I'm very happy to see that one of the most popular segments of what we do is to create "biotope-inspired" aquariums- that is, aquariums which have been set up to replicate, on some levels, a specific natural habitat.
Of course, "on some levels" is the key here. We're not talking exact biotope aquarium, where every fish, twig, leaf, etc. supposedly needs to be spot on for the locale in order to avoid a sound thrashing by the "experts" who lurk on social media.
We're talking about creating aquariums that are inspired by specific ecological niches, geographic locales, and habitats, which utilize materials that offer a representation, rather than an exact copy, of those found in the stated area. The reality, as we've beaten the shit out of repeatedly here, is that creating an exact duplicate of virtually any biotope is almost impossible, because you'd need to source and utilize the exact soils, botanicals, leaves, etc. found in your target niche.
The irony here is that the fishes are actually the easiest part of the equation! It's the "other stuff" that is more difficult to match up. And I suppose that it makes sense. That's why research is so important. And taking the time to look at the natural habitats...
And the criticisms you might face when you talk with some of the hardcore "biotope elitists?"
I wonder- can these armchair critics really discern the decomposing leaf of Hevea brasiliensis, Swietenia macrophylla, or Euterpe precatoria from Catappa, Guava, Jackfruit, Apple, Oak, etc? I mean, seriously? And, if someone cannot source these specific Amazonian leaves, does that invalidate the aquarium from consideration as a "biotope aquarium?"
No, they likely can't.
Does it even matter?
Whew, I AM getting worked up here, lol.
Again, it's the self-righteous attitudes surrounding these kinds of things that drive me crazy...
The point of my rant is that I think we all want the same thing. We all want to represent. as accurately and faithfully as possible, the biopic niches we're into. And that is incredibly cool! But when we get caught up in semantics and petty arguments for the sake of...well, for the sake of "being right"- who does this help?
Who does it hurt?
Doesn't this kind of criticism hurt those who are in a unique position to use their aquarium hobby talents to maybe, MAYBE reach a few non-hobbyists with their beautiful tank...perhaps raising awareness of the plight of that Borneo peat swamp or African flood plain? Does it discourage them from trying again in the future and sharing their work with the world?
Yeah. I think it does. And that sucks.
We need to lose the attitude on this topic.
I think many aquariums can be accurately labeled "biotope-inspired" or "biotope-style" aquarium. I think a lot of the cool work our community does is at that level.
There is nothing wrong with that at all.
And yeah, my orientation- my personal passion- the passion which led me to found Tannin Aquatics- was to curate, love, and offer my fellow hobbyists the natural materials they can use to create inspiring and compelling natural-style aquariums. To what level of authenticity we all aspire to is the choice of each one of us as individuals.
Now, the problem is, you "can't always get what you want."
It's a reality of the world in which we operate.
Much as I'd love to offer the leaves of the Hevea basiliensis or whatever, some materials aren't always-or ever- available. One could even make the argument that collecting some items would damage the very habitats that they come from. Some governments forbid or severely restrict the export of certain botanical materials- even fallen, dried leaves and seed pods.
Many of the materials we source are only available because they are a bi-product of agriculture or other domestic activities-many of which are (fortunately), sustainable and eco-sensitive. For example, many of our leaves and pods are from family farms or plantations, which grow fruit or utilize the leaves or seed pods for other purposes as well. That's a lucky thing.
At the end of the day, I think that everyone can and should put aside their interpretive differences and come to an agreement that just about any aquarium intended to replicate- on some level- a specific wild habitat, ecological niche, or area where a certain fish or fishes are found- is hugely important. Why? Because it calls attention to the habitats and environments themselves. It creates a starting point for discussion, research, debate...It raises awareness of the challenges that many habitats face with the encroachment of man's activities. It most certainly makes us appreciate the fragility of life- the genius of nature, and the incredible diversity and beauty of our home planet.
Even the most poorly executed (by "contest" standards", anyways) "biotope" aquarium helps the uninitiated public (or even the hobby community, for that matter) to become just a tad more enlightened about nature. It might just stimulate someone, somewhere to ask themselves, "Is that what it's like in The Atabapo?" And maybe, just maybe, they'll open up the iPad and do a little reading on the habitat that was being discussed...Maybe they'll take a crack at creating a representation of this habitat themselves. Maybe they will research and find and donate to an organization out there that is working to protect it.
Call your aquarium a "reasonable facsimile" of a wild habitat. Call it "biotope-inspired." Call it what you want...
It's all good, IMHO.
Stay inspired. Stay curious. Stay diligent. Stay creative. Stay brave...
And Stay Wet.