Robert M. Fenner, 1952-2020

08 May, 2020

Bob Fenner as a budding young southern California marine biologist.

Bob Fenner as a budding young southern California marine biologist.

Robert M. Fenner

A great friend and charter contributor to CORAL Magazine, Robert M. (Bob) Fenner died in his sleep at his home in San Diego, California, on May 7, 2020. His family said the apparent cause of death was a heart attack. He was 67 and actively working as a writer, underwater photographer, aquatics educator, and internet publisher.

Bob is considered to be one of the pioneers of marine aquarium keeping and a champion of the ethical, sustainable collection and husbandry of aquatic animals. His landmark book, The Conscientious Marine Aquarist, is one of the bestselling aquarium titles of all time, with more than 100,000 copies in print.

The founder and driving force behind Wet Web Media, a wide-ranging, long-established, content-rich site and helpline for keepers of marine, brackish water, and freshwater aquariums, Bob was a lifelong teacher who mixed science with wit as he advised aquarists of all skill levels, from rank beginners to professionals at major public aquariums.

Dr. Neale Monks, a British zoologist and writer who worked closely with Bob, said this in a message to CORAL:

“There are others who will be able to explain Bob Fenner’s influence on the marine aquarium hobby, and the aquatics business, and his love for reef diving and underwater photography. But for my part, Bob was a dear friend with whom I worked on a daily basis for almost 15 years, helping to maintain the unique and incomparable WetWebMedia website.

“As idiosyncratic as the man himself, with a layout barely changed since the Stone Age of the Internet, WetWebMedia is a sprawling mass of articles, photographs, and those mailed-in appeals for help he referred to as FAQs.

“Every day he’d tackle questions from aquarists keeping anything from a high-spec reef tank through to a goldfish bowl, and do his best to help them out. He had strong opinions on certain things (Melafix, for one; and text message grammar for another) but what a work ethic he had!

Bob with Wet Web Media collaborator Michelle Lemech at Interzoo in Nuremberg. Bob's caption: "Deutschlund Deutschlund, where da hell are da biers!"

Bob with Wet Web Media collaborator Michelle Lemech at Interzoo in Nuremberg. Bob’s caption: “Deutschlund Deutschlund, where da hell are da biers!

“For a man who lived life to its fullest, who enjoyed his beer, sushi, and late nights out, barely a day went past when he didn’t log into the WWM website. He’d check through the day’s messages, and send out helpful replies in a speedy manner, and on some days there might be twenty or thirty messages, some simple, but others long, rambling, or otherwise difficult to solve.

“God only knows how many fish, frogs, turtles and invertebrates are alive today (or at least lived full and happy lives) thanks to this generous titan of a man. It’s often said after someone passes that they will be irreplaceable, but it isn’t hyperbole here: Bob, you will be missed.”

Bob Fenner: diver, photographer, author, conservationist, sushi lover, chef, and world-class wit. Image by Michelle Lemech.

Bob Fenner: diver, photographer, author, conservationist, sushi lover, chef, and world-class wit. Image by Michelle Lemech.

Posted by Bob Mehen on Bob Fenner’s Facebook page: “Very sad to hear this. His book ‘The Conscientious Marine Aquarist’ was way ahead of it’s time & guided me into the marine hobby in an ethical way and the lessons it gave have followed me back into the freshwater hobby. My few interactions with him showed him to be a kind, supportive & funny man.”

Shared by Jessica Pickering:

“It is with a heavy heart that I have to share this news with you all. I just got off the phone with Bob Fenner’s family and they confirmed that Bob passed in his sleep this morning. They asked me to make this post for all the mutual friends we have in the aquarium and pet fish hobby. There will not be a ceremony anytime soon due to the current state of the world but something will be planned eventually.

“Bob was a force of life all unto himself. His face could light up a room, his knowledge and stories could fill a library, and his generosity certainly touched the entire world. He lived his life to the fullest every day and I am lucky to have been called one of his friends. Bob we will miss you. Rest In Peace.”

“What loss, what a life he led,” said Rob Mougey, Director Emeritus of the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA). “His family plans a future celebration to ‘return his ashes to the sea’ once the current health crisis has passed.”

Bob giving a presentation at MACNA 2018 in New Orleans. He was honored by the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) with the coveted MASNA Award in 2005 for his contributions to the aquarium hobby and trade.

Bob giving a presentation at MACNA 2018 in New Orleans. He was honored by the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) with the coveted MASNA Award in 2005 for his contributions to the aquarium hobby and trade.


Robert M. Fenner, author of
The Conscientious Marine Aquarist: A Commonsense Handbook for Successful Saltwater Hobbyists
Microcosm, 1998
Microcosm/TFH Professional Series, Revised & Updated Edition, 2008

Author Biography

Bob Fenner was a lifelong aquarist with an active and continuing involvement in the academic, journalistic, trade, and hobbyist sides of aquarium keeping. He is a former marine science and aquariology instructor at the University of California and in the California State University system.

Bob was the author of The Conscientious Marine Aquarist and had been a regular contributor to a number of aquarium publications, including CORALFreshwater and Marine Aquarium, Tropical Fish Hobbyist, SeaScope, Pet Dealer, and several foreign hobbyist and business periodicals. He was a speaker and judge at many aquarium conferences and events, with subjects ranging from cyanide collection of reef fishes to koi, shell collecting, and environmental, aquarium trade, hobbyist, and scientific topics.

He worked in all phases of the aquarium business —as a collector, wholesaler, jobber, retailer, hatchery worker, designer, manager, and owner. Bob lived in San Diego, California, and is both an active Hash House Harrier and an avid scuba diver, having completed thousands of dives throughout the Indo-Pacific region, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Baja California, the tropical eastern Pacific, and the shorelines of his home state.

Review by Author Richard Stratton
“Most hobbyists know of Bob from his book The Conscientious Marine Aquarist, a book that I consider a candidate for the best book on the marine hobby ever written.
“I am not alone in my praise for this book. It is typical Fenner, bristling with information in easy-to-understand terminology.”
—Richard F. Stratton


Wet Web Media

The Conscientious Marine Aquarist

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About the author

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Reef To Rainforest

Reef to Rainforest Media, LLC is the publisher of award-winning magazines and books in the fields of aquarium keeping, aquatics, and marine science. It is the English-language publisher of CORAL Magazine and is based in Shelburne, Vermont, USA.


  1. May 08, 2020

    I too was a part of Bob Fenner’s Wet Web Media crew at one time and words are at a loss. He was solely the reason my writing skills improved. If grammar was not correct in my replies, he would let me know about it. He also guided me on how to get some articles published that I had wrote. Fortunately, two of them were bought and published thanks to Bob.

    His generosity could fill a public aquarium and fortunately I had the opportunity to meet him once at a Detroit Conference/show. He is definitely one of a kind and will never be replaced. I hope his Wet Web Media lives on but without him manning the wheel, it just won’t be the same.

  2. May 08, 2020

    I am very shocked to hear this. I met Bob briefly at a conference years ago. He was friendly and approachable, and his humanity and intelligence shone through. Several of his top notch books have been great learning tools for me. I know he will be missed.

  3. May 08, 2020

    Bob was a friend from the moment I met him some 30 years ago. Always making everyone in the room laugh as well as teaching us all whatever he could. Aquarium conferences will never be the same without him. We frequently discussed fish, coral and photography but more often we would talk about great music. I will always appreciate all of the help and advice he lent. Never a preacher of info but always a great sounding board. I’m crushed to hear he’s left us. Rock in peace brother.
    Carl – SDC

    • May 12, 2020

      Carlito that was exactly who Bob was, always receptive and friendly to everyone he met you could never meet a more REAL person who was never full of himself, I feel so LUCKY to have had him in my life and to have experienced his Knowledge, HUMOR, Humanity and Tommy Burger with him.. ( just every once in a while ). Reef In Paradise My Brother !!!!!

  4. Rod
    May 09, 2020

    Yep, befriended me the moment I bumped into him at first MACNA…great guy, original and hard to replace. Rock on Bob!

  5. May 11, 2020

    Sorry to heat of Mr. Fenner’s passing.
    I have kept marine life since 1970 and have a signed copy of Straughan’s Saltwater Aquarium in the Home.
    Right next to it are both editions of The Conscientious Marine Aquarist.
    Although I am nostalgic of the first Robert’s work, the second Robert blazed a trail of relevant and intelligent information that guided us all to become better stewards of the lives which we chose to entrust ourselves.
    Thanks Bob Fenner.

    • May 11, 2020

      Bob Fenner was a pioneer of everything great about this hobby! I’d always considered him the most interesting speaker on the speaker circuits of any marine convention! He didn’t have to demand your attention! You couldn’t avoid giving it to him once he started a conversation!
      In addition, Bob was a great personal friend who will truly be missed! If you are in this hobby and you weren’t fortunate to meet Bob personally, just stick around the hobby for a moment and many things that are Bob Fenner will eventually tear themselves!
      Rest In Peace, my dear Friend!

  6. May 13, 2020

    I will never forget the day we spent visiting stores in Southern California and the countless unforgettable stories that i remember all to well. It was a day i will remember forever. To know you Bob was to love your love for life and friends. I will miss you!!

  7. May 19, 2020

    I just learned today about the news of Mr. Fenner’s passing away. May he rest in peace. I never had the pleasure of meeting him personally but have been priviledged to receive so many replies from him over many years of asking questions at the WWM website. I cherish my copy of TCMA, one of the best books on marine aqua hobby I have read. The world of fish keeping will miss him yearly.

  8. July 19, 2020

    I just learned of Bob’s passing. I first met Bob when he taught a class on aquatic life management. A few years later I worked for his company Aquatic Life Management. He was a truly nice guy and genius about any aquatic life related.

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