Meet the reader who is breeding shrimp, keeping delicate gouramis and growing demanding plants - all without compromising on aesthetics.
WORDS: NATHAN HILL
As you walk into Iain Sutherland’s Cambridge-based home, a beautiful mix of high-impact aquariums greets you. There are four stunning tanks in Iain’s open-plan living area. The largest is a 120cm/48in high-energy aquascape, which is sitting next to a 60cm/24in blackwater biotope set-up. There are also two shrimp tanks on the kitchen worktop.
First impressions are that Iain clearly has a broad knowledge and interest in the hobby, despite being a relatively late starter just four years ago.
It was a friend who kept a Juwel Rio 300 aquarium that inspired Iain to take the plunge. He bought a Juwel Vision 260 and stocked it with a classic mix of community fish, along with some readily available and easy to keep plants.
Soon after discovering the delights of fishkeeping, Iain came across the UK Aquatic Plant Society (UKAPS) Internet forum and, after plenty of research and inspiration from this online community, immersed himself fully into the world of aquascaping and shrimp keeping.
The budding aquascaper replaced the Vision 260 with a custom-built OptiWhite braceless tank, and his first aquascape, called Barb Island, ranked a respectable 380th out of over 2,000 entries in the prestigious International Aquatic Plant Layout Contest (IAPLC) in 2013. This year saw an even better result, with his Asian Dreams creation (pictured above) ranking 251st and 2nd in the UK.
The Asian Dream aquascape was recently replaced with a new creation that, Iain admits, has seen some neglect recently. His CO2 ran out and it went without maintenance for a week or so.
The results of this were evident to any keen aquatic gardener, with the struggling Glossostigma elatinoides looking a little poorly. However, the aquascape still looks very impressive and he will soon get it back on track with the tender loving care that passionate aquascapers like Iain can provide.
With its two large external filters, two Twinstar Nano devices, a massive CO2 system and Giesemann Futura lighting, this system is one of the most high-tech planted tanks I’ve seen.
“The Futura unit was expensive,” explains Iain. “But it looks great and is future-proof.”
Mix and match
It isn’t just high specification tanks and aquascapes that interest Iain. He also has a rather nice biotope aquarium featuring five Liquorice gouramis, Parosphromenus gunawani.
Positioned next to Iain’s high-energy planted tank, the contrast works really well, highlighting the different feel each aquarium provides to the onlooker. The juxtaposition works wonders, with the subdued lighting and tannin-stained blackwater of the biotope compared to the ultra-clear water and bold colours of the planted aquascape.
The gouramis were very timid, but then Iain produced a cup teeming with live Daphnia and mosquito larvae cultured in his back garden. He poured a little into the tank and almost immediately, these beautiful fish appeared, darting in and out of the hanging roots.
With your face up close to the aquarium front glass, it’s easy to imagine yourself entirely submerged in this wonderful little habitat. There is something really appealing about witnessing fish like this, as opposed to the stereotypical bold colours and in-your-face activity we’re often exposed to in this hobby.
It feels like you’re seeing the fish on their own terms, rather than a forced display. This was cryptic fishkeeping on an inspirational level.
Bee shrimp heaven
Moving to the kitchen area, it was impossible not to notice the two stunning nano aquariums, absolutely choc-a-block with bee shrimp, Caridina cantonensis. Aquascapes in their own right, these two tanks looked amazing next to each other.
Iain started with the one tank 12 months ago, stocking ten various strains of bee shrimp. Six months later, the population grew to the point where Iain needed another tank, so he replicated the original set-up. The only differences are a slightly more powerful filter and smaller lamp.
Iain uses Ebi Gold substrate — it’s popular among the shrimp keeping community because it’s not preloaded with nutrients and doesn’t give an ammonia spike. As his tapwater is hard, he uses RO (reverse osmosis) water with added minerals to make it suitable for his shrimp.
The plants look in great health with minimal levels of background algae, all of which serve to provide extra surface area for the biofilm that the shrimp feed upon.
Iain’s tanks hold a huge amount of appeal, and it’s incredible to see how diverse a style of fishkeeping one man can achieve, at such a high level, in such a short period of time. His story is sure to provide inspiration for other newcomers and experienced hobbyists alike.
Iain’s success is down to a combination of good research and a willingness to invest in appropriate equipment, as well as time dedicated to maintaining his aquariums.
Iain also has a natural gift for the hobby. If he had discovered fishkeeping and aquascaping as a child, or younger adult, then no doubt we’d be looking at some of the most stunning aquariums the UK has ever seen. They’re not far from it now!
Tank: Natural Aquario 60 x 30 x 38cm/24 x 12 x 16in (68 l/15 gal).
Filtration: JBL CristalProfi e901 external.
Lighting: TMC 1000ND LED tile.
Substrate: ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia.
Decor: Manzanita wood, Catappa leaves, oak leaves and Alder cones.
Maintenance: 20% water change per week with RO water and GH booster. TDS 100, pH 5.
Plants: Microsorum pteropus sp. ‘Needle’, Bucephalandra sp. and crypts.
Fish: Five Liquorice gouramis, Parosphromenus gunawani.
Tank: Natural Aquario 120 x 45 x 55cm/48 x 18 x 22in (300 l/66 gal).
Filtration: Eheim 2080 Pro 3, JBL 1501 externals and 2 x Twinstar Nano.
Lighting: Giesemann Futura 4 LED.
Substrate: Tropica Plant Substrate and Unipac Fiji Sand.
CO2: 10kg refillable cylinder with Dennerle regulator. AM1000 external reactors at five bubbles per second. CO2 measured with 4dKH drop checker.
Decor: Redmoor wood and locally collected stones.
Fertilisers: Estimative Index using dry chemicals.
Maintenance: 50% water change per week.
Plants: Glossostigma elatinoides, Vesicularia ferriei, Alternanthera sp. ‘Mini’, Lilaeopsis brasiliensis, Ammania gracilis, Bucephalandra spp. and Ammania sp. ‘Bonsai’.
Fish: Dwarf neon rainbowfish, Melanotaenia praecox and Salt and pepper cory, Corydoras habrosus.
Tank: Two Custom OptiWhite 40 x 30 x 30cm /16 x 12 x 12in (38 l/8.5 gal).
Filtration: Eheim Liberty hang-on-back.
Lighting: 18 and 11W power compact T5.
Substrate: Ebi Gold.
Decor: Maple leaf rock, redmoor wood.
Fertilisers: Tropica Specialised (5ml/four squirts per week).
Maintenance: 40% water change every two weeks with RO water. Salty Shrimp GH+ added to achieve TDS of 190.
Plants: Microsorum pteropus sp. ‘Needle’ and ‘Narrow’, Micranthemum sp. ‘Monte Carlo’, Fissidens fontanus, Lilaeopsis brasiliensis, Philodendron spp. (emerged) and Ficus columbia (emerged).
Shrimp: Caridina cantonensis sp. ‘Blue bolt’, ‘Panda’, ‘Shadow panda’, ‘Hino’, ‘Smiley face’ and ‘Snow’.
Meet the aquarist
Fishkeeper: Iain Sutherland.
Profession: Food and beverages manager.
Time in the hobby: Four years.
First fish: Angelfish.
First breeding success: Zebra danios.
Number of tanks: Four.
Favourite fish: Barbs.
Fish he’d like to keep: Eartheaters.