Interviu cu Sylvain Van Waerebeke

Interview with Sylvain Van Waerebeke           
Scris de Administrator   
Tuesday, 25 March 2008



Dear Mr. Sylvain Van Waerebeke,

We are the strongest aquarists' community in Romania, with the greatest audience among the hobbysts.
We thought of offering our very active community the oppinions and experience of top level contestants and winners at the AGA. The results at the AGA, for instance, have produced quite an "earthquake" on our forum and led to great controversies.
We would greatly benefit from such an interview, as we, in Romania, have had only few attempts of entering strong international contests so far.

Here are the questions we kindly ask you to answer for us:

1. How long have you been an aquarist? Please introduce yourself in your own words to the Romanian audience.

I set up my first aquarium a little more than three years ago. Trying to find out how I should take care of it, I stumbled across some pictures of planted tanks and that was a revelation for me : I realized that my attraction to aquariums was based on aesthetical reasons and I decided to try and create a tank like these...

Aquascaping is, for me, an art form (which doesn’t mean I consider myself as an artist ;-) ) and creating a living masterpiece is a great thrill and a huge challenge.

My first aquarium meant to be a planted tank from the very beginning was set up a little more than two years ago, and since then, I’ve been trying to improve and create pleasant aquascapes (you can see most of them – except the awful ones ;) – on

I am mostly attracted to “Nature aquariums”, but I also love aquascapes that try to be innovative by mixing a natural look with other influences. I am particularly interested in the use of light and shade in an aquascape and, an aquarium being a volume, I am also very sensible to the use of space inside this volume.

2. How was your experience at the AGA this year (2007)? Have you noticed any difference compared to the previous editions? If you have, can you elaborate on them for us?

On a personal level, I have been highly surprised and honoured to be ranked #1 in the “Extra large” category. One year ago, I would never have dared to dream about a first place.


I also was proud to notice that some well-known names of aquascaping like Jeff Senske, Gary Wu or Oliver Knott have been ranked behind me. It made me proud since I deeply respect these aquascapers and think their work is a lot more valuable than mine.
More generally, it seems that contestants in this year’s AGA contest come from more and more different countries (which was also true for ADA contest). It is a good thing for aquascaping since it brings new ideas, new ways, new styles to the hobby.

3. What do you think about the present trend in aquascaping? Can you predict these tendencies to keep on a long term basis, or will they shortly switch to a dramatically new direction? Can we talk about fads in aquascaping?

Dutch aquascaping style seems to be slowly disappearing (except in the Netherlands of course) and for quite a long time, “Nature aquarium” has been overwhelming the international aquascaping scene.
But in the last few years, we can see through these international contests that many new aquascapers try to create layouts that are a little bit out of the strict “Nature aquarium” style (for instance CAU team or many european aquascapers). I think this path is more interesting than simply “copying“ things that have already been done (although, as I already said, I love “Nature” aquascapes).

4. Have you entered any other contests so far?



With this layout (Cosmopolis), I also entered – and won - a French planted tanks contest named CAPA ( and the famous IAPLC (International Aquatic Plants Layout Contest (ADA contest), where I ended up with the 47th place and a “Winning work” mention.

Next, we would like to enter into further detail, with a series of more technical questions about plants.

5. Which species of plants do you think are "on the wave" at the moment?

“Nature aquariums” being “on the wave”, plants that often appear in this style of tanks could be said as “on the wave” : Hemianthus micranthemoides, all kinds of mosses, Bolbitis heudelotti, “carpet plants” (Riccia, Echinodorus tenellus, Eleocharis...) and most of all Rotala sp. green (that can be found in almost ALL top ranking tanks lately...).

6. Which are your favourite species to work on?

There are so many species I love that I can’t name my favorite ones. All plants can be useful and pretty, it depends on how you use them and on what you want your tank to look like Moreover, my tastes change with time.

7. ... and more to the point, anything you cand share in specific detail with our readers on: your favourite substrat and lighting and your fertilizers of choice.

I mostly use a homemade substrate made of sand, some kind of compost and clay. I think it has only advantages : it’s efficient for plants growth, it lasts longer than most ready-made substrates you can find in fish stores and it’s also a lot cheaper. All you need is some time to prepare it.

For what concerns lighting, I remain quite classical : I use neon tubes (Ø 16 or 25 mm) or HQI lamps.
I’m not very interested in chemistry. This is the reason why I’m looking for the perfect fertilizer that would allow me to use only one product instead of mixing several ones and dosing hundreds of drops every day. But I’m not sure I will ever find it...

8. What are your preffered aquarium inhabitants?

Being a planted-tanks addict, I had to forget about quite a large number of fishes that are not suitable for an aquascape because they eat, destroy or uproot plants.
Let’s say my favorite fish is Phenacogrammus interruptus : its figure is nice, its fins shape is unusual and their thin white line is lovely, and most of all, its sheens under the light are wonderful. When the light is not too strong, this fish seems to shine and glow like a living jewel.
I also love shrimps because they bring something different to an aquarium (most people are very surprised to see shrimps in an aquarium).

9. Can you envisage relating Dutch style with  nature style?

In my opinon, Dutch and Nature styles are the exact opposites since Dutch tanks (even when they are lovely) are completely unnatural, like a bunch of flowers is. We can compare these styles to gardens : Nature aquariums would be “English gardens” and Dutch-style tanks would be “French gardens”.
But, as I said before, some aquascapers nevertheless try (consciously or not) to mix both styles. This especially happens in Europe since I think we are submitted to more different influences than - for instance - japanese aquascapers are.

10. And with reference to our first questions: why do you think Dutch style aquariums are no longer winning contests?

Dutch style tanks still win the NBAT (1) contest ;-)
But they don’t win international contests because they look too artificial and too“clean”. People now want to have a piece of nature in their lounge (even though in most underwater places, nature doesn’t look at all like a “Nature aquarium”). And also simply because “Nature aquariums” are more fashionable...

11. Please tell us something about your plans for the future.

My addiction to planted tanks and aquascaping is still strong, which means I still have a lot to do.
I have many more aquascapes in my mind, that I hope I can set up someday.
There are still quite a lot of plants species I would like to try.
And I’m also interested in slightly different kinds of planted tanks like paludariums (I just started my first one) and “wabi-kusa” style.
I will also keep entering some contests in 2008, even though I’m aware it’s gonna be quite hard to do as good as I did in 2007 with my big tank.

12. And, to close this interview you graciously granted us, are there any other things you might wish to say to our readers?

I just want to say to those who gaze at top ranking planted tanks and do not dare to try aquascaping because they think it’s too difficult to give it a try: You might not win the ADA contest but creating your own living piece of art is highly rewarding and is not as difficult as it might seem.

(1) : (the NBAT contest is a Dutch planted tanks contest)





All rights on text interview belong to Sylvain Van Waerebeke and
Interview by Marian Simpetru and Sandu Veres. Publishing without author's permission prohibited.
This material is illustrated with pictures with permission of  Sylvain Van Waerebeke.
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Ultima actualizare ( Friday, 28 March 2008 )