Reef madness |

Reef madness

owner of Red Runner Dog Sled Tours

Steamboat Springs — Gavin Graham's grand vision includes building a 600-million-gallon aquarium into the side of a mountain. — Gavin Graham's grand vision includes building a 600-million-gallon aquarium into the side of a mountain.

— Gavin Graham’s grand vision includes building a 600-million-gallon aquarium into the side of a mountain.

But until that dream is realized, he’s making do with Tropical Rockies, his Steamboat Springs fish and reptile shop that doubles as a public aquarium and rescue facility.

“I’m using the hobby to create a sense of awareness,” Graham said. “I want to expose the youth to these creatures and create a sense of respect and admiration and conservation for wild creatures. Hopefully they will grow up to be environmentally conscious human beings.”

Graham offers free educational field trips to every school in Northwest Colorado. He already has hosted groups from Lowell Whiteman Primary School, Steamboat Springs Montessori and Horizons Specialized Services.

“If you don’t educate them now, it’s not going to happen,” Graham said. “I make a point to expose people in this area who have never seen this kind of stuff, like live coral or a live clam.”

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Graham has set his sights beyond the confines of his local store.

“I want to build a geothermal and solar-powered public aquarium,” he said. “It will be the first of its kind, not only because of the elevation but because it will be powered by natural energy.”

He also wants to initiate an annual fundraiser to raise money for science classrooms and the Northwest Colorado Aquarium Society.

“The society is 20 to 30 aqua-heads who get together and talk fish,” he said. “And I want to create a way to get money for science classrooms.”

Graham hopes to get feedback from the community on his ideas and help people learn more about coral reef, fish and reptiles – this coming from someone who is self-educated in aquatic life.

“People in the community come in with their problems and we figure it out together,” he said. “Learning is addictive. I’ve been sponging up so much information and knowledge that there’s no space left. I’m starting to lose my childhood memories.”

In fact, Graham said his passion for marine life has consumed him.

“I can get to where I don’t know how to talk about anything else,” he said. “And it’s not just myself. A lot of people in town are geeking out on fish to an abnormal obsession.”

Perhaps that’s because Graham offers clients his cell phone number as part of a 24-hour-a-day support service.

“All shops should be doing free education and water testing,” Graham said. “My store is the only one like it in the nation that offers 24-hour support. Who else is really that dumb? Only me.”

Graham said his animals come first, and he is committed to rehabilitating coral reefs and breeding fish.

“I believe in captive breeding. It’s a way of consciously collecting creatures with minimal to zero impact to the environment,” he said. “And no one breeds these animals at 7,000 feet.”

As another way to educate others about marine life, Graham and Kelly Anzalone have started a TV show called “Tropical Rockies: Microcosm Theater.” It airs on Channel 17 every Sunday at 8 p.m.

“It’s like a MythBusters and Crocodile Hunter type of show,” Graham said.

Graham also offers use of his “Relaxation Reef Room” to tourists and locals to de-stress. The room contains a 210-galloon tank with a coral reef ecosystem and a comfortable couch.

“That couch has claimed eight people already to nap time,” he said.

So what does Graham get from his dedication to marine life?

“When kids get excited and can’t be quiet, I get the giggles,” he said. “It is so pleasing to see them with their big, round, over-elated eyes because that’s how I feel. Hopefully I can transcend an environmental conscious and awareness.”