Staff by Day, Saltwater Afishionado By Night

By day, Jim Curry is the captain of operations and technology for the Office of Student Assistance (OSA). By night, he’s assisting other types of schools… as a saltwater aquarist.

Many of us have fish tanks; some even have saltwater aquariums. But Jim Curry doesn’t just own one: he designed it, built it, grows his own coral, and breeds his own fish. And now, he’s showing others how to do the same.

It all started when Curry was a young boy, and his grandfather was a fish breeder—keeping tanks all over his grandmother’s bedroom. But it wasn’t until years later that the inclination became impetus, when Curry and a coworker went to Petland Discounts on Nassau Street and bought saltwater fish tanks.

“It all started with a small tank,” Curry said. But eventually that tank turned into an entire ecosystem, with a propagation facility and no mechanical filtration. Curry does everything for his saltwater aquariums himself—from the design to the installation, plumbing, lighting, electric, water dynamics, aquascaping, and even growing his own corals, some of which are rare and cost up to $500 per piece. “At this point, I have a farm in my basement,” he laughs.

Curry draws from both his background in architecture and his 11-year career as a chef. “I was an architecture student in my undergraduate years, so I think artistically. It’s underwater artwork, underwater science,” he says. “Being a chef also made me a good [aquarium] designer. Color, taste, flavor, design, texture—it’s very important.”

His work has garnered Curry both critical attention and professional opportunities. Curry received an international award from Advanced Aquarist magazine for his mixed reef aquarium and sits on the Board of Directors of Manhattan Reefs, an online community for aquarium owners in the NYC area. With the help of a fellow aquarist who was also interested in advancing the survival and rejuvenation of the world’s natural reefs, Curry has launched Saltwater Critters, which specializes in consulting, design, installation, and maintenance of marine and reef aquariums. He’s even begun breeding fish, including rare clownfish, and sends some of his coral pieces to the Ocean Research Association in Florida to harvest in case something happens to his system.

And like his grandfather before him, Curry is passing the passion down—both to his kids, who love to view his inventory from all over the world, and to Pace, partnering with Pratt professor and mentor Randy Donowitz for the bi-annual Manhattan Reefs Fall Frag Swap, which brings aquarists together to sell and trade corals and dry goods. The last event was held on the NYC Campus in October and open to Pace students free of charge. The next one will be held at Pratt on April 10. “It keeps the spirit alive in making sure that if one of our tanks dies, someone has the coral to keep it alive,” Curry says.

As acting University Director of Student Accounts and Executive Director of Operations and Technology Management for the Office of Student Assistance (OSA), Curry spends his workday elbow deep in student systems, helping the University become more efficient in leveraging their technologies, and leading the charge to build and enhance future developments, much like his aquarium work.

“It’s [aquariums are] a system, just like an IT system. It’s understanding how things operate within each other and grow over time, and building it so it works,” he said.

Are you a Pace faculty or staff member with a fun hobby, interest, part-time job, or passion? Know someone that fits the bill? Email to share your story with us and other faculty and staff!