Not long ago, I was perusing a hobby forum on “blackwater aquariums” , and an aquarist was asking for “inspiration” for an “Amazonian-themed blackwater flooded forest aquarium.”
Okay, that's always cool...Anything "Amazon-themed" or "flooded forest" always sort of catches my attention! And "blackwater" kind of gets to me...
And, predictably, a bunch of hobbyists chimed in to help- because hobbyists are kind that way. They shared photos of a variety of what they called “Amazonian- themed blackwater” aquariums, which, sadly, not only didn’t have “blackwater”type conditions- they bore almost no resemblance to any actual natural aquatic habitat- blackwater flooded forest, or otherwise.
Some of the responses were downright boastful and seemingly authoritative, with more than one literally stating that, "...this is how you should do it if you want this type of tank..." And, they looked like all of the other other "Amazon-Themed" tanks you see on social media...Superficial at best...downright inaccurate at the worst.
The effort by most of the respondents was sincere, but the tragedy in all of this was that no one thought to share a single picture of a natural Aquatic habitat.
Or even a recommendation to search Google for one! Virtually any pic of a natural (blackwater) habitat would provide endless inspiration. At the very least, it would have opened up more discussions; perhaps led to some different questions. Questions which could have led to some shared experiences, greater understanding, and maybe- some new ideas on how to execute an aquarium representing this amazing habitat.
Yet, it turned into the usual regurgitated copy-fest of assorted aquariums, and discussion on how to replicate the look of them. It was disappointing enough that none of the tanks in the discussion remotely "looked" like the wild habitat the questioner was intrigued by- and even more disappointing that the discussion was about how to replicate the tanks-not the habitat!
Yeah, a desire to replicate the look of an aquarium purportedly based upon a natural habitat (which it didn't really resemble at all, in form or function)? Like, WTF?!
How does this happen?
I think that it's because we as a hobby are, well- lazy.
Seriously. I know that sounds harsh, but it's true, IMHO.
With few exceptions, most hobbyists generally don't make the effort to do their own research- or any research, for that matter, other than asking for pics of someone else's tank. It's a real tragedy, because with minimal effort, even the visuals of a natural ecosystem could provide cues and topics to further research that will help hobbyists really understand what they're contemplating!
Now, I realize that this can easily turn into another "grumpy 'ol Scott rant telling the neighborhood kids to get off his lawn", but that's not the point. And, I do realize that not everyone wants to create an aquarium filled with leaves and soil and decomposing muck, and that not every aquarium representing one of these habitats has to be that way. However, the greater issue is when our hobby understanding of these habitats is based wholy on someone's aquarium, which may bare little, if any resemblance to the actual environment it intends to "replicate."
Then what happens is that we perpetuate misinformation- even when unintended. We continue to push dumbed-down or superficial information about these habitats and the practices required if we truly want replicate them functionally, not just aesthetically. I mean, enjoy the hobby hope you want to- but don't perpetuate the bad information that's already out there in the process.
I think we need to spend way more time as hobbyists actually looking at Nature for our inspiration- not only for the “aesthetics”- but to study and understand the function. To learn about why these habitats function and look the way they do. It’s the “unlock”- the key to everything!
Look, you may love the way they look, respect and understand the function- and still choose to create a tank "inspired" by them. And that's perfectly okay. I do it all the time. My tanks don't precisely replicate many of the habitats they represent. I don't want try to manage a 4.3pH ecosystem, despite how accurate it may be. I do, however, understand these systems on some levels, and I certainly make the effort to learn about, and replicate when possible, the ecology where they occur.
But I don't defectors declare my tanks as the ultimate representation ration of a specific habitat.
Maybe I "pick and choose"what I care to work with- which a lot of us do. And that's fine.
What I don't do-what NONE of us should do- is make declarative statements about my way being "the best" way or the "only" way to do something, and I don't espouse that any other approach is incorrect or "wrong"- that's just being an asshole.
It doesn't help anyone.
It's perfectly fine to do whatever you want and call your work whatever- I mean, if your tank has 6 different species of fishes from the Amazon, it's decidedly an "Amazon-themed" tank, but to literally imply that your work is the epitome of accuracy is just absurd. It's NOT fine when you're dogmatically telling people that your tank something that it's not, and inferring that if they don't replicate your work, they somehow "not doing things correctly."
It's important for us to refer to research and information from outside of the aquarium hobby. Otherwise, this just becomes an echo chamber where we keep bouncing around the same assertions, regardless of accuracy. Google Scholar and other scientific research aggregator sites are really helpful- and you'd be surprised just how much stuff there is on the most arcane topics that you're trying to learn about. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've made use of these priceless resources for my work!
Now sure, some of this stuff is often dry, filled with academic language and references, and might be difficult for us non-scientist to follow...But if you persevere and stay at it, you can uncover some real gems that will help you in ways you might not have thought about. An example for me was a paper containing the orginal description and type locality of Tucanoichthys tucano; a paper which gave me the information which I needed to create what I would proudly call one of my finest and most iconic aquairums (jokingly referred to as the "Tucano Tangle"- but the name sorta stuck, lol).
I've made this plea before- but I think it's vitally important to go beyond what's "easy."
I realize that finding your info on YouTube is convenient, and that there are some great channels out there- but more often, it's filled with inaccuracies and even vacuous drivel. You need to do a few more "technical" searches to see what I mean. Trust me- once you find one of those hidden gems in scholarly articles- it'll change the way you get your information!
Yeah, inspiration comes from all sorts of sources.
Some of them are just a bit more "original" than others.
Seek them out. Learn from them. Be inspired by them.
Stay curious. Stay diligent. Stay excited...
And Stay Wet.