There are houses and houses. Concrete houses and brick ones. Houses built with glass too; with glass floors and glass roofs, houses which are like the houses in fairy tales with no windows and no doors. Houses called aquariums whose inhabitants are as big as one's hand or as small as one's finger-nails, often called angels, archers, clowns or even black ghosts.
"How can you convey the dreamlike fantasy of an undersea forest of seaweed or garden of anemones, the incredible tropical fishes, the coral-encrusted clams?" asked Elespeth Huxley, once. Had the question been directed to Darshana De Zoysa, the author would have got an answer. Darshana would have explained that, all one has to do is visit "Water World".
Situated 3 km away from the Kelaniya temple on the Biyagama road and, housing a collection of 14,000 fresh and salt water fish, Water World, created by twenty-eight year old Darshana De Zoysa is the first public aquaria in the country today.
A walking encyclopedia on aquatic collections, Darshana, says "An aquarium is a clear-sided container (typically constructed of glass or high-strength plastic) in which water-dwelling plants and animals (usually fish, and sometimes invertebrates, as well as amphibians, marine mammals, and reptiles) are kept in captivity, often for public display."
Darshana recalls the first tank he ever had, a present from his father when he was six years old. "What began as a hobby turned into a craze". It did not take long for the one tank to multiply into sixty tanks with complex ecosystems determining the type of fish that can survive and thrive in certain temperatures.
Today, anyone who visits Water World would appreciate the effort Darshana takes in maintaining a tank ecology that mimics its inhabitants' natural habitat which includes controlling water quality, managing the inflow and outflow of nutrients and most important of all managing the waste produced by the tank's inhabitants.
The appropriate selection of species ranging from emperor angels to clowns, sea stars to zebra sharks and the calm and soothing physical design; caves, tunnels, open ponds shrouded in lush greenery bordering on the Kelani river, make Water World a must see for all lover's of nature, oceanographic researchers and students interested in species and ecosystems that can be found in local waters.
"Are you into this?" asks Darshana. "In to what? Fish?" No. I shake my head. "All of them seem the same to me". Darshana disagrees. "No. Every fish has a peculiar behaviour pattern of his or her own, just like human beings. Some are aggressive. Some are friendly. And some are dead lazy" Staring at a Gourami (Seppali in Sinhala) who stares back and yawns I realise he could be right.
Darshana believes it's important to note these characteristics when deciding the division of aquaria into either a community or aggressive tank type. Thus at Water World, there are community tanks housing several species that are not aggressive toward each other while aggressive tanks, in contrast, house a limited number of species that can be aggressive toward other fish, or are able to withstand aggression well.
In addition to these cohabitants who may or may not originate from the same geographic region, but tolerate similar water conditions, plants, and decorations or "aquarium furniture" have been added to further enhance the displays. The idea is to show the exquisite beauty embedded in water which Darshana believes "Most people don't even know exists".
"I designed the plan myself." Says Darshana, from the lighting and filtration systems to creating a careful ecosystem every necessary step has been taken to keep the fish, brought from as far off lands as the Congo and the Amazon, healthy".
Walking down the tunnels of Water World one comes across Species or specimen tanks, or houses, with one fish species, along with plants, perhaps found in the fishs' natural environment and decorations simulating a true ecosystem. (i.e tanks housing the cichlids) .
Water World also consist of ecotype or ecotope aquaria which attempt to simulate a specific ecosystem found in the natural world, bringing together fish, invertebrate species, and plants found in that ecosystem in a tank with water conditions and decorations designed to simulate their natural environment.
These ecotype aquaria, considered the most sophisticated hobby aquaria; best simulates the experience of observing an aquarium's inhabitants in the wild, and also usually serves as the healthiest possible artificial environment for the tank's occupants.
Darshana's world, undoubtedly revolves round fish. "Fish runs in my blood" he confesses and is grateful to these cold-blooded aquatic animals for helping him find the love of his life. "I met my wife when she came to buy fish from my aquarium in Nugegoda.
I suppose she was impressed by my vast knowledge on fish... or it could have been the ambitious streak in me... (he hopes to make Water World, Asia's largest aquarium someday in the future) whatever...one thing led to another and we got married last December".
by Aditha Dissanayake