It's okay to make a little mess sometimes. It can lead to something beautiful and cool.

It's very interesting to see the idea of botanical-style, blackwater aquariums starting  to take root in the hobby. The once-obscure, largely misunderstood idea of creating biologically diverse blackwater aquariums by utilizing leaves and other botanical materials is gaining acceptance rapidly. 

In fact, we're really amused at the use of the term "botanicals" to describe...well, botanicals- when the previous descriptor for these materials collectively was- well, there wasn't one! Now, as we've said repeatedly over the years, no single person or company "invented" the concept of tossing these materials into the aquarium tocrate a certain aesthetic and/or environmental impact. 

We have been asked by so many if we "invented" the idea, which is both flattering and frightening at the same time, lol. And of course we didn't invent the idea. What we DID do is study, curate, and elevate the use of these materials. We've attempted to go beyond just grabbing "a little of this and a bit of that" to toss into our tanks. Really, sort of creating a little world of our own around this stuff, which is part of our  "creation story" here.

Perhaps the most rewarding thing to me as a fish geek and business owner is that so many of you are interested in some of the same stuff that I am- or at least, curious about it...and you've found that Tannin is a sort of "home" for your interest! We've developed a little "tribe", if you will, of original thinkers, tinkerers, innovators, and rebels. Everyday aquarists with big ideas and a love for all things aquatic.

I love that!

I love the idea of decaying leaves, botanicals, wood. I love the influence that these materials have over the aquatic environment. It's earthy, organic, and natural, in both aesthetics and function. 

It does sound a bit strange, I admit, musing and waxing poetic about this stuff, but embracing it and studying the way many of the natural environments which some of our most popular tropical aquarium fishes hail from inspired me immensely to experiment. After a lifetime of fish keeping, I developed an interest in more accurately portraying these unique environments.

I began wondering why these types of tanks were seen as a novelty; why every "blackwater biotope" tank shown on the forums was greeted with both accolades for being different, and polite, but reserved discussion about the aesthetics being a bit "odd."

You know, those sort of "hushed whispers" normally reserved for things that most don't approve of, or even taker pity upon! 

And of course, the fact that the aquarium world, by and large, questioned the look and performance of this type of aquarium became an irresistible inspiration for me to experiment!

And it wasn't just because I was drawn to the look, feel, function, diversity, and dynamic of the leaf litter, blackwater stream environment.

It was because I knew, almost instinctively, that this seemingly random, messy, and sometimes "transitory" environmental niche has potential to change the way we keep and breed many fishes. This "New Botanical- Style" aquarium is an aesthetic, a research project, and a mindset, all rolled into one.

And everyone can contribute to this interesting area of aquatic practice!

And we are really excited about the increasing interest and momentum in the area of brackish-water, botanical-style aquariums. We're seeing a lot of cool stuff starting to come out of  our "Estuary" line, and the future is exciting in that arena, too, as we collectively start to redefine what a brackish-water aquarium is all about!

Every aquarium that is shared.

Every idea that is thought about and executed. Every "anomalous spawning event." All of these things contribute to the " body of work" of the botanical-style aquarium. 

And I love the fact that this approach is still seen as somewhat "contrarian" to the more conventional aquarium interpretation of a "natural" aquarium, despite the growing global popularity. I'm fascinated by the "mental adjustments" that we need to make to accept the aesthetic and the processes of natural decay, fungal growth, the appearance of biofilms, and how these affect what's occurring in the aquarium.

I love the fact that it needs to be managed; it's not a static, "set-and-forget-", aquascaping-contest-type of aquarium. It's every bit as dynamic as a "traditional" high-tech, or so-called "natural-style" aquarium. You need to monitor, observe, react, tweak, etc. Bioload, pH, temperature, and other environmental parameters dance together to make it work...just like any other aquarium.

If done in a haphazard, careless  fashion, without an eye towards long-term functionality, an aquarium set up in the "New Botanical-style"gradually falls away into a sort of..."mess."

And that might not necessarily be a "bad" thing, either!

I've learned what many of you have over your fish keeping careers: The occasional "mess" is- or often leads to -something beautiful, functional, permanent, and utterly engrossing. So the term "mess", as we might commonly use it, should not be viewed as negative. It's more of a "transition", IMHO! "Mess" is actually a vehicle to propel us in different aquascaping directions.

A reflection on what nature really looks like!

And making those mental adjustments along the way is a healthy, normal part of the art of aquarium keeping. It has been forever...Since we've started Tannin three years ago, many hobbyists have shared their cool aquatic displays and aquascaping projects with us. Projects which reflect your individual taste, skill, and the merging of aesthetics and natural processes.

We love that!

Some are traditional concepts with a few new twists (awesome planted tanks, or more natural-looking African stream biotopes, for example), some are the embodiment of ideas we don't see enough of (like ripariums, vivariums, and paludariums). Still others are experimental, off-the-wall concepts that inspire, educate, and delight.

I love that the real possibility of making a "mess" exists at every turn when we as hobbyists try something new and different. As we've talked about previously, a "mess" in this sense, although occasionally tragic, usually just means that the original idea didn't work "as conceptualized"; that further enhancement, modification, and iteration is required. Or perhaps, nature "edited" the idea into a format that functions better for the longer term...Perhaps different than you originally thought about, but way better.

Maybe it changed. Maybe it differed from your original expectations...But it was likely for the better...

Yeah, it got a bit "messy."

And that's okay. It's part of the game. 

It's okay to make a little "mess" sometimes. It can lead to something beautiful.

Today's simple, but important-to-grasp idea.

Stay excited. Stay innovative. Stay curious. Stay open-minded. Stay creative...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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