Biotope Aquarium Design Contest 2011. Final

Biotope Aquarium Design Contest 2011 really stood out against the background of Zoosphere, the 20th exhibition of pet products and care, held annually at the Lenexpo exhibition complex in St. Petersburg. Not only strict judges and generous sponsors, not only the contestants and their fans, not only neighbour exhibitors from the pavilion number 7, but ordinary viewers who had come here got on a real holiday. It was a celebration of contact with nature of hot, humid, magic faraway tropics, inviting us, rigorous northern people, with their extraordinary beauty, many riotous colours, richness and triumph of life in all its manifestations.

Contest stand attracted many visitors of Zoosphere
Tropical biotopes contest is the first of its kind, especially for exhibition visitors from St. Petersburg and other cities, not too tired of such shows. Organizers of such big event went to a certain risk, but at the same time opened to aquarists new horizons of creativity. On most aquarium design exhibitions and competitions visitors are used to in 99% of cases we see traditional aquascapes. (Aquascape means water landscape, a term developed by the famous Takashi Amano and used by aquarists).
What are the similarities and differences between classical underwater landscape and biotope aquarium?
Aquascaping is a school of master aquarium setup used only by professionals or, in extreme cases, by experienced amateurs. It is a real art, real creativity, real masterpiece, where the magic underwater fairy tale is created by the hands of artist. Aquascaping, adopted from Japan, its historic homeland, suggests (according to the Japanese mentality) discreet beauty, contemplation, grace and elegance, impeccable compositional structure of the underwater landscape. There is not a riot of bright colours and sharp lines, all is smooth all noble and, at the same time, natural and harmonious. On the first place in the aquascape there is beauty of the landscape, created with the ground, plants and accessories, and the fish itself is rather auxiliary: it decorates, complements and harmonizes the composition, not being a priority item. The fame and good name of the author, his portfolio, participating and winning in various contests even having extraordinary designing talent involve many years of practical work, self-improvement and mastering his skills.
Biotope aquarium is a completely different phenomenon. On the one hand, an author creating such a work has not too rigid framework and requirements for the artistic and aesthetic side. In a biotope aquarium there is a piece of the underwater world, as close to the natural aquatic environment as possible. It is not just beautiful, it is beautiful simply because the artist here is not a person, but her majesty Nature! The task of the author of biotope aquarium is only to use his knowledge, lessons learned from nature, and to bring this picture to the viewer. Everything is possible here, or almost everything, that can be found in the given landscape in nature. Anyone can create such an aquarium, even a beginner, even an amateur, and thus the result can be a real masterpiece of aquarium design.
Example of nature biotope
On the other hand, the biotope aquarium sets many limitations. Selection of plants, fishes and other aquatic life should be as close to the depicted ecosystem in nature as possible, they should feel as comfortable as possible under the given conditions (temperature, pH, water volume, light, etc.), not competing with one another in the food chain.
Both in aquascaping and in biotope aquariums the most important thing was, is and will always be humanity to the inhabitants of a small underwater kingdom. Comfortable environment, lack of harmful factors, proper care are requirements for any aquarium, whether it is an aquarium od a winner of the World Contest, or the usual interior decoration at home or office.
And the last thing I would like to highlight being an observer is following: setting aside the Contest and the high level of the works, when you look at these gorgeous aquariums the thought comes that biotope aquarium is a great starting place for new aqaurium designers. When the author does not have to reinvent the wheel, when species of fish, plants and other inhabitants of the biotope aquarium are known, it will be not as difficult to create an aquarium on ready-made basis. In contrast to the often short-lived aquascape, biotope aquarium lives for a long time, needing only standard procedures for care and corrective measures to maintain the proper appearance. In other words, biotope aquarium is not a short-lived work of aquarium design, but rather an idea, a principle, an occasion for reflection, ground for the realization of aquarists dreams, fantasies and ideas, both amateur, and professional.
Based on the foregoing, the contestants had a lot of very complex but extremely interesting problems. On the website of Unitex company before the start of the Contest there were not only the requirements, conditions and other explanations for the participants, but also valuable tips: what kinds of plants and fish suitable for aquarium live in a particular river or lake, what kind of decorations are the most suitable for biotope landscape. Geography of entries was as follows: Central and South America, African tropics, Southeast Asia and the island of Papua-New Guinea. The organizers advised directly: "In this competition it is important not only aquarium appearance, but also fishes and plants, their composition and ratio, correct decorations for these species."
The Contest consisted of two parts. The first one - quality test - was carried using photos of the participants' works. As a result of Internet voting there were 10 finalists selected, who presented their works in the following categories:
Categories of the biotopes
Works of the participants were estimated by a qualified and highly professional jury
  • Rodolphe Ruelle - Sales Director of JBL
  • Stefan Walter - Director of Special Projects of DENNERLE
  • Andrew Oppolitov - chief aquarist of the St. Petersburg Oceanarium
  • Svetlana Chikadze - chief aquarist of Leningrad Zoo
  • Vladimir Kovalyov - chief aquarist of the aquarium salon AkvaInterio, Ph.D.
  • Sergei Chubarov - expert on aquatic plants, Ph.D.
- Question for Sergei Chubarov, a member of the jury: do you like the contestants works? Is it interesting to participate in the judging?
Sergei Chubarov: "Judging the Contest is very difficult. I like everything, dazzled by this beauty, but unfortunately the strongest has to win. So I'm looking at these aquariums not as an artist, lover or esthete, but as a biologist. I am going with a notepad, meticulously look to every detail, and relentlessly lower scores! (Smiles). First, I see a lot of inconsistencies, and it is impossible to recreate the biotope completely. But in some places there are some serious errors as follows: when one species eats another, or the plants compete for light, space and so on, it is admissible in nature, but not in an aquarium! Therefore, as a judge I had no mercy on anyone! On the other hand, later, after the first Contest, many participants will think of their mistakes, and it will help them to improve their skills and get even better results at the next Contest."
The places are given as follows:
1st place
Elena Mazurek, St. Petersburg
Category: River of West Africa
Prize: 1230 EUR + Aquatech 140 L aquarium set  + JBL equipment
2nd place
Alexey Malyshev, St. Petersburg
Category: River of South-East Asia
Prize: 740 EUR + Aquatech 140 L aquarium set  + JBL equipment
3rd place
Arseny Kukushkin, Moscow
Category: Lake of the island of Papua New Guinea
Prize: 490 EUR + Aquatech 140 L aquarium set  + JBL equipment
4th place
Anna Tetereva, Moscow
Category: Backwater of South-East Asia
Prize: Aquatech 140 L aquarium set  + JBL equipment
5th place
Stanislav Voronkov, St. Petersburg
Category: River of Central America
Prize: Aquatech 140 L aquarium set  + JBL equipment
6th place
Ayrat Ismagilov, Tyumen Oblast
Category: East African Lake Tanganyika
Prize: Aquatech 140 L aquarium set  + JBL equipment
7th place
Vera Gladyshenko, St. Petersburg
Category: River of South America
Prize: Aquatech 140 L aquarium set  + JBL equipment
8th place
Kirill Lubyanko, Moscow
Category: Backwater of South America
Prize: Aquatech 140 L aquarium set  + JBL equipment
9th place
Vladimir Shvedov, Moscow
Category: Pond of East Asia
Prize: Aquatech 140 L aquarium set  + JBL equipment
10th place + People's Choice
Yuri Chikhachev, St. Petersburg
Category: East African Lake Malawi
Prize: 245 EUR + Aquatech 140 L aquarium set  + JBL equipment
Participants and organizers
As for the prize pool of the Contest, in addition to cash prizes (certificates) for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd places, certificates of participant and gifts, each participant got his creation: an aquarium with stand, equipment, accessories and all content, including fish and plants.
Gift certificate for 1st place
While waiting for results, some of the contestants had time to talk to us and express their opinion about the event.
Elena Mazurek (known to everyone on the forum under the nickname Myllena) said not knowing about his victory: "I am very glad that this Contest is more for amateurs than for professionals. Amateur puts soul into his hobby, so all the aquariums set up with great warmth of heart.
Ayrat Ismagilov: "Yes, it's true, but aquariumistic is a dangerous hobby. (Laughs). First, you have an aquarium, then another one, then again, and soon in the office you work there is a posh tank simply because there is no place for it in your house.
- Dear participants, and what do you think of the concept of biotope aquarium contest?
Elena Mazurek: "In the aquaristic and aquarium design there should be not only aquascape. Every aquarium has right to exist and is a unique handcrafted work of certain authorship. Even at home, completely tasteless aquarium in "philistine" style - you know, that one with a skull, a ship wreck and colored artificial corals - it is also an aquarium, it is also an underwater picture. Even kitsch, even popular aquariums still have right to exist! A biotope aquarium is very interesting: it combines beauty, harmony, artistic perception of the author and the nature."
- Elena, tell us about your aquarium in more detail?
Elena Mazurek: "You see here an imitation of the ecosystem of the Congo River, closer to the shoreline. There is a rocky shore here, some plants: bolbitis and anubias, fish: lionhead cichlids, butterflyfish, elephantfish constantly hiding behind the rocks, and the most numerous inhabitants of the aquarium - Congo tetras. While creating this work most of all I would like to avoid errors, to make my little world behind the glass look like wildlife if not by one hundred percent (which is basically impossible!), at least as close as possible. But it was impossible to forget the aesthetic side of the issue - the beauty of the aquarium. In short, participation in this Contest was very challenging, but extremely interesting!"
The winner Elena Mazurek next to her aquarium
And now about plans for the future. Unitex group of companies together with their friends and partners, holds not the first aquarium design contest. The foundations of this great tradition - to hold the aquarium contest on the most important zoological exhibition of our country - were laid in 2008, on Zoosphere 2008 exhibition. Since then, every year Zoosphere visitors are waiting for this magnificent, fascinating show, and are not deceived in their expectations. Development of aquarium design contests is one of the main targets of the organizers. It contributes to the development of aquaristic and its publicity, demonstration of aquarium design masterpieces to the audience who does not have the opportunity to see such wonderful aquariums in their home. This is useful for hobbyists - both beginners and experienced amateurs and even professionals, representatives of the firms for aquarium production and maintenance. Entries inspire professionals to new ideas that can be learned by visiting the Contest stand, and copying the best works forces to improve their own capabilities. It is very important to improve skills always, whether it is your home aquarium or office aquarium for corporate clients. And for beginner aquarists visiting such an exhibition is a brilliant opportunity to see live, not in the picture, not on the advertising leaflet or website, trends in the production of aquariums, equipment and decor, gorgeous rare fish, beautiful natural underwater landscape taking you away from your daily routine into the magical world of nature. All it means only one thing: such contests are needed and they will be held! What will aquarium design contest during Zoosphere 2012 be dedicated is still unknown. But the fact that it will be no less spectacular, intriguing and highly professional is an undeniable fact!
Speaking about the tropical biotopes contest, we need to thank people without whom it would never have taken place. The organizer of the contest is Unitex group of companies, general sponsor is JBL GmbH & Co. KG; they also provided equipment and accessories for setting up contest aquariums, as well as cash prizes: prize money for the winners was a gift certificate for purchasing products (1 230 EUR for the 1st place, 740 EUR for the 2nd place, and 490 EUR for the 3rd place). Aquariums were given by Aquatech company - Russian manufacturer, constantly improving their products.
And the last. On the one hand, Zoosphere takes place in a few days, and on the other it flies like a flash. From the first day of the exhibition the Contest stand was full of work on the installation and designing aquariums. Meet the short term is no easy task, so the contestants worked very hard to have time to please the audience with their wonderful works. But the joy was very short, we can say even fleeting! After the results of the Contest were announced, and the organizers and judges not only congratulated the participants and gave prizes, but also expressed their opinion on the contest entries, these aquariums look quite different. There's nothing to worry about, the participants began to communicate with each other and the audience, share their experiences and impressions. Knowing the names of the winners, I once again wanted to look at the aquariums, to think, to draw conclusions, to cast a last look at the wonderful exposition. But the beautiful, magical tropical fairy tale ended and will never happen again. The next year, too, there will be a contest, same passion, same intrigue, level of works, but it will be a completely different story. On Saturday, November 26, shortly after the announcement Zoosphere exhibition closed. The pavilion number 7 also closed, those who come here tomorrow, will see Zooshow in other pavilions of Lenexpo. The applause still sounds, glasses of champagne are not empty yet, contestants are still excited, but it is time to dismantle the exposition. And it is always a little sad to see empty walls, removed flags and banners, stands taken apart, people go, and the event itself goes away with them. But there are only two words that do not give us to be sad and make us look to the future optimistically and joyfully. Here are the words: see you!
Anna Kurtz, 2011
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The contest in other years: