The concept of the Wild Aquarium is almost a decade old, so it’s hardly a new tool for a budding freshwater ecologist or aquatic researcher, except it is… The idea of replicating an aquatic habitat inside an aquarium whilst simultaneously being situated in the habitat is a peculiar concept but the creator of this idea has a well considered motive. Ivan Mikolji is an audio visual/artist and photographer from Venezuela, he is also founder of the Fundacion Peces de Venezuela (Venezuelan Fish Foundation), a non-profit organisation established to help assist conservation efforts for native fishes. Almost a decade ago Ivan, being a popular figure in the aquarium and fishkeeping world due to his aquatic exploits, deduced that whilst aquarium keepers are very often incredibly well-intentioned, nature loving and conscious of issues relating to conservation, the act of keeping fish in aquariums, on the whole, doesn’t do as much for the species (and habitats) themselves as it really could.
Ivan published a video of the first ever wild aquarium in 2013 (below) which included two local fish species, Apistogramma hongsloi and nannostomus anduzei a type of pencilfish known from just two locations. His belief is that so often we appeal to people all over the world to help save a river several thousand miles away and yes, in many cases, the good people of the world donate money to various organisations and causes, but it can be difficult to ensure any significant knock-on effect, such as behavioural change in the communities directly located around that river. His hope is that nature conservation organisations and initiatives as well as community groups worldwide can adopt the wild aquarium as an educational tool at the local level so as to engage communities to be more aware of their local biodiversity and why it is important.
Wild aquariums used in a professional capacity as a learning tool to engage the public, especially young people as part of educational curricula should be endorsed and proactively encouraged. The concept also has the benefit of acting as a bridge between the aquarium and scientific communities and the conservation sector giving it the potential to reach a wide variety of different demographics and formulate a more prominent and consistent message about the importance of aquatic conservation. Giving insight into the array of underwater biodiversity that can be found on one’s own doorstep is the crucial first stepping stone missing from the world of freshwater conservation and the simple act of returning the species to the habitat at the end of a wild aquarium demonstration is symbolic as a gesture of what it represents.
When we venture into natural places, we can see and hear so many of the terrestrial and arboreal creatures around us and not only become enthused by them but more simply, we know they are there. Ivan is quoted as saying “you cannot protect something which you do not know exists” and this phrase rings especially true in the case of aquatic fauna; the wild aquarium is a spotlight into the world of sub-aquatic biodiversity.