Learning to read nature

Learning to read nature

All the mysteries of the world’s oceans in a small aquarium – read on to find out how energy efficiency expert Giampiero De Cubellis is using his reef aquarium to draw insights that can help us better live in harmony with nature.

Text: Nikhil Narayan Sivadas Photo: Andrea Casanova

   
Vast and deep – the earth’s seas and oceans have captivated mankind since time immemorial and are capable of inspiring both serenity and passion. A feeling that Giampiero De Cubellis knows only too well. A general manager at Wärtsilä’s Sales and Development team in Trieste, Italy, he has spent his life studying the mysteries of the deep.

“It all started when I started my career as a marine engineer for cruise ships. I used to go snorkelling in the Caribbean Sea and loved swimming around reefs. I spent a lot of time simply watching and observing mother nature. And let me tell you, there is no better teacher,” he declares confidently.

Giampiero learnt a lot from his time among the reefs, including a deep sense of respect for the planet and its inhabitants. He was particularly enthused by nature’s way of keeping a balance, allowing life to flourish at its own pace and decided to setup an aquarium where he could replicate these systems. And unlike normal aquariums which are dedicated to fish, Giampiero decided to maintain a reef aquarium - a specialized structure that is dedicated to showcasing live corals and marine life that thrives in a reef environment.

“It has a totally independent filtration system and contains live rocks selected from the reef. It is amazing because when you source it from the reef, and the water quality and environment is right, life spreads naturally through the eggs and spores that are in the water,” explains De Cubellis.

          

The earth in miniature

He started with a few hard and soft corals. They set the stage for microscopic life in the water to be just right enough to introduce marine life, in the form of clown fish. “The selection I am making in my aquarium is based on what I see with my own eyes,” says De Cubellis. This also allowed him to introduce various kinds of marine life into the tank, that have a symbiotic relationship with one another. For instance, his cleaning crew for the tank consists of a hermit crab and snails that feed on algae. They along with the clown fish keep the water rich in nutrient, allowing the corals to grow. A system that he says, has successfully recreated that found in the reefs.

“It is really fascinating how without adding chemicals to the tank, you can keep your tanks clean, the water quality just right. I have even introduced cleaning shrimps and it is really fascinating for kids to see these animals swimming around the tank. Even the corals are enjoying it, because it is simply nature feeding the corals and you are not adding anything else,” he says matter-of-factly.

At the heart of all of this, lies De Cubellis’ passion for observing nature. A passion that he has applied to his work at Wärtsilä as well.

“Energy, efficiency and passion is what is driving my hobby at home, but the same is always applicable in my daily routine at Wärtsilä,” he emphasizes. “We are really working every day in Wärtsilä to have more efficient solutions for our customers and the aquarium is symbolic of this.”

  
Using technology to increase energy efficiency

Energy efficiency, he declares, is a prime example of this. For instance, 20 years ago, he would have required 200 watts of energy to keep his aquarium lit through fluorescent lamps. But now, thanks to LED lighting, that has come down to just 20 watts.

“Thanks to technology, I have been able to run the aquarium at one tenth the power it had once needed. The link between efficiency and technology is clear. And if I am able to affect such a drastic improvement on my hobby, then imagine the impact it can have on big businesses. The technology to do so exists, and doing this now will have help our world and our children in the future,” he insists.

And there is no denying it. Advances in technology have allowed organizations to drastically improve energy efficiency while lowering their carbon footprint. Marine vessels are employing techniques ranging from LED lighting to improved hull designs and propulsion systems to reduce their energy consumption. And that is just the beginning, says De Cubellis, talking about his aquarium’s UV system as an example.

“We have a UV system that kills bacteria and viruses in the aquarium and we have a similar feature in Wärtsilä’s ballast water system. You may not realize it, but ballast water is expelled by ships in oceans around the world and this may introduce foreign bacteria and spores to oceans which they are not native to,” he explains. “Thanks to my aquarium, I have seen this happen in miniature, and know how critical it is to prevent this. And that is what I tell and show to my customer when I explain why they need to take up more green measures.”

Giampiero has been made Wärtsilä’s energy efficiency spokesperson for Merchant shipping. He is also the Italian Flag state representative to the International Maritime Organization’s working group of technical experts, providing expertise that help legislators in the EU better understand the marine shipping industry. With all this to his credit, Giampiero insists that the most important takeaway from his experiences is that of giving respect.

“It is clear that whenever we see this aquarium, what it is teaching not only me, but my family, is a sense of respect. Respect for whatever we are doing and respect for the inhabitants who live here. And this helps fuel a passion to create a sustainable way or working and living, now and in the future,” he concludes.

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