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I’m a fish breeder and aquaculture researcher. I’ve been culturing saltwater aquarium fish for sale and research since 1996.
I also photograph things I’m passionate about: nature, the ocean, and marine life. My favorite subjects are sharks, reef fish, and fish larvae. I’m a fish nut!
My leisure-time passion is windsurfing.
This site hosts my research (previously on rcthawaii.com and bluereefphoto.org/blog) and my photography (previously on bluereefphoto.org).
My path to breeding fish started thanks to my parents, Ulrich and Ursula. Both were biologists working with tropical fish (they developed tropical fish food); I spent a good part of my youth roaming around their laboratory outfitted with rows and rows of fish tanks. It was hard to avoid having a love for fish rub off on me.
When I was seven, we left the landlocked German countryside and settled in the Bahamas. What a change! For a kid that loved nothing more than to plop around in ponds and play with fish, the move to the coral reef couldn’t have been more exciting! I learned to keep saltwater aquariums and, whenever possible, was in the sea observing and collecting reef animals for my aquariums.
My parents both loved to spend time in the ocean as well. In fact, my mom taught me how to windsurf when I was just 10 years old. The sport was just beginning and quite challenging for a kid to learn—especially with heavy equipment that barely planed and often broke. But, then as now, windsurfing gave me so much on so many levels. It’s dynamic and complete exercise. It relieves stress. It brings freedom and elevates the soul. It forges a closer and more positive relationship with nature. It’s adrenaline. I was hooked and am still hooked today. Naish Hawaii has supported my windsurfing addiction since 1998.
When I was 15, I started boarding school and thus made my move to the United States. I focused the next seven years on my education and spent the holidays improving my windsurfing skills. A freshwater tank in my dorm room and a parasitology study, in which I collected sunfish from the local lakes and kept them in the laboratory for examination, were my only experiences keeping fish during that time.
I was first exposed to breeding fish while on a college field trip to the Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB). One evening, a graduate student (Brett Danilowitz) invited us to watch the hatching of domino damselfish eggs he was raising for a research project. The larvae were barely visible. This 2-mm sliver of protoplasm would turn into damselfish? Incredible! The experience set my life’s path. A year later, I moved to Hawaii.
Before long I was on my first dive. I remember swimming over a large coral head in about 60 feet of water. A flash of intense blue appearing from a crevice below suddenly caught my eye. I swam down to investigate and was welcomed by a striking iridescent blue and orange fish. It was Potter’s Angelfish—my first encounter with a Centropyge species, above or below the water. I was smitten. A few months later I introduced three Potter’s into a 55-gallon community tank set up in my bedroom. Little did I know that these little angelfish would become my work, my play, and everything in between for many years to come.
I specialized in my newfound interest in graduate school with a degree in aquaculture. My thesis paper was on the reproductive biology of the dwarf angelfishes, the Centropyge. The research involved spawning Centropyge species and evaluating fecundity under different nutritional and environmental conditions. I also worked at HIMB’s aquaculture lab. Most of our research involved food fish; nonetheless, I experienced raising a tiny egg through the larval stages to a miniature adult. This was intriguing stuff and all new to me. I wanted to apply what I had learned to marine ornamentals—to the animals I had cared for and observed for so many years.
After graduate school, I took on a part-time research position with Hagen. The pet and aquarium products company needed someone to evaluate and expand its saltwater product lines for marine ornamentals, specifically aquarium filters, feeds, and water conditioners. The testing was to be done at my own facility. Needless to say, my first tank inhabitants were broodstock— a pair of maroon clownfishes. In March of 1997, the pair spawned and I set out to raise my first batch of eggs. Fifteen days later, I was the proud papa of one gorgeous little maroon juvenile.
Obviously, hands-on breeding experience was still lacking here, having started out with over 500 eggs. I needed to develop that wet thumb. I read everything that I could get a hold of on the subject of clownfish propagation, and breeding ventures improved. In the summer of 1997, my first “ball” (show photo) of clownfish juveniles was produced. What a vision! Now I wanted to move on to other, more difficult species. Since at the time the literature was limited to information on breeding clownfishes and neon gobies, I developed my own techniques through trial and error and experimentation.
Over the next two years, I produced orchid dottybacks, canary blennies, harlequin shrimp, the green-banded gobies, and the blackcap basslets, in addition to several clownfish species. This was exciting work, but it was time to move on. In the back of my mind, I always wanted to follow up on my thesis work and complete the life cycle of a pygmy angelfish. No Centropyge had ever been raised in captivity, though not from a lack of effort. I too had dabbled with the larvae here and there over the years, but without much success. With a more polished wet thumb, I set out on my new mission. In 2001, I raised the first batch of Centropyge larvae into juveniles. I saw an opportunity to fund my research and follow my mission—preservation through propagation. That same year, I founded Reef Culture Technologies.
A short time later, Koji Wada, owner of Blue Harbor Aquarium Company in Japan, approached me. A hobbyist in Japan had offered to donate his pair of Centropyge interrupta for me to breed. Centropyge interrupta is a gorgeous, rare Centropyge species that’s quite valuable. Clearly, I did not turn him down. The rest is history.