Important economy lesson that I learned from aquariums

As experienced aquarium-keepers know very well, the biggest problem in an aquarium is water purification; that is, keeping the water and sand healthy in the long term, for several years.

biotope in my study

Nitrogen compounds such as nitrate and other chemicals accumulated in the water can make the aquarium uninhabitable for fish, plants, invertebrates and other creatures over time.

After all, you give fish food to the aquarium every day. If this food cannot be recycled or cleaned in some way, the chemical substances contained in the food will be transformed and accumulated in the aquarium water or sand.

I have spent years with all kinds of water filters in order to have sustainable and healthy aquariums; mechanical filters, biological filters, chemical filters, ion exchangers and so on, whatever technology came to my mind!

Our minds and eyes were focused on the latest filter technologies in Germany, because we thought, best solutions must have been developed in Germany where the aquarium technology was in its most advanced state.

But no water filter has been able to solve the purification problem completely. On the contrary, each filter solved one problem to create another, resulting in a continuous flow of costs to me. A very expensive and frustrating technology addiction!

For example, a high-tech (!) biological filter that took care of the nitrate problem was disrupting the pH balance of the water, forcing me to buy an additional chemical filter.

When I artificially lowered the pH (acidity level) of the water with a chemical filter, both fish and biological filtration suffered, forcing me to buy new technological widgets and gadgets in my never-ending quest for a better solution.

Once you have given your hand, you couldn’t save your arm! This was how technology addiction was like; short term satisfaction paid by long-term frustration, almost like drug addiction.

Inspired by natural garden ponds and an excellent book “Ecology of the Planted Aquarium” written by a biologist named Diana Walstad, I discovered many years later that marginal plants with emergent leaves and submerged roots are the best water purifiers. Nature had discovered it millions of years ago.

Plants, the original technology of nature powered by solar energy, have finally solved my water purification problem without causing any side effects and expenses. I no longer waste my time and money with allegedly high-tech water filters.

Why did I discover the wisdom of plants so late, even though I was always fascinated by nature; animals, plants, wildlife, evolution?

The reason was probably the neoclassical development doctrines (including industrial paradigm and technology fetishism) that were engraved in my brain from a young age, like every victim of modern industrial lifestyle and education. Only human-made technologies came to my mind when I searched for a “solution”.

In order to understand the wisdom of nature’s technologies, I had to first understand the evolution of living and self-organizing ecosystems, and their logic of holistic and multidimensional optimization.

Sustainable well-being for all, which should be the main goal of the economy (not GDP growth for maximum monetary consumption), is such a holistic and multidimensional optimization problem.

Written by Tunc Ali Kütükçüoğlu

Note: I published the Turkish original of this article in November 2013. This English translation is not exactly identical to the Turkish original.

About tuncali

I began keeping aquariums as early as I was nine years old. Since then, I kept many aquariums and lots of fish, plant and invertebrate species. My favorite fish family is of course cichlids with their fascinating behaviors. My relatively new area of interest is low-tech natural aquariums as almost self-sufficient ecosystems that are I think ideal models for sustainable life.
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