We surveyed 1,089 aquascapers around the world to learn more about demographics, time and money commitments, favorite aquascaping styles, and primary benefits and drawbacks of the hobby.
We also interviewed a voluntary cohort of 78 aquascapers for a closer look at their entrance into the hobby, experience level, competition participation, and the role of aquascaping in their lives.
Aquascaping has been around since the 1930s but has become an increasingly popular hobby in the last two decades. There are many different ways to participate in aquascaping. For example, some aquascaping styles mimic traditional gardening scenes while others create underwater representations of terrestrial landscapes. Some aquascapers love the tranquility in creating a beautiful underwater scene and letting nature take over. Others love the science of optimizing plant growth in a high-tech tank. Some aquascapers compete, and others zen out on their little underwater garden. Aquascaping has something for everyone.
We created this aquascaping survey to: (1) better understand aquascaping and the reasons for its increasing popularity, and (2) help the aquascaping-curious learn about a potential hobby and decide if it’s a good fit.
- Aquascapers have high LGBTQIA representation. 23.9% of aquascapers identified as LGBTQIA. This is higher than the general population estimates which range from 3.5% to 12%.
- On a monthly basis, aquascaping is affordable. 68.8% of aquascapers spend $0-50 a month on their tanks.
- For most aquascapers, start-up costs are not prohibitive. When starting a new aquascaped tank, 47.2% of aquascapers spent between $100-500.
- Some aquascapers purchase only the best equipment and supplies when getting started. 2.6% of aquascapers reported spending over $5,000 to start their tank.
- Aquascaping does require a monthly time investment, but not as much as you might expect. 38.9% of aquascapers spend 5+ hours per month on maintenance. On first glance, this might sound like a lot, but for comparison, in 2019 the average American spent 2.8 hours per day watching TV. When compared with other potential hobbies, aquascaping is not particularly time-intensive.
- Aquascapers cite relaxation, stress relief, creativity, connection with nature, and aesthetics as their top reasons for aquascaping.
- Aquascapers prefer varied design styles. The most popular styles are: “create own design” (39.4%), nature (29.7%), jungle (11.7%), Walstead (6.1%), Iwagumi (5.4%), Biotope (4%), Dutch (3.3%), and Taiwanese (0.4%).
- Tetras are the most popular fish featured in aquascaped tanks, specifically Neon Tetras, Ember Tetras, Cardinal Tetras, Black Skirt Tetras, and Rummynose Tetras. Guppies, Bettas, and shrimp were also popular nominees.
- Anubias, Java Fern, Amazon Swords, Java Moss, and Ludwigia were all named as the most popular freshwater aquascaping plants.
- 6.2% of aquascapers have participated in competitions. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of aquascaping competitions hosted globally each year. Most, if not all, of these competitions occur online because fish tanks aren’t easy to move. Prizes range from intangibles like fame and bragging rights, to tangibles like money and aquascaping equipment.
- People who aquascape really enjoy aquascaping. 70.8% have never entertained quitting. Out of the people who quit, over half (52.3%) restart aquascaping again later.
- The majority of aquascapers are (relatively) young– split almost evenly among millennials (35.0%) and Generation Z (32.4%). Only 9.1% of aquascapers are over the age of 50.
High LGBTQIA representation (23.9%) in aquascapers
A member of our team is part of the LGBTQIA community and used to participate in professional dog shows. In her time spent in the dog showing world, she noticed an unusually high concentration of LGBTQIA community members. From this experience, we wanted to better understand if aquascaping had a similarly high concentration of LGBTQIA people. Aquascaping and dog shows have similar qualities – both are related to the beauty of the final product, both have competitions, and both are sub-niches of animal-related hobbies.
Like dog shows, aquascapers have high LGBTQIA representation. 23.9% of aquascapers identify as LGBTQIA.
This high LGBTQIA representation is likely correlated with the high concentration of millennial and Generation Z participants, as a recent GLAAD report noted that 20% of individuals aged 18-34 identified as LGBTQ. However, there is still an overrepresentation of LGBTQIA aquascapers relative to age.
68.8% of aquascapers spend less than $50 a month to maintain their tank
Aquariums require a lot of equipment such as tanks, lighting, substrate, and filters. Then there’s the plants and hardscape items that give aquascaped tanks their truly unique beauty. But once these initial costs were incurred, we were curious about the ongoing maintenance of an aquascaped tank. If a hobbyist saved sufficient money to get their tank started, is the hobby financially sustainable on a monthly basis?
We found that aquascaping is affordable. 68.8% of aquascapers spend $0-50 on their tanks on a monthly basis.
Although aquascaping is a high-end niche of aquariums, it’s surprisingly affordable on an ongoing basis. This makes it more accessible to diverse populations, ranging from college students with limited funds to retirees on a fixed income. If a hobbyist can save enough money to get their tank started, finances are likely not a barrier to participation. Because of this low barrier to entry, we expect aquascaping to continue growing in popularity because it’s affordable, creates attractive and interesting designs, and the appeal of the hobby is easily communicated via online channels. Both the affordability and online accessibility are likely correlated with the primary age demographic of aquascapers: millennials and Generation Z.
47.2% of aquascapers spend $100-500 to start a new tank
How much does the average aquascaper spend to start their tank? If someone wants to budget for their new hobby, how much should they save? We wanted to understand the initial investment required to become an aquascaper.
47.2% of aquascapers spend $100-500 to start a new tank. Again, aquascaping is less expensive than we initially envisioned.
Despite its glamorous tanks and beautiful designs, aquascaping is a surprisingly financially accessible hobby, especially when compared to the initial start-up costs of a non-aquascaped tank. A new freshwater aquarium can cost up to $500 to get started. This similarity is due to the fact that a lot of the costs are similar between an aquascaped and non-aquascaped tank – aquarium, substrate, lighting, decorations, etc. The main difference is the focus on plants, hardscaping elements, and design. In non-aquascaped tanks, there are often decorations (bubbling treasure chests, skull caves, etc.) and plants purchased but the end goal is not aquascaping so the decisions differ in design.
2.6% of aquascapers spend over $5,000 on a new tank
Aquascaped tanks can be works of art. A quick #aquascaper search on Instagram reveals beautiful and elaborate aquariums that look like they cost multiple thousands of dollars. We wanted to understand how common large financial investments are in aquascaped tanks. Is a several thousand dollar investment the norm? Or are the beautiful tanks of Instagram possible for everyday hobbyists?
The answer is that the vast majority of aquascapers aren’t spending a fortune to get started. Only 2.6% of aquascapers spend over $5000 on a new tank.
A surprisingly small percentage of hobbyists spend a large sum of money to start their tanks. Therefore, a lot of the beautiful tanks on social media are not necessarily the results of a large financial investment. This is good news for hobbyists on two counts. First, they can get started without a large financial commitment. Secondly, they can likely get beautiful results without draining their bank accounts.
38.9% of aquascapers spend 5+ hours a month on maintenance
Maintaining an aquarium takes time and effort including weekly water changes and daily fish feedings. Aquascaped tanks are generally more complicated aquariums, with additional effort required to maintain many plants. We were curious how much time aquascapers are spending on their tanks on a monthly basis so that new hobbyists can understand if they have enough time to participate in this hobby. And if choosing between aquascaping and another hobby, how does aquascaping stack up?
38.9% of aquascapers spend 5+ hours a month on maintenance. This comes out to 1.25 hours per week. 86.5% of aquascapers spend at least one hour per month on their tanks. On first glance, this might sound like a lot. Aquascaping does require a time investment on a monthly basis. For comparison, in 2019, the average amount of time spent watching television per day by Americans is 2.8 hours. When compared with other potential hobbies, aquascaping is not particularly time-intensive.
Aquascaping takes time and effort to maintain. Almost 40% of aquascapers spend at least 5 hours a month on their tanks, which averages out to about 11 minutes per day. However, this is the highest time commitment bracket we surveyed. Almost half (47.6%) of aquascapers spent between 1-4 hours per month, which suggests that most people are spending an hour or less per week on their tanks. When considering the time commitment associated with a normal aquarium for water changes, cleaning, etc., aquascaping requires less additional time commitment than expected, which is good news for the aquascaping curious.
Relaxation and stress relief are the top reasons for aquascaping
Aquascaping is a hobby that requires time, money, and effort to be successful. You can’t put an aquarium on autopilot without disastrous results for your fish and plants. As such, there needs to be a significant reward involved with aquascaping so hobbyists continue participating.
Aquascapers cite relaxation, stress relief, creativity, connection with nature, and aesthetics as their top reasons for aquascaping.
One aquascaper said, “I find it relaxing and get satisfaction from the results. I suffer from anxiety and find the hobby helps.” Another aquascaper said it gave them a “sense of serenity.” Another noted, “I find a well aquascaped aquarium calming to watch and I use it as a form of meditation.” Multiple participants said that aquascaping helped with their depression, anxiety, and recovery from traumatic life events. A sense of connection was also an important theme: “It teaches me how interconnected life on our green dot is.”
These insights indicate that while aquascaping is fun in and of itself, there are clear themes of relaxation and connection that are driving continued participation.
“Create your own design” is the most popular style among 39.4% of aquascapers
Aquascaping has been around since the 1930s, when it originated in the Netherlands. This is when the Dutch style technique was born. The Japanese aquarist Takashi Amano then revised the European tradition by including artistic elements from Japanese gardening and Buddhist wabi-sabi traditions to create Nature Aquarium style. From there, a multitude of styles have emerged. Are the traditional styles still the most popular among aquascapers? Or has a preference for newer aesthetic styles taken over?
Aquascapers prefer varied design styles. The most popular styles are: creating own design (39.4%), nature (29.7%), jungle (11.7%), Walstead (6.1%), Iwagumi (5.4%), Biotope (4%), Dutch (3.3%), and Taiwanese (0.4%).
Nature Aquarium is still the most popular traditional style of aquascaping. The Nature style was developed by Takashi Amano, who is widely recognized as the father of modern aquascaping. However, it has been eclipsed by aquascapers who prefer creating their own style.
To the layperson, all of these styles might sound incredibly similar and somewhat confusing. However, they’re all guided by their own unique principles. For example, Dutch aquascaping focuses on aquatic plants. It typically excludes rocks, driftwood, and other hardscape items. It prioritizes high-density plantings that mimic traditional gardening rather than scenes of nature. On the other hand, Nature aquascaping focuses on the groupings of rocks, driftwood, and aquatic plants to create an underwater representation of terrestrial landscapes.
Tetras dominate as the most popular aquascaping fish
96.4% of aquascapers include fish in their tanks. We wanted to understand the most popular species and provide information to new aquascapers about good fish species to consider for their tanks.
We found that Tetras are the most popular fish included in aquascaped tanks, specifically Neon Tetras, Ember Tetras, Cardinal Tetras, Black Skirt Tetras, and Rummynose Tetras. Guppies, Bettas, and shrimp were also popular nominees.
Most aquascaped tanks have live plants. In order to maintain the plants, it’s important to have compatible fish species that won’t constantly snack on your carefully manicured greens. Peaceful community fish, such as Tetras, are popular choices. Additionally, Tetras are often striking in their appearance and entertaining with their behavior. They’re active and inquisitive and appreciate all of the nooks and crannies of a planted tank. Tetras also won’t uproot your tank like a lot of Cichlid species (Jaguar Cichlids, etc.).
Java Fern and Ludwigia named as favorite freshwater aquascaping plants
Plants are an important part of most aquascaped tanks. We wanted to understand the most popular species and provide information to new aquascapers about good plants to consider for their tanks.
These plants are all relatively easy to care for and can be used for a variety of layout options (foreground, midground, background) for planted tanks. Given that design is an important part of aquascaping, we expected to see a distribution of layout options. They are also affordable, with most plants costing $5-10 per plant. Lastly, they’re common freshwater aquarium plant species, which means they’re widely available at most aquarium stores, both in-person and online. Most aquascapers use aquascaping tools to maintain their tanks.
Less than 1 in 10 aquascapers (6.2%) participate in competitions
Aquascaping competitions have been held for over 20 years. The International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest (IAPLC) and Aquatic Gardeners Association (AGA) are two major organizations for these competitions. The competitions draw participants from all over the world. In most of the competitions, exhibitors submit photographs of their tanks. This online method of participation makes it easier to draw a diverse, international crowd.
6.2% of aquascapers have participated in competitions. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of aquascaping competitions hosted globally each year. Most, if not all, of these competitions occur online because fish tanks aren’t easy to move. Prizes range from intangibles, like fame and bragging rights, to tangibles like money and aquascaping equipment.
While most aquascapers don’t compete, aquascape competitions are increasing in popularity. For example, the AGA’s first online aquascaping contest was in 2000 and there were fewer than 100 aquascapes submitted across six categories. As of 2020, the AGA had more than 600 aquascapes submitted across 10 categories. Because of the online format, we would anticipate this number would increase. However, even though the online format is accessible, some survey participants noted an element of “elitism/clout-chasing within the [aquascaping] community” which could keep competition participation rates low if beginners aren’t welcomed to the scene.
70.8% of aquascapers never consider quitting
People quit hobbies for various reasons – time, money, and changing interests/passions. Because aquascaping can be both time and money intensive, we wanted to understand if people who get into aquascaping as a hobby stick with it or get overwhelmed and quit. In other words, do the benefits outweigh the costs of the hobby?
We found that people who aquascape really enjoy aquascaping. 70.8% have never entertained quitting. Out of the people who quit, over half (52.3%) restart aquascaping again later.
The majority of participants don’t consider quitting. Among those who end up quitting, over half of them start aquascaping again in the future. Reasons cited for disliking the hobby, potentially leading to quitting, include (1) algae issues, (2) cost, and (3) maintenance.
Younger generations (millennials and Generation Z) dominate aquascaping
Given that aquascaping takes sustained effort over time as a hobby, we wanted to understand more about the demographics of aquascapers. Who’s committing their time and resources to this hobby? Is it a similar demographic to gardening or landscaping? Based on the money and time requirements, we guessed most aquascapers would be over the age of 50.
However, the opposite is true. Aquascapers are almost split evenly among millennials and Generation Z. 35% of aquascapers are millennials and 32.4% are Generation Z. Only 9.1% of aquascapers are over the age of 50.
Aquascapers, on the whole, are young. A lot of participants noted discovering aquascaping online via YouTube videos like these. The online format of major aquascaping competitions also makes it more likely that younger, tech-savvy hobbyists will participate. Aquascaping is also less money and time-intensive than it appears from the outside, making it more accessible to generations with less disposable income.
Methods and Results
The goal of this aquascaping survey was twofold: First, we wanted to understand the demographics of aquascapers. Who creates these beautiful tanks? Is this a younger or older person’s hobby? Is aquascaping dominated by women or men? Is there an over or under representation of LGBTQIA people in aquascaping? There is very little market data about various demographics’ participation in this hobby.
Second, we wanted to learn more about the time, money, and passion involved in aquascaping. If someone was considering getting into this hobby, what should they expect for resource requirements? If someone is already participating, are they spending more or less money and time on their tanks? What are the best parts about aquascaping? What are the worst parts?
Research is limited on aquascaping participation and this is the first major aquascaping survey of which we are aware. Aquascaping is an increasingly popular hobby among aquarium owners so it’s our hope that this research helps hobbyists better understand this hobby as they make decisions about their own participation and helps aquarium product marketers and producers make better data-driven decisions about their marketing efforts.
Aquascaping Survey: Methodology
To conduct this aquascaping survey, we created a 24 question survey using Google Surveys in February 2021. For each question, an answer was required except the final question, which asked for the participant’s email addresses if they were willing to answer further aquascaping questions. All questions were written in English.
The survey was distributed by posting to Facebook Aquascaping, Planted Tanks, and Aquarium groups from around the world and Reddit threads focused on Aquascaping, Planted Tanks, and Aquariums. In each post, the focus of the survey was explained and an ask for volunteers of all experience levels was made. In total, 1,089 responses were recorded. We are extremely grateful for the enthusiasm of the survey respondents. They were extremely helpful and excited about the deeper dive on their hobby.
Following the conclusion of the survey, we contacted the cohort that voluntarily shared their email addresses for further aquascaping questions. 284 follow-up emails were sent and 78 responses were recorded.
Most of the results from this study are outlined and described in this report published on Aquarium Friend–a website for all levels of aquarists to learn about the fish, plants, and equipment needed to start, maintain, improve, and enjoy your aquarium.
Aquascaping Survey: Conclusion
I hope you found this aquascaping survey interesting. At the very least, we hope you learned more about a very passionate and friendly community. I’d like to thank all of the research participants for providing their feedback that made up the bulk of this research. This research project would not be possible without your contributions.
Now I’d like to hear what you have to say: What’s the most useful element of today’s research for you? Do you have a question about the study? Either way, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.