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NFC: New article

Where have all the children gone?
Robert Rice
3635 NW 68th Lane Gainesville Florida 32653
Robertrice at juno_com

It's happening from New York to Los Angeles from Beaverton to Boise, all
across this great land Aquarium clubs big and small are in decline. You
know it and I know it too .We are getting close to critical condition.
Most Aquarium club monthly meetings look like an AARP meeting instead of
an Aquarium club meeting. That is the crux of the problem. The older
generation has failed to catch the passion of this entertainment soaked
younger generation. Now the flame that once was the local Aquarium club
is but a dying ember. Its time to re light the fire and brink back the
ones that brought us here the ones that made this hobby what it is today.
Bring back the kids.

It's not going to be easy and we need to play by a whole new set of
rules. Because Aquarium clubs now must compete with Nintendo, Cable TV,
MTV, and Shopping Malls and yes even South Park for the hearts and souls
of your average teen. It's a whole different battle zone than most of us
grew up with. Most of us grew up in a world with 3-4 TV channels, no
Internet, and a greater understanding of the natural world. It's a battle
we must all work together to win. If we lose this battle we face the
prospect of these young people growing up believing fish come from pet
stores, pink is an ice cream flavor and that no matter what it is we can
always buy more.

As Adults that detachment from our natural world, combined with a need
for constant entertainment will lead to poor decisions in our lifestyle
and a disregard for the environment that will have devastating results.
To some of you I may sound alarmist or some kind of tree hugger. I am far
from it I am just an average guy who has seen first hand the destruction
of wild areas I once found refuge in.  Places destroyed for no good
economic or scientific reason, they were just in someone's way or were
considered to messy, so they neatened em up by flattening, dredging and
burning them out of existence. Nothing more annoying than a small ditch
in the way of parking lot. How about that ugly old swamp of musty old
Cypress trees and frogs. Such things offend people who do not know what
special magic those places have. People who do not understand they are
like a great painting, a true work of art and altering them should be
undertaken only after the most serious consideration. They are places
that can refresh the soul, educate the mind and strengthen the body. We
should be in no hurry to dispense with such places but the detached mind
finds them an inconvenience to their next distraction. So away they go.

 What we teach our children today we will have to live with tomorrow. As
an old man I do not want to live in a world where my respect of nature
and the great places we have been given is considered as outdated as the
Model T. Our natural world matters and is a great teacher. We should take
every opportunity to allow our children to soak in the subtle teachings
of nature's way. Without these teachings our children will become poor
stewards of the world they were given. They will leave this world much
poorer for their being here. That is a legacy no one would be proud of.  

Consider this, aquariums are often a child's first window into the
natural world and we are losing the fight to open this window. We need to
quit arguing about whether livebearers are best or killies are coolest.
We should instead work to get kids involved in the process. After they
get involved let them go where they may. For example I only keep local
species. That does not however mean I feel morally superior to those that
don't. We are all in the same boat; we are just people trying to bring a
small slice of that beautiful mosaic that is the aquatic world into our
lives. Hopefully that slice of nature will teach us, satisfy us and
encourage us to learn more. It's not TV, its real, its special, its
unique and its thriving in my tank.

The battle lines are drawn and frankly Aquarium Clubs are getting killed.
Most of us have been doing the club activities the same way for so long
that it hurts to change. We concern ourselves only with ourselves and
leave the kids, the conservation and the public outreach to someone else.
Well guess what there is no one else. We are it we are the spokespeople
for this passionate, beautiful hobby. There is no government organization
that's gonna come in and help Aquarium clubs. There is no magic spell
that will turn back time. There are only us and our crusty old fish tanks
and our breeders club points and our war stories. All those things
however doesn't mean squat to a 10 year old kid who just spent his last 3
months allowance on a tank and 4 fish and now a week later he has a
smelly tank his mom wants him to clean, 1 goldfish and 1 neon tetra .
What matters is that he had the desire to become an Aquarist. He made the
sacrifice of his hard-earned money and now due to his own inexperience
and the ignorance and or greed of the folks that sold him the fish he
failed as an Aquarist. The odds of him making a second attempt are slim.

In the past Aquarium Clubs tended to get a bit snooty. We looked down on
the simple "easy" fish and rewarded those who could afford the time money
and efforts to breed the difficult species. Big mistake because that
leaves the kids out. Now the kids have passed us over. Change is
necessary, change must occur or we risk becoming roadkill on the
information superhighway.  We will not beat MTV by having 1X-month
meetings. We will beat the enemy by reaching out to the future soldiers
with compassion, love and caring. We must show them why the natural world
is better than the virtual one. Why fish matter, why conservation matters
and why they matter. Oh yes and if you did not know this, most kids spell
love T.I.M.E .

Here are some things that all aquarium societies can and should do to
encourage involvement of children.

1. Start promoting inexpensive, no filter setups that work. There is
nothing worse for a 12-year-old kid than to get passionate about aquarium
keeping and then they talk Mom and Dad into looking into their first
tank. They visit the pet store with jr. and get offered a  $89 "starter"
10-gallon setup the price does not include fish of course. Sorry but $89
buys a season of little league in a lot of towns and is a horribly high
price to pay to get started in the hobby. When I got started a 10-gallon
tank and some free baby guppies were all I needed. There are lots of ways
to set up a neat 10 gallon no filter tank that would work well with a lot
of species tropical and temperate. So set up a starter tank for kids
that's under $20 including donated easy to keep species. In short bring
back the hobby that a kid can enjoy and succeed at.

2. Contact your local 4H club. They have an aquatic sciences program that
is most likley looking for leaders. They want to learn about fish all
that they need is a local Aquarium society to help them get started.

3. Start an Adopt a Tank Program in your local school. That means you
help setup and maintain a tank or two in a local school. I'm involved
with the Native Fish Conservancy (NFC) and the NFC members have started
dozens of tanks filled with local species. You can chime in and do
tropical tanks in classrooms or whatever fish get you excited. It does
not matter what fish go in as much as it matters that kids get involved
and learn about the basics of aquatic care. In the Native Fish
Conservancy program we take the kids collecting. You are welcome to do
the same, but if that is not your thing find other ways to get the kids
involved give out breeders points if they can breed a fish. Take them out
collecting live foods. The possibilities are endless. All it needs is the
involvement of a local club. Here's my shameless NFC plug of a worthwhile
NFC program. If you want to learn more about the NFC's Adopt a Tank
program or download our online Adopt A Tank free booklet go to our
website at www.nativefish.org 

4. Offer to speak and show slides if you have them to local schools. Many
teachers of science would love to have a 1X a semester guest speaker come
in and talk about the fish hanging around in the classroom tank. Or even
better offer the students a chance to get free fish from the local
Aquarium club that they could try and breed as an Aquarium Club project.

5. Work with a conservation group in your community. Give a % of a Fish
auction to start Adopt A Tanks in local schools or have your fish club
adopt a stream. Get out once a year remove garbage  from a local
waterway. You do not have to be responsible for every body of water
around you,  just keep an eye on one small part. It's not hard to make
yourselves the advocates of your local aquatic life. All it takes is
little love and a bit of TIME

Until next time good luck and good fishing.  If you'd like to contact me
please email me at robertrice at juno_com or by SASE at 3635 NW 68th lane
Gainesville Florida 32653