Dec 23, 2023

For decades, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America, the non-profit organization dedicated to the passion of marine aquarium enthusiasts, has been a beacon for aquarists of all experience levels, ages, and identities. Each year MASNA recognizes individuals who have stepped forward in unique ways to promote successful aquarium keeping, whether that be through club support, research, publishing, or general community building. The MASNA Awards have a rich history of highlighting the people who have had the greatest impact in the aquarium community, and we continue to celebrate these individuals and their influence on the hobby. This year marks a distinct and poignant moment in the annual awards. In our vibrant, close-knit community, we have recently bid farewell to two remarkable and deeply influential people. MASNA is honored to celebrate the legacies of these two instrumental leaders, who made extraordinary contributions in driving the progress and development of this science, art, hobby, and industry that has captivated us all.

MASNA Honors Jake Adams as the 2023 MASNA Award Recipient

Jake Adams has been chosen to receive the 2023 MASNA Award. His passion for aquarium keeping was obvious to anyone who met him or watched one of his videos. He had a natural talent and a keen eye for interesting species. His dedication to the hobby was evidenced by his commitment to referencing detailed information. His influence was felt in every corner of the community, which makes Jake the perfect addition to the list of MASNA Award winners.

MASNA Recognizes James Lawrence with the Pioneer Award for Publishing

James Lawrence has been chosen to receive the 2023 MASNA Pioneer Award for Publishing. His trailblazing work publishing countless articles and books for the enjoyment and educational benefit of the community has impacted us all. He carried this torch for decades, in most cases, longer than many of us have been involved in aquarium keeping. The knowledge he so eloquently shared had a deep and profound impact on the success of anyone who was fortunate enough to come in contact with it.

Some Thoughts About the Award Recipients

I am delighted to hear the news that Jake Adams and James Lawrence will be recognized this year by MASNA. Both had been nominated in the past, and deserved the honor and recognition, but sadly neither one had the chance to receive an award in person. Their passing has presented a moment for the industry to reflect on their many contributions, and so the time has finally come to say out loud that we really appreciated their hard work and the positive influence they had on the aquarium hobby. Both were media content producers who were dedicated to promoting the aquarium hobby, conservation, and science.
Jake was not immediately an easy person to like… he was opinionated, arrogant, sometimes impatient and rude. It took me time to get accustomed! He was nevertheless a good friend and a talented promoter of the aquarium industry. His intellect, passion, sincerity, and enthusiasm won me over. He also stayed on top of the latest research on taxonomy of fishes and invertebrates, corals in particular, and it was fun sharing the news about published new biological discoveries with him and, more often, hearing about them from him.
There is a connection between what I did early in my career with Reef Notes as well as my involvement with Aquarium Frontiers, and what he did with his creation, Reef Builders, but the scale of his work was so much greater as the news cycle online evolved to a faster pace than print could, and the development of aquarium equipment technology exploded right as Reef Builders blossomed. Jake branched out further with educational and entertaining video content that is so valuable to the aquarium hobby. I was in awe of his achievements. His death was a great loss, but it is wonderful to see his work and legacy live on, and to follow the talented people involved in perpetuating what Jake started.
Jake Adams, Vincent Chalias, and I enjoyed a dive trip together in Bali in 2013. We talked about follow-up dive adventures, and Jake and Vincent had more trips together, but sadly, I missed those opportunities. Recently, Vincent organized a Jake Adams memorial dive trip to Sulawesi, Indonesia that just happened a little over a month ago, approximately one year after Jake passed away. I was fortunate to be able to join this time. Jake’s brother Lucas was there too, along with a small group of friends. We celebrated Jake’s love of corals and passion for the underwater world, and planted a memorial reef, securing the corals using hydraulic cement mixed with Jake’s ashes so that he would always be there as the foundation holding the corals he loved so dearly.
– Julian Sprung, 2004 MASNA Award Recipient

Jake Adams’ enthusiasm, passion, and charisma is sorely missed. Most admirable was his relentless quest for knowledge about marine animals, coral reefs, and marine aquarium keeping, which he unselfishly shared through his blog posts on Reef Builders, personal interactions, and lectures around the world. There are very few people in this world that exuded the level of commitment and passion for the aquarium hobby and industry that Jake Adams did. He was a true ambassador of our hobby and industry, one of the good ones, and is sorely missed.
Kevin Kohen, 2012 MASNA Award Recipient

To my mind, Jake introduced the concept of the importance of laminar or gyre water
flow in reef aquariums when chaotic flow patterns were all the rage. His scientific work to prove the biological advantage of laminar flow, which he presented at one of the first big
meetings I attended, still sticks with me. His work predated the gyre flow pumps now commercially produced and ubiquitous in the hobby.
He also produced digital encyclopedias of fish and corals with the goal of making reef animal identification and care convenient and accessible. His camera was always in evidence, and he shared freely. His contributions to Reef Builders are well known.
I remember one meeting, I think it was IMAC, when he was asked to fill in for a speaker who was suddenly unable to speak. Jake scrounged up some plastic bits and pieces, scissors and super glue, and gave a great talk, with show and tell, off the cuff, of how to make simple tools to accomplish aquarium-related tasks, MacGyver style. It was impressively done.
His dedication to understanding how things work, how marine biology works, and sharing what he knew, as well as his larger than life personality, made him stand out as a major contributor to the hobby.
– Kathy Leahy, 2021 MASNA Aquarist Of The Year


Jake loved to bolster people up. The work he did with Reef Builders really wasn’t about him, rather it was truly about the importance of the hobby. It had nothing to do with receiving accolades. His infectious passion for all things aquatic was one of the things that drew me to him, drew us all to him. As his wife, it is incredibly special to accept this award on his behalf. Even though he was nominated several times, Jake outwardly acted like this award was no big deal. But in private, I know that deep down it was a big deal to him. So Jake would be so thrilled and honored to join the past honorees whom he considered friends and colleagues. I hope the legacy of Jake Adams is celebrated for years to come, especially for our son, Reef. One day, Reef will know how incredibly amazing his Dad was. And this MASNA award is just another way to show our appreciation for all he did for the hobby. We miss you, Jake.
– Windsor and Reef Adams

James Lawrence harbored a genuine passion for the aquarium hobby and marine life, which was evident in his editing skills and the publication of numerous aquarium books under Microcosm Ltd., as well as in Reef to Rainforest Media’s CORAL and AMAZONAS magazines. James possessed a unique talent for recognizing passionate and knowledgeable individuals in the reefkeeping hobby and industry, encouraging them to contribute and share their expertise with a wider audience. His efforts not only facilitated personal growth, but also played a crucial role in shaping the aquarium hobby as we know it today, inspiring countless hobbyists over the years.
-Kevin Kohen, 2012 MASNA Award Recipient

James Lawrence was an extraordinary figure in the marine aquarium hobby and publishing industry, distinguished by his selfless support of others’ potential and accomplishments. He had a passion for aquariums and marine life and a genuine excitement to share the topic with others.
James and I engaged in numerous meaningful email exchanges regarding my contributions to CORAL over the years. He set high standards for CORAL’s articles but was also flexible with the content, giving people in specialized fields like myself a place to share their work. He was supportive and involved through each edit. His positive feedback and excitement to tell the story made you want to submit and keep submitting your best work.
Now, as I sit at my desk and glance at my bookshelf, I see a stack of my favorite CORAL editions and a number of Microcosm books. When I think about the knowledge and enjoyment I have gotten from these publications, I feel grateful. Thank you, James. You were a true mentor, a visionary publisher, and a hero of the marine aquarium community. Your legacy will forever live on through the pages of your publications.
– Frank Baensch, 2018 MASNA Award Recipient

My thoughts about James always devolve to CORAL and just exactly how special that magazine became under his tenure. James believed wholeheartedly in rigor, in the scientific sense. He wanted to publish information that was not only just on the cutting edge, but also backed by rigorously peer-reviewed scientific evidence. When his editorship of CORAL began, the average aquarium hobby magazine was a collection of advertisements held together by articles that were at best anecdotal and hear-say. I have had well over 150 articles published, most in CORAL, but also, particularly in early years of this century, in just about every hobby magazine that had any interest in coral reefs or reef aquariums. I can say without any exceptions there were no editors at the time remotely focused on publishing validated information. It simply didn’t matter to them; all they wanted were words on the paper to justify advertising rates.
Not so, James and CORAL; I worked as a scientific advisor to him, and several times each year I had assignments to track down information some author was peddling. To the credit of most authors, their statements were supported, but there were a surprising number who were just publishing fiction, including well-known authors who appeared to be simply inventing information.
Unlike most people in our hobby, James was aware just how ‘thin’ our knowledge base of coral reefs in particular and marine ecology in general was. For context, I need to give some idea of how little was/is known about these topics, so here is an example. Coral reefs used to be, and sometimes still are, said to be “islands of rich biological diversity in an oceanic desert.” Such a statement never made any sense, but that never stopped anybody from using it. Work over the last 40 years has shown that the so-called ‘oceanic desert’ is exceedingly rich in gelatinous zooplankton, as well as a diverse array of other smaller plankton, and that corals, and reef animals in general, eat a phenomenal amount of animal biomass each day, brought to them by the currents that wash over the reefs. The earlier statement was based on inadequate sampling, improper sampling gear, and a biased perception of what was necessary for a system to thrive.
As editor of CORAL James was aware of how tenuous our understanding of these systems and their constituent organisms was. That realization, I think, made his emphasis on good data and resource information understandable. There are many other attributes he possessed that made him an excellent editor. Nevertheless, it was his realization and understanding that as hobbyists, our knowledge base was very limited, and that it was necessary to continually emphasize learning and understanding. That was special. Only by doing that could we properly care for our organisms. In my eyes, he dedicated and drove CORAL to that end, and helped prolong the lives of many special creatures.
Ron Shimek, 2001 MASNA Award Recipient