Animal Scene - - FRONT PAGE - Text by KATH­LEEN ANNE H. JOHN­SON

Ever since the un­ex­pected yet wel­come pop­u­lar­ity of the Aquar­ium Chan­nel on ca­ble TV over two decades ago, more and more Filipinos have cho­sen to main­tain aquar­i­ums, and their ma­jor rea­son for do­ing so for re­lax­ation pur­poses. They say the sight of a well-main­tained aquar­ium soothes the eye, relieves stress, low­ers blood pres­sure, and un­winds the mind— and th­ese days, the num­bers of cu­rated or planted aquar­i­ums (also known as ‘aquaria’) are on the rise.


One such cre­ator of planted aquar­i­ums is Derrick Pas­cual, who has been in the hobby for over three decades, since he was five years old. Cur­rently pres­i­dent of the So­ci­ety of the Philip­pine Aquar­ists (SPA) and found­ing pres­i­dent of Friends In The Same Hobby (FISH), Pas­cual has won sev­eral awards in var­i­ous lo­cal trop­i­cal fish com­pe­ti­tions. As a boy, he loved to keep live bear­ers in small tanks with­out aer­a­tors. The only source of oxy­gen he put in his tanks were float­ing aquatic plants, dec­o­rated to his lik­ing. He still creates this kind of setup for his live bear­ers to­day. In­spired by Takashi Amano, father of the na­ture aquar­ium, Pas­cual de­cided that he would make it his mis­sion to make aquaria more

beau­ti­ful, “…(to) put some themes into (them) to make (them) more ap­peal­ing to kids and to the young at heart.” While his themed aquar­i­ums cost him a min­i­mum of R15,000 to build, de­pend­ing on the size, fel­low hob­by­ists will rec­og­nize a rel­a­tive bar­gain, since the lights, plants, soil, and theme char­ac­ters, back­ground, and de­sign are al­ready in­cluded in the price. Be­cause he draws in­spi­ra­tion from Amano, a ma­jor­ity of his cre­ations are na­ture aquar­i­ums, and Pas­cual uses real plants and soil that can last for years and even re­move the need for fil­ters. He still creates aquar­i­ums with fil­ters, though, for clients who ask for it. He con­sid­ers him­self to be a child at heart, and so Pas­cual de­cided to play with the idea of in­te­grat­ing car­toon char­ac­ters with his pas­sion for the mini­aquatic world. As he used to work with kids, Pas­cual was dis­mayed to dis­cover that more and more of them sim­ply didn’t care about na­ture any­more. He finds that kids to­day are en­grossed in video games and so he thought of in­cor­po­rat­ing video games and car­toon char­ac­ters with na­ture aquar­i­ums to make th­ese more ap­peal­ing to chil­dren. “I was re­ally in­spired (by) Amano’s works, and af­ter see­ing (the) Spongebob (Squarepants movie), I thought, why not in­cor­po­rate the two?! It’s fun, be­cause of the toys in­side, yet still calm­ing be­cause of the (fish) and the aquatic (sur­round­ings),” he said. As a re­sult, Pas­cual now creates and sells themed

aquar­i­ums. Some of his cre­ations in­clude “Aquatic Plants Vs. Zom­bies,” “Smurf Happy Fa­thers’ Day,” “Frozen Aquatic Life,” and “Spongebob Aqua World.” IL­LUS­TRAT­ING THE CY­CLES OF LIFE But it’s not just about whimsy, en­ter­tain­ment, and re­lax­ation; Pas­cual shared that his themed aquar­i­ums are also meant to ed­u­cate. “Th­ese aquar­i­ums are (ideal) for school kids. It’s a per­fect pro­ject for (sci­ence sub­jects) since (th­ese help il­lus­trate the re­la­tion­ship be­tween) oxy­gen and car­bon diox­ide…the plant ex­cretes oxy­gen which is needed by the fish, and the fish (creates the) car­bon diox­ide that is needed by the plant,” he ex­plained, adding “It also shows how the fish’s stool de­com­poses and be­comes food for the plants.” More­over, he said that Math is ap­plied in tak­ing care of aquar­i­ums. There are cor­rect ra­tios for wa­ter, soil, the num­ber of plants to fish, how long to keep the aquar­ium light on, the per­cent­age for wa­ter changes, and even in the amount of fish food to feed your charges (in main­tain­ing the aquar­ium; there are also cor­rect ra­tios for when one de­signs a themed aquar­ium, feeds the fish, and even cleans) it,” he ex­plained. Let­ting a child de­sign a themed aquar­ium teaches the child how to prop­erly care for other liv­ing be­ings, and even bring out their artis­tic side. Pas­cual be­lieves that they learn to be more re­spon­si­ble in a happy and fun way, since they have to clean the aquar­ium, change the wa­ter, feed fish, and rear­range the toys in­side it—just like play­ing with them. Many par­ents of the chil­dren own­ing Pas­cual’s themed aquar­ium say that their chil­dren have be­came more re­spon­si­ble, and have be­gun to un­der­stand that the fish in their tanks de­pend on them for sur­vival. In the process, they learn about bi­o­log­i­cal mu­tu­al­ism in the in­ter­de­pen­dent re­la­tion­ship be­tween plants and fish: the fish need the oxy­gen the plants pro­duce, while the plants need the car­bon diox­ide the fish pro­duce. They also learn that plants need light to pro­duce their food, and that the fe­ces of fish are a good source of fer­til­izer for plants. They can, un­der the su­per­vi­sion of a re­spon­si­ble adult with a sci­en­tific back­ground, even per­form ex­per­i­ments. For ex­am­ple, Pas­cual sug­gests that they find out what will hap­pen if they over­pop­u­late or un­der­pop­u­late their tanks with fish. If par­ents don’t want to be re­spon­si­ble for any fish ill­nesses or deaths, then they can let their kids ex­per­i­ment in­stead on what will hap­pen if they keep the light on in their aquar­i­ums for longer or shorter times. They can also at­tempt to find a so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of “al­gae bloom.” “Hav­ing th­ese themed aquar­i­ums will make mini-sci­en­tists out of them; they can do dif­fer­ent ex­per­i­ments with their aquar­i­ums, with­out tak­ing away the joy of be­ing kids,” Pas­cual con­cluded. (With ad­di­tional text and edit­ing by CHAR­LENE BO­BIS)

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