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Alan Luken: An Aquarists Outlook on Coral Conservation

Updated: Jul 19, 2019

We spoke to Alan Luken - the Marine Quality and Project Overseer for Segrest Farms, a Florida-based ornamental fish supplier with a mission to promote conservation and sustainability.

They support both aquaculture and sustainable wild collection, which helps to guide customers to make the best decisions possible when selecting species for their aquariums. Segrest farms is challenging the negative reputation of the aquarium trade by actively partnering with conservation organizations, focusing on sustainable supply chains, and supporting coral reef conservation programs.

"There should always be hope, even if it’s all we have, it should always be there. In this case, our coral reefs have far more than hope - we have passionate people, outstanding conservation organizations, and, perhaps most importantly, sound science that will help us save coral reefs."

What is your earliest memory of the ocean?

My earliest memory of the ocean is snorkeling in Eleuthera, Bahamas. It was really the first time I was able to see the wonder of a coral reef and left me absolutely awestruck. Needless to say, there was no turning back from there.

What is your favorite marine creature?

Hands down Gramma loreto. It ties back to my first experiences in the ocean. It was something about the color they bring in such a small bodied fish that had me hooked. Now they are a must-have in any marine aquarium I set up and the first fish I look for when diving.

Have you experienced a healthy coral reef ecosystem? If so where, and how did it make you feel?

Absolutely, throughout the Caribbean, there are healthy reefs that are still thriving. I think my favorite has been off of Grand Cayman. The beauty and diversity of the reefs there is like none I’ve seen elsewhere. It will make you step back and realize how much life our oceans hold. It’s truly mind-boggling to think of all the different species that live on a reef.

Have you seen a badly degraded reef system? How did that make you feel?

Unfortunately, yes, and more so than healthy reef systems. I think after seeing a healthy reef and then seeing a degraded system it’s nothing short of terrifying. Yes, there is a sadness to it, but there’s also a fear that comes with it. What is going to happen if all the oceans’ reefs collapse? I truly think that is something not fathomable. We’ve yet to see the true impacts of reef loss and I hope we never will.

What concerns or scares you the most about climate change?

I think the biggest fear I have surrounding climate change is that it’s so polarizing. Yes, there are dire consequences that will come that are horrifying, but the simple fact that we are so divided on the issue is far more worrisome to me. We have an incredible ability to come together to rectify problems, but if we aren’t able to come together to fight the problem in the first place, we don’t stand a chance.

Why do you, personally, care about coral reefs?

My entire life has been based around the oceans and coral reefs. From snorkeling every summer growing up, to becoming a marine aquarium hobbyist, to now being a marine scientist on the forefront of the marine aquarium industry, it’s been my entire life. It’s truly been an unwavering passion of mine and I can only hope that throughout my life I have inspired, and will continue to inspire people to have a similar passion for our reefs.

Why is protecting and restoring coral reefs relevant to your brand?

Unfortunately, the marine aquarium industry is painted as a villain in ocean conservation. It’s incredibly important that we change that reputation. While I can understand why it is viewed that way, calling the marine aquarium industry a villain to ocean conservation could not be further from the truth. The truth is that the marine aquarium industry promotes ocean conservation through multiple facets. The most obvious perhaps is through inspiration. I loved going to the aquarium growing up. It was easily my favorite thing to do on any given day. I’d say it was one of the driving forces for my career path, and I know that is true for many of my peers and, hopefully, future generations of ocean conservation leaders. An often forgotten reason is that the aquarium industry helps the reefs is that the animals in the industry are mostly wild collected. In order for fishermen to collect the fishes, the habitat has to be thriving. More importantly, if the fishermen can grow the reefs, it benefits them so you often see coral farms and the aquarium industry working hand in hand to mutually benefit the natural reef as well as the fishermen. What we’re trying to do at Segrest is to change that reputation. Between partnering with conservation organizations, focusing on sustainable supply chains, and even starting our own coral reef conservation program we are actively making an effort to show how much the marine aquarium industry can, and does, help coral reefs worldwide.

Why should the average person care about coral reefs?

I don’t think most people have taken the time to think about how important coral reefs are to us. It’s not just the coral reefs that would suffer, it’s the entire ocean. The average person may not realize how much people will see impacts in their everyday life if coral reefs continue to be threatened. I think when it’s put in the perspective of "if the reefs suffer, the entire ocean suffers", it becomes a much more pressing issue.

In your opinion, what are some of the most powerful tools at our disposal that we can apply to the mission to save coral reefs?

The two most powerful tools we have in saving the coral reefs are knowledge and passionate people. As with any conservation effort, it is incredibly important that we use scientific research and methods to understand where we are currently at and where our focus needs to be in saving these complex ecosystems. It’s far too tall of a task to take any other approach. Where there is knowledge, there are passionate people. It’s one thing to say this is what is happening, this is why, and this is what needs to be done, but what it will inevitably come down to is the passion of conservation-minded people who can put that knowledge into action.

What do you think are some of the easiest ways that the average person can join the mission to save coral reefs from extinction?

It’s now incredibly easy for people to get involved in coral conservation. There are countless opportunities to support coral restoration and conservation organizations. What I particularly love about that aspect, is that with social media playing such a large role now, it’s easy to see exactly what your support does for these organizations. There is something incredibly gratifying about seeing a picture (or better yet seeing in person) a Coral Tree™ knowing that you played a role in making sure that it was built and that there is a team of dedicated professionals maintaining it. Perhaps less obvious ways are as simple as sharing a post on social media, talking to somebody about conservation, or supporting everyday companies that are conservation minded.

Do you think there is hope for our coral reefs? Why?

Absolutely. It’s not going to be easy, if it were, in fact, easy, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Even if we are approaching a point of no return, until there are absolutely no coral reefs left on Earth, I will be optimistic that there is hope. I couldn’t imagine thinking otherwise, and I hope that nobody feels as though our reefs are beyond saving. There should always be hope, even if it’s all we have, it should always be there. In this case, our coral reefs have far more than hope. We have passionate people, outstanding conservation organizations, and, perhaps most importantly, sound science that will help us save coral reefs.

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