YouTube can be a wonderful thing and the Brooklyn Aquarium Society – a 111-year-old fish club, has been kind enough to upload and share some of its archived speaker presentations from years gone by. Reef Aquariums Questions & Answers was co-presented at a meeting in 1999 by Gregory Schiemer and Tony Vargas. It was two successful reef keepers speaking to an audience of mainly freshwater aquarists about reef aquariums, with Greg doing the part on livestock and Tony covering equipment. If you’ve been in the hobby that long the video carries with it a lovely nostalgia of firstly a vibrant club scene but also slides of photographs taken on film cameras, old school projectors, and a snapshot of the reefing hobby as it was then, at the end of the last millennium.
Applause goes to Gregory Schiemer as he talks to the audience first about corals, then mobile invertebrates and fish, relaying both the common and scientific names of everything presented on the slides. Even if you know what they are, the speech is delivered in such an educational but constructive way where everything is presented first as a picture, then by scientific name, and then actual experience of every fish and coral, their needs and challenges. It reminds us also that reefkeepers were not only keeping colonies of Acropora successfully back then but also propagating them, splitting them, and passing them onto other reefers.
The featured aquariums were large and impressive, lit by a combination of very warm 6000K metal halides and fluorescent tubes like VHO and the classic 03 actinic. Live rock was still heavily used and live sand had recently entered the hobby and was recommended. A certain Joe Yaiullo was in the audience, now of Long Island Aquarium fame, and he was using live sand and strong metal halides. The systems were sump based, running on the Berlin Method with the two most important features being light and protein skimming. Tony Vargas told the audience to keep it simple and not to add too many gadgets. That was 23 years ago and with the grown-out colonies those American reefing pioneers were showing back then, we would be wise to take their advice and wisdom when running our modern reefs today.
For the Instagram generation, it may be hard to appreciate yellow lighting and brown corals, and pictures of tanks without the owners posing in front of them showing off flesh. Still, these were functioning ecosystems and the advice on how to keep Copperband butterflyfish and Leopard wrasses was just the same then as it is now. It was a Golden Age in reefing presented and attended by some of the original influencers. When “Live” meant live – live and in person, and corals were appreciated for their form and beauty, their contribution to the living world and aquarium ecosystems, not just their monetary value, pop, or provenance.