Aquarium gadgets that have withstood the test of time

Ever think about how the hobby has changed, yet how we still hang on to some old stuff?

Yeah, there are a bunch of low-tech wonders from the past that have transformed our hobby, while transcending time and defying more modern technology. Clever, crafty, defiant, and yet, useful things that are the literal “tools of the trade.” A chef has his knives, a carpenter his tools…We have these beauties. Here's my tribute to the simple, elegant stuff. Where would the modern hobby be without:

The nylon fish net- I mean, there was a time, many years ago, when all you could get were cotton fish nets. With rusted-out metal handles. Nasty, icky musty fish nets were somewhat common.Yes, the nylon fish net predates most of us, but it’s just one of those things we take for granted as having always been around. Ironically, the wooden-framed ones are considered better quality than the twisted, coated wire ones. Low tech rules! The newer ones that supposedly “blend in the water” so that fish don’t see them seem like a good idea to me…But I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a time when a fish “didn’t see” the net as it’s coming after them, nylon, plastic, or otherwise. Well, thank goodness for quality fish nets, regardless.


Plastic airline tubing- This stuff is the duct tape of aquarium keeping- I mean, yeah, lots of hobbyists use it for pumping air into aquariums, but its so much more versatile. We use it for things like creating drip acclimation lines (hardcore users start a little siphon and then i.e. a knot with it to start a slow drip). I’ve seen it used for tying stuff together, making extensions on plastic syringes to act as an ITFD (“improvised target feeding device”), and many other uses. A serious invention that’s stood the test of time!

The airstone- Wooden, ceramic, or plastic, this invention dates back to the 1940’s-50’s and has been a fixture in the aquarium hobby to this day. This humble pice of technology, simple though it may be, is a cornerstone of modern aquaristic practice. An easy, elegant way to deliver aeration to an aquarium, it’s been used for decades with reliable efficiency. Sure, some of the plastic and wooden airstones are prone to clogging from time to time, but the ceramic ones, which have changed very little in like half a century, are pretty darned reliable. Weather you’re using them to aerate a tank, hatch brine shrimp, power a protein skimmer, or provide aeration in a temporary holding container, the airstone is without peer in the world of aquarium supplies.



The plastic specimen container- Omigod, this is like the standard-issue piece of fish equipment. It’s transcended everything from Goldfish keeping to reef keeping. You’ll find specimen containers being used at every level. I’ve used them to acclimate corals, treat sick fishes, hold baby guppies, hatch brine shrimp, mix salt- I mean, there’s hardly a fish room task that the decidedly low tech specimen container is not up for. It’s totally future proof, too, right? How does a box to hold water go out of style? I don’t think the design has changed in like 50years. I vaguely recall an experiment where I directed water flow into one from my reef tank, grew Caulerpa inside, along with some sand and (I don’t recall why) snails-and let the water flow back into my reef. This was like 1987, and it was my crude attempt at an “algae scrubber”, or perhaps I invented the modern refugium..Yeah, that’s it! If Al Gore invented the internet, I invited the ‘fuge! OK, in my head, anyways…(the modern refugium concept predated my crude idea by years…but a guy can dream, right?). And of course, it’s the ultimate kill fry rearing tank, too!



The algae scraper- Woah…Freshwater, saltwater, brackish- whatever. Hobbyists of every age, experience, and generation have come to hate algae on the sides of our aquariums. It’s a nemesis like no other, defiling our tanks, frustrating us, and causing hobby havoc. I know people that left the fish hobby because of film algae. It’s hated stuff in our world. A constant battle we must fight. Along came the algae scraper..and the battle was joined. Originally, just a piece of sponge on a stick, the algae scraper has evolved from humble stone axe to high-tech, synthetic wonder. You have plastic scraping blades, razors, dense matrix synthetic plastics, and other types of scrapers of varying composition and effectiveness. We have ergonomic plastic handles, replaceable scraping surfaces…We even have the ultimate evolution- to the algae cleaning magnet, equipped with replaceable, high tech synthetic pads to both polish your outside surfaces while attacking this dreaded pestilence- all while keeping your hand dry. The stick may be gone, but the goal is the same: Cleaning viewing areas without getting our hands wet. 

So there you have just a few of the most humble, yet useful tools of all time. Sure, we have electronic controllers, LED’s, high-tech pumps, dowers, and other gadgets, many of which I couldn’t even figure out how to use (like electronic leveling devices…scary). However, these simple throwbacks, derived from need and function, comprise part of the legacy of our hobby’s “greatest generation”- that time when if you needed something, you’d cobble it together, because there was no online vendors or Google, or even Twitter (oh, had to get my dig in.)…Can you imagine, having to DIY stuff? Oh war, we still do DIY…Thank goodness THAT hasn’t changed! Only difference is that these things end up in our Facebook news feed (“Look, I repurposed my toothbrush into a protein skimmer changer!” Like. Whatever.)

I submit to you that few aquarium writers of my generation have written columns on specimen containers and the joys of plastic airline tubing,- and none threw together a piece on said subjects at 4:30 AM PDT), so I open myself up to the scrutiny of my peers for my choices, and challenge you to add to my humble tribute list.

What humble, generation-spanning aquarium inventions do you find indispensable, and still relevant? Don’t be shy- it’s the chance to wax poetic about the relics from a gentler, kinder time, when frozen food still got freezer burn, and there was only one choice for water testing (a pool pH test kit)…We owe it to these devices to pay tribute. Heck, we owe it to our children, to pass this tribal knowledge on, so that future generations of hobbyists can appreciate the efforts of the nameless hobbyists who helped build our culture.

Ok, that was really prosaic. Just share what gadgets from the past you still use. Simple. Extra points for pics of old, repurposed gear, too.

As always, look back with pride, look forward with hope, and look at the present on your iPad.


Stay wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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