Qualitative Analysis of the Saltwater Aquarium Trade: The Process of Specialization Promotes Science as a Leisure Activity
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Aquariums adorning the homes of hobbyists are ecosystems, specifically oriented to add a visual component to the living space. This hobby and trade utilizes animals that humans do not connect with on a regular basis. Home aquarium keeping, specifically the saltwater form of participation, requires daily contact (i.e., care) with the system and the organisms within. The captive environment facilitates contact with aquatic organisms. The main premise of this study was to investigate, using ethnographic methods, the interaction between saltwater aquarium hobbyists and the activity of at-home aquarium keeping. The serious leisure and specialization frameworks provide a guide to this study. These constructs delineate various forms of participation in other resource-oriented leisure activities such as birdwatching and boating. These hobbies affect wild resources, and when explored using specialization, managerial recommendations become evident. Due to increased focus on the aquarium industry as an under-regulated wildlife trade, these two constructs provided the opportunity to not only understand the participants in the aquarium hobby, but also identify sustainable management techniques. This study found saltwater aquarists are serious in their hobby from the onset. In addition, the ability to keep aquatic organisms alive requires the hobbyist to continuously gather information in order to maintain participation. Knowledge is obtained through research (i.e., sources) or second-hand information. Both modes rely heavily on the aquarium keeping social world. Furthermore, this study indicates saltwater aquarists are motivated to continue participation towards the pinnacle of participation, an aesthetically pleasing miniature reef display. A “mini reef” requires perseverance through stages of involvement, each building on the last. Most notably, progression towards a reef aquarium requires the aquarist to increasingly think, and act, like a scientist. In fact, a major result of this study delineated several scientifically oriented niches of specialization in which a hobbyist could demonstrate expertise. Niches provide reef hobbyists to find a place of distinction, and personal identity, within a challenging hobby populated by a number of other capable participants. In many ways, these niches resemble scientific specialties or branches of study. Further studies should aim to untangle this connection, the potential for aesthetic motivation to mediate the two, and the ability of the hobby to create scientific niches that facilitate scientific careers.
Marchio, Elizabeth Ann (2019). Qualitative Analysis of the Saltwater Aquarium Trade: The Process of Specialization Promotes Science as a Leisure Activity. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from