BAC2021 – Best biotope aquariums in 2021

By Natasha Khardina

Here we are, presenting the top winners of the 2nd edition of the BIOTOPE AQUARIUM Contest (BAC2021) organized by the BIOTOPE AQUARIUM Project (BAP), an independent educational project that aims at motivating aquarists to study aquatic environments in their surroundings and then apply their knowledge by recreating the biotope in their own aquaria.

The BIOTOPE AQUARIUM Contest is the best way to bring together aquarists and scientists in an effort to document and monitor the conditions of aquatic habitats and their inhabitants, water quality and possible introduction of alien invasive species that cause damage to native ecosystems and even to people. Public awareness and active involvement of the aquarists play an important role in contributing to the successful implementation of the biotope mapping worldwide with its main instrument, BAP-Map.

BAC2021 is divided into 8 categories, each one judged by two experts in that particular region – ichthyologists, biologists, professional aquarists with a deep knowledge of local ecosystems and a vast fieldwork experience. The experts define the final ranking and advise all participants on how to improve their setups to make them as close as possible to the natural biotopes.

Jury members in 8 categories (geographical regions) at BIOTOPE AQUARIUM Contest 2021.

The participation in the contest consists of 2 applications:

1. BIOTOPE IN NATURE (BIN) – the personal biotope exploration done in situ or through extensive online research with the involvement and contribution of other aquarists and scientists. This kind of cooperation allows to create a network of people interested in the conservation of aquatic environments and leads to concrete projects. The bibliography/sitography of the BIN might play a decisive role – being a demonstration of profound research, it can be helpful for other biotope fellows to understand that precise ecosystem.

2. BIOTOPE AQUARIUM MODEL (BAM) – the reproduction of the original aquatic biotope as a closed micro-ecosystem in the aquarium. This is probably the funniest and more creative part of the application, as the aquarists are required to show their practical skills and biotope knowledge by putting together the right components, such as water chemistry, substrate, light, filtering system, décor, in combination with the correct aquatic inhabitants in correct proportions – fishes, plants, crustaceans, mollusks – to give fish and plants species a home with appropriate niches for hiding and breeding. The most important thing here is to describe in detail one’s own practical experience with the biotope tank – to share their knowledge with aquarist colleagues.

The international aquatic companies like Fluval, Elos and Sicce understand the importance of transformation in the aquatic hobby and support BAC2021. These companies look forward to a positive change and embrace the biotope concept as inevitable and necessary development of the aquarium hobby.

FLUVAL, BAP sponsor
ELOS, Sponsor of the BIOTOPE AQUARIUM Contest
SICCE, Sponsor of the BIOTOPE AQUARIUM Contest

Proud of BAC2021 participants and their extraordinary biotope creations, we present hereby the BIOTOPE AQUARIUM MODELs (BAM) of the winners in the 8 categories. The extensive BIOTOPE IN NATURE (BIN) description are presented in the BAC2021 section.

North America – sponsored by BAP

Approved by: Fritz Rohde (NANFA) and Lawrence Kent (NANFA)

BAM: Everglades Wetland, Florida, USA, by Anikó Csanádi (Hungary):

Everglades wetland, Florida. Photo by Anikó Csanádi

North American freshwater fishes are part of my life. Some of my most favourites are Elassomas, especially Elassoma evergladei. With my 90-liters fish tank, I tried to create a natural habitat for them to feel “at home”. There are many submerged and floating aquatic plants to provide safe and shady places to hide. I planted some Juncus to recreate the emersed area, as well. There are some leaves and some small branches on the bottom, which also comprises sand and mud.

The lightning is moderated – not too bright – and the outflow of the water is calm. Everglade’s pygmy sunfish do not only live in the Everglades, but I think that this is one of the most extraordinary places on Earth with its wonderful wildlife.

Set-up in January 2021, 24 gallons tank.

Central America & Caribbean – sponsored by BAP

Approved by: Juan Miguel Artigas Azas (Cichlid Room Companion) and Jairo Arroyave (UNAM)

BAM: Lower Rio Usumacinta sidearm, Mexico, by David Nørholm (Denmark):

Sidearm to Lower Rio Usumacinta. Photo by David Nørholm

Close to the riverbank, on a small sidearm to the Rio Usumacinta, surrounded by dense jungle, you find this beautiful little spot.

I have tried to recreate this underwater landscape with a combination of driftwood, branches, roots, leaves, pebbles and river stones. I have also tried to recreate the sporadic aquatic vegetation that characterize areas like this.

I have dreamt of making a Central American biotope for quite a long time, and when I suddenly got the chance to buy some beautiful wildtype Poecilia velifera, I knew this was the time.

Most of the branches and driftwood are locally collected, just as the stones, with the exception of the large river stone to the left. This is an artificial module which is used as a filter for the aquarium – perfectly hidden.

South America – sponsored by ELOS

Approved by: Roberto E. Reis (PUCRS), Francesco Denitto, and Donald C. Taphorn (UNELLEZ)

BAM: Small creek near Pobreza Stream, Rio Blanco, Peru, by Jan Šulc (Czech Republic):

Small creek near Pobreza stream, Rio Blanco, Peru. Photo by Jan Šulc

This aquarium represents an acid blackwater creek located in a low-lying forest area known as igapó, with pure water with low levels of salts and nutrients, 6 km from the main course of Rio Blanco. Forests are growing on white sands and the bottom of the creek is covered with a fine layer of leaf litter, organic material and shallow-soil roots that limit erosion and retain the nutrients and salts necessary for plants and animals.

This aquarium shows a very common natural habitat, with one of the most favourite aquarium fish – Paracheirodon innesi, also known as Neon tetra.

Europe – sponsored by SICCE

Approved by: Alexey Malyshev and Gireg Allain (AquaMag)

BAM: Łęgi Odrzańskie, Poland, by Alek Halczuk (Poland):

Łęgi Odrzańskie, Poland. Photo by Alek Halczuk

The 288-litres biotope aquarium shows a fragment of the floodplain of the Odra River (Łęgi Odrzańskie). Above the water, there is lush marsh vegetation – mainly species of the Carex genus. The fish swim among the visible roots and sunken grasses. The gentle movement of the water ensures the right amount of oxygen.

Africa – sponsored by BAP

Approved by: Ad Konings (CichlidPress) and Stefano Valdesalici (AIK)

BAM: Shallow intermediate habitat, Cape Banza, DRC, by Marcus Vinicius David (Brazil):

Shallow intermediate habitat, Cape Banza, DRC. Photo by Marcus Vinicius David

This BAM aims to simulate a shallow region of the coast of Cape Banza, located in the far north of the Ubwari peninsula, in the northern basin of Lake Tanganyika.

A lighted aquarium, filled with Hydrilla verticillata in the intermediate zone between the rocks. The rocks are kaolinite-rich sandstones which occur along the entire coast of the Ubwari peninsula and also in Brazil. The largest rock is approximately 60 kg and takes up 2/3 of the aquarium. The substrate has a large granulometric dispersion and is the result of a mixture of sand from different beaches.

The fauna is composed of shell-dwellers Lamprologus ocellatus and Neolamprologus multifasciatus, separated by the large rocks and with sandy areas unique to each species. Rock-dwellers Neolamprologus leleupi occupy the rocky agglomerates that form refuges and caves. The species interaction is quite interesting, each with its well-established regions. Neolamprologus leleupi are prolific and Lamprologus ocellatus promote birth control.

Eastern Asia – sponsored by BAP

Approved by: Fan Li and Zhou Hang

BAM: Unnamed swamp in Conghua, Guangzhou, China, Nan Li (China):

Unnamed swamp in Conghua, Guangzhou, China. Photo by Nan Li

The swamp I describe is rich in vegetation, with a large distribution of Nephrolepis sp. The swamp is littered with branches, providing plenty of shelter for the fish. The substrate of the swamp is muddy and, thus, very suitable for the growth of Phragmites australis. In some areas of the swamp, Eleocharis yokoscensis are distributed.

Southern, Central & Western Asia – sponsored by BAP

Approved by: Friedrich Bitter (Amazonas) and Sven Kullander (NRM)

BAM: Small stream, near Raidāk River, India, by Pedro Mendanha Dias (Portugal):

Small stream, near Raidāk River, India. Photo by Pedro Mendanha Dias

In the Indian part of the Brahmaputra river drainage, near Raidāk river, there are some small streams that pass through lush agricultural fields (often rice), with crystal clear waters, bottoms covered by grey sand, fine gravel, roundish rocks and driftwood, and dense growth of marginal and aquatic vegetation [e.g. Hygrophila (possibly Hygrophila balsamica, Hygrophila corymbosa, Hygrophila difformis, Hygrophila lancea or Hygrophila polysperma), Limnophila (possibly Limnophila aquatica, Limnophila aromatica, Limnophila heterophylla, Limnophila indica, Limnophila rugosa or Limnophila sessiliflora), Ottelia (possibly Ottelia alismoides), and Rotala (possibly Rotala indica, Rotala rotundifolia, Rotala serpyllifolia or Rotala wallichii) species and mosses of the genera Vesicularia or Amblystegium serpens.

In these kinds of underwater landscapes, it is possible to find the extraordinary Dario dario fish, together with the Indian shrimp species Caridina babaulti.

Southeastern Asia & Oceania – sponsored by FLUVAL

Approved by: Greg Martin (ANGFA) and Peter Unmack (ANGFA)

BAM: Son River Stream, Phong Nha-Ke Bang NP, by Magdalena Szubska (Poland):

Son River Stream, Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, Vietnam. Photo by Magdalena Szubska

This 300-litres aquarium shows a fragment of the Son River bank near the world’s most powerful Son Doong Cave in the Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam. The mysterious and unique atmosphere of this area inspired me to create a biotope for Macropodus opercularis, which inhabits this area. I thought I’d create a “paradise biotope” for the Fish of Paradise. It is the first exotic aquarium fish – after the goldfish – that reached Europe in 1869. The species that complements the cast here is Barbodes semifasciolatus.

The riverbank, modeled on nature, shows numerous roots and branches. A small stream of water placed small stones on the sandy bottom of the reservoir between the larger rocks. At the bottom of the aquarium, there are a lot of dry leaves and dried fruit, many organic materials that provide tannins and humic compounds. Delicate lighting, sufficient for the plants found here, creates a unique atmosphere and emphasizes the mystery of the recreated biotope.

BAP is gearing up for BAC2022 with a pre-registration announcement on April 20st, 2022, and opening the registration on May 20st, 2022. We invite you and all hobbyists that take great pride in creating natural-looking environments in their aquariums to take part at the BIOTOPE AQUARIUM Contest 2022!

We challenge YOU to get involved in the BIOTOPE AQUARIUM Contest (BAC2022)!