Social media images shared with permission from Joe Yaiullo. Video shared publicly available to watch via YouTube, uploaded by Melev's Reef.
It can be argued that one of aquaria’s greatest attributes is that it opens the oceanic world up to those who otherwise would be unable to experience it. As an aquarist that lives over 5 hours from the nearest seashore, I have witnessed firsthand the excitement that adults and children fill with upon witnessing a well-kept reef aquarium. One person who has progressed public outreach, education and appreciation for oceanic ecosystems via incredible aquaria is Joe Yaiullo. Joe is well known as the curator and co-founder of the Long Island Aquarium and its infamous (and world recognized) 20,000-gallon reef aquarium. Not only has Joe’s “tank” inspired the general public to become passionate about oceanic ecosystems, it’s served as a staging point for hobby (and public aquaria) progression. Many methodologies adopted by home aquarists are systems that Joe Yaiullo pioneered in his massive reef display.
In addition to his public outreach accolades, Joe continues to promote reef keeping as a hobby and networks with aquarists. He also serves as Long Island Reef Association’s president, and has for the past 12 years.
This year MASNA (Marine Aquarium Societies of North America) awarded Joe their prestigious “Aquarist of the Year” award. Since 1995 MASNA has been issuing the annual award (the first winner being Martin Moe) making Joe Yaiullo the 22nd aquarist to receive the award. The selection process is unique in that MASNA members submit nominations for whom they think deserves the ATY (Aquarist of the Year) award and a panel of previous years’ winners select whom they feel best deserves it.
According to MASNA, as a child Joe spent most of his time keeping various aquariums and exploring the native marine life around Long Island, New York. Joe carries a Bachelor of Science degree from Long Island University South Hampton College’s marine sciences program and served as the senior aquarist at the New York Aquarium in Brooklyn. In 1987 Joe broke new ground in the relatively new hobby (and public aquarium practice) of reef keeping, and in 1993 created a 1,400-gallon reef tank, which was the largest living reef aquarium in the Western Hemisphere at the time.
It was in 1992 that Joe began to bring his vision of a unique, one of a kind living reef aquarium to life, planning to locate it at Long Island’s east-end. After eight-years of planning, development and execution, Joe’s vision came to fruition with the opening of Atlantis Marine World in Riverhead, NY. Suddenly in 2000 a 20,000 gallon living tropical reef aquarium was open for the public, the second largest reef aquarium in the world at the time Atlantis opened. Then (and still today), in order for the public to see such a thriving aquatic ecosystem, they would have to travel to the other side of the world and embark on an expensive and extensive diving adventure. Not only did Joe’s achievements up the ante for captive reef aquaria, it also brought the practice of reef keeping into the public eye and helped change aquaria forever.
Some of the corals within Joe’s tank (now known as the Long Island Aquarium and Exhibition Center) are in excess of 26 years old. Joe has been a fixture in reef keeping media around the world since 1991 and is sought after for his wisdom, advice and guidance by everyone from home reef keepers to professional aquarists.
Joe’s life story has always been an inspiration to me as an aquarist, largely because we both had a fascination with marine life from an early age. I can remember playing in rivers, lakes and streams around Maryland as a child, collecting various aquatic lifeforms and keeping them in aquaria. I was always focused on creating the best captive environment possible and by the time I was in high school, I was keeping marine aquariums, which at the time were not very publicized or popular. Joe represents the personality that becomes fascinated with the uniqueness of marine life and dedicates their entire life to pushing the boundaries of both our understanding of these unique animals, and our ability to care for them in captivity.
While Joe is most certainly a celebrity in the world of reef aquaria, he remains humble and approachable, consistently offering advice to fellow hobbyists and sharing his aquatic discoveries with the reefing community.
I would encourage any aquarist to check out the Long Island Aquarium in person (even though I’ve never made it there myself) or at the very least, listen to some of Joe’s various talks, articles and videos online. Congratulations to Joe and thanks to all aquarists that continue to push the envelope and share their many discoveries with the aquatics community at large.
Joe Yaiullo awarded MASNA's Aquarist of the Year 2016
While Joe is most certainly a celebrity in the world of reef aquaria, he remains humble and approachable, consistently offering advice to fellow...