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  • Writer's pictureJeff Miotke

Competitive Aquascaping or “How to Make Your Aquarium Awesome”

Originally published in The Aquatic Gardner Vol 31 No. 2


I decided to write this series of articles for The Aquatic Gardner (TAG) on competitive aquascaping to share what it has meant to me and why I think it is something you should consider. I’m going to share my experience and insights. Both the ups and downs of competitive aquascaping and how to make your aquarium awesome so that you will also want to share with the world.

Let’s start out by introducing myself. I have been competitively aquascaping since 2012. Not a long time when you consider the online aquascaping contests date back to 2000. I am happily married (which is a very important tidbit as you will see throughout), no kids and a dog. I have three aquariums currently, a 120cm planted tank that I call my competition tank, a 150cm reef tank and a 60cm shrimp tank. All three tanks are contained in my home office. I have worked out of my home office for the last 11 years running my own business. Which I closed this past March and went from being a computer consultant to semi-retired and giving myself the new title of Aquascaper (why not right?).

The home office

The fact that all three of my aquariums are in my home office is not by chance. This is what my wife and I agreed upon from the beginning. She would let me do pretty much what I wanted if it stayed within those four walls. Deal. My wife is smart and knows me well and she knows that when I go in on something I go ALL in. She obviously can see into the future and as for me, well, I was just happy to have my aquariums. So, before you get to far along strike your own deal with your spouse, family, roommate or whomever may be in your home.

My competitive aquascaping resume includes participating 22 times in competitions and have received everything from Top 10 to Winning Work awards. The top prizes still elude me, but each miss just fuels the fire for the next time. Maybe this will be my year as I have entered the International Aquatic Plant Layout Contest (IAPLC) this week and am currently on pace to finish for CIPS International Aquascaping Contest (CIAC) in July.

Meeting master aquascaper and my friend, Luca Galarraga in Denver at the AGA convention 2017.

Why do I think everyone should give competitive aquascaping a try? Competitive aquascaping does not have to be all about first place or prize money (if it was I would have probably quit a long time ago). What it is to me is learning, participating, sharing, teaching and most importantly having fun doing something that fascinates me. The technological marvel of having an aquarium that looks like a slice of a pond, lake or reef in my home is mind-blowing. These competitions are a way to get together and celebrate our aquariums. And when I say celebration, it truly feels like one big party when the contest results are revealed and there is an excitement through the aquascaping community.

What is an aquascaping competition and how does it work? Let’s talk about our very own AGA Contest which is one of the oldest online photo contests available to everyone in the world. The contest is broken down into four categories Aquatic Garden, Paludarium, Dutch and Biotope. The Aquatic Garden is the most popular category and is subdivided six ways by aquarium volume so that small aquariums are compared to small and large to large. There is no cost to enter and each competitor may enter three aquascapes to any of the categories. Entries are taken June through September and results are posted in November. The rules, guidelines and entry deadline are posted on the AGA website. I encourage all aquascapers to enter their aquarium in this contest. To do this you simply need to register on the AGA website, fill out a form of who you are and some details about your aquarium and include one to five photographs with at least one showing the aquarium from the front view. That’s it!

One of my personal favorite aquascapes that never was completed and entered in a contest

The AGA is unique as they do not rank every aquascape. The top 3 are placed and then the next 7 are given a TOP 10 honor. The rest of the tanks are listed by volume. So as far as contests go this one is not nearly as intimidating for a first timer. Another benefit to participating in this contest is that the judge’s remarks are posted next to the entry. These remarks are very insightful and a great way to improve your own aquascaping. As a bonus, the timing couldn’t be better to get started on your AGA contest entry now!

I hope my words have given you some insight and motivation and maybe have inspired you to become a member of the competitive aquascaping community this year.

Scape and Participate!

#AGA #Aquascape

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