A few simple thoughts on complexity!

I think I might be like a lot of fish geeks…I tend to dwell on really obscure minutiae. I mean, stuff that really, in the grand scheme of things, may not be that important. You know, really obsessing on the kind of plastic tubing I'm using on a pump return, or the origin of that wood we're using in that new aquascape.

Oh, and I make simple stuff really complicated.


Although my lack of ability to do detailed work has always been a sort of problem for me, in the aquarium world, details are like, really important to me. Strange contrast with my working life...

I recall back in college, I was fortunate enough to land an internship in one of the hottest advertising agencies in Los Angeles- or the world, for that matter, at the time. As an intern, I spent time in a few different departments, even though I was “hired” for my alleged copywriting skills.

One of the departments I was relegated to was called the “Traffic” department (yeah, even the name sounded challenging), where all of the media buying, scheduling, and seemingly mundane (to a wannabe young copywriter, anyways) and intricately detailed work was done. Translation- boring stuff. I remember “serving my time" in that department (yeah, that’s what my fellow interns and I called it) under a pretty crochety old advertising exec, who sort of loved and hated me at once. Loved my New Wave haircut and styling, but thought I was a bit "out there" in the idea department...However, she’d dispense the occasional nugget of ad-biz wisdom, followed by a verbal “backslap” for failing to follow her byzantine record-keeping system. Once of the best pieces of advice she ever gave me was, literally:

Don’t ever work in this department..you tend to get lost in the details…”

I never forgot that, BTW. I never do ridiculously detailed work...at least not well. And it was a true summation of me as an aquarist too! Who would have known?

Fast forward some decades...

Like right now- I’m working with an "all in one"-type aquarium- you know, built in filter chamber, integrated pump, etc...probably the simplest tank I’ve ever worked on. Like, no real major equipment decisions to work on.

It's turnkey. Off the shelf. Simple.

I love this tank.

The innovative Marine "Fusion Lagoon 50." Simple and "idiot proof." Or so they thought!

Of course, it gets a bit more "complex" and geeky from there.

Not wanting to keep it totally “stock”, being the ridiculous reefer that I am, I decided to change out the more-than-capable, yet noisy and generic main system pump on this all-in-one tank for a more sexy and reliable Eheim. 

And most reefers (and freshwater aquarists, too), myself included- operate on two premises:

1) Why keep it stock when you can modify the crap out of something "just because?"

2) You should be able to put something together and get it working without referring to the instructions.

So, carrying on the time honored (aquarium-keeping) tradition of making the simple well... ridiculous, actually-and being susceptible to manipulation by my enabling reef-keeping buddies- I plotted and schemed my "simple" tank.

And of course, the connections on the return are totally different than those on the outlet to this pump, and I don’t want to start drilling out bulkheads and such..so I needed to get some more plumbing parts to adapt this square peg into a round home…Some $40 in fittings and two weeks later, there we were- an overbuilt, needlessly complicated, decidedly ridiculous monument to aquarium-keeping absurdity!

Okay, you get it. And I haven’t even talked to you about how I selected an auto topoff system yet…

An auto top-off system? Me? Scott-freaking-Fellman?


It’s the aquarist's "curse."

You're in this game long enough, you just want to do everything some other way, right? Possibly, even the “hard way”, right? And again, I think it’s a product of our “culture” in the hobby.

Another phenomenon- and this did not happen to me this time- but I know literally a half dozen hobbyists who did this: You start working on a cool system, accumulating gear, parts, and big ideas...Suddenly, three months into the project, you completely abandon it for a scaled-up, three-times-as-complicated, twice as expensive, high-concept tank.

Sound familiar? Done this before? If not, you know a reefer who has. Guaranteed.

The "aquarist's curse", indeed.

For some hobbyists, it’s a big part of what they love: Setting up aquarium automation, designing and building complex auto top-off systems, wavemakers, etc. Yeah, a lot of people just love that stuff…And part of me totally gets that.

I mean, yeah, I’m a lot more interested in watching my fishes and seeing them thrive and grow in my aquariums than I am at setting up 43 different lighting settings from my iPhone, (as I recently did, lol).

However, I really can’t fault those who do.

I mean, where would we be in the hobby without these bold experimental types? Besides, I love trying to adapt 6 plumbing parts to do the work of 2.

Although I know my limits...I think.

I’m almost operating "at capacity" when just setting up my lighting (don’t even get me started- that’s a whole different topic for another day..). Regardless of my challenges, I’ll occasionally come up with an idea just hair-brained enough to be considered rather intelligent, like my "hide-the-cannister-filter-in-a-basket" thing...(notice I didn’t use “brilliant” in any way, shape, or form..?).

Of course, many of these "ideas"  we come up with generally involve the unintended expenditure of large quantities of money and time.


I just find that, as aquarists, we tend to get really into intricate detail on like…well, EVERYTHING! Like, we can’t just feed our corals and our fishes…We have to utilize automatic feeding and dosing systems. We can’t just put a siphon hose in the tank and drain the water into a bucket like our grandparents did...

Nope- we need to develop an automated water changing system, which makes an easy task more complicated by adding in the risk of technical failure (you think that spilling a little water on your feet with a siphon hose sucks, imagine draining your whole tank..into your garage or basement…I know at least two people who managed to accomplish this with their fancy systems…amazing insurance claims)!

And even with this "botanical stuff", we tend to make it a bit more "procedural" and...well, "complicated", right? I mean, we can't just throw these things into our aquariums...we had to develop "preparation" technique.

Of course, planted aquarium people are serious lovers of making simple stuff complicated, too- right? 

That stuff is every bit as confusing as any reef tank I've ever owned.

The "Aquarist's Curse."

I've got it.

You've got it.

And, quite frankly, if you say you don't, you're lying. Because you own an aquarium, not a goldfish bowl. Yeah, by virtue of the fact that you own an aquarium, you've you've kind of submitted yourself to this absurd condition.

So, I guess it's not really that bad. At least, it's not bad because we don't suffer in isolation, right?

I've enjoyed sharing the many absurdities of what should have been a really simple build with my brackish water aquarium...but it did get a bit more complicated once it got underway...Seems like it's always that way when you're trying to keep something "simple" in this hobby, right?


Toss that one out the window. I have to figure out how I'm gonna hang my lighting system now...

Time for a confession...tell me you're cursed...admit it. Embrace it.

Share your stories.

Laugh at yourself. Love yourself, your community, and what you do.

You're cursed, yeah. But you're not alone. You're an aquarist.

Stay focused. Stay enthusiastic. Stay committed.

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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