In our next installment of “7 Questions” we sit down with Joe Yaiullo, the Curator and Co-Founder of the Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center in Riverhead, New York. Known for curating an amazing 20,000 gallon coral reef at the aquarium, Joe is extremely active in the reefing community making appearances at national, regional and local events sharing his wisdom and experiences with hobbyists of all levels. Here are the 7 Questions we asked Joe.
Reef Builders: How old were you when you had your first aquarium? Tell us all about it.
Joe Yaiullo: Not quite sure, had a variety of fresh water tanks through my youth, probably around 10 years old with tetras, mollies, corydoras, etc but never got too deep into fish choices, etc.
RB: What is your favorite fish and coral?
JY: That can vary over time for sure, but for now I’d say Achilles tang and Pink Tail Trigger have always been up on the top of the list. For corals, I like my green stylophora and my purple milka stylophora. My gorgonia date back over 24 years, so they are a favorite too. Some of my acros date back 21 years but its oh so hard to say favorite…
RB: How did the Long Island Aquarium come about?
JY: First with a lifelong fascination with all things aquatic which led to a BS degree in Marine Science from Southampton College. I worked at the New York Aquarium at Coney Island for eight years. There was one 90 gallon display tank that was maintained as a reef tank. Although some corals did well, others over time faded away. What intrigued me most of all with the tank was watching soft corals like star polyps actually spreading over the substrate and generating new polyps… simply amazing. Although this experience was great. I realized I didn’t want to stay in Brooklyn as I’m a Long Island boy at heart.
After eight years of planning and proposals, I was able to co-found the Long Island Aquarium and settled it in Riverhead. I had ideas on how I wanted an aquarium to look and operate, and the best way to do it was to build and manage your own. Even though it’s a public aquarium, I still view it and the reef tank as my own DIY project, much like any hobbyist feels about their tank. We designed, fabricated, and built everything in-house so there is a great sense of ownership. The reef tank is 30 ft. long x 14 ft. wide x 6.5 ft.deep (water depth) and contains over 20,000 gallons.
RB: What has been your favorite thing about the aquarium?
JY: The reef tank without doubt, which is approaching 15 years old. I also work for and with great people which also is important on many levels. Baby penguins are high on the list. Exposing the general public to so many of natures wonders is also very rewarding.
RB: What is the biggest challenge with keeping a huge coral reef?
JY: Staying ahead of old tank syndrome, which I believe is mostly lazy old aquarist syndrome. It is a never ending chess match, and corals can humble you very quickly. Maintaining the diverse fish population is also a never ending challenge as well, as their moods and temperament change over time as well. I also have the challenge of keeping the tank interesting to me, as its a long term relationship. Success can lead to failure as the corals get too big and alter flow, lighting, dosing needs, etc so keeping the tank functional and aesthetically pleasing is a never ending challenge.
RB: What do you think the biggest advancement has been in the hobby in the last 10 years?
JY: Good question. I look towards energy efficient methods of moving water in a desirable manner and recently the lighting LED revolution. The overly blue look makes me nuts and gives me headaches. It is like the early days when we had our halides go off and left the actinics on to go ooh and ahhh but it was only for a short time at the end of the day
RB: What question do you get asked the most?
JY: Hmmmmm, probably there is a look of bewilderment when gazing into the tank and then “How? How do you keep this going?”