"High Tech/High Concept", or is it "Low tech/ High Concept?" Or..?

Like all of you, I spend a fair amount of time interacting and exploring on online forums. 

Although I'm not anything close to a serious planted aquarium keeper, I do enjoy reading up on the techniques, ideas, and evolutions within that hobby niche. In my personal opinion, it's perhaps one of the most rapidly-evolving  sectors within the aquarium hobby. Seems like every week there is some new development, some new idea, some adaptation of a new piece of hardware (like from reef keeping, which is kind of cool), etc.

It's a pretty happening sector within the hobby, and I think we can learn a little bit from our planted aquarium fantastic friends which might work with our blackwater/botanical-style and now, brackish water-botanical-style tanks.

One of the things I find fascinating is the concept of "low tech versus high tech" planted tanks, and where what we do dovetails with this line of thinking/practice. I have found this to be a most interesting dichotomy, one in which I think we may not only operate, but actually be positioned to contribute to the body of knowledge within the hobby.

I suppose a good working definition of "high tech" yields some clues: A high tech planted tank could be defined as one which utilizes intense light, injection of nutrients into the water column, a "nutritious" substrate, and CO2 injection (typically administered via a controller). It seems to favor high growth rate and the ability to effectively grow the widest variety of aquatic plants at a good growth clip.

A "low-tech" planted tank, on the other hand, as its name implies, tends to eschew many of the more complex equipment (like CO2 injection systems/controllers, cable heating, high-intensity lighting) in favor of operational simplicity, and relies on more "natural" processes to some extent (like the CO2 being provided by fish respiration and the bulk of the "fertilizers" coming from their waste), but seems to embrace the use of supplemental liquid fertilizers and may occasionally employ an enriched substrate. The lower light intensities utilized are an obvious "limiting factor" to "low tech" systems (although just because you cannot grow high light/high fertilization-requiring plants doesn't seem to me to be a reason for the "low tech" moniker).

Now, those are rough "definitions" that I've come up with based on my understanding of both. Your interpretation may vary and be significantly different from mine, but I think I'm sort of "in the ballpark" with them.

Now, how do these concepts "sync" with what we do? Well, first off, with blackwater/botanical-style tanks, the primary focus seems to be on the overall aquatic environment, and typical natural blackwater systems have few true aquatic plants, so, although more and more hobbyists are experimenting with plants in these tanks, to attempt to categorize them one way or another seems superfluous, in my opinion. Our systems sort of "are what they are", right? Light penetration and nutrient-poor substrates characterize many blackwater systems in nature.

Of course, there are streams and bogs and such with plants like Cryptocoryne, or Anubias, which do well in these environments, but these are exceptions typically. Floating plants seem to dominate many of the South American blackwater habitats in which true aquatic plants are found.

However, we also do embrace elements that could be considered sort of "high tech", like "enriched" substrates, advanced lighting systems (a lot of us use LED's for aesthetic effects), and controlled water movement. Although we're typically emphasizing plant growth as a secondary part of the aquarium, we do create an environment that is conducive to the growth of some species, don't we? I mean, with a lot of decomposing botanical materials and nutrient sources provided courtesy of leaves, and substrate materials, we have some of the elements to do the job nicely.  

Yet, our substrates are, in my opinion, "configured" with the intention of providing overall environmental conditions (like tinted, lower pH water) and fostering fungal/bacterial food chains and maybe, just maybe some denitrification/fermentation of organics.

So, where does this leave us as practitioners of the blackwater/botanaical-style aquarium? I think we're sort of "niche habitat replicators" as opposed to strict "fish-dominated systems" or "high/low-tech planted tanks", etc. Yet, we are utilizing many of the concepts and ideas from both regularly, wether we consciously think about it or not, right? I think employing some aspects of planted tanks in our systems is not only interesting- I think it can be very beneficial to both "disciplines" within the hobby. This very superficial, yet (I hope) though-provoking discussion sort of demonstrates that many different aquarium concepts rely on some of the same "operating systems", yet might employ different hardware/technique to get to their destinations. Some require the application of higher technology- others, a greater reliance on nature. 

Although one might say that the blackwater/botanical-style aquarium falls somewhere squarely in between, suffice it to say we can definitely contribute to the ongoing evolution of many aspects within the aquarium hobby universe. "High Tech/Low Tech"- doesn't matter. What DOES matter is that we are learning, experimenting, and hopefully- unlocking a few secrets along the way about recreating, maintaining, and perhaps even protecting- these compelling natural systems.

Keep doing what you're doing. Keep contributing to the growing global body of work and advancing the state of the art not only of this sector- but of the overall aquarium hobby!

Stay bold. Stay Adventurous. Stay open-minded. Stay experimental. Stay diligent.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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