Focusing...and freaking out. Or not.

I had a friend call the other day (wow- a PHONE CALL! Remember those?) just freaked out about some relatively minor change in his in a full-on panic. Like, had to be talked down from the edge panic. 

What was it?

The lighting just looked "different" in his tank this morning when it came on. (don't laugh, to reef guys, its a super-big deal!). He was freaked that all of his corals would be shocked and stressed and die and...deep breath! 

Everything looked different.

Upon going through the normal third-party-due-diligence fish tank diagnosis stuff, it turned out...That his toddler had grabbed ahold of his iPhone..which just happened to have the LED light control app open...and those little fingers changed the program. One quick little swipe later, and his corals were enjoying the same lighting conditions they had for the last two years. The little incident was the aquarium equivalent of a cloudy day in Fiji. That's it. No meltdown. No harm. No damage. (except to my friends blood pressure, of course.)

Now, the point of this motor was not to illustrate my insane aquarium problem-solving skills or intuitive nature. I mean, it was just dumb luck that it was like the second thing we looked at. That being said, my friend's drama was just an example of how we as aquarists KNOW what is "normal" for our tanks, and tend to sound the alarm at any deviation from said norm.

Not a bad thing. But the concerns we have sometimes drive us to crazy "solutions" (like my friend about to pull the trigger on a new $500 USD light system to replace the "damaged" one, before really troubleshooting). Okay- an extreme case- but the mindset is fairly common, in my experience.

Have you noticed that as you become more experienced in the hobby, you tend to do more, but pay attention to less?

Like, you are very aware of how the environment is functioning in your aquarium. You understand the way your equipment is supposed to operate. You have a great grasp on the needs of your fishes, and what is "normal" for them. 

Yet, you tend to focus on a few things, right?

As a botanical-style, blackwater aquarium enthusiast, you really tend to hyper focus on a few interesting things, like how to prepare them, how to add them. You're acutely aware, over time, of what is considered "normal" for this type of aquarium. After an absurd amount of indoctrination and discussion over the past few years, we as a community no longer freak out about the appearance of biofilm, the deep tint of the water, etc. Instead, we focus on what we would consider "deviations" from the "norm" that we've come to expect from these types of tanks.

We have a lot of hobbyists concerned when the visual "tint" starts fading a bit. The big allure, dark;-tinted water, is really important to many of us, and when we lose that "look", it's a source of consternation...Time to reach for more leaves, bark, etc!

Or not. It depends.

Our fishes tend to hang out in certain parts of the tank pretty much all the time, right? And we tend to be concerned when they're not hanging out where we expect them, thinking that somethings wrong. Maybe, maybe it's that they are hanging out in the spot that's best suited for their needs? Perhaps we tend to project our own ideas on what the fishes do- and of course, being wild creatures- they react to their environment in a manner that's appropriate for their comfort and safety. Yet, we see those cichlids in that different spot in the driftwood and we assume the worst. Maybe-just possibly- they're getting ready to spawn? Maybe something good, actually? Maybe?

We notice when the water might be a bit "cloudy" or somehow "soupy", and we know exactly how the water should look under "typical" conditions...perhaps crystal-clear, yet deeply tinted. When there is a deviation from that, we snap to attention and try to see what caused it. Perhaps its simply a result of one or more of our botanicals breaking down a bit more when a layer of tissue "gave way" and released more "stuff" into the water. Cause for alarm? Probably not. However, we observe, we investigate, and we often worry.

We know the smell of a healthy tank. Earthy, pleasant, almost "woodsy." And if that smell is somehow different than what we know to be "perfect", we immediately begin to troubleshoot.Yes, bad smells are a signal that something is amiss. Different smells, however, are a sign that something is...different. Not necessarily "bad", though. Right?

I think it's a real testimony to our dedication, understanding, and experience with aquariums and fishes when we take notice of subtle differences and changes in our tanks. It's a sign that we know what is "normal" and what is "different." The real test is how we respond to these new bits of information. Most of us, despite having invested lots of time, energy money, and devotion to our fishes, don't just freak out and panic, initiating some unrehearsed "disaster protocol" that takes us in all sorts of directions. 

Rather, we tend to look at the available data and analyze what's going on (like really quickly) and then research what the solution is before charging into action...or not. 

And that's a good thing. It's good because I feel that, quite frankly, rushed reactions to things that might not be real "problems" often result in consequences that are far worse than whatever "problem" precipitated the response in the first place. Yikes. 

It just makes sense for us as hobbyists to focus on why _______ is "normal" for our tank, as opposed to just "what" is normal. This way, we can understand our fishes and their environment even more intimately, and what it's a good thing that ________ is the way it is. Just knowing that something is not the way it's always been before isn't portending disaster...particualrly if we don't understand why things were the way they were for so long before. I mean, a change can be a good thing, right? 


So, my brief, simplistic, and very tortured point here: Understand why things are the way they are with your aquarium. Then, figure out what could have caused the change from the "normal", and you'll probably find out pretty quickly why things changed in the first place!

But, you probably knew that already.


Yeah, might just be me...

Anyways...that's todays philosophical pondering from your highly caffeinated fish geek.

Stay vigilant. Stay observant. Stay focused. Stay engaged...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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