International Freshwater Aquascaping Contest Winners

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Detail of the 26th place finisher. Copyright © 2008 Aqua Design Amano Co., Ltd.

The 2008 "Olympics of Aquascaping"

TOKYO: In eight years, it has become perhaps the fiercest competition in the aquarium world, drawing 1,169 entries from 47 countries to compete for thousands of dollars in prize money and accolades for having aquascaped one of the best planted tanks on earth.

The International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest 2008 was hosted by Aqua Design Amano Co., Ltd. and its founder, Takashi Amano, the planted aquarium genius who has inspired countless thousands of aquarists to attempt to create their own underwater scenes with plants, rock, and driftwood.

The grand prize winner of the contest 2008 is Cheng Siu Wai of Hong Kong.

Speaking at the awards ceremony recently in Tokyo, Takashi Amano said:

"Each year the quality of the submitted layouts increases and this year's submissions were no exception. Most notably submissions made by Asian aquarists from Hong Kong and Taiwan stood out in particular. This year and last year's winners were from Hong Kong exhibiting their passion and dedication to the hobby of aquatic plant layout.

"It can be seen that these high ranked layouts make skillful use of driftwood and stone in their arrangement. We can also say that the aquascapes recreating a natural aquatic scene within the layout were highly graded this year again."

Observers noted that the classic Zen-like simplicity of early Iwagami three-stone layouts is being pushed to new horizons, with craggy promontories capped with moss, sunken miniature forests, and depictions of waterfalls, cascading streams, and underwater mountains.

#1. Detail. Full view below. Copyright © 2008 Aqua Design Amano Co., Ltd.

Grand Prize (World Ranking No.1)

  • Cheng Siu Wai (Hong Kong)

Title: Mount Donha

Evaluation: This year's Grand Prize Winner is an Iwagumi layout, which uses hair grass and willow moss tactfully and expresses a unique world view. The color and texture of the stone is quite tasteful. The layout is highlighted by the arrangement of the materials with a fine attention to detail. The limiting of the variety of aquatic plants gives the layout a monotone green appearance which aids in the success of this layout. The choice of fish - Cardinal tetra swimming around a large 3 meter panoramic tank, matches the entire composition well. Many judges graded this composition highly, deducting few points allowing this composition to win the first prize.

Full view.

Aquarium: W300xD66xH84(cm) (W118xD26xH33 in)

Aquatic Plants:

Anubias barteri var. nana "Petite"

Pellia endiviifolia

Vesicularia sp.

Eleocharis acicularis

Fish & Invertebrates:

Paracheirodon axelrodi

Hyphessobrycon haraldschultzi

Otocinclus sp.

Crossocheilus siamensis

Neocaridina sp.

#2. Detail. Full view below. Copyright © 2008 Aqua Design Amano Co., Ltd.

Gold Prize (World Ranking No.2)

  • Mr. Yutaka Kanno (Japan)

Title: Beyond the Silence

Evaluation: The creator tactfully arranges slender pieces of driftwood and makes use of them within the layout. The present of Eleocharis vivipara in the background is visually effective and balanced well. We observe the highlights of the layout in the limited use of colors through stemmed plants and the dynamic application of slender driftwood. The use of moss in the layout contrasts the mossy wood with the barren wood nicely.

Full view.

Aquarium: W120xD45xH45 (cm) (W47xD18xH18 in)

Aquatic Plants:

Fantinalis antipyretica

Eleochalis vivipara

Glossostigma elatinoides

Hemianthus calltrichoides "cuba"

Vesicularia sp.

Microsorium pteropus var.

Fish & Invertebrates:

Paracheirodon axelrodi

Crossocheilus siamensis

Genus Neocaridina

Caridina japonica

#3. Detail. Full view below. Copyright © 2008 Aqua Design Amano Co., Ltd.

Silver Prize (World Ranking No.3)

  • Mr. Hsu Yung Lin (Taiwan)

Title: Passing Season

Evaluation: The imagery of driftwood covered with moss resembling a pine tree demonstrates originality makes this layout quite unique. Not only is this layout impressive due to original and unique imagery, it also displays distinct angle and positioning of driftwood within the aquascape. The creator brings out his highly skilled layout technique with a dynamic quality of the composition and detailed use and positioning of the moss. We see a unique quality within the layout influenced by Taiwanese culture.

Full view.

Aquarium: W127xD60xH60(cm) (W50xD24xH24 in)

Aquatic Plants:

Cratoneuron filicinum

Vesicularia sp.

Sasaokaea aomoriensis

Eleocharis minima kunth.

Echinodorus tenellus

Juncus repens Michx.

Glossostigma elatinoides

Eleochalis acicularis

Ludwigia repens J.R.Forst.

Fish & Invertebrates:

Nematobrycon palmeri var.

Paracheirodon simulans

#4. Detail. Full view below. Copyright © 2008 Aqua Design Amano Co., Ltd.

Silver Prize (World Ranking No.4)

  • Mr. Cliff Hui (Hong Kong)

Title: Destiny

Evaluation: In this layout, the creator's layout technique is notable. The combination of dynamic driftwood and stone on both sides is exquisite, and the opening in the center is very effective and successfully promotes perspective created between the foreground and background. Exposing the skin of the driftwood stretching out from Glossostigma is also visually striking. The layout composition as a whole is well balanced.

Full view.

Aquarium: W90xD45xH45(cm) (W35xD18xH18 in)

Aquatic Plants: 

Elatine triandra Schk.

Glossostigma elatinoides

Hemiathus micranthemoides

Eleocharis acicularis

Eleocharis minima Kunth

Liaeopsis novae zelandiae

Microsoienium tenerum Griff

Vesicularia sp.

Hypnum plumaeforme Wils

Fish & Invertebrates:

Petitella georgiae

Nannostomus nitidus

Otocinclus macrospilus

Caridina japonica

Caridina cf. serrata “blue tiger”

#5. Detail. Full view below. Copyright © 2008 Aqua Design Amano Co., Ltd.

Bronze Prize (World Ranking No.5)

  • Mr. Long Tran Hoang (Viet Nam)

Title: Tranquility Place

Evaluation: Simplicity of the composition is highly recognized in this layout. The creator has organized the layout well, even though composing a panoramic layout is challenging. Yet, he could achieve better compositional balance if the stemmed plants on the left grow a little more and add volume to the layout. What we see in this layout is a sense of sincerity without distraction.

Full view.

Aquarium: W220×D60×H65(cm) (W87xD24xH26 in)

Aquatic Plants: 

Hemianthus micranthemoides

Rotala sp. Coloratav

Micranthemum umbrosum

Glossostigma elatinoides

Eleocharis parvula

Didiplis diandra

Ranunculus inundatus

Fissidens sp.

Java fern sp.

Fish & Invertebrates:

Sawbwa resplendens

Parambassis ranga

Neocaridina heteropoda var. red

#6. Detail. Full view below. Copyright © 2008 Aqua Design Amano Co., Ltd.

Bronze Prize (World Ranking No.6)

  • Mr. Lee Do Jae (Korea)

Title: A Stony Mountain

Evaluation: A very energetic layout with a dynamic stone arrangement and distinctive plant application. The silhouette and texture of the stone could be more appreciated if the form of the stone is a little more exposed. The way the creator uses stemmed plants is very unique. But, it also makes the evaluation toward this aquascape difficult because the balance of the layout might be ruined once the plants start growing.

Full view.

Aquarium: W100×D50×H50(cm)  (W39xD20xH20 in)

Aquatic Plants: 

Bolbitis heudelotii

Microsorium sp. narrow

Rudwigia brevipes

Rudwigia repens

Vesicularia sp..

Fish & Invertebrates:

Hemigrammus erythrozonus

Gyrinocheilus aymonier

Neocaridina sp.

Crossocheilus siamensis

#7. Full view. Copyright © 2008 Aqua Design Amano Co., Ltd.

Contest Grading Guidelines

The International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest 2008 was closed for registration on May 31, 2008. A total of 1,170 submissions was received from 47 countries, this year; the number of contest participants outreached the last year's by 28 submissions, but the number of participating countries didn't quite reach last year's record-high 50 countries. The layouts were evaluated by 18 judges chosen internationally, and then, this year's world ranking was decided. The whole grading process was conducted impartially by the judges and so was the counting of scores by the contest committee. However, the evaluation of each judge primarily relies on his/her personal preference of the types of aquatic plant layout. It doesn't necessary become an absolute account of the layout.

#8. Copyright © 2008 Aqua Design Amano Co., Ltd.

The highest score of grading is 200 points; judging criteria mainly consists of "Artistic Impression Point" (maximum 100 points) and "Technical Point" (maximum 100 points divided into 5 categories for 20 points). In this contest, aquarist's skill of a long-term maintenance of layout is also in judges' great concern. Since the planted aquarium hobby involves various forms of life, we don't just appreciate the beauty of a layout shown right after its completion, we pay careful attention to observe how long the layout has been kept in a healthy condition. In that context, the following aspects of layout were, especially, strictly screened by the judges. First, the use of emerged plants and house plants which hardly survive in the water becomes the subject of point deduction. In order to avoid misuse of plants in a layout, one needs not only the composition skill but a good deal of correct knowledge about aquatic plants. Moreover, it requires a higher level of technique to grow plants healthfully. These aspects of layout are judged under the criterion of "Creativity".

There was a debate over the use of very fine white cosmetic sand, such as Rio Negro sand. Due to the nature of this type of sand, excretions of fish and shrimps become more recognizable on white sad. The color of the sand turns more easily to a unpleasant greenish or blackish color because of the growth of algae and the spread of anaerobic bacteria inside an aquarium. It was pointed out that it's hardly kept brightly clean for a long period of time. Although the cosmetic sand used in the layout looks elegantly beautiful in the picture, the layout receives a tough evaluation from the judges.

After going through the rigorous grading process, the top ranked layouts were finally decided.

Entries in the 2008 Contest included 1,170 layouts from 47 countries, the top five being:

  • Japan (423)
  • Malaysia (120)
  • Taiwan (86)
  • Hong Kong (65)
  • Poland (63)
  • Among the others represented: U.S.A. (48); United Kingdom (12); Canada (7 ).

Takashi Amano invited others to start working toward next year's event: "All of our judges are looking forward to the passionate submissions to next year's contest displaying wonderful aquascapes from all over the world."

Aqua Design Amano is offering a book profiling the top submissions in the 2008 Contest:

Credits: From a release by Aqua Design Amano Co., Ltd. All images Copyright © 2008 Aqua Design Amano.

Top 27 Aquariums: Aqua Design Amano Portfolio