"Fellman, do you really like biofilms, decomposition, and all that stuff in your aquarium?"

We have been "thought" by our fellow aquarium "tribe" since the beginning of the hobby that having slimy, yucky-looking stuff, like biofilms, mold, and algae in our tanks is nasty. A bad omen. Signs that our tank is "dirty", "unbalanced", or otherwise poorly managed.

The appearance of the fist film of algae, or heaven forbid, some biofilm of any sort, is typically cause for an aquarist to frantically post on his/her favorite hobby forum about the plague that is starting to overtake the aquarium.

We're convinced that if something looks a little weird, it's bad for our tanks! ( Well, hell, the fact that we keep those nasty Parrot Cichlids sort of validates that theory, huh? But I digress...).

Anyhow, you see me write a lot on these very pages about how a "New Botanical-style" aquarium will often recruit biofilms and algae, and invite decomposition and such. We've talked about decomposing leaves and their impact on the physical and chemical environment of our aquariums and the wild environments in which they are present.

We've talked about this repeatedly, including a fairly detailed examination of what biofilms are and what they really mean to your aquarium and it's inhabitants (not really a bad thing, actually). We've talked about the "mental stretch" that you need to make if you're really gonna embrace this truly natural type of setup over the long term.

Biofilms, some algae, decomposition, and even a bit of mold on leaves and such are to be expected if you are going the "New Botanical" route. Materials with surface area conducive to bacteria and algae colonization will accumulate this stuff. It's part of the natural processes that occur in our tanks.

Sure, it can be limited, reduced, even mitigated altogether, depending upon the amount of effort you want to put into it. A lot of hobbyists who run these types of systems will not simply scrub away some of the stuff off of the leaves or botanicals upon which they appear, or allow the leaves to fully decompose- they'll simply remove and replace them!

And that's okay. You don't have to, of course- unless you find the appearance of these life forms unpalatable. I think you'll miss an opportunity to see a truly natural system at work. Do I take these materials out?

I don't. 

Seriously. I don't.

I don't because I like them. I like the look. And, I understand that :

a) these life forms are found in the natural environments we are attempting to replicate all  the time.

b) They are often "ephemeral"- they come and go periodically, many times never to return again...it's a "phase" that our aquariums go through. Some NEVER go through this "phase."

c) They provide many benefits, such as a natural foraging substrate, for many of our fishes and invertebrates, as well as continuous imparting of tannin and other substances into the water.

I've been playing with these types of aquariums for years, and I've learned- tought myself, actually- to expect, understand...and ultimately, to embrace the appearance of these life forms and processes. In an otherwise well-managed aquarium, they present no problems...unless we simply don't like the look.

Yes, bacteria contained in biofilms are part of the bioload of the aquarium, in a sense, and yet also serve to help process and bind up nutrients, much the way sand and live rock do in a reef tank.


Again, if you're so inclined to remove the "offending materials", you could view it as a form of nutrient export, I suppose- even though you're sort of removing the nutrient export "vehicle" itself when you remove a biofilm-covered pod or leaf!

As we've discussed previously, you can "employ" some "friends" to help keep some of these growth in check if you are offended by their appearance.

Or, you can enjoy the botanical look, and keep things looking "pristine." There is no right or wrong here. And that's what's important to know.

Nature offers solution to many of the things we view as "problems"- yet it also offers opportunities to embrace and appreciate the processes that occur within our little microcosms. Nature has its own "check and balances" that we can choose to enjoy.

In the end, we all want the same thing: A beautiful aquarium, filled with healthy and thriving life forms. We all have the means to help our life forms thrive. What we consider "beautiful", however, is subjective, and should be based upon our own aesthetic tastes, using natural as a sort of "barometer."

So my answer to the question, "Do you really like all that stuff in your aquarium?" is as much an expression of my philosophy of aquarium keeping as it is an answer. I've chosen to embrace a certain natural look, accept the processes that happen in my aquariums, and to watch them evolve. It's not for everyone. But it need not be considered 'dirty", untidy, or otherwise indicative of a poorly managed system.

Rather, the "New Botanical" style can be almost anything you want it to be...An expression of nature. An appreciation for a specific environment. OR simply, another way to keep a successful and beautiful aquarium.

Enjoy. Embrace. Evolve.

Stay open-minded. Stay honest with yourself. Stay curious.

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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