Here at Reef Builders we tirelessly work our fins to the spine to stay on top of the news and to make sure our readership is the most informed about everything related to the aquarium world. Whether it’s new fish, new products, new science or techniques, keeping the flow speed of information fast enough for proper infosynthesis takes a lot of time and work. Needless to say, the job of editing the Reef Builders blog is an 18 hour daily photoperiod and it has been this way for me since I joined RB two years ago. Since I worked my caudal fin off before the show and it was my birthday, my co-editors activated into gear and gave me the weekend off so that I could really relax at the show, have more casual conversations, catch some presentations and catch up with old and new friends alike.
Having the work load removed for the weekend meant that i could really sink back into being a hobbyist at the show, and focus on the presentations I attended as well as to enjoy the company of my extended reefing family. Like so many participants of MACNA, I usually attend the reef shows in a professional function, either as a speaker or scurrying around hustling for as much new information as possible and making sure we blog the latest and the greatest. Being with very passionate hobbyists and having a birthday at the show really made me see the show in a new light, or rather an old light which I hadn’t felt since the first MACNA I attended at Louisville in 2003. I remembered what it was like to meet so many authors for the first time, and to attend these meaty professionally assembled presentations which absolutely blew my mind with information. I think Brian, Matt and Rich will agree that the Orlando event was one of the smoothest and most well-run MACNA in recent memory. However I felt and still feel like some of the objectives of MASNA and MACNA are being pushed by the wayside and I’d like to bring my main concern to your attention: where are the kids?
MASNA stands for the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America and MACNA stands for the Marine Aquarium Conference of North America. I consider myself an environmentalist about 360 days out of the year and any self-respecting, card-carrying member of the human race should be close to that number as well. That being said, why is there so much of a focus on saving the environment at an aquarium conference yet we never have discussions about saving our hobby? Save the whales, the reefs, the corals, the turtles and even the flippin seagrass has it’s own initiatives. There’s hundreds of conferences around the world that specialize in addressing these concerns and I think MACNA and MASNA should concern itself with saving our own cause, the marine aquarium hobby. The Seasmart program and Coral Restoration Foundation are some of the rare exceptions where environmentalism is tightly synergistic with the marine aquarium trade and hobby but for the most part I just see way too much airtime in our hobby being played to problems in which we are amateurs. Why don’t we let the experts do what they’re good at and let’s make sure our own house is order?
Children and their sense of wonder is woefully lacking in the marine and reef aquarium hobbies. A community without any children playing in it is like a school without any children to teach and it scares me to think that our hobby overall is aging. At my first MACNA in 2003 I also had a birthday and I turned 22. At the time I was not surprised to be one of the younger die-hard reefers in the aquarium hobby. Now seven years later I look around and it still feels like I am one of the whippersnappers of the community but it shouldn’t be like that. With all the advancements we’ve made in making it easier to keep tanks, and more straightforward to keep small affordable nano reef tanks there is no excuse that we can’t attract a whole new generation of younguns. If kids spend a lot of time watching cartoons, playing video games and being online it’s because those industries spend billions of dollars trying to get their attention. The aquarium industry overall probably doesn’t have that kind of coin but there’s no reason why we can’t do something. Let’s get kids involved at home, at the shows, in the classrooms and especially in the local reef clubs where young people would just love to part of something, to belong.
If I have a MACNA/Birthday wish it is that we stop looking at what’s been done in the past and start examining what we need to be doing to ensure our future. Kids of all ages now have access to all manner of exotic critters of fish, corals and inverts who’s novelty puts bearded dragons and fluorescent scorpions to shame. The reptile hobby has reaped great rewards from marketing itself as a kid-friendly hobby and they’ve slammed it out of the park; if you go to a reptile show half the population of attendees could be under thirty years of age whereas the aquarium hobby would be lucky if it had 20% of our hobbyists under thirty. If we don’t do something about it the reefing shows and club meetings are going to look more and more like a geriatric ward. So many of us have spare tanks, equipment and All-in-one nano tanks that if we each made a goal to get one child set up with their first reef tank by the first of the year that could translate into tens of thousands of new younger reefers. I hope that reef event organizers including next year’s GIRS MACNA will try to develop some attractions that are specifically for kids. A series of back to back 10-15 minute presentations by teenage or younger hobbyists would be at the top of my list to attend, so would a youth aquascaping competition or a booth of different nano aquariums that had all been put together by chilluns.
If we want to talk about environmentalism that’s great but why are we teaching lessons to the adults who are already comfortable and mostly set in their ways? If you want environmentalism to catch on it’ll go a whole lot farther if we teach it to the kids, especially if they learn as young aquarists and before they’re grown up and had a family and bought an SUV. If we really want to make change in our world, children are the future of our hobby and of our planet. The way I see it, the best interest of our environment and of our hobby are one and the same and I encourage the wider aquarium community to take a knee, look at our world from a child’s point of view and ask yourself what we can do as environmentalists and hobbbyists to get em while they’re young.
Huge thanks to ORCA for a job very well done and I’m looking at GIRS to make sure I hear children laughing at MACNA 2011.
Flow >>> Water