Aquaria have a long history dating back to a woman named Anna Thynne (1806-1866) who started a Victorian craze when she and her children went to the beach and brought home some living corals. She kept the corals alive by regularly aerating the water by hand—or having her maid do it. Then she went back to the beach and figured out that if she put together just the right combination of plants and animals she could create a miniature ecosystem that was self-sustaining, at least for a while. It became really popular and lots of people started getting home aquaria, and her discovery even led to the first fish house at the London Zoo.
I think about her whenever I see an ad for one of those “self-sustaining” enclosed biospheres. I remember when those first started popping up in catalogs with the promise that they’d live forever. I think a year later the catalogs changed that to “lives up to three to six months!” and $79.95 plus shipping was a pretty hefty price for a dead paperweight. Some still get sold with the promise that they’re “perfectly balanced” and will live forever but realistically it just ain’t happening.
But I did find this cool website, Orb.farm, that allows you to create a miniature virtual ecosystem. You can fill it with sand and stone and wood and water and add plants, water fleas, and fish. It cycles from day to night ever few minutes and it’s kind of cool keeping an eye on the health of it. You can leave it running in the background and check on it every once in a while.
Still no matter what I do no system is perfect. The CO2 creeps up, the fish die, the plants eventually start to rot. At least it’s not real, but I keep thinking I should get a little bowl to put on my desk and put some water and a few aquatic plants, maybe even a cheap goldfish or two in it. I’ll just have to remember to change the water regularly since I don’t have a maid to do it.