"Just like in nature..."

If you keep one of these crazy blackwater, botanical-style aquairums, you develop a remarkable "tolerance" for "stuff" that mainstream hobby people would probably freak out about, huh?

For example, the other day, I was amusingly distracted watching my office aquarium, observing a little piece of leaf floating about in the current. I don't really know why, but it somehow made me ponder how differently I have approached virtually everything in my botanical-style aquariums than I do in any other ones I've kept over the decades.

The things you get used to in a botanical-style aquarium are, of course, decomposing leaves, softening botanicals, and the occasional strand of biofilm. And with these things, occasionally, a piece will break off and float around in the current...I remember in years past, in my reef tanks, or "clearwater" FW tanks, I'd be incredibly aggravated by little bits of "stuff" floating in the water column, and would pretty much drop whatever I was doing and reach for the net to remove the offensive material, whatever it was.


However, when I started playing with the blackwater, botanical-themed tanks, I realized that seeing the occasional bit of debris (typically leaves or interior tissues of botanicals) didn't aggravate me in the least. In fact, I found that I kind of like it. I've watched enough of Ivan Mikolji's videos and seen enough of Mike Tuccinardi's pics of natural blackwater habitats to accept the fact that the dynamic in nature is that, well- occasionally, there is "stuff" floating in the water.

Remember, a lot of the habitats that we simulate are flooded forest floors, inundated by heavy rains or overflowing streams and rivers. As such, they "import" materials from the formerly terrestrial environment into the newly-aquatic habitat.

And you just have to accept this will happen in an aquarium that utilizes these natural materials, just as in nature. And there is a certain "look" that any aquarium which embraces and represents this type of environment has. There is a mental shift that we have to make when creating a botanical-style aquarium that allows us to embrace the way materials are distributed randomly throughout our aquascapes by "forces" beyond our control.

You can be as "artistic" and meticulous as you want with botanicals, placing them in specific orientations and arrangements; however, as they break down, and as current and the activities of your fishes move them out of their original positions (just like in nature...again), you'll either have to reposition them where you want them again, or enjoy the ever-changing "naturescape" look. In a 'scape with "permanent" hardscape materials, like driftwood and/or rocks, you'll always have the consistency of these natural "anchors" to serve as the "guide."

So,if you're a hardcore 'scape, I think you'll want to emphasize a very solid and well-thought-out hardscape to serve as the underlying "superstructure" in your tank. The more "ephemeral" botanicals are part of the "accessorizing, if you will. And relocating botanicals to maintain "design integrity" is, in my opinion, analogous to trimming plants in a high-concept planted aquarium. It's just part of the practice required. Or not. It's really about YOUR concept. YOUR tolerances.

Your call.

So yeah, there IS a certain "randomness" and "complex casualness" that a botanical-style aquarium possesses. But don't confuse that, as some critics have over the years, with "sloppiness" or "lack of thought" in design or execution. It's part of the game.

Now, it doesn't mean that it's cool to have uneaten food, or huge pieces of leaves, dead fishes and such floating about in your tank or blocking filter intakes, etc. However, it does mean that little bits of stuff floating in the current, or breaking down on the substrate sort of "goes with the territory" of what we do, and that this is nature.

This is what happens in the wild, and there is no particular reason why it isn't "acceptable" to see it in our aquariums from time to time. The wild aquatic habitats of the world simply aren't filled with perfectly manicured and positioned plants, rocks, and wood. Nature really couldn't give a shit about our ability to achieve or maintain a certain "look."

She does what she has done for eons.

IMHO, we need to really think hard about the use of the descriptor "Nature Aquarium" versus the term "Natural Aquarium" in this context. There is a distinct difference between the two. Neither is better than the other...They're simply different, and if we are going to use labels, I believe that we should endeavor to understand them.

Yet again, it's one of those "mental shifts"  that we have to make- understanding and appreciating the fact that the "aesthetic" of a blackwater/botanical aquarium is far different from the interpretation that has been presented to us in the popular aquatic media for so long. 

It's not an excuse for sloppy husbandry, or neglecting the removal of offensive materials. However, it IS a sort of acceptance of the fact that "stuff happens" in nature- and in aquariums- and that many of these things are simply not worth getting upset about.

I mean, if you have an aquarium with brown water, and substrate dominated by decomposing leaves and softening botanicals, it shouldn't come as any surprise that an occasional piece might break off and float around before settling somewhere else in the aquarium. This happens, and it's okay.

Just like in nature.

I find it strongly relaxing; oddly amusing, actually. Perhaps..maybe, these transient, ephemeral moments are the exact embodiment of the idea of "wabi-sabi" that Takashi Amano wrote about so often?

Just another nuance; another little transient thing- another mental shift we have to make when keeping one of these amazing aquariums.

I write about this stuff more often nowadays, because as Tannin has gained a higher visibility and (I hope) influence in the overall aquarium hobby, we are seeing an influx of hobbyists from different "specialties" and who have had different orientations and such- especially "hardcore" aquascapers.

And because from time-to-time, our community receives some unfair criticisms about some aspects of the aesthetic we embrace (as I touched on above) from some sectors- which gives us the opportunity to "clear the air" on a few things. Explaining the "whys" to would-be critics is as important as anything else we do.

We don't need to "strike back" at those who levy unfair and unfounded criticisms upon the work we do. We need to understand where they are coming from, and let them know that they can bring a lot to the table, too.

With these new people come new ideas that we can incorporate into our own specialty. It also means that you CAN have a "high-concept" aquarium (not my term), with an intricate and well-thought-out hardscape, yet still have lots of botanicals contributing to the overall aesthetics of the aquarium in a variety of ways.

It's an evolving art and science.

It's something that we all have the chance to contribute to. Something that we all have an opportunity to benefit from. We can embrace the fact that our aquariums are dynamic, ever-changing microcosms, which can incorporate our aesthetic preferences while allowing nature to do her own thing.

There may be the occasional piece of "stuff" floating in the current...just like in nature.

Stay inspired. Stay observant. Stay studious. Stay relaxed. Stay engaged. Stay obsessed...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


2 Responses

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman

December 19, 2018

You’re very welcome! Sometimes, just looking at things a bit differently helps!



December 18, 2018

…. And stay tuned! Thanks for another thought provoking post Scott.

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