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Starts With A Bang

Weekend Diversion: Aquarium Art

Fish, plants, rocks, and some ornaments? Amateur hour is over; take a look at the results from the International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest!

“Life is life’s greatest gift. Guard the life of another creature as you would your own because it is your own. On life’s scale of values, the smallest is no less precious to the creature who owns it than the largest.” –Lloyd Biggle, Jr.

For many of us, underwater marine life represents not only a getaway from the terrestrial, above-ground Earth we’re used to, but it can put us in touch with the 70% of Earth’s surface we normally ignore: the seas, lakes, rivers and oceans. Have a listen to the Bill Evans Trio perform their 50-year-old jazz classic, How Deep Is The Ocean?,

while you consider that, for most of us, an aquarium brings up visions of something like this.

Animations credit: Kuroshio Sea — 2nd largest aquarium tank in the world; excerpts from Jon Rawlinson’s video.

You either — as shown above — take a huge tank of water, and fill it with a diversity of marine life (and watch ’em go), or you can have a miniature version at home, either with a much smaller, decorative tank and scaled-down tropical fish, or for the ultra-low-maintenance types, the traditional computerized aquarium.

Images credit: Mobile9 (L), via; Tankk (R), via

If only there were a way to enjoy the majesty of the ocean or deep seas at home, without either breaking the bank, requiring thousands of gallons or having to resort to a cheap, chintzy substitute.

Thankfully, there’s a place where all the greatest aquarium and aquatic plant habitat designers come together: the annual International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest, celebrating their fifteenth year!

Image credit: Thunder Valley Mountain by Fernando Francischelli at

These aren’t, as you might think, just design plans or anything, but complete underwater biomes, intricately designed and executed by “Aquascapers,” a hobby (although it seems trite to call it a hobby) founded by Japanese wildlife photographer Takashi Amano around 20 years ago.

Image credit: Japan / Courtesy IAPLC & Aquabase, of the 8th place entrant in this year’s contest.

The contest challenges participants to reconstruct an entire miniature Universe from plants, fish and rocks alone. There are a number of important constraints as well, including:

  • You cannot simply “re-engineer” one of your old works; each piece must be constructed anew and from scratch.
  • You cannot include plants that will not survive (for long) underwater.
  • You cannot steal ideas from past winners; you must utilize your own unique creativity.
Image credit: China / Courtesy IAPLC & Aquabase, of the 16th place entrant this year.

In addition, points are awarded based on a complex scoring system that values originality and the impression of the layout, the success of the environment as a habitat for fish and plants, technical skills in creation, as well as a presentation of a natural atmosphere, among others.

Image credit: Olivier Thebaud, France / Courtesy IAPLC & Aquabase, of the 22nd place entrant this year.

There were a total of more than 2,500 entrants in this years contest, making it necessary to judge all of them based solely on a single photograph. Here were the top seven results from this year’s contest.

Image credit: 7th place, Mysterious World by Yong Liu, China.
Image credit: 6th place, A Hunting Ground by Josh Sim, Malaysia.
Image credit: 5th place, Metempsychosis by Yi Ye, China.
Image credit: 4th place, Deep Nature by Paulo Pacheco, Brazil.
Image credit: 3rd place, Follow In by Yufan Yang, China.
Image credit: 2nd place, Hidden Land by Bowen Fan, China.
Image credit: 1st place, Longing by Takayuki Fukada, Japan.

All the previous years’ winners can be found on the IAPLC site itself, which has results going all the way back to 2001.

Image credit: Grégoire Wolinski (FRANCE), of the 2014 winner.
Image credit: Pavel Bautin (RUSSIA), of the 2010 winner.
Image credit: Chow Wai Sun (HONG KONG), of the 2007 winner.
Image credit: Mitsuhiro Machida (JAPAN), of the 2001 winner.

It’s an amazing glimpse into a world most of us don’t stop to consider very often, yet that represents the majority of life on our world. Although here on this blog we spend most of our time looking up and gazing at the heavens above, don’t forget to point your gaze down every now and again. There’s a whole other Universe just beneath the world’s surface!

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