A new "dark age?"

As the end of another year approaches, and the holidays near, it's kind of fun to look back on where we've been- and where we're headed. It has been an eventful year, filled with a lot of interesting discoveries, experiences, and amazing work by our global community.

Botanical-style, blackwater aquairums have literally fostered a new "Dark Age!"

And it started with some simple mindset shifts...

As a "student" of aquarium hobby "culture", I'm fascinated by the attitudes we develop in the hobby. By what is popular, unpopular, "trendy", disliked, and considered "off-limits." Now, stuff changes over time, but in the short run, it often seems like nothing changes...

Sometimes, you need to step back a bit to really see what has changed or evolved.

Yes, if you've been in the hobby long enough, you start noticing how things truly evolve over the years, and how easily we get "comfortable" doing stuff that, less than a decade before was considered "risky", "non-sustainable", or downright dangerous.

The reality, all along, is that it was none of those things. It was simply different.

I think so much of it starts with making mental shifts and appreciating the challenges associated with doing stuff slightly different than we have in the past. In other words- simply trying. It seems like there is a certain audacity to doing stuff fundamentally differently than we have in the past; call it what you will- but it's that simple, really. 

And it's about getting out of our "comfort zones."

It's like someone has to be first...to take the chances; to endure the criticisms. To prove that yes- this can be done...and maintained for extended periods of time. Taking a position and trying to make stuff work, despite prevailing hobby thinking, is pretty cool. And of course, it's important to have the humility to accept failure if it comes your way when your idea doesn't work- that's a win for the hobby to.

A great quote attributed to Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric light bulb, comes to mind, “I haven't failed,I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”

Yeah. That's applicable here!

And, when things DO work-well...

I was chatting with a fellow hobbyist the other day, and we were sort of looking where we are as a hobby, and how our little speciality niche has really caught the eye of more and more so-called "mainstream" adherents in the aquarium hobby. And more important- how more and more hobbyists are "letting go" of ways of thinking which have helped maintain a certain "status quo" and fear of straying off the well-trodden path for far too long, in my opinion.

As you realize by now, for years, playing with blackwater, lower pH, and decomposing botanical materials was considered an extremely risky, irresponsible, and non-long-term-viable approach to keeping aquariums by many hobby pundits. It still is, in many corners...A fair number of hobbyists still consider this a novelty and a "stunt", if you will, as opposed to a bonafide approach.

And yet, more and more hobbyists are playing with this concept, learning, benefitting, and enjoying.  We are sharing long-term, replicable successes. The reality is that many hobbyists were playing with this stuff for years, it's just that we were quietly experimenting with this stuff in the dark corners of our fish rooms.

The idea is not "new" in the sense that no one ever played with botanicals before.

It's just that we're collectively getting a bit louder...

Blackwater/botanical-style aquariums have moved out of the "side show" category and are now simply another way to maintain an aquarium. Thanks to the work, experimentation, and sharing of this community, what was once feared is now compelling to many. We still have a long way to go. And quite honestly, a lot of people simply don't like the look. I understand that.  

And I am convinced that this "genre" of aquarium-keeping will always be as much of an "art" as it is a "science"- and that's okay. As a community, we're literally developing the "framework" for creating, operating, and managing botanical-style blackwater/brackish systems as we speak. 

What could be more exciting than that?

Call it "open-source", "ground-floor," "bleeding edge"- whatever you label it, the opportunity for a wide variety of interested hobbyists at all levels to contribute to a body of work has never been better! I think we'll see more and more commercial developments in this area as time goes by, too. Perhaps new, dedicated products for botanical-style systems.

"Doors have been opened", as they say.

As a hobby, in general,we are becoming more and more progressive, I think. Sure, there are lots of little pockets of resistance to change, holding on to set ways, interpretations, and styles, but you're seeing more and more individual hobbyists breaking away from the "groupthink" and simply doing stuff.

Looking at things from a fresh perspective, experimenting...and generally not giving a damn about what "everyone" thinks...

Scary, daring- yet empowering.

Trying things that are on our minds-scary though they might be...It's how breakthroughs arise in the hobby. It's how we've gotten this stuff out of the "novelty" zone.

Now, I'm not trying to say that our community alone is awesome, and that everyone else is some kind of throwback loser...Absolutely not.  

And we're not the only arena in the hobby that's pushing things in different directions. What I AM saying is that we are a good example of a small community of people who have demonstrated how far you can come- and how quickly- when you simply...do stuff. This can work-has worked- in a number of aquarium hobby specialties, from cichlid breeding to Rainbowfish keeping, to aquatic plants and aquascaping. 

It simply requires a different attitude. And in our case, an acceptance of different aesthetic and function.

A mindset shift.

Mindset shifts are very beautiful things, because they get us out of our comfort zones and compel us to look at where we were, where we are, how we got there, and where we are going next.

The "next" part is fascinating to me.

Building upon where we've already been, and moving ahead to uncharted waters, so to speak.

Yeah, it's neat to look back- but far more interesting to look forward.

Where to next?

That's your call. Our call, as a community.

Stay diligent. Stay focused. Stay open-minded. Stay excited

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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