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<< At the same time, let's not confuse "Nature" aquaria with "natural" 
 I don't believe anyone would try to make the case that the decorating art is
 necessarily approached in a natural fashion ;-) .. >>

No, not al all. 

Personally, an idealized version of nature is my goal. I think Mr. Amano said 
of one of his efforts, something to the effect of, "Imitating nature in order 
to surpass her."  I may have misquoted him, but such is the general idea many 
of us aspire to.

It might be argued that the means to achieve this in our aquaria are every 
bit as unnatural as another artist's using oils, pigments, petroleum 
distillates, knives and the body parts of hairy animals tied to sticks in 
order to smear various pigments about on a canvas. 

I've seen both good landscapes in oil paint and well designed planted aquaria 
and both have evoked the same admiration for the beauty of our "natural" 
world.  The concept in both cases is to enable us, through the portal of our 
visual senses, to feel as we do when confronted with one of nature's better 

Admittedly, one is a bit more of a magic trick than the other. One "cheats" a 
bit more by incorporating more of the actual ingredients that can be found in 
nature such as rocks, plants, wood and yea, the very creatures themselves. In 
that respect, one certainly is more natural than another. But I think it's 
really an idealized version of nature we are after anyway and on a much 
smaller, more manageable scale. 

This copying of nature only works in a broader sense anyway. I doubt we'd 
truly want the real thing warts and all. Much in nature is algae covered and 
ragged out. For example, when I hike, explore and collect in aquatic 
environments I'm often inspired by what I see about me and often wish to 
produce this same feeling at home and be able to share it with more of my 
friends and loved ones. Here in Florida for instance, not three miles from my 
home is a beautiful patch of invasive Limnophila, their apex staggered all in 
line, often with escaped exotic African Rift Lake Cichlids swimming 
throughout.  I witnessed this scene just yesterday and I collect from this 
patch often. It is one of my favorite places to visit.

But, if I were able to somehow surgically remove the very nicest 2 X 2 ft 
section of this Limno patch and transplant it carefully, just as it is, into 
a 2 X 2ft glass water filled box and then illuminated this gorgeous patch of 
"nature" with the appropriate amount of PC or MH lighting, say 4 X 55 or 220 
watts of illumination, I believe we'd all find much to criticize. 

First off, various algae we didn't notice on a larger scale would be present 
in amounts we'd no doubt find, objectionable and we'd start "improving" this 
right away. Forget about what would start blooming after 48 hours under these 
lights in a closed system. Debris, mulm and twigs that didn't bother us on a 
larger scale would suddenly detract from the "natural" beauty before us.  So 
much so in fact -- that our first instincts would be to vacuum or clean 
things up a bit. Quite a bit. 

What looked to be perfect specimens of plant life from five feet away would, 
under 220 watts of lighting, clear glass, and a few hours of good filtration, 
turn out to be snail eaten, missing whorls here and there and possessing far 
less of the symmetry we imagined and actually portrayed on a larger scale.

I believe we ask a lot out of ourselves and our tanks - a lot more than 
nature does her own children. We expect perfection, she - only for them to 
survive and reproduce before being recycled.

Bob Olesen
West Palm Beach