This year’s Aquatic Experience-Chicago was an event to remember. Putting on this size and scale of a conference for the very first time was definitely challenging but everything came together for an amazing weekend. Between the wide range of retailers, aquarium keepers, equipment specialists, beginners, hobbyists, and high-powered speakers, The Aquatic Experience-Chicago was absolutely the place to be this year for industry professionals and enthusiasts alike.
There were almost too many highlights throughout the conference to give them all justice but one of the definite visitor favorites was the Kid’s Aquarium Contest. Young people aged 5-16 were asked to design a fish aquarium that reflected their personalities. Each contestant was given a 10-gallon freshwater aquarium kit sponsored by one of our many aquatic retailers to make that design a reality. Upon arrival at the conference, the contestants were then paired off with our Aquatic Experience team members to prepare personalized habitats for their fish and learn about proper care and maintenance of their aquarium. These kids created some incredible aquariums with themes like an underwater skate park, a dragon duel, and an underwater “Swim In” theater.
There were also presentations by saltwater aquarium industry experts like Charles Delbeek, Julian Sprung, Richard Ross, Jake Adams, and Sanjay Joshi, and of course the “Live Shark Encounter” with diver and shark expert, Philip Peters. Philip has spent the last 18 years diving into tanks with live sharks in front of excited crowds, all to bring attention to how important these animals are to their ecosystems. Along with the show, Philip led a captivating presentation on the science and lore of sharks and even brought along a full sized diving cage that visitors were invited to step inside of.
And lets not forget the incredible presentation by our keynote speaker, aquatic ecologist Dr. Zeb Hogan of National Geographic’s hit television program, “Monster Fish”. Dr. Hogan has traveled the world in his mission to save critically endangered fish and their ecosystems. He focuses primarily on freshwater conservation in places like Cambodia where he would work with fishermen to release vulnerable species after they had been studied and tagged to track their migration patterns. He was a wealth of information and wowed the audience with pictured of the truly mega-fish he has encountered throughout his career. Pet Age Magazine quoted Dr. Hogan as saying of the event that, “There is an underlying passion for fish that I don’t see very often.”
We also used the Aquatic Experience-Chicago to raise funds for three incredibly important organizations: the Coral Restoration Foundation, Pets in the Classroom, and PIJACS’s Marine Ornamental Defense Fund. These three groups embody the type of conservation and education work that all aquarium and aquatic ecology enthusiasts support today. In a series of daily raffles that ended up being absolute visitor favorites, we gave out prizes that included desktop aquariums, a 90-gallon freshwater setup, and a Neo-therm heater and Neo-flow pump. The raffles ended up being a great way to get the crowds excited and involved while actively raising awareness for aquatic conservation.
In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, World Pet Association President, Doug Poindexter remarked on the uniqueness of such an event saying that, “To our knowledge, it’s the first time it’s ever been done. There have been saltwater-only shows or freshwater-only shows or pond events, but nothing that has incorporated everything fish into one location or one show.” It was a remarkable experience to be a part of such an excited and experienced aquatic community for a weekend. We look forward to organizing more events like this one and to bringing the best of our industry together again under one roof.