About

The Aquamoon Story

In 2006, Bob Van Valkenburg and Jim Torelli were co-workers at the world-renowned John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago when they decided to combine their unique skills and knowledge to launch Aquamoon.

With Bob’s deep understanding and appreciation for natural systems and Jim’s mastery of aquatic plumbing and life support systems, the company soon flourished, expanding to 12 markets nationwide.

Aquamoon now employs 20 people, each with a unique background and a story to tell. We are animal care experts, but are also artists, engineers, and life support specialists. We draw upon our eclectic backgrounds and expertise to create and maintain beautiful, balanced aquatic environments.

While our backgrounds vary, a shared passion for our work — natural art and aquatic life — allows us to operate as a team with care, skill and integrity to meet the high standards of large commercial retailers, public institutions and private residential clients.

Each aquarium is a beautiful and technically involved composition that is truly magical if created and maintained correctly. At Aquamoon, we specialize in delivering this magic.

Who We Are

Leadership

Bob Van Valkenburg

Principal

Bob Van Valkenburg

Principal

"What we can accomplish together is greater than what we can do individually. Aquamoon is a collaborative team of hardworking and talented individuals committed to continuous improvement and ready to transform the aquarium care industry."

One of the founding members of Aquamoon, Bob has a deep understanding and appreciation for natural systems. Bob is a well-respected husbandry expert with a proven track record of leading teams of animal keepers, veterinarians, facility operators and designers to achieve success, all with the business acumen required to keep projects on time and within budget.

After completing a degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois, Bob began working at the world-renowned John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. During his 17-year tenure there, he worked in the Animal Health Department, most recently as the Director of Animal Health. Bob created and implemented an animal information management system (AIMS) to manage the care of 32,500 animals, designed preventive care systems, and oversaw the staff, equipment and operations of the 5,600-square-foot animal hospital.

Bob maintains a high standard of excellence, and his work strives to improve the relationship between the viewer and nature.

As a complement to his passion for living systems, Bob has trained in the techniques of the ancient Japanese art of bonsai. The purposes of bonsai are primarily contemplation for the viewer, and the pleasant exercise of effort and ingenuity for the grower. Bob’s exploration of the aesthetics of nature through bonsai has informed his study of the effects of the built environment on health, wellness and productivity.

Jim Torelli

Principal & Director of Life Support Operations

Jim Torelli

Principal & Director of Life Support Operations

"What I’ve enjoyed most about working in the aquarium industry are the relationships I’ve developed over the years. The aquarium profession is filled with wonderful and passionate people who care deeply about their work, and I love to share ideas with — and learn from — all of my colleagues."

Jim is a founding member of Aquamoon and a well-known leader in the field of aquatic plumbing and life support systems with more than 20 years of experience in commercial, industrial, and residential sectors. He is a licensed plumber who also holds a State of Illinois RPZ Backflow Prevention License, and is a PADI Rescue Certified Diver.

Having operated life support systems for decades, Jim brings an end-user focus to his projects. Jim’s technical mastery and reputation for quality and integrity have led to opportunities to work on a variety of unique and remarkable projects. He has worked with Animal Interaction Design Group and Living Exhibits as a design and installation consultant, and he currently works on staff at the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago as the Director of Base Building and Life Support. In this role, Jim is a key member of exhibit design, construction, and maintenance teams.

Jim’s comprehensive skills and knowledge span all aspects of construction and design. In fact, his recent restoration of an 1800s mansion on Chicago’s South Side highlights his skills with plumbing and electrical systems as well as with a multitude of historically sensitive aspects of design. Jim is committed to continued education and has completed coursework at the Building Owners and Management Association.

You can often catch Jim in the act of appreciating and enjoying nature as he makes his daily commute on Lake Michigan via his portable kayak.

Brian Gauger

Director of Animal Care

Brian Gauger

Director of Animal Care

"It’s rewarding to work with a team of individuals who are consistently striving for excellence. Our aquarists are committed to learning from our experiences every day and continuously improving our service program."

With a passion for scientific thought and environmental conservation, Brian Gauger has dedicated his career to understanding and applying biological processes. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science from the University of Illinois, Brian completed internships with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Sanctuaries division of NOAA.

Brian furthered his education at the University of San Diego, earning a Master of Science degree with a focus on marine aquaculture. Brian continued his work as a research assistant with Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute in San Diego, where he helped establish novel culture techniques on commercially significant fish species, explored the use of alternative proteins in broodstock diets, and co-authored peer-reviewed scientific literature.

His diverse experiences in the field, laboratory, and classroom have contributed to Brian’s recognized expertise in animal care. As Director of Animal Care for Aquamoon, he currently oversees the training and quality assurance program for our multi-state animal care program, including terrestrial exhibits and more than 300,000 gallons of aquatic habitat across the country.

Brian’s belief in meticulous attention to detail, balance and a holistic approach to re-creating environments helps guide Aquamoon’s world-class professional standards for the training and development of our animal caregivers. He ensures that Aquamoon’s professionalism and expertise exceed client expectations by nurturing an atmosphere of continued education, diverse experience and unparalleled support.

In his downtime, Brian enjoys escaping the city to explore and practice photography.

Regional Leads and Special Projects

Jake Boyer

California - Santa Cruz, San Jose and Bay Area

Jake Boyer

California - Santa Cruz, San Jose and Bay Area

A native of Chicago’s northwest suburbs, Jake has a passion for animals, oceans, and everything outdoors, and his love of adventure has played a large role in his life. As a student at Western Illinois University, he studied Recreation, Park, and Tourism Administration, and also minored in SCUBA. In fact, as a member of the SCUBA Club in college, Jake was part of a three-month outdoor expedition leadership program.

Before coming to Aquamoon, Jake held a diverse range of positions, from animal care specialist at Rainforest Cafe to animal welfare specialist at ABC Humane Wildlife. Jake enjoys sharing his skills with others, so he has also worked at several camps, including Seacamp in Florida, where he taught marine science and assisted campers with diving operations, skin diving, and wind surfing. At Mount Hermon Adventures in California, he was a facilitator for high ropes courses and zip lines.

Aneta Tyminski

California - Stockton and Sacramento

Aneta Tyminski

California - Stockton and Sacramento

Growing up in and around Chicago, Aneta was always interested in the flora and fauna surrounding her. At a local aquarium store, she worked alongside many hobbyists who inspired her to get into the field. At the University of Tampa, Aneta earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Science with a dual minor in Marine Science-Biology. She concentrated her passion on water quality, volunteered at a local primate sanctuary, and gained insight in coastal restoration both in school and with a conservation corps. These experiences led Aneta to Aquamoon.

In her spare time,  Aneta enjoys reading and going on adventures with her dog Moki.

Dennis Gorman

Midwest - Chicago

Dennis Gorman

Midwest - Chicago

Dennis has deep roots in Chicago. He grew up in its south suburbs and frequently visited the city’s zoos and aquarium. His passion for the sciences led him north to Michigan’s untamed upper peninsula where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology from Northern Michigan University. A love for animals remained after graduation, so Dennis worked in the Toxicology Department for the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) for six years prior to joining Aquamoon.

When he’s not taking care of aquatic animals, Dennis enjoys cheering on his favorite local baseball team (hint: it’s not the southsiders!) and spending time in his picturesque Chicago-style bungalow with his wife, their two children and three dogs.

Ryan Pratt

Midwest - Peoria and Central Illinois

Ryan Pratt

Midwest - Peoria and Central Illinois

Ryan has always been an animal lover. Growing up in central Illinois surrounded by rural landscape, Ryan was raised with a strong appreciation for nature. He left home to study business at Illinois State University, but made a hobby out of caring for aquariums. While putting his degree to work in a career in management, Ryan’s true passion remained with animals, specifically aquatic species. The strong pull to care for animals brought him to Aquamoon, where he eventually took the leap into a full-time aquarist position.

Ryan feels extremely lucky to be in a field he loves, following his passion on a daily basis.

Keith Wernert

Midwest - Toledo and Cleveland, OH, and Detroit, MI

Keith Wernert

Midwest - Toledo and Cleveland, OH, and Detroit, MI

Keith has worked all over the United States, most extensively in Wisconsin, Texas, and Mississippi, studying animals, insects, and fish in their native habitat as well as in the lab utilizing Good Laboratory Practices (GLP). Through his travels and with his degree in Environmental Policy and Analysis from Bowling Green State University, Keith has gained a wide variety of knowledge in both science and art, which he is able to apply in his role at Aquamoon.

Keith enjoys trivia in all forms, and he brings that knowledge, and an enduring curiosity to learn more, with him whenever he goes.

Eric Carlson

South - Jackson, MS

Eric Carlson

South - Jackson, MS

Eric’s love for marine life started at a young age and following his passion, he graduated from Bowling Green State University with a Bachelor of Science in Biology, including a specialization in Marine and Aquatic Sciences and a minor in Psychology. While in school, he worked for four years in a marine laboratory that housed many species of fresh and saltwater animals. Eric’s love for learning took him to South Florida’s NOVA Southeastern University, where he received his Master of Science in Marine Biology.

In Florida, Eric worked with the Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program in education and conservation, and his university capstone project involved researching the effects of large-scale climatic changes on sea turtle nesting seasons.

Sean Hewitt

South - Baton Rouge and New Orleans, LA

Sean Hewitt

South - Baton Rouge and New Orleans, LA

Sean’s husbandry expertise is diverse, and throughout his career, he has cared for a wide range of animals, including various fish species, reptiles, waterfowl and mammals. Before joining Aquamoon, Sean was an aquarist and SeaTrek diver at the Miami Seaquarium. While earning his Bachelor of Science degree in Ecological and Environmental Science from Southeastern Louisiana University, Sean gained valuable experience at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, where he spent six years in the Husbandry Department as a volunteer and intern.

In his spare time, Sean can usually be found tinkering with computers, traveling to Israel to visit family and actively learning Hebrew.

Chris Perkins

Chris Perkins

Kauai, Hawaii

Chris Perkins

Kauai, Hawaii

Chris spent more than four years working with and photographing great white sharks in South Africa before coming to Aquamoon. While working on his degree in Marine Sciences, he completed an internship with the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, CT, and he continued to volunteer there in the fish and invertebrate husbandry department.

With his deep love for oceans and all the creatures that inhabit them, it’s not surprising that Chris spends his downtime freediving, scuba diving and taking underwater photos.

Matt Harris

Matt Harris

Aquatic Projects

Matt Harris

Aquatic Projects

Matt became fascinated with the oceans by watching Jacques Cousteau documentaries as a child and began caring for aquatic life before he was 10 years old. His involvement in the hobby grew over the years and eventually led him to pursue a career as an aquarium professional. He worked for more than a decade performing aquarium maintenance for a few local Chicago companies before joining Aquamoon. Matt has a broad range of husbandry knowledge and specializes in reef environments. He is mechanically inclined and is particularly passionate about designing, installing and upgrading filtration systems.

When he’s not working on aquariums, Matt enjoys doing home improvement projects on his cottage-style home.

Aquarists

Jade Allen

Jade Allen

One freshman class in Environmental Biology was all it took to get Jade hooked on environmental awareness, and she soon became fascinated by the complexity and interconnectedness of the global life community. Jade is co-president of the Student Association for the Environment at Illinois Central College in Peoria, and she worked as a naturalist intern at a local wildlife park in 2017.

Jade’s love of animals and appreciation for the protection of aquatic environments brought her to work for Aquamoon while she finishes her degree in Environmental Education.

Dylan Harris

Dylan Harris

Through frequent visits to Monterey Bay Aquarium while growing up in the East San Francisco Bay area, Dylan developed a love of marine life. While a student at the University of California at Santa Cruz, he spent three years volunteering at a local aquarium, where he learned many of the basics of animal husbandry. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology, Dylan’s experience and passion for aquatic life led him to accept a job at Aquamoon in late October 2015 as lead aquarist at San Jose Bass Pro Shops.

Dylan is fun-loving, and enjoys playing basketball and music.

Tabitha Brower

Tabitha Brower

Growing up in a small town with few options for organized activities, Tabitha made her own entertainment in the natural world surrounding her. She took her passion for the sciences to the University of Wisconsin – Superior, where she majored in Biology and minored in Psychology. During her last semester in Spring 2017, she completed an internship at Great Lakes Aquarium in Duluth, where she honed her skills for husbandry of a variety of animals.

When she’s not working, Tabitha spends her time reading and writing creative fiction, pursuing nature photography, and hanging out with her friends.

Denise Mencini

Denise Mencini

Adventure has always been a way of life for Denise, who could frequently be found exploring the wooded areas and ponds behind her house as a child growing up in Cleveland, Ohio. The experience strengthened her love of nature and wildlife, which led her to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Kent State University. There, she expanded her animal husbandry knowledge by completing internships with the Greater Cleveland Aquarium, the Miami Seaquarium, and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Before joining the Aquamoon team, Denise was a Life Support Systems Technician at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium, where she focused on the operation and maintenance of large filtration systems.

Outside of work, Denise can be found looking for new adventures while hiking or wandering through local parks. On a rainy day, she enjoys exploring her artistic side through painting, knitting, and other crafts.

 

Nick Stahl

Nick Stahl

Nick Stahl

After receiving his Bachelor of Arts degree in Freshwater Ecology and Studio Art from Lawrence University in Appleton, WI, Nick joined Aquamoon in 2011.

Nick has a passion for art and a heart of gold, which lead him to spend his free time volunteering for a variety of great causes. He volunteers with R.E.S.C.U. to raise money for performers without health insurance, with Special Gifts Theatre to help students with special needs perform stage shows, and with the Bristol Renaissance Faire as a stage performer creating massive bubbles for visiting families.

Madison Banta

Madison Banta

Though proudly born and raised in Louisiana, Madison’s deep love of nature developed through trips to the white beaches of Florida and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

This love led Madison to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Biology with a concentration in Marine Science at Louisiana State University. While in school, she participated in a study with the Wise Laboratory of Toxicology on the damaging effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf, and later completed an internship in their lab in Portland, Maine. Her in-depth study of the oil spill’s effects on marine life created in Madison an enduring, deep concern for environmental preservation and awareness.

Madison’s creative outlet is music — she enjoys writing songs and learning whatever new instrument she can get her hands on.

Dennis Law

Dennis Law

Dennis Law

With experience working in multiple aquariums along the East Coast and throughout the Midwest in a wide range of positions, including aquarium diver, senior aquarist and even curator of a small aquarium, Dennis has amassed extensive knowledge of filtration systems and husbandry techniques, and is able to diagnose and troubleshoot issues quickly. He graduated from Bowling Green State University in 2005 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology.

Dennis is an extremely hard worker, but as a family man with two kids of his own, he’s still able to relate to young people with a childlike wonder.

Brittany

Brittany Mullins

Brittany Mullins

Brittany brings to Aquamoon a unique range of experience. She has spent much of her adult life working in the special needs community assisting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She has also worked for conservation programs and local farms through community supported agriculture. Brittany holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Sciences from Western Michigan University.

With a particular interest in all things related to green energy and sustainability, Brittany is always up for learning something new!

Administration

Carol Van Valkenburg

Carol Van Valkenburg

Carol grew up on the south side of Chicago.  Despite this, she has been known to cheer for the Cubs. 

She started working for Aquamoon in 2012 and handles the day-to-day office operations.  Carol’s past experience has included office and managerial positions with school districts, real estate brokers and construction companies.

When she’s not keeping things running at Aquamoon, Carol enjoys spending time with her grandchildren, traveling, reading and playing around with computers and other tech products.

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