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The MASNA Award and Aquarist of the Year Award
Starting in 2017, MASNA recognizes two individuals for their work in the marine aquarium hobby that positively contributes to the ongoing sustainability of the hobby and future marine environments through the MASNA Award and the Aquarist of the Year Award.
Together with MASNA, previous winners of the MASNA Award and Aquarist of the Year award evaluate a pool of MASNA membership nominated individuals to decide who has given the most to the hobby and industry over their lifetime and past year, respectively.
The MASNA Award, is historically what was called the Aquarist of the Year Award. The MASNA Award is to recognize those individuals who have contributed a lifetime of achievement to the marine aquarium industry, not only recently, but in the past.
The second award, now named Aquarist of the Year Award, is to recognize those individuals who have made a more recent achievement to the marine aquarium industry.
The MASNA Award started in 1995, when industry leaders recognized the need for an award to honor those who are helping shape and influence the marine aquarium hobby.
The first MASNA Award was presented to Mr. Martin Moe, Jr. for his continued dedication and service to the marine aquarium hobby. It was awarded on September 15, 1995 at MACNA VII, hosted by the Louisville Marine Aquarium Society (LMAS) in Louisville, Kentucky.
A list of all the MASNA award winners can be found on the left side of this page.
The 2020 MASNA Award
MASNA is proud to announce Alf Jacob Nilsen as the 2020 MASNA Award recipient for his foundational role in developing, documenting, and communicating processes and advancements in the marine aquarium industry.
Alf Jacob Nilsen is a biologist, teacher, and author of many articles and books, including The Modern Coral Reef Aquarium series, which he has coauthored with Svein A. Fosså in German, Swedish, and English.
In Alf’s own words: “My involvement and work with the marine aquarium (coral reef aquarium) is a part of my interest for biology. It was during my student period (Stavanger and Bergen, Norway) that I began working with marine aquariums and among other came in close contact with German marine hobbyists (including the late Peter Wilkins). At the same time I took a great interest in the biology of the tropical corals reefs and corresponded with several scientists world-wide over this topic. My first visit to a coral reef (the Maldives) came in 1980 and was a huge motivation for future work both with coral reef biology in general as well as with techniques and biology of the corals reef aquarium. It was in the late seventies when I also first met my good friend and co-author Svein A. Fosså.”
Together with Svein A. Fosså I have published a book series titled “Korallrevsakvariet” (4 volumes in Swedish), “Das Korallenriff Aquarium (6 volumes in German by Birgit Schmettkamp Verlag, Bornheim, Germany) and “The Coral Reef Aquarium” (4 volumes in English, Birgit Schmettkamp Verlag, Bornheim, Germany). The German edition was expanded with two volumes published in German in 2010 and 2016 (by Natur & Tier Verlag, Münster, Germany). Totally the series have sold some 110,000 copies world-wide. The books try to link coral reef science and general biology with the coral reef aquarium as it is my honest belief that the marine average hobbyist need some understanding of biology and coral reef ecology to be really successful and to understand what goes on in a small captive reef. They also try to describe the fundamental techniques needed for maintaining a coral reef aquarium over time and to grow corals in captivity. During our work with the book series I have corresponded with hundreds of scientists world-wide, visited scientific institutions, public aquariums and fellow aquarists. Preparations for the books have also included visits to reefs in Indonesia, the Philippines, the Maldives, Australia (GBR), Fiji, Cook Islands, Hawaii and Florida. Without the help of many people – scientist, a fellow aquarist, a dive master, the director of a public aquarium or the owner of an aquarium shop – my work could never have been a reality!”
“As photography is a major interest, private biological and aquarium related photos have been used in articles, books and lectures. Today some of these can be seen on www.biophoto.net (a site designed to show biological and nature photos, not exclusively aquarium photos).”
The 2019 MASNA Award
MASNA is proud to announce Dr. Craig Bingman as the 2019 MASNA Award recipient for his foundational role in understanding the chemical processes in aquariums.
In his own words: “From the primordial ooze of the nascent internet, people with interesting and quirky hobbies found each other and formed online communities. One of those problems was ‘how to keep corals alive in closed aquariums, isolated from the ocean.’ A really amazing group of people self-organized and worked on this problem in North America, and across the globe. I was fortunate to have played a foundational role in understanding the chemical processes in aquariums.
It is my enduring pleasure to have provided solutions to several important problems that are still used today. This is the tale of the reef hobby in North America in the 1990s, when corals stopped dying and we achieved long-term success with these animals in aquariums.
Who am I? I was that eight-year old kid subjecting his first fish tank to way too much pH down and pH up, in his first real exposure to a chemical test. I was a member of that group of people who figured out reef aquarium chemistry. I was and am a biochemist, who uses incredible x-rays sources at National Labs to make pictures of the molecules that make life possible. I also love freshwater planted aquariums, orchids, and carnivorous plants. Most importantly, I’m the father of a two-year old. Watching his mind bootstrap and develop his own personality and interests is the greatest pleasure of my life. I’ve noticed he really likes clownfish….”
Dr. Bingman will be at MACNA 2019, and will be speaking at 11 AM in the Neptune Speaker Room at the WDW Dolphin Resort on Sunday, September 1st, 2019.
The Past Recipients
The 2018 MASNA Award
MASNA is proud to announce Frank Baensch as the 2018 MASNA Award Recipient.
Born in Germany and raised in the Bahamas, both of Frank’s parents, being both biologists, had a strong appreciation for nature. Thanks to them, he was exposed to the ocean and learned about marine life at a very young age; exploring the local reefs and collecting and keeping aquarium fishes. He continued to maintain aquariums for student research projects and in his dorm room throughout high school and college.
His senior year in college he spent several weeks at the University of Hawaii’s Institute of Marine Biology, where he toured the aquaculture lab and discovered fish larvae. Excited to learn how to raise fish, he specialized in his newfound interest in graduate school with a degree in aquaculture.
Meanwhile, he started keeping pygmy angelfishes in his saltwater tank at home. The Centropyge were the perfect aquarium fish; being small, beautiful and full of interesting behavioral quirks, and so they became the focus of his graduate thesis.
Following graduate school, he set up his own hatchery and taught himself how to raise clownfishes, dottybacks, bennies, gobies, and grammas. He also kept a few Centropyge pairs and dabbled with the eggs whenever he could. Bit by bit, he developed a rearing process for the genus. After rearing his first batch of angelfishes, he saw a chance to farm angelfishes and opened Reef Culture Technologies (RCT). Over the next decade, RCT produced a number of rare, higher-valued pygmy angelfish species to fund its aquaculture research. Most of this research has been published.
Wanting to apply what he had learned to more fish species, he started the Hawaii Larval Fish Project (HLFP). The project uses eggs collected from the ocean, which allows him to work on larval species without having to spawn them at his small hatchery. The process also allows him to document the various morphologies, pigmentations patterns and behaviors that makes culturing the larvae so thrilling. He provides regular updates about the HLFP on his website: www.frankbaensch.com
Somewhere along the way, his passion for fish led him to become an underwater photographer. Photography allows him to capture the ocean’s natural beauty as well as show the negative impacts that we have. The oceans need people to care and powerful photographs to help them do this.
He began culturing fish “dreaming” to see cultured fish replace collected fish. But experience has made him realize that, despite all of the recent culture breakthroughs, profitable farming of most saltwater aquarium fish is still a long way off. Less in search of the “holy grail”, he now cultures fish mainly out of interest, fascinated by fish larvae and curious to learn how to keep them alive. He spends months at a time in his small hatchery, documenting larval stages and chipping away at culture bottlenecks to improve techniques; fortunate to have the know-how, time and finances to keep making progress. Closing life cycles provides a wealth of information vital to farming. But more importantly, it creates hope and excitement and keeps the dream alive.
The 2017 MASNA Award
MASNA is proud to announce Dr. Andrew Rhyne as the 2017 MASNA Award Recipient.
Dr. Andrew L. Rhyne, has invested his career in understanding marine ornamental aquaria: the biology of aquarium fishes and invertebrates, as well as the industry driven by human fascination for these creatures. The trade in aquarium species can be considered a data limited industry and the lack of available trade data hinders sustainability movements within the trade. Andy has worked to develop solutions to these data gaps. He has worked to advance the field of marine ornamental aquaculture, developing methods for breeding and rearing popular species in aquaria. Andy’s body of work illuminates life histories, husbandry and larval rearing requirements of aquarium fish and invertebrates. He has pioneered methods for culturing calanoid copepods and this has greatly increased the success of hobbyists and researchers with small tropical marine fish larvae.
Andy has reared dozens of marine fish and invertebrates, with many for the first time. Notability his lab reared the first triggerfish (the Queen Triggerfish) in captivity as part of a joint program with the New England Aquarium, a program aimed at expanding the number of captive bred species on display in public aquaria. Through this innovative program Dr. Rhyne and colleagues developed a larval rearing system specifically designed public aquariums, supplying systems and training to over 20 institutions. These systems have produced 1000s of fish for display, reared onsite at public aquariums. Andy proactively teaches others the skills that he has developed to support the development of marine ornamental aquaculture.
He is currently an Associate Professor of Marine Biology at Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI where he has helped to develop an undergraduate major/minor in aquaculture and aquarium science. At Roger Williams University he manages an active undergraduate research laboratory focused on the aquarium trade and aquaculture, oversees the husbandry and life-support systems at the Environmental Education Center of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, a small public aquarium, and also maintains a partnership with the New England Aquarium to develop rearing methods for aquarium species. Dr. Rhyne has published over 50 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters and is the recipient of numerous awards. Most recently he won a Grand Prize in the Wildlife Crime Technology Challenge.
Dr. Rhyne received his B.S. from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, and his M.S. and Ph.D. from the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, FL, working with his mentor the late Dr. Junda Lin. He and his wife Libby along with their twins Darwin and Amelia live in Rhode Island.
The 2016 MASNA Award
In 2016, Joe Yaiullo was named the MASNA Award recipient.
Joe received this award due to his continued support of the hobby as well as his pioneering efforts in establishing public aquaria outreach through his 20,000-gallon reef tank at the Long Island Aquarium. Joe remains actively involved in promoting reef keeping and working with hobbyists, he also served as president of the Long Island Reef Association (LIRA) for 12 years.
As a kid, Joe spent much of his childhood maintaining home aquariums and exploring the marine life surrounding Long Island, New York. Now he gets paid to basically do what he did as a kid and has been keeping reef tanks for over 29 years.
Joe earned a B.S. in Marine Science from LIU Southampton College’s marine science program, and worked for 8 years (1987-1995) at the NY Aquarium in Brooklyn, New York as Senior Aquarist. Starting in 1987, Joe pioneered what is now common practice in reef keeping today and upped his game in 1993 with the establishment of a 1400-gallon reef tank, which at the time was the largest successful reef tank in the Western Hemisphere. In 1992, he began to shape his plan for a world-class aquarium on Long Island’s East End. In 2000, after toiling for eight long years, his plans and vision became a reality with the opening of Atlantis Marine World Aquarium in Riverhead, NY (now known as the Long Island Aquarium). On that day, the public was able to see his 20,000-gallon reef tank, which was the largest closed system reef tank in the Western Hemisphere, and second largest in the world at that time. In 2003, Joe was awarded The Distinguished Alumni Award from Southampton College for his contributions to the community.
Joe, an admitted “Coralaholic”, currently feeds his ever increasing addiction with nurturing his 20,000 gallon reef tank, which contains corals that date back over 26 years. While he has admitted his addiction, he has no plans of seeking a cure and enjoys talking with reef keepers from around the world.
Joe has been featured in many reef keeping books and magazines, and has presented lectures in Canada, Germany, Sweden, Finland, England, Fiji, Monaco, France, The Netherlands, and Italy and throughout the USA including several MACNA’s dating back to 1994.
The Long Island Aquarium is a world-class aquarium, so even though it’s on a larger scale, Curator and Co-founder Joe Yaiullo still considers it his entire “DIY” project.
In 2015, Terry Siegel was named the MASNA Award recipient.
As both editor and author, Terry strived to publish scientifically accurate content regarding reef aquaria. Siegel says, “I have always insisted throughout the many editorials I wrote that we present to the public information that is more than the smoke from somebody’s opinion pipe or simple anecdotal observations, but information rather that was quantifiable, repeatable, and scientifically accurate. Creatures that we keep in our reef aquariums deserve no less.”
In addition to insuring that accurate data was being presented in his publications, Terry was also instrumental in the development of many of the authors and speakers that we rely on today. If one were to look back on early publications, they would find that these hobby elite published their early works in one of Terry’s many publications.
Terry is also an active aquarist, maintaining both fresh water and marine biotopes. His 500-gallon marine reef was featured in Sprung and Delbeek’s “The Reef Aquarium” series. Siegel commented, “In that aquarium most of the corals had grown considerably, over approximately a dozen years, from coral fragments. Many of the fish including seven surgeonfish managed to stay together in that aquarium for at least a dozen years. In fact one fish, a tomato clown fish, spent 25 years in various reef aquariums of mine.”
“Terry’s accomplishments as an editor (and aquarist) are unparalleled in North America. He has tirelessly advanced the hobby by identifying and cultivating authors… Terry deserves a good deal of credit for bringing several past AoTY authors to prominence…” – Craig Bingman
“Seminal figure dating back to the early days of the North American hobby. Still active today founder and editor of Marine Aquarist, Aquarium Frontiers, and Advanced Aquarist magazines. ” – Randy Donowitz
The 2014 MASNA Award
In 2014, Richard Ross was named the MASNA Award recipient.
Richard Ross is a Senior Biologist at the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences where he cultures and cares for exotic cephalopods, fish & coral, participates in ongoing field work on coral spawning, animal collection & transport, and manages tropical saltwater displays including the 212,000 Philippine Coral Reef exhibit.
He is a prolific writer and speaker, authoring academic papers and a catalogue of articles on aquarium and reef related educational topics including his Skeptical Reefkeeping series which focuses on critical thinking, responsibility and ethics of aquarium keeping.
The 2013 MASNA Award
In 2013, Todd Gardner was named the MASNA Award recipient.
Todd has been keeping fish tanks since he was 6 years old. He earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Marine Biology from East Stroudsburg University in 1993 and a Master’s Degree in Biology from Hofstra University in 2004. However, this is just his résumé. The things that Todd has brought to the hobby are varied and plentiful.
Immediately following the completion of his Bachelor’s Degree Todd worked on the National Geographic film Lifestyles of the Wet and Muddy, where he collected and maintained specimens featured in the film. It was during this project that he had his first real successes breeding and rearing marine fishes, even before he starting working at C-quest, under Bill Addison, in the 1990s. However it was during his time at C-quest that he realized, and began preaching about, the benefits of copepod usage in aquaculture. He even wrote an article for FAMA on that topic in 1999, long before the advantages of utilizing copepods as a first food for larval fishes was considered common knowledge to most fish breeders. He left C-quest to pursue his Master’s Degree at Hofstra where he studied survivorship of Hippocampus erectus fry when using Artemia vs copepods as first food. During this time he began working at Atlantis Marine World in Riverhead, NY. He was fortunate enough to have the support of his boss, Joe Yaiullo, who encouraged his breeding and provided him with the resources to continue this work. Though he only intended to work there for one year, 11 years later he accepted another position teaching Marine Biology full time at a local community college. Todd has created a close working relationship between Suffolk County Community College and the Long Island Aquarium, developed the school’s first aquaculture course, and has been teaching for 5 years. More on Reefs.com from Ashleigh Gardner!
The 2012 MASNA Award
In 2012, Kevin Kohen was named the MASNA Award recipient.
Kevin has been keeping aquariums since the age of 6. “I grew up reading their books, emulating their aquariums, and finding inspiration from their achievements. It’s really like being named ‘baseball player of the year’ by the major league All-Stars in your prized baseball card collection.”
A quick glance at Kevin’s extensive career in the industry exemplifies these criteria. An accomplished marine life photographer, author, and educator, Kevin Kohen has bred and reared nearly 100 species of fresh and saltwater fish, and was one of the early pioneers in the U.S. to maintain live corals in captivity in the early 1980’s. He launched his professional career working in a retail fish store for eight years before advancing to direct operations for over eight more years at one of the Midwest’s largest tropical fish wholesale and import/export businesses.
Kohen joined pet supplier Drs. Foster and Smith in 2002 as Director of their live aquatics division, LiveAquaria.com. In 2004, he proposed starting up an aquaculture coral facility at Drs. Foster & Smith’s headquarters in Rhinelander, WI, designing and directing the initial construction of the Midwest’s most state-of-the-art Aquaculture Coral & Marine Life Facility, which opened in July of 2005. Read more at Doctors Foster and Smith’s Pet Blog!
The 2011 MASNA Award
In 2011, Dana Riddle was named the MASNA Award recipient.
Dana’s acceptance speech, including remembrances of his recently passed father and the influence he had on Dana’s aquarium interests, concluded with an emotional, emphatic, and off-mic Japanese toast of BANZAI! BANZAI! BANZAI! that won’t soon be forgotten.
The ocean has fascinated Dana ever since a summer vacation in the early 1960’s that included a visit to the rocky tide pools of Maine. The wonderful sight of marine creatures in a seaweed-filled pool will never be forgotten. Later, trips to the panhandle of Florida were filled with excitement as Dana and his family pulled a seine through the seagrass beds and collected seahorses, pipefishes, cowfishes, and a myriad of other animals. Bringing some of these animals home to a suburb of Atlanta only seemed natural, and so it began.
A renewed fascination began with the publication of George Smith’s late 1980’s articles in Freshwater and Marine Aquarium (FAMA) concerning the keeping of marine invertebrates and algae. Dana read everything he could get his hands on and once again began keeping marine invertebrates. At that time, a heavy emphasis was placed on technology to keep corals alive. After spending a considerable amount on various devices and obtaining only moderate success, Dana decided to invest in some scientific instruments with the first being a meter to test PAR (Photosynthetically Active Radiation.) Then, a good PAR meter and underwater sensor cost $1,500.
To Dana’s knowledge, he was the only hobbyist in the US to own such a device at that time. Dana began writing for aquarium hobbyist literature such as SeaScope, Marine Fish Monthly, and FAMA to pay for this equipment. More equipment purchases were made, and Dana went on and wrote for other publications such as MASNA’s newsletter, Breeders’ Registry, Koralle, Récifal, Aquarium Frontiers (and later Advanced Aquarist), Planted Aquaria, Manhattan Reefs, and others. To date, Dana has over 250 articles published over the last 30 years. Dana’s book, The Captive Reef, was published in 1995. Dana’s little laboratory now has $100,000 worth of equipment, including, besides all the standard things, an analytical balance, centrifuge, spectrometer, colorimeter, data loggers, Ocean Optics spectrometers for analyses of light, two PAM fluorometers, drying oven, incubators, water bath, chlorophyll meters, electronic water velocity meter, and so on. These instruments have generated a lot of information and Dana’s writings have become much more technical in nature. Comments on them are coming from serious hobbyists as well as the professional reef science community.
Invitations to speak at clubs around the country began, followed by regional and national conferences. To date, Dana has made over 60 presentations from coast to coast.
Dana has contributed to many aquarium publications and Advance Aquarist articles since the 1990s and is a staple in the marine aquarium hobby. Dana’s MACNA 2016 presentation called “Turbocharge Photosynthesis! Alkalinity, Light, & Water Motion” can be found here.
The 2010 MASNA Award
In 2010, Dr. Matt Wittenrich was named the MASNA Award recipient.
Matt Wittenrich is a marine biologist who has been deeply involved with the aquarium world since the age of 15. A native of western New York, he began breeding saltwater fish in his parent’s basement, successfully raising 13 species by age 18. Matt obtained his Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology from Long Island University, Southampton College. He has been part of diverse research projects from sex change strategies in pseudochromids, examining if larval clownfish can hear the natal reefs where they hatched, and understanding how larval fishes feed. Matt received his PhD from Florida Institute of Technology looking at marine fish rearing based on larval morphology.
As a senior scientist at the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory he was tasked with developing rearing protocols for small egg pelagic spawning species such as angelfishes and butterflyfish. Dr. Wittenrich’s research focused on how tiny marine larvae survive in the wild as well as developing novel methods for rearing them in captivity.
Matt is the author of The Complete Illustrated Breeder’s Guide to Marine Aquarium Fishes. The Breeder’s Guide, published in 2007, is a cornerstone publication for the breeding of ornamental marine fish. It provides a compendium of the first 40 years of marine ornamental aquaculture. Dr. Wittenrich gained the most notoriety within the commercial and private aquarium realm by demonstrating that large-scale culture of mandarin dragonets (Synchiropus spp.) was a viable commercial possibility. This forever changed the outlook for this species group, which are among some of the most challenging fish to keep in captivity, but also some of the most-harvested as well.
Matt Pedersen, the 2009 MASNA Award winner recounts: ” I was beyond privileged to introduce Matt Wittenrich as the 2010 Award winner. Standing with the 10 other MASNA award winners and feeling a bit out of place was surreal. For that moment, as I ended my speech, all felt right with the marine aquarium world.”
How to Nominate
MASNA members can post their nominations below for the 2021 MASNA Award & MASNA Aquarist of the Year. Nominations will be compiled and the winner will be selected by a panel of previous MASNA Award & Aquarist of the Year recipients. MASNA members may nominate up to three individuals for both awards.
The voting process will be open May 14th through June 20th, 2021. Please complete the entire form for each submission. Incomplete forms will not be accepted.