Nicholas Scalisi started Atlantic Blue Aquariums April 4th, 2014. Tommy Yann became his business partner two year later. “We have three departments currently. In our retail aquarium store we sell saltwater fishes, corals, and the dried goods that are necessary to maintain them. Our aquarium maintenance department is innovative in that we’ve developed a method of data analysis which can predict water chemistry problems and prescribe maintenance protocols. Using data-based decision making for our aquarium servicing has been very successful for us and our customers.” Their third department is custom aquarium design and Red Sea Aquariums. “Everyone here has a passion for aquariums. We entered this partnership because of our mutual passion for the industry and sustainability.”
Tommy’s overarching passion is reef conservation and he was planning on working for an NGO overseas before going to college. After studying the industry critically, he realized he could do a lot of good for the reefs working within the industry and promoting sustainable sources. Tommy went to Florida Atlantic University, Jupiter campus, as an undergrad in marine biology. He did his undergraduate thesis on mortality trends in the marine ornamental trade. Before he did that, no one had studied this since the early 1990’s. The mortality rate is drastically lower now than it was then. The industry has made significant improvements throughout the transport chain and including collection.
“The hardest part of getting into this industry on the retail side is sourcing quality products and livestock. People in the industry are very secretive as to where they get the fish and corals, because the quality depends on the sources. We had to find our own sources. We used data to track how healthy and well-conditioned the animals were when selecting our sources. We have some farms overseas for coral, and a wholesaler in California where we get most of our fish from. On the retail side of our business we source high quality livestock, treat them and sell them to our customers.”
Recently, this industry became harder to enter on the retail side because of the Fiji and Indonesia coral fishery closures. “These are major source countries for coral, Indonesia supplying 70% of the coral and Fiji also supplies a sizable percentage of the coral in the industry as well.” Both of those fisheries were shut down, for largely bureaucratic and political reasons. “If you look at the data, the marine ornamental trade was replanting more corals than they sold on reefs that had been destroyed from subsistence fishing and other industries that rely on reef resources such as construction. “There was a huge net positive for these countries from the marine ornamental trade.” Atlantic Blue aquariums was fortunate because they already had a network of different coral sources in place. “We had a very good source in Vietnam, and we already had connections in Australia.”
“We do grow a fair amount of designer coral here in our facility. That being said, we’d prefer to support these sustainable mariculture farms, because of the ecological benefits they have. Mariculture farms grow coral in the ocean on large racking system and people trained in coral husbandry SCUBA dive and fragment them” Most of the corals don’t grow in the right shape, either not economical to ship, or in an ugly shape customer are hesitant to buy and these corals get replanted on damaged reefs. “Because of the scale of the mariculture farms our industry has a net positive effect on wild reefs, It’s a very nuanced industry.”
What sets Atlantic Blue Aquariums apart from the competition is their professionalism, philosophy and commitment to the environment. “In our company we talk about ABA standards, that means we refuse to cut corners and also that we use science and data based decision making. We have a staff marine biologist, who designs all of our protocols from our fish and coral husbandry to our custom aquarium designs. We take pride in the fact that we won’t always be the best price, but we’ll be the best value. For example, this industry has a responsibility to take care of the livestock. These animals are making the ultimate biological sacrifice, they’re no longer reproducing on the reef. We use 7 different medications on the fish when they come in. If you assume the fish has everything and treat them for everything, then there’s a much better chance that when they go into a home that they’re not going to be bringing in a disease. Fish diseases can hide and not present symptomatically for years, but ultimately be very problematic. The industry standard is to just use 1 or 2 medications, and that’s just not enough. These are the little details that make our fish and all of our products a better value.”
The level of care they give to animal husbandry shows their commitment to sustainability and the environment. The industry generally puts the health of the fish on the consumer, to quarantine the fish for 2 months. “But the reality is, they’re either not going to or won’t have the husbandry skills or equipment needed to do it optimally. There is a tremendous amount involved. We’ve collectively spent over a decade in this industry learning how to treat fish and recognize different diseases, and the learning curve is massive. You can’t expect the average hobbyist to do that. Because of that, we feel it ultimately is our responsibility, the people in the industry, to do what’s best for the animals in our care.
These same principals hold true for their maintenance, aquarium design, and Red Sea Aquariums as well. “When you’re planning out a system, from what size pump you use to where you put your power heads, how you’re going to aquascape the tank, all of that is influenced by what types of corals and fish the customer ultimately wants to keep.” It’s a combination of artistry and science.
When asked what he would do differently, Tommy was quick to respond. “We wouldn’t do anything differently. We’re really happy with how we grew and where we’ve come and where we have to grow.”
Tommy’s expertise and passion for marine wildlife is clear. He believes the internet has hurt his industry to a degree. “If you’re a customer looking for the cheapest price, you might find that on the internet. But if you don’t see the facility, if you don’t see how the fish are being treated, if you don’t see how the aquarium is being designed, and all of the decision making that’s going into the little details, you might be sacrificing on that value, even though it’s cheaper. At the same time, it has also opened the industry to more consumers. The marine ornamental trade is the fastest growing sector of the pet trade, growing about 4% per year. Whereas most of the other sectors in the industry are growing at 1% or less a year.”
Atlantic Blue Aquariums has a new 3,100 square foot facility. They have ample supply to meet the local demand. Right now, they’re market is South Florida, but feel like they have their “husbandry protocols pretty dialed in.” In the future they may expand into other markets such as online or wholesale. “We’re growing pretty rapidly. We moved into this facility April of 2018 from a 750 square foot store front in Palm Beach Gardens. Our new Location has an 800 square foot aquarium showroom displaying our custom aquariums and Red Sea Aquariums, a 1600 square ft livestock room, and an 800 square foot space that we’re dedicating to aquaculture and product development.”
Red Sea Aquariums are close to custom quality, and they’re close to half the cost of a custom tank. It’s an affordable option for a high-quality tank. “We see that they share a lot of our values. The quality of their products always top notch. They put a lot of thought into systems design, and it shows in the way that the tanks perform over time. You can tell they care about how the consumer is going to interact with the product. It’s very user friendly.”
Atlantic Blue Aquariums short term goals are to continue to expand service and aquaculture. Forty percent of business is retail, and about 60% is maintenance and in home new aquarium set ups. “After 5 years, just about anybody in the hobby locally knows about us now.” They do commercial and residential. The smallest tank they offer is a 10 gallon tank. The largest is up to the customer. “We can do as big of a tank as you want to put into your house. We have a customer with a 1600 gallon tank (4 feet deep, 3 ½ feet tall, and 16 feet long). And you can go bigger, there are people with 20,000 size tanks in their home.” At that size, you’re talking about a Sea World tank.
Atlantic Blue Aquarium services as far south as Boca, Boynton Beach, Delray, north to Stuart, Hobe Sound and as far west as Wellington. Atlantic Blue Aquariums can be reached at 561-323-4611. They are located at 1399 N Killian Dr, Lake Park, FL. Their website is www.atlanticblueaquariums.com