BAC2022 – Best biotope aquariums in 2022

By Natasha Khardina

Presenting the top winners of the 3rd edition of the Biotope Aquarium Contest (BAC2022), 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 those biotopes in their own aquaria.

The incredibly hot summer of 2022 shattered every documented record in the past 150 years in Europe and in many other regions of the world and literally wiped out entire aquatic ecosystems. From almost all over the world we were overwhelmed with disconcerting and discouraging reports of great rivers reduced to rivulets and streams and creeks that simply no longer exist.

As had been widely predicted, freshwater biodiversity around the globe has been battered by climate change, and in some cases deeply scarred to the point where we’re starting to see extinctions of local fish populations. Some of the river basins, resilient to these extreme events and populated by hardy fish communities, are able to rebuild quickly in structure and density even after very significant die-offs.

But even for those, it will be impossible to endure for long if these extreme heat waves are to become yearly events. In light of these conditions, locating streams with a decent flow rate and native fish in them came with an immense sense of joy and relief, tempered by the thought that, while there were no problems in these particular spots, who knows for how much longer? In this context, the Biotope Aquarium Contest gains a profound conservational significance. “Biotoping” is becoming a great way to record the current state of the local ecology and biodiversity.

The contribution of biotope aquarists to the safeguarding of our global biological resources should not be underestimated. Their interest in nature is moving them to go out and discover what is really going on in the world’s aquatic habitats — the threats these unique places are facing, and their fascinating underwater features, mostly hidden from the human eyes.

Which brings us to the winners of the third annual Biotope Aquarium Contest (BAC2022)! Enjoy these incredible biotopes, which represent a mixture of aquatic research and admirable commitment, even love, to the environments they represent.

We should all learn from the knowledge and technical skills of the participants and expert judges. And be sure to visit BAP-Map  to get a complete, updated view of the worldwide biotopes.

North America – sponsored by AQUAEL

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

BAM: Chesapeake Bay Oyster Reef Biotope, Phoebus, Virginia, USA, by Kevin Wilson (USA):

Chesapeake Bay Oyster Reef Biotope, Phoebus, Virginia, USA. ©BAP, photo Kevin Wilson

This 100-gallon (380-liter) system mimics a typical shallow Chesapeake Bay oyster reef, but without major predators. The oyster reef was built to provide a vast number of hiding spots and escape routes to provide homes and breeding locations for high numbers of three species of benthic fish common to all of the Chesapeake Bay oyster reefs.

Those three species are Chasmodes bosquianus (my showcase species, the striped blenny), Gobiesox strumosus (skilletfish), and Gobiosoma bosc (naked goby). In addition, the biotope also supports two species of dither fish, Cyprinodon variegatus (sheepshead minnow) and Fundulus heteroclitus (mummichog), along with several species of invertebrates and two species of macroalgae.

My love for blennies local to the bay stemmed from two events, when I caught and kept my first Chesapeake Bay blenny, Hypsoblennius hentz (feather blenny) while I was in college, along with a visit to the Calvert Marine Museum years ago where I saw my first oyster reef aquarium full of blennies.

Central America & Caribbean – sponsored by BIOTOPE AQUARIUM Project

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

BAM: Unnamed spring in Laguna Seca, Durango Mexico, by Franko Janko (Slovenia):

Unnamed spring in Laguna Seca,Durango Mexico. ©BAP, photo Franko Janko

The aquarium represents a small pond next to the main spring of Laguna Seca, since Characodon is endemic to the Mexican federal state of Durango. The species name is derived from the Latin verb “audere,” which means “to dare,” with the adjective “audax” and the meaning “bold” or “daring,” referring to the aggressive behavior of this fish.

It historically occurred in the springs and creeks along the Río La Sauceda, the name of the headwaters of the Río Mezquital, and the subsequent section of this river named Río El Tunnel above the Saltito Falls about 10km NNW of the town Nombre de Díos. We know of seven different subpopulations of Characodon audax:

  • El Toboso subpopulation
  • Los Pinos subpopulation
  • Laguna Seca subpopulation
  • El Garabato subpopulation
  • Río La Sauceda subpopulation
  • Pino Suarez subpopulation
  • Victoria de Durango subpopulation

The last one is regarded extinct. The species disappeared from part of its original range, and its IUNC status is Endangered/Declining.

All information as well as pictures and videos were personally obtained from Dr. Michael Köck from Vienna’s “Haus des Meeres,” the main coordinator and founder of the website and one of the leading experts on the world’s Goodeidae species.

South America – sponsored by FLUVAL

Approved by: Roberto E. Reis (PUCRS), Flávio Lima (MDBio)

BAM: Urubaxi River, tributary of the Negro River, State of Amazonas, Brazil, by Marco Antonio Cunha (Brazil):

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

The cardinal tetra Paracheirodon axelrodi is the symbolic fish of the blackwater rivers and creeks of the Rio Negro basin—it’s impossible to think of a blackwater biotope aquarium and not think of P. axelrodi. The Urubaxi River, located in the middle Rio Negro, municipality of Santa Isabel do Rio Negro, is one of its main collecting points.

This biotope project was designed to recreate the underwater landscape of the river, from the perspective of a diver facing one of the banks: looking at the river bank, with its roots and trunks exposed, part of the flooded forest, responsible for the great amount of organic matter present, dyeing the waters black and further highlighting the colors and iridescence of the neons.

A background composed of coconut fiber and roots, many leaves and seeds in the background, and a large tree trunk, in addition to aquatic plants and ferns growing on the bank, make up the habitat of the cardinal neon and other species, such as the rummynose tetra, which is also present in this project.

Europe – sponsored by SICCE

Approved by: Alexey Malyshev and Gireg Allain (AquaMag)

BAM: Old Danube, Gemenc Forest, Hungary, by Klementina Keresztes-André (Hungary):

Old Danube, Tolna, Hungary. ©BAP, photo Klementina Keresztes-André

As a Hungarian, our native waters are close to my heart, so I decided that my next aquarium will be based on my homeland. Since I have always been interested in the world of oxbows, I chose the Old Danube in Gemenc Forest, which has an extremely rich flora and fauna. I chose a part near the coast, where the water is slow flowing, and the bed is covered with silt, branches, and terrestrial plant parts.

This habitat provides an ideal hiding place for one of our smallest fish, the sunbleak (Leucaspius delineatus). Due to the capabilities of the aquarium I was able to create an ideal habitat for them with plenty of hiding places and enough swimming space.

Africa – sponsored by AQUARIUM MÜNSTER

Approved by: Ad Konings (CichlidPress) and Anton Lamboj (UniWien)

BAM: Nun River basin, in the north of Bayelsa State, Nigeria, by Biswarup Goon (India):

Forest duct of Nun River basin, Bayelsa State, Nigeria. ©BAP, photo Biswarup Goon

This tank is replicating the slow-flowing forest duct of the Nun River basin, in the north of Bayelsa State, Nigeria.

The Nun River, at around 100 miles (160 km), is the longest continuation of the Niger River. The Nun River begins near the village of Aboh, where the Niger River splits in two, forming the Nun and Forcados, flowing through the rainforests and swamps and emptying into the Gulf of Guinea. Flooding from monsoon rains lasts from June to September, then the water level drops, and in February, with the arrival of the flood waters from the Niger River, it rises again.

Forest rivers and streams of the Nun River basin are home to many species of fish and other aquatic organisms. Although oil production causes serious damage to the local ecosystem, in clean rivers significant biodiversity can be found. Mainly semi-aquatic plants grow in places where the sun peeks through the trees.

Eastern Asia – sponsored by OASE

Approved by: Fan Li and Zhou Hang

BAM: Yanqi River in Shentang Valley, Beijing, China, Jiaying Hou (China):

Yanqi River in Shentang Valley, Huairou District, Beijing, China. ©BAP, photo Jiaying Hou

The Yanqi River basin, located in the Shentang valley, has a beautiful natural environment, rich in biological resources. In the slow-flowing area of the river, there are a large number of Vallisneria natans, Hydrilla verticillata, Nymphaea tetragona, and Phragmites australis.

Pungitius sinensis lives in this area together with other fish. P. sinensis prefers the shallow areas with dense aquatic plant growth. It likes low water temperatures and swims gracefully. This is a special fish species in northern China. In order to teach people about and protect this environment, I made a biotope aquarium of this habitat.

Southern, Central & Western Asia – sponsored by NEWA

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

BAM: Periyar river, Western Ghats, India, by Protim Sarkar (India):

Periyar river, Western Ghats, India. ©BAP, photo Protim Sarkar

This aquarium represents a mild blackwater part of the Periyar River, very close to Periyar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, with pure water and high levels of trace minerals and nutrients. Forests along the side are growing on white sand and soil. The bottom of the river is covered with a fine layer of algae-covered river basin sands and Eleocharis acicularis, along with some green and dried coconut leaves fallen from the tall trees.

This aquarium shows a very common natural habitat, but one of the most favorite aquarium fish: Horadandia brittani, known as the grass carplet. They prefer this kind of habitat, where there is minimal water flow and big coconut leaves for them to hide and spawn.

Southeastern Asia & Oceania – sponsored by DOHSE AQUARISTIK

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

BAM: Inle Lake, Shan State, Myanmar, by Klementina Keresztes-André (Hungary):

Inle Lake, Shan State, Myanmar. ©BAP, photo Klementina Keresztes-André

Asian fish are closest to my heart, especially the smaller species, and for this reason I chose emerald dwarf rasboras (Danio erythromicron). They are endemic to Inle Lake, which has extremely diverse wildlife.

With my 17-gallon (63-liter) aquarium, I wanted to make a home for these tiny and shy fish. I tried to provide them suitable hiding places with the dense vegetation because this little fish lives in the seaweed islands, which cover most of the lake basin. I used Ceratophyllum demersum and Nymphoides sp. to achieve this, and I added some driftwood, roots, and leaves to the bottom, which is covered with sand and silt. The lighting is not too strong, the filter flow is calm and equable.

We invite you to take part in the upcoming BIOTOPE AQUARIUM Contest!

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.

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 more creative and fun 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.

BIOTOPE AQUARIUM Contest 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.

BAP Expert Fritz Rohde
BAP Expert Lawrence Kent
BAP Expert Juan Miguel Artigas Azas
BAP Expert Jairo Arroyave
BAP Expert Roberto E. Reis
BAP Expert Flávio César Thadeo de Lima
BAP Expert Gireg Allain
BAP Expert Alexey Malyshev
BAP Expert Ad Konings
BAP Expert Anton Lamboj
BAP Expert Fan Li
BAP Expert Zhou Hang
BAP Expert Sven O. Kullander
BAP Expert Friedrich Bitter
BAP Expert Peter Unmack
BAP Expert Greg Martin
Jury members in 8 categories (geographical regions) at BIOTOPE AQUARIUM Contest 2022.

The international aquatic companies like Aquael, Fluval, Sicce, Aquarium Münster, Oase, Newa and Dohse Aquaristik understand the importance of transformation in the aquatic hobby and support BAC2022. These companies look forward to a positive change and embrace the biotope concept as inevitable and necessary development of the aquarium hobby.

AQUAEL, Sponsor of the BIOTOPE AQUARIUM Contest
FLUVAL, Sponsor of the BIOTOPE AQUARIUM Contest
SICCE, Sponsor of the BIOTOPE AQUARIUM Contest
OASE, Sponsor of the BIOTOPE AQUARIUM Contest
NEWA, Sponsor of the BIOTOPE AQUARIUM Contest
BAP logo official, bianco

BAP is gearing up for BAC2023 with a pre-registration announcement on April 20st, 2023, and opening the registration on May 20st, 2023. 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 (BAC2023)!