Wow, now that’s a big title, so it had better be reduced straightaway! What ‘future’? It’s got to be marine aquariums of course, but excluding the gloom concerning the wild reefs.
In some areas that could be discussed the future is fairly apparent if only generally. For example, the car is going in one or two directions (or more) because of the increasing cost of fuel: they’ll be hydrogen or electrically powered, probably hybrid as well. This will take some time of course, as support structures are required for the new fuels (particularly hydrogen presumably) and perhaps more time needs to pass to allow the cost of conventional fuels to rise further increasing the pressure for change.
It’s more difficult with marine aquariums, basically a glass or acrylic box with seawater and livestock. It depends mainly on three areas for success: first, the marine aquarist needs to be reasonably basically knowledgeable, second the aquarium needs the correct support equipment and third Mother Nature needs to be happy (high quality seawater and habitat for the living inmates). Looking to the future on that basis doesn’t really turn up much as aquarists will probably remain the same mix as now. Glass and acrylic are, well, glass and acrylic (perhaps production methods could be improved but that’s not what’s being looked at). The support equipment such as heaters, skimmers, pumps etc could show a little more promise. Heaters generate heat with wattage and this is unlikely to change. Pumps could perhaps become more efficient in the use of energy and maybe in the way they move seawater, although there are pumps available now that give choices. Lighting seems to show the highest ‘future rating’ at least at the moment.
There are two types of lighting mainly in use, fluorescent tubes and metal halides. The former are used on fish only systems and also some reef systems. The latter are really for reef aquariums. Fluorescent lighting is reasonably cheap to buy and easy to install and a big plus is that running costs are not particularly high. Metal halides are also reasonably easy to install but the running costs are higher. Metal halides use quite a lot of electricity with bulbs being rated quite commonly at 250 and 400 watts, there are others more powerful. The light they emit is intense and the spectrum tailored. There isn’t any doubt that they are successful in adequately lighting many captive reefs but, as said, they cost a lot to run particularly when several bulbs are in use on a large reef. Another downside is the heat they emit, which can have an effect on the seawater warming it up. This could be helpful in reducing the requirement for heaters but of course the lights aren’t on all the time. In some circumstances this seawater heating effect demands the use of another electricity eating piece of equipment, the seawater ‘chiller’.
The future of lighting is here already but still developing. LED systems are being sold and have been tested by respected experts who have declared them to be fully acceptable for marine life. They have a more reasonable appetite for electricity. They are tailored for spectrum and do not heat up the seawater (some use fans to divert heat away). Advanced arrays can even be programmed to simulate clouds passing and the gradual change from day to dusk to dark and vice versa. The downside at the moment is cost.
So what else? Skimmer efficiency might well improve but that isn’t ‘future’ but normal day to day progress, and the scope for such progress must be fairly limited. Mother Nature isn’t going to be ‘futured’, nature is what it is (though evolving nature is not denied of course).
The marine system now has a main display aquarium with live rock (which may well be manufactured by the aquarist or stockist and not come from the wild reef). In many cases there’s a sump. Sumps nowadays perform one function such as for example a deep sand bed, or could have an additional section containing a material filter etc.
The future of the marine aquarium could be lighting that is, on a reef anyway, LED’s. The display aquarium will be of various sizes as now. There could be a fitted unit to go beneath the aquarium which will contain the filter and other seawater treatment equipment required depending on the type of aquarium, fish only or reef. This is happening now of course, but mostly in a restricted way. The unit fitted could be, subject to depth available, tiered, that is, seawater could leave the display aquarium and flow through a top row of say two or three units, fall to a lower row before being pumped back up to the display aquarium. The seawater could pass through for example a skimmer, heater, deep sand bed, algae bed, carbon/phosphate remover, and pump unit plus circulation if driven from below, not necessarily in that order.
Not much difference there really from now, the difference being that the system is entire and contained, more so than it is now. It would remove all equipment from the display, even pumps if piping were routed from below. The restriction would be, as it is now, on space availability below the display – it’s still necessary to service the various areas, plus lighting could be required.
We have wonderful successes with marine aquariums now. The systems have advanced so far from the former dead white coral decorated aquariums of not that long ago. The main advance has been that aquariums are now more natural. Allowing the aquarium to have more ‘natural’ areas available with the seawater passing through must be good? There also isn’t a reason why creatures that we don’t really want in the display aquarium couldn’t be kept provided that the environment is suitable, that is it isn’t cruel.
Looking at the above it’s clear that much of the ‘advance’ is being done by some advanced aquarists anyway, who use multiple units to house various items to ‘naturalize’ the system more. Also it could be that little will change with most aquarists as space limitations apply and the ability of science to advance the aquarium is restricted, given the requirements of nature. Any advance in the future will probably be much less than from the sterility of the past to the ‘natural’ aquarium of today.
It’s interesting though.