A more enlightened way...

Over the past three years that we've been in operation at Tannin Aquatics, I've certainly noticed a few "trends", and most of them are pretty cool! 

And some of them are kind of "cyclical" in nature. We've seen them before, sort of.

One of the most interesting things I've seen is the philosophical "evolution" of many of our customers and members of our community. Perhaps the most unique aspect of what we do with botanical-style, blackwater aquarium is to allow nature to do a lot of the heavy lifting.

Despite a lot of discussion and marketing and such over the past decade or so, I think we somehow "edited" in our minds what a really "natural" aquarium is. I think that, in our effort to foster some natural processes, such as plant growth or whatever, we've pushed things in a direction that actually fought nature a bit.

I almost think that the aquarium world has a sort of cyclical nature, where we jump on the latest technology and trends to help enhance what nature has been doing all along. Nothing wrong with the tech and advancements...it's just that understanding and appreciating the fundamentals of the hobby- and the natural world- can yield the same results.

It just is a lot less sexy and requires...patience.

Yet, I think the pendulum is swinging back a bit. Not "digressing", mind you. Just switching back to a more accepting approach; taking our hands off just a bit. Once again realizing that nature knows best. Understanding that we can use technology to work with nature. 

We're realizing that nature has been doing this stuff for billions of years longer than we have, and she has some damn good ideas on how to run things!

Rather than fighting processes like decomposition, formation of detritus, and biological diversity, we seem to be spending much more energy setting the stage for natural processes to occur. And our fishes and other aquatic animals are really benefiting from this.

Once again, just as aquarists did since the dawn of the modern age of fish keeping,  we've been thinking of an aquarium as a place to grow stuff- and we're looking at the whole aquarium as a "microcosm" of nature.

A living, breathing, growing entity.


I saw a compressed version of this century-long evolution of freshwater aquaristics during the rise of the reef aquarium hobby, which really started to take off in the mid 1980's. For the longest time, we were happy to just keep a box full of fishes and maybe a few tough invertebrates alive. Then, we evolved up to trying to house them long term. Experiments with new technology and technique resulted in the birth of the modern reef system, with robust filtration, lighting, and studious analysis of water chemistry. The emphasis was on providing a great environment for the corals and inverts, so that they can thrive and reproduce.

Within the past 10 years in the reef hobby, we've went from a doctrine of "You should have undectable nitrates and phosphates in your reef aquarium because natural reefs are virtual nutrient deserts!" to "You need to have a balance between too much and too little." We've come to understand that reef aquariums- like any type of aquarium- are truly biological "microcosms", which encompass a vast array of life forms, including not just fishes, corals, and invertebrates, but macro algae, benthic animals (like worms, copepods, and amphipods), planktonic life, and more.

Reefers came to understand- as freshwater pioneers did generations before- that just because a reef has "undetectable" levels of phosphates and nitrates in the waters surrounding it, our aquariums don't have to run that way. Corals need nutrients and food, and an aquarium is not a natural reef; an open system with uncounted millions of gallons of water passing through it hourly.

And in recent years, with the explosion of gadgets and internet-enabled "hacks", reefkeeping has gone a bit the other way- heading into that "technology can do everything" phase that the freshwater world did decades ago. Needlessly (IMHO) complicating things in order to foster results that can be achieved by embracing natural processes...They simply take longer than if you apply all the gadgets  additives, and tech to the process- but nature will find the way to get where she wants to go- with or without all the gadgets we employ.

Guess what? I think that things will swing back again!

And, gaining further understanding of dynamic aquatic habitats, such as the igapo flooded forest floors of South America, serves to enhance the "state of the art" of our segment of the hobby by looking good and hard at nature, not just the next gadget! 

And, like the freshwater world has done, I believe that the reef keeping world will end up "pulling back" a bit from a compete reliance on gadgets and tech, and put more emphasis on learning how natural systems work once again, and how they can be replicated in aquariums. 

We can use technology to embrace natural processes...not to fight them, circumvent them, and "supersede" them.

We've begun to understand that it's not all about creating the most scrupulously clean environment possible for the animals under our care- it's about maintaining the best possible dynamic for their overall health, growth, longevity, and hopefully- reproduction. Creating and fostering processes and conditions that create a biological balance within our little (or not so little) glass and acrylic boxes we call "aquariums."

Today's aquarist can appreciate the elegance in the complete aquatic ecosystem, from the most beautiful fish to the lowest bacterial life form, and everything in between. When we strive to understand, embrace, and replicate natural systems in our aquaria, we are truly embarking on a more enlightened way of aquarium keeping.

And guess what? You, with your tank full of leaves, wood, water, and life- are doing just that.

Every day.

Stay bold. Stay studious. Stay intrigued. Stay diligent. Stay patient...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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