ReefSmart Aquariums is a dream come true for Maria Campos.
“We’ve always had fish tanks in our home,” said the proprietor of one of the area’s newest business ventures, tucked amid a row of storefronts on the south side of Hammocks Plaza off SW 147th Avenue in West Kendall.
“We knew it would be a risk to start up a business in a down-economic cycle,” she said. “But I talked it over with my son, George, and we both agreed. Why not; let’s take the chance.
“With his help and that of other friends, we put together display racks, painted and installed them, purchased our inventory and did everything we could by ourselves to start up,” she recalled. “We opened our door in May 2011, just one year ago.”
International trading in colorful marine organisms from coral reefs has become big business over the past 15 years, according to a New York Times article, noting: “New lighting and filtration technology [has] enabled hobbyists to set up saltwater aquariums at home. According to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, one million of the world’s 1.5 million aquarium hobbyists live in the United States and Americans buy more than half of all marine aquarium fish sold globally.”
With that popularity, ReefSmart has attracted a growing clientele of veteran saltwater aquarium owners not only for needed supplies but exotic tropical fish. It also attracts newcomers who want a 10-gallon tank to try out the hobby.
“We’re serving collectors who need supplies and look to expand to larger tanks and different species of tropicals,” Maria said. “A driver’s license bureau
just a few doors from us is giving us walk-in traffic, too.”
A 175-gallon tank brilliantly lighted by a fluorescent fixture displays vibrantly colored corals and brightly iridescent reef fish to greet visitors to the 1,700- square-foot store, lined with rows of tanks housing fish of all colors, shapes and sizes.
“We’ve always loved having tropical fish in our home,” Maria added. “Going home, pouring a glass a wine and just sit- ting in front of tropicals in their tank is perfect relaxation for me. It’s the joy of my life.”
That dedication and professional experience guides clients at ReefSmart, essential for a new owner, who needs to know what species are compatible, as well as advanced collectors.
Recalling his first aquarium as a youngster, George Campos, now 28, said, “I brought home a bowl and put my first two freshwater Betta fish inside and watched them fight to a bitter end.”
With his career planned in emergency medical services, George Campos attend- ed the Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue Academy and has recently received certification as an emergency team member, spending spare hours at the store. A married sister, Alejandra, also helps when she can.
While environmental restrictions pro- hibit reef fish or coral collecting from Atlantic or Gulf waters, local tropicals are “really not very hardy survivors,” Maria Campos explained. “Sad to say, offshore waters carry too much pollution for harvesting healthy reef tropicals, even if it was legal to do so.”
Most stock at ReefSmart is supplied by a Los Angeles complex of dealers who keeps Maria on “red eye” flights from MIA to LAX at least once a month, replenishing inventories.
“LA distributors have the most vari- eties from locations overseas,” she said. “Tropicals in demand largely come from Indonesia and Australia, many very rare and costly.”
Among more than 1,000 tropical vari- eties swimming in ReefSmart tanks, George points to an orange-and-black striped Tang, about three inches long, lazily basking in a display tank. A chalked price on the aquarium glass lists it for $200.
“People into tropicals like rarer fish,” he said. “Especially younger ones because you will see the colors change as they grow to adults.”
For the curious, a free quarterly magazine, titled Reef Hobbyist, is available at Campos’ store describing species that vary from “New & Unusual Corals from Western Australia” to “Caribbean Angelfish.”
For the first-time hobbyist, a range of saltwater tanks, colorful but inexpensive tropicals and corals as well as maintenance items and food supplies are available at ReefSmart, open Tuesday-Saturday (closed Monday) from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. For information, visit www.reefsmartacquariums.com or call 305-752-3511.