Opinion: The Aquarium Hobby Needs More Youth Voices

The Aquarium Hobby Needs More Youth Voices
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Opinion: The Aquarium Hobby Needs More Youth Voices

As a young fishkeeper, I recognize that our hobby lacks youth voices. Whether I am perusing fishkeeping websites, watching fishkeeping videos, or taking a trip to my LFS, I notice that fishkeeping is dominated by an older demographic.

When I was 12, I started AquariumKids, a project that began as a way to teach kids how to properly care for goldfish won at a carnival. Out of the 515,000 people who currently follow AquariumKids on Facebook, approximately 57% of them are between the ages of 13 and 24. I believe that there are a significant number of young people who either are fishkeepers themselves or who live in households that have fish tanks. Fish are seen as cheap and easy pets for beginners, and, as a result, are popular for families with kids.

Despite this youth involvement in fishkeeping, I have seen very little overall involvement of young people in the aquarium community as a whole. Youth voices are not being heard within our community.

The fishkeeping community also must do better at including women, non-binary people, people of color, and other people of underrepresented identities in our hobby and our community.

In this article, I will be focusing specifically on youth inclusion, as I myself am well-suited to speak about this because of my work with AquariumKids. I will explore three reasons why increasing youth involvement in the fishkeeping community is important, before closing with a brief discussion of how we can promote such involvement.

Equitable Access

We all know the innate joys of fishkeeping: watching our fish, perfecting our setups, and more. There is also significant value in being involved with an entire community of people who all share a common interest. As someone who is currently reading a blog post on an aquarium website, surely you recognize the importance of connecting with others through fishkeeping.

The benefits of being a part of the fishkeeping community ought to be accessible to everyone. While everyone does have the right to partake in fishkeeping and be a part of our community, there are several reasons why, in practice, the demographics of our community are not representative of the general population or even fishkeepers as a whole.

Fishkeeping is a hobby that requires money and privilege. If you cannot afford a fish tank or do not have a place to keep such a tank, then participation will be hard. The overall availability of fishkeeping supplies and resources may also pose another barrier. There is more work that must be done in this area to make the hobby of fishkeeping more accessible. Without access to the hobby, one is quite unlikely to be a part of the fishkeeping community. The fishkeeping community itself has more barriers to involvement. Because young people have not traditionally been active in this community, there is a current lack of youth representation. As a result, youth are discouraged from joining the community because of a lack of representation and lack of peers who are involved.

We must take proactive action to enable youth to join our community so that they too can enjoy it.

Future fishkeepers: Two boys research how to take care of fish. (Photo credit: Evan Baldonado)

Hobby Continuity

For any hobby—fishkeeping included—to not die out, the next generation of people must be included. If youth voices are not heard within the fishkeeping community, then our hobby’s community may eventually cease to exist.

Encouraging youth involvement within our community will ensure that knowledge is passed down between generations and that young people have a say about the future of fishkeeping. And if youth fishkeeping is only done in private, then the community we have built around our hobby will struggle to last. This may also have implications for the state of the hobby itself—not just the community.

To draw parallels to other hobbies, think of woodworking, classical music, or even trainspotting. These hobbies as a whole have failed to adequately promote youth involvement, and are dying out, some faster than others. For fishkeeping to avoid this fate, we must involve young people in our community and ensure that their voices are heard.

Greta Thunberg became an internationally recognized climate activist at the age of 15 after staging a protest outside the Swedish parliament. Her sign reads "school strike for climate." (Photo credit: Anders Hellberg, Creative Commons)

 Fresh Perspective

From legendary climate change warriors such as Greta Thunberg to the countless young people who are making a concerted effort to make their personal lifestyles greener, this generation of youth particularly values sustainability.

In fact, according to the 2019 Porter Novelli/Cone Gen Z Purpose Study of U.S. youth, 87 percent of Generation Z “remains concerned about the health of our planet.”

These sustainability concerns shape the worldview of today’s youth, and, as a result, affect how many young people engage with hobbies such as fishkeeping. The next generation will bring their fresh, green perspective to fishkeeping, ensuring that it can keep up with the times.

Recent green advancements in the hobby, such as captive-bred fish replacing wild-caught ones, reusable filter media like Blue Life's Blue Fx Regenerable Resins, and Aquaforest's ocean-friendly packaging are just the tip of the iceberg. When we hear more youth voices, our hobby will continue on this sustainability-conscious trajectory.

Conclusion

As established in this article, it is clear the fishkeeping community needs more youth involvement. There are a myriad of ways in which we can promote youth involvement in fishkeeping, including the following:

  • Equity: Inviting and welcoming young people to fishkeeping clubs and groups
  • Continuity: Ensuring that fishkeeping literature (articles, care sheets, etc.) is accessible to young people
  • Perspective: Encouraging young people to be vocal about their participation in fishkeeping and also providing them with platforms on which to be heard (thanks, CoralVue!)

What other ways can you think of to promote youth involvement in fishkeeping? Leave your ideas in the comment section below.


Evan Baldonado

Evan Baldonado is a freshwater fishkeeper who has been active in the hobby since the age of 11. He is the founder of AquariumKids and is a member of Stanford University’s Class of 2023.

3 months ago
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