This is the age of aquariums: young men are paying a fortune to “aqua-scape” their indoor fish tanks—and parting with up to £250,000 for a single fish. Why?by Edward Docx / March 23, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
We’re waiting for the suicide fish. It is Monday night. We’re in expensive territory—Notting Hill, west London—and we’re staring at a huge aquarium roughly 14 feet long and three feet tall. There’s water and there’s rock in there. Not much else.
“When they due?”
“What are they called?”
“I don’t know, man.”
The protein skimmers whirr and hum in the intervening silence. “You have to feel for them,” I say, after a while. “I mean, if you’re going to be a fish, then you don’t want to be one of these suicide guys. You want to be… second wave.”
“Yes. But we’re trying to prevent wipeout here. That’s what it’s all about. If you don’t use the suicide guys to test the water, and something goes wrong, you could have a very expensive mass extermination event on your hands. Could be carbon dioxide, could be pH balance, could be salt, could be temperature, could be anything—but you lose the whole tank.” He draws slow and sober breath. “Wipeout.”
I’ve known this guy almost 20 years. For the last ten or so, we have trusted one another with the stuff of closest friendship. And yet this is the first time we’ve talked tank. I feel the need to have a reciprocal secret. (A tortoise hatchery?) I daren’t ask him how much it’s costing; my guess is easily £15,000 with upkeep north of £500 a month.
Welcome to the booming world of high-end aquariums. Latest figures show that sales have doubled in the past year at aquarium sellers from Lancashire to Southampton. There are rumours of oligarchs and Premier League footballers frantically trying to out-tank one another, with items such as a £3m aquarium made from solid gold and mammoth tusk. But it’s not just the super-rich driving the new aquarium explosion. It’s also the “glamour boys” on the “planted tank scene”: well-groomed middle-income professionals—stylish, savvy, suave – for whom the submarine flora are just as important as the fauna. Then there’s the internet chatroom frenzy, the busy democracy of the forums, the YouTube channels: 623,000 hits on Dave Saxby’s Reef Aquarium alone. From all corners of the land, men are talking fish tank again. Not since the underwater-chic begun by the Bond films of the 1960s and 1970s has there been such interest and demand. But where has this revival come from? And what does it mean?