Nathan Hill explains why we fishkeepers are all heroes.
Iam properly jealous of you lot. I look around, and what I see is a medley of awesome tanks. At all levels.
When I started this hobby, my tanks were absolute garbage. Some would argue they still are. Compared to what else I’m seeing these days, I’d not fight my corner very hard. You folks should be very impressed with where you’ve brought the hobby.
Interpretation of nature
This month I had to write the obituary of an early pioneer and hero of mine, from a time when fishkeeping was viewed very differently. Visiting his early works, the kind of tanks he championed then were a world away from the concerted efforts of today. But you could still sense the same urgent strand running through them. An interpretation of nature, clumsy and inaccurate, but sincere and heartfelt.
I notice that not only has technology moved on since those early times, but the translation — the way we express nature — has shifted.
That’s not to say that those first, great fishkeepers were ‘backwards’ in any sense. I look at the innovations of the day, fifty-plus years ago, and realise that some look as cutting edge now as they did then. Then I chuckle at the thought that some of these ideas are being passed off by a new wave of aquarists as though discovered for the first time — ideas conceived long before they were even born. It would appear, as one astute gentleman put it, that “Fishkeepers are like some spiders — the young feed from previous generations then just depart thanklessly afterward.”
Remembering our hobby origins is
Imagine a time when filtration wasn’t understood, when oxygenation was seen as the only essential factor in keeping fish, and when heating water involved paraffin lamps under slate based aquaria...
important. Lots of great men and women carried out great works to get us where we are. Inventors created heaters that worked underwater, instantly paving the way for thousands of extra available fish. Imagine a time when filtration wasn’t understood, when it was considered that oxygenation was the only essential factor in keeping aquatic life. Imagine when heating water involved paraffin lamps under slate based aquaria. These were the working conditions of our forbearers. They took the rawest elements of fishkeeping — water, a viewing box, gravel and plants, and made it in to something huge. To them, we owe a debt of gratitude, and most of us don’t even know who they are.
If they were alive to see what fishkeeping has now become, they would be beyond startled. Immaculate reefs relying on nothing more than rocks and bubbles (think about it — what is a protein skimmer at the end of the day?) with corals more colourful than those found in the wild. Rolling Iwagumi (I’m guessing the plural of Iwagumi is still Iwagumi — write in if I’m wrong) with carpets of pearling leaves to rival any lawns. And the biotopes. The endless biotopes. I love how I can use Google Earth to parachute down on to any spot on the planet and then replicate it. Back then, they had to arrange a monthlong expedition with funding, visas, angry natives, wild animals and malaria just to find out if there was a river somewhere. Now that’s passion.
The hobby is what you make it
It is good to see, then, that for the best part this legacy is not wasted. I’ll concede, there are fishkeepers who don’t embrace the authentic side of the hobby. Perhaps the nostalgic cliché of chopped rainbow gravel and a luminous sign declaring that their aquarium is a ‘no fishing’ zone is alive and well. I’ve seen some. The hobby is what you make of it. The thing is, the fish in these tanks come across as happy, and that’s fine by me.
In fact, scrub that. The fish look great. I might sneer and jeer at the taste in decor, but the fish look better than anything I started with. Education has been an antidote to the old errors of new tank syndrome — even some non-fishkeepers now seem to know that you can’t just sling fish in a tank from the off.
As a collective, give yourselves a huge pat on the back. You might not think you’ve done anything to warrant it, but you have. You’ve listened. You’ve read up on the subject. I know that for a fact — if you weren’t reading about fish, you wouldn’t be looking at my childish scrawl, right now. If you’ve ever put off buying a purchase because you hadn’t researched it, if you’ve tentatively dipped your first test strip into your tank and bamboozled yourself with colour charts, or if you’ve gingerly netted out the last Guppy fry into a breeding trap, then you are a fishkeeping hero, and a part of a much wider, older legacy than you might imagine.
So well done for that, and keep up the good work. I LOVE seeing what you ladies and gentlemen out there do. Nathan Hill is Practical Fishkeeping’s features editor, photographer, videographer, freestyle and slalom skater, amateur trip-hop/lo-fi producer and biotope fan who has just planned out a truly insane project.
If only those early fishkeepers could see how far we’ve come...