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The Marine Breeding Initiative Workshop

7 day countdown to mbi pic

What is the MBI?

In a time many years ago, when it was very difficult to find information about breeding marine organisms, the MarineLife Aquarium Society of Michigan (MASM) started a project called the Marine Breeding Initiative (MBI).  The MBI council was formed and included expert breeders, programmers and aquarists willing to share their experiences and knowledge with any person interested in trying to breed a marine organism.  The goal of the organization was to encourage hobbyists to become part of the captive breeding effort by providing free information and resources to help them succeed.  The actual MBI website / database is built upon the idea of a Marine Breeders Award Program, in which a member can not only read about the achievements of others, but also gain ranking and be awarded points based on the number of species they are able to breed successfully.

How to join the MBI?

Anyone can visit the Marine Breeding Initiative by merely visiting the website.  However, in addition to learning about what methods and protocols are working for other breeders, a person can easily join the site to become part of the marine breeding community.  Members can write their own journals and be awarded points and a new ranking for each species successfully bred. (I’m personally working on my “seahorse breeder status”, which includes a very cute little seahorse by my name).  Each member can publish multiple journals for each species they attempt, and show their progression to success, helping the next reader.  Points are based on completing the 4 milestones of breeding:  spawning, hatching, settlement, and 60 days post settlement, and there are multiple breeder levels to aim for and achieve.  The points and rankings are just a fun perk attached to being a member of such an amazing group of people from every level of the saltwater industry, who care about both the ocean and the hobby. The ultimate benefit to MBI membership is the ability to easily find information and reach out to other breeders, making captive breeding efforts at any level much more successful.

In case that is all the motivation you needed, here’s a link to join 🙂

Why is captive breeding so important?

Recent research has shown the impact that over-collection and pollution can have on the ocean’s fish, coral and natural resources.  Captive breeding provides an alternative way to continue keeping our wonderful aquarium hobby going, without as much damage to the ocean. The more that fish and invertebrates are bred in captivity, the fewer of each will need to taken from the ocean. Captive bred fish are raised in better conditions and specifically for aquariums, so they will also typically not need to be replaced as often.  The MBI site provides help to anyone who wants to try breeding a species in captivity, ensuring a much better chance at success, leading to more and more captive bred species available.  Members can easily learn what has worked for others, and avoid any mistakes they encountered in the learning process.  Breeding any marine organism is not an easy task, but having an idea what to expect can save so much time for those who do want to try.  And each new hobbyist breeder could wind up being the one who is successful with a new species, meaning less of that species collected!

You can read more about pollution, the chain of collection, and how organisms raised in captive conditions specifically for aquariums are more likely to do well in a hobbyist’s tank in some of my other articles. The basic point is that our beautiful ocean is a mess right now. We need to clean it up for more reasons than just acquiring healthy fish for the hobby. But the MBI and other captive breeding efforts play a big part in responsible reef keeping.

It’s important to note that the key word is “OVER”-collection.  There are many collectors and companies using proper equipment and sustainable practices to provide fish and coral to not only the aquarium hobby, but the scientific world too.  Much more so than in areas of collection for other reasons.  Finding solutions like captive breeding to prevent OVER collection is increasingly important, but sustainable collection of broodstock is also important to prevent inbreeding issues.  Hobbyists can be conscious of not adding to possible OVER-collection by buying captive bred fish when possible, and buying from those good vendors if a species has not been bred in captivity yet.  The MBI provides a way for hobbyists to go a step further and be a part of this solution.

What is the MBI workshop?

mbi workshop

The MBI (led by Tal Sweet) decided that breeders needed their own annual event. A "mini macna" so to speak, for breeders to get together with others interested in the latest findings and successes in captive breeding.  So, 9 years ago, the MBI began hosting a workshop that has showcased some of the top marine breeders in the industry, along with larviculturists and anyone doing anything cool in marine breeding.  

The very first workshop was also the first time that Matthew Wittenrich and Matthew Pedersen spoke at the same conference.  In case you've been under a rock, these two men are known as the "Matt's of saltwater breeding". Both are highly regarded for their successes breeding multiple marine species. 

2010 mbi speakers

Matthew Pedersen co-wrote "Banggai Cardinalfish:  A Guide to Captive Care, Breeding & Natural History" with Wittenrich and Ret Talbot, and many other publications about fish care and breeding.  Many of his successes are outlined in journals on the MBI site. Marine biologist Matthew Wittenrich wrote "The Complete Illustrated Breeder's Guide to Marine Aquarium Fishes", but has also written about breeding of mandarins and other fish. Wittenrich co-founded Puma Labs with Nuri Fisher, which recently released the "Gray Poma" (captive bred black velvet angelfish).  Having both Matts' speak was a big way to roll out the workshop in style!

Chad Clayton and Larry Dupont

I have been breeding seahorses for a few years now, but life kept getting in the way of attending the workshops.  I finally managed to get to my first MBI workshop last year.....and I never intend to miss another one.  I was a tad afraid that I would be way out of my league with all the breeding legends (and I WAS for the record), but these people are some of the nicest you will ever meet.  Chad Clayton from Reef Nutrition and Larry DuPont of LRS were already friends, and went out of their way to include me in discussions.  My ambition to meet a fellow seahorse breeder was finally fulfilled when Victoria Crow and I got to spend the entire weekend comparing notes. 

And, the speakers were experts from a variety of different areas, so I got to learn more about culturing live foods, egg collection in Hawaii, what advances were being made all over the world in breeding, and frankly stopped eating Tilapia after a conversation with Todd Gardner....yikes! You can see the many different experts who have presented at the MBI workshop in the past by visiting the website, but each year is very impressive!

mbi workshop 2017 speakers

This year's workshop has a splash of seahorse love!

This year, I’m quite sure that Tal included Dan Underwood of Seahorse Source, and Colby Johnson the “seadragon whisperer” as speakers just for me.  However, you can all benefit too!  Ha!  This year is extra special for seahorse & pipefish lovers, keepers and breeders due to not only the speakers, but the added events!

Dan Underwood
Dan Underwood
Colby Johnson
Colby Johnson
Vince Vacco
Vince Vacco
Ramon Villaverde
Ramon Villaverde
Matthew Carberry
Matthew Carberry

If you are not a seahorse lover, there are many other speakers and attendees that will appeal to anyone interested in breeding.  Matthew Carberry, President and CEO of Sustainable Aquatics  (ha, another Matt) will be talking about palegic spawner progress.  Colby Johnson, President and CEO of Pacific Island Aquatics will share his experiences with procurement, quarantine and biosecurity. Vince Vacco with Vistic Aquariums is going to talk about his experiences in “developing ctenophore aquaculture techniques and bioluminescence stimulus experiments” (over my head, but I’m so excited to learn)!  And, Ramon Villaverde will teach how to aquaculture on a budget


Seahorse & Pipefish folks will get a few extras this year though! The fabulous Seahorse Whisperer (me) is hosting a friday night…..well…..I’m guessing the friday night affair will end up a “what happens at MBI, stays at MBI” type of event, which probably won’t be covered in the videos, but will certainly be fun!  More importantly, Seahorse Source and SWS are holding the first official “Seahorse & Pipefish Meeting” on Sunday.  This event WILL be shared either via live stream or video, but will be much more fun in person. Not only are attendees getting REALLY cool shirts, (designed by Reefdudes) but many companies have also sponsored the event.  That means door prizes and more! And….you know….a chance to speak to other breeders, ask questions and share Sygnathid stories!


Tamara Marshall is also hosting a side event to share her experiences and knowledge, giving a “Scientific Session for the Home Breeder”!  Click the picture to sign up for this event, as it is an add on and only the first 20 sign ups will be accepted. I have my seat secured 🙂 It’s going to be an event to remember, for sure! I’m really worried about finding time to sleep.

If the “click” doesn’t work on mobile, here’s your friendly link:  ATTEND TAMARA’S EVENT!

The MBI website is an asset to anyone interested in breeding marine organisms, and I cannot recommend joining enough.  The benefit of having resources, experts and information within reach makes it possible for everyone to achieve success, and captive breeding efforts to reach new heights.  In this final countdown to the MBI Workshop, I can barely contain my excitement.  Just thinking about all that I will learn and how many people I will get to spend time with makes me wish the clock would tick a bit faster!  I hope to see you there too!

To catch the live streams and videos covering the 2018 MBI workshop, subscribe to my youtube by clicking on the WINE WEDNESDAY WITH THE WHISPERER picture!  OR JUST CLICK HERE!  And if you want a shirt even though you cannot attend, I will add a link to the shirt image when it is available!

wine wed ad
mbi seahorse shirt
mbi shirt back

If you cannot attend this year, the MBI also accepts donations: