Adding to the "knowledge base"

In the aquarium hobby, we see progress in many ways. Sometimes, it's a straight-up breakthrough- like the spawning of a fish once thought impossible. Or, perhaps it's something incrementally more subtle- like figuring out a way to re-create a natural habitat previously ignored by the hobby. Maybe it's even more subtle than that...

The other day, I  took a longer-than-usual amount of time to sift through my Instagram feed, which of course, is littered with aquarium people, specifically, those who do aquascaping, biotope aquariums, etc.- stuff that's "right up my alley", as they say. 

As I looked at the posts, I saw many amazing things, ranging from the most base ("Buy our product! It's great!") to the work of amazing aquascaper-phlilosopher-types showing a pic of a single rock or twig in a cube-shaped tank, pondering "What's next?"

And it got me thinking.

What IS next?

What's the next thing we're going to do in the hobby?

What's the next "big breakthrough" that will be made? Will it be breeding that previously "impossible" fish? Will it be the creation of a new aquascape that inspires a generation? Or will it simply be a steady  progression of many things that make the hobby easier for all of us?

If you look at the "high concept" aquascaping world, it becomes obvious that the "next big thing" is definitely some evolution of the layout of an aquarium. Some different way of arranging rock, wood, and plants in a way that captures both our aesthetic sensibilities and our need to create living art in a way not previously attempted. A way to distill nature into something abstract, yet pragmatic. Perhaps still under Amano's shadow, but searching for its own identity, the aquascaping world moves ever forward.

If you look at the "mainstream hobby" world, it's definitely about acquiring and breeding new species of fishes...about reproducing and making more commonly available fishes which were previously considered too difficult to persuade to reproduce in our tanks. I think it has been for some time, and will continue to be.

And that's never a bad thing. 

This contrasted so powerfully with what I've seen in the reef aquarium world which I come from. It's a very different thing. 

Yeah, to me, it seems like it's this never-ending quest to achieve...something...with that next piece of high-tech gear or revision of husbandry, the hopes of the hobby's futures are pinned to attaining something different than what we are achieving now...maybe its spawning coral. Maybe it's simply acquiring different stuff...I suppose I'm deeply critical of this world, having devoted much of my life to it in the past couple of decades. I think the jury's still out on this one.

And of course, my mind moved on to what we do here at Tannin...

In our world of blackwater, decomposing botanicals, and more natural vibes, what is the next "breakthrough?" 

IS there a "breakthrough?" 

I don't think so.


Rather, I think what we'll be seeing is progression. I think that the initial "breakthrough" has been simply the more popular acceptance of the blackwater/botanical style aquarium. That "mental shift" we've spoken about so often here.

When you take out the part about us "accepting the aesthetic" and the impact on the aquatic environment, it's simply about execution. We are in a phase now where the previously "freak-show" classification has been removed from blackwater aquariums, and they're now more popularly seen simply as another approach to aquarium keeping.

I think we are not seeing a particular, distinct "breakthrough" of any sort; Rather, the entire concept of playing with botanicals and blackwater aquariums is really a sort of "evolution" of sorts...a series of incremental successes based on experiments and bold attempts; governed by a type of change to our mindset. And a learning of technique.

Validating theories we might have had about stuff...or proving them invalid, as the case may be. It's about learning.

We are understanding the "capabilities" of botanicals, and how they impact the water chemistry. We're educating ourselves and reminding each other that they can't "soften" water, but they do have impact upon the pH and TDS of our systems. Part of what we do is to dispel rumors and assumptions about stuff that has been hanging around in our hobby "mindset" for decades... 

I'm not certain how this idea that botanicals can "soften" water emerged. This is a big "mental hurdle" for a lot of hobbyists. Overcoming the perception that just tossing in some Catappa leaves or other botanicals into the aquarium will somehow "soften" hard water is a real "thing" that a lot of people have had in their heads for some reason!

Realizing that the "look" is just that- the look- not indicative of  an aquarium's water parameters.

It's been a "mission" of sorts for me to help change this misconception...In the process, I think I've convinced a lot of enthusiasts to purchase RO/DI units over the years, lol! (RO manufacturers, please send your royalty checks to me...)

I think we're in an "execution" phase, getting to understand the regular workings of blackwater/brackish botanical-style aquariums- understanding the processes which occur in our tanks, and how they impact our fishes.

And yet...

We have so much to learn. 

I mean, sure, we know all about the aesthetics of tinted water...we know generally what tannins are and how they are present in water...However, we don't even know which of any dozens of possible tannins that the leaves, wood, and botanical materials we use produce, and which ones are found in the natural habitats we obsess over.

Gallic acid? Phloroglucinol? Flavins? Chlorogenic acids? Ipecaucuanic acids? Perhaps its enough to just have "tannins" in the water! However, perhaps the next evolution will involve specific types/classes of tannins produced by botanicals. What if we find out that specific tannins from specific plant materials influence fish health, color, or reproduction in specific ways?

Will that constitute a breakthrough? Or just an evolution in our understanding? Will it even be important, in the grand scheme of things? Will the mid 21st century commercial "blackwater extracts" actually be specific types of tannins and other substances derived or synthesized from botanicals from various materials found in the natural environments of our fishes, rather than just boiled bark and such? "Targeted" materials, rather than just a "brew" of assorted botanical extracts of as yet undetermined origin or effectiveness?

One could hope, right? 

Are we still "shooting from the hip" throwing in various leaves and botanicals and sort of "impacting" our closed aquatic habitat in a sort of generic manner, not really 100% certain if what we're adding is effective or not at achieving our desired goals? Just thinking to ourselves that, "...if the water is brown like it is in The Amazon, something good is happening?"

I think so.

I mean, we've come along way- but we have a long, long way to go until we really have a serious understanding of this stuff, and how to use it in the most optimum and efficient manner in our aquariums. Reminds me a bit of the first attempts at making synthetic saltwater. It's not simply a matter f throwing in some various salts and major/minor ions and POW! You've got a reef environment. Rather, there are trace elements, organic materials, etc. to consider...

A real "thing" to understand. 

Pretty exciting, really. From an aesthetic, environmental, and even commercial standpoint.

And we haven't really done ANYTHING yet on botanical-style, tinted brackish water aquariums...a whole new thing to play with.

As far as I'm concerned, our real understanding of the whole blackwater, botanical-style aquarium specialty is in its infancy, really.

I know, hobbyists have been playing with "blackwater aquariums" for decades; however, I think it has only been very recently that they've been viewed as more of an "approach" to maintaining fishes than they have as simply an unusual novelty of sorts. What's been fueling the growth is not just a fascination with the aesthetics, but a desire to understand the tangible benefits to our fishes. A desire to recreate a natural habitat. And a longing to do better than we have in the past.

Another evolution, really.

We're still at that exciting phase where we are working out the "hows and whys" of all of this stuff. We have many essential "best practices" more-or-less agreed upon, such as the idea of preparation of botanicals. We're digging the funky aesthetics...We have the mindset of going slowly, monitoring water chemistry, and studying carefully the impact of everything we add into our closed aquatic environments.

Of all of the things we do in our niche, perhaps what I'm proud of the most is that for our community, it's not simply "dump and pray" botanicals...Rather, it's study, prepare, plan, measure, observe, and adjust. Those who become part of our "tribe" know this, and impart this stuff to newcomers. 


What I find equally interesting is how we are seeing more and more hobbyists who breed fishes of various types (which come from blackwater habitats in nature) under more natural conditions provided by use of botanicals. Now, again, this is not a "new thing"- environmental manipulation.

However, it is a sort of acceptance that the use of botanicals and such to create conditions optimal for certain fishes to thrive and reproduce in is a good way to go. A sort of realization that yes- the stuff works for this purpose.

What's next in our botanical world? 

Refinement. Assessment. Adjustment. Study. Application. Failures. Successes.


And each and every one of us is contributing to the body of knowledge that is the blackwater botanical world. 

Yes- we're ALL part of "what's next." We all have an opportunity to contribute to the burgeoning "knowledge base" in our area of hobby obsession.

Isn't that exciting?

I think that it is!

Stay enthusiastic. Stay engaged. Stay excited. Stay curious. Stay patient...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 







Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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