Don't stop the dance....

Have you ever thought about an aquarium as a sort of "evolving organism?"

I mean, when you consider that it involves an inception, growth, and death, it's very much a microcosm of nature. An evolving, changing emerging little system, with subtle interactions and daily changes to it's "operating system" as it grows. 

A dance if you will.

As a hobbyist, you help this little microcosm along by making adjustments, tweaks, deviations, if necessary, along the way. All of these require observation, analysis, and action. Decisions, made by interpreting what you see every day and then taking actions (or not) as warranted.

You're doing this already, and probably haven't given it any thought. I mean, it's what we do as hobbyists, right? We're pretty good at it!

Every day, it seem like you have to go through dozens of "if then" scenarios on the fly: "Okay, if the water is a bit cloudy, it might be the extra fertilizer I administered to the plants; need to scale back..." Or, "The pH is drifting too far to the south. Maybe I have too many leaves in there...?" It could even be something as simple as, "The fishes look pretty hungry today. I wonder if those Apistos are guarding eggs?"

It's important to question what's happening in our aquariums. However, it's equally as important to not "freak out" over every little change; to see the "doom and gloom" in every scenario- to affect rapid interventions at every turn of events. Changes and happenings in our aquariums are often not necessarily for the worse- or even for the better, for that matter...they're just...evolutions. The aquarium will make a lot of "course corrections" on its own, with little intervention on our part, as it evolves over time.

Sure, if you're trying to breed fish, or some such experiment, it's a different matter, and actively intervening in the processes you see may make the difference between success and failure of your project. I get that. And I do it. too. However, when we're talking about a display aquarium- one set up purely for observing and enjoying..perhaps it's best to engage in the fine art of "active monitoring." 

Let me explain.

When we think about our aquariums over the long term, they will evolve in many ways, much like a natural river or stream, without much intervention on our part. As water flow decreases, plants might grow differently. As the substrate begins to take on a "life of its own",  with more life forms growing in its matrix, fishes will forage for supplemental food items in it. As wood softens, releasing more tannins into the water, it darkens. Leaves and botanicals start to decompose, enriching the environment with humic acids, tannins, and other organic materials, further spurring plant growth, etc. Algae, although often dreaded, grow based on the available nutrients, waxing and waning. Hopefully, you'll strike a balance between too much and too little. Or better yet- an understanding as to why they appear, and what it really means to your tank.

All part of a little "dance", that, although important to monitor, is not necessarily something that we as hobbyists have to intervene in. We do quite a bit when we simply perform our regular water exchanges, filter media replacements/cleanings, and occasional plant trimmings. So why not simply enjoy what's happening in your aquarium as it evolves? I know that I perennially overthink stuff, instead of merely enjoying it. "Active monitoring" is a great way to run a tank, IMHO. You do the necessary functions to keep things stable and consistent, and little more. Just observe; enjoy.

It's okay to think and postulate about everything we see in our tank. However, often times, it's equally as okay to simply accept it, and see what happens. (and I'm not talking about stuff that needs to be dealt with at once- such as disease outbreaks or filter system malfunctions, etc.)

Since I began dabbling with botanical-influenced aquariums, I am far less stressed out about stuff like the biofilms, bits of leaves accumulating on the substrate, and even those periodic algae blooms. I'm not put off that much by the appearance of biofilms on my leaves. As long as the fish are healthy and happy, the environmental parameters stable, and the tank presentable, I don't let myself worry about everything as much. Understanding that these things are natural, explainable, and often, temporary "reactions" to things going on in our closed aquatic environments has made the process of aquarium keeping over the long haul much more enjoyable to me. 

Watching a display aquarium evolve and sort of "find itself" naturally over time is proving to be one of the most enjoyable discoveries I've made in the hobby in decades. By simply following established maintenance routines, and monitoring what's occurring in the tank, as opposed to constantly trying to "pre-empt" problems, I've had more stability, more growth...more success than ever before. Accepting that there is most definitely a "dance" in our aquariums, and becoming an "active monitor" instead of an "active intervener" has added a new and rewarding aspect to my love of the hobby.

In summary...don't stop the dance. Don't interfere with it...Just watch, learn, and keep doing what you're doing.


Today's simple thought.

Stay engaged. Stay enthralled. Stay observant. Stay enthusiastic...

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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