One important way an aquarium can act as a conservation tool is by creating a level of awareness by exposing people to aquatic environments and the animals that live in them. Because fish live in such an alien environment to us, they tend to hold a special fascination for us. The more people are exposed to fish, the more they begin to appreciate the many different species, interesting behaviors and unique characteristics fish possess.
Unfortunately, many people seldom see aquariums beyond the huge displays at public aquariums, or the striped-down displays at their local pet store. It is rare that most people not involved or interested in the hobby are exposed to a beautiful, well-maintained home aquarium.
Until recently, gorgeous aquariums were the norm in lobbies and offices of businesses. Aquariums were major features in many doctor, dentist or attorney offices, as well as in hotel lobbies and restaurants. Unfortunately, this is becoming increasingly uncommon.
One place that many nonaquarists can view beautiful, well-maintained aquariums, though, is in public buildings, especially schools, churches, libraries, etc. In addition to simply showcasing the aquarium, these venues can be a wonderful boon to the local community. In the Washington, D.C., area, my local aquarium society, The Potomac Valley Aquarium Society (pvas.org), maintains several aquariums at local shelters, particularly those for victims of domestic violence. These aquariums provide a calming influence to people who often come from situations that are anything but.
Aquariums can be wonderful relaxants in retirement and nursing homes and in long-term care hospitals (such as cancer centers). Many of us have either had friends or family members spend time in these places, and many of us have spent time in these kinds of facilities, too. So, for anyone who can empathize, it is easy to see the value of aquariums in such settings.
Aquariums for Charity
Unfortunately, many organizations are unwilling to accept donations of aquariums and associated equipment from individuals, but there is a way around this that is seldom refused, requires little money and doesn’t require much of a time commitment either.
If you’ve ever served in the upper echelons of an aquarium society, you’re probably aware that, on a weekly basis (or more) that someone chooses to exit the hobby and wishes to make a donation of the tanks and equipment to the club. Most clubs don’t have a use for donated gear and would have to auction it off or even worse, discard it. The stuff often turns out to be junk anyhow.
My club is often gifted some very nice setups. These can range from a pretty straightforward 55-gallon or 75-gallon tanks to a very nice 125-gallon with all the bells and whistles (recently donated at my club). If your club can’t take such items, they can be used as donations to the types of organizations previously mentioned.
When the aquarium to be donated comes from an aquarium club with hundreds of members, an organization is far more willing to accept it than when it comes from an individual, especially when it is donated with a promise of livestock and maintenance.
After a few volunteers go get the tank (which may involve in-depth cleaning and breaking down the tank), and an acceptable home for the tank is found, now comes a long-term commitment. First, the tank has to be checked and any missing equipment obtained. Go to any aquarium club member’s house, and you’ll find enough filters, heaters, gravel, air pumps, etc. to last a lifetime. Fish geeks all suffer from “hoarding disease.” It’s just a matter of getting them to part with something they don’t need and aren’t using anyway.
Obtaining decorations comes next. Used decorations aren’t very desirable. Monetary donations from club members is the way to go, because mixing and matching donated decorations usually ends up with décor that doesn’t match, such as a castle and natural rock and driftwood.
Fish are surprisingly easy to come by. Chances are that you have several members in your local aquarium society who are breeding something and have more babies than they know what to do with: livebearers and angelfish are excellent. If your aquarium club works with a local aquarium store, they’ll often agree to obtain other fish at wholesale cost or even donate some for a charitable cause. The beneficiaries won’t know a super blue pearlscale angel or a blood red high-fin swordtail from anything else – they’re just happy with living, swimming fish.
You’ll want to consider the place where the fish are going. Your club might be into large cichlids, but fish that spend a lot of time knocking each other around the tank might not be appropriate for a domestic violence shelter. Likewise, really small fish, even ones as brightly colored as neon tetras, may not be the best choice for tanks at a retirement home, as the elderly typically need something larger than tetra-sized to visually zero in on. Most places want fish that are colorful and visible. We might like plecos, goodeids or acaras, but red Mickey Mouse swords might be the better choice.
Fish Feeding and Aquarium Maintenance
The hardest part of the whole project comes down to maintaining the aquarium. However, if your local aquarium society is anything like mine, there are probably a lot of individuals in the membership with a lot of spare time – I’m thinking mostly of retired individuals. If they are willing to donate 1 or 2 hours performing a monthly water change and algae scrape, the tank has everything it needs.
• Make sure to get a good electronic timer (ideally, one with a battery back-up) to turn the aquarium lights on.
• The biggest responsibility is feeding fish, so consider automatic feeders. The people receiving the donated tank probably won’t be hobbyists, but they can be brought up to speed with a short fish-feeding tutorial. You can make it really easy by making certain the fish you provide will eat flakes or pellets and not frozen or live foods
Make sure there is more than one person responsible for feeding the fish; feeders should be know what they are doing and go by a coordinated schedule, if more than one person feeds the tank’s fish. This is important, in case your first-pick is absent for any length of time or leaves the job. Yes, I’ve seen a fish feeder quit, and no one bothered to take over!
• Make sure you have good back-up people lined up for maintenance duties as well. The go-to may get tired of doing it, and there should be someone ready to step in and assume the go-to role.
People go on vacation, get sick or just get busy, so primary maintenance tasks need to fall to more than one person. If no one is willing to take over the maintenance duties, you may find yourself removing the aquarium (it is important to have all maintenance personnel lined up prior to installing the aquarium).
- Make sure the go-to maintenance folks know how to add water to the tank: there’s nothing worse than finding a cracked heater or burned-out filter because the aquarium was never topped off. Leave something like a plastic bucket behind for them to do this with.
- Make sure that the aquarium power supply is clearly labeled and has some sort of signage saying not to unplug it. I’ve had cleaning crews unplug aquariums in order to plug in vacuums or other devices and not plug the aquariums back in.
- Make plans to maintain the aquarium around holidays. Your maintenance people have families and personal lives, and they’ll be busy during these seasonal times, too. Make sure that they can spare the time to make the tank glow.
- Don’t expect someone at the organization getting the tank to take over the cleaning of the aquarium. But be prepared to help teach interested parties to do just that, provided they are eager to learn and trustworthy to see it through month after month.
- Share what you’re doing with the rest of your aquarium club. Make sure that the membership knows what part of their dues, if any, are going to the project and others like it; gauge if there’s enough interest and excitement to encourage more equipment and monetary donations, as well as volunteer hours.
- When your maintenance person is working on the tank, be sure to promote the hobby and the club to him or her. What they take on as an aside, may quickly grow into a passion. This not only promotes your club and aquariumkeeping in general, but it may result in new members who may become lifelong hobbyists.
Remember our friend who left the hobby and donate his tank? By paying his tank forward, you may end up sparking interest in someone, where none existed. Consequently, before you know it, your club has a new member, the hobby has a new participant and everyone benefits.