Compensating Factors.

For years, I've played with all sorts of rather unconventional aquarium ideas. Pretty much all  of them were attempts to simulate, on some level, aspects of wild aquatic habitats which caught my fancy. 

Stuff like functional representations of a varzea grassland, an igapo flooded forest, a muddy brackish mangrove estuary, a rice paddy, etc.

NOT set up to just "look like" the habitat- not a "biotope aquairum" in that I was trying to create a primarily aesthetic recreation of the habitat in question. Rather, a functional, sustainable aquatic display which captured the essence of these habitats, intended to operate for extended periods of time.

Over the long term, how do you create and manage a stagnant poool habitat? An African savanna mud hole for killies?

You use what I call “creative compensation.”

"Huh? What's that Fellman- another one of your goofy expressions?"

Well, likely. But it sums up my approach pretty well, actually!

Here's essentially what it means:

If you're going to create an aquarium which attempts to mimic the function of an environment which is challenging ing to manage, you need to compensate with techniques or equipment to do so. 

See- not exactly earth-shattering, I know. But something a lot of hobbyists don't do when pondering their "bucket list" aquarium ideas. Sadly, many give up on them too easily, IMHO.

Yet, in many cases, you simply need to come up with a different mind set- to make a "mental shift" to create and manage a system like this. You CAN execute just need to re-think what's important.

For example, when I developed my "Urban Igapo" idea, I knew that, in order to run the tank for an indefinite period of time, it would become necessary to step up water exchanges or other nutrient export mechanisms in lieu of filtration in the small tanks I was working with.  I mean, sure, I could have run a power filter, small internal filter, or even a canister, but the risk of disturbing the substrate indefinitely was too great.

When you play along the fringes of what's considered "normal" or even "acceptable" in the hobby, you need to compensate in some other devising alternative nutrient export mechanisms, stepped-up water exchanges, etc. 

Compensating factors.

Now, most of the "compensating factors" which we need to embrace are mental. 

We've talked about them so much over the years that I almost sound like a cheap cliche of myself sometimes! Yet, it's true...we have to compensate by mentally shifting to understand what's going on in our tanks. This is really not that difficult to understand, right? 

And then there are those other factors- attributes that we acquire in our aquairum work, such as patience.

Patience was something that I've accumulated over a lifetime of Fishkeeping. It wasn't just something that I had, mind you. Rather, I think that the attribute of patience really arose when I was a young fish geek, with only one tank, limited funds, and a lot of "wants!" I had to move slowly, plan, save, and simply be patient.

When you can only afford a few fishes at a time, you learn to be patient!

A compensating factor, for sure!

When we compare our aquariums and their function to what happens in natural aquatic habitats, the "compensations" that we need to make are very obvious. 

Seems like just about everything we do in aquarium keeping invloves some sort of  understanding. And some sort of "right of passage", or "barrier to entry" before you achieve exactly what you want to achieve, right?

You know, a challenge or "gauntlet" that you need to get through somehow before ultimately getting to where you want to be. Like, it starts out easy, but after a short period of time- there IT is..Waiting for you. That challenge. And there is only one way to go if you want to progress: Forward.

Time to throw down.

I see this with crystal clarity with the botanical method aquariums we espouse so much here: 

A week or two after completing your setup and getting your prepared botanicals into your aquarium, there come the biofilms and fungal growths. Of course, these will grow at a rate which is a bit unpredictable, yet often peak and either pass in a relatively short time, or wane to a more "tolerable" level.

Knowing that it will always be present in your botanical-style aquarium is a real "right of passage" for everyone involved in this game- requiring an adjustment to our expectations- a mental shift.

You just have to understand what these growths are, and why they form. And celebrate them instead of simply fear them.

You begin to understand and appreciate the biofilms, fungal growths, and decomposition and what they mean to the ecology of a closed aquatic ecosystem. And then, you accept and indeed, celebrate- the progression and the many unique characteristics of botanical method systems.

Your viewpoint has changed.

You've "compensated" by understanding.

In our world, it means understanding that the stuff you're seeing in your aquarium- the stuff which might freak you out a bit- is exactly what you see in Nature.

You've made a mental shift that will equip you well to advance in your journey with this type of aquarium.

You've "crossed the mental barrier" and came out on the other side.

It's an achievement worth celebrating, isn't it?

Breaking through barriers is part of the game in this hobby.

Yeah, the shit you have to go through before you get exactly what you want. Not always fun. Not always "pretty" to many of you. Often times, challenging and perhaps, annoying, to say the least. Only those aquarists who "prove their mettle" by not shirking from the challenges, or calling it quits, reap the ultimate rewards.

Our botanical method aquarium world asks much from the hobbyist.

I totally get it.

It requires an understanding. Compensating.

An understanding that what we celebrate as beautiful here is dramatically different than ANYTHING that the rest of the aquarium world even sees as remotely tolerable: Tinted, turbid water, stringy biofilm growths, sediment and detritus...stuff that makes most hobbyists cringe even at the thought of it in their tanks.

We're not afraid, because we look beyond the simple appearance...and we understand the function and benefits of such characteristics in our aquariums- and how they are so prevalent in Nature, too.

I hit on this theme over and over and OVER again because it's absolutely fundamental to the botanical-method aquarium. We're simply dealing with aesthetics and functions that have been shunned, vilified, and reviled by hobbyists for decades. 

And look, it's okay.

My goal isn't to convince the entire hobby that a tinted, turbid, biofilm-and-detritus filled tank is the ultimate in beauty. I get it...Most aquarists simply can't wrap their minds around that and accept it as gorgeous in any way. It makes sense.

Of course, it's also possible to embrace many of the elements of our types of aquariums while still accepting a more traditional look. It's not all about the  earthy, over-the-top, in-your-face natural look you see me rant about so often here.

It simply involves compensating...

Stay curious. Stay bold. Stay enthusiastic. Stay excited. Stay diligent...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics  





Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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