Media Review: The Most Beautiful Aquariums of the World by Alf Jacob Nilsen and Svein A. Fossa
lf Nilsen and Svein Fossa are the well known authors of four volumes of important scientific and technical information about marine aquarium techniques and husbandry in their Modern Coral Reef series, published between 1996 and 2002. This set is a “must have” for the advanced marine aquarist. (See for example Aquarium Frontiers Media column January 1999, Advanced Aquarist Media column January 2003)
They then combined to author Reef Secrets, primarily directed at aquarists just starting to acquire the basic knowledge needed to be successful in establishing healthy and beautiful reef aquariums. Reef Secrets emphasizes the varied natural biotopes of wild coral reefs and offers techniques currently available to replicate these as closely as possible. The authors emphasized the marine aquarium’s ability to provide both a “living science demonstration” and a source of beauty in the home. The book is lavishly illustrated and clearly aims at recruiting new aquarists via the visual beauty of the suggested tank set-ups and of the potential organisms to inhabit them. (See Advanced Aquarist Media column, March 2003.)
Their new book, The Most Beautiful Aquariums in the World, continues their movement away from technical material of interest to experienced aquarists and toward a wider international audience spectrum, this time aimed at those who would use aquaria as design features in their dwelling or working spaces.
The volume’s international approach is evident in its first few sections, presented in English, French and (I think) Norwegian. The Preface emphasizes the World Wildlife Fund’s approach to marine conservation and sustainability through the Marine Aquarium Council’s certification process for suppliers.
The Introduction states the authors’ novel goals. “The Most Beautiful Aquariums in the World is not an aquarium book. It is a book about the use of aquariums as decorative elements and focal points in room furnishings. The book focuses on architecture, decoration, furniture as well as aquariums and living aquatic organism.” Of course as ethical aquarist they caution their readers to “study aquarium techniques well before you buy an aquarium” or “use professionals to set up and maintain your aquarium” – a suggestion that will surely be welcomed by those who install and maintain tanks.
The next section is an interesting one on the “History of aquarium keeping,” dating the use of ornamental ponds and fishes back to the Egyptians and Romans of 2000 BC. According to the authors, the Egyptians preferred cichlids and the Romans, morays. The Chinese about 1700 years ago started breeding carp for their red color, a project culminating in the goldfish, paving the way for adoption by Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries. Later aquarists increasingly turned to tropicals and by 1940, more than 500 tropical species were imported. Current estimates are that between 1,500 and 2,000 species of fresh water organisms alone are available. (p. 13).
The introductory material concludes with two pages of highly generalized advice on setting up and maintaining tanks.
The visual section starts with “Sleeping with fish,” showcasing beautiful aquaria as part of bedrooms, primarily as headboards. (For the rest of this column I will either have to stop using the word “beautiful” to describe the tanks and photos or search for a very extensive list of synonyms. All of the tanks shown and photos used are gorgeous, although not all set ups would appeal aesthetically to everyone.)
I should note here that the only information provided about the technical details behind the systems are a general statement about their inhabitants (i.e. “Tropical coral reef aquarium with invertebrates and fish,” or “Fresh water community aquarium with cichlids and barbs” etc.) the tank’s volume (in liters) and its location. There is no information on lighting, water movement, filtration, water chemistry or the like. Although Fossa and Nilsen state at the beginning that “that this is not an aquarium book,” both are highly accomplished aquarists and it seems it would have been simple for them to give us at least rudimentary information. I found this failure a disappointment. I would also have liked some information on their selection criteria, although the tanks and setting they used are indeed highly decorative.
The book’s sections include fish-only marine aquaria with artificial corals and a wide variety of reef fishes, some very special mini reefs in large columnar tanks, soft coral tanks of quiet beauty, marine tanks devoted to highly colored organisms, tanks focused on the symbiotic relationship between anemone fish and anemones, tanks displaying Hawaiian tangs, and tanks dominated by branching Acropora species, as well as others. Most of these are large volume displays.
I was very happy to see the inclusion of some very beautiful freshwater tanks too, including cichlid habitats, “flooded forest” tanks, a highly modernistic but very effective goldfish tank and heavily planted Amazon biotope tank along with other impressive fresh water displays. I think among advanced aquarists these fascinating planted fresh water aquariums are undervalued. The illustrations here might remind some of their charm. Even the goldfish tank may be an inspiration. (Of course I maintain a marine tank, a planted fresh water tank and a small lanai goldfish “pond” as well.)
Each one of the displays emphasizes the cabinetry, room architecture and the blending of aquaria and spaces as much as it does the tank inhabitants. The book is filled with fascinating ideas about dramatic installations and the integration of tanks into personal as well as professional office spaces. For those like myself with rather limited options (I have a four foot marine tank and a four foot planted fresh water tank separated by a bookcase on a ten foot dining room wall) the book contains some interesting hints. For those with larger spaces (and bigger budgets) who are in the planning stage, the book contains many very attractive possibilities.
Those who professionally design, install and maintain aquariums will definitely find the book a fertile source of material for future projects. While this book might not be a critical item on the general aquarist’s bookshelf, for these professionals it is certainly a worthwhile and important acquisition.
It can serve another function as
well. I recently entertained a large
part of my family, including middle aged and young couples. I left The Most Beautiful Aquariums in
the World out as a “coffee table” book.
Everyone “oohed and ahhed” over the pictures and two of my guests spoke
seriously of setting up aquariums. I
hope the authors will succeed in bringing new people into our fold and
stimulating them to strive for beautiful integrations of aquariums and living