Like many of you, I've spent a lifetime in the hobby. Literally, I had my first real-deal aquarium when I was about 5 years old. Having a father who was a fish geek pretty much destined me to have a lifelong aquarium obsession! I've kept so many different types of aquariums and fishes over they years that its sometimes hard to remember them all!
Yet, it wasn't until 2015 that I obtained my first pair of Mikrogeophagus ramirezi!
Seriously. It took me THAT freaking long...
MY FIRST PAIR!
I can't believe that I just never got around to trying these fish before. They are absolutely...intoxicating. I mean, I couldn't get enough of them. They have amazing personalities, beautiful colors, and are near perfect fishes for my favored South American-themed aquariums! I completely understand the obsession-inducing quality of these fish.
The only thing I can't understand is why it took me so long to get to the party?
Obsessions. They're part of the hobby. Part of what keeps us going. And of course, I've had my share over the years...
For the longest time, it was the Yellow Assessor (Assessor flavissimus) from the South Pacific.
Before that, it was Centropyge hotumatua, the rare and absurdly expensive "Easter Island Pygmy Angelfish", which I've written about on these pages before.
And of course, there were always Killifish. Specifically, the genus Epiplatys...and to be exact, Ep. dageti Monrovia, the "Killifish of my childhood." I fell hard for that fish, and it was one of the coolest fish I ever bred. Still love it to this day!
For many decades, I was obsessed with the Sailfin Tetra, Crenuchus spilurus. A fish that I recall reading of as far back as elementary school, in my well-worn copy of Innes Exotic Aquarium Fishes. I'm a sucker for a black and white photo and a romantic description of a fish. It must have been unreal in 1939, because it still called to me in the 21st century. I didn't get my first group until 2016!
A weirdly diverse selection there, but I guess that's what you end up with after decades of wide-ranging interest in the hobby, right?
What is it about the hobby that keeps making us try new things, even decades into our hobby careers? It's interesting to me; maybe we like to collect stuff, and trying new fishes appeals to some instinctive "hunter-gatherer" thing in our genes. Or, it could simply be that there is such an incredible diversity of fishes that we just can't help but want to try 'em all!
Sometimes, I do wonder why certain people obsess with certain kinds of fishes. For example, for the longest time, I thought that the people when were into the big, predatory cichlids and Gaupote types were missing a few screws! At the very least, I unfairly placed them into that same stereotype category as the people who walk around with Boa Constrictors around their necks and mean-looking Pit Bulls on a chain...You know the type.
Then, I had the fortunate experience of doing a lot of aquarium-related travel and I'd spend some time with some of these obsessed hobbyists, see their aquariums, fish rooms, and systems devoted to these cool fish, and. .I sort of got it! I mean, they're not MY cup of tea- but I understand the obsession now.
It's the same with Betta and Guppy people. They may have chosen to specialize with one type of fish, but most of them have multiple strains- or in the case of Betta enthusiasts- different species. I recently fell hard for Betta albimarginata and some of the other "wild type" species, so I get it. And of course, many of these wild Betta are perfectly suited for botanical-style aquariums, and that adds to the allure for me!
There is so much out there!
And what's really cool to me is the serious fish room of a hardcore fish geek! It's like Disneyland for fishes! And it seems like even the most ardent lover of say, African Cichlids or Rainbowfishes will still have a few random tanks devoted to totally unrelated species...And you'll ask these hobbyists why, and they'll tell you those beautiful words, "Because they're cool!"
Love that. And that mindset, by the way, has perpetuated the whole "multiple tank syndrome" thing- where we have 30-50 tank fish rooms...I couldn't love it more!
A truly healthy obsession, IMHO!
Of course, aquarium hobby obsessions have a dark side, too.
I know some out there will hate me bringing this up. Usually, it results in at least one or two emails telling me what a hypocrite I am. However, I'm merely giving you my take on something that I think has turned a bit...unhealthy.
There are lots of amazingly talented, devoted hardcore reefers out there. However, in recent years, there was the emergence of what I felt (and still feel) is a "dark underbelly" of the reef aquarium world that, in my opinion, is "stain" on a lot of the really good stuff that's going on there.
One of the more recent things that I've railed on (yeah, I don't feel good about it) is the obscenity of what we call "named" coral frags. Now, don't get me wrong. I love the idea of entrepreneurship and commerce and free trade and such. Yeah, I know, if someone wants to be $600 USD for a microchip-sized "frag" of something, so be it, right? Who and I to bash this practice? And I sell twigs and leaves, and...
Let me explain.
I hate these "named frags" because, in my opinion, these groups have lowered the standards in the hobby by creating this ridiculous sub-trade for overpriced, photo-manipulated, microchip-sized coral frags of what typically are often just subtle color variants, or brightly-colored, freshly imported $16 USD specimens of common coral species (Acropora tenuis, for example) hacked off a colony, and given an absurd name. Artificial scarcity is created. The joke is that the same coral can typically be had at almost any legitimate coral vendor (brick and mortar or online) without a stupid name and the accompanying ridiculous hype.
Yeah, they've lowered the standards of the aquarium hobby and reduced it to something very different. The legitimate coral propagators out there do amazing work.
Why does a big chunk of the reef world embrace microchip-sized coral frags of so-called "rare" varieties (which often means nothing- just that someone gave a frag of a common species a ridiculous name)?
I wish I could tell you.
I suppose it has a certain "collector's appeal" appeal to many. I do get that. Indeed, one could label me a bit hypocritical, I suppose. I just fish it a bit sad about stuff like that. I think it cheapens the work done by legitimate coral propagators- of which there are many.
It seems to have created an unhealthy obsession, IMHO.
Anyways, my point here is not to bash the reef world (well, maybe kick it in the shins until it gets a bit more sense- I'm well known for doing that). The point was to celebrate the wonderful trait that all aquarium hobbyists share: The delight over trying new stuff, and to point out how easily it can be ruined by just a few people who don't seem to get it.
Damn, I got sidetracked a bit!
This stuff is not the same in other areas of the hobby, from what I've seen and experienced.
You simply don't see virally-hyped auctions for Plecos or say Mbuna or Lake Tanganyika "shellies", for example. Sure, you'll see some high prices for rarer varieties, and truly rare and hard-to-obtain fishes can fetch breathtaking prices- often because they are legitimately rare and hard to import! That makes sense.
Yet, what you see mostly is people selling cool fishes that they've bred, because they have too many of them- NOT because they're trying to make a quick ransom on an overpriced specimen. Sure, there are occasional exceptions...very occasional.
For the most part, it's very healthy.
In fact, what I've found refreshingly cool about the freshwater auctions is that you find many times that the seller is almost sadly divesting him/herself of beloved fishes because he or she simply has no space! In fact, many freshwater hobbyists (and quite a few reefers, too!) will often just give away stuff for free to others. And of course, when a new fish comes along, they do mysteriously carve out room somewhere for them!
It's amazing to me that we can still find new delights in a hobby that we've been in all of our lives in many cases. It amazes me that many wonderful people generously share, trade, and outright give away fishes and corals that they're obsessed with- simply because they want others to enjoy them (and perhaps, to make room for more cool stuff!).
Enjoy the hobby the way you want to. Never stop chasing those healthy obsessions! Think about your fellow hobbyists, the wild aquatic habitats, and the generations of hobbyists yet unborn. It's kind of mind-blowing when you think about stuff like that.
It's an honor to be a part of this wonderful hobby, and to be in the presence of a group of people who, despite occasionally needing a kick in the ass, overall are wonderful, talented geeks with a great love for what they do, and an appreciation for what they have.
Okay, need to get back to setting up that new tank...I'm going to get some killies...
No matter how your interests change or evolve: Stay honest. Stay obsessed. Stay generous. Stay devoted...
And most important:
Much like life, the aquarium hobby is filled with excitement, gratification, frustration, joy, heartache, and everything in between. It's more than just a hobby for many- rather, lifestyle of sorts- and that brings all sorts of lessons and "takeaways" with it, doesn't it?
Seems like just about everything we do in aquarium keeping invloves some sort of "right of passage", or "barrier to entry" before you achieve exactly what you want to achieve, right?
You know, a challenge or "gauntlet" that you need to get through somehow before ultimately getting to where you want to be. Like, it starts out easy, but after a short period of time- there IT is..Waiting for you. That challenge. And there is only one way to go if you want to progress: Forward.
Time to throw down.
I see this with crystal clarity with the botanical- style aquariums we espouse so much here:
A week or two after completing your 'scape and getting your prepared botanicals into your aquarium, there come the biofilms and fungal growths. Of course, these will grow at a rate which is a bit unpredictable, yet often peak and either pass in a relatively short time, or wane to a more "tolerable" level.
Knowing that it will always be present in your botanical-style aquarium is a real "right of passage" for everyone involved in this game- requiring an adjustment to our expectations- a mental shift.
You just have to understand what these growths are, and why they form. And celebrate them instead of simply fear them.
You begin to understand and appreciate the biofilms, fungal growths, and decomposition and what they mean to the ecology of a closed aquatic ecosystem. And then, you accept and indeed, celebrate- the progression and the many unique characteristics of botanical-style systems. Your viewpoint has changed.
In our world, it means understanding that the stuff you're seeing in your aquarium- the stuff which might freak you out a bit- is exactly what you see in Nature.
You've made a mental shift that will equip you well to advance in your journey with this type of aquarium.
You've "crossed the mental barrier" and came out on the other side.
It's an achievement worth celebrating, isn't it?
Breaking through barriers is part of the game in this hobby.
Yeah, the shit you have to go through before you get exactly what you want. Not always fun. Not always "pretty" to many of you. Often times, challenging and perhaps, annoying, to say the least. Only those aquarists who "prove their mettle" by not shirking from the challenges, or calling it quits, reap the ultimate rewards.
Our botanical-style aquarium world asks much from the hobbyist.
I totally get it.
It requires an understanding.
An understanding that what we celebrate as beautiful here is dramatically different than ANYTHING that the rest of the aquarium world even sees as remotely tolerable: Tinted, turbid water, stringy biofilm growths, sediment and detritus...stuff that makes most hobbyists cringe even at the thought of it in their tanks.
We're not afraid, because we look beyond the simple appearance...and we understand the function and benefits of such characteristics in our aquairums- and how they are so prevalent in Nature, too.
I hit on this theme over and over and OVER again because it's absolutely fundamental to the botanical-style aquarium movement. We're simply dealing with aesthetics and functions that have been shunned, vilified, and reviled by hobbyists for decades.
And look, it's okay.
My goal isn't to convince the entire hobby that a tinted, turbid, biofilm-and-detritus filled tank is the ultimate in beauty. I get it...Most aquarists simply can't wrap their minds around that and accept it as gorgeous in any way. It makes sense. Of course, it's also possible to embrace many of the elements of our types of aquariums while still accepting a more traditional look. It's not all about the earthy, over-the-top, in-your-face natural look you see me rant about so often here.
Beauty in the botanical-style aquarium encompasses many different things.
Of course, one thing that we all need to deploy in abundance is patience- and faith- and an understanding that an aquarium-any kind- is always a work in progress...
Overnight perfect results are uncommon. We need to make that apparent to everyone.
Even in this social-media fueled, finished product-heavy, "Insta-beautiful" world, the reality of the aquarium hobby is that you need to "go through some stuff" to get there. You simply can't expect to circumvent these things and have a "finished product" without putting in the work.
We know this. However, we don't really talk about it all that much. We don't discuss it or, for that matter- celebrate it nearly enough in the hobby.
And it's not limited simply to our world of "twigs and nuts", right?
Of course not.
There are a lot of "rights of passage" and "barriers" to confront in aquarium keeping, huh?
For example, before you can get a breeding pair of cichlids, you often have to go through a bunch of specimens, with their aggressive courting rituals and violent challenges to members of the same and the opposite sex, often requiring you to intervene to avoid injury. You need to be observant, patient, and diligent...Ultimately, after all the maneuvering, all of the challenges, and all of the time, you end up with a healthy, compatible pair for years.
Another gauntlet crossed.
Need another example? Okay, let's cross the "salinity line" for a second.
Reef aquariums are envied by many. They're beautiful and complex closed ecosystems, brimming with colorful life. I've played with them for decades, and, as much as I like to say I'm over them, I somehow keep migrating back to them again and again. They're addictive. Engrossing. Gorgeous.
However, to get to the desired "drool-worthy" phase, you typically have to go through a succession of awful algae blooms, a protracted nitrogen cycle establishment phase, slow stocking periods, and a sort of "settling in" period for your corals and inverts. And that's all before they even start to grow. And there is always the challenge of incompatibility, allelopathy, competition for space and resources, water chemistry fluctuations, etc.
Monitoring, observing, testing, patience- and the passage of time- are the keys. Not just dropping mad coin on the fancy and expensive hardware that seems to consume so many reefers. And if you persevere, and if you make the right moves- THEN, you get to enjoy a thriving, colorful reef aquarium.
Those who tire early, look for "shortcuts", think they can "gear their way" out of problems, or who fold and and quit- don't get the privilege of enjoying these systems. They get their asses handed to them. Simple as that...Well, "simple" if you understand the concept, that is.
A "gauntlet" to run. Barriers to cross. Knowledge to acquire.
And of course, it's not just the high-octane reef tanks which require this type of effort and commitment to process...
"High tech" planted aquariums require very careful setup, management, a set of ugly-ass algae blooms, adjustments to dosing, CO2, etc. before they begin to look like the green scenes of our dreams. You can't rush this stuff. To do so is to violate the laws of the natural world. And, as we know, Nature imposes rigid "penalties" for those who attempt to circumvent her challenges. You need to stay focused, observant, diligent, and calm.
Yeah, you need to push through the challenges set by Nature to get the reward you seek.
Okay, enough already. You're no doubt sensing a theme here?
Even when you're setting up your first community aquarium, there are basic principles of tank management to learn, a nitrogen cycle to establish, algae blooms to deal with...
And sure, you can take a sort of negative mindset and state that all of these challenges can be seen as a sort of a "gauntlet" to pass through.
They're not, really. They're simply experiences that you need to go through."Rights of passage" that we need to understand, work through, and learn from.
They should be seen as wonderful opportunities to observe, study, learn, experience, and acquire precious knowledge.
Yeah, they need NOT be viewed as barriers or gauntlets.
And the point of these examples is not to say that the aquarium hobby is incredibly difficult or ridiculously challenging. It's not all "make or break" moments. And challenges, rights of passage, "gauntlets", or whatever we want to label them as are not bad things at all. Not "negatives" or reasons to abort on our goals.
They are simply things that we need to discuss, understand- and perhaps make some mental or other adjustments in our thinking, changes in practices, or tweaks to our physical setups in order to advance in the hobby. And sometimes, we simply have to be patient. Many times, we have to do nothing more than observe, inquire, study, accept, and learn.
Challenging stuff sometimes, but very important if we're trying to achieve success in the hobby.
The point is to show you that just about everything that we want to accomplish in aquarium keeping requires passing through some sort of "barrier to entry"- some set of challenges that test our patience, require us to adjust, make changes, slow down, make "mental shifts" and adapt a patient attitude- before we can move on to the next steps in our journey.
And it's the mindset that we take with us that determines how successful we are. It's not all doom and gloom. It's fun.
It's the whole game.
These rights of passage continue to follow us throughout our aquarium careers...the more advanced the things are that we try, the greater the barriers to entry- and the more important a high degree of patience is required in order to overcome them. They never really "go away"...the challenges, that is. Nor the desire to do different things in the hobby. These are what advance our hobby- push the state of the art, and inspire others to do more.
Nope. That kind of stuff never changes.
What does change-should change- is our point of view; our attitude.
It seems that, after a period of time facing the regular challenges in aquaristics, we come to understand, even expect- sometimes even welcome them- as signs that we are progressing. Rather than something to dread, these things we previously called "barriers" simply become familiar "signposts"- landmarks, if you will- that tell us that we're progressing on the right path. Much like life, the aquarium hobby demands our best, and will reward us in kind- if we stay at it and somehow "prove our worthiness" to Nature.
The key ingredient is to be patient.
To never fear the challenges. To never be discouraged by the setbacks. All they represent are simply opportunities to educate ourselves on the long path towards accomplishing our goals.
Expect that doing great things requires a lot of work, and accepting that Nature throws us some stuff that we are often not expecting. And trying to understand them, rather than being forced out of the hobby by them- is the key.
Learn from these challenges. Appreciate the process. The nuances. The appearance of stuff you may have previously feared or dreaded. Think independently. Allow yourself to sit back and take it all in, without fear, judgement, or despair.
Regardless of what the hobby throws at you, stay encouraged.
Stay confident. Stay diligent. Stay steadfast. Stay observant. Stay optimistic. Stay patient...
And Stay Wet.
BIOME: (bi·ome) : A large naturally occurring community of flora and fauna occupying a major habitat.
I'm utterly fascinated by the idea of an aquarium as a habitat, which contains a wide variety of plants and animals. Not only do these life forms constitute a source of ecological balance and environmental stability- they are a source of supplemental food for the resident fishes.
We've talked a lot about allochthonous input- food which comes from outside the aquatic environment- such as insects, fruit, seeds, etc. You know, stuff which literally falls from the trees! However, there is also a significant amount of food which our fishes can obtain which occurs within the aquatic habitat itself.
This is something that we, as lovers of the botanical-style aquarium, are well-suited to embrace. And of course, I"m utterly fascinated by the concept of food production within our botanical-style aquariums! Yes, food production. If you really observe your tank closely- and I'm sure that you do- you'll see your fishes foraging on the botanicals...picking off something.
I've noticed, during times when I've traveled extensively and haven't been around to feed my fishes, that they're not even slightly slimmer upon my return, despite not being fed for days sometimes...
What are they eating in my absence?
Well, there are a number of interesting possibilities.
Perhaps most interesting to us blackwater/botanical-style aquarium people are epiphytes. These are organisms which grow on the surface of wood, botanicals, plants or other substrates, and derive their nutrients from the surrounding environment. They are important in the nutrient cycling and uptake in both nature and the aquarium, adding to the biodiversity, and serving as an important food source for many species of fishes.
In the case of our fave aquatic habitats, like streams, ponds, and inundated forests, epiphytes are abundant, and many fishes will spend large amounts of time foraging the "biocover" on tree trunks, branches, leaves, and other botanical materials.
The biocover consists of stuff like algae, biofilms, and fungi. Although most animals use leaves and tree branches for shelter and not directly as a food item, grazing on this epiphytic growth is which occurs on them is very important.
I am of the opinion that a botanical-style aquarium, complete with its decomposing leaves and seed pods, can serve as a sort of "buffet" for many fishes- even those who's primary food sources are known to be things like insects and worms and such. Detritus and the organisms within it can provide an excellent supplemental food source for our fishes!
It's well known that in many habitats, like inundated forests, etc., fishes will adjust their feeding strategies to utilize the available food sources at different times of the year, such as the "dry season", etc. And it's also known that many fish fry feed actively on bacteria and fungi in these habitats...so I suggest one again that a blackwater/botanical-style aquarium could be an excellent sort of "nursery" for many fish and shrimp species!
You'll often hear the term "periphyton" mentioned in a similar context, and I think that, for our purposes, we can essentially consider it in the same manner as we do "epiphytic matter." Periphyton is essentially a "catch all" term for a mixture of cyanobacteria, algae, various microbes, and of course- detritus, which is found attached or in extremely close proximity to various submerged surfaces. Again, fishes will graze on this stuff constantly.
In the wild habitats, some organisms, such as nematodes and chironomids ("Bloodworms!") will dig into the leaf structures and feed on the tissues themselves, as well as the fungi and bacteria found in and among them. These organisms, in turn, become part of the diet for many fishes.
And the resulting detritus produced by the "processed" and decomposing plant matter is considered by many aquatic ecologists to be an extremely significant food source for many fishes, especially in areas such as Amazonia and Southeast Asia, where the detritus is considered an essential factor in the food webs of these habitats.
And of course, if you observe the behavior of many of your fishes in the aquarium, such as characins, cyprinids, Loricarids, and others, you'll see that, in between feedings, they'll spend an awful lot of time picking at the aforementioned "stuff" on the leaves, stems, and pods within the tank. In a botanical-style aquarium, this is a pretty common occurrence, and I believe it's an extremely important "side benefit" of this type of system!
I believe that a botanical-style aquarium, complete with its decomposing leaves and seed pods, can serve as a sort of "buffet" for many fishes- even those who's primary food sources are known to be things like insects and worms and such. Gut-content analysis of many fishes in the wild confirms this. Detritus and the organisms within the aquarium can provide an excellent supplemental food source for our fishes!
As I've discussed previously, I've maintained several botanical-based aquariums for extended periods of time without supplementary feeding. The fishes were as fat and happy as their brethren in "well fed" aquariums.
In the wild habitats of the world, it's interesting to note that, where materials fall from the trees and surrounding dry areas, the greater the abundance of fishes and other aquatic animals which utilize them is found.
That makes sense.
And materials will continue to fall into the water and accumulate throughout the year, maintaining the richness of the habitat as others decompose or are acted on by the organisms residing in the water- from fungi to fishes!
Not unlike the environment of an aquarium, where we are replacing the botanicals as they break down, right?
Again, it's that idea about the "functional aesthetics" of the blackwater, botanical-style aquariums. The idea which acknowledges the fact that the botanicals we use not only look cool, but they provide an important function (supplemental food production) as well.
This is a profoundly important idea.
Perhaps arcane to some- but certainly not insignificant.
And of course, we've talked before about the "botanical nursery" concept- creating an aquarium for fish fry that has a large quantity of decomposing botanicals and leaves to foster the production of these materials, which serve as supplemental food for your fish fry. I have done this before myself and can attest to its viability. You fishes will have a constant supply of "natural" foods to supplement what you are feeding them in the early phases of their life.
Learn to make peace with your detritus! As always, look to the wild aquatic habitats of the world for an example of how this food source functions within the greater biome.
Understand that, when we create a botanical-style aquarium, not only do we have the opportunity to create aquariums which differ significantly from those in years past- we have a unique window into the natural world and the role of these materials in the wild. We're not as freaked out by stuff like detritus and biofilms as we were previously. We're letting go of some of our preconceived notions of what a "healthy" aquarium looks and functions like- and I think that's a HUGE evolution in the hobby.
Consider that the next time you toss some more botanicals into your aquarium! You're not just adding to the "look"- you're contributing to the abundance within the system!
Stay diligent. Stay observant. Stay thoughtful. Stay patient...
And Stay Wet.
The natural aquatic world is full of inspiration. It's all over.
Everywhere you look in Nature, there is an idea that you can explore, study, and replicate in your aquarium.
I see it as part of my responsibility to you- our community- to inspire and give you ideas for how to incorporate different facets of natural aquatic habitats into your aquariums.
Like most of you, hardly a day goes by when some weird idea doesn't pop into my head!
I am constantly looking at images or researching facts about interesting aspects of wild aquatic habitats that would perhaps take us out of our collective comfort zones!
And this is what is funny...
As I've mentioned a bunch of times, I'm one of those aquarists who likes to set up a tank and run it indefinitely. I hate "messing with stuff." Which is great for my personal hobby "practice." Yet, as an industry person who really does want to inspire fellow geeks with as many new ideas as possible, I realize it's necessary to move faster and show more "looks" to our growing global audience.
And of course, that means setting up more tanks.
And since I only have so much time, space, and resources, I can only set up so many at one time...Add to this "mix" the fact that I am a firm believer in allowing botanical-style aquariums the "runway" they need to establish themselves and evolve into more mature microcosms, and the "speed" at which new stuff rolls out is, by necessity, slower.
More f---ing tanks in our office! And at home!
Well, that's kind of cool, actually.
Following even while my "prime directive" of letting tanks run for a while, I find myself getting ready to play with more and more ideas in more and more aquariums! Now, this is hardly a bad thing for a lifelong fish geek. I have a strong inner voice and mind set. However, accomplishing my goal of more looks more often also necessitates a sort of compromise- creating a "schedule" of establishing tanks, letting them run, and then breaking them down and doing new ones on a regular, more frequent basis.
Sort of like a farmer rotating crops, I suppose!
Now, we have all sorts of ideas of our own to run with- and we will. Yesterday, my crew and I discussed no less than 11 different concepts that you'll see over the next few months- crazy! However, I think I'd also like to see what kinds of things you'd like to see from us. (Oh, and yeah, because some of you asked- you'll might even see a new reef tank in late 2020- but from our own perspective, of course. No cliche bullshit here!) 😆
Is there some interesting niche that you'd like to see us play with? Some habitat or environment that needs some love? One that would fit our niche and area of expertise?
Okay, don't suggest a thermal hot spring biotope for Pupfish or something totally ridiculous (trust me, I've actually thought about that one before; maybe it ISN'T, but...lol). So, yeah..I'm open to suggestions.
Ideas are cool. However, where the "rubber hits the road" and you executer on them is what counts.
Yeah, even though I have all of these ideas for executing cool tanks; all of these thoughts about helping inspire members of our community, I have a very real "affliction" in which I have to fight off a voice in my head which says, "You're not THAT good..."
It sort of messes with me.
I don't think I'm a lousy aquascaper, mind you. Don't get me wrong. I can "turn 'em out"...occasionally. I might hit on a few points I wanted...but historically, I'm my own worst enemy. I'll often do something that "sabotages" a great idea by making "one more tweak."
And, I just can't nail every single one, like so many great 'scapers can.
I like to look at aquascapes. Love to play with them. Love to talk about the concepts behind them...but I feel that I'm just not that "all time great" at executing them.
However, I don't let that handicap me like I used to for years.
It's actually not a big deal.
I've learned to be proud of everything I do; to give it my best, and to be humble (well, usually...lol) and feel good about sharing and contributing to the hobby in some small way. This was a big hobby/life revelation for me...Just doing stuff and not worrying about what everyone thinks. I think there is a lesson in here that we can all benefit from.
Of course, I'm not putting myself up on a pedestal just because it's "quiet" inside my head...no. I bring this up because, not only am I about to embark on some more 'scraping work, but I've received a few curiously timed emails from members of our community expressing some dismay over what they feel are their lack of skills.
I hate hearing that. We all have skills, and we shouldn't beat ourselves up. Yet, there are at least a few takeaways from the pros that we can utilize in our own work; ideas that might instill a bit more confidence if you're a bit down on yourself lately...
Let's just revisit them a bit, okay?
Now, I seriously stand in awe of the skills of guys like George Farmer, Johnny Ciotti, Cory Hopkins, Mitch Mazur, Jeff Senske, Luis Navarro...these people have serious "game"- and this ability to adapt the idea that they have floating around in their head at the moment into reality, as well as the seemingly otherworldly ability to "see" the completed scape as they work.
But they'll be the first to tell you that they're not "ninjas." They just work at it, gain confidence from DOING, and learn from their mistakes...
And they innately know to STOP at some point...to let the scape "breathe" a bit.
We'll come back to that point in a bit.
You ask some of these guys, they'll literally tell you that the components they're using-the rock, the wood, the plants- sort of "talk to them.." And they listen.
They have that ability to visualize and execute where something should go; how it should be placed- and how much of it-because they evaluate just what kind of "contribution" a certain element will make to the overall design.
They don't fight it. They listen.
Shit, that's deep, huh?
And they'll tell you that we ALL can do this.
We all have the ability.
And when you really think about it- they're right.
We ALL can.
Now, some people have different training or backgrounds, which you might think give them certain advantages over a guy like me, for example...
Some people have a background in design and art. They understand ratios and such...but they almost never tell you that these things are the main reason they are good at what they do. Rather, they'll tell you it's because they developed an innate understanding of the process, and the ability to heed an inner voice.
These guys- like all aquascapers- you and I included- are really deep.
Very philosophical. You can have awesome discussions with them. In our podcast versions of "The Tint", I've had discussions with some of these people that could have easily stretched into hours just on the philosophical ramifications of aquascaping. The main difference between "them" and "us" is that these guys listen really intently to that inner voice and don't "fight it off..."
We ALL have this ability.
We just need to overcome a few tendencies, in my opinion. We all have greatness within ourselves.
(Takashi Amano, perhaps the greatest of all, understood the value of belief, harmony, and awe when creating aquascapes.)
Over the years, I've learned a few things about the mindset of the majority of aquascapers, which seem to come up all the time:
*We are typically our own worst critics
*We tend to place too much value in what other people think of our efforts.
*We're almost never "finished" with a scape. We keep going when it's done.
*Our work is almost always better than we think it is.
Honestly, I think I'm spot on with these points.
Don't believe me?
Check out almost any forum where someone is showing off their latest work. It's almost guaranteed you'll see the creator preface her work with stuff like, "I know it needs some work, but..." or "Please be gentle, it's my first effort..." or "I just can't seem to get my rocks arranged as good as ________ can..."
Oh sure, every once in a while, you'll actually see a comment like, "Im pretty happy with this one. I think I nailed it."
Yet, in the aquascaping world, that seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
We're too damn self-critical; too damn modest, even.
Not everyone, of course, but many of us.
And look, I'm not espousing that you go on Facebook with a pic of your tank and proclaim to the world that you're the "second-fucking-coming of Takashi Amano..." Arrogance is never fashionable. What I am espousing is that you take a second to realize that you're pretty damn good at this stuff.
Really damn good.
Especially when it comes to this botanical-style stuff; really working in tune with Nature. And the work you're sharing is pretty incredible!
Believe it or not- and I think that my "A List" aquascaping friends will vouch for me here- every single aquascape that is put out to the world has amazing merits that inspire everyone.
Ask your local aquascaping superstar.
They'll tell you that they can glean something from every single scape they look at...Whether it's a brilliant placement of a branch, a use of color or texture that they simply hadn't seen before, or even- just occasionally- a reinforcement of why they don't want to do something a certain way...And that's okay, too. The key is, they always get something out of every single 'scape they see.
(Luis Navarro- adapting, studying, improvising...creating)
Nothing is ever wasted when you share in the aquarium world.
I say this constantly, don't I?
Because it's true.
A tank can always serve as an example of what NOT to do for someone. And again...notice I said for "someone." And that's not a negative. Maybe the other person realizes, after seeing your scape, that she really doesn't like using leaves and seed pods in her tanks. It's just not her thing. That's a huge win for her, and for the hobby, which will benefit from her sharing a pure version of HER.
A win. Why?
Because every 'scape has it's merits, and should satisfy the one person who really counts- its creator. And, perhaps most important: We can't be afraid to put ourselves out there for fear of some anonymous "critic" taking us down. Don't let that happen. It's complete bullshit to let that happen.
Hell, the reason I write blogs and share my ideas and do the podcast every day is because I believe in what I'm doing, and I feel good about sharing it with others...maybe inspiring a few people..At least, entertaining them.
I really don't give a $%#@ what anyone thinks...I put out what feels good. What's honest and a reflection of ME.
And that works. Took me a while to get there, but it really works well.
(George Farmer has a deep respect for nature, design, and listening to his own voice. And it shows in everything he does...)
And, I think, behind the philosophy, I've been able to zero in on what I feel is the most important "technical" lesson to learn about aquascaping:
Did you see my earlier point about not being "finished" with our 'scapes?
It's a tough one to overcome. I admit!
I used to have this problem...I always needed to place one more rock, one more iteration of the finishing piece of wood...one last plant. It was hard to stop sometimes. I had to battle myself. I couldn't stop "iterating" or, more colloquially, "tweaking" the goddam thing...
Part of it was probably this "tug of war" in my head that told me, "It's good. Just stop..." and, "...If you'd just move that piece of wood over a few more inches...wow!"
Yeah, that was a distraction for sure. I'm 100% certain that I ruined a lot of scapes with that thinking, too!
And there are always distractions in our head when we executer aquascapes and aquariums, regardless of if they are "top of mind", or just occupying a space somewhere in our heads...
I think one of those "distractions" is the fact that all of those cool 'scapes that we see online in pics from aquascaping competitions are "evolved" or "finished" products, either ones which are the result of many "iterations" by the 'scape, or ones that are long-established- which a human started and Nature took over.
Yet we don't see that from the pics. We don't see the struggle; the work...We see this "finished product" and think to ourselves, "Keep going."
Sometimes, it's actually best to tell ourselves, "Walk away."
Sometimes, it's about nailing the concept in your head, and simply having the confidence to acknowledge that you arrived...and that you don't need to do any more to the tank. This was never more evident than when I went "hardscape negative" and executed leaf-litter-only aquariums. These tanks really test your commitment to the idea. As an aquarist, your instinct is to tweak. As a lover of the habitat, you know that you need to just walk away!
I know that my best aquascapes have always come from a place of being "done"- whether or not the scape could have used one more piece is not the point. The point is to put yourself in the state of mind that says, "Okay- let it breathe a bit. Bring life to it as it is, and see how it goes." Rather than the more common, "If I just tweak the direction of this stone a little bit to the left..."
Let it simply "breathe" a bit.
Restraint, like effort- is very important.
Yet, it's often overlooked in our quest to seek "perfection." Noble, but actually a form of self-sabotage, IMHO.
We need to learn to walk away. To know when to say "when."
(Johnny Ciotti. Heading his inner voice.)
The realization that the very best aquascapes are ones that start with a solid "foundation" of a good design, but require time, growth, and other natural processes to allow them to reach their full potential. This is a HUGE thing in our speciality niche of the hobby, isn't it?
Nature has been doing this for billions of years. Our intervention might be appreciated, but it's seldom "necessary" when it comes to aquascaping. The botanical systems that we love so much are the absolute embodiment of this...As soon as we finish, Nature takes the reins and completes the job.
Yes, Nature does a lot of the real "heavy lifting" in our world...
What we have to do is set the stage. Giving Nature a platform to work with. Let it breathe. We're getting this. And it's leading to really interesting things, isn't it?
I think we're now starting to see a more realistic interpretation of Nature in our aquariums than ever before. A desire to represent Nature as it really is, not just as we idealize it. This, in my opinion, has "leveled the playing field" just a bit. I believe that it's entirely possible for a so-called "average" aquascaper (sigh...) with a work ethic, a deep understanding of his/her subject, access to proper materials, and a "prototype" in mind, to create a 'scape that both inspires and enthralls, while working with Nature to the fullest extent possible.
The rise of what I call the "soul scaper"- a hobbyist who sees the world as it is and brings it to life accordingly, will add yet another element of achievement to the state of the art of aquasaping. I think that, once contest judges and those who seem to be the "guardians of style" in the aquascaping contest world recognize that interpreting nature realistically and letting it breathe-knowing "when to say when"- requires as much talent and work as it does to create fanciful, highly stylized takes on the natural world, then we'll see the next evolution in aquascaping.
Now, I'm not talking about militant, "100% authentically-biotope-perfect" aquariums, either...I'm talking about systems that represent the natural world both functionally and aesthetically, without the obsession that every stick or grain of sand be absolutely tied to a specific locale we're representing.
Everyone will win. Most important, the natural world.
Because we'll be looking at it in a different way. An authentic way.
We'll be trying to understand as hobbyists, just why Nature looks the way it does. How it functions. What processes occur to keep it functioning. We'll see subtleties. We'll understand the external influences, and environmental pressures which man has placed upon the fragile and priceless aquatic ecosystems of the world.
The old adage about people "protecting what they love" will take on an even greater significance. Embracing aquascapes as functional AND aesthetic representations of the real aquatic habitats of the world will give us a greater appreciation for them, and an even greater desire to protect them and share the challenges they face with those not familiar with our hobby.
Truly a win for all.
And, as for you- the aquascaper simply wanting to do great work, have fun and share with others?
Where does this leave you?
It leaves you in a position to bring beauty into the world in ways never thought possible before in the hobby.
And, if you feel "stuck?"
Thinking you need one more wood or leaves, or whatever?
Walk away for a bit; let Nature have at it.
She'll do what's right, just as surely as the sun rises or the tide returns. When you work with Nature instead of trying to circumvent her, the results are more amazing than you could have ever envisioned...
Learn this. Embrace this.
I think you'll be a happier, more fulfilled aquascaper/aquarist as a result. Call it "wabi sabi", "evolution", or "transience"- whatever.
But embrace it.
And savor your work. The experience. The process. The satisfaction. Listen to your own voice...and interpret Nature's lessons.
See where they take you.
You might just like it.
You've got this.
Stay passionate. Stay hungry. Stay inspired. Stay strong. Stay creative...
And Stay Wet.
As a practitioner of the natural, botanical-style aquarium, I am a rather vocal proponent of creating more naturally appearing- and functioning habitats for our fishes. I am a big believer that our fishes, which have evolved over eons to live in specific types of environmental conditions- will ultimately do best in captivity when provided with them.
During our amazing conversation with Mike Tuccinardi on our recent podcast version of "The Tint", Mike mentioned that, at least initially, you don't need give your newly-imported fishes the exact environmental conditions that they came from in order to be successful with them. Mike indicated that it's far more important initially to provide clean, high quality water, as most fish from the soft, acidic blackwater habitats simply don't have the resistance to pathogens.
The idea been that, although tannins in the water can help during the earliest phases of quarantine and acclimation, it's more important to offer high quality water than exact replication of their wild habitats. However, once acclimated, Mike has pointed out the manifold advantages of keeping fishes in water conditions which resemble those found in their natural environment.
Yeah, that makes a ton of sense.
And you know I've always been a fan of sort of "re-adapting" or "re-patriating" even captive-bred specimens of all sorts of fishes (like "blackwater-origin" characins, cichlids, etc.) to more "natural" conditions (well, "natural" from perhaps a few dozen generations back, anyhow). I am of the opinion that even "domesticated" fishes can benefit from providing them with conditions more reminiscent of those from the natural habitats from which they originated.
Although I am not a geneticist or biological ethicist, I never will buy into the thought that a few dozen captive generations will "erase" millions of years of evolutionary adaptation to specific habitats, and that re-adapting them to these conditions is somehow "detrimental" to them. Something just seems "off" to me about that thinking.
I just can't get behind that.
Now, even more compelling "proof" of that it's not so "cut-and-dry" is that many of the recommended "best practices" of breeding many so-called "adaptable" species are to do things like drop water temperatures, adjust lighting, or perform water exchanges with peat-influenced water, etc....stuff intended to mimic the conditions found in the natural habitats of the fishes...
I mean...WTF? Right?
Like, only give the fishes their "natural" conditions when we want to breed them? Really?
That mindset just seems a bit odd to me...
Of course, there are some fishes for which we don't really make any arguments against providing them with natural-type environmental conditions from the 'get go", such as African rift lake Cichlids. I find this absolutely fascinating, from a "hobby-philosopher" standpoint!
Like, it's a given, right?
And then, there are those fishes which we have, for various reasons (to minimize or prevent the occurrence of diseases) arbitrarily decided to manipulate their environment deliberately away from the natural characteristics under which they evolved for specific reasons. For example, adding salt to the water for fishes that are typically not known to come from brackish habitats.
Examples are annual Killifishes, such as Nothobranchius, which in many cases don't come from brackish environments naturally, yet we dutifully add salt to their water as standard practice. The adaptation to a "teaspoon of salt per gallon" or so environment is done for prophylactic reasons, rather than what's "convenient" for us- a rather unique case, indeed...and again, something that I find fascinating to look at objectively.
Is salt simply the easiest way to prevent parasitic diseases in these fishes, or are there other ways which don't require such dramatic environmental manipulations? Like, is it that difficult to eliminate possible pathogens in their aquarium while keeping them in water conditions which are more reminiscent of that which they come from naturally?
I don't think that it is.
And then, of course, there are those unexpected populations of fishes, like various Danios and Gold Tetras, for example, which are found in mildly brackish conditions...Compelling, interesting...yet we can't conclude that all Gold Tetras will benefit from salt in their water, can we?
No, of course not.
And, as we evolved to a more sustainable hobby, with greater emphasis on captive -bred or carefully-sourced wild fishes, and as more wild habitats are damaged or lost, will we also lose valuable data about the wild habitats of the fishes we love so much? Data which will simply make the "default" for many fishes to be "tap water?"
I hope not.
Is it possible, though, that we've been so good at "domesticating" our fishes to our easier-to-provide tap water conditions- and our fishes so adaptable to them- that the desire to "repatriate" them to the conditions under which they've evolved is really more of a "niche" thing for geeky hobbyists, as opposed to a "necessary for success" thing?
I mean, how many Discus are now kept and bred exclusively in hard, alkaline water- markedly different than the soft, acid blackwater environmental conditions under which they've evolved for eons? Am I just being a dreamer here, postulating without hard data that somehow the fishes are "missing something" when we keep and breed them in conditions vastly different than what the wild populations come from?
Do the same genetics which dictate the color patterns and fin morphology also somehow "cancel out" the fish's "programming" which allows them to be healthiest in their original native conditions?
How do we reconcile this concept?
In the end, there are a lot of variables in the equation, but I think that the Nothos and Discus discussion is an example of fishes which could perhaps benefit from experimenting with "throwback" conditions. I'm by no means anything close to an expert on either of these fish, and my opinions are just that- opinions.
Commercially, it may not be practical to do this, but for the hobbyist with time, resources, and inclination, it would be interesting to see where it takes you.
Like, would the same strain kept in both brackish and pure freshwater habitats display different traits or health characteristics?
Would there even be any marked differences between specimens of certain fishes kept under "natural" versus "domesticated" conditions? Would they show up immediately, or would it become evident only after several generations? And again, I think about brackish-water fishes and the difficulty of tracing your specimens to their natural source, which makes this all that much more challenging!
I look forward to many more such experiments- bringing natural conditions to "domesticated" fishes, and perhaps unlocking some more secrets...or perhaps simply acknowledging what we all know:
That there truly is "no place like home!"
Bring it home.
Stay curious. Stay observant. Stay diligent. Stay adventurous. Stay resourceful...
And Stay Wet.
Stay in this game long enough, and you geek out about the weirdest stuff, right?
Yeah, I know that I do.
I have this obsession with the little niches in wild habitats where a confluence of materials occurs. There is something fascinating about tangled roots, branches, submerged, decaying vegetation, and rich substrate intersecting in the wild that has inspired me to replicate aspects of them in my aquairums in recent years.
We talk a lot about "microhabitats" in Nature; little areas of tropical habitats where unique physical, environmental and biological characteristics converge based on a set of factors found in the locale. Factors which determine not only how they look, but how they function, as well.
As aquarists, observing, studying, and understanding the specifics of microhabitats is a fascinating and compelling part of the hobby, because it can give us inspiration to replicate the form and function of them in our tanks! Just looking closely at an image of one of these locales can give you a plethora of tank ideas!
We spend a lot of time discussing and considering the various components and interactions of water and terrestrial habitats, such as the igarape and the surrounding igapo and varzea flooded forests, and the Pantanal- those amazing inundated meadows found in Brazil.
These environments are fascinating, because they are examples of what happens when temporary situations (ie; floods) affect the "topography" of terrestrial habitats. Our pages and posts feature amazing pics by David Sobry, Mike Tuccinardi, and Tai Strietman- all who observe Nature with a hobbyist's eye!
Ecologically, the productivity and diversity of these habitats make them perfect subjects for replication in our aquariums. Not only do they offer unique aesthetics- they offer really cool opportunities to see how they can function in a closed system like an aquarium!
When fishes are kept in a representation of a habitat which mimics its form and function, enormous potential for discoveries and success present themselves!
Look at the way rocks, soil and branches come together in flooded forests to form interesting physical spaces that fishes utilize for protection, foraging, and reproduction. By happenstance, these formerly terrestrial features become important and unique underwater microhabitats that fishes can exploit for food, protection, and spawning sites.
By replicating the complex look and physical attributes of these features, including rich substrate, roots of various thickness, and leaves, we offer our fishes all sorts of potential microhabitats. In the aquarium, we tend to focus on the "macro" level- creating a nice wood stack, perhaps incorporating some rock- but we seldom see the whole picture allowed to come together in a more natural way.
A way that says, "Hey, there is a bit of randomness here...but it's okay!"
This was what inspired me in a recent iteration of my home Asian-inspired "planted" blackwater aquarium. That interaction between the terrestrial elements and the aquatic ones. Allowing terrestrial leaves to accumulate naturally among the "tree root structure"which I created fostered this more natural-functioning environment.
In an aquarium set up to take advantage of these materials and their function, the leaves and botanicals begin to soften and ultimately break down, they will foster microbial growth, biofilms, and fungal growths- all of which will provide supplemental foods for the resident fishes...just like what happens in Nature.
Facilitating these processes- allowing the materials to accumulate naturally and break down "in situ" is a key component of replicating and supporting these functional microhabitats in our aquariums. The typical aquarium hardscape- artistic and beautiful as it might be, generally replicates the most superficial aesthetic aspects of such habitats, and tends to overlook their function- and the reasons why such habitats form in the first place in Nature.
When I see such beautiful aquascapes, I'm almost always thinking to myself, "Damn, they're sooo close to being able to create something really natural here!" If I had one of these tanks, it would literally take every bit of resistance I can offer to avoid tossing in some leaves and botanicals into the nooks and crannies that are formed where substrate, stones, and roots meet. Purely aesthetic 'scapes to me are like "missed opportunities" to me to learn more about these fascinating microhabitats!
So my plea to you- my fellow natural-style aquarium lovers- is to consider the function of "microhabitats"; how fishes can live in them, derive protection, food, and utilize them as spawning locations from them. Sure, you may not like to pile on the leaves and botanicals into your woodwork. You might not want to see all of that "stuff" breaking down in the nooks and crannies...
However, don't automatically dismiss the idea...You can always remove these materials if they offend your aesthetic sensibilities. I only ask that you give the idea a try...a good, serious look at the elegance and function of these amazing ecological niches...
The niches where substrate, stones, and ideas meet.
Stay Thoughtful. Stay creative. Stay studious. Stay observant. Stay diligent. Stay patient...
And Stay Wet.
As we all know, the basis of many of our blackwater, botanical-style systems is...wait for it- LEAVES! They make up a huge percentage of the plant materials which accumulate in tropical streams and other bodies of water in these locales, and, as we know, are extremely important to the fishes which inhabit them, providing protection, food, and even physical territory.
What makes leaves fall off the trees in the first place? Well, it's simple- er, rather complex...but I suppose it's simple, too. Essentially, the tree "commands" leaves to fall off the tree, by creating specialized cells which appear where the leaf stem of the leaves meet the branches. Known as "abscission" cells. for word junkies, they actually have the same Latin root as the word "scissors", which, of course, implies that these cells are designed to make a cut!
And, in the tropical species of trees, the leaf drop is important to the surrounding environment. The nutrients are typically bound up in the leaves, so a regular release of leaves by the trees helps replenish the minerals and nutrients which are typically depleted from eons of leaching into the surrounding forests.
And the rapid nutrient depletion, by the way, is why it's not healthy to burn tropical forests- the release of nutrients as a result of fire is so rapid, that the habitat cannot process it, and in essence, the nutrients are lost forever.
Now, interestingly enough, most tropical forest trees are classified as "evergreens", and don't have a specific seasonal leaf drop like the "deciduous" trees than many of us are more familiar with do...Rather, they replace their leaves gradually throughout the year as the leaves age and subsequently fall off the trees.
The implication here?
There is a more-or-less continuous "supply" of leaves falling off into the jungles and waterways in these habitats, which is why you'll see leaves at varying stages of decomposition in tropical streams. It's also why leaf litter banks may be almost "permanent" structures within some of these bodies of water!
And, for the fishes and other organisms which live in, around, and above the litter beds, there is a lot of potential food, which does vary somewhat between the "wet" and "dry" seasons and their accompanying water levels. The fishes tend to utilize the abundant mud, detritus, and epiphytic materials which accumulate in the leaf litter as food. During the dry seasons, when water levels are lower, this organic layer compensates for the shortage in other food resources.
During the higher water periods, there is a much greater amount of allochthonous input (remember that? I mean, on what other hobby-related site do you learn about THAT shit, huh?) from the surrounding terrestrial environment in the form of insects, fruits, and other plant material. I suppose that, in our aquariums, it's pretty much always the "wet season", right?
We tend to top off and replace decomposing leaves and botanical more-or-less continuously.
And it makes me wonder...
What if we stopped replacing leaves and even lowered water levels or decreased water exchanges in our tanks to correspond to, for example, the Amazonian dry season (June to December)...And if you consider that many fishes tend to spawn in the "dry" season, concentrating in the shallow waters, could this have implications for breeding?
In fact, I further proffer that we need to look a lot deeper into the idea of environmental manipulation for the purpose of getting our fishes to be healthier, more colorful, and especially, to spawn. Now I know, the idea is nothing new on a "macro" level- we've been increasing and lowering temps in our aquariums, adjusting lighting levels, and tweaking stuff for a long time.
Killie keepers have played with this in drying and incubation periods in annual killifish eggs. However, I don't think we've been doing a lot of real hardcore manipulations...like adjusting water levels, increasing nutrient levels (ie; "pulsing" adding leaves and other botanicals), manipulating current, dissolved oxygen, food types, etc.
I think that there are so many different things that we can play with- and so many nuances that we can investigate and manipulate in our aquariums. What about the pulsing of leaf additions to correspond to the seasonal leaf drop?
I think that this could even add a new nuance to biotope aquarium simulation, such as creating an aquarium which simulates the "Preto da Eva River in Brazil in October", for example...with appropriate environmental conditions, such as water level, amounts of allochthonous material, etc. Show those hardcore contest biotope snobs what a real biotope aquarium is all about!
The possibilities are endless here!
So much to consider.
We don't embrace the aesthetic of dark water, a bottom covered in decomposing leaves, and the appearance of biofilms and algae on driftwood because it allows us to be more "relaxed" in the care of our tanks, or because we think we're so much smarter than the underwater-diorama-loving, hype-mongering competition aquascaping crowd, either-something that's occasionally been levied against our community.
(Well, maybe we are? 😆)
I mean, we're doing this stuff for a reason: To create more authentic-looking, natural-functioning aquatic displays for our fishes. To understand and acknowledge that our fishes and their very existence is influenced by the habitats in which they have evolved.
Wild tropical aquatic habitats are influenced greatly by the surrounding geography and flora of their region, which in turn, have considerable influence upon the population of fishes which inhabit them, and their life cycle. The simple fact of the matter is, when we add botanical materials to an aquarium and accept what occurs as a result-regardless of wether our intent is just to create a different aesthetic, or perhaps something more- we are to a very real extent replicating the processes and influences that occur in wild aquatic habitats in nature.
The presence of botanical materials such as leaves in these aquatic habitats is fundamental.
In our little hobby sector, leaves are sort of the "gateway drug", if you will, into our world.
In Nature, as we've discussed many times-leaf litter zones comprise one of the richest and most diverse biotopes in the tropical aquatic ecosystem, yet until recently, they have seldom been replicated in the aquarium. I think this has been due, in large part- to the lack of continuous availability of products for the hobbyist to work with, and a lack of real understanding about what this biotope is all about- not to mention, the understanding of the practicality of creating one in the aquarium.
Long-held fears and concerns, such as overwhelming our systems with biological materials, and the overall "look" of decomposing leaves and botanicals in our tanks, have understandably led to this idea being relegated to "sideshow status" for many years. It's only been recently that we've started looking at them more objectively as ecological niches worth replicating in aquariums.
The thought behind this habitat can best be summarized in this interesting except from an academic paper on Amazonian Blackwater leaf-litter communities by biologist Peter Alan Henderson, one that is useful for those of us attempting to replicate these communities in our aquaria:
"..life within the litter is not a crowded, chaotic scramble for space and food. Each species occupies a sub-region defined by physical variables such as flow and oxygen content, water depth, litter depth and particle size…
...this subtle subdivision of space is the key to understanding the maintenance of diversity. While subdivision of time is also evident with, for example, gymnotids hunting by night and cichlids hunting by day, this is only possible when each species has its space within which to hide.”
In other words, different species inhabit different sections of the leaf litter bed, and we should consider this when creating and stocking our biotope systems...
The implication for aquariums is that we could literally create a diverse fish community by embracing a deep leaf litter bed as the "theme" of the aquarium. This is really neat stuff, and we're just scratching the surface here!
So, beyond just creating an aggregation of material which imparts tannins and humic substances into the water in our tanks, we're creating a little habitat, every bit as interesting, diverse, and complex as any other we attempt to replicate. In the aquarium, you need to consider both practicality AND aesthetics when replicating this biotope.
A biotope that deserves your attention and study, indeed.
Obviously, there is still much to learn, and of course, the bigger question that many will ask, "What is the advantage?"
That's part of the fun...we can play a hunch, but we won't know for certain until we really delve into this.
Stay thoughtful. Stay curious. Stay engaged. Stay innovative...
And Stay Wet.
With more and more hobbyists thinking further outside the proverbial "box" than ever before when planning aquariums, we're starting to see more functionally aesthetic representations of all sorts of aquatic habitats as never before.
We've talked a lot about flooded forest floors and inundated meadows in the tropical regions of the world, specifically South America and Southeast Asia. Being terrestrial habitats, these forest floors are often covered with shrubs and grasses, many of which are not typically available in the aquarium hobby.
Grasses, such as Paspalum repens, a common species found in South America, and several other grasses, are quite abundant in these habitats, and are most resistant to prolonged submersion.
Now, there are species of Paspalum which are available as seed in many parts f the world, particularly North America and Europe. You absolutely can grow these and utilize them for the "role" of ("generic") "Panatanal grasses" or "forest grasse"s in your displays. Many of them are remarkably tolerant of submersion for brief periods of time!
Now, my other "challenge' to plant lovers in general: Let's figure out which terrestrial plants can tolerate/grow/thrive under submerged or partially submerged (blackwater) conditions. Perhaps a more "realistic" (not in the hardcore "biotope aquarium contest" context, of course) avenue to explore in this regard?
I've got one tree for you to research...the dominant terrestrial plant in the South American flooded forests is Eugenia inundata... Don't think I'm not well underway in my (somewhat futile) efforts to see if we can secure fallen leaves of THIS plant! You'll also find Iriartea setigera, Socratea exorrhiza, Mauritiella aculeata palms in these areas..
(Mauritiella aculeata - Image by pixel too used under CC BY 2.0)
Like so many things from the Amazon, it's not easy (read that, damn near impossible) to secure botanical material from this region, so the proverbial "Don't hold your breath waiting for this" comes to mind! Oh, and the submerged grasses we see and drool over in those underwater pics from Mike Tucc and Ivan Mikolji of these habitats?
They're typically Paspalum repens and Oryza perennis.
And we DO have access to some species, such as Sedges and other riparian or semi-aquatic/bog plants from genera that are found in these regions, such as Papyrus (Cyperus), Acorus, Orzyas, etc. These are surprisingly popular plants I the hobby, and for the purpose of recreating one of these seasonally-inundated habitats, they're near perfect!
Since many of these plants tolerate submersion for extended periods of time, they are of great interest to many of us for use in our aquariums. Of course, part of what interests me is that these are generally very hardy plants.
There are numerous species more commonly available from commercial nurseries in North American and European nations, so creating realistic representations of these habitats in our aquariums is more attainable than ever!
Now, with this in mind, there are also lots and lots of possibilities for creating unique aquatic displays with what I would call "aquatic analogs" of these grasses and shrubs. In other words, incorporating some true aquatics to replicate the "look" of the flooded forests using representative species.
I freely admit that this is a total "cheat"- but when you think about it, it's a pretty good method that can be employed if you want to represent the inundation period for the theme of your aquarium, and aren't able to secure or grow the terrestrial/semi-aquatic analogs to the species found in these habitats.
So, I'm thinking about plants like Echinodorus tenellus, the "Pygmy Chain Sword", which grows in a most "grasslike" state, and certainly is representative of the grasses one might find on a flooded Panatanal or forest floor habitat in South America.
It's not hard to cultivate a little section of these plants in your representation of a flooded forest, and drop in a few leaves and botanicals, and achieve a relatively realistic-looking facsimile!
Another great candidate that has a sort of "generic tropical terrestrial grasslike" appearance would be Cryptocoryne parva. This diminutive plant actually can be grown emerged, so for "semi-flooded" igapo or varzea biotope aquariums, it would be really adaptable! And when submerged, it bears strong resemblance to Paspalum or other tropical, submersion-resistant grasses. (It's the plant in the foreground in the below pic, BTW)
I suppose the old fave, Sagittaria, could also be employed for this purpose, but some species can achieve a larger size and perhaps ultimately be not as realistic, so you'd need to choose carefully. More exotic, but readily available as tissue-cultured, would be the beautiful Lilaeopsis mauritiana, a beautiful species often called "Micro Sword" for its appearance and size.
And of course, since we're representing a flooded forest floor or meadow, with patchy growth over rich soil and leaves, you likely don't need to have the full-on green lawn that planted aquarists strive for so ardently! A little bit of "open space" and some twigs, roots, bark pieces, a few seed pods, and exposed substrate and you're well on your way to creating a remarkably cool tank!
Just plant some of it here and there in such a tank, and....well, yeah, you get the idea, right? 😆
Again, since the intense growth of aquatic plants isn't the primary focus of such a display, you have a tremendous amount of "latitude" over their care when working with them in this manner! You don't need to go nuts with CO2 or massive and complicated fertilizer regimens. A good aquatic soil, sand, and or other media, accompanied by good lighting is all you need.
Employing a good cover of leaf litter, along with selected botanicals, you could create a very realistic representation of these habitats in your aquarium!
I think that despite the fact that this is sort of "cheat" (and yeah, it most definitely IS! ), you could certainly create a pretty faithful representation of these unique habitats, and inspire further research into them.
You need not be "hamstrung" by not being able to source or obtain the actual terrestrial plants found in these habitats...you could always turn to "aquatic analogs" for a good start!
Work with what you've got!
Stay innovative. Stay creative. Stay studious. Stay diligent. Stay resourceful...
And Stay Wet.
"The name “Tannin” was selected because it’s the substance derived from leaves and wood that tints the life-giving waters of tropical rivers and streams with a beautiful brown color that I find so alluring. The dark waters, tangled roots and earthy-colored leaves found off the shores of tropical “blackwater” rivers, ponds, and streams provide an irresistible subject for hobbyists to replicate in our aquariums..."- From our "About Us" page.
Even though we've been playing with this stuff commercially for about 5 years, as a hobbyist, I've been dabbling with blackwater/botanical-style aquariums for around 18 years...and the hobby itself has been "doing" blackwater tanks for many years. It always amuses me when someone tells us that we "didn't invent this idea.." As if we ever claimed that we did!
Gotta love our hobby culture, huh?
Nature was the "inventor." We just play with her. Follow her lead. Her inspiration.
We dream in water.
Now, I will claim that- perhaps- we "elevated" the art just a little bit; perhaps brought it out of the "darkness" (literally), but we did not invent it.
Regardless of who pioneered blackwater/botanical-style aquariums and when, there are still lots of questions surrounding this stuff. There are still many unknowns, misconceptions, and perhaps even a bit of confusion...We're doing our best to dispel many of these misconceptions, yet it takes time (and hundreds of blog posts and podcasts!) and a global community of active hobbyists to really get the word out more that this is cool stuff!
Often, when I'm asked to speak at a club or event, I'm asked to describe the benefits of the types of aquariums we all love...and that's something you no doubt will receive now and then, so I thought it might make some sense to share with you the summary of the main points I bring up in such situations...
And of course, as you might expect, one of the fundamental questions we receive often here at Tannin is, "What are the advantages of a blackwater-type aquarium, and why would I want to try one?"
It's a really broad, but very logical question, which I can attempt to answer in broad, hopefully logical terms!
In no particular order, here are some of the many reasons why you might want to embrace "The Tint" in your next aquarium:
1) It's different.- Okay, this is probably the most fucking vapid reason for this, but, whatever. But hey...You asked.
Well, anyone can set up a planted tank with clear water, colorful fishes, and natural gravel. It takes an adventurous aquarist to try something truly different- brown water, decomposing leaves, detritus, biofilms...just like in nature! A totally different aesthetic experience than we're used to, which requires definite "mental shifts" in order to embrace and be comfortable with.
It's not just about the aesthetics, of course- but they play a huge role in this stuff.
It's really different.
I remember, during my tenure as co-owner of the coral propagation/import/retail company, Unique Corals, the amusing (to me, anyways) comments I'd get from reefers and marine aquarium experts who came into my office (which, with it's earth tones and wood, looked nothing like what you'd expect from a reef guy, btw) and checked out the "high concept" 20 gallon blackwater tank I had there ( it was no biotope, trust me). Literally, a typical comment was like, "Umm, I think you need to change the water in there...kinda dirty, huh?"
Yeah, it's different- and of course, that doesn't define the whole concept, but it does describe it fairly accurately!
2) Many fishes come from "blackwater" habitats, and this a more appropriate environment for them.- Although many fishes, such as Tetras, cichlids, Rasbora, and Discus (a few that come to mind) are bred in typically harder, alkaline "tap water" captive conditions, I personally have yet to see one of these species which doesn't seem to look better, be healthier, and act more naturally in a blackwater environment. We've talked about this idea before, and I still believe it.
Yes, in a tremendous tinge of irony, you need to acclimate these fishes, which have traditionally been kept in more "tap water" conditions in aquairums, to softer, more acidic blackwater conditions slowly, and yes, you need to apply common sense, but I believe that the benefits for your animals will become very evident over time.
There have been some studies, which we've discussed over the years here, which indicated that materials such as catappa leaves do indeed provide some potential anti fungal/antimicrobial benefits because of the compounds they contain, but I would certainly not use this "disease prevention" thing as the sole justification for utilizing botanicals and creating blackwater systems. That is a whole lot of marketing bullshit, IMHO.
Rather, I'd make the argument that, when coupled with good overall husbandry, a well-managed blackwater aquarium can provide environment which is more consistent with that which many of the fishes we keep have evolved to live in over eons, and that this is a generally healthy way to keep them. Humic substances and other compounds released by botanicals are thought by scientists to be essential for the health of many fishes, and in blackwater aquariums, there are significant concentrations of these compounds present at all times.
Our blackwater/botanical-style aquariums cannot be called the "the best option" for many fishes- just a really good option- one worth investigating more!
3) A planted blackwater environment embraces different elements than a traditional planted aquarium does.- We get a lot of interest from hardcore planted aquarium enthusiasts! Over the past year, planted blackwater aquariums are really starting to become a "thing", and that's great! We are seeing more and more amazing planted blackwater aquariums, ranging from artistic to biotope style systems. Obviously, our style of aquarium is a bit different than the typical type of system we'd maintain plants under.
Yeah, you're not able to keep every type of aquatic plant in a blackwater tank. You'd want to research which plants specifically hail from these environments and can adapt and thrive under these conditions. The usual suspects, like Bucephalandra, Cryptocoryne, and various Swords.
There are many others, too.
4) Blackwater tanks lend themselves to amazing hardscapes.- Oh, we're back to the superficial stuff again! But hey, this IS a hobby- and it's supposed to be fun and enjoyable...and this is cool! By virtue of their unique physical attributes, botanical materials such as seed pods, leaves, and stems, can help to create some very interesting aesthetics.
Sure, you can combine them with more "traditional" materials, like wood and stones to create a really unique aesthetic experience for many hobbyists. The ability to express yourself creatively with different elements cannot be overlooked by avid aquascapers!
And, you don't HAVE to keep the water brown, you know!
There are other "intangibles" of experimenting with blackwater/botanical-style aquariums.
First off, a greater understanding of the relationship between fishes and their aquatic environment- both chemically and physically. When you're using materials which are highly "interactive" with their aquatic surroundings, like leaves and botanicals, you can use them to your advantage, and give fishes more of what we like to call "functionally aesthetic" habitats.
You'll want to research this stuff.
And speaking of environments- these types of aquariums will often make you do some research before you set one up...You know, like looking at an actual natural habitat instead of last month's "Tank of The Month"-a process that opens up your imagination- and increases your awareness about the wild habitats of our fishes, how they evolved, where they are, and the threats they face to their existence.
"Big picture" stuff... The biotope aquarium crowd knows this already; it's good that more people come to the party.
It's a big world out there...and not necessarily one that looks the way we might expect.
There are endless possibilities to research.
5) Blackwater/botanical-style aquariums almost force us to deploy patience.- This is a huge thing, as we discussed yesterday. Good stuff in aquariums never happens quickly- especially in botanical-influenced systems, where the seed pods, leaves, and other materials break down over time.
They are almost "ephemeral" in existence, gradually imparting organics, tannins, and other compounds into the water. It requires time, patience, monitoring, and attention to allow one of these systems to "evolve" to its full potential.
You can't rush it. Mind set shifts are essential.
6) You'll be in on the ground floor of a "New Botanical" movement.- Sure, people have played with seed pods, wood and leaves before, but I don't think with the mindset that we've seen lately. In other words, hobbyists who incorporate botanicals and such into their aquarium nowadays are looking at things more "holistically', embracing the natural processes, such as the breakdown of materials, accumulation of biofilms, and even the occasional spot of algae, as part of the environment to be studied and enjoyed, rather than to be loathed, feared and removed.
You'll want to experiment with the idea of volving systems to represent seasonal dynamics, niche habitats, etc. Stuff that pushes the boundaries of what is normally done in the hobby.
We're learning more about the interactions between our fishes and these unique environments, and the opportunities to share this new knowledge are endless! New types of environmental simulation are possible, with new secrets to learn!
I could probably go on for hours (I HAVE, by the way!) talking up the key "takeaways" from blackwater/botanical-style aquariums...and more natural aquariums in general. However, I think the "benefits" can best be understood by simply creating one and enjoying it; learning from Nature in an unedited manner. Watching it evolve, as it's done for eons, without over-extending our management based on "hobby-standard"purely aesthetic considerations.
We'll continue our mission of inspiring, educating, and prodding you when necessary, to take the plunge and move into new directions.
At Tannin, we've done our best to aggregate many different natural materials for you to work with to create unique biotope-inspired displays. We're constantly researching, refining, and tweaking our offering to help you enjoy different aquatic experiences!
Okay, that's the most cursory, quick list of some of the reasons why blackwater, botanical-style systems are something we feel you should be playing with in an aquarium.
Since so many of you are new here, it seems like as good a time as any to cover this stuff today!
Hopefully, this will be enough to kick you over the edge to get started...or to use as a "track" to run on to inspire others!
The endless opportunities for experimentation, creativity, expression, and education are just a few of the wonderful benefits that we will enjoy as we continue to open our eyes- and minds- to a new and very different approach to aquarium keeping.
Yeah, we dream in water.
Stay inspired. Stay creative. Stay open-minded. Stay observant. Stay patient. Stay enthralled!
And Stay Wet.
As we go deeper and deeper into the practice of natural, botanical-style aquariums, we gain a lot more confidence with them- the inevitable benefit of experience. And sometimes, experience breeds content or even complacency...and that's when we have to be careful.
Relying on natural processes and even fostering them in our aquariums, without understanding the "operating system" can lead to some bad outcomes on occasion. I mean, just because you've decided to go down the road of adding leaves, seed pods, bark, etc. to your aquarium doesn't mean that it's all "peachy" and that a successful aquarium is guaranteed.
You still have to follow the basic rules and tenants of aquarium husbandry. Just because we're playing with a different system and embracing a different look and function in our tanks doesn't mean that you can "blow off" every husbandry principle we've developed in the hobby for the past century.
If you do, it's likely that bad shit can happen.
Nature can be a rather unforgiving place.
We've discussed this many times, in regards to our hobby. Like, how if you flaunt Nature and blow off her "rules" and proceed forward without due regard for her processes, you'll get your ass handed to you. We've seen it tens of thousands of times over the years in this hobby; we'll likely see it thousands of times more in the future, too.
And it's not all bad, really.
Sometimes, the lessons learned from these misadventures- and the surprisingly easy ways to resolve them- can yield some practical, transformative results!
And, quite frankly, I've been surprised over the decades by just how many so-called "problems" can be solved in aquariums by simply NOT doing some radical moves. In fact, I've been surprised by how many things that we label as "problems" aren't really problems! For example, by enduring the "ugly" phases of a tank, by waiting out the "nasty biofilm stage" and understanding/appreciating them, by persevering in an algal bloom (after educating oneself as to what caused it to happen in the first place), etc.
Adjusting our tolerances to how much we can handle.
Now sure, some stuff needs immediate action: Disease outbreaks, heater malfunctions, aggressive fishes, etc. Other things require something not every hobbyists has in his or her "toolkit"- the ability to look beyond the immediate and understand what could have caused the situation, and to understand that the simple passage of time is a great "fix" for many things.
And a little faith.
A case in point is some of the substrate experiments with my "Urban Igapo" idea that I've shared with you over the past several months. This is stuff I've been working on for years, and it's gotten to the point where I just have taught myself to expect certain things to happen, and to understand that they will pass or change over time if I leave things alone. It's about looking at things differently and not letting our biases or the 'burden" of past experiences taint our outlook...
For example, the substrate formulations I've developed (which will be released under the product name "Nature Base Igapo" and "Nature Base Varzea", btw) are designed to be part of a "process"- perhaps even a "technique", of taking a tank through various phases: A dry "terrestrial phase", then a gradual inundation period, then a fully aquatic phase, and then a drying phase again. It's a different way of doing a tank- and a different set of characteristics and expectations accompany it.
Since a lot of you ask...It's taking so damn long to release it as a product because we want to make sure to develop a good, reproducible technique and process...to be able to educate you and let you understand what to expect when you use the stuff. And that process takes time. It's not about rushing out a product to make a quick profit.
And I'm not worried about someone "stealing our idea", because they can't. They haven't the body of research, repeated testing, mimd-set, experience, and tortuous attention to process that we have. They'd just be selling dirt in a bag. When we release "Nature Base" later this year (finally), you'll have a complete understanding of how to use it, what to expect from it, etc.
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
Because we've used the stuff repeatedly. For a long time.
In the mean time, I'll tell you that the most important thing you'll need when you use the stuff is understanding... A mental "buy-in" to a process which goes against most of what we expect from aquarium products. That doesn't come with a bag of dirt, no matter how col the packaging is- trust me.
When you initially wet a substrate consisting of soil, clays, and sediments, you realize that you're going to get horrifically turbid, cloudy water.
It can last for a week or more.
And that's okay..
Because you need to go into working with this material understanding that it's not intended to look or function like a normal aquarium sand. That's not what it's about. You don't rinse the stuff. You don't fill the tank 100% from day one out of the package.
It involves process. Patience. And the passage of time.
You gradually, slowly saturate it, sprout terrestrial plant seeds, and then begin a slow process of raising the water level. You don't direct filter returns into it (if you're using one at all), or it will make the water even cloudier! At this phase, you're likely not to even use it on a large tank, because it's easier to control in a smaller tank.
Hell, you're not going to use the stuff to create a "typical" aquarium in the first place! It's so important to understand the "how and why's" of specialized aquariums when we embark on these journeys.
However, the point of discussing this stuff is that it's an example of a "process" that requires not only a different outlook, but a mental "buy-in" to a system of doing things for a reason. Sure, you could skirt the "rules", fill a tank with water 100% from day one, and have a "supercloud" of sediments and mud for untold weeks or months. Nature will simply adjust the initial outcome.
Either you'll fix it, or you'll leave it alone and let Nature "sort it out" herself!
Either way, Nature eventually sorts it out.
Again, this mindset of "zen-like patience" and confidence in Nature "figuring shit out" is but one way of looking at and managing things- and it's not for everyone. Control freaks and obsessive "tinkerers" need not apply.
And, quite honestly, it's not really necessary all the time. The "workaround" is to understand what you're doing, what could happen, WHY it happens, and what the upside/downside of rapidly "correcting it" can be. The key, typically, as with most things in the aquarium world, is to simply be patient.
Despite our best efforts to "fix" stuff- Nature almost always "sorts it out"- and does it way better than we can.
Think about the bane of most hobbyists' existence- So-called "nuisance algae."
It's a "nuisance" to us because it looks like shit. It derails our dreams of a pristine aquarium filled with spotless plants, rocks, coral, etc. Despite all of the knowledge we have about age being fundamental for life on earth, it bothers the shit out of us because it looks bad.
And collectively as hobbyists, we freak the fuck out about it when it appears. We panic; do stupid things to get rid of it as quickly as possible. We address its appearance in our tanks. Seldom do we make the effort to understand why it appeared in the first place and to address the circumstances which caused it. And of course, in our haste to rid our tanks of it, we often fail to take into account how it actually grows.
Algae will ultimately exhaust the available excess nutrients which caused it to appear in the first place, if you take steps to eliminate "re-supplying" them, and if you wait for it to literally "run its course" after these issues have been addressed.
We've seen this in the reef aquarium world for a generation now. It almost always passes- once we address the root cause and allow it to play out on Nature's time frame.
Of course, as reefers, we want stuff to happen fast, so hundreds of products, ranging from additives to filter media, and exotic techniques, such as dosing chemicals, etc. have been developed to destroy algae. We throw lots of money and product at this "problem", when the real key would have been to address what causes it in the first place, and to work with that.
Yeah, the irony is that algae is the basis of all life. In a reef tank (or freshwater tank) it's a necessary component of the ecosystem. And reefers will often choose the quick fix, to eradicate it instead of looking at the typical root causes- low quality source water (which would require investing in an RO/DI unit to solve), excess nutrients caused by overfeeding/overcrowding, or poor husbandry (all of which need to be addressed to be successful in the hobby, always...), or simply the influx of a large quantity of life forms (like fresh "live rock", corals, fishes, etc...) into a brand new tank with insufficient biological nutrient export mechanisms evolve to handle it.
And often, a "quick kill" upsets the biological balance of the tank, throwing it into a further round of chaos which takes...longer to sort itself out!
Once these things are understood, and the root causes addressed, the best and most successful way to resolve the algae issue long-term is often to simply be patient and wait it out.
Wait for Nature to adjust on her terms. On her time frame.
She seeks a balance.
So, it's really about making the effort to understand stuff.
To "buy in" to a process.
To have reasonable expectations of how things work, based on the way Nature handles stuff- not on our desire to have an "#instafamous" aquascape filled with natural-looking, broken-in botanicals two weeks after the tank is first set up, or whatever. Realizing that the key ingredients in a successful hobby experience are usually NOT lots of money and gear- they're education, understanding, and technique, coupled with a healthy dose of patience and observation.
Doing things differently requires a different mental approach.
We work with Nature by attempting to understand her.
Nature will typically "sort stuff out" if we make the effort to understand the processes behind her "work", and if we allow her to do it on HER time frame, not ours. Again, intervention is sometimes required on our part to address urgent matters, like disease, poisoning, etc.in closed systems. However, for many aquarium issues, simply educating ourselves well in advance, having proper expectations about what will happen, and (above all) being patient while Nature "works the issues" is the real "cure.
So yeah, in our world, it's never a bad idea to let Nature "sort it out."
She's done a pretty good job for billions of years. No sense in bailing out on her now, right?
People ask me why I cringe when I see commercial brands, hobby groups, etc. make prosaic statements like, "We're inspired by Nature" or "We seek to replicate Nature", etc. in their marketing. It's not because I think I'm all bad ass and they're all stupid. Of course not. It's because touting the "look" of Nature without accepting and understanding the processes she embraces to achieve them is really only half the story.
"Sanitzing" and 'editing" Nature to ignore or bypass the parts that we find "offensive" somehow is missing the whole point.
I'm not saying that we all need to achieve PhD's in biology to "appreciate" Nature. I'm merely saying that we need to really make the effort to understand natural processes more. It's something that will yield enormous benefits to us as aquarium hobbyists.
We simply need to push ourselves a bit harder than just buying into some marketing hyperbole. We need to look at Nature as it really is.
Without accepting all of the stuff that we as aquarists think is "ugly"- you know, biofilms, tinted water, decomposition, algal patinas, etc., we simply deny ourselves the opportunity to truly understand and appreciate her wonder. To learn how she really works- and how to truly work with her.
These are things that require a mental shift- a "buy-in" to her process.
Work WITH her, not against her.
Trust me- it'll change your hobby experience for the better. Forever.
Stay observant. Stay studious. Stay patient. Stay diligent. Stay open...
And Stay Wet.