Leroy Headlee, the co-founder and director of the infamous Geothermal Aquaculture Research Foundation (GARF) passed away on Memorial Day leaving behind a legacy in the coral aquarium hobby which is undeniable. We never knew Leroy, spoke to him on the phone and email a couple times back in the nineties and read plenty of his articles in the old Marine Fish Monthly magazine. The things that he and GARF did for coral growers and coral keepers came at a pivotal time in reef aquarium history, and many of the things we do for our aquariums everyday can be traced back to pioneering work that was tried out and popularized by GARF. It’s not a stretch to say that at one point GARF was the most important coral reef aquarium website in the world and without it, there may not have been a Reef Builders.
In its later years GARF is better known by the newcomers as a weird derelict website with a Geocities-like layout, but Leroy and Sally Jo were adventurous to try out a lot of crazy ideas related to keeping and growing corals and many of them were crazy enough to work. It is unclear how many of Leroy’s ideas were completely original but it’s safe to say that the articles on the GARF website and GARF-sponsored articles in Marine Fish Monthly went a long way to spreading the word about novel ideas that are now so commonplace in the reef hobby that it’s hard to believe we once did otherwise.
- Aragacrete was once a common word for a mixture of concrete and aragonite that was made popular by GARF and Leroy. The idea of “making your own rock” was not on the radar of most reefkeepers until GARF made it a central tenet of their low impact reef aquariums. Nowadays we just call it rock, man-made rock or aragonite rock but many a rock-making reef club parties in the 2000s were inspired directly by “Aragacrete”.
- We don’t know who first super glued corals to rocks but back when all the books and fish stores sold and told you to use two-part epoxies to glue down corals, Leroy & Co. were using super glue, Cyanoacrylate to glue fuzzy colored sticks to rocks. It seemed like a crazy idea at the time since we had no idea of the effects of super glue in a coral system but thanks to GARF’s articles, a huge number of reefkeepers tried using super glue in their own reef tanks and we never looked back.
- The idea to use different hermit crabs, emerald crabs and other inverts to help keep aquariums clean has been around for eons. However, it was GARF that first packaged the idea into the popular “clean up crew” which encouraged new reefkeepers to make a point of getting some blue legs, some red legs, some scarlet hermits with some emerald crabs, an arrow crab (to eat bristleworms), Nerites, Cerith, Turbo and Astrea snails so that all these different inverts would collectively clean the bejeezus out of your aquarium. Of course the LFS loved the idea of selling a jillion little high-profit invertebrates to every reef tank and the concept of the Clean Up Crew took off.
- The Purple Monster and Green Slimer acros had been around for a long time before GARF and Leroy came along but for some reason, when the GARF Purple Bonsai was introduced the collectoritis really set in. Leroy never advocated the Limited Edition coral trend but the “Frag a Reef, Grow Your Own” campaign encouraged a lot of people to spread the love, spread the corals in an effort to reduce our impact on the ocean. The GARF Purple Bonsai is still a highly sought after coral in the reef hobby and very few Acropora valida strains can match its deep purple skin with brilliant, bright green polyps.
As a teenager trying to keep corals in the nineties Leroy Headlee’s writing online and in print went a great length to encouraging us to keep more challenging and SPS corals. At a time when Steve Tyree was scaring people away from keeping any kind of SPS with a gripping fear of “RTN” that would wipe out an entire tank for no reason, the Headlees and their ghetto-fabulous aquaria were an inspiration to a generation of reef keepers. What Tyree struggled to keep alive in the most highly lit metal halide and crazy flow aquariums, GARF was growing under Normal Output fluorescent lamps and using lots of sub-par equipment. As a young reefer with limited income and very basic aquariums, the writings of Leroy and Sally Jo encouraged us to try what the “experts” said was impossible.
The strong sense of propagation that GARF infused into all their writings shaped the American reef aquarium hobby into one of the most coral-fragginest aquarium scenes in the world. Seriously, nowhere in the world can you find the concentration and diversity of coral growers as there is in the United States and we personally credit the rich culture of propagation found in North America with the prolific and creative writings of Leroy Headlee, GARF and all the coral growers that were influenced by them. It may be have been a while since GARF has been front and center in the marine aquarium scene but it is undeniable that had it not been for Leroy Headlee’s enterprise, we would be experiencing a very different coral aquarium hobby today.
I want to personally thank Leroy Headlee and the Geothermal Aquaculture Research Foundation for their influence in my life as a young aquarist. The next time you reach for the frag and the super glue, glue one down for Leroy.