When Aquariums Become Amazingly Lifelike Landscapes

Whispering pines
Image: all4aquarium.ru/Serkan Çetinkol
Whisper of the Pines by Serkan Çetinkol

Just glancing at these photographs gives the impression of beautiful green landscapes. In some, rocky paths wind around branching trees, while in others light falls on what appears to be lush forest floors. There’s a dreamlike quality to the images, almost as if they’re underwater – which is exactly where they are. In fact, these are some of the contestants in the first Eastern European Planted Aquarium Design Contest, which was held in Moscow in November 2013.

In the photograph above, pine trees stand tall in the foreground while a rocky path leads away into rolling green hills. To see a landscape like this inside a fish tank is delightfully unexpected, and it’s perhaps not surprising to learn that this amazing vision – created by Serkan Çetinkol from Istanbul, Turkey and titled “Whisper of the Pines” – received the highest points in the competition.

Looking up
Image: all4aquarium.ru/Irina Kryshtopa
Looking Up by Irina Kryshtopa

This entry by Irina Kryshtopa from Alchevsk, Ukraine offers a stunning panorama of snow-topped mountains, tall trees and what appears to be a gushing waterfall. The art of arranging plants and rocks in an aquarium is called aquascaping – a form of landscaping underwater. One of its most popular forms imitates the great outdoors, with forests, mountains and wide panoramas, and is called the Japanese, or nature aquarium, style. Another, known as the Dutch style, favors a more garden-like approach.

Image: all4aquarium.ru/Piotr Dymowski
Reborn by Piotr Dymowski

Here’s a good example of the nature aquarium style of aquascaping. Rock formations stand like tree stumps at the edge of what seems to be a stream or lake. There’s a wild, random look to it, as though it really is a natural creation. From a distance, the tiny fish swimming across the middle of the scene could even be birds. This entry is called “Reborn” and was created by Piotr Dymowski from Warsaw, Poland.

Wild west
Image: all4aquarium.ru/Stjepan Erdeljić
Wild West by Stjepan Erdeljić

“Wild West,” the entry by Stjepan Erdeljić from Đakovo, Croatia, certainly stands out with its desert theme. Jury member Bosko Jovanovic called it “the most original tank at the contest,” and it’s clear to see why. It’s difficult to guess how Erdeljić created the realistic looking cactuses, but this really could be somewhere in New Mexico, or even a scene from the American frontier of the mid to late 1800s – that is, if it didn’t feature harlequin rasbora swimming above the landscape. This tank design placed fifth in the competition.

Path of dreams
Image: all4aquarium.ru/Nimet Sezgen
Path of Dreams by Nimet Sezgen

“Path of Dreams” is an apt name for this entry by Turkish contestant Nimet Sezgen from Kocaeli. There’s definitely a surreal quality to the design, which may partly come from the rippling water hanging over the scene. Aquascapes such as this are created over time: they can take several months to fully complete and can remain alive for years. Keeping the closed system of the tank healthy throughout this period is therefore an important aspect of aquascaping.

Charm of light
Image: all4aquarium.ru/Timucin Sagel
Charm of Light by Timucin Sagel

Third place in the competition went to this beautiful tank created by Timucin Sagel from Istanbul, Turkey. There really is little to give it away as not being a photograph taken on a forest walk – not least because there are no fish to be seen. Jury member Olga Baranovska called it an “incredible combination of negligence (in the good meaning of the word) and extreme attention to detail.” She was particularly impressed with the “tree” tops and the interplay of light within the tank.

Forest lair
Image: all4aquarium.ru/Tibor Szecsei
Forest Lair by Tibor Szecsei

In this design, a dark cave sits at the roots of what resembles an enormous gnarled tree. Created by Tibor Szecsei from Nagykőrös, Hungary, “Forest Lair” was the fourth-place entrant in the competition. The judges were impressed by the aquascape, which really does elicit the feeling of being in a forest, with perhaps something sinister lurking within the cave. Alternatively, the reflections on the water above the landscape make it seem like an underwater scene in a mangrove forest.

lost beach
Image: all4aquarium.ru/Mustafa Sezgen
Lost Beach by Mustafa Sezgen

Here’s another highly imaginative entry, this time by Mustafa Sezgen from Kocaeli, Turkey. Sezgen has managed to recreate a beach, complete with rocks, sand, sea and a forest behind it. Except, of course, on real beaches the fish usually swim under the water rather than over it. When it comes to aquascaping, designers have to think of technical details, like substrate and water filtration, as much as creative ones – especially as the plants are additional living organisms alongside any fish housed in the tank.

Image: all4aquarium.ru/Artyom Karfidov
Symphony of Native Nature by Artyom Karfidov

Among the non-living materials used in aquascaping are rocks, pebbles and driftwood, some of which appear to have been used in this creation. “Symphony of Native Nature,” designed by Artyom Karfidov of Yekaterinburg, Russia, may bring to mind a footpath running through a forest, or perhaps even a stream. Fifteen plants are listed as having been used in this tank design, in addition to the tall, dramatically curved simulated trees. Surprisingly, this aquascape only took Karfidov a month to create.

Image: all4aquarium.ru/Alisher Gafurov
Whisper by Alisher Gafurov

This entry by Alisher Gafurov of Vilnius, Lithuania, represents a move away from the rugged wilderness of other entries and has a much more cultivated look. The design appears to show a garden at nighttime, with a lawn and shrubs rather than trees and rocks. This is an example of the “Dutch” style of aquascaping. Plants of a wide range of colors and qualities are arranged as they might be in a regular, above-water garden. Plus, some of the plants are trimmed into neat shapes, as if Gafurov is practicing sub-aquatic topiary.

Morning Forest
Image: all4aquarium.ru/Pavel Bautin
Morning Forest by Pavel Bautin

In this seventh-placed design, Pavel Bautin of Saint Petersburg, Russia has managed to create a “fantastic presentation of taiga forest,” according to jury member Bosko Jovanovic. “It looks so realistic: dead and fallen trees, green dense carpet of mosses and ferns, big anthills, rocks left there by [a] glacier,” Jovanovic elaborates. Indeed, the remarkable depth of field makes it seem as if one could just wander in and get lost.

Stepping into a valley
Image: all4aquarium.ru/Zanda Sejane
Stepping Out into the Valley by Zanda Sejane

Jury member František Kolin favored this high-ranking “natural aquarium” by Zanda Sejane of Liepāja, Latvia. The entry seems to be from the viewpoint of a cave entrance looking out upon a small mossy valley. When judging competitions like this, a jury often takes into account several factors. The complete arrangement of the tank, the effective use of the interior and the items selected are all considered. The aquarium also has to be healthy and able to support the plants and fish it contains.

Image: all4aquarium.ru/Vyacheslav Kryshtopa
Windtalkers by Vyacheslav Kryshtopa

A lovely wooded area beckons in this aquarium, which is titled “Windtalkers” and was created by Vyacheslav Kryshtopa of Alchevsk, Ukraine. A mossy branch juts out over a path that seems littered with tiny white flowers. Nature aquarium-style aquascapes such as this may appear wild and haphazard, but they’re actually carefully crafted, from the introduction of the rocks to the clipping of the plants. The shape itself is important, whether it curves out like a mountain, curves in as would a valley or is raised on one side and lower on the other. The tanks should seem entirely natural and thus not too symmetrical.

Change of season
Image: all4aquarium.ru/Grigoriy Polishchuk
Change of Seasons by Grigoriy Polishchuk

Grigoriy Polishchuk of Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine has used a nice touch of color in this design, titled “Change of Seasons.” His intention was to present a tank that represented the shift from summer into fall. Jury member Olga Baranovska said of this entry, “The mood is shown perfectly, the composition is easily combined with the selected species of fishes and invertebrates.” Polishchuk used the fish Trigonostigma espei for their complementary “size and color,” which is “most important for contest aquaria.”

Moonlight sonata
Image: all4aquarium.ru/Natalia Romanovich
Moonlight Sonata by Natalia Romanovich

This beautiful aquarium is evocative of a stroll in a forest after dark thanks, in part, to its striking lighting. Titled “Moonlight Sonata,” it is the work of Natalia Romanovich from Minsk, Belarus. This particular tank was four years in the making and features the lush Bolbitis heudelotii, or African water fern. A great deal of care goes into choosing the various elements of an aquascape, whether or not fish are incorporated. Concerns range from substrate and fertilization to carbon dioxide supplementation. Fish tanks like this are a far cry from the glass pebbles and plastic treasure chests found in regular family aquariums.

Sources: 1, 2, 3