2020 MASNA Aquarist of the Year and MASNA Award Recipients Announced

26 Aug, 2020

Tal Sweet (left), Aquarist of the Year, and Alf Jacob Nilsen, MASNA Award recipient for 2020.

Tal Sweet (left), Aquarist of the Year, and Alf Jacob Nilsen, MASNA Award recipient for 2020.

via Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA)

MASNA is proud to announce that Alf Jacob Nilsen is the 2020 MASNA Award recipient for his foundational role in developing, documenting, and communicating processes and advancements in the marine aquarium industry. Tal Sweet is the 2020 MASNA Aquarist of the Year for his years promoting marine ornamental aquaculture and fostering diversity and inclusion within the aquarium community.

MASNA will be awarding its annual MASNA Aquarist of the Year and MASNA Award to the recipients at the MACNA 2020 Saturday Night Awards Ceremony on August 29th, 2020, at MACNA 2020 Phoenix Rising.

Annually, MASNA awards the prestigious MASNA Award and Aquarist of the Year Award to deserving individuals for their work in helping shape and influence the marine aquarium hobby in a way that positively contributes to the ongoing sustainability of the hobby to the future marine environment. Together with MASNA, previous recipients of the MASNA Award confer to decide who from a selection of nominees has given the most to the hobby and industry to be deserving of that year’s awards.

From the Marine Breeding Initiative Workshop in 2013: 2020's Aquarist of the Year, Tal Sweet (left), with the first ever MASNA Award recipient, Martin A. Moe, Jr., who was recognized in 1995.

From the Marine Breeding Initiative Workshop in 2013: 2020’s Aquarist of the Year Tal Sweet (left) with the first-ever MASNA Award recipient, Martin A. Moe, Jr., who was recognized in 1995.

Tal Sweet – MASNA Aquarist of the Year, 2020

Tal first became involved in the marine aquarium hobby in the late 1980s. Back then hobbyists in the metro-Detroit area were just beginning to experiment with keeping corals alive, with little success. In those days, undergravel filters and incandescent lighting were still common. Tal had two aquariums set up. One housed an octopus for over a year and another held a wrasse that he brought back from Hawaii in a carry-on cooler.

After an extended break, he got back into the hobby in 2006 and became a director for the Marinelife Aquarium Society of Michigan (MASM). In 2008 he was bitten by the Captive Breeding bug after hearing Dr. Frank Marini speak at a MASM event. It was an interest in Captive Breeding that led him to push for the founding of the Marine Breeding Initiative (MBI). Since then, the MBI has become one of the largest databases for captive breeding information in the world.

Tal Sweet with the 2020 Aquarist of the Year Award Plaque, on location in MIchigan.

Tal Sweet with the 2020 Aquarist of the Year Award Plaque, on location in MIchigan.

Tal also created the MBI Workshop, which was the first event of its kind; it brought together hobbyist breeders, commercial breeders, and professional aquarists from around North America and the UK in an intimate setting to discuss the latest developments in Captive Breeding. 2019 was the tenth year of this annual event. 2020 would have been the eleventh, but as with most other things this year, it has been postponed until 2021.

Tal has spoken about captive breeding at clubs around the US, Canada, UK, and Australia. He has also written for various publications, including CORAL Magazine and Reef Hobbyist Magazine. The annual list of captive-bred fishes, and now inverts, published by CORAL Magazine is another project that Tal works on each year with Matthew Pedersen. This list endeavors to keep an up-to-date list of all species that have been bred in captivity and their availability to the trade.

As a member of the LGBT+ community, Tal created Rainbow Reefers for MACNA 2018 to bring members of the community and their allies together to share their stories and love of the marine aquarium hobby. The group meeting was well attended and appreciated by those who were there. Tal feels it is important for every member of the hobby to feel welcomed and free to be themselves without fear of discrimination.

In 2019 the MBI Council awarded him with its “X Prize” for “Dedication to advancing the ideals of science, research, knowledge, friendly competition, fellowship, and transparency among those who culture marine organisms by helping to create the MBI.” Tal was also awarded the MBI Award by the MBI Council.

A pat on the back for a decade of marine ornamental aquaculture stewardship, Matt Pedersen (right) had the honor of presenting Tal Sweet with the Marine Breeding Initiative's X-prize and MBI Awards at the 2019 conference.

A pat on the back for a decade of marine ornamental aquaculture stewardship. Matt Pedersen (right) had the honor of presenting Tal Sweet with the Marine Breeding Initiative’s X-prize and MBI Awards at the 2019 conference.

At home, Tal’s 90-gallon reef tank houses fish and corals, some of which he’s had since 2006. Besides aquatic things, Tal loves to travel, scuba dive, cook, host dinner parties, and he’s a huge sci-fi geek. Oh, and he likes cheese! Tal has loved Halloween since he was a kid. He creates new life-size props for the neighborhood to enjoy every year. He is also the proud parent of three felines: Oliver, Felicity, and Sasha.

Alf Jacob Nislen, the 2020 MASNA Award recipient.

Alf Jacob Nilsen, the 2020 MASNA Award recipient.

Alf Jacob Nilsen – MASNA Award, 2020

Alf Jacob Nilsen is a biologist, teacher, and author of many articles and books, including The Modern Coral Reef Aquarium series, which he has co-authored with Svein A. Fosså in German, Swedish, and English.

World-traveler and photographer Alf Jacob Nilsen, camera in tow.

World-traveler and photographer Alf Jacob Nilsen, camera in tow.

In Alf’s own words, “My involvement and work with the marine aquarium (coral reef aquarium) is a part of my interest in biology. It was during my student period (Stavanger and Bergen, Norway) that I began working with marine aquariums and among other came in close contact with German marine hobbyists (including the late Peter Wilkins). At the same time, I took a great interest in the biology of tropical corals reefs and corresponded with several scientists world-wide over this topic. My first visit to a coral reef (the Maldives) came in 1980 and was a huge motivation for future work both with coral reef biology in general as well as with techniques and biology of corals reef aquarium. It was in the late seventies when I also first met my good friend and co-author Svein A. Fosså.

“Together with Svein A. Fosså, I have published a book series titled Korallrevsakvariet (four volumes in Swedish), Das Korallenriff Aquarium (six volumes in German by Birgit Schmettkamp Verlag, Bornheim, Germany) and The Coral Reef Aquarium (four volumes in English, Birgit Schmettkamp Verlag, Bornheim, Germany). The German edition was expanded with two volumes published in German in 2010 and 2016 (by Natur & Tier Verlag, Münster, Germany). In total, the series has sold some 110,000 copies worldwide. The books try to link coral reef science and general biology with the coral reef aquarium, as it is my honest belief that the average marine hobbyist needs some understanding of biology and coral reef ecology to be really successful and to understand what goes on in a small captive reef. They also try to describe the fundamental techniques needed for maintaining a coral reef aquarium over time and to grow corals in captivity. During our work with the book series I have corresponded with hundreds of scientists worldwide and visited scientific institutions, public aquariums, and fellow aquarists. Preparations for the books have also included visits to reefs in Indonesia, the Philippines, the Maldives, Australia (GBR), Fiji, Cook Islands, Hawaii, and Florida. Without the help of many people – scientist, a fellow aquarist, a divemaster, the director of a public aquarium, or the owner of an aquarium shop – my work could never have been a reality!

Alf Jacob Nilsen makes a new friend on one of his many adventures around the world.

Alf Jacob Nilsen makes a new friend on one of his many adventures around the world.

“As photography is a major interest, private biological and aquarium-related photos have been used in articles, books, and lectures. Today some of these can be seen on www.biophoto.net (a site designed to show biological and nature photos, not exclusively aquarium photos).”

To learn more about the MASNA Aquarist of the Year visit: https://masna.org/masna-programs/aquarist-of-the-year

To learn more about the MASNA Award visit: https://masna.org/masna-programs/the-masna-award/

About MASNA, Marine Aquarium Societies of North America

MASNA is a non-profit organization composed of marine aquarium clubs, individual hobbyists and industry partners from North American and abroad, totaling several thousand individuals.

MASNA’s goals are to:

  • Educate our members with online and published material, the MACNA conference, and other sanctioned events,
  • Assist in forming and promoting the growth of clubs within the hobby while ensuring a sustainable future for the marine environment,
  • Support the efforts to eliminate abuses in collecting and transporting marine organisms through education, assistance, and encouragement, and
  • Encourage the ethical growth of the marine aquarium hobby and support captive breeding/propagation efforts.

MASNA’s charter and additional information about MASNA can be found at https://masna.org/aboutus.

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Editor’s Note: Be sure to register for and attend the online MACNA 2020: Phoenix Rising, which includes roundtable interviews with both Alf Jacob Nilsen and Tal Sweet.

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About the author

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.

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