9:30 a.m. Saturday
Cox Convention Center
1 Myriad Gardens
Once, home aquariums were little more than a few goldfish and a plastic scuba diver. Modern advances make it easier to maintain vivid and diverse coral in tanks, along with exotic fish from reefs worldwide. Rather than jetting out to the nearest ocean, enthusiasts can survey thousands of pieces of coral at Saturday's Oklahoma City Marine Aquarium Show, now in its fourth year.
With 30 local and national vendors, the show is the largest of its kind in the landlocked states, said Paul Whitby, show chairman. Its primary mission is to educate the public.
"There is so much misinformation that people start making mistakes," Whitby said. "Their tanks go green, they have an algae outbreak, the fish die, the coral doesn't grow. They are doing the best with the information they are given, but that information is incorrect. We use this show as a resource for education to give people the information they need to do this for minimum expenditure with a minimum learning curve."
Like many, biologist Tim VanWagoner built his tank by obtaining pieces of coral " or "frags" " from other friends or frag farmers. If conditions are right, those small frags will grow to full size in roughly a year.
"It's neat to see the coral grow," VanWagoner said. "I like the fact that it is, in essence, an ecosystem in a glass box. You have all these symbiotic, mutualistic relationships going on in there. If anything gets out of control or you lose one portion, the whole system can go down. I find that fascinating."
Frag farmer Greg Childers said he didn't start his tank intending to grow coral.
"The coral, as they get larger, they start growing together and start having wars with each other," Childers said. "They will kill each other if you aren't careful, so I started breaking off pieces and tried to grow them, and before I knew it, I was a frag farmer."
The coral in Whitby's tank is up to six generations removed from the ocean. With frags going for as low as $10, it is more affordable and eco-friendly than trying to obtain them directly from the ocean.
Whitby's home aquarium boasts approximately 50 fish and more than 125 pieces of coral, in all shapes, sizes and colors. He said that with patience and persistence, someone could develop a tank like his for much less than most would expect.
"To buy one and ... have it look like that, it would cost $20,000, but what it's cost to put it together over the years was a fraction of that," he said. "That is what this conference is all about: putting together an impressive tank, but saving some money and also saving the reefs by buying your coral from local frag farmers." "Charles Martin
photo Paul Whitby. Photo/Mark Hancock