Aquaria. What’s old is new again.

Aquaria: what’s old is new again, for me at least.

Found in my father’s slide collection, a Dutch-style aquarium. 1963. (Scan from 35mm slide, Converted to B&W due to colour degradation)

Like photography, the keeping of aquaria was introduced to me by my father when the family lived in South Africa in the 1970s. His background in aquarium keeping went back to the 1950s in Delft, The Netherlands, where he was secretary of the local Aquarium club, Danio Rerio. When he emigrated in 1959 and went on to move through Canada and South Africa (with his family in tow) he continued the aquarist hobby in most places he lived. He also carried with him a few dozen of the Dutch magazine, Het Aquarium, the public face of the Nederlandse Bond Aqua Terra.

The saved Het Aquarium magazines.

In the 1970s, as a young budding naturalist in South Africa, I found these magazines inspirational, and I still have them. The unique planted tanks, the serious approach, and the detailed articles all entranced me, even though I struggled to make sense of the Dutch language they were written in. All the aquaria reference books and magazines that were available in English at that time came from America or England, and it seemed to me that they were somewhat less refined when compared to the approach taken by aquarists in the Netherlands. But I digress…

A painting by my father of a portion of an idealized Dutch-style aquarium. 1988.

During those teen years in South Africa, I learned the scientific names of tropical fish and plants, learned about aquarium care, fish breeding and how to raise the fry. Later, back in Canada, the hobby continued on a small scale. As I grew older aquaria continued to hold my interest as I explored the idea of naturalistic aquariums. The thought of having a window in my living room that looked into a tropical stream or pond, containing a diversity of plants and jewel-like denizens,–flitting about in schools, forming territories, breeding, interacting and otherwise behaving naturally–was truly exciting. I set up a rainforest-like habitat in a homemade tank and cabinet that I purchased from a friend. It was planted with a variety of plants arranged around bog wood and lava stone. I populated it with a variety of Amazonian fish, and the dream was realized. The plants and the fish thrived.

The accumulation of knowledge over the years led me to work–and eventually manage–a pet store as the aquarium “specialist”. When we finally owned our own home, I set up a fish room, with a turtle pond, various sizes of aquaria and a simple water changing system.

The jungle aquarium, 1993. (Scan from 35mm slide)

Male Dwarf Flag Cichlid, Laetacara curviceps, guarding eggs. 1993. (Scan from 35mm slide)

But this involvement in the hobby slowly changed. It’s hard to remember the sequence of events that lead to the decline. The large Amazonian “jungle” tank on the main floor began leaking and water dripped into the room beneath, damaging the ceiling. Taking the warning, I removed the old tank and replaced it with a new 72-gallon aquarium. This was set up in the basement, but it never thrived as before, perhaps because it was removed from an area of regular observation. In the meantime, life took over. Between trying to raise a child and gradually developing a gardening business, slowly, one by one, the tanks in the fish room were shut down. As my daughter grew up and entered school, my interests turned to terrestrial invertebrates and photography and blogging about both. I began to use the space as the home base for my macro photography sideline, with camera stands, macro benches and a scattering of microscopes. Eventually, all that remained of the aquarium hobby was the single 40 gal. tank, which became the overwintering spot for my garden pond goldfish. Years have gone by without an ornamental aquarium in the house.

Last year, I noticed the sole remaining fish tank had developed a slow leak. While going through the machinations of repairing it, and redecorating it, I came across more of my stored tanks, all roughly in the “nano” category. The tanks included an 18 gal., a 15 gal., two 10 gal., two 5 gal., and three “nano-nano” 2.5gal., as well as a large brandy snifter (Say…what?). “Hmmm,” I thought, “It would be nice to set up one of these again”, and so I did. The pleasure of once more seeing fish swimming around in the little peaceful world of the aquarium was just what I needed to bring some green and lively life back into our present winter world.

The 2023 15-gallon jungle tank–still incomplete–at about two months old.

And then I started another, and another… I couldn’t help myself.

So, in retirement, an old dried-up passion has become reconstituted. Today, with the world wide web, social media and high technology, the influences on the aquarium-keeping hobby are international, often highly technical and diverse in style. I imagine, in my current state of mind, that my style of aquaria will still tend more towards being nothing-fancy. i.e. naturalistic, well-planted, low-tech and, ideally, low-maintenance. In future posts I hope to share more about my experiences with these new aquaria and also look into the history of aquarium keeping and aquascaping and how it compares to modern practices.

Coming up soon,( possibly):
Planted aquaria: the American Walstad method (i.e. the “dirted” aquarium) vs. The Netherlands’ (ie “Dutch”) planted aquarium tradition.

Comments welcome.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

A Website.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: