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 16 markets nationwide.

Aquamoon now employs over 30 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 oversees the training, support, and quality assurance of our animal care programs across the country.

Brian’s belief in meticulous attention to detail and a holistic approach to re-creating environments helps guide Aquamoon’s world-class professional standards. He ensures that Aquamoon’s professionalism and expertise exceed client expectations by nurturing an atmosphere of continuing education, diverse experiences, and unparalleled support.

In his downtime, Brian enjoys spending time with his family and escaping the city to go hiking, diving, and practice landscape photography.

Regional Leads and Special Projects

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.

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.

Sean Hewitt

South - Louisiana & Mississippi

Sean Hewitt

South - Louisiana & Mississippi

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.

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.

Aneta Tyminski

Field and Training Coordinator

Aneta Tyminski

Field and Training Coordinator

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.

Keith Wernert

Eastern Midwest - Michigan and Ohio

Keith Wernert

Eastern Midwest - Michigan and Ohio

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.

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.

Shay Allred

Shay Allred

An Arizona native, Shay earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Northern Arizona University. She continued her education and received a master’s degree in Wildlife, Fisheries, and Aquaculture from Mississippi State University. In Mississippi, Shay worked with freshwater species including channel catfish, black buffalo, largemouth bass, white crappie, paddlefish and more. Today, Shay applies her passion for aquatic life in her day to day activities with Aquamoon.

Shay’s hobbies include reading, crocheting, and hiking nature trails with her fiancé and her dog, Critter.

Collin Austin

Collin Austin

Collin spent most of his professional career around his hometown of Bowling Green, OH volunteering and working at local aquariums. In addition to his husbandry experience, Collin also worked on the mechanical side of aquariums and has a specific interest in aquatic filtration (Life Support Systems). He has a bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology from Bowling Green State University where he was the lead aquarist at the Marine Lab on campus.

Collin loves all sorts of crustaceans with the yeti crab being his favorite. He enjoys learning more about this unique group of animals and caring for them whenever possible.

Naomi Balogh

Naomi Balogh

Naomi has a deep appreciation and respect for animals. During a trip across Australia with her grandfather, she vividly remembers admiring the unique and diverse wildlife. While still in high school, Naomi started working at a horse stable and throughout the years she has completed internships at three different zoos. Prior to joining Aquamoon, Naomi worked in the aquatic pet care industry for a large national retailer.

She holds a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Management from Humboldt State University in Arcata, California. In her free time Naomi loves exploring. You’ll often find her hiking, camping in the mountains or horseback riding.

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.

Katie Benya

Katie Benya

Since childhood Katie has been drawn to nature and animals. This passion drove her to earn a Bachelor of Science in Zoology from Kent State University. In her final year of schooling, Katie completed an internship at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium where she was then hired as a Life Support System Technician.

Outside of work, Katie loves to travel and see the world – specifically all the wonders nature has to offer. She especially enjoys bird watching in local parks.

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.

Joe Brown

Joe Brown

Joe’s love for aquariums started at a young age with a simple 20 gallon aquarium and a netful of guppies. Joe earned his bachelor’s degree in Business Management from the University of California Santa Cruz and an Associate degree in Horticulture from Cabrillo College, which overlooks beautiful Monterey Bay.

Post graduation, Joe opened and operated a 3,000 sq. ft. retail pet store. The store focused specifically on aquariums which ranged in complexity from advanced reef set-ups to the common goldfish bowl. Most recently, Joe worked for a company restoring natural habitat in the Bay Area.
In his free time, Joe enjoys hiking, fishing and reading.

Logan Doran

Logan Doran

Logan graduated from the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Science & Biology and a minor in Chemistry. Before joining Aquamoon, Logan gained valuable experience as an intern aquarist at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Florida. It was during this internship that Logan fell in love with caring for aquatic animals and working in and around aquariums and made the decision to pursue it as a career.

In his spare time, Logan enjoys playing hockey, rugby, and most importantly learning about sharks, his lifelong passion.

Samantha Dowell

Samantha Dowell

Driven by a love for animals, especially aquatic life, Samantha earned her Bachelor of Science with a specialization in Aquatic Biology and a Minor in Psychology from Bowling Green State University. While in school, Samantha developed her skills in animal husbandry through several internships where she worked with sharks, stingrays, seals, and a variety of other fish. After graduation, Samantha was hired as an educator and animal diet preparation assistant at Sea Life Michigan Aquarium.

Outside of work, Samantha enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter. She also enjoys being in or by the water. Samantha was a competitive distant swimmer in high school and she likes the hard work and endurance building associated with swimming. Samantha attributes competitive swimming as a formative part of her work ethic and motivation to always give her best.

Dani Estes

Dani Estes

Dani is a California native who came to the Midwest with 6 years of aquatic husbandry experience. She has a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology and Psychology from California State University, Northridge. While in school she spent a semester in the field on Catalina Island at the Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.  She also completed and internship at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium and volunteered at the Los Angeles Zoo.  After graduation she moved to Waco, TX to be a full-time aquarist at the Cameron Park Zoo. For the three years following she worked at the Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco as a Biologist caring for North American river otters, seven gill sharks, rays, octopuses, and many native California coastal species.

 

Outside of work, Dani enjoys spending time with her two dogs and exploring her new home in the Midwest.  She volunteers with Oceans of Fun at the Milwaukee County Zoo and runs a successful online blog about her jobs and adventures:

 

http://aquaristlifeforme.tumblr.com/

Amber Fonner

Amber Fonner

Amber gained rich experience in the beautiful states of Michigan and Idaho while working for a variety of federal agencies and academic institutions. Her undergraduate degree was attained through Central Michigan University in Biology, Natural Resources and she was a graduate assistant in undergraduate microbiology laboratories at Boise State University while studying aquatic ecology. She worked in Idaho for the United States Forest Service with threatened Bull Trout and for Idaho Fish and Game in their fisheries genetics lab as a technologist.

Amber enjoys being physically active and plays coed and women’s competitive soccer. She harbors a deep sense of environmental-consciousness and is a proud Girl Scout leader to her daughter’s troop. Her interest in educating the next generation about conservation issues and support of STEM education are wonderful assets to our team.

Olivia Gaiser

Olivia Gaiser

With a love of aquatic life and a passion for SCUBA diving it only made sense for Olivia to pursue a career as an aquarist. And after earning her bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Northern Iowa, Olivia immediately joined the Aquamoon team. During her years at UNI she completed internships at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island as well as the local nature center. She also worked at a SCUBA shop which solidified her love for diving.

In her spare time, you can find Olivia at the local dive shop working towards getting her SCUBA instructor certification.

Colin Hildebeidel

Colin Hildebeidel

With role models like Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin, Colin has been fascinated by animals since childhood. It was at an early age that he knew he wanted to find a career in the natural sciences. While an intern at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Colin shadowed an aquarist and realized this was the career choice for him. He joined the team at Aquamoon shortly thereafter.

Colin holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Science from Coastal Carolina University. In his free time, he enjoys movies, playing games, and spending time with friends.

Grace Kennedy

Grace Kennedy

Grace has a deep interest in conservation and an appreciation for aquatic life which was sparked during an internship at the World Aquarium in St. Louis, MO. There, she studied methods of using artificial structure to increase the growth of soft corals in an aquarium environment. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the University of Illinois, Grace served as an intern at the Greensboro Science Center in Greensboro, NC where she expanded her knowledge of animal husbandry and filtration in large aquarium systems. After moving back to the Midwest, she joined the Aquamoon team in the Central Illinois region.

Grace comes from a family of motorcycle and racing enthusiasts and outside of Aquamoon she helps with the family business which builds custom spark plug wires for motorcycles. She also enjoys reading, and spending time at her family’s lake house.

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.

Emma Matland

Emma Matland

A Wisconsin native, Emma holds a Master of Science in Fisheries Biology and Management from the University of Bergen in Norway. During her studies she also worked at several aquaculture research facilities where she gained hands on experience with a large variety of animals and systems. As her skills developed, so did her passion for aquatic animals.

Outside of work she enjoys expanding her knowledge of animal training and spending time with her dog, a German Shepherd/ Border Collie mix named “Bobby”.

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.

 

Paul Poeschl

Paul Poeschl

Paul joined Aquamoon with nearly two decades of professional experience in aquatic animal care. He began his career as a fish husbandry technician at LiveAquaria, a division of Drs. Foster & Smith and one of the largest online sources for sustainably raised freshwater and saltwater fishes. At LiveAquaria he worked with various delicate, rare, and unusual fish species. Paul also managed a retail aquarium store and was an assistant curator for a zoo and aquarium subcontracting company. Most recently Paul was an aquarist with Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay where he cared for sharks, arapaima, and golden crocodiles.

He has a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Ecology and Management from the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. As a testament to his passion for all things aquatic, Paul always has his hands wet…even in his spare time. His favorite hobby is fishing for bass, panfish, walleye and muskie.

Briana Schmidt

Briana Schmidt

Briana has always felt most at home both in and around the water, so it was only natural that this once competitive swimmer made her way into the professional aquarium world. Prior to joining Aquamoon, this Texas native was the Assistant Director of Animal Care at the San Antonio Aquarium where she helped foundand oversee breeding programs for jellies, sharks, and axolotls. She also helped create numerous animal/human interaction & training programs for species such as the Giant Pacific Octopus, stingrays, and a very personable white throated monitor.

When she isn’t working with aquatic life, Briana enjoys immersing herself in nature such as trekking through parks, exploring open waters, and adding to her collection of various mineral compositions that shape this planet.

Alyssa Shipman

Alyssa Shipman

Alyssa has a Bachelor of Arts in Developmental Psychology from DePaul University in Chicago. Before joining Aquamoon, she worked for a large retailer (PetSmart) and Shedd Aquarium. Through these jobs she accumulated experience caring for a variety of animals from fish to parrots.

In her free time Alyssa volunteers at a wild cat sanctuary. She also enjoys growing plants and collecting geodes.

Candace Sparkman

Candace Sparkman

Travelling around the world with her parents at a young age sparked Candace’s interest in the aquatic world. She began scuba diving with her father at age 15 and had been obsessed ever since. Originally from Detroit, her career began at Rainforest Cafe and she moved to Chicago shortly after. Currently she is the lead aquarist at Cabela’s in Hammond, IN and is in the process of obtaining her bachelor’s degree in Biology.

In her spare time, Candace enjoys trying new cuisines, reading fish books and travelling.

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.

Cody Swoboda

Cody Swoboda

With a lifelong passion for fishing and the outdoors, Cody has a deep interest in and commitment to ecology and conservation. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science with a focus on aquatic environments, ecology and water chemistry from Winona State University in Minnesota. While at university he volunteered with the Winona Trout Unlimited group and assisted with stream restoration and the study of trout populations.

When not working, Cody enjoys taking fishing trips, studying ecology, breeding cichlids and playing his guitar.

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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