Last week I had the pleasure of visiting one of the world’s premier seahorse aquaculture facilities: Seahorse Savvy, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. The visit materialized when I realized that a pilgrimage to my homeland of Long Island would take me within a few miles of the hatchery. I reached out to owners, Kyle Martin and Alyssa Gabriel who were gracious enough to invite me for a farm tour and lunch. Not surprisingly, we had so much to talk about, that we completely forgot about lunch and before I knew it, two hours had passed and I had to rush out the door to make my ferry connection in Lewes, Delaware.
As I entered their home, I was met by a very friendly boxer named Layla and a dazzling array of marine-themed décor, including a wicker octopus and plenty of seahorse art, but the crown jewel of the collection was a beautiful reef tank recessed into the living room wall. Alyssa, Kyle, and Layla (mainly, Layla) led me through a door into a behind-the-scenes access area for the tank. My jaw dropped as I looked around this space and it dawned on me what I was seeing. This converted garage was a functioning hatchery. Not just any hatchery, but the most compact, efficient, elegant home aquaculture operation I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen more than a few).
The broodstock tanks consisted of a variety of large glass aquaria containing, primarily Hippocampus erectus and H. reidi. They use inexpensive plastic tubs plumbed into multiple small systems for rearing and growout. Each system has a mechanical prefilter, biofilter, protein skimmer, and UV sterilizer. My head was spinning as I knew there was no chance I’d have enough time to ask all the questions that were coming to me. Two things that really stood out to me were the impeccable cleanliness of the tanks and the staggering number of seahorses. I don’t know whether the tanks were so spotless because their systems keep nutrient levels incredibly low, or because they spend all day cleaning and siphoning. I’m guessing, some combination.
Kyle explained that they were about to move the entire operation again, in order to accommodate the next phase of their expansion. The first move came in 2015 when they realized that the demands of a home hatchery on the physical home were not compatible with a rental house. That’s when they decided to purchase a home, or as they probably viewed it: a garage with attached living space. The next stop on our tour was the nearly-complete phase 3 of Seahorse Savvy: a two-story, 1500- square foot building on their property. I just mentioned that their converted garage contained the most awesome home hatchery I’ve ever seen. Well their new construction is orders of magnitude more impressive. They really thought of everything: FRP-coated walls, epoxy floors, waterproof outlets, whole-house dehumidifier, circulation fans, surveillance cameras, slop sinks, large mixing vats….they even integrated a state-of-the-art entertainment system so they can listen to music and watch movies during those very long work days (and nights). They expect this facility to be fully operational by late summer, so watch for even more of their beautifully robust seahorses in the trade in the near future.
Broodstock room on the first floor of the new facility
In case you’re not already convinced that Alyssa and Kyle are living an aquarium hobbyist’s fairytale, I should probably mention just a little bit of their back story. They met while working for Pacific East Aquaculture, a renowned aquarium store in Maryland, while attending college. They started raising seahorses on the side and selling them, mostly through Pacific East at first, but the superior quality of their seahorses created a demand that required ever increasing time and energy, so they founded Alyssa’s Seahorse Savvy. Kyle proposed to Alyssa (successfully) during a marine-themed tour of the Southeast, including the Florida Keys, the Georgia Aquarium, and Sea World, following MACNA 2013 in Miami. They introduced their seahorses on the national stage at MACNA 2015 in Washington D.C. which is where I met them.
Integral members of the home clean-up crew, Layla, Reba, and Grendel