One of the great things about botanical-style aquariums is that you can have a fully thought-out plan for your aquarium, start your tank, and ultimately end up with something completely different than what you intended. "Perfect ideas" are often those which allow for such evolution and change over time.
In our wold, Nature does much of the work...if we trust Her and allow her to do so!
Do you have one of those "perfect ideas" for a tank floating around in your head? The kind which, although not necessarily crazy difficult/expensive to do- just something that you've been itching to try. Something aspirational, or otherwise goal-worthy..that kind of stuff?
If you do, be flexible about it.
Ideas are cool. And they're the easy part.
Seems like I'm always coming up with "perfect ideas" for crazy displays- you know, like biotope-inspired themes, specialized systems for particular fishes, etc....but I never seem to get to all of them. I don't think I'm at all unique in that regard. I think a lot of us have that "perfect tank" in our heads, and we're waiting for factors like time, money, or the right livestock to come our way in order to execute them.
As a young hobbyist, I never could afford anything, so I would fall asleep scheming up these dream tanks in my head...Some of these ideas were insane. Just impossible to execute, Others were very realistic, and as I grew older and had the capability, I was able to build them them.
And often, when I was finally able to build the damn thing, it would come to pass that I didn't enjoy having the tank as much as I enjoyed scheming it!
Why is that?
Some dreams are just meant to be...dreamed, I suppose. Right?
And then there was blackwater.
For some reason, this type of tank really resonated in me. Since I was a kid.
It was so...weird- I mean, a tank with water so dark that you couldn't always see the fishes clearly. It seemed so "anti-establishment" for this teenage fish geek...Maybe that was the start of my experimentation with these kinds of tanks. I began with peat moss in my killie tanks, then played around with sticks and leaves and before you know it, I had Neon Tetras spawning- stuff like that!
And even then, I realized that I had to be flexible in my thinking. The "random" successful spawning of "not beginner" fishes that I would experience were not necessarily the result of my skill and planning- they were the result of embracing less traditional processes, and ceding some of that work to Nature. Allowing my ideas to be guided by Her.
Sounds sort of elegant, romantic- probably a bit naive.
However, it's actually a great strategy.
Set the stage, allow things to "breathe" just a bit. And you'll often reap the rewards.
Oh, and you have to make the effort to understand what's happening in your aquarium. It's important to not buy into the hype and B.S. that's been pushed around online for decades about natural, botanical-style blackwater aquariums, and the materials that we use to create them. Now, there is a lot of good information out there, too.
There have been some studies, which we've discussed over the years here, which indicated that materials such as catappa leaves do indeed provide some potential anti fungal/antimicrobial benefits because of the compounds they contain, but I would certainly not use this "disease prevention" thing as the sole justification for utilizing botanicals and creating blackwater systems. That is a whole lot of marketing bullshit, IMHO.
Rather, I'd make the argument that, when coupled with good overall husbandry, a well-managed blackwater aquarium can provide environment which is more consistent with that which many of the fishes we keep have evolved to live in over eons, and that this is a generally healthy way to keep them. Humic substances and other compounds released by botanicals are thought by scientists to be essential for the health of many fishes, and in blackwater aquariums, there are significant concentrations of these compounds present at all times.
Our blackwater/botanical-style aquariums cannot be called the "the best option" for many fishes- just a really good option- one worth investigating more!
Maybe it's time for us to once and for all accept that things are not aesthetically "perfect" in nature, in the sense of being neat and orderly/ratio-adherent from a "design" aspect. Understanding that in Nature, you have branches, leaves, rocks, and botanicals materials scattered about on the bottom of streams in a seemingly random, disorderly pattern.
Or are they? Could it be that current, weather events, and wind distribute materials the way they do for a reason? Could our fishes benefit from replicating this dynamic in our aquariums?
And, is there not incredible beauty in that apparent "randomness?"
Now, I realize that a glass box is NOT a flooded Amazonian forest, mangrove estuary, or Asian peat bog. I realize that we're constrained by size and water volume. We've touched on that hundreds of times here over the years. However, it can look and function like one to some degree, right?
The same processes which occur on a grander scale in Nature also occur on a "micro-scale" in our aquariums. And we can understand and embrace these processes- rather than resist or even "revile" them- as an essential part of the aquatic environment.
All of these things are amazing and helpful.
If we're patient, creative, and flexible about our aspirations. If were willing to accept the changes that Nature brings to our ideas- the possibilities for enjoyment, success- even breakthroughs- are too exciting to resist.
Stay creative. Stay inspired. Stay observant. Stay...flexible...
And Stay Wet.