Age of aquar­i­ums

Mi­cro­cosms of­fer win­dow into un­der­wa­ter world

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - By Su­san Smith-Durisek

LEX­ING­TON, Ky. — For ded­i­cated aquar­ium lovers, the cre­ation and main­te­nance of their own un­der­wa­ter mi­cro­cosms is not just a hobby, but a beau­ti­ful and com­pelling ob­ses­sion. Even for ca­sual ob­servers, a sur­pris­ing oth­er­worldly en­counter with an aquar­ium of­fer­ing a win­dow into the world of wa­ter crea­tures is mes­mer­iz­ing. Brightly coloured fish cruise back and forth; ex­otic co­ral struc­tures form con­torted, hide-and-seek caves and tun­nels; and plants sway gen­tly with the flow of oth­er­wise un­de­tectable cur­rents. Be­sides that, aquar­i­ums of­fer a cool patch of liv­ing green­ery, a mind-mas­sag­ing hide­away when life gets stress­ful and a nat­u­ral source for main­tain­ing hu­mid­ity in the home. Bryan Jones has de­signed, in­stalled and main­tained aquar­i­ums for homes and busi­nesses set­tings in cen­tral Ken­tucky for more than 26 years through his busi­ness, Rent-a-Fish. He has been in­volved with aquar­i­ums most of his life. “I got my first 10-gal­lon tank, with black mol­lies and a cory cat­fish, when I was five years old,” he says. By the mid-1980s, his aquar­ium count was up to nine. Af­ter pur­su­ing de­grees in bi­ol­ogy and art from the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky, he man­aged and even­tu­ally owned a pet cen­tre; it even­tu­ally closed, he says, mainly be­cause of strong com­pe­ti­tion from In­ter­net sales in a strug­gling econ­omy. Jones then found a niche in ser­vice. “It be­comes a big part of your life and who you are,” he says. “This is what I use to share my art, cre­at­ing aquar­ium sys­tems and de­signs. Peo­ple ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ about them.” Jones stresses to his clients he thinks fish should not just ex­ist, but thrive in their new home. The sys­tem has to fit the needs and per­son­al­ity of its keeper: do you want a fresh­wa­ter or salt­wa­ter sys­tem? What kinds of fish do you want, and do they suit your per­sonal style — from flashy and en­er­getic to re­laxed and laid­back — and are they also com­pat­i­ble with each other by per­son­al­ity and habi­tat needs? Re­sults vary widely. In one set-up for a client, Jones cre­ated a calm­ing fresh­wa­ter com­mu­nity tank that brings to­gether fish from around the world that are not ag­gres­sive with one an­other and can live har­mo­niously. They in­clude Boe­se­man’s rain­bow­fish from Ocea­nia, Congo te­tras from Africa, neon te­tras from South Amer­ica and cherry barbs from Asia. They co­ex­ist peace­fully in a for­est of teardrop ro­tala plants, which look like an un­der­wa­ter jun­gle of long, nar­row, green bot­tle brushes. In an­other tank at Hart­ley’s home, they de­cided on dif­fer­ent fresh­wa­ter va­ri­eties of flashy, en­er­getic African ci­ch­lids. In ad­di­tion to be­ing ac­tive and pro­lific, th­ese mouth­brood­ing fish are in­ter­est­ing to ob­serve as they pro­tect their new­born young by hold­ing them in their mouths. Be­cause ci­ch­lids would chew up liv­ing green plants, ar­ti­fi­cial plants were in­stalled in the home set-up. “Keep­ing an aquar­ium teaches you so much about your en­vi­ron­ment, for in­stance be­ing re­spon­si­ble about wa­ter qual­ity and aware of the del­i­cate na­ture of the world we live in,” Jones says. An­other aquar­ium keeper, Mark King, who just grad­u­ated from the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky Col­lege of Den­tistry and is start­ing a pe­ri­odon­tal prac­tice, plans to move one of his four home tanks to his new of­fice. King’s first tank was a birth­day gift when he was also about five years old. By high school, he was work­ing part-time at Wa­ters of the World, a fish shop in In­di­ana that car­ries mainly salt­wa­ter sys­tems. He says he spent more than he earned at the fish shop, but de­spite be­ing “al­ways in the red,” he says, he picked up a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence and know-how. Among the skills he learned was keep­ing co­ral, which he raised in salt­wa­ter reef tanks, pro­vid­ing them with di­verse struc­ture and colour. Th­ese sen­si­tive an­i­mals have ex­act­ing re­quire­ments for light­ing types and tim­ing, wa­ter pH level and qual­ity, ap­pro­pri­ate and re­li­able fil­tra­tion and clean­ing sys­tems, tem­per­a­ture op­ti­miza­tion and feed­ing. King has in­stalled lights on a timer that sim­u­late sun­rise and sun­set and nat­u­ral light wave­lengths for his tanks’ co­ral, which in the wild mainly grow in shal­low wa­ter. But all the hard work has paid off. King’s ar­range­ment of co­rals is breath­tak­ing, form­ing a cave and tun­nel-filled cliff-scape along the back of his tank. “I don’t watch tele­vi­sion,” he says. “I play with the fish tank.”

PHO­TOS BY SU­SAN SMITH-DURISEK / LEX­ING­TON HER­ALD-LEADER

A gi­ant squamosa clam opens and closes as fish swim by in a salt­wa­ter reef aquar­ium.

Whether you choose salt­wa­ter of fresh­wa­ter fish, an aquar­ium can be a fun and ed­u­ca­tional hobby.

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