Senior Andrew Lohman dabbles in aquas­caping. (Austin Gergens/Collegian)

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.

One of Lohman’s many aquatic crea­tures. (Andrew Lohman/Courtesy)

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.”  


Lohman in the Biology lab. (Austin Gergens/Courtesy)

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.”


IG: blue_thumb_aquatics

Youtube: Blue Thumb Aquatics