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Partnership between Headwaters Science Center and Reef Club bring exhibit to life

Garrett Meyers has never seen the ocean.

So, he decided to bring the ocean to his home in Bemidji, the city furthest from it.

Inside his home sit a 125-gallon, a 10-gallon and a 30-gallon saltwater aquarium. These small-scale oceans keep Meyers' interest consumed in keeping his sea life sustainable within the glass walls.

Meyers' fascination with marine aquariums started with a visit to a pet shop in Grand Forks, N.D., 10 years ago. Meyers took one look at a 75-gallon saltwater aquarium and just had to try it out.

Today, Meyers is the founder of the Northern Minnesota Reef Club, a club for saltwater enthusiasts from all over northern Minnesota. Since he started his club three years ago, he and his fellow club members have connected with saltwater aquarium hobbyists from all over the Midwest.

Meyers has even started an online forum called "Frozen Ocean," named as a quip for the hobbyists who choose to have tropical saltwater aquariums in Northern Minnesota.

Last year Meyers received a phone call from Susan Hazard, a member of the Headwaters Science Center, asking if he would help the HSC set up a 210-gallon marine tank that was donated by Michelle Rinke, along with a pile of aquarium accessories.

HSC Executive Director Laddie Elwell said that after a class trip to the HSC, Rinke, a teacher from Menahga, Minn., asked the HSC if it would be interested in taking her 210-gallon tank.

Meyers agreed to help set up the exhibit, along with several other Reef Club members.

The saltwater exhibit is a cooperative venture between the HSC and the Reef Club. Reef Club members have helped determine and order equipment, position the tank's placement in the HSC and assisted in fundraising efforts for the project.

Meyers built the covering above and below the exhibit with donations from Bemidji Building Center. Reef Club member Jason Vogel of Bemidji also helped with exhibit's plumbing.

The HSC asked for donations from the public to cover the costs of starting the exhibit. Each person who donated received a paper fish with their name on it, which was then displayed on the HSC's street-facing windows.

After months of asking the public for donations, the HSC received more than $1,000 to cover startup costs of the marine.

Managing a 210-gallon saltwater exhibit is not cheap or easy to do.

The exhibit, which requires synthetic sea salt, is almost 100 percent living. It includes coral, anemones, chromis, skunk cleaner shrimp, clown fish, a yellow tang fish, and more.

"You have to be careful about what you put together," said Cammie Vogel of Bemidji, a Reef Club member. "Some fish don't get along with others. Some coral like more light than others."

The hard part of managing the marine exhibit is the cleaning process. Reef Club member Phillip Nelson of Bemidji was instrumental in setting up the tank's protein skimmer, a filter which removes fish waste.

"Basically, what it looks like is the foam you see along the shoreline of an ocean," Nelson said. "It removes organic waste to make cleaner water in a natural way."

To see exactly how it works, a visit to the HSC is the best option for people.

The Reef Club plans to continue to train HSC staff with the set-up and management of the saltwater exhibit.

Many of the members remain hopeful that the exhibit will persuade more people to get into the hobby of marine aquariums and understanding coral reefs as a living community of plants and animals.

For more information about the Northern Minnesota Reef Club, visit