George Mavrakis ‘19 is the passionate, nerdy, adventurous brain behind CoralFish12g, a YouTube channel that began when he set up his first saltwater aquarium at the age of 10 and decided to pick up a camera and share his aquarium knowledge online. That channel, which has now been around for over a decade, passed the one million subscriber milestone on YouTube in December 2021.
While at Lawrence, he majored in economics with a certificate in innovation and entrepreneurship. Mavrakis mused, “I didn’t love school from an academic standpoint. I was working on my own things a lot throughout my time at Lawrence, but there are definitely nuggets of info from my economics classes that I draw on from time to time.” While his academic studies have helped him in the business world here and there, his experience playing on the basketball team had far more of an influence on him, teaching him how to deal with adversity and work with other people to achieve shared goals.
During his time as a Lawrentian, he kept many saltwater and freshwater aquariums in his dorm room and continued making YouTube content, balancing that passion with his curricular and cocurricular activities. At the end of his first year at Lawrence, word got out about his aquarium YouTube channel, and from that point on, he was the “fish guy” on campus.
Aquarium keeping is a family tradition for Mavrakis: his mother kept aquariums growing up, as did her father. Starting out with a saltwater tank was an intense experience, as corals and marine fish are more difficult to care for than freshwater fish like goldfish, but his mother helped him out for the first year or two until he was old enough to pursue his fascination with marine life independently.
As a child, Mavrakis had a fleeting interest in pursuing a career in marine biology, but that desire vanished when he realized how many academic hoops he would have to jump through to pursue that career path. He now considers himself an “aquarium and marine life enthusiast” with a mission to inspire and educate as many people as he can, recognizing the importance of having scientists behind the scenes conducting research as well as having intermediaries, such as himself, who can help make that research compelling and accessible to the public. Mavrakis shared, “I want my videos to be based in education, but I think that a lot of people might be surprised when watching videos on my channel. I try to mix entertainment and education perfectly in a way where you get to learn things, but it’s very seamless and it’s very fun to learn.” He calls his fusion of entertainment and education “infotainment.”
Another role Mavrakis envisions for himself is to bridge the gap between the public aquarium sector and the consumer hobbyist sector. One way he has tried to achieve this is by bringing scientists involved with public aquariums to speak at Aquashella, the aquarium festival he runs annually in Chicago, Dallas and Orlando. Mavrakis believes that bridging the two industries can be mutually beneficial; home aquarium technology has advanced so much that public aquariums now use it as well, and hobbyists benefit from the knowledge scientists can provide.
Recently, Mavrakis was involved in a project led by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) to spread awareness about a deadly disease impacting the Florida Reef Tract. Stony coral tissue loss disease was first reported in the reef in 2014, and by 2021, it had spread to the entire Florida Reef Tract. For the last several years, AZA accredited institutions have worked with state and federal agencies, universities and coral conservation groups on the Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project to pull imminently endangered corals out of the ocean and hold them in aquariums across the country to serve as a gene bank. The hope is that once the disease has run its course, the rescued corals can be replanted in the ocean. Mavrakis was invited to visit aquariums across the country and film videos to raise awareness about the Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project; his four-part series on the project will come out on his YouTube channel. He suspects many people in the U.S. don’t yet realize that the coral reefs off the Florida coast are one of America’s biological treasures, protecting the coast from flooding and erosion.
Another exciting project on his horizon is an hour-long documentary film, documenting his journey into the Amazon jungle with one of the world’s leading ichthyologists to look for new species of fish. The film, which has been in production for the last year, is scheduled to come out within the next month on Mavrakis’ YouTube channel. He calls it the “best piece of work” he’s ever created and hopes that as he continues to hone his production quality, he’ll get the opportunity to present media on larger platforms, such as Netflix.
Despite these lofty goals, he said his favorite parts of his videos are really the interactions he gets to have with the creatures he meets — human or otherwise — across the world. He thinks of the aquarium hobby as an avenue for him to travel, explore cultures and have adventures. For example, since graduating from Lawrence he took up scuba diving and has gotten to see many familiar animals in the real world, on the coral reefs, in the ocean — in their real home. The coolest part, for him, is experiencing animals while being a guest in their space. He related his experience spending time with sharks; coming from a media-colored fear of the creatures, he thought of them as huge, bloodthirsty and dangerous until he had firsthand experience swimming with them and learning why they do the things they do. Mavrakis reflected, “It totally rewired me and changed my perspective about sharks. If I go diving now and I see a shark, I’m excited. It’s like the best day of my life. You really appreciate that you’re in their space.”
Mavrakis sees his hobby as a gateway to appreciating and understanding nature, noting that a lot of people who keep aquariums during their childhood end up becoming marine biologists and working on conservation efforts with zoos and aquariums. Even if aquarium hobbyists choose other career paths, that connection to nature has been opened up, which is a wonderful thing. After all, not everyone can pursue a Ph.D. in marine biology, but anybody can care for a fish friend in a home aquarium.