Florida Keys Business
Sunday, August 11, 2013
Aquariums bring the underwater world inside

With this island chain's proximity to offshore reefs, aquariums, particularly the saltwater variety, are popular in homes, resorts and restaurants.

Buying and setting up a tank can be as easy or tasking as one wants. It can be as small as a 10-gallon tank or as large as a home entertainment center, with pricetags that follow suit.

Plantation Key residents Lee and Janice Riemer recently took interest in collecting sea life. The couple installed a 180-gallon tank in their bayfront home.

Dealing now with poor eyesight, Lee Riemer has to get close to the aquarium to see the active fish, but he says it's worth it.

"It's really great for small kids," he added.

His wife convinced him to take up the hobby after the Chicago couple changed their status from snowbirds to year-round Keys residents two years ago.

Early on, the Riemers made a freshman mistake by not having a backup power source for their aquarium.

"My wife nagged at me for years to get one every hurricane season," Riemer said.

One morning, the couple arose to find their electricity had gone off during the night and all of their fish were floating at the top of the water. A less-expensive alternative to a generator is battery-powered aerators, which can be found at hardware stores, tackle shops and pet stores.

Keeping large aquariums clean and in good condition can be tasking.

That's when the Riemers call Joe Guenther, of Key Largo's Sanctuary Aquarium, who makes a living selling, building and maintaining customized aquariums.

Stocked in some of Guenther's accounts are Hawaiian yellow tang, powder blue yang and maroon clownfish, among other sought-after fish.

The Guenthers are well-known in the Upper Keys aquarium business, with many accounts inside the private Ocean Reef Club and throughout the region. Their company also maintains film producer Jon Landau's 8,000-gallon outdoor fish pond in Islamorada.

At the waterfront home of Ocean Reef's John Boll, they maintain a 1,000-gallon tank. His crew regularly runs hoses from the aquarium to the bay in order to change out water in the aquarium. Tanks that size usually get serviced twice per week.

His team likes to challenge each other to be the best tank cleaner. Using a magnetic system, his crew can wipe the tank's outside glass with a sponge while its twin on the inside follows along.

"You can tell I did this side," a playful Jacyln Johnson said at one of the aquariums inside an Ocean Reef restaurant.

Johnson, a Wright State College graduate and Islamorada resident, is interning with the Guenthers for the summer. Part of her job includes checking the acidity of water in the saltwater tanks.

Aquariums have also been widely sought by those wanting to reduce their stress or relax. Earlier this year, British tabloids reported pop star Lady Gaga spent $60,000 on an aquarium to help her as she recovered from hip surgery.

Pediatricians and dentists serving children often set up aquariums in their offices to ease nerves. Parents of autistic children often own aquariums.

In addition to the custom-made habitats offered by Guenther, small salt and freshwater tanks can be set up with help from the staffs at Keys Kritters in Key Largo or Pet Shop Paradise in Islamorada or My Fish Shop in Marathon.

A 20- to 25-gallon saltwater tank that fits on a countertop can be set up for around $200, according to local retailers. The more coral, rare fish or features added to tha aquarium, the more money one will have to invest.

jgore@keysnews.com

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