Avoiding the dreaded algae "freak out"- looking at the "bigger picture."

Have you ever completed an aquascape and stepped back and looked at it in its most "embryonic" phases, and thought to yourself, "This looks good?" The pristine glass, perfect deal wood, sparkling gravel...The scent of a brand new aquarium...

Well, of course you have! It's part of the game.

It's a total sensory experience, isn't it?

To me, the real "magic" in an aquarium happens not when it's new and pristine, but after a few weeks or months, when it develops that "patina" of micro algae, the "matte" sheen of biofilm on the substrate...when it develops that earthy, clean, alive smell.

That, to me, is when an aquarium really feels "alive" and evolving.

When it comes to maintenance of aquariums, I'm a big believer in removing algae from the front glass and "excessive" films from the driftwood or other materials...But I don't go crazy about it like I used to. Like many of you, I let some of those natural processes evolve, just like the tank itself...

I think I tend to spend less time and energy removing "offensive" algae growth manually, and spend far more time and energy controlling and eliminating the root causes of its appearance: Excess nutrients, too much light, lax maintenance practices, etc. It's not that I don't think I should be scraping algae- it's just that it seems to make more sense to "nip it in the bud" and attack the underlying causes of it's growth.

Although I love my soft-bristled toothbrush-cum-alagal-film-scraper!

Understanding the dynamic in a closed aquarium system is really important.

There is another aspect to appreciating it: Letting a system "evolve" and find its way, with a little bit of guidance (or botanicals, as the case may be) from time to time, is beautiful to me...Watching the "bigger picture" and realizing that all of these "components" are part of a bigger "whole."

This was a definite of mental shift for me, right along with accepting the biofilms, blackwater, and decomposing leaves. Like most of you, I've spent much of my fishy "career" doing "reaction" style aquarium maintenance, breaking out the algae scraper at the first sign of the "dreaded" stuff.

And I've come to realize that taking a more proactive, understanding, and yeah- relaxed approach to "algae management" has created a much more enjoyable hobby experience for me. And being a bit more accepting about seeing "some" algae growth and such has created far more aesthetically pleasing, naturally-appearing aquariums.

There is nothing wrong with creating a more "clinically sterile-looking" aquarium. Perfectly manicured, impeccably groomed task are beautiful. It's just that there is something about the way nature tends to do things that seems a bit more satisfying to me. 

And apparently, for many of you, too!

The beauty is that, like so many things in this hobby- there is no "right" or "wrong" way to approach something as mundane as algae growth and tank "grooming." It's about what works for YOU..what makes you feel comfortable, and what keeps your aquarium healthy.

Regardless of what approach we take, natural processes that have evolved over the eons will continue to occur in your aquarium. You can fight them, attempt to stave them off with elaborate "countermeasures" and labor...or you can embrace them and learn how to moderate and live with them via understanding the processes.

And the algae?

It'll always be there. It's just a matter of how "prominent" we allow it to be.

Simple. And, actually- sort of under our control, isn't it?

Stay engaged. Stay focused. Stay calm. Stay open-minded.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


1 Response


February 15, 2018

The start of an aquarium is always the most exciting for me. There’s just so much going on – fungi, algae, microfauna and more! Even the “minor edits” that always seem to happen, moving a rock here, a leaf there, pushing sand around… Once an aquarium irons out the inconsistencies and settles into equilibrium, it loses a bit of the appeal, although it is nice to sit back and admire your handiwork (and nature’s!). That’s what I really like about working with botanicals – the landscape is always shifting, evolving, with life finding a path, often in surprising ways!

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