Underwater Art

Gibbons Aquaria Inc. creates captivating saltwater, living reef ecosystems for the home.

By Rebecca Mayer Knutsen

Those lucky enough to reef dive or snorkel in Fiji witness a spectacular show starring abundant sea life and brilliant hues. The turquoise waters house the largest coral reef system in the Southwest Pacific, earning the country its distinction as the “soft coral capital of the world.”

When polyps and corals were failing to thrive in her saltwater aquarium, Wendy Stern hired Gibbons Aquaria Inc. to restore balance.

Gibbons Aquaria Inc. in Marion, Massachusetts, brings underwater scenes inspired by Fiji’s sea life indoors. President and owner Warren M. Gibbons designs, installs and maintains saltwater aquariums that mimic the underwater explosion of colorful coral and deep-sea creatures found in the warm waters of Fiji. Gibbons is passionate about his work, bringing vibrant saltwater ecosystems full of sea life into area homes and businesses.

In addition to sea creatures, including anemone, starfish and sea cucumbers, Gibbons Aquaria’s saltwater, living reef ecosystems boast extras such as wave machines, lighting that mimics that of tropical coral reefs, and protein skimmers to pull waste out of the tank. The systems require quite a large footprint, with the tank—available in an array of custom sizes and designs—starring as the focal point in one or more rooms and a filtration system discretely housed in a separate room.


A CALMING PRESENCE IN THE HOME

An aquarium’s live action and bountiful colors serve as a calm escape from life’s daily pressures. “My aquarium brings me a sense of peace and joy after a long day of work, and it’s become a ritual to feed the fish and admire their growth and beauty,” Marion homeowner Wendy Stern explains over the phone one evening as she marveled at her 180-gallon saltwater tank from a desk in her library.

Stern developed a love for saltwater tanks nearly three decades ago with the purchase of a 30-gallon saltwater tank for her son’s first birthday. The home’s current tank was installed by another company, built into a wall that allows viewers to engage from the foyer and the library.

Though the tank has always been remarkable, the polyps, soft corals and hard corals were failing to thrive. That’s when Stern called on Gibbons to overhaul the tank. He changed the lighting, filtration system and flow, and built connections that allow Stern to easily prepare the water to the right temperature and salinity in the basement.

Now, Stern says, “My corals multiply and grow prolifically and the water is crystal clear.” Stern calls the tank a showstopper, explaining that guests often have trouble getting past her front door. Other treasures found in her tank include tangs, a mated pair of clownfish that lay eggs regularly, dwarf angels, brittle starfish, snails and shrimp.

On the flip side, a view of Stern’s saltwater aquarium from the study.

According to Gibbons, 98 percent of his clients enjoy feeding their fish but don’t want to be bothered with the demands of regular maintenance. “Wendy is an exception to the rule,” he says.

Because the upkeep of an aquarium can be time consuming, Gibbons and a team of employees offer preventative maintenance services, which include cleaning and adjusting the filtration system, recalibrating reactors, testing and managing water quality, aquascaping and much more. A monitor system is typically installed to track issues such as changes in temperature, leaks and equipment and power failures, which could prove deadly for the ecosystem.


A REWARDING CAREER

Gibbons’ career path has taken some interesting twists and turns, each one bestowing aquarium know-how that benefits his clients. His adoration for aquariums began at the New England Aquarium in Boston where he worked as an aquarist and managed the Jellyfish Culture Laboratory and Jellies Exhibit, which led him to redesign the jellies exhibits for Europe’s largest public aquarium in Lisbon, Portugal, for the 1998 World Expo.

A few years passed and he accepted a design consultant position with the Ocean Explorium, a marine science discovery center once located in New Bedford. While prompting ecosystems to thrive below the surface, he also became concerned with what was happening above the waterline. Specifically, he quickly learned that guiding his direct reports, mainly young adults from New Bedford, was a hidden talent.

Teaching his employees life skills that would be desirable to future employers ignited another passion that he continues to explore today: as his business continues to flourish, Gibbons has a few ideas percolating about using his aquarium expertise to inspire area youth to build confidence and achieve goals.

All of these experiences kept bringing him back to Gibbons Aquaria, first established in 1996. “I became obsessed with living coral reef aquariums, the most complicated of all aquariums,” he says. “I saw aquariums in restaurants and homes that were nowhere near their potential and installed in a way that made them vulnerable to breakdown.”

So, he began to fill the need for a quality product, and has been doing so ever since with a unique attention to detail. The key to Gibbons’ success? He’s focused as much on providing a beautiful showpiece as he is on ensuring the construction is fail-safe and topnotch. “My aquariums are built with a museum-quality approach,” he says.

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