How long have you been keeping fish?
I can’t remember how old I was when I started, but I couldn’t have been more than ten. Wow, that’s over forty years! Frightening!
What was your first aquarium and what fish did you keep in it?
My aunt bought me my first aquarium and I think it was a Christmas present. In those days, silicone wasn’t used to make aquariums and I remember that the aquarium had a steel structure to hold the glass which was sealed with soft putty that smelled of fish. My first fish were guppies and zebra danios.
What was it that got you hooked on fishkeeping?
I couldn’t say exactly because it was a combination of reasons. I’ve always liked to observe animals in their natural environment but the problem with that is that you only catch a fleeting glimpse of them. In an aquarium I could see the fish without missing a single detail of their lives. I could also see how they reproduced and I found it fascinating!
Which species do you most enjoy keeping and why?
I’ve kept many different species and what I really enjoy is being able to interact fully with my animals to the point where I succeed in getting them to reproduce. I started off with freshwater fish, beginning with guppies and ending up with Angel fish and Discus before moving onto Marines.
Which species haven’t you had a chance to keep yet but dream of having one day?
Several years ago, I kept a Mediterranean octopus which grew really fast. After that, I became fascinated with the intelligence of cephalopods and I dream of keeping cuttlefish. I’ve seen the occasional specimen and dwarf cuttlefish eggs in Spain, but I’ve never taken the plunge and bought them.
What pearl of wisdom would you give to first-time fishkeepers?
First of all, that a fish isn’t a toy. It’s an animal that can feel and that needs looking after. With this in mind, fishkeeping is a hobby that gives tremendous satisfaction but it’s important to be aware that if we don’t give fish the respect they deserve, they won’t reveal their full splendour. Above all, you need to have patience and empathy, although I know it’s not easy to put yourself in the shoes of a fish!
What was your most memorable fishkeeping experience?
Without doubt, it was when I discovered that my attempts to breed moon jellyfish had been successful and the polyps had started to strobilate. It’s not an easy process and there’s also not much literature on the subject which can be easily consulted, so I used trial and error and tried an infinite number of variables until I finally got lucky!
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned since joining Maidenhead Aquatics?
I haven’t been at Maidenhead Aquatics for very long but in this short period I’ve gained a broader perspective on fishkeeping. When you keep an aquarium at home, you concentrate on the few species you have in it and you’re not aware of the enormous variety of species that are on display in all our stores - each of which has its own peculiarities and particular charm.
What’s your favourite aspect of your work at Maidenhead Aquatics?
That the famous Confucius saying “Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” is very true. I spend the day surrounded by aquariums, looking after and observing fish and corals. I get the chance to tell customers about my experiences and give them advice on how to keep their aquariums … and on top of all that, I get paid!
What question do customers ask you most often?
“Are they real?” When customers see the jellyfish we have on display at our store they’re usually perplexed and don’t know what to think. I often hear them discussing amongst themselves as to whether or not they’re real and I love seeing the look of surprise on their faces and how fascinated they are when I tell them that they are indeed real and that they’re also relatively easy to keep.
Which aquatic habitat, like the Amazon or the Red Sea, would you most like to visit?
Lots, without doubt. However if I had to pick only one favourite, I think I would choose the Great Barrier Reef. Not just because of its singularity and diversity, but especially because of the seasonal bleaching it’s suffering, sparking fears that sadly, in the not too distant future, it’ll be impossible to visit the Reef because it will no longer exist.
What’s the best customer you ever had and why?
That’s a difficult question to answer because I believe that every customer, with their own particular needs, can bring me something positive. Their doubts, questions or preferences make me see that there are different approaches to fishkeeping. I give the same importance to a child who can’t decide between a pair of guppies or a congo puffer which he found amusing and who, after hearing my advice, walks away happily with his first guppies, as I do to an expert with whom I can exchange ideas on how best to feed a sun coral.
What’s the most rewarding experience you’ve had at Maidenhead Aquatics?
It’s immensely rewarding when a customer returns to the store and tells you that he was able to resolve his problem thanks to the advice you gave him.
What’s the most unique species you’ve ever cared for at Maidenhead Aquatics?
Moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita). I’m very happy to breed them for the Guildford store where they’re proving to be a great attraction. Not a single customer enters the store without noticing them. I’m proud to have helped our store become one of the very few places in the UK where you can find them. They’re mostly found in public aquariums.
Describe the trickiest fishkeeping problem you were ever able to solve for a customer
There’s always a solution to technical problems. If I don’t know what that solution is, then I’m sure that one of my colleagues does and between us we’ll succeed in helping the customer walk away satisfied. What’s really challenging is restoring a customer’s faith in himself after he’s suffered a major disaster with his aquarium and believes that he’s not cut out for this hobby. But fortunately, we’re successful there too!
What’s your secret fishkeeping “top tip”?
Observation and empathy. We will only know how to care for our pets if we understand what they need and when they need it. And it’s the same whether you keep a horse, a dog or a coral.
How many aquariums do you currently keep at home, and what are these?
Since coming to the UK in August, I only keep a moon jellyfish breeding system. However, until then I had a reef tank and a freshwater planted tank as well as jellyfish, clown fish and other fish breeding systems.