Updated: Sep 7, 2021
Reef Breeders is an organization that works mainly with aquariums! Restoration and preservation of coral reefs is vital to their industry. The aquarium industry relies on healthy reef systems, and many of those in the industry got their start as divers themselves.
As co-owners of Reef Breeders, Liam Gilbert and Logan Vanghele choose to work toward more sustainable practices in the aquarium industry. Read their interview below to learn more about how Reef Breeders was first exposed to coral reefs, restoration, and how their work for sustainability came about.
Liam Gilbert (left) and Logan Vanghele (right), owners of Reef Breeders, celebrate Coralpalooza™ Dive Day 2021!
What is your earliest memory of the ocean?
Liam: Playing in the tide pools in Southern California. Logan: My earliest memory of the ocean is from when I was around 4 or 5 years old. My parents took me to the beach and I spent hours searching for seashells and rocks to bring home with me.
What is your favorite marine creature?
Liam: It is hard to love one creature the most and not have tremendous appreciation for all the others because of how connected they all are. As a kid, sharks were my favorite. Logan: A couple marine creature pairings that really stand out to me are clownfish with anemones and cardinalfish with sea urchins. I am fascinated with the many symbiotic relationships present in the ocean. If I had to pick one, I would go with clownfish. For one, they can be tank raised, so we don’t need to remove them from nature. In addition, the sheer amount of variety today offers nearly endless color variants to choose from. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about clownfish is that they develop a relationship with host anemones even when raised in aquariums.
Have you experienced a healthy coral reef ecosystem? If so where, and how did it make you feel? Logan: I had the opportunity to see a nearly pristine reef around Cebu Island in the Philippines. I was there for three days and spent every day snorkeling and kayaking along the reefs. Aside from the stunning colors and the many fish in their natural habitat, the cacophony of schools of parrotfish devouring algae-covered rocks was the most interesting part of the experience. Growing up near cold-water habitats, I was used to near-silence with the exception of crashing waves or a passing boat. Being able to experience a healthy reef and the sheer number of fish that inhabit it was an exceptional experience.
Coral Restoration Foundation™ divers work to raise and return corals to the wild on a massive scale, supporting the reefs natural diversity and recovery. ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
Have you seen a badly degraded reef system? How did that make you feel?
Liam: Recently I went snorkeling in the reefs off of Key West; the corals were bleached, very little color and appear to be dying. It made me feel like I want to do something to fix that. Logan: Unfortunately, many of the reefs I see are nowhere near as healthy as they can and should be. I went on a snorkel trip in Key West and most of the corals present were bleached or covered in algae. There were fish, but not nearly as many as there should be on a healthy reef. While I will spend all day in a healthy reef ecosystem, I left the water early that day. I was deeply saddened by this and honestly just felt a bit helpless. What concerns or scares you the most about climate change?
Liam: I am concerned that if we don’t focus on preserving [the biodiversity] left on Earth then extinction will continue until there is nothing left. Imagine what a coral reef looked like 2,000 years ago. Logan: Two major concerns of mine are sea level rise and ocean acidification. Where I live in Rhode Island, there are many coastal communities that rely heavily on local beaches for tourism and many communities that are just above sea level. Rising sea levels would cause a major catastrophe worldwide, but the thought that my future children might never experience the beach like I did really hit home for me. The same goes with ocean acidification—the ocean can only absorb so much CO2, and coral reefs worldwide are already being affected by this. As a reef-keeping hobbyist, the idea that many of the corals and fish I know and love may disappear one day is extremely concerning.
Why do you, personally, care about coral reefs?
Liam: They are not only the most beautiful creatures on the planet, but the ocean is 2/3 of the earth and provides the majority of our oxygen. We depend on the ocean, and our corals are the easiest way to tell how healthy our ocean is. Logan: I feel that the future of the reefs is inherently inter-twined with the industry I have spent over a decade working in. I have been running reef tanks since I was a freshman in high school, and my connection with the hobby eventually became a business. With no corals in nature, the ornamental fish industry would be hard-pressed to adapt. More than that, much of the world relies on the ocean for food, work, and life. The collapse of these crucial ecosystems would affect everyone.
Why is protecting and restoring coral reefs relevant to your brand?
Liam: We are Reef Breeders, if we aren’t helping restore the reefs then we aren’t living up to our own expectations and brand name. Logan: An important and fast-growing aspect of the ornamental aquarium industry is aquaculture. Our company, Reef Breeders, started out by supplying phytoplankton, rotifers, and copepods for marine ornamental fish breeders, though now we work more on the equipment side of aquariums. My goal is to see the industry one day sustained almost entirely by aquaculture, with a surplus of corals available to be re-planted in their natural environment. However, the reality is that this industry still relies heavily on natural reefs to supply fish and corals. Doing so in a sustainable way in conjunction with habitat preservation and aquaculture is our only path forward.
Corals and fish go together like peanut butter and jelly! One can't thrive without the other. (1,2) ©Reef Breeders (3) ©Coral Restoration Foundation™
Why should the average person care about coral reefs?
Liam: Because who could imagine a world without them? Logan: We are all intrinsically linked to the ocean—you can find a fish store thousands of miles inland; it’s not just a coastal phenomenon. For those who are not in the aquarium hobby, it’s important to know that we rely more on the ocean for oxygen than on the Amazon Rainforest, so a healthy ocean vastly improves everyone’s quality of life. If you’ve ever enjoyed seafood or a day at the beach, you need to realize that none of that is possible without healthy reefs. Smaller fish support larger fish and are a crucial part of the ocean’s food chain. Without sheltered reef environments created by corals natural growth structures, many of those smaller fish would be unable to survive. 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? Logan: I think the most powerful tool at our disposal is knowledge. With the advent of the internet, divers on the most remote reefs in the world can show everyone exactly what’s happening in real time. Many reef ecosystems are threatened now; it’s not just a future issue. People need to know that we have to be acting now to help reverse the damage done. We can also advance our aquaculture and mariculture capabilities and share techniques to help restore reefs that need help getting back on track.
What do you think are some of the easiest ways that the average person can join the mission to save coral reefs from extinction? Logan: The easiest way the average person can help is to look for sustainably caught or aquaculture-raised fish when they go shopping. The majority of fish we eat are just four or five species, so eating a wider variety of seafood can also help. Rhode Island, for example, has a booming bivalve farming industry. The oysters and mussels raised don’t just make for good food—they help clean the water in Narragansett Bay. Choosing your meals from sustainable enterprises like that can help make a small difference. Another thing that I see time and time again at my local beach is empty coolers, plastic bottles, and bags. It’s easy to bring all your garbage back to your car when you leave, and it helps to pick up a few extra items someone else left behind. If you’re on vacation in an area with reefs nearby, make sure to use reef-safe sunscreen. You can also donate to charities like the Coral Restoration Foundation that help restore our reefs. Finally, if you own a reef tank, be sure to look for dry rock that is manmade or harvested inland instead of taken from wild reefs. It’s also important to make an effort to buy aqua-cultured fish and corals, not ones that were harvested from the wild.
Logan Vanghele shares his connection to coral reefs and how we can all help create healthy oceans. ©Reef Breeders Do you think there is hope for our coral reefs? Why?
Liam: Yes, I know we can help them survive now, after they've survived for so much time.
Logan: I do think that there’s hope, but we need to act now. Many coral reefs are in trouble, and some coral colonies that were hundreds or even thousands of years old are gone forever due to human activities. We need to set up more natural preserves for sensitive reef habitats and implement other measures like moving shipping channels and controlling pollution and fertilizer use on land. In addition, the work of organizations like Coral Restoration Foundation™ to cultivate and return corals to the reef is extremely important. If we work together to protect and restore our reefs, they will still be around for generations to come.
We appreciate the work that Reef Breeders does to raise awareness and encourage good, sustainable aquarium and aquaculture practices. Their dedication to informing their consumer base and working towards the restoration of our reefs is absolutely vital. Thank you so much to Reef Breeders for taking the time to talk with us!
Madalen Howard is CRF's Marketing Associate. Madalen comes to CRF™ via a winding road from the Tennessee hills, to the South Carolina low country, ending here in Florida’s Coral Reef. She earned her Bachelor's degree in Marine Biology and a Minor in Environmental Studies from the College of Charleston in 2016. Her experience ranges from field research to education, and communications.
Madalen spent the last 4 years as a Field Instructor and Social Media Strategist for MarineLab Environmental Education Center. Here she was able to study and teach marine ecology, while snorkeling through mangroves, seagrasses, and coral reefs every day. While at MarineLab she combined her education and research background, entered the world of communications, and developed MarineLab’s social media department from the ground up.
Throughout her life Madalen has had a skill connecting people with nature. With CRF™, she is excited to bring people into the world of coral restoration, creating inclusive pathways to scientific discovery.