The 2015 MBI Workshop Revisited

The Workshop took place at the Cranbrook Institute of Science

The Workshop took place at the Cranbrook Institute of Science

Last weekend I traveled up to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan with SWS contributor Dave Bowers to attend the 6th Annual Marine Breeder’s Workshop. It’s the only marine aquarium conference dedicated solely to marine ornamental captive breeding. My last trek to the workshop was three or four years ago, so it was long overdue.

Just as I remembered, the day was chock-full of practical and educational content for active breeders, aspiring aquaculturists, and folks simply involved in the saltwater aquarium hobby. In fact, next time I need to bring along an extra brain to store all the information that’s lobbed about, but this year my notebook had to suffice. So now, for your reading pleasure, here are just some of the insights I could readily decipher from my scribbles.

Unknowingly rearing anthias

The event kicked off with Noel Heinsohn hopping on stage to talk about taking on many gallons of broodstock and unknowingly rearing anthias. At the young age of 21 with just five years spent in aquaculture, Noel has already had quite a variety of experiences and successes. He got his start culturing marine ornamentals at Des Moines Central Campus Aquarium Science Program, then went on to Oregon Coast Community College where he interned with NOAA and worked at Hatfield Marine Science Center as an aquarist.

One of the anthias larvae Noel reared

One of the anthias larvae Noel reared

For the past two years, Noel has cared for some of the exhibits at the Long Island Aquarium, as well as continuing his aquaculture efforts. This includes capturing the eggs of regular spawning events that occur amongst the species in the 20,000 gallon reef tank. He then hatches out these eggs using a variety of methods and live foods (including copepods, rotifers, and artemia). It was through this work he has now raised seven species, including Lyretail anthias (Pseudanthias squamipinnis), a species first.

Noel identified a bottleneck that brings the anthias larvae numbers down from hundreds to the single digits. So he’s now working to identify the source of said bottleneck, be it temperature, food, flow, water quality, or something else entirely. He also shared some great photos and videos of the larvae. Most importantly, his message to the audience was “If I can do it, you can too!”

Creating algae and copepod cultures

Next, Dr. Andrew Rhyne took the stage to discuss creating high quality cultures of algae and copepods, which play a vital role in rearing marine ornamentals. He began by focusing on the importance of proper nutrition because it drives an animal’s ability to deal with stress and moved on to explain the three components needed to raise copepods as larval food.

  1. Water (clean!)
  2. Microalgae (clean, dense, and nutritious)
  3. Copepods (knowledge of life cycle and ecology of desired species, starter culture)
An algae culture at different stages of growth

An algae culture at different stages of growth

Then the focus turned to describing his algae culture systems at Roger Williams University and how others can replicate his processes and techniques in their home. These are the highlights I walked away with:

  • Makeup water you work with doesn’t need to be RO, but it’s certainly better
  • Carbon filter makeup water, then run through UV sterilizer (if available)
  • Chlorinate and then let it naturally disperse (do not use dechlorinator)
  • Salt mix brand matters very little (he suggested Instant Ocean), but be sure not to switch once you’ve settled on one
  • Grow live foods at similar salinity to what you’re raising larvae in (not above 1.030)
  • Run prepared saltwater through a 1 micron filter
  • Ensure clean culture containers (use bleach, muriatic acid, or hydrochloric acid or whatever you’re comfortable with to sterilize)
  • Sterilization of equipment is also very important (use hot water, or autoclave)
  • Lighting shouldn’t be overly intense, he has found the most success with cool white color temperature
  • Provide a varied surface of light across the culture (as the culture grows it becomes more dense, thus cutting light coverage down – known as cell shading)
  • Moving the algae can triple the growth rate, weight air supply in the corner (not in the middle) for superior flow dynamics in the container
  • Utilize quality algae food (he suggested Fritz Pro Aquatics F/2 Algae Food, Part A & Part B)
  • Use of carbon dioxide in the culture can greatly increase production

The common thread of his presentation was cleanliness of the water used and sterilization of containers and equipment. Andrew identified contaminants and other nasty intruders as a major cause of failed and crashing cultures.

If you’re interested in learning more and would like to take part in a private community centered around larval fish rearing topics, he invited folks to visit

Clownfish genetics calculator

Still satisfied from a tasty lunch (Tal and Co. don’t let anyone go hungry!) we were treated to a special announcement from Matt Pedersen and Pete LoGiudice (via Skype) about a clownfish genetics calculator project they’d been working on secretly since late in 2014. The two first met via their mutual interest in freshwater angelfish genetics, for which Pete previously built a similar application. Their hope is the clownfish calculator will help bring order in terms of species and hybrids, as well as furthering and improving clownfish breeding as a whole.

At this point, what they need is folks who have experience breeding clownfish to starting utilizing the application and providing feedback via the built-in conventions. You can access the first version of the calculator and also get a sneak peek at version two, as well.

A big congrats to all the 2015 MBI Award winners!

A big congrats to all the 2015 MBI Award winners!

Angels in a jar…?

Once this year’s MBI Award winners were announced (see photo above), Ramon Villaverde stepped up to tell us about his interesting, and in my opinion quite entertaining, approach to rearing yellowbar angelfish (Pomacanthus maculosus) in pretzel jars. Yes, you read that right!

Ramon talking about his pretzel jar angelfish

Ramon talking about his pretzel jar angelfish

In his role as Senior Aquarist/Keeper at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Ramon is in charge of the 85,000 gallon Discovery Reef, which mimics a Indo-Pacific Atoll. Each day he and his coworkers set up a collection device that captures eggs from the various spawning events taking place overnight. After sterilizing the collected eggs in the morning, he hatches out and rears the larvae in what’s available…pretzel jars and other equipment he has lying around, all while keeping to the basics.

He has also reared shrimp, snails, and urchins at the facility. You gotta love a great DIY approach and Ramon brings that mentality into the photo and video projects he has tackled to film and document the larval rearing process, too.

Raising wrasses at home

For the final talk of the day, Kevin Barden, marine broodstock manager at the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Lab (TAL), spoke of his success captive breeding wrasses. In his position, Kevin works on the Rising Tide Conservation project and the Florida aquaculture industry for technology development and to help bring new species to commercial production levels.

Kevin’s experience with other marine ornamentals (scooter blenny, blue tang, butterflyfish, angelfish) and sport fish led him to try breeding wrasse in his own home, specifically Hoeven’s Wrasse (Halichoeres melanurus). Using a process and setup that would be quite easily replicated by anyone interested in giving it a try, he kept the broodstock in a 29 gallon aquarium and raised the larvae in a system built from a Rubbermaid tote. At 22 days post hatch (dph) the larvae disappeared. But they weren’t gone forever, they had buried themselves under the sand while going through metamorphosis and arose at 24 dph with their juvenile colors. Very cool!

Various stages of H. melanurus larval growth

Various stages of H. melanurus larval growth

After experiences at home, he moved broodstock to TAL. This led to an interesting discovery that settlement and metamorphosis was quicker when setup at home. As you can imagine, systems at TAL are much more commercial in nature to increase production. As such, they originally had no sand. Kevin observed adding a container of sand was just the trigger (settlement queue) the larvae needed to begin their metamorphosis. He’s now experimenting with other settlement queues to test their effectiveness in the lab.


It was another educational and enlightening year at the MBI Workshop! Kudos to the Marine Aquarium Society of Michigan and Marine Breeding Initiative for making the Workshop possible, all the sponsors for their support, the speakers for sharing their knowledge with us, and to Tal Sweet for being the driving force behind the event. As a return attendee, all your efforts to grow and evolve the Workshop are noticed and appreciated. Thank you!

To anyone who wasn’t able to attend this year, if you want to hear from and be immersed in a group of the brightest minds in marine breeding, then you would absolutely be doing yourself a favor to keep an eye out for the dates of the 2016 Workshop.

You can also check out our 2014 Workshop coverage here:

Photo credit: Chris Aldrich/Saltwater Smarts, slides copyright their respective speaker

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About "Caribbean Chris" Aldrich

"Caribbean Chris" Aldrich is co-founder and Director of Saltwater Smarts, an avid SCUBA diver, and contributor to a live rock mariculture project in the Florida Keys. He has been an aquarium hobbyist for 20 years and his current aquarium is a 127-gallon Carib reef biotope.


  1. Thanks for the excellent review of the MBI Workshop. Wish I could have been there in person. I will be next year!

    • "Caribbean Chris" Aldrich says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Pete. I was happy to do the event a service for those who weren’t able to attend.

      Any chance you’ll be attending MACNA?

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