In the Beginning:
Many years ago, success in the aquarium hobby was far from guaranteed. There were so few aquarium supplies that options were limited, and the ones you had were far from easy to use. (The term “user-friendly” would not be used for at least another 50 years!) Once a hobbyist grew beyond the glass bowl stage, the next step was a fish aquarium, usually 20 to 60 gallons in volume. Even the fish tank was a challenge; a massive stainless steel frame with a thick slate bottom, the side panels of glass held in place by a tar like substance. While the slate bottom made the tank heavy, it served a purpose as early hobbyists would heat the tank by burning candles under the slate to use radiant heating. Unfortunately the tank hood/light was also made of stainless steel, usually with a couple of sockets for incandescent light bulbs. (These also helped heat the tank.) At about the same time as I entered the hobby (1974) perhaps the greatest boon to the aquarium industry started to make its mark, aquariums made with silicone sealant. (You can also argue that the invention of the plastic bag for fish transport was also a game changer. At least now when you came home from the fish store you did not look like you were bringing home Chinese for diner.) Aquariums became light weight and the plastic trim allowed the easy use of a glass canopy top, leading to the development of better and better strip lighting. Choices for filtration were still somewhat limited to under-gravel systems and a few hang-on power filters. It was not until I started working at an aquarium store that I discovered the amazing product Start Right that would instantly eliminate the chlorine in the tap water. No more sitting buckets full of water around the house for days before you needed the water.
Dawn of a Revolution:
By this time the aquarium hobby was really taking off and new products were coming out nonstop. Air pumps that did not sound like a compressor (there is a reason they were called Whisper Air Pumps!) and larger scale power filters to handle larger fish loads and larger aquariums were now an option for hobbyists. The simple Gravel Vac came out to make water changes a major part of the aquarium maintenance. We had access to many more types of fish food and did not have to rely on collecting daphnia and mosquito larvae, or hatching brine shrimp to offer our fish good nutrition. The next major breakthrough was the development of the magnetic impeller. No longer did we have to use large electric motors that needed oiling and consumed 50-100W to filter our tanks. The new energizer/magnetic impeller systems would do the same job for 10-20W, offering a serious savings in the cost of running the aquarium. These systems were also water proof, leading to the development of submersible powerheads and water pumps. Canister filters like the Fluval started to compartmentalize the media that made them much more user-friendly. Development of products like Ammo Lock and AmQuel made it possible to safely cycle the aquarium without exposing the fish to toxic ammonia. The advent of the wet/dry sump filter gave everyone the biological filtration necessary to maintain more delicate saltwater fish and gave us the promise of keeping corals and anemones too. The quest to keep corals lead to more intense lighting and the use of more and more Live Rock in the aquariums. Soon we figured out that the Live Rock was providing enough of the biological filtration and the wet/dry sump became an area for protein skimmers and later developed into the all natural refugium filtration system.
The New Age Arrives:
The next steps in improving the aquarium hobby will be refinements of current practices. LED lighting will supplant most other forms for lighting of medium to large-scale aquarium lighting systems. The high intensity per watt offers additional savings and ideally the LED’s should last for several years before needing replacing. Natural filtration and the use of products like AquaBella or Dr.Tim’s bacterial mixes will help establish the correct balance of all of the types of bacteria needed in the aquarium, not just the denitrifying bacteria. This will help keep the environment stable, reduce the stress on the aquarium fish and help eliminate water changes. The Internet proves expert advice (and not so expert advice) on just about any topic you can think of dealing with the aquarium hobby. Great friends who share your passion for this hobby are only a click away, or posting on your Facebook page. Sadly, as we have finally reach the ability to keep almost all types of aquatic animals, conservation issues will require (in some cases) severe restrictions on the collection of fish from their natural habitat. Either the fish are becoming scarce or the biotope is disappearing. The freshwater fish industry is pretty much self-sustaining, though many new types of fish will never be discovered to protect the habitats. The saltwater fish industry is still mostly reliant on wild caught fish, but we should see more and more farm raised species as time goes by. Paradoxically, the marine coral industry is close to self-sustaining with all of the success of hobbyists with small-scale “farming’ of corals and industry operations to grow Live Rock and not need to pull it from the reefs. The aquarium hobby has made huge changes in the years I have been part of the fun of aquarium keeping. The future will certainly bring more surprises, who could have imagined the success of the Nano-Reef 5 years ago?