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Aquascape Ponds and Koi & Pond Lessons
by Dr. Erik Johnson
Many years ago I began to treat sick fish. I saw a lot of sick fish on a lot of pond calls over the years. The fish were sick for all of the same reasons they are today. Failure to quarantine, introduction of diseases on new fish, failure to test water quality, crowding, winter, failure to maintain the pond....
In particular I saw a LOT of Aquascape, gravel-bottom ponds with sick fish. In fact, the majority of ponds with sick fish were Aquascape ponds. And here, was my egregious error.
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There's a bunch of people feeding this food and for good reason. It's got a good formulation with a decent price.
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I did not correctly note that the reason I was seeing so many Aquascape ponds with sick fish was because Aquascape ponds were the most popular and numerous ponds of the day. I made the assessment that it must be the pond's water re-use system (filtration) that was the root of the problem. I assessed that it must be noxious gases or Hydrogen Sulfide being produced that caused the trouble. (Testing done to confirm: Zero)
I used to recommend that folks remove the gravel and get rid of their old water. Guess what. The fish did great afterwards. Why? Not for the absence of the gravel, but because this was coincident with a pond-overhaul, total water change and a very good cleaning. Talk about erroneous validation of a mistaken theory! 

I did not know how the Aquascape pond worked, NOR did I know how it was INTENDED to be maintained. With everyone else's pond - I could not as easily incriminate their filter's beads, or the matts, or the brushes because I knew VERY well that their cleaning and maintenence interval was intensive.

I made a mistake. I've done this a few times in practice. The mistake was identifying these ponds as "poor" simply because they were in the majority of what I was seeing and I could not properly identify neglect for my failure to understand the operating system.

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Here's a parallel example: The majority of computer problems today happen on a Windows operating system. Is Windows *that* deeply flawed or could it be that the reason it has the most reported problems, is because it is the predominant operating system? 

ANY pond that is set up and then neglected will let you down in the end. The installers of MOST of the Aquascape ponds I was seeing had NOT told the owners that some annual or bi-annual care was required. There was NO education about water quality, water testing or water changes. There was NO education about quarantine, crowding, or the relative sizes of the fish the folks wanted to keep. People were being turned loose with ponds with almost NO information on pond keeping success and so their ponds failed them.

And the Aquascape gravel-bottom pond took the "blame" - unfairly placed.

I have since visited Aquascape Designs, and I have been warmly welcomed. I don't really deserve it - because I am partly responsible for people's misperceptions about gravel ponds, biofalls and skimmers. I have to return to the pond world with the emphasized message that if you neglect an Aquascape pond, if you crowd your fish, fail to quarantine them, introduce sick fish, overfeed, and otherwise abuse the system and the fish, your results will be poor, the same as in any pond operating system. Mea culpa.

The difference is that failing to maintain an Aquascape pond might take two or three years to kill your fish. If the power goes off to your six-foot-deep straight-sided specimen-pond in summer, lack of oxygen will kill them overnight. A lack of power to an Aquascape pond usually amounts to nothing. The ponds feature oxygenated shallows, moderate depth, and plant cover for the fish. There's a lot to recommend them, and I intend to see to it that the end-consumer of these ponds is PROPERLY prepared for long term success. I will not tolerate anyone inside or outside the company to call them "maintenence free" within earshot of me - that is a misnomer that must die, and soon. For it is that assertion that set up this whole problem.

And you will not hear me saying that Aquascape deployments are the best. In fact, be careful, because you will never hear me say ANY pond deployment is the best. This is because using the term "best" for a pond operating system is overly simplistic and is saturated in an obnoxious prejudice for what I (or any salesman) would be assessing that the end consumer is actually prioritizing.

The end-consumer reading this article should be bright enough to know that this article will be attacked by industry weaklings who want to maintain their sphere of influence on the status-quo. They can frame the attack any way they want, but I will assure you of one thing. If you get an Aquascape pond tailored to your eventual interests, be it Koi, or watergardening, and you take care of it. And you take care of your fish, you will realize: What a lot of unkind lies you will have been hearing from these men and women, afraid of the loss of either their market share or their perceived monopoly on industry disinformation.
Thank you for sitting with me while I finish eating my Crow.
Many thanks for your time.

Dr. Erik Johnson

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