, multi-day event — be it MACNA or any other— is truly complete without at least one pseudo-all-nighter. I learned this over a decade ago at my first American Cichlid Association Convention. It is a rule all fish-folk should live by. Still, 5 AM came far too quickly.
Sunday found me waking up late and barely catching the end of Judy St. Leger’s talk on the AZA/Sea World Rising Tide initiative. This of course ties in with the MBI and other such efforts. A classic example of another person I needed to talk to more that weekend, but regrettably could not. Email is already sent. Martin Moe’s Diadema talk was a must-see although I suspect many people didn’t understand the true gravity of what was presented. Who thinks of pulsing the aeration in a quarter-round rearing vessel as a means (and the only successful one) of rearing Diadema urchin larvae?! Only Martin Moe. And you’d only have heard about it if you were at MACNA!
Still, by this point I’d missed at least a half dozen talks I fully intended to see, including those put on by Scott Fellman, Julian Sprung, John Coppolino, Justin Credebal. I learned that attending a MACNA is an all you can eat buffet for your mind and soul. It is all about making hard choices and realizing that simply you cannot consume it all. Sunday wound up being my last chance to try to check those items I had simply marked as “top priorities” off my list. It meant one hour, running through the entire vendor area, a Cliff Notes version at best. It meant getting an autograph for a friend who has no clue it’s coming, and will be fully “geeked out” (phrase of the weekend) when he gets back his dog-eared copy of a Julian Sprung’s book (surprise Nick!). It meant “tagging” a couch with the only icon I felt could convey that “Matt Pedersen was here.”
Having no remaining time also meant the truly tough choice between Ken Nedimyer’s talk and Ret Talbot’s talk, which ultimately meant I’d get to only see Ken for 10 seconds as I ran out the door looking for my ride to the Airport with Tom Frakes, a fellow MASNA award winner who did me the pleasure of giving me another Cliff Notes version, this time of his own talk, one that I’d been curious to see and now missed twice.
But let me circle back to Ret Talbot’s talk, the last I would catch at this year’s MACNA. This talk was on PNG, and again, SEASMART. If there was a belle of the ball, it was the people of Papua New Guinea. Once again, I’m reminded of the tremendous gift in my care, when Ret Talbot flashes an image and points to me, sitting in the front row, as I’m in turn flashing my camera in his direction.
The most amazing part of my weekend might be the reaction of every citizen of Papua New Guinea who I met. Their true belief in the program could be felt. Moreover, once it was conveyed that I was the person who now cared for the Lightning Maroon, it was as if I was some celebrity or something, again surreality smacks me in the face. I must have told the story of the Lightning Maroon’s “first date” at least a dozen times. I did my best to convey that in fact no, it is they, the people of PNG and SEASMART, who I am truly honored to have met. I was charged with the custody and care of something that is, in my humble opinion, their ambassador to the marine aquarium world. It is I who owe them everything I can possibly do. Once again, the true weight of the responsibility I undertook is shown to me through the smiles and well wishes of each person I met. Were it not for having met these fine folks on Saturday, I would not have been running around Sunday with this photo as the No. 1 top priority on my list for the end of MACNA.
And now, I’ve returned home with a day to recuperate. Of course, I’ve done nothing of the sort! It would be cliche to say I’ve returned with renewed interest in my hobby, and that wouldn’t really be true. No, what I returned with is clarity. I’m already doing what I need to be doing, working with the Lightning Maroon, constructing a larval rearing system, and planning to rear a few new species in the coming year. MACNA, for me, was confirmation that things are going in the right direction. It served as a reminder that we don’t get everything we want all at once, but patience and hard work will bring it to us in time. So perhaps, the best one word summation of MACNA, would be to say it gave me hope.
Again, a special thanks to the lady with the lens, someone who floors me with her work, Jessica Timko of ReefAddicts, for sharing multiple pictures I could have never had myself. You bring a smile to my face!