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Saltwater Paradise

Ocean Life Aquaria brings sea life to Columbia


IMAGINE YOU ARE on a tropical island, relaxing on heaps of soft sand, allowing the warmth of the sun to caress your skin and paint it a darker color. The crashing of waves gently lulls you to tranquility as the tide brings the horizon to your feet. Perhaps you hold a cold beverage in your hand. Finally, the sea extinguishes the sun, and you stand up, ready to begin the evening.
That’s when you feel the sand creepily hiding beneath your bathing suit. Your legs itch from bugs on the beach. And you find that by the end of the day, the sun emptied its most beautiful browns on others and instead decided to stroke your skin with an aching shade of scarlet.

How can we get the serenity of the ocean without any of its shortcomings? Dustin Raterman concocted the perfect reply when he plopped his saltwater specialty store, Ocean Life Aquaria, in the center of town at 2703 E Broadway. Originally inspired by Steve Irwin, Raterman quickly picked up a passion for animals. Yet, over time, he discovered that his deepest admiration swims in saltwater. So nearly five months ago, Raterman opened his doors and offered the ocean to Columbia. “I started out by wanting just a tank with a couple of fish,” he says about his hobby turned business venture. “Now it’s turned into my passion, thousands of gallons worth of tanks and several hundred fish.” Ocean Life Aquaria glows with bluish LED lights that nurture coral and set the mood for cosmic bowling. Along the walls, brilliantly colored fish dart swiftly through mounted tanks.

“Most of the fish are wild caught, so they’re coming from the Fiji Islands, Hawaiian Islands, Australia, Indonesia, all the South Pacific Islands, Florida reefs and the Caribbean,” Raterman says. With his help, you don’t have to lift a finger to travel to these exotic places. Instead, he will install a custom tank of any size and bring their beauty straight into your living room.

Raterman has snails, corals, invertebrates, fish, crabs, tubeworms and more. “There’s so much more than just fish in saltwater,” he says. “You can have the tiniest little bugs, to crustaceans, on up to the big predator fish all in the same tank. It’s a small ecosystem. The diversity of life that can be kept in something so tiny is incredible.”

Plus, these creatures are much easier to care for than many people think. In fact, there’s not much difference between maintaining saltwater and fresh water fish. Yet, according to Raterman, saltwater fish are a much more rewarding investment. “Visually, [saltwater] fish are more vibrant,” he says. “They have more personality and are more interactive than fresh water fish.” Their life spans also stretch beyond that of a homegrown guppy.

“It’s fun to see them grow,” Raterman says. “They’re irreplaceable just like any other pet.”

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