The act of pond keeping is a powerful thing, with an appeal that is broad and deep. Pond keeping can mean many different things to as many different pond keepers. We all have our own reasons for keeping a pond.
As a pond professional, I tend to lean toward the romantic side of ponds when I find myself in the process of bringing a client into the lifestyle of pond keeping. I’ll talk to potential clients about the fun of interacting with fish, the relaxing and soothing audio qualities of cascading waterfalls, the dramatic nighttime effects of submersible pond lighting, the appeal of enjoying leisure time with family and friends by the pond, and the draw of simply unwinding with a glass of wine by the pond and watching the swirling colors of fish just below the surface of the water.
It’s a seductive process. Very rarely do I take a client down the road of the practical or pragmatic side of pond keeping and leave the romance of a pond to the side. Instead, I like to discuss how a new water garden can become a powerful tool of conservation.
We all know that a professionally installed koi pond water garden always becomes the center of attention for gatherings, get-togethers and the occasional romantic escapade. Doesn’t everyone eventually end up by the pond? What some may not know is that there is a whole other world happening right along with us that also has all its escapades ending up by or even in the pond. The outside world has a powerful response to the koi ponds and water gardens that many of our industry’s professionals install. The majority of these ponds are installed primarily for the artistry and aesthetic appeal that a professionally designed and installed pond offers.
But when considered through the prism of conservation, koi pond water gardens are a complex and powerful tool to aid in multiple preservation efforts. Once we look past the stunning visual beauty of the aquatic art we create, we can begin to see the greater effect that these aquatic features have on the area that surrounds them. A newly installed pond where there was once none will have an immediate and vital impact on the natural world surrounding it. A pond becomes nature’s “water cooler,” where locals gather — local wildlife, that is.
Take a bird’s-eye view of any neighborhood that is void of a pond or water feature. Imagine dropping a pond right in the middle of that neighborhood. Once the pond has landed, envision the concentric circles of impact that the pond will have, emanating out from the pond like the ripples created from tossing a pebble across still water.
Those ripples are the conservational influence that a pond will have on the area it is introduced into. The impact of the pond can stretch far beyond the immediate area of the pond itself. Fish, plants, frogs, aquatic insects and numerous other species enjoy the benefits of living right inside the pond. A family of chipmunks living 40 feet away from the pond takes drinks and scavenges around the pond for meals. A gray fox a mile away uses the pond as a private watering hole for its pups. A blue heron 15 miles away might find a meal in the pond, while a monarch butterfly stops for refreshment at the pond on its multi-thousand-mile journey of a lifetime.
Topics of Conservation
The pond is a powerful tool of conservation with far-reaching consequences. A basic definition of conservation is the protection, preservation, management, or restoration of wildlife and natural resources, such as forests and water. Conservation is something of an umbrella term, having broader categories that break down into 2 distinct types: in-situ and ex-situ.
Ex-situ conservation is where koi pond water gardens come into play. Our constructed backyard koi ponds and water gardens are an ex-situ approach to conservation because we add ponds into an environment where there was not one previously. In doing so, we are also adding species of animals and plants into an area where they once did not exist. These are not naturally occurring bodies of water, yet they function in many of the same ways as a naturally occurring pond.
There are many ways to build ponds. (Some of them even work!) Among the tested and proven approaches to pond design, there are ecosystem ponds. This method of pond construction lends itself particularly well to a pond design catered to conservation efforts. These systems are typically built with professional-grade equipment such as pond skimmers and biofalls filtration.
However, the hallmark of the ecosystem approach to construction is the use of rock in the interior of the pond and a gravel substrate. With the correct use of rock and gravel, the groundwork is laid for conservation to begin at the microbial level from day one, with species density and complexity growing daily. A fully mature and healthy ecosystem pond can host many hundreds of species.
Our ponds quickly become a center of activity for not only the introduced species, such as aquatic plants and fish that can live and breed through numerous generations, but also the local wildlife. It will usually be only a matter of minutes before at least one bird shows up to explore the new watering hole, and word tends to spread quite quickly from there.
A typical pond keeper should not be surprised that many species of animals somehow manage to find their pond — birds of all types and woodland creatures from squirrels and rabbits to deer, fox, bats and bears. Amphibians such as frogs, toads, salamanders and newts often make a pond their home or breeding ground. Frogs are usually among the first wildlife species to find our ponds. Turtles, snakes and other reptiles will also find and utilize available ponds to their benefit.
Hundreds of species of insects will utilize your pond. We all love the dragonflies, honeybees and butterflies, but there are also snails, slugs, spiders, ants, crickets, beetles and other unaccountable beneficiaries of a pond. Honeybees need to live near a water source and will certainly use any pond local to them. Even nearby landscape plants will work their way toward the ponds that we install, sometimes putting quite a bit of energy into getting a root into the pond system for a constant source of water. It seems that species on every level responds to the presence of a pond.
If you build a pond, many different species will start to show up in a broad spectrum of forms, from microbes to apex predators. Our ponds help in the conservation of numerous species by becoming a vital source of water, food and shelter, representing a complete habitat for some species from the moment the pond is filled. A web of life develops around ponds.
Conservation may be an inadvertent side effect for some pond keepers, but it should be something they are aware of. They should be proud of such a contribution to the local environment. Ponds become a critical lifeline during droughts and deep freezes, when watering holes dry up or freeze over. And let’s not forget to mention the domestic pets who also might happen upon a much-needed drink (or even a cool dip) from our backyard ponds.
If You Build it…
If you are considering a pond as an act of conservation, it can be dialed in to appeal to specific species. Frog ponds, turtle ponds, dragonfly ponds, salamander ponds, bird ponds, trout ponds, wildlife ponds, lily ponds — these represent only a few of the possibilities. Ponds are powerful tools. “If you build it, they will come.”
Pond builders are in a great position to act as ambassadors for conservation efforts. Host a build-a-pond day focused on conservation. Hold a seminar by the pond with conservation-based topics. Promoting conservation is promoting your profession as a pond builder.
As pond professionals who are doing our best to bring new people into the world of koi ponds and water gardens, we may still need to stick to the more romantic aspects of pond keeping for now. After all, telling a new client which petite sirah will pair perfectly with their view of the waterfall might go over a little better than pointing out that a local bat colony will depend on their pond for a clean water source, or that the bird-faced tree frog may want to use the pond as a convenient place to fornicate. Let’s stick to the sirah — may I suggest some Koi Pond Cellars?
As we dot the landscapes with our microcosms of conservation, let’s take the time to let our clients know what they are embarking on. It’s more than landscape jewelry. It’s even more than romance. Let’s give our customers the unromantic side of pond keeping, too, which has its own appeal. If it comes down to a feel-good version of what pond professionals do, we might find that hitting our clients over the head with the pragmatic facts of how powerful a tool for conservation a pond can be is the way to go. Hey, a colony of eastern brown bats making your yard a watering and feeding hole might be more romantic than we ever could have thought!