Rethinking the unthinkable?

Yes, the holiday season is upon us. Time to think about others, purchase gifts, spend time with family, and all that good stuff. And for an aquarium hobbyist, it's that time of year to spend a little more time looking at your tanks, dreaming, thinking, scheming. And If necessary, making changes? 

Yeah, why not? These are the "indoor months" for many of us- a good time to re-assess where our tanks are, where they're headed, and what our goals are for them.

When is it time to revamp your tank? When is it time to tear down your tank and just start over? Or take a break form the whole game? Is it EVER that time? 

If you’ve been in the hobby long enough, chances are, you’ll eventually reach that day where you look at your aquarium and think, “I just don’t think it’s working for me anymore…” Your system has some problems, issues, or even major design flaws that are simply overriding any enjoyment that you are deriving from the tank. You contemplate a major overhaul, or tearing the tank down altogether…You’ve tried to work with it, but you can’t anymore…You’re even ready to consider the “nuclear option.”

Is it the end? Or the beginning?

What are the signs that it’s time to do a major overhaul, or break the tank down and start over?

Algae is growing faster than your plants. Or your fishes, for that matter! Yup, we’ve all been there. Despite our best efforts, we simply cannot overcome an algae issue. Even though almost every algae issue is solvable, based often on some nutrient-export-related deficiency, there is a point when the recovery procedures become just too much, and you’re better off breaking down the system, giving it a thorough cleaning, and rebuilding aspects of the system with greater attention to nutrient export mechanisms (like a better filter, more efficient flow, sump design, etc.). Algae problems are annoying, detracting, and often times humbling. However, they are very traceable to a cause, or set of causes- that may be corrected. Sometimes, it's just a matter of adjusting husbandry practices. Other times, overhauling your system to create a better, more viable microcosm is the way to go. It's been said that nuisance algae causes more people to leave the hobby than just about anything else. It's certainly annoying, but it's not worth getting out of the game altogether, in my humble opinion. Test, tweak, and revamp. But never quit.

"Going green" takes on a different meaning to you when you wake up to this every day!

Continued anomalous livestock deaths. Okay, this is a tough one, but maybe you’re noticing a complete decline in your ability to keep animals alive. You introduce new fish, and they flat-out die shortly afterwards. Weird stuff like that. Now, I realize that, in many instances, regular deaths of newly introduced livestock can be a result of everything from incompetence to aggression, to a resident disease or other killer, and may not be the result of the system itself. Sometimes, a parasitic disease just requires a "fallow" period without fishes for a couple of months to break the cycle. However, if after a top to bottom review of everything from source water to acclimation procedures to photoperiod, you’re still at a loss to find out why things are dying, despite your heroic, seasoned efforts- it simply may be time to re-assess your setup itself…radical, but possibly the best alternative. A “re-boot” can work well in this instance, at least psychologically, if not practically.

Dissatisfaction with your overall design. Who doesn’t buy a car and have remorse, perform a home remodel and wish that they added more closet space, or order the pasta when they should have ordered the fish? It’s human nature. If your just miserable with your aquarium system, and it’s not living up to your expectations, of course you should rework it. Take into account the little things that annoy you about your present system: It’s too big, too small, has difficult access or maintenance issues, is hard to take care of when you travel, etc. However, if “retrofitting” is not going to get you the desired result, a complete rehab is a viable option. Other sources of dissatisfaction might be a design that is hard to work in (i.e.; you can't get your hands under the stand area to service the filter), lack of practical electrical outlets, or a location in your home that is interfering with daily living. And noise.  All sorts of noise. All important considerations that may be overlooked in the initial excitement of setting up a new tank, and the "honeymoon" period that follows. 

"Back to the drawing board"- aquarium-keeping style!

Your aquascaping is just not doing it for you.  This can actually be a very pleasant weekend task! You may find that you simply need to remove some rock, wood, or plants to create more “negative space”, better circulation, or a totally different look. Maybe you’re trying to create a biotope, replicating a specific section of natural stream, river, or lake. Maybe you are interested in creating a more minimalist approach..The possibilities are endless, and since you already have the “infrastructure” (ie; pumps, lights, etc.) in place, why not just rework what you already have?

You're nursing outdated, damaged, or otherwise inappropriate equipment. If that power filter from the 1990’s is turning into a liability for you (of course it is!), and that small crack in the bottom of the tank is starting to weep hard-water "stalactites", or the drywall behind the tank is starting to get soft and "mildewy", it may be time to start fresh. In fact, this is a good time to re-assess your hobby goals, and start accumulating more appropriate, more modern equipment. Sure, this is the most expensive option- total replacement, but it’s also potentially the most beneficial. Why? Well, first of all, you can create a system with wonderful technology that meets all of your new hobby views and tastes. Second, it gives you an added measure of safety, replacing potentially dangerous equipment that has fallen into disrepair, and finally, it enables you to take a deep breath, with a completely new, re-engaging approach to your hobby. Its never a bad thing to start over if the reasoning is right!

Your aquarium is becoming an economic drain or other social liability. Look, I love fish tanks more than almost anything, but sometimes we bite off more than we can chew. Your financial situation can change, you may have a growing family or career commitment that requires more time and money, you have a health issue, you creep out potential dates because your aquarium is nicer than your car, or you might simply need a smaller, more manageable tank in order to stay in the hobby long-term. These are never bad reasons to make changes. Downsizing to a system that better fits your life enables you to enjoy a hobby- not be a tank slave to a system that is taxing you financially, physically, and socially. Your hobby should be a pleasant diversion, not a source of tension between you and your family. Needs and interests change over time. If you're a REAL aquarist- and I suspect that you are- you will return, better and more engaged than ever. Sometimes, taking a “sabbatical” from the hobby is not a bad thing, either. When you return, it will be for all of the right reasons, and free from the tensions caused by not having the time, money, or physical resources to fully enjoy your hobby.

This hobby isn't supposed to be a financial drain! (says this erstwhile aquarium products vendor, LOL) But, seriously...

In the end, a hobby is meant to be enjoyable, and the aquarium hobby, in particular, is also a lifestyle- a way of looking at the world, and an educational resource for your family. When it becomes not-so-fun anymore, that’s when you need to step back, re-assess, and regroup. Just like in life, it’s never a bad thing to make the occasional change. As long as you are not doing it for the wrong reasons (you HAVE to have the very latest gear all the time to impress everyone, your ego tells you that you need a huge aquarium to be bigger than anyone else’s in your club, or you feel that you're not a “serious” aquarist unless you constantly re-work your system), it’s never bad to evolve, experiment, change. In fact, tweaking your system is not only a pleasant part of the hobby, it’s what the hobby is all about- experimenting, playing, and constantly finding new ways to enjoy this engaging, obsessive game we call “aquarium-keeping.”

As always, I'd like to see you add to this list, debate it, discuss it, and beat the heck out of it, if necessary...ENGAGE!

Until next time…

Stay happy. Stay enthusiastic. Stay involved...

And Stay wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment