Editorial: September 2008
By Jean-Jacques Eckert:
Peter Wilkens was born 30/04/1937 in Sonderhausen near Weimar (Germany). At a young age he was an enthusiastic aquarist. Before 1960 his interest was primarily devoted to the conservation of marine organisms coming from all the oceans. During and after his studies of biology carried out in Heidelberg, he worked in the laboratories of the Federation of the Ruhr and various other industrial companies in the field of chemical analyses and bacteriologies of water and the examination of water. He belonged to the Berlin Marine Association in the company of Dietrich Stüber, who was credited for the so-called Berliner method. The knowledge acquired during this work constituted the important basis for his research concerning the invertebrates and fish appropriate for the aquarium as well as the general problems involved in the conservation of marine animals. Many research trips were carried out along the coasts of the Atlantic, of the whole of the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Indo-Pacific. He made vast contributions concerning the world of the marine invertebrates in German and foreign specialized magazines, along with many conferences supported with slides taken during these trips. This conferred on him the worldwide reputation of an extraordinary specialist with regard to invertebrates. In the middle of the Eighties there did not exist literature concerning the maintenance of the corals. In beginning of the year 1970 he published his first book for aquarists "Niedere Tiere im tropischen Meeresaquarium" (The Saltwater Aquarium for Tropical Marine Invertebrates), in which he described the care necessary for the conservation of many corals and other marine invertebrates, who until this moment were regarded as impossible to maintain out of the ocean. What Wilkens presented with this book constituted a true revolution, which finally opened the door so that we today are able to maintain our reef tanks. In the era preceding Peter Wilkens there were few invertebrates that aquarists were able to maintain in aquaria. The spectrum of the invertebrates, which one could maintain successfully a long time was at that time very restricted and was generally limited to sea urchins, hermit crabs and sea anemones. The revolutionary work of Peter Wilkens was in his recognition of the biochemical requirements of a much wider range of conditions necessary to their survival. He began to develop methods regarding lighting, calcium supplementation via the use of kalkwasser (lime water) and methods for the removal of waste products, for example the use of protein skimming and activated carbon. He developed his knowledge and techniques through experimentation in his small store in Winterthur, Switzerland. I have visited it, I can affirm that it was a tiny room, not filled with unnecessary technology. Peter truly had a salty thumb. It is here that he created since 1970 his first trace element additive, CombiSan, marketed in 1979 which is still used by reef keepers. He was also the one who made the reef keeping world aware of the role of calcium for corals and developed the method of using Kalkwasser which is still used by most aquarists. He also developed carbon in pellet form, but this work is less known. Many aquarists from all over the world followed this new philosophy. Aquarists following his lead carried out research concerning the environment of the corals in order to improve their conservation within a closed system aquarium, while always following the principles that Peter Wilkens had formulated. Soon collaboration between amateurs and scientists intensified and an industry developed worldwide that brings us to today, where aquarists maintain beautiful reef tanks and public aquariums have built huge indoor reef tanks, essentially using the methods developed by Peter Wilkens. Peter Wilkens contribution both to science and the science of reef keeping is without peer. He has just left us after a long illness against which he fought but which did not leave him any chance. Finally, Peter Wilkens was a man who enjoyed great literature, the study of history [he wrote several historical novels], philosophy, fine food, and fine wine. Goodbye Peter, we miss you already.
Peter and I became good friends. He visited me in Brooklyn, NY, where he was surprised to find that some good beer brewed by micro-brewers was available in the US. He also visited me on Cape Cod, where the picture included here was taken. Several years before that he, Julian Sprung, and I went collecting in the Bahamas. I still have gorgonians that we collected on that trip. Those were days that I will never forget, and Peter Wilkens was a man that I and the world will never forget.