Don't stop thinking about tomorrow...really!

It’s the year 2040.

Yeah, really…Sounds like a nice even number…Far enough away to be “in the future”, but not so far away as to lost in the realm of intergalactic science fiction, ya know? You’re an aquarist…Yeah, the hobby still exists. The hacks in D.C. and the hapless "pseudo-environmentalist" tools finally realized, back in 2018, that captive propagated corals are viable alternatives to collecting wild specimens from the “watch lists” of years earlier, deserving special consideration and separation from the restrictions of their wild brethren. We have a well-established, viable and sustainable freshwater and marine livestock trade. The aquarium trade has collaborated and cooperated with governments around the world to create guidelines for long-term stewardship of wild lakes, rivers, and reefs, and collection is managed and tempered with a slightly higher percentage of propagated fishes and corals coming into the trade than being collected from the wild.

Fantasy? Perhaps. But it’s MY vision of the future, so indulge me for a bit, okay?

The typical hobbyist is not wearing a jet pack, driving a "Jetson's-style" gravity-modulating vehicle, or walking around with a microchip imbedded in his head. Not that kind of Hollywood-esque, dark future. Unfortunately, the USS Enterprise is still 300 years away, and “getting away” still means climbing on a noisy, high-carbon-footprint subsonic jet to Tahiti.

What else is happening in the hobby in 2040? Let’s take a look at some of my hoped-for predictions. You can give me a wedgie or something in 2040 if they don’t come to pass, but the way I see it, I have like 25 years before you get to call bull@#$% on my predictions! 

Here are a few:

Captive bred fishes are the standard, rather than the exception. Collection pressures on many wild populations has forced the hobby/industry to embrace captive bred fishes once and for all. The “new norm” for reef aquariums is not big, Ocean going Tangs and such- it’s small, colorful Gobies, Dartfishes, Clownfishes, Assessors, Dwarf Angelfishes, Blennies and Wrasses, the majority of which were bred in captivity by boutique breeders and larger commercial operations. In freshwater, it's lots and lots of cool smaller Tetras, Rainbowfishes, and (formerly wild) Betta species! Big fishes ing general have fallen out of favor, with hobbyists finally realizing that they are just not practical for most tanks…Keeping a Naso Tang or Shovelnose Catfish in a 200 gallon tank is now viewed the same way as if you or I chose to live in our living room for the rest of our lives…I mean, you have a couch and Netflix, but you’ll go nuts after a few months, right? The new mantra is “Small Fish- Big Tank.”

Water movement in reef tanks is via ridiculously small, low-power consumption, ultra high-tech internal pumps. It is now possible to generate widely dispersed flow rates of thousands of gallons per hour with electrical consumption in the single digits of watts. Don’t think this will happen? It already is, to some extent.  I was in Hanover, Germany about a year and a half ago, visiting Panta Rei (the guys who make Hydro Wizard pumps), and saw some prototypes of pumps that were ridiculously advanced, super-efficient, and really small, made in a high-tech facility that had us convinced that some kind of deal must have been struck with extraterrestrials to get this technology. We even saw a pump that was the size of an eraser, which put out like 80 GPH..Sheer craziness..and it’s all coming very soon. Woosh!


We’re all trying to give our fishes, plants, and corals the best possible environment; a replication of nature. To that end, the industry and hobby have spent decades of energy, millions of R & D dollars, and lots of brain power trying to develop additives, salt mixes, and other elixirs to try to help accomplish just that. In the very near future, it will be completely possible to replicate natural water chemistry in the aquarium from locations worldwide with relative ease. Thanks to the work of Triton Labs in Germany, a database is being developed of super-detailed ICP-OES water analysis from reefs around the world. This will enable a hobbyists to mimic the exact chemical/trace element composition of water from a specific locality. I wouldn't be surprised if the same thing comes to pass at some point for freshwater environments  too!

Picture this: You’re on vacation in Brazil. You see an epic Igarape that you’d love to mimic in your home. you have the tank, you have the lights. You have the water movement. Now, you know EXACTLY what the trace element levels are in that fabulous ecosystem, and have a means to replicate them in your home aquarium. Crazy. Further. imagine if collectors, wholesalers, then retailers had this information all along the chain of custody from river to retail, being able to provide fishes with the exact water conditions they enjoyed in the wild- and then providing that to you! Welcome to “Eco-labeling, v.2.0!”


Since replicating the natural environment is a key to successful husbandry, it only makes sense that linking technology and biology together will propel the hobby/art of fish keeping forward. In 2040, I have no doubt that we will see real-time connectivity between ethnology as diverse as satellites and aquarium controllers. Huh? For example, a storm is a-brewing down in the Peruvian Amazon…Your aquarium is set up to mimic a river down in “those parts”..Your controller is set to monitor the conditions down there via subscription service (Much like DirecTV or Dish Network) to link satellite weather reports and/or NOAA buoy information or INPA monitoring stations from that region to your aquarium controller "monitoring service" (either third party or from the manufacturer- whoa- can you say “niche market opportunity?”). 

Through an algorithm (or whatever you computer-type geeks call it), a set of conditions is developed at the monitoring service, and your water pumps, LED lights, and yeah- even trace element dosing, feeding and whatever other functions are tied to your controller- are adjusted accordingly. To some extent, we have these kinds of things now…However, in the future, you’ll see pumps adjusted to produce crazy water currents, LED-generated “lightning”, “cloud patterns”, water levels, and perhaps even temperature swings that coincide with real time data- occurring right in your aquarium. Of course, these changes would be “stepped down” to not create ridiculous, deadly environmental swings in our aquariums- but there would be changes- just like in nature! If it’s a bit too “Big Brother”-ish for you, I suppose that you’d receive ample warning from a forecast feature on your mobile device, so you could “opt out” of the encroaching storm if it interferes with your next house party..LOL

How many times have you had this argument with a fish-keeping buddy at the club meeting, conference, LFS, or even a friend’s tank? “Dude, that’s a Geophagus dicrozoster.” “No, it’s a Geophagus  abalios.” “Nah, I think it’s a G. steindachneri…” Okay, whatever. Wouldn’t it be cool to know, once and for all if the fish in your possession that you call G. abalios really IS G. abalios“, and what population it REALLY is? Well, think about this: We have the Human Genome Project, and DNA sequencing is used for all kinds of crazy stuff. It’s only a matter of time before someone applies the DNA analysis techniques used in fish-specific research to practical ID for the industry and hobby- kind of like what several companies are already doing with ICP-OES for water analysis. The impact would be dramatic and revolutionary. ID would forever be accurate, and we could develop a body of knowledge on the husbandry of various fish species the likes of which has never been done before- simply because we’d know EXACTLY what species we’re dealing with. The misidentification  garbage would be put to rest once and for all, and true “lineage” could be established for all sorts of fishes. Vendors would be better informed, right along with hobbyists. This ID would be great for enforcing trade restrictions, proving that a fish or coral is from captive-propagated stock, etc. It’s not at all far-fetched- and really has amazing practical implications!


As the technology impacting the hobby continues to evolve, I’d like to think that hobbyist will, too. We’ve already seen it- thanks to the internet, and forums. Communication on a global scale is immediate and far reaching. Ideas that pop up to a fish geek in Battle Creek, Michigan can immediately be relayed to a fish geek in Glasgow, Hokkaido, or Burkina Faso, for that matter…Collaboration, kinship, and the perpetuation of aquarium keeping “culture” will always be possible, thanks to this advanced technology- and even more because of the sprit of the hobbyist…unshakable, grounded in science, yet tempered with passion. A formidable combination for the present, and into the future.

Well- those are a few of my predictions of the future of the hobby…Some are already coming to fruition- others are still a ways off- but I think that they WILL come to pass…along with hundreds of ideas not even postulated here. What sorts of visions do you have for the future of the hobby? Share your insights, theories, and feelings…

As always, keep an eye on your tanks- another one on the future…

And stay wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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