Trop Idol Mike lives the moment!

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Mike Swanson is still on Cloud Nine after being crowned Trop Idol by Practical Fishkeeping's telephone and online voters.

He says: Being told I d won was the best news I d had in years. I was both excited and relieved as I d invested a whole year in the contest. It was relaxing to know that the effort I had put in had finally paid off!

The freshwater fish specialist from Neath, West Glamorgan, was one of five contestants chosen early in 2008 to go head to head over five tasks; creating a biotope tank, then a planted aquarium, nano marine tank, fish breeding and finally a telephone-link quiz.

Swanson's first tank featured rainbowfish in the biotope style of Cape York Peninsula, North Australia, and New Guinea, and the judges noted the excellent condition of the Threadfins and realistic swampy effect of the tank.

When faced with the planted aquarium challenge Mike admitted he knew nothing about plants so researched them via the AGA website " and his creativity with selection was enough to impress.

For his nano marine tank project Mike had work to do. He hadn t done marines before but scored with inventiveness, by opting for native marines rather than those from the tropics. Native livestock included shrimp and live rock which brought lots of planktonic, invert and algal life with it. The judges said: This shows that a marine tank doesn t have been to tropical to be colourful.

Mike wrote on his Trop idol entry form that he seems to be able to breed anything he keeps, including Betta splendens, and for his breeding project he spotted fry, isolating then raising Pristella tetra " scoring highly for succeeding with and maintaining healthy specimens.

In the telephone quiz against Paul Jeffrey, Mike seemed the weaker of the two finalists. However, section by section, he scraped through on the fish and habitat category, won comfortably on aquarium sciences, fish biology and anatomy, drew on fish health but was down in fish taxonomy and aquatic plants.

A major plus, felt the judges at the time, was Mike s determination and varied knowledge and experience " and those factors may just convince enough telephone and online voters.

Mike went on to win the 500 prize at the end of last year and said: ~I have had a great time and learned a lot at each stage.

When I heard I d originally been accepted for Trop idol I was ecstatic " and told everyone I d meet. Then when I did the biotope challenge it was featured in my local paper, the South Wales Evening Post.

The quiz was my most difficult challenge. I have continually read about fish without really investing time to learn about fish and invertebrates generally " especially marines as I d never kept them.