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2017 Convention Speakers

We are proud to feature the following guest lecturers at this year's AGA Convention:


Luca Galarraga is the founder of Aquabase in Brazil. To call Aquabase a “local fish store” would be a misstatement; it's a community that fosters the skills of aquascaping through mentorship and workshops. He has been an aquarist since 1976. He is a regular competitor and winner of aquascaping contests, including the Brazilian contest CBAP (Concurso Brasileiro de Aquapaisagismo), the Aquatic Gardeners Association International Aquascaping Contest (committee member), and the International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest. He has also been a juror of national and international contests. Luca's education in architecture (University of Sao Paulo 1989) serves him well in these endeavors. He is married and father of two daughters.

Luca's presentation will be about how to be competitive in aquascaping contests, including tips about tank sizes, substrate system, light, photography and much more!

Karen Randall grew up with aquariums as a child. While experienced in many facets of the aquarium hobby, as an adult her focus turned to a concentration on planted display aquariums and the study and propagation of aquatic plants. Her articles and photography have been published in multiple languages and publications around the world. For many years she authored the monthly column, “Sunken Gardens” in Aquarium Fish Magazine. She is an international speaker on aquarium subjects. Karen is past president of the Boston Aquarium Society, and serves on the board of the Aquatic Gardeners Association. She was editor of the AGA magazine, The Aquatic Gardener for 5 years and is now technical editor. She serves as a judge for both the AGA International Aquascaping Contest and the Aqua Design Amano International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest as well as serving on the jury of a number of live aquascaping contests. She has also served as a consultant on several major projects at public aquaria.

Karen travels frequently to study aquatic plants in the wild. In 2003 she was awarded the Northeast Council of Aquarium Society’s Betty Mueller Award; a life-time award for her outreach work and other contributions to the aquarium hobby.

Her book, Sunken Gardens, A Step-by-Step Guide to Planting Freshwater Aquariums was published this spring.

Karen's talk will cover low tech, simple methods of planted aquaria as well as high-tech, fast growth set-ups, using potted and tissue culture plants, and touches on aquascaping.

Saturday night during the banquet, you can enjoy another presentation by Karen Randall. This never-before-seen talk, entitled “Where Do Our Plants Come From?” will examine collecting in the wild, identification, commercial nursery farming, tissue culture plants and how to use them effectively, and plants that are mostly traded between hobbyists (and why). You won't want to miss the international premiere of this presentation!

Ghazanfar Ghori has been involved with the aquarium hobby for over 25 years, with the past 10 years dedicated to planted aquaria. He has taken part in many aquascaping competitions, including the annual ADA International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest. He is a well-respected hobbyist in the U.S. and has spoken at numerous aquaria-related conventions and events, including the Northeast Council of Aquarium Societies convention. He also served as a judge in the 2008 and 2015 AGA Iron Aquascaper competition. He was the President of the Greater Washington Aquatic Plants Association for several years. Currently he is focusing on plants from the genus Bucephalandra.

Ghazanfar has also spent a number of years keeping and propagating Cryptocoryne species. His collection includes 30+ species and 60+ varieties. By profession, Ghazanfar is a Microsoft professional, working in the Washington, DC area, where he resides with his wife and three children.

Ghazanfar will lecture on the background, habitat, and culture of Bucephalandra species.

Bart Laurens was born in Palembang on Sumatra, Indonesia in 1947, at that time a Dutch colony. At the age of one and a half his parents brought him to the Netherlands, and so he regrets that he doesn't remember a thing of his homeland. It was his grandfather who caused his interest in aquariums. When he was 8 years old he had his first tank. As long as he can remember he has always had an aquarium. He was 10 years old when he became a youth member of the Dutch N.B.A.T. [Nederlandse Bond Aqua Terra]. This year is his 60th year jubilee.

Keeping an aquarium has always been a hobby and never became a profession. He doesn't claim to be a scientist. His specialty has always been the Dutch Style Aquarium. Since 2007, he has had a large tank of 3.10m long and 65cm wide and 50cm deep; about 1,000 liters. He has always participated in the aquarium contests of the N.B.A.T. at a reasonable level and has won several awards. He lives in the Netherlands in Zoetermeer, near The Hague. He is a member of the local aquarium society: Paluzee. In 2015 he won the 3rd prize in the category “Dutch Aquascape” of the Aquatic Gardeners Association International Aquascaping Contest.

Bart has also been working for several years with terrariums. He kept and bred various species of reptiles and amphibians. In addition, he has experience with the cultivation of all kinds of food animals, such as crickets, grasshoppers, fruit flies, cockroaches, butterflies and moths, stick insects, and common flies.

He has given about 40 years presentations in The Netherlands on the field of terrarium and aquarium skills and maintains a website about his hobbies. He is an enthusiastic photographer and publishes many photos on the website. He has photographed most of the top aquariums in the Netherlands.

In "real life" life he was a lecturer at the Hague University in Public Administration and Public Management. He was a study career coach and taught communication skills until November 2012. Now he is semi-retired.

Bart will speak on all aspects of Dutch Style Aquascaping.

Rachel O’Leary from Mount Wolf, PA is an unmistakable personality within the aquarium hobby. Rachel actively attends conventions and travels to speak nationally and internationally to educate hobbyists on her invertebrate, dwarf Asian hillstream, aquascaping, and nano fish interests. She provides freshwater aquarium livestock, plants, and aquascaping materials from around the globe, personally interacting with every customer. Rachel produces educational content on her YouTube channel, including species spotlights and informational tips for the avid hobbyist. Rachel is a frequent contributor to Amazonas magazine and The Aquatic Gardener, with articles featuring her travels and interactions with other hobbyists and breeders, as well as species spotlights and special features. She also wrote a book with co-author Mark Denaro entitled "The 101 Best Freshwater Nano Species: How to Choose & Keep Hardy, Brilliant, Fascinating Nano Fishes, Plants and Invertebrates". Rachel has spent the last 15 years studying invertebrate husbandry, aquascaping, and breeding practices. Rachel’s fish room consists of over 100 tanks ranging from 10 to 220 gallons, with a focus on nano species as well as dwarf Asian hillstream species and 3,000 gallons of outdoor container gardens used for breeding fish.

Rachel will speak about Interesting Stocking Selection for the Nano Aquarium.