Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Aquascape Analysis Delayed

I just wanted to let you all know that I do have an Aquascape Analysis prepared for this week, however it may be delayed until next week while I finish up an article on aquascaping styles. The Aquascape Analysis is based on a sanzon iwagumi style and I thought it best to explain the style in detail first before delving into analysis. I've finished a summary of the two main styles, Dutch aquascaping and Nature Aquarium aquascaping which I will be posting soon, but I just wanted to write one examining the iwagumi style. Look for these articles soon, and after them, a brand new Aquascape Analysis!

Monday, January 22, 2007

Aquascape Analysis #5: ADA Tank 35

This week's Aquascape Analysis is ADA Tank 35 from the ADA Thailand website. This is a beautiful tank with a mossy foreground, tall busy background plants, and a great sense of depth.

If we take a look at the profile, we can see fairly easily that this is a "V" shaped aquascape. In fact, the plants on either side nearly reach the surface of the aquarium. The deep drop in the middle combined with the gradually shorter plants towards the middle create a sense of perspective as well, creating depth.

The focal point of this aquarium is the only red plant in the aquascape, off-center in the background. Since it is the only red plant in the aquascape, it draws the viewer's gaze immediately. A red plant among green is often the easiest way to create a focal point. There are several secondary focal points as well, with the bright green plants on the right and left dominating. However, the small anubias in the midground also serve as a secondary focal point due to the contrast in leaf shape, size, and color against the moss and a dark background.

As for the flow of this aquascape, it tends to originate from the focal point (as in most Amano style aquascapes). It then moves towards the left side of the tank. This is the dominant side of the tank, despite the brightness of the right. It's the depth and contrast of textures on the left side that draws the viewer's gaze. The viewer's gaze then either returns to the focal point or moves to the right side, directed by the moss covered driftwood. A large part of the right side is also dark, adding to the submissive role this side plays in the overall aquascape.

As for the foreground (green), midground (yellow), and background (blue), the foreground is clearly almost entirely moss. This aquascape makes use of moss as a ground cover and it helps at a messy, wild feeling to the aquarium (without actually being too messy or wild, almost a controlled chaos). The midground makes up the bulk of the right side and most of the moss covered driftwood. I included the right side in the midground because I feel that due to a lack of depth, the right side almost feels like it is right up to the glass (and it is to some extent, note the large dark space in the bottom right). The background makes up the remaining part of the tank, including the focal point and some of the plants from the right hand side that are further towards the back of the tank.

The major lesson that can be learned from this aquascape is that the use of depth can affect the flow and composition of the aquascape greatly. By using depth on the right hand side, the aquascape draws the viewer's gaze to this side. The right side is much closer to the viewer, and is thus not as comfortable to look at compared to the left side. Perspective and depth can also be forced in smaller tanks by placing plants in a gradually descending row. This effect has to be fine tuned, but if used correctly, can add depth to even the smallest tanks.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Taking the First Steps Towards a Planted Aquarium

So you currently have a fish only aquarium and you're interested in adding live plants, but you're daunted by all the equipment needed and extra time and money spent on fertilizing and trimming. You barely have the time to maintain your current set up and doubt you'd have any extra time to care for the plants. You read articles about CO2 and NPK and substrates and light levels and it all just overwhelms you to the point of giving up.

If this sounds familiar, read on.

Most people are daunted by planted aquariums, and rightly so. Obtaining a shimmering paradise of lush green plants and vibrant fish is not an easy task. You are emulating nature, and keeping everything in balance is no easy
task. The key is to start out slowly. Before spending money on lighting upgrades and CO2 systems and other bells and whistles, try some hardy, low-light plants in your current set up. As long as you have a light, there are certain plants you can grow in any aquarium. Picking the right plants is very important though. This is where a lot of people's dream of a planted aquarium dies as they watch their first (or far from first!) plants slowly wither away and die.

You need plants that are tough and don't need a lot of light. That means they aren't going to grow very fast, but they will probably survive. Here are some options for your first plants in a very low light setup (under 1.5 watts per gallon), and please note that the pictures are of specimens that were probably grown under more light and thus are more lush and green:

Java Fern - an old standby, this plant grows off of a rhizome and should not be planted in the substrate or the rhizome will rot. Simply tie it to a rock or driftwood or anchor it on top of the substrate and it will attach itself via roots. Java Ferns are very slow growers and produce little baby plants on their leaves. These can be separated once large enough and anchored and they will grow into a new plant.

Java Moss - a stringy moss that also grows slowly can be grown un-anchored (it actually naturally sinks) or tied to an object to which it will attach. Not the prettiest plant in a low light environment as it tends to be stringier, but a very hardy plant. It can become somewhat of a pest though if it gets into your filter, though I've never had a problem with this since it sinks.

Duckweed - a floating plant that grows rapidly on the surface of the water, duckweed can often be gotten for free from any pet store, where it is often an unwanted pest. It sucks up nutrients rapidly and can quickly cover the surface of your aquarium blocking most light, so if you have other plants, duckweed is not recommended. It is also quite hard to get rid of once you get it, since the leaves can be tiny and if you leave even just one behind it can turn into hundreds in a short amount of time. Some fish do enjoy eating this plant though, especially goldfish.

Anubias - Most of the Anubias available will grow in almost any light and are quite pretty. However, some grow to be quite large, so you may want to look online for a "petite" variety that tends to stay much smaller. These plants also have a rhizome and should not be buried in the substrate but tied to driftwood, rocks, or anchored above the substrate. Anubias are very slow growers as well.

Aponogetons - These plants grow from a bulb and do well in low light. They can however get quite large as well. Plant the bulb under the substrate just as you would a normal plant. Many come in the form of dried bulbs available as "mystery plants" at less than reputable pet stores. To grow it, simply plant the bulb in the substrate.

Cryptocorynes - Depending on the type of crypt, some can survive in very low light. Most of the commonly available varieties (
C. wendtii) are fairly hardy. They grow slowly, but don't like being moved around after they're rooted.

These plants shouldn't need any fertilizers aside from what you regularly feed your fish and should stay alive in almost any aquarium. Growth will be slow, but that's to be expected with these plants and low light. With these plants, you can have a planted aquarium with almost no additional effort on your part. The plants will help to clean the water and add oxygen and should increase the overall stability of the aquarium. Another benefit of these slow growing, hardy plants is that you don't have to worry about
trimming back your plants every week (except Duckweed, which may need thinning out every week or so, but all that takes is a scoop or cup).

From there you can slowly add better lights, better substrate, CO2, and fertilizers at a rate that you're comfortable with. I'd recommend adding CO2 first, before brighter lights, only because adding brighter lights with no CO2 can lead to algae problems. That and adding CO2 to an aquarium with low light can till provide a noticeable boost in plant growth (almost as big as a new light).

Or you can simply enjoy it as is. You can certainly make an attractive planted aquarium without any additional technology or effort. So go ahead, add a few hardy plants and take the plunge into planted aquariums!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Gigantic Cylindrical Aquarium in Berlin

I know this isn't a freshwater tank, but I just had to share this when I found it. This is the world's largest cylindrical aquarium apparently. It's located at the Radisson Hotel in Berlin and by my calculations is roughly 695,000 gallons! It's so big you can scuba dive in it. Imagine doing a water change on that?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Benefits of Plants in the Aquarium

While surfing around the other aquarium websites on the internet, most dealing with fish only freshwater aquariums, I noticed that a large part of keeping a fish only aquarium is trying to overcome the drawbacks of not having live plants. It also made me realize how hard it was to actually keep fish when I still had a fish only aquarium. Diseases such as Ich were commonplace, and although the medicine was available to treat the diseases, I still invariably lost a few fish along the way. This never struck me as strange until now. Instead of desperately trying to keep the fish alive, in a planted aquarium the goal shifts to keeping the plants happy. If the plants are happy, the fish thrive. This is due to the immense benefits that keeping live plants in an aquarium can bring, including:

Aeration - Fish only aquariums are often aerated with an airstone in a desperate attempt to keep oxygen levels high so fish can breathe. In a planted aquarium, as in nature, the live plants provide all the oxygen your fish will ever need through photosynthesis. An airstone and air pump (and all the noise and vibration that go along with them) are unnecessary in a planted aquarium.

Filtration - Power filters, sponge filters, and canister filters are the only means of filtration in a fish only aquarium. It's up to these filters to remove all fish waste and waste produced by excess food. This is achieved through mechanical filtration, chemical filtration (via carbon), and biological filtration (via bacteria growing on the filter media). There are many designs of filters out there and some are better than others, but all suffer from one flaw: if not cleaned properly and regularly, their effectiveness drops. In a planted aquarium, on the other hand, only mechanical filtration is truly needed. Plants can handle chemical and biological filtration fairly well. They absorb chemicals that are harmful to fish (in fact they live off of the chemicals produced by fish waste) and provide a perfect medium for beneficial bacteria to grow on. Of course, plants have their limits of filtration as well and most planted aquariums have a back up filter providing mechanical and biological filtration. Chemical filtration in the form of carbon will remove beneficial compounds and fertilizers needed by plants, and is not advised for a planted aquarium.

Protection - In fish only aquariums, the focus is the fish themselves, and their environment can be somewhat neglected. Not having enough protection can cause fish to be stressed and more succeptable to disease. Although artifical decorations and plants can be bought and put in the aquarium to provide protection and cover for fish, they are inferior to real plants in many ways. First, they provide none of the benefits listed so far aside from a location for beneficial bacteria to colonize. Second, they are much more likely to injure fish. Live plants aren't hard and don't have sharp edges like plastic plants can.

Food Source - The only source of food in a fish only aquarium is the owner of the aquarium (aside from algae for algae eaters). That means the fish are entirely dependent on you and the food you give them. If you don't make wise choices and vary their diet, they may not be as healthy and can become more succeptable to disease. Also, if you forget to feed them, they have no alternative food sources. In a planted aquarium, the fish have a choice. Although not all fish will eat plants, most will pick at the leaves and dead or dying plant matter if no other food is available. It also helps to vary their diet. Many fish are omnivorous and need to eat plant material.

Algae Prevention - Algae is often a problem in fish only aquariums, and although keeping algae eaters and scraping the glass with an algae scraper are ways of combatting some algae, other types of algae are more stubborn. Algae occurs because there are nutrients in the water and there is light (even low light). In a planted aquarium, plants can outcompete algae and use up all of the nutrients in the water. Although this can open up a whole other can of worms while you try to get your light levels and nutrient levels right, once you get your planted aquarium balanced, you will most likely never have to clean the glass or pull algae off the gravel again.

And there you have it. These are only the practical benefits I can think of, there are many many more benefits to owning a planted aquarium, and it's easier than you may think. Even just a few floating plants can make a serious impact in the health of your fish and the tank as a whole. So what are you waiting for? Throw out that noisy air pump and dirty airstone, toss the neon pink plastic plants and cheesy castle decoration, and take the plunge into a planted aquarium. Your fish will thank you!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Aquascape Analysis #4: Filipe Alves Oliveira's "Across the River"

This week's Aquascape Analysis is not an Amano aquarium, but that of Filipe Oliveira. This aquarium, "Across the River" won him the 2006 International Aquascaping Contest promoted by the Aquatic Gardner's Association, so it's no small surprise that it's being featured here!

First, it's easily apparent that the profile of this aquarium is that of a mound, or an inverted "V." This creates attention near the center of the aquarium, which is desired for obvious reasons; in this case it is to bring the viewer in towards the focal point and the mysterious darkness right in the middle of the aquarium.

The focal point of this aquarium is the Ludwigia inclinata var. verticillata "Cuba" and more specifically, a section to the right of the center (circled in red). This section is un-obscured by driftwood and is the brightest section in the photograph. Note the use of hardscape to "frame" the focal point to eliminate the creation of too many or too large a focal point. There is also a secondary focal point to the left in the Ludwigia "Cuba" as well. The cove in the middle of the aquarium isn't really a focal point because of its darkness, but it is certainly a point of interest and the dark, somewhat obscured "river" of sand lined by rocks creates incredible amounts of mystery and hence, fascinates the viewer.

The flow of this aquascape is much different from a traditional Amano aquarium in that it does not radiate out from the focal point, but instead brings the viewer's gaze across the Ludwigia "Cuba" and down the driftwood into the Blyxa japonica and also down into the mysterious cove created in the center of the aquarium. This aquascape shows a viable alternative to Amano's radiating flow direction, although the flow here is much more subtle as the aquascape is much less "busy" than Amano's, requiring a much more gentle guidance of the viewer's gaze. Too harsh a flow and the aquascape may look manufactured.

Finally, we can see the foreground (green), midground (blue), and background (yellow). The G. elatinoides makes up the entire foreground, keeping it simple and not drawing attention. The midground consists primarily of the four large Blyxa japonica plants. These plants also serve to block the viewer's gaze of the base of the Ludwigia "Cuba" which like most stem plants, is often less attractive near the base. The Ludiwigia "Cuba" makes up the entire background, bursting with color and texture.

Overall, the major takeaways from this aquascape are that with a simpler scape, you don't need as much influence on the flow to get the viewer's gaze around the aquarium and that major points of interest need not be the focal point. Here, the cove is intensely interesting to the viewer as it is dark and hard to see where it leads, but it is also sheltered, appealing to our primitive instincts. The textures used in this aquascape also complement each other; the long deep green diagonal leaves of the Blyxa japonica contrast nicely with the bright, reddish whorls of the Ludwigia "Cuba." It's not hard to see that Filipe Oliveira has created a masterpiece out of just three types of plants and a very intriguing cove.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Aquascape Analysis #3: Amano's "Dance of the Angels"

For this week's Aquascape Analysis, I've decided to analyze Takashi Amano's aquarium "Dance of the Angels" from his book Nature Aquarium World Book 3. This is a very large aquarium (2590L or 673 Gallons!) that is designed to be viewed from both sides. I wasn't able to find a picture of the other side of the aquarium, so just understand that this is a particularly wide aquarium and has an entire other aquascape on the other side. The advantage of having such as large aquarium is you can use larger plants like Cyperus helferi and let them grow to full size. This aquascape can be imitated in a smaller aquarium though, simply by substituting larger plants like the C. helferi with smaller plants, like Blyxa japonica or Echinodorus tenellus.

First, we can see that the profile is partly obscured by the top of the photograph (or aquarium) but it has overall a sloping profile, meaning it starts lower on one side of the aquarium and slopes upwards to the opposite side. The viewer's gaze will be automatically drawn down this slope, and it also prevents a "wall of plants" effect. There is a slight "V" effect in the profile as well that helps to draw the viewer's attention towards the back of the aquarium between the C. helferi and Java Fern plants.

The focal point is somewhat hard to distinguish because of the angel fish, which obviously draw the viewer's gaze first. However, in real life, the fish wouldn't stay stationary and although they form the focal point in this photograph, the overall focal point of the aquascape is the central C. helferi plant. There are also several secondary focal points around the aquarium as well, including the C. helferi plant on the right side, the bright spot in the background, the highlighted Glossostigma elatinoides in the foreground, and of course, the fish.

Amano has cleverly placed the secondary focal points to draw the viewer's gaze around the aquarium without using obvious driftwood or rocks. If we look at the flow of this aquascape, it is largely determined by the secondary focal points. These have been purposely placed (or patiently waited for in regard to the fish!) strategically around the aquarium.

Finally, if we look at the composition of the aquascape we can see that the foreground (red) is comprised of the G. elatinoides, while the midground (yellow) is made up of two islands of C. helferi and Java fern on the right side of the aquarium. The background (green) takes up almost the entire top left corner. This composition almost pushes the viewer to the right side of the aquarium and up the G. elatinoides carpeted pathway between the gently swaying C. helferi leaves and deeper into this beautiful aquascape.

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