"Cursed" tanks- or just the wrong expectations?

Ever noticed how some aquariums just seem to "breeze along", doing well at every stage of their existence? You know, presenting minimal problems and issues during construction, cycling, stocking, and management?

And of course, there are others which, despite our very best intentions and efforts, seem to have every single possible calamity befall them at every stage? It's weird. I've had both. Fortunately, it's usually the former, but there are some tanks that just seem to have everything stacked against them, right?

I mean, this borderlines on superstition to some extent, but I think that the relative success-or failure- of any given aquarium is based on solid factors, including good planning, proper equipment, following "best practices" in aquarium management, etc. Yet, despite seemingly taking every precaution, you'll sometimes have a tank that is just, well- "problematic", right?

What causes this?

Is the tank "cursed?" Are you a "bad" aquarist? Or is it some other, basic factor that we simply don't take into account because it's so damn obvious?

Now, one could argue that when we delve into highly specialized systems like botanical-style, blackwater aquariums, we're dealing with creating and managing environmental conditions that might be a bit different than the "standard" ones we have created and managed over the years. Perhaps we're not as familiar with what these types of systems may throw our way, or our expectations are based on the tanks we've created in the past, and the "curves" that these specialty systems might throw our way are sometimes unexpected. It was like that with the first reef tanks, or the first "high tech" planted aquariums, Discus systems, Mbuna tanks, etc.

Specialized aquariums simply require a different set of practices, procedures, equipment, and expectations. Yet, I think that many of these issues will present less of a problem once we have more and more familiarity with the operation of these systems. The difference between "good" tanks and "bad" ones might simply be understanding and embracing the way these unique aquariums function. We see this every day in our own little niche, right?

With a global community of aquarists playing with blackwater, botanical-style aquariums, we're beginning to amass some good experience and understanding of exactly how these tank differ from the more "conventional" systems that we've managed for decades. We are developing some of our own "best practices" which make it possible for a typical, competent aquarist to create and manage a successful aquarium by following a few guidelines and understanding what to expect.

For example, it's kind of a known fact with our community that you need to go slowly when adding botanicals to an existing aquarium. Long gone are the days when we'd toss stuff into our tanks with the expectation that, because they're "natural", the environment would sort of "fall into its own" or whatever. We realize that botanical materials not only affect the water chemistry by adding compounds like tannins, humic acids, etc.- we are understanding that they constitute bioload- meaning that bacterial populations must be sufficient to handle the influx of organics they release as they break down in our tanks.

We know that adding lots of botanicals rapidly to an established aquarium can create some adverse affects, ranging from a possible drop in pH to an ammonia spike or drop in levels of dissolved oxygen. This isn't that much of a stretch, when you really look at it objectively, right? You're adding organic materials to an aquarium. If it's one that's already established and has fishes residing in it, you are rapidly changing the biological/chemical "equilibrium" that the aquarium microcosm has achieved, and this requires animals to adjust- which creates stress- or worse in extreme cases.

We expect and are gaining an understanding of stuff like biofilms and what they are, and although our aesthetics might be challenged by them at times, we are no longer running scared when some stringy goo starts to appear on the botanicals we've carefully arranged in our aquascape, are we? We've understood the this is normal and to be expected in the establishment and operation of these types of aquariums.

We avoid most of the problems in a blackwater/botanical-style aquarium with good, old-fashioned patience. Nothing really mysterious about it. Patience, coupled with observation, are two of the most important things we can deploy to make any aquarium successful.

I think that it's just as possible to be successful with one of our unique aquariums as it is to be successful with any type of system...once we adjust our practices, procedures, and expectations.

Could it be said that there are "No bad tanks...only bad aquarists?" 

Well, that sounds a bit harsh. I'd think that it's more accurate to say that there are no bad tanks, only new procedures, practices and expectations to be understood.

Yeah, sounds a lot better, huh?

I think so.

Something to think about, anyways.

Stay excited. Stay enthusiastic. Stay diligent. Stay open-minded...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


1 Response

Louvenia Le Fanu
Louvenia Le Fanu

February 23, 2023

Hi tanninaquatics.com admin, Your posts are always well written and informative.

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