For those of you who missed the live chat with reef aquarium and scuba diving expert Jeff Turner, you can read the transcript here.
Crazygar: Jeff how are you doing this evening?
JeffTurner: OK got stuck in Atlanta, planes and weather.
Crazygar: Welcome to the wonderful world of flying.
JeffTurner: Will make it to Des Moines sometime tonight.
Crazygar: Ohh, Iowa, how exotic.
JeffTurner: yeh, just got back from the Bahamas on a lionfishing trip
JeffTurner: yep, a few fishbowls here and there
Crazygar: Ok, I am going to begin the interview. As people appear they can follow along. Jeff is on a tight schedule this evening and so it starts…
Crazygar: Jeff Turner, owner of Reef Aquaria Design, Inc., is known for creating some of the most impressive reef tanks you can imagine. He has built custom aquariums for private residences—including those of celebrities—and institutions such as the Smithsonian and the Miami Children’s Museum. We are honored this evening to have the opportunity to get a chance to speak with him about reefs, diving, and everything aquatic.
Crazygar: Before I begin the interview, I would like to remind everyone about a few ground rules before proceeding:
Crazygar: 1) While the interview is in progress, I would like to ask everyone from refraining from popping in with a question or comment. Please write down your question, as we are having a small open forum at the end of the session.
Crazygar: 2) When the Open Forum begins, I will queue people on a first come first served basis. Remember, we only have a limited amount of time, so there can only be a limited amount of questions. If not all questions get answered, I am sure Jeff will answer them via the PM system in time. Remember, like the rest of us, he has a life outside as well.
Crazygar: 3) Use the PRIVATE MESSAGE Command on the right hand side of your chat window to ask to be put in queue for a question, an updated list of “order” will sent (privately) as more participants increase.
Crazygar: 4) Please ensure its only ONE question. If there is time, you may have the opportunity to ask another one.
Crazygar: Now that the rules and welcomes are down, let’s begin…
Jeff, how are you doing this evening?
JeffTurner: made it to Atlanta, delayed and will get to Des Moines by midnight
Crazygar: I hate planes.
Crazygar: How did you start in the aquarium business?
JeffTurner: I was basically born into the marine aquarium trade way back in 1962. My dad was the second president of the Florida Marine Aquarium Society in 1957, and he, Bob Straughan, Dick Boyd and a few other diver/aquarist started the club in 1955. Some of my earliest memories of aquariums involved my father building aquariums in the garage and my brother and I collecting fish, live rock, plants and corals for our aquariums. Built my first glass tank at age 7 and started servicing aquariums after school once I got my drivers license. I incorporated at age 15 under the name JAT Enterprises, Inc. and was President of the business club during high school.
Crazygar: People who have seen your work are amazed by your ability to so carefully replicate a slice of a coral reef in an aquarium. What inspired you to start creating these intricate setups, which you refer to as “fishbowls”?
JeffTurner: Creating a “natural balance” living display goes back to thousands of hours on and underwater along the coral reefs of South Florida. When you have viewed the real underwater reefs thousands of time, it comes natural to replicate the ocean environment. I have a photographic memory of these reefs and have set up literally thousands of marine aquariums in homes, offices, public displays, competitions at the FMAS show and at least a hundred trade shows through the years.
JeffTurner: Each and every time I stack a liverock foundation in an aquarium, I look at the pile of rock and determine how I would like to place the pieces of the puzzle to best optimize the layout to the view of the human and the aquariums location in the space, while balancing how the water currents will ultimately flow in the aquarium. Placing the living interior in the aquarium is like the icing on the cake, you have worked so hard to get the aquarium ready for this moment you had better make sure you eyes will feast on the end result.
Crazygar: Where did you come up with the idea to make an aquarium a piece of “living artwork” that compliments the design of the surrounding space?
JeffTurner: This goes back to learning it from my father. He was an engineer, artist, diver and aquarist and I was a good learner. As a young boy I would go with my Dad to meet a new potential client from time to time and the client would sometimes ask, “Where do you see the aquarium fitting into my living room”. What I realized back then was that we are not only engineers, plumbers, electricians, and marine biologists, but we are designers and artists too. The aquarium actually becomes a piece of living art within a space.
JeffTurner: The aquarium design and cabinetry are the canvas and the living interior is the fluid art. As a matter of fact, a well-designed and thriving coral reef aquarium becomes the focal point of a space. Coral reef aquariums are dynamic pieces of ever changing living art!
Crazygar: We know that you are an avid scuba diver. What influence does diving have on your work?
JeffTurner: Love to dive and fish. I have been collecting marine life for aquariums for over forty years, it’s in my blood and I try to spend as much time on the water as possible. Diving will always influence how I layout the next fishbowl and also remind me how of how vast the oceans filtration system is. When I look at a natural coral reef now, I think about how important it is for us as aquarist to teach others about the plight of the worlds reefs through our “educational windows to the sea”.
Crazygar: What is your favorite aquarium that you have created?
JeffTurner: Wow! That’s a hard one, so many fishbowls so little time to fish! Probably the greatest honor I have had was to build the Indo Pacific Coral Reef Aquarium, located in the Sant Ocean Hall at National Museum of Natural History, for the Smithsonian Institution. Each aquarium we build is special to us. We strive to make everyone better than the last while working to help our owners and aquarium service technician’s maintain past aquariums as thriving coral reef aquariums.
JeffTurner: sometimes technologically challenged, but can build a heck of a fishbowl. glad I answered some previous questions or I’d be a fish out of water! Thanks to Crazygar!
Crazygar: ROFL Jeff, this one is going down in the books.
Crazygar: What is the largest tank you have built?
JeffTurner: The largest glass tank is the round glass aquarium system at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in New Jersey. The total system is about 3,500 gallons and the unique glass aquarium is 2,000 gallons. We are currently building a 5,600 gallon reef in Roanoke, Virginia.
Crazygar: What is the most difficult aspect of creating reefs that hold thousands of gallons of water?
JeffTurner: Typically the actual construction of the tank on site, or delivery of an aquarium that we built offsite is the most difficult aspect of a fishbowl project. Many different challenges await a large installation and it all comes down to proper planning and careful execution.
Crazygar: When planning out a reef tank, do you focus more on the fish or the corals?
JeffTurner: Both, and the live rock quality and shapes. You have to create a quality foundation for your corals to grow into while balancing what fish might inhabit the aquarium over time.
Crazygar: How do you choose what corals will be included?
JeffTurner: We really like to feature aquacultured corals in our displays and primarily choose these corals over wild caught specimens. I like the three dimensional aspect of placing gorgonians within an aquascape and I personally collect most of the gorgonians we place in our aquariums.
Crazygar: How do you go about selecting fish for a reef tank?
JeffTurner: We utilize responsibly collected wild caught marine fish from reputable suppliers and will always buy aquacultured fish in the initial set up phase of a large fishbowl. Choosing exactly which fish we place in an aquarium usually involves the owner of the aquarium and I will give them a copy of Scott Michael’s “Reef Aquarium Fishes” as a general guide. I like tangs, clownfish, wrasses, gobies, angels, grammas, and try to stay towards the path of “friendly fish”.
Crazygar: Why did you start creating jellyfish aquariums?
JeffTurner: Another good one! Funny story, we had a local architectural firm interview us for a hotel restaurant project and they requested that we build a jellyfish aquarium, “jellyfishbowl” I call it of course. The restaurants designer, Patrick, was from France and was flying to America in a few weeks and I suggested that I would take him on a “tour de tank” when he arrived. My intent was to show Patrick the differences in reefs vs jellies and I really wanted to build him a great BIG 20 foot reef!! I picked up Patrick and his assistant and we visited a local restaurant with a jellyfish aquarium built by a competitor of ours and then took them to view a thriving reef aquarium. He loved the coral reef aquarium, however was set on us creating the long jellyfishbowl and we obliged.
JeffTurner: The aquarium we constructed for them is 20 feet long by 2 feet wide and 5 feet tall, about 2,000 gallons. I had seen many jellyfish aquariums through the years and thought that we could create a better “mousetrap” than some I had previously seen, especially considering the fact that it was twenty feet long. We decided to create two opposing kreisels that would suspend the jellyfish, while having them mix in the middle of the aquarium and then flow from kreisel to kreisel. We lost a few jellies while tweaking the flow pattern in the beginning and eventually the flow dynamics worked out great. This was the FIRST jellyfishbowl we ever created (two thousand gallons to boot) and I believe we are on to a great future with this copyrighted design.
JeffTurner: We recently refined and duplicated the design in a 9 foot version and it is operating like a well oiled machine. We also added LED lights to the new one and the owner can change the color of the jellies to what ever color he feels like that day. Jellyfish are spineless and brainless, however people are fascinated seeing them float aimlessly.
Crazygar: How does setting up a jellyfish tank differ from a regular fishbowl?
JeffTurner: Jellyfish need to be fed a consistent amount of food several times a day from our experience. They also seem to do better in cooler water, say 65 to 75 Fahrenheit, and will basically shrink in warmer water of 80 F. You don’t need a lot of light on a jellyfishbowl and should have a protein skimmer and do regular water changes.
JeffTurner: There have been a tremendous amount of Moon Jellies this summer in the keys and its has been a stinging experience collecting tropicals, lobster and reef restoration efforts with CRF
Crazygar: How were you selected to create the Indo-Pacific Coral Reef Aquarium at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History?
JeffTurner: The design firm, (Design and Production in Lorton, Virginia), of the Sant Ocean Hall interviewed several aquarium contractors with the Museum staff. I had the opportunity to present to both parties and to also take the designers representative to the large round glass reef in Red Bank, New Jersey. After one of our meetings, dealing with dozens of questions by the Design Team and Museum staff, the primary contact I had with the design team patted me on the back as well walked down the hall after the meeting and said “ you are going to build this aquarium”. They interviewed many competent builders, however my passion of all things aquarium and historical record of creating successful reef aquariums pretty much sealed the deal.
JeffTurner: It was, and is to this and every day, a tremendous honor to work with the Smithsonian and I still love to go there to work on the aquarium and hear the kids screaming “Nemo, Nemo, Nemo” and to listen to the public talk about the beauty of the thriving coral in front of them. I am just a regular guy who has a talent and I love to help others learn through our “educational windows to the sea”.
Crazygar: How did you come up with the final design for the 2000-gallon reef?
JeffTurner: Jeff’s reply; We were pretty much regulated by the fact that we were putting a very heavy object in a 100-year-old building and the weight load restrictions had us keep the aquarium at around 1,200 gallons plus a 90 gallon mangrove refugium and huge custom sump of 800 plus gallons. The total system holds 2,100 gallons and I laid out the “Aquatic Lab” as ergonomically as possible. It’s really a super space, behind the scenes, and every good aquarist dream type tank. Every great aquarium needs great access, and a well thought out workspace and life support system to stand the test of time.
JeffTurner: I looked at this aquarium design from a twenty-five year perspective and we continue to work with the Smithsonian to keep it looking great. Part of my continued responsibilities with this aquarium is to review weekly reports and help with the mechanical and biological aspects. Phil Wind and the Team at Reef eScape do a great job helping managing the aquarium with the Smithsonian’s staff.
Crazygar: Can you tell us about the tank that was featured in Architectural Digest?
JeffTurner: This 680 gallon reef aquarium system was created for a famous Miami Beach architect who had a “hole” in the wall that needed some life in it. The aquarium is 120” long by 27” wide by 46” tall and we featured lots of great marinelife from South Florida in this particular aquarium. My boat actually stays on a lift at this family friends house and we enjoy going out collecting cool Caribbean fish like Cuban Hogs, Pygmy Angels, Yellowhead Jawfish, Swissguards Basslets and sessile organisms like deep water gorgonians and different colored riccordia and zooanthids. This aquarium is a classic example of living art! And fits in well with the colorful art on the white walls and minimalistic space.
Crazygar: How is the 250-gallon living coral reef aquarium that you wrote about for the “Adventures in Aquascaping” column in TFH Magazine doing today?
JeffTurner: After 11 years running we will empty it out next month due to the dreaded “purple monster sponge”!! This stuff is growing everywhere and we can’t get something to eat it! Between the rocks, around the corals, in the overflow, and on the sand, it’s certainly photosynthetic however grows behind and under the rock. We will take the tank down in October, flush it through with fresh water and bleach for a day, and then reset with brand new liverock and coral frags, less the purple sponge and old water. Over forty years with salt water aquariums and I have never seen this gelatinous purple sponge grow so well, kinda like an algae but hard to tear off the rocks and you never get it all off.
Crazygar: Did you ever get a ride in the red Ferrari?
JeffTurner: Actually no, but my wife and I did get to ride in their newest dream car a 1956 Chrysler 300 called “Passion”. Its got a NASCAR engine in it and you had better hold on! If Roger is listening in on this chat we NEED a ride in the red Ferrari! Once we get rid of the “purple monster sponge” of course.
JeffTurner: update, the purple sponge is dying back due to a tripple treatment of Chemiclean and several water 30 gallon changes!
Crazygar: Does that mean you get a ride that car?
Crazygar: Do you have a tank in your own home or at Reef Aquaria Design? Can you tell us about it?
JeffTurner: I built an aquarium for our house 14 years ago and it’s empty! My aquarium is the Atlantic Ocean and we just arrived back from a Lionfish research trip on our boat to Bimini in the Bahamas. Lots and lots of lionfish out there, never release a non-endemic species into the wild! These guys are fat and happy in the Atlantic, basically eating every small fish that wanders close to their mouths. We saw 11 lions on one dive and have speared 27 while snorkeling on a shallow wreck.
At the office I do have a 26 gallon bowfront tank with clowns and soft coral. We built a really great new display for MACNA this year and I will set it up tomorrow. Hopefully lots of you all will get to see it this weekend at MACNA or on the web. It’s going to be cool with some surprises in it!
Crazygar: You should try Freshwater Jeff…
JeffTurner: yeh, FW sounds good and goldfish are cool
Crazygar: What is the best piece of advice you can give to an average hobbyist who wants to set up a living reef of their own?
JeffTurner: Determine the budget you have for the aquarium project and plan accordingly. Your investment into a quality aquarium and equipment is important. You should look at housing creatures that do well in our closed aquarium systems and to support aquaculture with your wallet by buying aquacultured specimens whenever possible. Patience is essential in this hobby and educating yourself before you take the big plunge is critical to your long-term success. Seeing healthy reef aquariums kept by friends, or at great local fish stores, is also a good idea to help educate yourself on what they do to manage their beautiful aquariums.
JeffTurner: I actually love fw planted tanks, but spend off time fishing and diving
Crazygar: Typical reef setups designed by hobbyists only hold few fishes, but your reefs are bustling with fish life. How do you manage to maintain the relatively high bioload without sacrificing water quality?
JeffTurner: Regular water changes, phosphate absorbents, carbon products, good protein skimming and refugiums all play a roll in water quality management. You really have to feed the heck out of large reef aquariums with loads of fish or they will eat your corals.
Crazygar: If you were to pick one fish you are most knowledgeable about, what fish would it be?
JeffTurner: Clownfish of course! I was responsible for creating the first financially successful marine ornamental aquaculture distribution network at ORA and company has sold millions of these wonderful tank raised clownfish that did not have to be taken from the wild reefs.
Crazygar: Most of us name our favorite fish. Can you give us (3) names and types of fish that stick out in your mind?
JeffTurner: Of course Nemo, the movie star! The Royal Gramma and Blackcap Basslets are two of my favorites. Turbo is the name we gave one of my clients Niger Trigger that cant stop swimming full speed!
Crazygar: Reef Aquaria Design, Inc., and you personally promote the use of sustainable collection practices and aquacultured animals. What is your advice to hobbyists to lessen their impact on the environment when planning a reef of their own?
JeffTurner: Its 2011! And we have come along ways whereby you can easily set up a totally aquacultured fishbowl with the plethora of tank raised and maricultured corals out there. You can also trade frags with your friends and even breed your own marine fish! Plan to use as much aquacultured, maricultured and sustainably collected marinelife as possible in your aquarium. Sharks, jacks, groupers, snappers, large eels and the like are cool, but they will outgrow your aquarium and really are best viewed at a public aquarium or the ocean itself.
Crazygar: You recently took over as National Sales Manager for Boyd Enterprises. Can you give us a bit of a preview of what to expect from Boyd in the future?
JeffTurner: My wife Joleen and I actually bought the company and have retained Eben and Matthew Boyd, two of the founders sons, to help us produce quality Boyd Enterprises products and to run the company. We now have six months of operations under our belts and we plan to strengthen the companies’ position in the marketplace while helping to educate a whole new generation of aquarist about how wonderful it is to have a successful aquarium. As industry leaders we need to set the example and we plan to work diligently at helping other succeed with their aquarium endeavors.
Crazygar: As we near the end of the Q&A Session, I’d like to thank Jeff Turner for letting us get to know a bit more about himself. As always Jeff, it’s a pleasure having a conversation with you and it was an honor to finally interview you for Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine. Before I get to the open Forum (where I have some people just buzzing to ask you a question) I have one random question I ask each interviewee…
JeffTurner: We really love the aquarium business and will be in it for life!
Crazygar: That’s actually great to hear Jeff, but now it’s time for “THE RANDOM QUESTION”…
Crazygar: Are you ready?
JeffTurner: Yes ready to type for real now
Crazygar: ROFL, can you specifically name a very embarrassing moment when setting up a public tank and how you managed to ‘recover’…
JeffTurner: I built a 1,600 curved glass reef in North New Jersey, beautiful and filled for a month, when one of the laminated panels cracked
JeffTurner: We emptied the aquarium and replaced the panel, not a drop of water on the floor, just had to shell out a bunch of money to fix it with a new panel
Crazygar: Augh, that is definitely a good recovery Jeff.
Crazygar: Before I get into the “Open Forum”, I’d like to give Jeff a standing ovation. He is currently typing from an Airport Terminal on an iPad. Big round of applause people!
JeffTurner: The owners were very pleased at our actions and the aquarium is operational today!
JeffTurner: Your only as good as your last fishbowl
Crazygar: On behalf of Tropical Fish Hobbyist Magazine, the people whom have shown up for this event this evening, we’d like to thank you for taking the time to chat with us this evening and let us get an insight to your world.
Crazygar: At this point, we’ll have an open Forum where you can ask Jeff some questions in turn, please respect the question being asked by not typing until your turn. A transcript of this chat will be up shortly within the TFH Forum and TFH Magazine Website shortly. Thanks and Jeff, I turn the floor to you for some questions. Remember, at 9pm (Eastern Time), the interview session concludes… Lined up are Johnsreef #1, Carbon_Man #2…
JeffTurner: A fish guys job is never over, we have clients that we maintain their aquariunm for now 24 years straight
JeffTurner: The aquarium is actually three home owners later
Crazygar: Sturdy. Good job sir.
Crazygar: Ok, now we have Johnsreef waiting to ask you a question…
johnsreef: do you ever use angels or other non reef safe fishes
JeffTurner: Yes, sure have and sometimes regrete placing them into the reef in the first place
JeffTurner: just had a Flame Angel that could not stop eating corals and clams
johnsreef: i hope my emperor stays calm
JeffTurner: we took the 600 gallon down last week after weeks of trying to catch him with the trap and nets
JeffTurner: back operational without the flame!
Crazygar: Next is Carbon_Man, thanks Johnsreef!
Carbon_Man: Mr. Turner, I’ve seen your Jellyfish tank at the W hotel in Fort Lauderdale and it’s amazing! My question is, what was your most challenging aquarium build and why?
JeffTurner: basement tanks, you have got to get the glass through small windows and build them in place
JeffTurner: Basement tanks, you got to get the glass through a small window and then build em downstairs, never to be taken out again, other than in pieces!
JeffTurner: internet is slow here in Atlanta
Crazygar: When is your connecting flight?
JeffTurner: 9 pm and we are three gates away so can leave in 15 minutes
Crazygar: Besides, we are all aquarists, we understand patience Jeff, you’ve been a real sport this evening!
JeffTurner: No problem and happy to share our experiences
Crazygar: My GF and I have a 53GAL tank drilled and waiting to be setup Marine. Like yourself, we are into Gobies, Basslets and my favourite Grammas. Other than the usual, what oddities would you recommend from these species that would be considered different but easy to keep?
JeffTurner: building aquariums is a passion of mine, and our team, and we endeavor to do the best every time
JeffTurner: We saw some rweally great Sargassium Triggers in Bimini this past week, planktavoires for sure
JeffTurner: Jawfish too, yellowheads are great but need a deep sand, rubble area
JeffTurner: they are calling our plane time to goooooo!!!!!!
Crazygar: Ok, bye, don’t miss your flight!
Crazygar: Thanks for joining us!
JeffTurner: thank you
Crazygar: Well folks, this has been the weirdest Interview that I have conducted to date. I would like to thank Jeff Turner once again for being a trooper through all this. Plane Delays, missing files, slow Internet but none the less, he’s been a real sport. I would also like to apologize to all that were wishing to ask more questions. But I think Jeff is looking forward to MACNA which is being hosted in lovely Des Moines Iowa this year.
Crazygar: Since y’all are a quiet bunch and the guest of honor has finally managed his flight to Des Monines, I will now conclude the Interview session for tonight. Once again I’d like to thank Jeff Turner for hanging in there through a series of disasters and the good folks at TFH for their continued support of this wonderful hobby.
Crazygar: Please do check out http://reefaquariadesign.com/ so see the wonderful things they do and have currently done! Thanks all and have a safe and good evening.