Recently, I had a discussion with another hobbyist who asked me where I feel my personal and business work falls in the grand scheme of creating aquariums. It gave me some pause, because I think that we might get to caught up in labeling everything rather than looking at the big picture.
I suppose that it is an argument that will never be fully resolved among fish geeks:
What constitutes an aquarium that represents a part of nature?
I mean, it's a discussion that I think is worth having, for sure, if for no other reason than for us to come to some sort of a self-awareness about what we're doing. That being said, we can often create a "word salad" of descriptors that may simply be lots of ways of saying the same thing. Yes, I admit that I do cringe on occasion when the description "Nature Aquarium" is given to a tank which, although amazing, has little to do with a specific representation of nature.
Or, does it?
I've always felt that inserting the words "themed", "inspired", "type" or "style" after the description of your aquarium gives you a bit of a "let", so to speak. In other words, my new tank is a "Southeast Asian-themed", which is far different than a true "biotope" aquarium, which, in hobby parlance, seems to have several classifications.
Most of these center around the aquarium representation of a very specific niche or locale in nature, with the requirements being to include organisms representative of the specific niche or region....or species, geographic locale, or what they call in the contest world an "ecological" aquarium.
I kind of like that one.
Our friends in the Biotope Aquarium Design contest define an "ecological" aquarium as one in which, "...aquatic organisms are selected by similar requirements to environmental conditions, without binding to a certain area or a biotope. For example, an aquarium for the fishes preferring cold water and strong current, or the fishes who need stone shelters and increased content of salts of total and carbonate hardness."
From my standpoint, it gives you as a hobbyist a lot of creative leeway. Some space to create a nice representation without getting too bogged down in the minutiae of what twig or leaf is endemic to the region that you're representing. You can feel free to be a bit "creative", which still bringing the "flavor" of a specific niche or locale.
Therefore, my "Southeast Asian-Themed" tank, or "Brackish Water Mangal-Inspired" system gives me the "permission" to keep together fishes which, although compatible, would likely never co-habitatate in nature. I get the "vibe" I want, create environmental conditions appropriate for each of the fishes that I want to keep, and just enjoy it.
Sure, it's NOT a strict representation of a mangal "in the Sarawak region of Borneo during the Spring", or something as specific as that. It's about creating an aquarium which is more-or-less "representative" of the broad environmental niches found in a given region. However, in researching the environment, the parameters, and the organisms which reside there when assembling our systems, we are acquiring valuable information that can benefit many others in the hobby.
I mean, I the end, it's all about having fun. And it's about educating ourselves and others about locations, animals, and habitats that they may never get a chance to visit in person- and to bring attention to and discussion about the risks and perils they face as man continues to encroach on them.
Now, conversely, couldn't we make an argument that virtually any aquarium checks some of those boxes?
Sure. I mean, how much "detail" we want go into is a big factor. One could mix tropical fishes as diverse as Guppies, Tetras, and Dwarf cichlids and is suppose make some sort of stretch that they are "all from tropical locales" and therefore "represent" a "tropical environment." We've more-or-less does that with the traditional "community aquarium" for generations.
Now, we can't fool ourselves. This type of aquarium represents nature in the same manner as a vase full of flowers represents the fields in which they grow wild, but hey, I suppose it's a start...
Where am I going with this?
I suppose that I'm simply contributing to the clutter and confusion on the subject to some extent. Well, in some areas, at least.
As you are now likely aware, we have gone to great efforts recently to educate our community about the origins of the botanical materials that we offer, and are going "pod by pod" in our new blog series to give you as much detail possible on each one. This gives you more information about our botanical materials, which can help you make more informed decisions about what to include in your aquariums.
And I cannot stress it enough:
It's really important to enjoy aquariums the way YOU want to. That being said, however, I feel equally strong that it's important to learn about the biological interactions and functions of the habitats we attempt to replicate on some level in our aquariums. Understanding why the habitats that are fishes come from are the way they are adds another, important level to understanding the fishes themselves.
And understanding the function of natural aquatic systems holds the key to understanding how to recreate, on many levels, the optimum aquarium habitats for our fishes, so that they may live healthy, normal lifespans, thrive, and maybe even reproduce under our care. You can call your tank a "biotope", "biotype", "theme"- whatever you want to...but every aquatic system is governed by the laws of Nature, and there is no real way around that.
You can't fight Nature.
I mean, you can try to defy her...For a while, at least. Mix incompatible species. "Force fit" wild fishes to adapt to your tap water conditions. Skip regular maintenance and husbandry routines. And then, just as sure as the water returns with the daily tide, she'll come back and spank you.
It's foolish to do this.
Besides, why would you want to? I mean, part of the fun is seeing our fishes live in beautiful aquariums which represent the environments from which they come in the wild.
And guess what? You can call them whatever you want to. Just enjoy them. Learn from them. Share your knowledge and discoveries.
Stay bold. Stay excited. Stay engaged. Stay creative. Stay intrigued...
And Stay Wet.