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MACNA 2017: A Weekend for Marine Aquarists


August 3, 2017

For the 29th year, marine aquatic enthusiasts will be gathering at the Marine Aquarium Conference of North America (MACNA), the oldest marine aquarium conference in North America, according to the event’s website. And this year, from August 25 to 27, the event will take place in the Big Easy.

Each year, the Marine Aquarium Society of America (MASNA) chooses one of its club members to host MACNA. Interested clubs submit a plan to MASNA that highlights why they should be chosen as the host. For this year, MASNA chose Louisiana-based club member Bayou Reefkeeping to host MACNA.

“MACNA 2017 in New Orleans will be unlike any other MACNA,” said Adam Clayton, director of Bayou Reefkeeping. “New Orleans is a special place with an extremely unique feel. We plan to bring the spirit and fun feel of New Orleans to the show.”

The group was notified it earned the 2017 hosting gig in September 2015 and has been organizing ever since. As host, it is Bayou Reefkeeping’s responsibility to “design the fl oor plan, find the host venue, work with the hotels, contract the vendors, advertise for the show and ultimately execute the event when the time comes,” Clayton said.

According to MASNA event manager Erica Robes, the goal of MACNA is to bring together the education, tradeshow and networking components of the marine aquarium hobby and to be “the premiere saltwater show.”

“We want our attendees to have fun, we want them to learn something new, something exciting, and get to meet the people that they see on YouTube, the people that they read about in magazines, so we want the hobbyists to really be able to interact with the industry hands on,” Robes said.

With a long list of industry experts set to speak and workshops planned for the three-day conference, there is sure to be plenty of learning and networking. And with more than 160 companies exhibiting, attendees can bet they will get a glimpse at some of the newest products and latest trends the industry has to offer.

The Essentials
While there will be plenty of spectacular fish and coral to see at the show, there will also be the aquatic essentials. Don Miller, CEO of Ruby Reef (Booth 726), realizes that his products might not be as flashy as the livestock, but it is products like his that are “necessary to make that flash stay.”

“Our mission is to provide products that will work in the tank to clear up many problems associated with bacteria, with parasites, with fungus that hobbyists encounter when they’re putting new fish in or dealing with various problems that occur in the aquarium hobby industry,” he said.

According to Miller, this year’s MACNA show is the event where Ruby Reef will unveil its first aid kit for aquariums. Taking its already-offered combo pack of its Kick-Ich and Rally treatments (the former controls and eliminates ich infestations while the latter controls and eliminates bacterial fin rot, gill flukes, marine parasites, gram negative bacteria and a number of other issues) and packaging it into a box, Ruby Reef can now supply hobbyists with a “medicine cabinet” for their tank.

By packaging the products as a first aid kit for an aquarium, it is Ruby Reef ’s hope that hobbyists will have the necessary supplies on hand so they are ready to treat at the first sign of infection, Miller explained.

“It’s extremely important to deal with these problems quickly because they can so quickly overwhelm your tank,” Miller said. “So many times, especially newbies, will see something—they’re not sure they’re seeing something at all—and by the time they recognize that they have a problem, they’ve lost a lot of fish or it’s gone past the point where it can be really successfully dealt with.”

Ruby Reef, which is a sponsor of this year’s event, will be handing out product samples at MACNA and will have literature and representatives there to help explain why aquarium upkeep is so vital—and how doing so will encourage people to stay in the hobby.

“When you run into serious problems and you don’t know how to deal with them, it can be very disturbing, upsetting, expensive and disastrous, and you can lose interest quickly when you encounter problems you just don’t know how to deal with… So that’s a duty for us to be able to educate people as to how to deal with those problems, and we think we have the best products for that.”

German company Triton (Booth 611), which is one of the main sponsors of this year’s MACNA, will be showing off new products as well as updates to water testing and its lab as it makes its way into the U.S. market.

Specializing in chemical products, Triton has helped modernize reefkeeping, according to Joseph Caparatta, who heads Triton U.S.

“The Triton method incorporates the testing, the base elements and the holistic approach to modern reefkeeping,” Caparatta said.

Another essential item that marine hobbyists need is food, of course.

San Francisco Bay Brand (Booth 842) will be introducing a Reef Multi- Pack. According to Aleck Brooks, the company’s commercial sales manager, the pack is “a great addition for consumers that like to feed reef aquariums a variety of foods without the clutter of multiple packages in the freezer.”

The Reef Multi-Pack comes with four food types: marine cuisine, coral cuisine, reef plankton and fish eggs. Cobalt Aquatics (Booths 782, 881, 879), maker of “fish geek-level products” does everything it can “to bring product to market that has value above and beyond what is out there already for fish geeks that is also usable and affordable for the everyday casual hobbyist,” according to Cobalt cofounder Les Wilson.

At this year’s MACNA, consumers and marine specialty store representatives can expect to see a new line of high-end LEDs from Cobalt, Wilson said.

“LED technology continues to evolve just as rapidly as you can possibly imagine, so all of us are trying to keep up with the technology and make a better and better light at better and better pricing, so a lot of new LEDs I’m sure will be there,” he said.

In addition to the trend of new and more advanced lighting for aquariums, Wilson also said to be on the lookout for all the “stunning livestock” vendors will bring.

Fish and Corals
Biota Aquariums (Booth 682) is one company that will be bringing “some surprises to the show in terms of firstever cultured fish,” according to its cofounder, Kevin Gaines.

“Biota Aquariums’ mission is to inspire the next generation of ocean enthusiasts or conservationists, so we came up with Biota Aquariums as a 13-gallon complete aquarium including sustainable, cultured livestock and live rocks,” Gaines said.

With Biota Aquariums, it is Gaines’ hope that people are brought into the hobby the right way and that they gain an appreciation for it so that they can continue to get bigger and bigger tanks as they move forward, just like he did when he was a kid.

Two of Biota Aquariums’ complete tanks will be set up at the show, as well as smaller ones that will display the newly aquacultured fish, which have been cultured by Biota Aquariums’ cofounder Tom Bowling. Bowling is the director of Biota Palau and cultures many of the fish and corals that are available through Biota Aquarium, Gaines said.

More new livestock can be found at Unique Corals’ booth (166), where the company will be unveiling a couple of corals, according to Caparatta. In addition to being a part of Triton’s team, he is the owner of Unique Corals.

Caparatta estimates that Unique Corals’ facility has about 500 different named pieces with deep populations of each type, but he is keeping the newest additions to that massive stock under wraps until the show. Two of Unique Corals’ most popular types of coral include the small polyp stony and the Strawberry Shortcake, the latter of which was named about 10 years ago at a MACNA show. Through the types of coral customers order from the company, Caparatta notes that colorful, small frags that look great under the latest lighting is what hobbyists are going toward nowadays, different from the large colonies people wanted to grow out in earlier years.

Eye Catching Coral (Booth 770) has seen the same trend. According to its CEO Jim Gintner, while there is still a strong market for colonies, more people are heading toward frags because they are sustainable, live better, have a lower price point and have more proven strains of color. Even when Eye Catching Coral sells colonies now, Gintner says a lot of the stores will cut those into frags.

At this year’s show, Eye Catching Coral, which has nearly 14,000 pieces of coral in stock, will continue to monitor market demands and trends and respond to those through the livestock the wholesale company offers. The company can respond even better now that it has opened a 4,000-square-foot facility in Ohio to grow the livestock.

The facility will be unveiled at MACNA with a tour video of the site, and Eye Catching Coral will also be bringing the new products that come from that facility, Gintner said.

Being able to admire the beautiful fish and coral is the draw to the hobby. Lifegard Aquatics (Booth 381) knows that and so gives aquarists a better view of the inside of the tank with its new Full View Aquarium, which is available in a five- and seven-gallon size. The angled front panel gives people a 20 percent bigger viewing space than a conventional tank, said Neal Dulaney, president of Lifegard Aquatics.

Community
Being surrounded by others who are just as enthusiastic about marine aquatics is a pretty special feeling, according to Wilson, and the sense of community within the marine hobby that MACNA brings out is what makes the event a true standout for those in attendance.

For those who might not be able to make it to the actual event but who would like to still be involved, they can do so remotely thanks to Cobalt’s planned Facebook Live videos, Wilson said.

Ruby Reef also enjoys the camaraderie that MACNA creates for all in the industry each year and thinks the event is necessary in order to share ideas and teach people how to become better hobbyists.

“We really do appreciate that there are functions like this; it is necessary in the aquarium hobby industry,” Miller said. “It is a hobby that attracts people who recognize the beauty of the types of coral, the fish. It’s exotic, but it does require a lot of work. A lot of people have to become proficient, and it’s an education. And there’s a lot that’s involved in it, and that’s why there’s so many experts in the field, and that’s where they can come together here at MACNA. So the people can learn an awful lot from the expertise there.”

Fritz Industries (Booths 576, 578, 677) truly listens to the ideas and concerns the marine aquarium community has at each year’s MACNA and proves that by presenting solutions at the subsequent year’s MACNA.

For example, last year Fritz Industries realized that many people were asking for reef-safe medications so that hobbyists can deal with diseases in a reef tank without having to pull the livestock out, according to company Brand Manager Shawn Hale. This year, the company will be displaying the reefsafe medication on which they’ve been working for their customers for the past 12 months.

As a result of conversations Fritz Aquariums had with the community at MACNA last year, the company has also worked on its reef aquarium salts.

“People want a particular parameter, they want [the salt] to be as tight as it can be so every time they do a water change, they can depend on the consistency in it being the same so they can predict, ‘When I do a water change, this is what my parameters are going to be like,’ They want to automate this,” Hale said.

“Within the last 12 months, we’ve made some tweaks to trace elements and the process just so we can tighten our parameters for the consumer.”

In addition to the updated products, Fritz Aquariums will also be unveiling new reef elements and a line of live foods.

On the Horizon
With the amount of education and passion for the hobby that is being spread at MACNA, it is organizers’ and exhibitors’ hope that more people continue to get involved in the marine aquarium industry.

Gaines wants Biota Aquariums to help increase the number of hobbyists by exposing more people to the practice and by showing that saltwater aquariums can be relatively easy to care for—wiping away the stigma that the hobby is too difficult to continue, which he says turns off people from the practice.

Gaines also points out that the industry is becoming more transparent with its sourcing and that “more and more people are recognizing the value of cultured or captive bred animals.” He also talked about the importance of sustainability.

“Without sustainability, we really don’t have a future as an industry,” Gaines said. “I think the aquarium trade has such an amazing contribution to science which, obviously Biota Aquariums feels, if you have an aquarium in your home and you learn about these fish and see these fish and watch these fish, you now have become stewards for taking care of the ocean and being more aware of the ocean’s issues. So I think aquariums are just extremely valuable educational tools.”

Bayou Reefkeeping hopes that “education on the future of our hobby and the great strides so many industry professionals and hobbyists are making across the globe” are some of the things attendees take away from this year’s MACNA, Clayton said.

As far as MACNA’s future, there will be changes to that, as well. According to Robes, this is the last year that MASNA will choose a local club to run MACNA. For 2018’s show, MASNA will be taking over the show. This move is being made in order to provide consistency to
attendees and exhibitors year after year, Robes explained.

But before that change is implemented, Robes wants everyone to enjoy this year’s MACNA and
thinks that, with the event’s focus on education, people will learn a lot in a short amount of time.

“I hope they can get a chance to get to know the industry better—people who have been in it for years, people who have only recently been getting into it—that they can really walk away with an understanding of the industry and meet some different people that they weren’t expecting,” Robes said.

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