On spreading the darkness...

With so many hobbyists now showing an interest in blackwater aquariums, I think it's fantastic that we as a global community are demonstrating all sorts of cool aesthetics for everyone to see. It's very exciting to see that no two blackwater, botanical-style aquariums are the same, with each one looking significantly different from any other. To the casual outsider, seeing the exploding number of tinted tank pics showing up on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media feeds and forums, they might all have that initial similar "look"- tinted water- and that may or may not be enough to either captivate or repel- depending upon one's aesthetic tastes!

However, beyond the initial "Oh, the water is brown", it's obvious that there are numerous aesthetic and functional approaches being taken by members of our community in developing fascinating and compelling aquatic displays. It's not just, "Boil seed pods and soak leaves- throw on gravel. Done. Blackwater tank" (Trust me, when I first launched Tannin Aquatics, I was definitely concerned that this would be the extent of the interest in the idea...Fortunately, that fear lasted about two days or so, after I saw the cool stuff that our customers were doing!).And it's exciting that Tannin has become sort of the "nexus" or "watering hole" for blackwater enthusiasts, sharing ideas, experiences, and their work...nothing makes me prouder! It's bigger than just Tannin Aquatics, our products, or me, or us. 

Every once in a while, I'll see a comment on a forum or elsewhere in social media talking about blackwater, botanical-style tanks as a "hot new trend" in the hobby. I think we're really well beyond being a trend. Sure, since we've been around, we've shared our obsession and gathered a like-minded "tribe" of formerly "scattered" hobbyists who are fascinated by this stuff, becoming a cohesive, inclusive, and somewhat vocal lot! We as a community have elevated and refined it. To simply write off blackwater as a "hot trend" or "fad" is, IMHO, kind of ridiculous, because: a) We didn't "invent" this-aquarists have been creating blackwater tanks for decades, b) The opportunities to understand the natural habitats and conditions from which so many of our favorite fishes hail is huge, c) A completely different aesthetic is taking shape around blackwater, botanical-style aquariums, and d) There are so many functional benefits of utilizing a blackwater approach (fish health, coloration, breeding, etc.), that the hobby as a whole benefits from work in this area.

Some things that I think will benefit our community and the greater hobby as a whole will be to communicate more information about the water parameters we have in our aquariums. Beyond the simple water color, I think that it would be most beneficial for us to share data such as pH, alkalinity, nitrate, etc., as this not only answers a lot of questions for the many new hobbyists who are interested in creating their own blackwater aquarium, it provides a "database" of information that will help us spot trends, characteristics, and identify techniques which will give us all a greater basis for discussion, and for understanding the nuances of this compelling hobby specialty.

I think it's important to continue to share our experiences- the good, the bad, and the horrifying- with fellow "tinters." You've seen me talk endlessly here and elsewhere about biofilms, decomposition, brown water, and "mental shifts" that we have to embrace, and I think that sharing with all who are interested how this works will benefit so many. For the neophyte "tinter" to have at least some basic expectations of what happens-good and bad- in a botanical-style blackwater aquarium, will help us refine our techniques and have a greater understanding of how this "medium" works.

It's important to share. I've literally written posts like, "How to kill your fish and crash your tank with botanicals..." Yes, we need to share our failures, too. We don't need to sugar coat it. We need to talk about the potential disasters that can happen- or that might have happened- because we pushed things too hard, took stuff for granted, or simply tried something that hasn't been done before. We're still very much in the "experimental" phases of the serious blackwater, botanical-style aquarium hobby.

Blackwater aquariums have different "operating parameters" than typical neutral to alkaline, moderately hard water tank, and require an understanding of pH, the nitrogen cycle, ammonia/ammonium, and husbandry. 'best practices", if you will.  It's definitely not rocket science, but it's not as simple as thawing some leaves into your tank and calling it a day. I think we, as a community, all know this by now. We stress- and must continue to stress to all who ask- the importance of preparation, monitoring, going slowly, and observing our aquariums carefully. Understanding that these types of aquariums evolve and change over time, and are dynamic and ever-changing. And not to everyone's taste. The look, the function, the dynamics- the limitations- each are considerations that everyone who travels this path has to reconcile for themselves.

And of course, above all- we need to stress patience. It's the key element to hobby success in ANY speciality; absolutely critical to ours.

We're doing a tremendous job of stressing the importance of sharing, discussing, experimenting, and learning about the many aspects of blackwater, botanical-style aquariums. Every single day, we see pics of new tanks, and hear stories from different hobbyists who have discovered the amazing benefits of a properly-managed blackwater system. We're seeing tremendous interest in not only creating and managing the aquariums, but in the natural habitats we attempt to replicate in some way...and the fishes and other organisms which reside in them.  Our aquariums, in both form and function, represent these habitats in a very realistic manner, as we are starting to learn. With this greater emphasis on understanding and accepting nature as it is- rather than how we interpret it to be, I think our community is in an ideal position to lead the way in calling attention to the wonders of- and perils facing- the natural blackwater habitats that we love so much.

Let's keep sharing, learning, growing. Together. For the benefit of all who love the aquarium hobby.

We're doing a pretty damn good job of it already.

Stay bold. Stay experimental. Stay dedicated. Stay generous.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics




Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment