"Evolution." An important concept in the aquarium hobby.

Evolution happens all the time.

And not everyone is happy about it. 

Yet, they should be!

Despite the occasional negativity that you see online and elsewhere, with people complaining about how things are so bad in the hobby, or how there's not much we can do to make a difference, or why this product isn't such a good idea, or...the usual stuff- it's a really good time to be an aquarium hobbyist!

One of the coolest things about our hobby is the amazing progression over the years in both the "state of the art" in technique and the technology that we embrace.  Yeah, I know, I love to tease you techies, but I am appreciative for what you’ve done! Really. You’ve helped make some things possible with an ease we’ve never enjoyed before. Amazing  improvements that have enabled us to do things previously thought incredibly difficult or even, impossible, unfold daily in the hobby.  

And the progression our hobby seems to be accelerating constantly. 

(Okay, I gave you guys your damn moment in the sun. Go back to your controller readouts, and create a lighting controller or something that someone other than an engineer can figure out, okay?

Regardless, we’re in a great “Postmodern” aquatics era...What an amazing time to be a hobbyist!

It’s interesting, however, to watch some hobbyist’ reactions to new products, techniques, ideas, etc.  I read a lot of new product blogs and discussions about various aquarium topics. It's not uncommon, after reading about some new product or evolved technique, that you’ll often see comments like, “That’s nothing new, really. ___________ had something like that a few years ago.” or “All that guy did was add______. It’s not really new.”

Ok, well, maybe. And so the fuck what?

Totally negative attitudes. The kinds which actually keep things from progressing.

Comments and attitudes like this seem to overlook a few simple facts, so let’s look at this a bit closer.  Did you ever think about how the technology and practices we routinely utilize in the hobby actually came into being in the first place?  Much of it is built upon achievements and developments from the past. Successes and failures contributed to this process, right? No magic here.

I mean, it all started with a goldfish bowl, right?  Sure, there are brand new technologies that trickle into the hobby all the time, yet many of the hottest new products, ideas, and techniques of today arose as a result of someone looking at something that was already in existence and saying, “I can do better than that.” 

It’s the “better mousetrap” theory, right?  

Things evolve over time, often borrowing from existing technology or technique.

And what’s wrong with that? I mean, Hollywood does it all the time with the wretched and vapid lack of creativity that you see in remaking everything from comic strips to children's toys in an attempt to entertain people…and it works.. It sells billions of dollars of tickets despite the insanity of sequeIs to movies that should have never gotten green-lighted in the first place…(Okay, I'm digressing here, lol) I think we do a bit better with this process in the hobby, but the point is, you can draw from the past and create cool stuff for the present.

Evolution, I suppose.

I guess where one could question this is when you look at certain product sectors in the hobby. Planted aquarium substrates come to mind. I mean, many of the new planted substrates are hardly distinguishable or even differentiated from each other. Many are made of "clays sourced in the mountains of Japan" or whatever...Well, that's super cool- but how many different mountains are there in Japan? Or, more precisely-does each mountain have some special clay that's sooo different than the others? What makes any of the 20 different brands' planted aquarium substrate any different from the others, besides the packaging or product name?

There is a difference between evolution of a product and differentiating one from another.

I mean, look at what we're doing here at Tannin.

We didn't invent the idea of tossing seed pods and leaves and stuff into aquariums. It's been around as long as people kept fishes! All we did was see a way to make a more cohesive set of concepts, techniques, and applications for them. Different than what's been done in the past, but definitely building upon practices that have been around before.


Now, sure- other brands have come into our little market sector, offering "naturally sourced botanicals" or whatever- but no one is "inventing" new seed pods, right? So the differentiating factor in our little sector is how these materials are used in a process or technique, and how they can accomplish various things that we want them to do. Just putting the same thing in a new package is not doing anything special, IMHO. 


That's why I'm so hard on some of these newcomers to our sector. NOT because they're trying to do what we've done- but because they're not bringing anything different to the table. It's a wasted opportunity, and it's kind of stupid, if you ask me. (You didn't, but, hey...).

Evolution and refinement have always driven advances in the hobby- they always will.

One need not look to far back into the hobby’s past to see a prime example of this evolution: Remember when reef aquariums hit the U.S., and there was the sudden introduction of the 'trickle filter?" Water from the aquarium was trickled over some sort of plastic media, allowing bacteria to thrive and "process" the water. Cool stuff-yet it was derived from sewage treatment technology- it wasn't some completely new concept. And this venerable invention powered the reef systems of the mid eighties, placing the promise of the “miniature reef” into the grasp of almost every marine hobbyist.

Plastic filter media, such as "Bio-Balls" were all the rage!

George Smit’s landmark series of articles in FAMA magazine in 1986, extolling this technology, helped launch the modern reef craze as we know it. By 1988, it seemed like the marine sector of the hobby exploded in popularity, with dozens of new filter manufacturers arriving on the scene almost monthly, everywhere you looked.


As the decade wore on, however, hobbyists and manufacturers saw fit to improve the trickle filters that were available at the time, creating new models with greater media capacity, more baffles to break up flow, and compartments to hold equipment like skimmers and reactors (Both evolved and new ideas as well!). Little improvements that provided increased performance. Nothing revolutionary, mind you- just “tweaks”. Good tweaks, nonetheless.

Eventually, it was determined that trickle filters were great at removing ammonia and nitrite, yet tended to allow nitrate to accumulate rapidly.  In the nineties, many embraced the belief that accumulating nitrate could be a potential detriment to coral growth and long-term fish health, and almost overnight,“conventional” trickle filtration began to fall out of favor.  Hobbyists everywhere began yanking the plastic filter media (bioballs, etc.) from their trickle filters.

The “filter” became the “sump”, and was primarily the nexus for water treatment (mechanical and chemical) for the aquarium.  With no use for biological “towers”, within this new school of thought, this feature began to disappear from filters. Kalkwasser dosing was utilized to increase alkalinity and calcium and to precipitate phosphates… 

 The “Berlin Method” of reef keeping had arrived, and a derivative of this method has been the state of the art ever since, with many subtle tweaks.  Once again, existing technology had “morphed” to accommodate the prevailing school of thought.  The state of the art evolved, and so did the equipment.  An idea from the past improved upon to accommodate the needs of the present. Woah!

Evolution. Again.

It's all over the hobby, in both fresh and saltwater.

In my opinion, we are often too quick to chide such evolutionary steps as “copying” or “ripping off” existing ideas, when in reality, they are simply improving and building upon what was already there.  This is the necessary progression of things in many cases. We didn’t make the leap from undergravel filters to high-capacity sumps and hyper-efficient protein skimmers and canister filters, or from fluorescent bulbs to advanced, controllable LED lighting overnight.  

Hobbyists, manufacturers, and product designers looked at the prevailing technology and technique of the day, assessed the needs of the hobby, and attempted to improve upon these existing technologies. Remember, many of these improvements are done to gain a market advantage over competitors.  For example, if I make an easier to clean filter, hobbyists are more likely to purchase my product. Further refinements take place all the time.  This is how the hobby progresses.

It’s good. It's totally normal.



For some reason, many aquarium hobby prognosticators love to bash those who see something not working in the hobby, and attempt to improve or build upon what's already there. It's weird...the refrain, "That's nothing new!" is so common on forums and such that it's almost laughable, IMHO.

Sure, in a hobby movement like ours, when you distill it down, all we're really doing is attempting to replicate, on some level, the processes and conditions which are present in Nature. We are simply trying to develop technique, utilizing natural materials, to do what Nature has done unassisted for eons. Truly "nothing new", right?

Well, not to Nature...But to the hobby, it's sort of an...evolution from what we've been doing for many decades, isn't it?


Inspiration is an “open source”, and innovation is for anyone to embrace.

Evolution is almost an unstoppable force in the hobby.

It can come from anywhere, at any time. 

Thanks to global communication fostered by the Internet, ideas can be presented and tweaked easily. Some aquarium technologies, such as lighting and controllers, borrow from other industries or fields of endeavor, whereas others, such as the development of new food products, arise out of  knowledge and experience gained within the fields of aquatic science and aquaculture-and good old hobbyist experience as well. Ideas, technologies, and technique “cross-pollinate” between fields, and the changes benefit us all.


There is no great “hobby hegemony” that seeks to keep ideas and progression in the hands of some chosen few.  No sir. These days, anyone with an original idea, determination, and a social media presence can forge a new path for the hobby, and get the word out quickly!

Trust me.

Think about this for a second:

As a Tannin customer you’re actually a participant in the progression in the hobby! Hell, yeah!  No watching from the sidelines for you…You’ve got a front row seat to the evolution, and your comments and questions do not go unnoticed by manufacturers, fellow hobbyists, and industry people!

So, the next time you might be tempted to criticize someone’s new hobby idea or product because it seemingly ”borrows” from something already in existence, realize that you’re merely seeing the evolution of the hobby at its flash point. The “bleeding edge”, as they like to say. Don’t just chide the development because part of it seems derived from something familiar.

Embrace it, enjoy it, and utilize it….

For that matter- improve it.

Okay, time for some chin-ups and coffee…I’m outta here.  I have this idea I need to tweak...

Evolution awaits...


Till next time…

Stay observant. Stay brave. Stay excited. Stay inspired. Stay creative...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics





Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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