Association of Zoos and Aquariums launch the Coral Aquarist Program | Reef Builders | The Reef and Saltwater Aquarium Blog

The AZA’s Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project has developed the Coral Aquarist Program to meet the ever-increasing need for experienced and knowledgeable coral aquarists and conservation practitioners. The program seeks to build professional resources to manage the coral gene banks created in response to stony coral tissue loss disease.

What does the Coral Aquarist Program do?

The Coral Aquarist Program will provide participants with the knowledge and experiential introductory foundations necessary to manage coral brood stock in land-based nurseries, using rescued Florida corals that are part of the Florida Coral Rescue Program. 

The course is composed of two phases: Phase 1 is an online training course with content provided by The Aquarium Vet. Phase 2 is an onsite training phase where participants will be assigned to one of four training facilities located throughout the United States. The course duration is 7 days, entailing 5 full days of instruction and 2 days of travel. Onsite training will be a mentored, manual-based learning experience coupled with hands-on experiential learning activities. 

The AZA-FRTRP envisions a national network of coral care facilities meeting the needs of coral restoration and conservation efforts. The five main pillars of coral care are Broodstock, Propagation, Settlement, Rearing, and Outplanting. The Coral Aquarist Program has been developed by representatives from 17 AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos, Nova Southeastern University, and with the support of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and NOAA Fisheries.

Live the dream and work in a Public Aquarium carrying out Coral Conservation.

Coral Aquarist Program Champion (lead) 

  • Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo 

Phase One Host 

  • The Aquarium Vet® 

Course Advisors 

  • Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) 
  • NOAA Fisheries (NOAA) 

Phase Two Onsite Training Facility Hosts 

  • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo  
  • The Florida Aquarium 
  • Georgia Aquarium  
  • Florida Coral Rescue Center (FCRC)

Curriculum Development Team  

  • Georgia Aquarium Disney(FCRC) 
  • SeaWorld(FCRC)
  • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo
  • SeaLife Orlando
  • The Florida Aquarium 
  • National Aquarium Virginia Aquarium 
  • Butterfly Pavilion Columbus Zoo  
  • Riverbanks Zoo Fort Worth Zoo 
  • FWC Nova Southeastern University Mote Aquarium 

Auditor Team 

  • Columbus Zoo Virginia Aquarium 
  • Butterfly Pavilion Riverbanks Zoo 
  • SeaLife Charlotte-Concorde 
  • Development Workshops Sponsors and Hosts  
  • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo Georgia Aquarium 
Be the next generation of public aquarists.

Four learning modules are included in phase 1. Completion of this phase is at the participant’s pace. 

  • 1) Coral Biology 
  • 2) Aquarium Life Support 
  • 3) Aquarium Water Quality 
  • 4) Aquatic Animal Welfare 

All four modules in this phase will be available to participants starting May 1, 2023, and must be completed with 100% proficiency prior to August 30, 2023.

Coral Aquarist Program 2023 Course Calendar  

  • February Call for Participants 
  • March Class 2023 Participants Announced 
  • May Phase 1 – Digital Training 
  • June Phase 1 – Digital Training 
  • July Phase 1 – Digital Training 
  • August Phase 1 – Digital Training 
  • September Participants Assigned To On-Site Training Facility Assignments  
  • October Phase 2 – Onsite Training 
  • November Phase 2 – Onsite Training

Phase two is an onsite mentored, manual-based learning experience coupled with hands-on experiential learning activities. This phase will take place in October and November of 2023. 

The course is seven days which includes two days of travel and five full days of instruction. 

Curriculum topics include: 

  • The Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project 
  • Introduction to Corals of the Florida Reef Tract 
  • Coral System Design and Construction 
  • Water Quality 
  • Coral System Lighting 
  • Coral Care and Nutrition 
  • Coral Health Management 
  • Coral Welfare 

The cost of the Coral Aquarist Program Tuition and Fees is $2,500. Tuition and fees cover The Aquarium Vet for (phase 1) registration and course participation, onsite training facility and lab use, program administration, course materials, manual teaching supplies, and uniform.  Participants will be responsible for travel, lodging, and food costs. The AZA-FRTRP will assist in developing the most economical options for each candidate and financial assistance may be available through grants to support participation in the program. 

The deadline for applications is March 24, 2023. Go to for more information.

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