Mile-High MACNA Rises to the Occasion

The Colorado Convention Center was home to MACNA 2014

The Colorado Convention Center was home to MACNA 2014

Denver, Colorado, situated a mile above sea level, might seem like an unusual host city for a conference focused exclusively on marine aquaria, but this year’s Marine Aquarium Conference of North America (MACNA), held August 29–31 at the Colorado Convention Center and presented by the Colorado Organization for Reef & Aquatic Life, proved that a little altitude is no impediment to a stellar MACNA experience.

Mile-High MACNA gave your friends here at Saltwater Smarts—and thousands of other attendees—a chance to benefit from the insights of industry experts who spoke on a wide range of engaging topics, check out some truly stunning marine livestock, glimpse all the latest aquarium technology, and log a little face time with colleagues and fellow marine aquarium enthusiasts.

Chris and I also took the opportunity while in Denver to perform a series of groundbreaking scientific experiments involving high altitude, various craft beers, and burgers. Our hypothesis of altitude + beers + burgers = delicious³ held up to some pretty rigorous, redundant testing!

Primo presentations with a twist

Martin Moe steps on to the stage for another great talk, this time about marine culture

Martin Moe steps on to the stage for another great talk, this time about marine culture

In addition to exceptional presentations by well-known industry pioneers and professionals, including the venerable Martin Moe, Walt Smith, Jean Jaubert, Mike Paletta, Julian Sprung, Kevin Kohen, Tony Vargas, Sanjay Joshi, and others, MACNA 2014 attendees were treated to a variety of talks that departed somewhat from the norm.

For example, everyone in attendance got a kick out of the tongue-in-cheek debate over the utility of refugiums held between Two Little Fishies president Julian Sprung and Reef Builders senior editor Jake Adams (Julian was for and Jake against). “Objective” moderator Mitch Carl, curator of aquatics at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, shamelessly declared Julian the winner before the debate even began (and then again afterward for good measure).

Interesting 3-tier display in the Drs. Foster and Smith/LiveAquaria booth

Interesting 3-tier display in the Drs. Foster and Smith/LiveAquaria booth

On a much more serious note, Julian also led a round-table discussion about proposed legislation to list many species of popular stony corals as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Julian, along with a distinguished panel of fellow industry professionals, made the very compelling case that the reefkeeping hobby as we know it today could soon be significantly impacted—or disappear altogether—if hobbyists and other interested parties don’t raise their voices and the necessary funds to oppose this initiative (more on this next week).

Chris and I were extremely pleased that the event organizers for this year’s MACNA scheduled the presentations with no overlaps, meaning attendees didn’t have to pick and choose between two exceptional speakers occupying the same time slot.

Wonderful venues

The Exhibitor's Hall in the Colorado Convention Center

The Exhibitor’s Hall in the Colorado Convention Center

More kudus to the organizers for arranging lodging at the luxurious Hyatt Regency Denver, which was literally a stone’s throw from the expansive Colorado Convention Center and within short walking distance of the 16th Street Mall and numerous other Denver attractions.

Friday night’s Roaring-20s-themed reception was held just down the road from the Convention Center at the opulent Ellie Caulkins Opera House and featured casino games, a live rockabilly band, a bar on every floor, and delectable edibles. Truly a remarkable venue!

Around 1,600 people attended the banquet on Saturday

Around 1,600 people attended the banquet on Saturday

On Saturday evening, the Colorado Convention Center’s spacious Four Season’s Ballroom was home to the MACNA Banquet, which featured a delicious dinner, a comical presentation by emcee Mitch Carl, and a talk on speciation in coral reef fishes by keynote speaker Luiz Rocha of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Also during the banquet, the Aquarist of the Year award was presented to Richard Ross, a senior biologist at the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences, and MASNA Student Scholarships were awarded to Sam May and Ross DeAngelis.

Fortuitous encounters

Tidepool display in the Coldwater Marine Aquatics booth

Tidepool display in the Coldwater Marine Aquatics booth

Once again, it was wonderful meeting or renewing our acquaintance with so many people—pros and hobbyists alike—who share our passion for the marine aquarium hobby and took the time to chat with us, including Kevin Kohen of, Josh Saul and the rest of the crew at, Than Thein of Tidal Gardens and Advanced Reef Aquarium, Gary Parr and Christine Williams of Reef Threads, Mark Levenson of, Josh Groves of Coldwater Marine Aquatics, Jim Walters of Chicago’s Old Town Aquarium, LA-based advertising guru and award-winning aquascaper John Ciotti, Michael Hall of GHL, Ian Bell of London, Ontario’s Sealife Central, Carrie Dax of, and many others.

View all our MACNA 2014 photos on the SWS Facebook page:

See you in DC!

With Mile-High MACNA behind us, we’re setting our sights on MACNA 2015, to be held in Washington, DC. We hope to see you all there!


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About Jeff Kurtz

Jeff Kurtz is the Co-founder/Editor of Saltwater Smarts, former Senior Consulting Editor for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, and the aquarist formerly known as “The Salt Creep.” He has been an aquarium hobbyist for over 30 years and is an avid scuba diver.


  1. Man in so jealous. . I wish MACNA would make it to new york.

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