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The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into Aquatic Solutions is the predator tank, which features this lionfish, named Leo.
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Dave Howard dedicates himself to working with his true passion as owner and operator of Aquatic Solutions in West Monroe.
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A clown fish swims in one of the tanks at Aquatic Solutions.
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Aquatic Solutions also houses Vintage Vehicles, which features classic and collectible cars and trucks ranging from the early 1900s to the 2000s.
Dave Howard has tinkered with aquariums since he was 10 years old, but he credits a science teacher from Norman, Okla., with truly inspiring his love of all things aquatic. His voice alters noticeably and his eyes light up when he talks about walking into that seventh grade classroom full of aquariums and admiring the variety of aquatic life on display.
That was 35 years ago. Now, after several years working what he calls a “real job” in the restaurant business, Howard is able to dedicate himself to working with his true passion as owner and operator of Aquatic Solutions in West Monroe. Aquatic Solutions sells and maintains custom aquariums and designs and installs filtration systems for backyard ponds and water gardens.
The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into Aquatic Solutions is the predator tank, which features a puffer and a spectacular lionfish. Just beyond that, you’ll meet Conan, the 16-year-old grouper that has been with the store since the beginning. When you head into the back room, where most of the store’s aquariums are kept, it’s like stepping into another world, populated by an impressive selection of saltwater fish and other marine life.
Store employee Zach Kaul is quick to point out that they can order just about anything aquarium owners want. “If you can think it up, we can get it for you,” Kaul said. “If you want an exotic octopus, we can get it. Any kind of fish you can Google up, we can get it for you. There’s really no limits. The limit is your imagination.”
Howard clarified that he does try to discourage people from buying specimens if he’s not convinced the buyer can properly care for them, adding, “I don’t bring in anything that’s deadly; I don’t care who you are.” He then told of ordering a blue-ringed octopus – one of the most venomous species on earth – for a client in the early days of his operation. He decided against continuing to provide deadly fish after he realized that he felt relieved when he learned that other fish in the tank had eaten it.
While he says he won’t order another blue-ringed octopus, he enthusiastically recommends other octopi as pets. “An octopus is a smart, smart animal. They recognize their owners. I had one as a pet that would follow me around and come up and look at me with its eye. It was really cool,” Howard said.
Howard is particularly proud of the store’s coral, much of which is tank raised at the store. The store has had a great deal of success with Green Nepthea. He had obtained a specimen in 1998, shortly before warming waters caused by El Niño killed the majority of the species in the wild. While the species became illegal to collect or ship out of the wild, Aquatic Solutions was able to provide tank-raised Nepthea. “Probably every piece of Nepthea within a 300-mile radius comes from here,” Howard says, adding that the species has since made a comeback in the wild and is no longer considered endangered.
Much of Aquatic Solutions’ business comes from servicing their clients’ aquariums. Clients are as far flung as Mississippi, Arkansas and Shreveport. They are hesitant to name a favorite aquarium that they service, but Kaul mentioned one that he particularly likes – a 500-gallon tank that features freshwater fish that the aquarium owner caught himself.
While many of their customers invest more than $10,000 in their aquariums, Aquatic Solutions also helps people with more modest budgets to dip their toes into enjoying aquariums. In addition to providing aquariums at low or no cost for local schools and churches, Howard points out that most of his clientele are homeowners, and he encourages those considering the hobby. “You can do it. It’s not a cheap hobby,” he says. “You have to do it right from the beginning, and you can’t cut corners on certain things. But you can make it a feasible thing. Anyone can.”
As if all that wasn’t enough, Aquatic Solutions also houses Vintage Vehicles, which features classic and collectible cars and trucks ranging from the early 1900s to the 2000s. Kaul says they don’t generally sell the vehicles, which belong to Howard’s father, but they collect and restore them and are happy to show them off to anyone who is interested.
By Dell Markey