Amidst the daily stress of Hillsdale college life, senior Andrew Lohman often finds solace in watching his fish.
Lohman serves as a biotic specialist for the Biology department, stewarding the aquatic organisms and carnivorous plant collection with assistance from Dr. Swinehart. When students conduct research on aquatic creatures, Lohman handles the logistics for cleaning tanks, performing water changes, and keeping the fish alive.
“I’ve been here 20 years and he’s the only student interested in a sophisticated way in aquarium keeping and the only one that really knew anything about it,” Professor of Biology Dr. Anthony Swinehart explained. “I could see that he was very passionate about it from the very beginning.”
The art of underwater gardening is called aquascaping. Aquascaping entails the hardscape and softscape of a fish tank. The hard scape includes solid tank elements such as rocks or wood; while the softscape includes the vegetation. The combination of the two emulate a biome. Lohman began fishkeeping in elementary school with a simple family tank and has since expanded to include nine species of fish; totaling somewhere between 60 – 70 individual fish. After approaching Swinehart his freshman year, Lohman was able to bring his hobby to the classroom.
“Like any other hobby, i.e. golf trips with the boys, or motorcycle rides on Sunday, Aquarists have their water changing days” Andrew said.
Often people acquire fish from pet stores, county fairs, or even family members. For fish enthusiasts, they go to fish auctions. Lohman said he enjoys fish auctions, and occasionally brings his fiance Shelby Bargenquast. Bargenquast views fish auctions as the most peculiar aspect of the hobby.
“The fact that they exist…” Bargenquast said, “ I was surprised just how many people attended and amount they would spend on fish.”
For Lohman, aquascaping teaches responsibility.
“You have complete control over the contents of the tank, which is kind of scary,” Lohman said.
The Belle Isle Aquarium in Detroit provided a lot of inspiration to Lohman, displaying some possibilities of expert aquascaping and an array of different fish to cherish and seek. He said hopes that his videos will inspire others to check out the aquarium. Lohman draws examples for his own tanks from the “living artwork” at The International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest (IAPLC). The competition grades contestants on how their tanks replicated the environment of a particular fish aesthetically and if the tank would allow for fish survival.
The longer Lohman kept fish, his interest in aquascaping grew to become academically inclined.
“There are more and more fish that are extinct in the wild and only exist in the aquaria of hobbyists,” Swinehart said. “They’re like carrying the banner for the species.”
With such a crisis at hand, it’s important that future aquarists take the hobby seriously and continue to help prevent further extinction. Lohman’s goal is to bring as many fish to his new home after college and continue to develop artistic aquascapes in his tanks.
Blue Thumb Aquatics is the name of Lohman’s Instagram and Youtube accounts that provide a platform for him to share his fishkeeping hobby with college students and those potentially interested in aquascaping. Lohman’s Instagram has pictures of his fish and tank layouts. His Youtube channel shows others a few of his own tank and offers some guidance. He hopes that his social media presence conveys to his peers not only the art of setting up a tank, but also the responsibility fishkeeping teaches and the relaxing benefits.
“I want to inspire people to think about doing it themselves.” Lohman said. “It’s not just keeping a goldfish in a plastic container.”
Youtube: Blue Thumb Aquatics