Accommodations, Compromises, Techniques, and Challenges...

Blackwater, botanical-style aquariums are certainly gaining a lot of attention I the hobby world at the moment. I'd really love to think of this not as some "trend", but as more of a methodology of aquarium keeping. Less of a "novelty"- more of an option.

Now, one of the best things about these types of aquariums is that there are no hard and fast "style rules." There are only Nature's "restrictions" and her limitations. That being said, and "best practices" aside, every situation, every tank, every nuance is unique, and this requires "customized" solutions for every aquarium. Sure, the methodology/strategy might be something which we can more or less "standardize"- but not the "formula."

As an example, the Rio Negro and its many tributaries provide us many different fishes that we love to keep in aquariums. The Rio Negro’s water is extremely poor in mineral content, with conductivity as low as 8 micro semions, and is extremely acidic, with pH’s ranging from 2.9 to 5.2. That's pretty damn acidic by aquarium standards, isn't it? How can you replicate water like that in your aquarium?

DO you want to?

Well, you'd start by utilizing RO/DI water and "conditioning it" with botanicals and such, which might only get you so far. There would likely be additional steps required, like the addition of acid solutions, different pH-reducing natural materials in your filter. And more detailed monitoring. And slightly different water-quality maintenance approaches. This stuff touches on the fringes of what a lot of us are comfortable doing.

And wouldn't it be easier to create and maintain these conditions with some compromising, like finding out the "average" of the pH and other parameters of the habitat you're trying to replicate and either going for it or perhaps, for the higher, easier-to-achieve higher limits of pH in the habitat, for example?

Even with a sort of "compromised accommodation" approach, you'd be providing your fishes with environmental conditions that are far more "realistic" than those typically provided in aquariums, right? Is there even a significant benefit to doing so? I believe so, but that's going to require some experimentation over time to prove.

That's what we need to do.

Yeah, easy for me to sit here and talk about, but it will require some work to back up this hypothesis!

And again, we've accomplished many amazing things without going to crazy into trying to more accurately replicate these natural conditions. yet, I just can't help but wonder what we'd accomplish if we go just that much farther. The examples which Nature provides us are many and varied.

We are getting better at this as a hobby/industry. Think about it. We can create more habitat-specific water parameters right now, because we have the means and way more accurate and "applicable" information about the natural habitat from which our fishes come from than ever before, and ways to monitor it that simply weren't available to the hobby years ago.

Couple this with better management of lighting, thanks to LED's, more controllable current, thanks to high-tech, electronically controlled pumps, and very accurate temperature control thanks to better heater/controller tech- and we're assured a continued progression towards more nature-specific captive environments for our animals.

Oh, and of course, there's the foods. Food is getting better than ever, and we're starting to see foods that contain a higher percentage of natural foods of many fishes- like aquatic insects, crustaceans, flies, etc. 


And you can state it enough- today's hobbyist is talented, intuitive, creative, smart, compassionate, and communicative in a way never before possible. The work being done is amazing!

It's a really exciting time to be a hobbyist.

The "next-level" breakthroughs will require just as much courage, effort, and creativity as they did in decades past, but the means to accomplish them are now at our fingertips.

And the potential payoffs- in terms of fish health, greater reproduction, and a more sustainable industry- not to mention, greater awareness of, and appreciation for the precarious nature of the wild habitats- will only assure us a brighter hobby future for ourselves, our fishes, and our children.

Don't shy from the challenge. Hit it head on! Accommodate, don't adapt.

Stay enthralled. Stay bold. Stay experimental. Stay creative. Stay relentless...

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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