Underwater world

Underwater world
Mr Robertus Hartono is ranked among the world's best aquascapers.

Meet Mr Robertus Hartono.

The 38-year-old Singaporean is ranked among the world's best aquascapers.

He is ranked 19th in the annual International Aquatic Plants Layout Competition. He had to beat more than 2,100 participants from 57 countries to clinch that spot in the 2013 rankings.

Said Mr Hartono: "I'm proud of my progress. When I started in 2007, I was ranked lower than 800th and moved to 14th in 2012."

He is also a regular participant of the annual Aquatic Gardeners Association Aquascaping Contest, an international competition based in the US. Last year, he placed first in his category.

For Mr Hartono, each competition-scape can take up to one year to create.

Mr Hartono, an electrical engineer at Seagate Technology, does aquascaping whenever he can.

His interest was sparked by the aquascapes of world-renowned nature photographer and aquarist Takashi Amano that he happened to see on his colleague's desktop wallpaper eight years ago. Impressed, Mr Hartono borrowed a Nature Aquarium World book and started learning more.

To the untrained eye, an aquascape looks simple - a tank with soil, rocks, plants and fish, but Mr Hartono said it is much more complex. From the arrangement of rocks to the type of plants to the lighting, nothing is accidental.

Mr Hartono first sketches his idea based on a natural scene, then shops for the necessary materials which he says can take "quite some time". The arrangement of the hardscape - rocks, wood and soil - can take him a few weeks.


"I need to have a good feeling about the hardscape before putting the plants in, otherwise it would be very messy to change when the plants and water are in the tank."

Patience is key, he said.

"You need a lot of patience to maintain the tank... dealing with overgrown plants, algae growth and so on."

Mr Hartono barely spent anything on his first tank because most of the materials were given to him by his colleague and members from the Aquatic Quotient forum.

But he said that aquascaping can be expensive.

"A three feet tank, filter, light and carbon dioxide altogether cost from $300 to $700. The larger the tank, the higher the cost," he said.

Rocks cost about $4 to $5 a kilogram and the price of wood ranges from $10 to $150, depending on the size and type.

Married with three sons, Mr Hartono has a supportive wife.

"She (My wife) will complain if the tank does not look nice during Chinese New Year," he joked.


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