Jan 30, 2019

Underwater Gardening: The World’s Best Aquariums of 2009

Written by

2008 IAPLC Grand Prize Work – Cheng Sui Wai, Hong Kong

Last year the Sifter discovered the thriving sub-culture of aquascaping. Think of it as gardening under water. Through an artistic arrangement of aquatic plants, rocks, stones, driftwood etc. these ‘aquascapists’ create incredible works of living art.

Since 2001, the International Aquatic Plant Layout Contest (IAPLC) has been the largest planted aquarium design competition in the world. Hobbyists from all over the globe enter their aquariums in hopes of winning the grand prize of 1 million Yen (approx. $11K usd). More important than the monetary reward is the global ranking granted to each contestant. With over 1,342 applications from 51 countries, the competition is fierce.

Below you will find highlights from last year’s competition as well as a brief explanation about the judging criteria. Now sit back and enjoy some of the most stunning aquariums in the world!

Grand Prize | World Ranking #1 | Nguyen Tien Dung, VIETNAM | Title: Moment in Time
Dimensions: W120 x D45 x H40 cm (W48 x D18 x H16 inches)

Gold Prize | World Ranking #2 | Chan Shih Hsien, TAIWAN | Title: Magic Forest
Dimensions: W180 x D60 x H60 cm (W72 x D24 x H24 inches)

Silver Prize | World Ranking #3 | Yuji Yoshinaga, JAPAN | Title: Time of Eternity (Yaku Island)
Dimensions: W90 x D45 x H45 cm (W36 x D18 x H18 inches)

Silver Prize | World Ranking #4 | Josh Sim KH, MALAYSIA | Title: Awakening
Dimensions: W90 x D45 x H45 cm (W36 x D18 x H18 inches)

Bronze Prize | World Ranking #5 | Wang Chao, CHINA | Title: Looking for Mystery
Dimensions: W120 x D55 x H50 cm (W42 x D22 x H20 inches)


– 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, aquascapist’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, judges don’t just appreciate the beauty of a layout shown right after its completion, they also 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: 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”

Bronze Prize | World Ranking #6 | Chow Wai Sun, HONG KONG | Title: Towering Peaks
Dimensions: W152 x D45 x H55 cm (W60 x D18 x H22 inches)

Bronze Prize | World Ranking #7 | Lin Tin Chuan, TAIWAN Title: Forest-Breath
Dimensions: W127 x D60 x H50 cm (W50 x D24 x H20 inches)

World Ranking #8 | Nguyenthi Xuanthuy, VIETNAM | Title: Ups and Downs
Dimensions: W120 x D45 x H40 cm (W48 x D18 x H16 inches)

World Ranking #9 | Ngo Truong Thinh, VIETNAM | Title: Peaceful
Dimensions: W100 x D40 x H40 cm (W40 x D16 x H16 inches)

World Ranking #10 | AJ Judy Prajitno Putra, INDONESIA | Title: Fearless: Spirit of the Rainforest
Dimensions: W300 x D80 x H75 cm (W120 x D32 x H30 inches)


– 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. 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
– The layouts were evaluated by 18 judges chosen internationally
– The 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

World Ranking #12 | Yee Kin Cheong, MALAYSIA | Title: Forest Path
Dimensions: W90 x D45 x H45 cm (W36 x D18 x H18 inches)

World Ranking #14 | Wong Kam, HONG KONG | Title: The Phoenix and the Dragon
Dimensions: W150 x D45 x H52 cm (W59 x D18 x H20 inches)

World Ranking #18 | Zhang Jianfeng, MACAU | Title: Roar of Yellow River
Dimensions: W90 x D45 x H45 cm (W35 x D18 x H18 inches)


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World Ranking #20 | Hidekazu Tsukiji, JAPAN | Title: Wind from the South
Dimensions: W120 x D45 x H45 cm (W47 x D18 x H18 inches)


Evaluate the beauty and sophistication as a piece of art.

Creativity (Maximum 20 points)
The overall completeness of the layout and its originality are evaluated.
The use of house plants or emerged plants, which hardly survive under water, becomes a subject of point-deduction.

Composition / Arrangement of plants (Maximum 20 points)
Is the composition of the layout well developed?
Are the aquatic plants appropriately positioned within the aquascape?
Is there a balance within the layout in terms of the colors and shapes of aquatic plants?

Balance between the fish and the layout design (Maximum 20 points)
Creator’s choice of fish for his/her layout is evaluated.
Do the color, size, swimming method and ecology of the fish match the layout?

Natural atmosphere (Maximum 20 points)
Does the layout clearly tell you the creator’s idea of nature?
How is the methods and techniques that the creator uses to render a natural feel in his/her layout?

Aquatic plants’ conditions and Time Progress of layout (Maximum 20 points)
The condition of the aquatic plants in the layout is evaluated.
The time progress of the layout based on the types of plants used and their conditions are evaluated.
Is the layout maintainable over a long period of time?

World Ranking #21 | Hironori Handa, JAPAN | Title: Cloud
Dimensions: W90 x D45 x H45 cm (W35 x D18 x H18 inches)

World Ranking #24 | Nguyen Ngoc Tri Nhan, VIETNAM | Title: Whispers of Stones
Dimensions: W120 x D45 x H40 cm (W47 x D18 x H16 inches)

World Ranking #25 | Artur Frankowski, POLAND | Title: The Lost Canyon
Dimensions: W130 x D40 x H40 cm (W51 x D16 x H16 inches)

World Ranking #27 |Jamie Lin, TAIWAN | Title: Mysterious Bermuda
Dimensions: W120 x D60 x H55 cm (W47 x D24 x H22 inches)

– All photographs and descriptions via TROPICAL FISH HOBBYIST MAGAZINE
– All judging and contest information via IAPLC

If you enjoyed this article, the Sifter highly recommends: The Top 25 Ranked Freshwater Aquariums in the World

aquaforest aquaium iaplc 2010 Underwater Gardening: The Worlds Best Aquariums of 2009

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