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Greetings, Bob.

I have come up with 10 rough questions regarding the new edition, WetWebMedia and all things Fenneresque. Please take your time responding. We will either run this in this coming Monday's newsletter or the following week. Once you send me some responses, I will probably follow-up on a couple things and then write it up, send it to you for the proverbial thumb's up, and then we'll post it along with a promotion on the book. Cheers. -Ret

1.We want to talk about the new edition of The Conscientious Marine Aquarist, but before we do that, will you share some of your background in terms of hobby experience, education and continued involvement in the industry with our readers?

<Mmm, sure… I started in "the life" (the pet-fish addiction/hobby) as a young lad in Japan… My dad was a lifer in the NAV… and there weren’t many folks that had companion animals (dogs, cats), but quite a few dependents (the kids of active duty personnel) and nationals (Japanese citizens) who were keen aquarists. Like many folks I started with fancy goldfish (and often say if people live long and well enough they go through other types of livestock, systems… and come back to goldfish… which I now keep again…), and other small captive aquatics (Rice fish, Salamanders…). There weren’t many jobs for the dependents; we were always hoping the more-established kids families would get shipped out (relocated) so the few money-making opportunities (e.g. bagging groceries at the PX, commissary) would open… So I was fortunate to work in a combination Restaurant and Fish store in Sasebo as a boy, graduating to a couple years of working with Bettas (cleaning bowls, still can’t get the Malachite stains out…), doing some service work there. When I came to the U.S. in the late sixties, I was fortunate to be hired by some other retailers in the interest, including a gentleman who helped build out quite a few stores, wholesaled to them and had a very progressive LFS himself, Don Wolfe… In college, a good friend, Mike Stempleski and I formed Aquatic Life Services, doing installs and maintenance on fresh and marine systems. Most unfortunately, Mike passed on in 75 and I continued, along with getting and using a secondary teaching credential. After the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 I tried to hang on a substitute teacher… finally giving up this honored career to work in the petfish industry full-time. I was extremely lucky to meet up with some very good friends/partners and we formed a Chapter C California Corporation, Nature Etc., Inc…. which in turn was an umbrella for our aquatics divisions: Wet Pets (retail stores), Aquatic Life Services (service), Aquatic Environments (water feature design, construction), Aqua-Chem-Tech (manufacturing)… These companies ran to 1991, with my turning to the mass merchandiser PetCo as a consultant, then a buyer, helping them to transition into livestock for three years, leaving in late 1994 right before their going public the first time. Since this time I’ve largely retired, managing real estate I’d purchased through the years, though I am still very active as a content provider (writer, photographer) in the industry and hobby of ornamental aquatics, as well as sport diving/adventure travel.

2.       The first edition of The Conscientious Marine Aquarist had such a huge impact on the hobby. It has been described as "one of the best-respected, time-tested, hands-on marine aquarium books ever published." Did you intentionally try to do something different with the first edition compared with other books written for the marine aquarium hobby at the time? What do you think it is about the first edition that has led many in the hobby to simply refer to it as "The Bible"?

Again, serendipity and parsimony are largely responsible for my lucky meeting up with Mr. James Lawrence, the owner/manager/head honcho of Microcosm in 1995 at a Western Marine Aquarium Conference. John Tullock introduced us and James asked me if I’d help him with introductions in turn to good writers, photographers who could help produce a new line of marine aquarium books… he being both an excellent editor AND advanced aquarist!!! I told him, "Mr. Lawrence, I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet you! Yes, I will gladly help in whatever way I can/may". I became the company’s "trade sales manager" for its first few years, and James was kind enough to mention early on that "Every one has at least one good book in them"… "which title would I like to pen?". I told him that my choice would be the general manual… as it was my impression at the time that there was a "gap" to be filled in this field/subject… Martin Moe’s excellent works being not "quite the market" as lacking much color work, Stephen Spotte’s being too technical, Hans Baensch’s being too expensive and slanted toward European tastes… The success of CMA is largely due to the excellent coaching, editing and layout work by James and his co-workers, as well as the orientation of the work to the "consumer", with a view on informing and inspiring the user in an orderly, systematic manner>

3.       The new edition is advertised as being "completely updated from cover to cover with brand new text." Can you give us a brief idea of some of the more significant changes that might be of interest to our readers?

Oh yes… Three good examples: the first edition’s text was first "finished" by me in December 1995… at the time there was very little popularly known re Metal Halide lighting… hence I did not discuss this much… Nor was there much in the way of cultured Cnidarian (corals, anemones…) life and too much of the imported wild-collected stock was of poor quality. Hence my quite-negative lack of endorsement of their keeping. Much has changed in the last dozen years to have softened this. Lastly here, my previous wholesale plugging of Caulerpa genus green algae has proven misguided… with far less noxious, more service-able species (e.g. the genera Gracilaria, Chaetomorpha…) proving to be of greater utility.

4.       The new edition is also advertised as being "the essential book for all new, intermediate, and serious marine aquarium keepers." How do you serve all of these audiences effectively in a single text?

Mmm, I don’t really think this work does extend to "very serious" marine aquarists… CMA in both editions is geared to the beginner to intermediate hobbyist. There are many other excellent works… Fossa and Nilsen’s "Modern Coral Reef Aquarium", Delbeek and Sprung’s books, the many fine specialized titles by Microcosm on fishes (Scott Michael), Invertebrates (Ron Shimek) and more for folks to graduate to as they progress in the hobby. The field is so big/vast that really no one tome can or should attempt to present all. IMO it would really underwhelm sophisticated hobbyists and overwhelm the uninitiated.

5.       One reviewer on Amazon (who absolutely raves about the new edition) suggests that the new aquarist "first, buy and read The New Marine Aquarium by Michael S. Paletta. It’s a great starting point. Then read [The Conscientious Marine Aquarist] and give this great hobby a go." What do you think of that advice? Might the brand new aquarist be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information in this new edition, or can you suggest how the "newbie" might use the text as they get started in the hobby?

I do think/agree that this is likely good advice for the majority of potential hobbyists; those who will benefit from a briefer introduction, before really deciding whether saltwater aquarium keeping is right for them… When I was a retailer many years back we used to promote/sell some small excellent booklets produced by Aquarium Systems, that we called "yes/no books" that served a similar function… Helping folks to decide for themselves just what marine aquarium keeping was, and if they wanted to proceed. CMA is a "now that you’ve decided" how-to manual, with examples and much more material for people who’ve made their minds up to go forward with the hobby.

6.       Ten years (the time since the first edition) is a long time in this hobby, especially given all the advances in technology and husbandry. Was there anything that was included in the first edition that you decided no longer applies or has become irrelevant? If so, will give us an example?

Good question, and actually no. James Lawrence was kind enough to listen to my position re the inclusion of "undergravel filters", air-driven skimmers, and much more antiquated equipment and practices, and allow their inclusion in both editions… As I insisted and still do, that these technologies are "good enough" and surely still in practice in many places, stores even today. I would not discount their use, and am happy to state that they still have their place in our interest. The one example I have given above abandoning the use of too-toxic (and environmentally dangerous) Caulerpaceans I am glad to admit.

7.       You have changed the cover image on the new edition. Will you share with us the thinking that went into the first edition’s cover and this new edition’s cover? I know photography is near and dear to you—what can you tell us about the new images included in this edition?

This is the domain of the editor James Lawrence and the meeting up with an excellent aquarist, aquatic scientist and photographer, Matt Wittenrich. James and I went over ideas on what verbage might be changed, added to, layout, but it’s Matt’s cover pic that really adds punch here.

8.       At Blue Zoo, we believe the knowledgeable aquarist is the best aquarist, and we are always looking for opportunities to focus on the intersection of hobby and science. It seems like you are doing something similar with the new edition by "spotlight[ing] scientific research performed by leading authorities that deals with various aspects of biology, ecology, systematics, and conservation." Will tell us a little more about this and why you chose to make this a focus of the new edition?

I have been exceedingly blessed with a long life of exposure and opportunities in both the business, hobby and sciences of aquaristics… and capitalized on syncretizing, integrating input from/twixt all three. There is indeed a huge body of useful information, techniques, attitudes, and processes that all fields, aspects of ornamental aquatics can lend, benefit from sharing. Doing this sharing in an appropriate, meaningful manner has been a central thread that has run through all my efforts and involvement in our interest.

9.       What is your perception of the current state of the marine aquarium hobby? You dedicated an entire chapter in the first edition of The Conscientious Marine Aquarist to the use of cyanide (was that hard to get Microcosm/TFH to give you so much space for a "conservation issue"?). What is the "new cyanide" of the twenty-first century, in your opinion?

Mmm, again, my thanks to James (Lawrence) for allowing me the space for this topics inclusion, and Peter Rubec’s efforts at its writing. This nefarious practice deserves exposure and limiting… Foremost IMO by education of ourselves as consumers and demanding value, based on knowledge of the practice. Cyanide use is still in practice, indeed has spread further from the Philippines to Indonesia and Vietnam… but as you state/enquire, there are larger issues… Perhaps worded " the overall role of human activity on our world’s environments, including aquatic"… Choosing to reproduce, our carbon foot-print decisions, waging foolish wars and mis-applying our collective resources towards ends that should be redirected…

Finally, most of our readers are already familiar with WetWebMedia, but we’ve noticed some significant changes to the site in the past six months. Will briefly give us the history of WetWebMedia and update us on the current site and any plans you might have for the future of this indispensible resource?

WWM was started in the mid 90’s in my being asked to help Eric Silverman and John Caskie of Flying Fish Express (.com) with aiding their customers with livestock and drygoods issues over the internet. Early on I asked John if we might instead of simply answering each question as a stand alone, develop a database, including photos/graphics, feature length articles… they didn’t want to do this, but as a result of our involvement, it became clear to me that the Net as a means of informing and helping others to be successful in ornamental aquatics is unparalleled. WetWebMedia is an ongoing compilation of many good friends efforts, with plans to add video, a new photo database of huge size, a re-vamp of its looks, organization and accessibility. Along with many other excellent on-line sources (e.g. Reefs.org, AquariumFrontiers, Melev’s Reef, Ozreef.org…) folks can find a very good deal of readily available, useful input. Coupled with good books, club affiliations, this is really adds up to a golden age in our interest.

Ret Talbot

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