You must have heard people despair the proverbial living life in a goldfish bowl. Do you think it is more fun for an actual fish than it would be for you? Fish are delicate creatures. Capturing and transplanting them from their natural environs to small sterile tanks, to indulge the passing fancy of a child, is not only cruel but environmentally destructive of our marine ecology. Millions of tropical fish die in the process. The ones which survive the shift from sea to glass cage live out unnaturally short and highly stressed lives. They swim up and down the confines of this cage until they die in a few weeks.
Here are a few myths that need to be busted
Myth: Aquariums successfully imitate the fish's natural surroundings.
Reality: By merely putting in water, ferns, plastic flowers and silly show pieces like frogs that open and close their mouths in the bowl, do you think you are duplicating a fish's natural environment? An aquarium has no similarity to aquatic life.
In nature, the water conditions are constantly being affected by the elements: rain, the sun, wind and water flow. In an aquarium the water is static. In any case, the water comes from your tap and it contains chlorine which is extremely harmful to the fish. It's PH balance and the temperature level in no way resembles what the fish is used to.
The harsh artificial lighting that allows you to see into the aquarium and allows photosynthesis of the ferns you put in, cannot fake natural illumination nor does it allow the fish the dark the rest periods they need. Do you think that providing a rock in the aquarium is enough to make a dark corner for the fish to take refuge?
Dry-processed shop food, though it may contain the necessary nutrients, can never duplicate the taste and variety of marine life that fish have natural access to.
Fish need space to swim and grow. In the wild, they live in large social groups and range over wide areas but in an aquarium, they swim in a small confined area over the same topographical features every day.
No, an aquarium is just a cage for fish and to believe otherwise is foolish.
Myth: Fish remain healthy and happy in an aquarium.
Reality: How many times have I heard people tell me that their fish keep dying in their home fish tanks. It’s not the fish's fault. It’s yours. You take this wild creature from its natural home and shove it into unsuitable conditions with not a clue about its hygiene and health care. Most fish keepers know nothing about the maintenance of an aquarium. The pity is that the fish pay for your ignorance with its life. Firstly, there is overcrowding. Fish are filled to maximum tank capacity, killing them all. Often they are incorrectly mixed and carnivores share the tank with smaller more vulnerable species. Most buyers buy for matching their fish to their home decor rather than their ability to co-exist.
Another cause of death is incorrect or irregular cleaning. Fish waste produces ammonia which breaks down into nitrite which is extremely poisonous. Chlorine from taps, chemicals from aerosols and cigarette smoke infect and pollute their water. Furthermore, fish are extremely shock-prone and a sudden blaze of light or darkness, when the lights are operated, upsets them.
Other stress-inducing factors are people tapping on the glass to attract their attention, fluctuating water temperatures, etc. Aquarium books tell us that fish should be fed two or three times a day with small helpings. Actually, we don't know how they eat in the wild at all. However, since fish rush to the surface of the tank every time you scatter food, and it is the only interaction you have with them, people feed them much more frequently, especially when they want to impress guests. With nothing to do, the fish concentrate only on eating and overfeeding, which is a sign of stress and which ultimately kills them. Then again, how many times do you simply forget to feed them? Aquarium fish live in an unnatural state of fear and stress, dependent for their lives on your mood and memory.
Myth: Aquariums serve an educational purpose.
Reality: How many of us have learnt anything about fish from an aquarium? How many of us learn anything useful from a zoo that we could not have learnt from a book. More than that, how many of us have learnt about the value of life from an aquarium. We just learn a few names like Swordtail, angelfish, Guppy, Molly, to show off to our friends. Have we learnt the magic of how fish live with each other, how they breed, their likes and dislikes, their fears, their vulnerabilities, their strengths, how they affect our lives, how they keep the waters of the oceans and rivers clean for us, how beautifully they swim in bursts of colour in the sea, how they feed their children? Far from teaching, an aquarium actually makes us insensitive to the wonders of life. Fish are not educational toys and aquaria give us all false notions of how fish live.
Myth: Why would aquariums affect conservation?
Reality: All these fish, that are sold as aquarium fish, are colourful coral reef fish. Wild populations of tropical fish have become severely depleted. Whole coral reefs are dying because the fish that live among them and interact with them have disappeared, caught for your drawing rooms. Over 2 million people have aquaria, so it's an extremely profitable trade and shops that sell these fish will tell you any lies to encourage you to buy. One of the biggest lies is that fish are bred by them. Fish rarely breed in captivity. In the wild, they have their breeding seasons according to natural stimuli, like heavy rain which swells and cools the rivers and increases the oxygen content and washes an abundance of insects into the waters so there is enough to eat. No pet shop can do that in their aquaria, so no breeding. About 80 percent of them die during capture and transit. Not only do you buy them but they are going to countries which have unsuitable climates where they die even faster. If a country loses its coral reefs, then its shores get washed away. In return for your aquarium, do you want to lose chunks of your country's land as well? All you are doing is keeping poachers in business. It's as bad as taking wild birds. Fish are wild water creatures. They are not and never will become pets.
Myth: But aquarium fish are amusing.
Reality: Rubbish. You have no interaction with them. They do not recognise you, they do not care about you, they do no tricks, they make no sound, they have no particular sharp intelligence, they cannot be trained. You can't even eat them. So, why be so mean to them? Tanks of tropical fish in waiting rooms, lobbies and airports are obscene and I suggest you should take up the issue whenever you see them.
If you have an aquarium, look after the fish properly and when the fish die, don't get any more. Better still, return the fish to the seller and plant indoor plants in the empty tank and make an indoor garden instead of a glass prison.