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History of Aquarium Keeping


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A Bit of Aquarium History
The following article is a portion of a presentation that I gave at the 
Marine Ornamentals '99 conference in Kona, Hawaii, November 1999

The origins of aquarium keeping have been around for about as long as keeping food fishes, although the methodology and understanding of aquarium filtration has varied considerably. The origins of aquaculture mostlikely originated when fish were trapped in some type of enclosure after monsoon floods receded. Earliest records of fish farming come from China, where hatching of carp was practiced in 2,000 BC. 

During the mid 1800ís the " Balanced Aquarium " approach was considered the only method for keeping aquarium fish.. The Balanced Aquarium consisted of " a tank in which the air surface of the water, aided by plants would supply sufficient oxygen " and " most of the waste from the fish was consumed by the plants and scavengers ".

During the early 1900ís Aeration, Particulate and Charcoal filtration was touted as the state-of-the-art.......

...but it wasnít until the 1950ís that the Undergravel Filter was introduced. Ironically even though it was promoted as a biological filter its true role in filtration was still misunderstood, and yet the Undergravel Filter has been the greatest advancement to the aquarium industry.

It wasnít until 1974 that successful commercial attempts to spawn and rear marine ornamental fish began to occur and by 1975 Martin Moe and Chris Turk of Aqualife Research and Frank Hoff and Tom Frakes of Instant Ocean Hatcheries were raising three species of clownfish,  Oscellaris (Amphiprion ocellaris, ), the Tomato ( A.frenatus ) and the Clarki Clownfish ( A.clarkii. ).

By 1976 five more species of clownfish had been added to the list, and as of today there are about 15 species of clownfish that have been successfully bred. 

In 1984 the second greatest advancement occurred in the aquarium industry, the introduction to the US of the European Wet - Dry Filter. Now hobbyists could keep fish as well as corals and invertebrates successfully. 

The majority of corals kept at that time were large polyped stony corals,  soft and leather corals, xenia, as well as zooanthids and actinians.

In, approximately, 1990 a greater number of Acropora species became available. Many hobbyists became entranced with these fast growing small polyped stony corals. Today SPS corals hold a greater appeal than the other corals and the reason for it may be that they are much easier to fragment and grow. 

Today many hobbyists are beginning to propagate a wide variety of corals, and a number of hobbyists are becoming successful at raising some marine fish. This has lead to the beginnings of a new industry in Mariculture, and yet there are less than a dozen commercial businesses and a scattering of hobbyists currently involved in it.

So why is mariculture becoming a topic of interest these days ? Is this the next step in marine aquarium keeping ? Is it due to articles such as " Raiders of the Reefs " in Audobon Magazine, or " Corals in Peril " in National Geographic, or " Reef Alert " in Aquarium Fish Magazine ? 

Or is it the results of the June 11, 1998 CORAL REEF PROTECTION Executive Order signed by President Clinton. 

Its most likely a combination of all of these. The sad true is that reports indicate that in 1998 sixty countries recorded coral bleaching events due to global warming, over fishing and an assortment various pollution factors. The results of these environmental and commercial conditions on coral reefs have caused numerous Environmental Agencies to take notice and to begin to question why and what can be done to minimize these effects. Charles Delbeek recently attended a meeting of the Coral Reef Task Force, part of President Clintons Executive Order, and wrote that one of the groups involved, the International Working Group, " identified several key issues", and at " The top of their list was the international trade in coral and coral reef specimens" 

So where does this leave the marine aquarium hobby ? With potential restrictions on collection and importing of marine fish and invertebrates mariculture, or tank raised specimens are a subject that needs to be explored if wild caught aquarium habitants are going to decrease and the aquarium hobby is to survive. 

Currently there are approximately less than 60 species of marine aquarium fishes being tank bred, most of which are the Clownfish species,  and less than 200 marine aquarium corals and invertebrates, most of which are the Acropora and Soft Coral species, are being tank raised. 

So who are marine hobbyist ? Hobbyists around the country seem to vary quite a bit. They range from the teenager  to semi-retired individuals. 

There are two different types of marine aquariums kept, the Fish Only.... 

.....and the Coral Reef  tank. 

With Reef aquariums being the more involve and costly to set up, the fish only system is generally where the hobbyist starts.  Each of those groups has three levels ; Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. 

The Beginning and Intermediate hobbyist are the ones who are the least knowledgeable. They are the ones who will go all the shops in town, or ask each sales clerk in each store what they think. Unfortunately the hobbyist ends up totally confused as he now has numerous different versions as to how to set up his tank. Sadly they are easy targets for over zealous sales clerks who are not selling what the hobbyist needs but what the sales person has in stock. 

The Advanced hobbyist, having the advantage of past experience, may spend more money overall but chances are that he does not spend it in the same places as the other two levels of hobbyists. 

There is a fourth level of hobbyist. That person is the one who hires an Aquarium Service Company to set-up, stock, and or maintain the aquarium. One may not actually consider this person a hobbyist but more so a viewer of living furniture. Other than making the payments his only real involvement is feeding the tank....and enjoying its beauty < s >. 

As expected most beginning marine hobbyists have no real idea as to what it takes physically, biologically or financially to start a marine aquarium. Most assume that its a simple one-step, two-step, three-step process A larger portion assume that its similar to owning a cat or a dog, they just simply add water, add some food, and sit back and watch. 

The Aquarium Hobby is the third largest segment of Pet Industry in the United States. So why is there so much mis-information, mystique, and lack of understanding ? Granted there are books, video tapes, magazines and web sites. The sad truth is most of this information is never used by the hobbyists, why ? I suspect itís partly due to the additional cost, and partly due to the thought that operating an aquarium should be as simple as owning a dog or a cat. Ironically the number of books on dog and cat care is even less in the homes of pet owners. Think about it, how many of you own a cat or a dog ? How many of you actually have information at home on its care and keeping ? 

My point is, other than sharing a some aquarium history, is that most beginning marine hobbyists believe that they need to have a degree in chemistry and marine biology...this is so untrue, but it will require you to educate yourself in what it takes, on your part, to know what and how to take proper care of a marine fish aquarium.

I wish to thank and credit the follow for being able to use thier pictures ; FAMA Magazine, Advanced Aqua Tank, Martin Moe, Steve Tyree, Audobon Magazine, National Geographic Magazine, Aquarium Fish Magazine, The United States White House, Robert Becker, Bill Hawkins, Rusty West, and John Dyer.


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