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Larry Jackson on Dive Travel for the Aquarist
Travel Can Make One a Better Aquarist

Sunset at Malabuyoc Dive Resort in Cebu

Above: Sunset at Malabuyoc Dive Resort, Cebu by Larry Jackson 

Larry Jackson recently gave an outstanding presentation at Marine Aquarium Conference of North America (MACNA) in Atlanta on travel for the aquarist. Knowing that Larry has traveled to Cebu (amongst MANY other places), we asked him if he would be willing to sit down with Blue Zoo News and talk about the intersection of travel and the aquarium hobby, as well as share a few of his Cebu pictures with us. For those that missed Larry’s presentation at MACNA, his take-home point was simply that “spending time diving on reefs makes the hobbyist a better aquarist.” We couldn’t agree more, so, without further adieu, please join us in welcoming Larry to Blue Zoo.

BZN: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, Larry. While you are best known to those in the hobby as a well-traveled and very able aquarist—not to mention an outstanding photographer—your resume might suggest a different path to some. How did your background prepare you for being such an influential figure in the marine aquarium world?

LJ: I do not think my background has much to do with my current pursuits except that my success in business has allowed me time and money to travel. I have loved nature and all creatures since I was a child.

BZN: So, have you always kept marine aquaria?

LJ: I tried a marine aquarium for the first time in 1973 while living in Tampa, Florida. I tried using freshwater techniques and had poor results. I have kept freshwater aquaria since 1958 and have always subscribed to hobby magazines. In 1990, my reading of hobby magazines convinced me that there were new methods that had better success for saltwater. I bought a couple of books, read, built a wet-dry filter, light hood and set up my first reef tank.

BZN: And the rest is history, as they say. With so much time spent travelling—I understand you aim for about six major trips per year—how do you maintain your aquaria while you are away?

LJ: Fortunately I have a friend here who owns a saltwater aquarium store. I give him all my propagated coral, and he takes care of my aquariums, Koi pond and some other pets when I travel.

BZN: In 2000, you received the award for "Outstanding Contribution to the Marine Aquarium Hobby" from the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America. I understand that had something to do with your work with Compuserve’s Fishnet—is that correct?

LJ: Yes, I was section leader and a consultant in Compuserve s Fishnet marine section for a number of years. It was said that I helped a very, very large number of new aquarists to get a better start in the hobby. The “Outstanding Contribution to the Marine Aquarium Hobby” award was in recognition of my work in Compuserve and a few articles that I wrote for hobbyist magazines. Today my role is significantly smaller. I speak on average a couple of times each year to marine aquarium clubs and conferences.

Tailspot Blenny by Larry Jackson

Above: Tailspot Blenny by Larry Jackson

BZN: Nonetheless, you are still frequently referred to as a leader in the marine aquarium hobby [and rightfully so, we might add. –Ed]. How do you think leaders in the hobby can have the greatest impact when it comes to preserving marine ecosystems and especially tropical reefs?

LJ: I urge aquarists to support conservation of reefs and other natural resources in my talks. I hope that my husbandry suggestions will make aquarists more successful in keeping their creatures, thus reducing the need to collect more of these creatures. Propagated coral, fish and other creatures are a much better choice for stocking hobbyist aquariums than wild collected creatures. I strongly recommend propagation and the purchase of propagated creatures.

BZN: What role do you think mariculture and captive propagation programs will have in the future of the marine aquarium hobby?

LJ: People like ORA and many small and even private aquaculturists continue to make progress with new species. In fish, there are numerous new species each year that yield to the steady exploration of their feeding needs and care. I used to think that success with marine fish would depend on access to natural plankton, but no longer do I feel that there is that limitation. Coral does not yield to the same sort of experimentation at this point, but I suspect that captive habitat spawning will happen in the not too distant future. Fragmentation is so easy to accomplish that I am not sure that sexual reproduction is all that important.

BZN: Do you worry about the socio-economic impact on the collectors you have met while travelling in developing island nations if the industry increasingly depends on stateside mariculture facilities?

LJ: I really like the idea of supporting the propagation in areas around the tropical reefs. As a diver, I see the reefs covered with fragments of coral, many of which will die due to failure to attach to solid substrate. If people who live near the reefs can collect even a small portion of the fragmented coral, attach it to suitable substrate and get it to market after a bit of growth, that would be wonderful. The adaptation from natural conditions to aquaria is a bit harder than from captive habitats to aquaria so I feel there is considerable advantage to this and fewer steps in the shipping process.

BZN: During your talk at MACNA in Atlanta, in addition to encouraging aquarists to spend time diving on reefs in order to become better aquarists, you also had an environmental message, did you not?

LJ: Yes. I like to always point out that diving also gives economic value to reefs and will encourage local people to preserve the reefs where they live.

BZN: As you know, we at Blue Zoo are focusing on Cebu this week. We understand you have been to Cebu, and we were hoping you might tell us where you dove when there.

LJ: I dived around Cebu in April of 2001 for about two weeks. I dived the Gilotongan Marine Reserve, Cabilao Island, Sandingan Island, Balicasag Island, Pamilican Island, Baclayon area of Bohol, Apo Island, Malabuyoc on the west side of Cebu, and Pescador Island.

BZN: Any favorites in terms of the species you saw?

LJ: I love virtually everything on the reef or that swims by. I took a lot of pictures of coral, soft and hard, gobies, anemones, clownfish, flatworms, scorpionfish, sponges, tunicates, and clams.

BZN: What was your general impression of Cebu?

LJ: The reefs around Cebu were in very good condition when I dived there in 2001.

BZN: What is your favorite place to dive?

LJ: Two of my favorite places to dive are Batangas in the Philippines and Fiji. These two destinations can be reached by direct flights from Los Angeles on their national airlines, Air Pacific and Philippine Airlines.  Other destinations that I count among my favorites are the Lembeh Strait of North Sulawesi, Indonesia; the Raja Ampat and Banda Sea areas of West Papua, Indonesia; Milne Bay and Loloata Island of Papua New Guinea; the Similan Islands of Thailand and the Mergui Archipelago of Myanmar diving from a liveaboard out of Phuket, Thailand; and the Solomon Islands.

BZN: How does diving on a reef most benefit the aquarist?

LJ: Diving on reefs gives aquarists an appreciation of the importance of very clean water with a huge dilution potential, variable water movement, and good spectrum light of proper duration. Obviously each of these factors is critical to successful reef keeping.

BZN: I have heard you say that you prefer “muck diving.” What is muck diving and why do you prefer it. Has that influenced your own aquarium keeping in terms of biotopes replicated or animals kept?

LJ: Muck diving is generally in lower current areas such as bays and lagoons. Though not particularly rich in coral, these areas often have very unusual life such as pipefish, seahorses, nudibranchs, gobies, and unique sand-dwelling creatures. I enjoy seeing these unique creatures and habitat, but have not changed my aquariums to that type. I strongly discourage people from keeping creatures that have such specialized habitats and feeding requirements.

BZN: For people who can’t travel to the world’s tropical reefs, what value do you think the marine aquarium holds?

LJ: I bring people into my home constantly to share the beauty and the fascinating creatures in my reef aquaria. I think of the creatures in my aquaria as something I have only borrowed from the ocean. They are not mine to hide away, but something I must share because they really belong to all of us.

BZN: We here at Blue Zoo certainly agree with that philosophy. In fact we believe that marine aquarists should be on the front line of reef conservation through, in part, exposing people who might never actually get to see a reef to the wonders of the sea. Along those lines, we appreciate all that you have done for the hobby and reef ecosystems in general through sharing your knowledge and the incredible images you have captured of reef life from around the world. We thank you for taking the time to chat with us, Larry, and we would be glad to hear about any of your future travels. In the interim, you can see more of Larry s photographs by clicking here.

Published 22 September 2008. © Blue Zoo Aquatics

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