Homegrown Coral Takes Center Stage at Reef-A-Palooza

Yvonne Beltzer

Something fishy was going on this past weekend at the Orange County Fairgrounds and Exposition Hall.

It was called "Reef-A-Palooza" -- not to be confused with any similarly named Proposition 19/reefer events. This event was all about "reefs" -- manmade reefs and tropical fish, a fast growing hobby.

As many as 3,000 hobbyists and fish aficionados made their way into the hall where the booths showed off a myriad of colorful corals and aquaculture techniques.

The event is more a marketplace than an educational conference -- but it does have its educational side.

Four years ago, the World Wildlife Fund and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council got a coalition of conservation groups and industry representatives together to encourage ocean coral reef preservation.

This weekend's show underscores such efforts.

Reef-A-Palooza is a project of the Southern California Marine Aquarium Society, which is dedicated to propagating responsible hobby activities. In other words, these hobbyists are growing and trading their own tank-grown coral, not raiding ocean coral beds.

Aquaculture appears to be a growing trend since it can be done just about anywhere someone can fit in a tank and the needed equipment.

The show began seven years ago when former second grade teacher Marc Trimble decided to host an event in his backyard in Santa Ana. He invited fellow hobbyists to come by and show off their coral specimens.

Trimble who was later the president and is now the treasurer of the Southern California Marine Aquarium Society, watched the event grow and grow.

In 2007, it moved to the OC Fairgrounds and attracted some 1,000 hobbyists.

This year, three times as many people came to interact with other hobbyists, equipment manufacturers and distributors and non-profit organizations that encourage ocean conservation.

Among the groups preaching conservation were representatives of NOAA -- the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is working to improve and sustain coral reefs around the world.

Without a doubt, coral reefs around the world are in trouble today, at risk from development, pollution and reef raiders.

The show itself encourages reef conservation while giving hobbyists alternatives that allow them to enjoy to beauty of coral in their own homes without adding to ocean reef destruction.

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