The marine aquarium industry is a strange industry. That is not a bad thing, of course, just an observation.
We are an industry, after all, caught somewhere between being ecologically sensitive and environmentally indifferent. We rely on customers—hobbyists—some of whom, undoubtedly, are rich and even famous, and yet we so often struggle to make ends meet. We are a bunch of good guys (and gals) and yet we are, too often, suspicious and distrustful of one another. Yes, we are a strange bunch indeed, which of course is not necessarily a strike against us.
I am a writer—that is my position in the aquarindustry caste system. I write about the marine aquarium industry as I experience it—as a hobbyist, consultant, freelance writer and, at times, pen for hire for some of the bigger guns in the business. I do it mostly out of love, but it is also how I pay the bills. You may have come across my work in Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine or in Suite101’s Saltwater Aquarium pages, where I posture as the feature writer. You may have stumbled upon one of my blogs, like the one over at Microcosm Aquarium Explorer or at SaltwaterSense. Chances are, I’ve written more than a few of the descriptions at your favorite online retailer (not the ones with typos or grammatical errors, mind you).
I share all of this with you to let you know that I have had the opportunity to get to know the marine aquarium industry from the inside out, always with an eye to promoting a robust and sustainable hobby, where education and conservation go hand-in-hand with an activity perhaps better described as an obsession than a leisure pursuit. I feel lucky that I have the opportunity to make my living on the cusp of something as profound as marine ecosystems and as fun as keeping saltwater fishes, corals and other invertebrates. I am not the expert (or even an expert), but I love the conversations I have with marine scientists where bridges are built between simple recreation and rigorous study. There are not enough hours in the day to talk with everyone with whom I want to talk along the chain of custody from collector to exporter to importer, wholesaler, retailer, and, ultimately, hobbyist.
In many ways, I’m just a guy with a laptop and a love of marine animals.
The blog that I am beginning today here at The Reef Tank is simply my take on an industry that is, in my opinion, at a crossroads. Is the future of our hobby secure? Or are the forces aligning against the industry upon which the hobby depends? Will we be perceived as conservationists profoundly aware of the issues that marine animals and ecosystems face? Or will we be viewed as selfish consumers intent on bringing the beauty of the ocean into our homes as if it were little more than a plasma television? Will retailers work with wholesalers to support exporters and collectors who are acting in a manner that is truly sustainable? Or will the almighty dollar motivate a few to look the other way, potentially causing the extinction of species and untold hardship (and, in some cases, even death) to the collectors in remote island nations who depend on the industry for their daily bread?
These are the questions I look forward to pondering here, and I trust you look forward to engaging in the dialogue about what’s behind the proverbial curtain of the marine aquarium industry.
Ret Talbot is a freelance writer with a passion for marine aquaria. He also blogs on the hobby at Microcosm Aquarium Explorer and Saltwater Sense and is a feature writer for saltwater aquarium topics at Suite 101. He is also a regular contributor to Tropical Fish Hobbyist magazine. You can read more about him on his official website found here.