About the MASNA Pioneer Award
At the Marine Aquarium Conference of North America (MACNA) 2018 Banquet in Las Vegas, NV, the Marine Aquarium Societies of North America (MASNA) introduced the MASNA Pioneer Award and awarded it to two pioneers.
The MASNA Pioneer award recognizes the foundational contributions of scientists, conservationists, and industry and trade practitioners who have contributed immensely to what we perceive as today’s common knowledge.
These early pioneers explored their worlds in ways that others at the time could not imagine. Their significant accomplishments served to uplift others following in their footsteps, often through mentoring.
Marine aquarium hobbyists would not be as knowledgeable or successful in their endeavors today without the contributions of these early pioneers.
The 2018 MASNA Pioneer Award for Industry
The 2018 MASNA Pioneer Award for Industry goes to Walt Smith. Walt was recognized for his early work in establishing sustainable collecting methods for hand-caught fish, corals, and live rock from Tonga and Fiji. Through his company, Walt Smith International, he also established some of the first aquaculturing techniques for corals in their native habitat, replanting reefs and developing training programs for local villagers.
Walt continued his lifelong aquatic journey in 1972 with a successful wholesale selection service based in Los Angeles. He had previously been involved with importing fish directly, both from Florida and the Pacific. In 1989, Walt moved his family to Tonga, where he set up a collection station focused on hand-caught fish and corals from Tonga and Samoa.
Fast forward to 1995. Walt and his family were invited to bring their aquatic best practices to Fiji, where Walt Smith International established hand-caught collecting stations and performed regional re-exporting for the South Pacific. In 1998, Walt set up the first live rock holding and curing systems using raceways and spray bars. Fiji rock would become the go-to choice for hobbyists worldwide.
With the growing demand for coral, Walt established one of the first aquaculturing systems for corals. He also trained many individuals who went on to implement coral culture in other countries. He continued to expand his culturing techniques and best practices for both corals and live rock.
Walt has been a leading contributor in the ornamental marine market while also encouraging education and adherence to standards. He served as a board member and consultant for the Marine Aquarium Council. Students from the University of South Pacific are provided lab space and hands-on experience with marine ornamentals. Walt also was responsible for employing hundreds of Fijians, supporting local villages and educating them in sustainable practices.
The focus on sustainability led to the formation of Aquaculture Development for the Environment (ADE) in 2012, a non-profit where techniques that were developed in culturing corals for collectors could be used to help re-establish reefs in Fiji and elsewhere. Through continued training and support for local villages to perform reef restoration projects, ADE continues the legacy established by Walt. Donations to support ADE can be made through www.adeproject.org.
Walt’s longtime friend Bob Fenner presented Walt with the MASNA Pioneer Award for Industry during the banquet at MACNA 2018 in Las Vegas. He was joined onstage by his lifetime partner Deb Smith, who is the namesake of the Fijian endemic Blue Velvet Angelfish, Centropyge deborae.
VIDEO: Watch the introduction of Walt Smith as the 2018 MASNA Pioneer Award for Industry recipient, as presented by Bob Fenner