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Got Coral? Unusual South Coast business caters to 'Reefers', people who raise live coral

Nicholas Juarez and Ryan Huges co-own the "Odd Animal" shop in Santa Barbara with Sergio Castaneda

Under the right conditions, coral can outlive us.

A pump is shooting water through a large, unusual looking aquarium that’s the size of a pool table. It looks like you are hovering above a tropical ocean floor, covered with colorful, exotic coral. But, we’re actually inside of a little known Santa Barbara business which caters to people known as reefers. They're collectors of live coral.

Ryan Hughes founded the company Odd Animals with his friends Nicholas Juarez and Sergio Castenada.

"Coral is a being of its own," said Hughes. "It's a special thing."

The trio of reefers loved the hobby so much that during the pandemic, they decided to turn it into a business. Odd Animals is in a room of a shared industrial building just off of Carrillo Street in Santa Barbara. The room is filled with aquariums, and lots and lots of different kinds of coral.

"it started with a small water unit, and it grew to finding a small shop space, and then building every single thing in the room," said Nicholas Juarez, one of Odd Animal’s co-founders. "That's what got us to where we are now."

Juarez says because corals are attached to the sea floor, many people think they are plants. They're animals. He talks about what it takes to grow them in a home aquarium.

"To make a home reef, you're going to clean water, water that stays at a consistent temperature, and a lot of light," said Juarez. There are fish in the tank, and the coral consumes, and survives on the fish waste.

Some “reefers” have become regulars at Odd Animals. Christopher Sellars says he loves his unusual hobby. He admits he can't even count all the corals in his collection.

Odd Animals raises most of the corals it sells, and buys other from aquaculture farms, so they aren’t randomly being taken from the ocean.

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KCLU News Photo
Santa Barbara's Odd Animals store grows most of the corals it sells

And, while they require certain conditions like consistent water temperature, and nutrients to remain healthy, once you get the formula down, Juarez says they can live indefinitely, outliving us.

As Odd Animals prepares to celebrate its first anniversary, the partners say business is good, with customers spread around the country. And, while corals are the mainstay, the business is called Odd Animals. They also sell tree frogs, and tarantulas.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.