Muddy. Rich. Tinted. Sounds like a plan!

Muddy, nutrient- rich, filled with mangrove leaves, and stained a bit from tannins. Beautiful in a very different, yet oddly compelling way.

Hmm...That sounds oddly familiar, doesn't it?

It is. And it isn't.

Enter the age of the "tinted" brackish-water aquarium.

Yep, tinted. As in "brown."

As in- not your father's brackish-water aquarium. It's not about limestone rocks, quartz sand, and pieces of coral skeleton. Rather, we use combinations of fine sands, muds, and other materials to create a rich, dark, sediment-filled substrate. Possibly creating higher nutrient conditions than typically associated with brackish tanks, yet far closer in step with the rich estuary habitats we're interested in replicating.

Of course "muddy", "nutrient rich", and "tinted", especially in the context of a system with some salt in it, will immediately get you attention from the armchair aquatic warriors of the internet, who will come out of the woodwork to warn you that, "You're headed down a path to disaster!"

This sounds oddly familiar, huh?

Step back from the "doom and gloom" forecasts of naysayers for just a second, okay?

"Nutrient rich." "Tinted..."


This is not only familiar to many of us in the blackwater, botanical-style aquarium's pretty much second nature to us by now, right?

It's about husbandry. Management. Observation. Diligence. Challenge. Occasional failure.

Yes, you might kill some stuff, because you may not be used to managing a higher-nutrient brackish water system. You have a number of variables, ranging from the specific gravity to the bioload, to take into consideration. Your skills will be challenged, but the lessons learned in the blackwater, botanical-style aquariums that we're more familiar with will provide you a huge "experience base" that will assist you in navigating the "tinted" brackish water, botanical-style aquarium.

It's not "ground-breaking", in that it's never, ever before been done like this before. I just don't think that t's never been embraced like this before: Met head-on for what it is- what it can be, instead of how we wanted to make it (bright white sand, crystal-clear water, and a few rocks and shells...). Rather, it's an evolution- a step forward out of the artificially-induced restraints of "this is how it's always been done"- another exploration into what the natural environment is REALLY like- and understanding, embracing and appreciating its aesthetics, functionality, and richness.  

Figuring out how to bring this into our aquariums. That sort of thing.

And one thing that you will love:

The bottom of this type of habitat is covered with a thin layer of leaf litter. Specifically, mangrove leaf litter. This will not only provide an aesthetically interesting substrate- it will offer functional benefits as well- imparting minerals, trace elements, and organic acids to the water.

Mangrove leaf litter, like its freshwater counterpart, is the literal "base" for developing our brackish-water aquarium "food chain", from which microbial, fungal, and crustacean growth will benefit. And of course, these leaves will impart some tannins into the water, just as any of our other leaves will!

And you can play with many different types of substrate materials, ranging from sand to mud and everything in between. 

And then there are mangroves.

Not only the live mangrove propagules, which you can sprout in your brackish water aquarium, but the dried mangrove roots and branch pieces, which can create an amazing aesthetic!  And the epiphytic life forms (algae, crustaceans, etc.) which grow on them will perform many of the same functions that they do in nature...


And different.

And wide open for experimentation, innovation, and enjoyment. And the biggest obstacle is the act of forgetting our preconceptions about what this type of aquarium HAS been, as presented to us in the past, and looking at what it COULD be when we try this more realistic approach.

Obviously, we should look at tanks that have been created by other hobbyists for inspiration- and I'll keep putting out pics of my tanks to offer some. Yet, I also encourage you to spend a lot of time looking at nature for your inspiration- observe the nuances, the "dirt", if you will- and the potential for replicating it all in the aquarium.

And the fishes? Well, that will be a challenge until suppliers/breeders/collectors see a demand for them. We're helping to create the market for this stuff, even if we don't look at it from that perspective. There are a few available right now. Maybe more soon. We'll chat about them in upcoming installments.

And it's not just about the look. It's about learning how to care for, spawn, and rear fishes and other animals from this unique environment.Indeed, it's about learning how to recreate and manage the environment in the confines of an aquarium.

Looking for a new frontier to help explore? This might be the ticket. 

Stay excited. Stay innovative. Stay diligent. Stay observant...Stay tuned..

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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