On to the next?

Okay, I know it's a bit weird to say it, but as fish geeks, I think we're never completely satisfied with our aquariums. I mean, yeah, we love them, and we pour everything we've got into them (literally and figuratively!),

One of the things I've found it hardest to do as an aquarist who owns a company in recent years is to speed up the creation of new aquariums. The reality is that my whole aquarium "career" has been geared towards being able to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n and establish aquariums over long periods of time, allowing them to evolve.

This doesn't always square well with the "get more ideas out there YESTERDAY!" mindset that you seem to need to have in today's social media fueled hobby. I watch some YouTubers just crashing through every barrier in a frantic pace to get to the next project as quickly as possible. It's like, "Can't stand still for a second, or..!"

Or what, exactly?

Do "creators" really think that they're going to lose a substantial percentage of their followers just because it's Wednesday, they're still stabilizing their African river tank, and they didn't get to the 240-gallon Pirahna tank just yet? 


I mean, it's kind of crazy. However, I DO understand the mindset behind it to a certain extent.

Yeah. Like, when you see part of your responsibility being to inspire others through your ideas and work, you want to show as much as possible, as frequently as possible. But, does that mean constantly creating some new setup to follow whatever the hot thing is at the moment? It gets ridiculous after a while ("If it's Thursday, it's time for the Rainbowfish biotope tank...Or was it the macro algae tank? Or maybe it's the Swordtail tank...")

Again, I suppose part of me understands.

"Creators" feel that they need to...create. But why does it always have to be a new tank? Why not produce content focusing on evolving and perfecting the existing tanks? Why not discuss the current challenges, status, and progress on the tank you just started? Some creators do this, and it's great content! Now, I understand, some professionals can show new tanks every week because that's what they do!

But hobbyists shouldn't feel that there is some "pressure" to constantly feature new stuff. Because there isn't. But the pressure is there, sure.

I could have easily succumbed to this perceived urgent "need" to crank out a rapid succession of tanks. After all, it's been almost 18 months since I was able to have a meaningful home aquarium, I've got a ton of ideas, my wife is all for it, and I feel good about all of the projects I've got planned...Full speed ahead, right?

Where's the fun in THAT?

Yeah, I've purposely kept myself on a "hobbyist footing",  and am trying to simply play with each tank and work on the challenges that arise with them in a manageable, logical pace. I want to fully ENJOY each one for what it is. And I've been sharing what's been going on with them. Maybe it's not as exciting as me setting up two more cool new tanks, but it feels much more "honest" to me.


I've made the effort to document and discuss the progress with my brackish water mangrove tank. I've spent a lot of time sharing images and social media posts on the progress of the mangroves. As I mentioned a bunch of times, mangroves do not like being transplanted, and they shock out and take some time to recover. It was real touch and go there for a while; I thought I might lose all of my two and a half year old seedlings.

Fortunately, I've taken my time to let them come around and revive, and had some great discussions with fellow mangrove geeks about them. It's been really gratifying to see them come back, and it's been fun to share the progress. And to talk about the fact that my aggressive handling of the transplant almost killed them. To share the good, the bad, and the downright ugly with fellow hobbyists is the name of the game here.

But this piece isn't just about creating content for social media or whatever. It's about the mindset that you should cultivate to slow down and enjoy every aspect of what you're doing.  I'm all about "deferred gratification"- or more realistically- gratification from every stage of the aquarium journey. 

I think it's just more fun to "work through" a tank evolution. Yeah, I've had times when I've killed a project really quickly; changed my mind on something and just ended it. However, that's almost never happened when I've been working with a project that I put a lot of thought into. 

Case in point is the simple, small botanical-method tank that I started a couple of months back. I had in my mind the desire to create a tank for some Asian blackwater fishes, utilizing the approach of "leaf litter"only", and then gradually evolving the tank into something a bit more diverse. A lot of people asked me to do another tank like this, to sort of show how a leaf litter only system can be set up and managed. 

I've done this type of tank a few times before, so it wasn't exactly breaking new ground for me, but it was fun to document the process. I felt- and still feel- that the leaf-litter-only approach is one of the easiest, if not THE easiest, botanical-method aquariums to run. And of course, I wanted to work on that longer-term theme of heavy leaf litter, twigs, and easy epiphytic plants in the display, so the process was sped up considerably to begin evolving it towards that. The "leaf litter only" phase was just a sort of "waypoint" in a journey.

A journey...Because that's what each aquarium we create really is, right?

Yet, I can't help but wonder why it is that, in the aquarium world we seem to feel the need to get to something that we can call "finished"- and quickly, at that.

I wonder if it has to do with some inherent impatience that we have as aquarists- or perhaps as humans in general-a desire to see the "finished product" as soon as possible; a sort of "goal oriented" mindset- something like that. And there is nothing at all wrong with that, I suppose. I just kind of wonder what the big rush is?

I guess, when we view an aquarium in the same context as a dental procedure, tax return preparation, or folding laundry, I can see how rush would take on a greater significance!

On the other hand, if you look at an aquarium as you would a garden- an organic, living, evolving, growing entity- and something enjoyable-then the need to see the thing "finished" becomes much less important. Suddenly, much like a "road trip", the destination becomes less important than the journey. It's about the experiences gleaned along the way. Enjoyment of the developments, the process. In the 
botanical-style aquarium, it's truly about a dynamic and ever-changing system. Every stage holds fascination. 

IS there even a "finish line" to an aquarium? 

Does it ever reach "finished?" Does Nature? Of course not! Rather, it's continuous evolution, in which there might be some competition between fishes, plants, or corals ( in a reef tank, of course) that results in one or more species dominating all of the rest. Maybe. Or, perhaps diversity continues to win, with lots of different life forms eaking out an existence in your artificial microcosm, just as they have managed to do for eons in Nature?

We don't have all of the answers.

And that's okay. That's part of the fun, too.

And we also should enjoy those times when our tanks are doing their thing...evolving...

Which is... every single day.

Yet, there is an apparent disconnect in the general aquarium hobby. A desire to get to "finished"- whatever that actually IS- as quickly and easily as possible. Like, why are we in such a damn rush? What's the point of trying to quickly get through all of the amazing stages of aquarium development, en route to some strange and seemingly enigmatic destination called "finished?"

I personally think that our social-media-fueled hobby era has continued to push this narrative, to the detriment of the hobby. ("There he goes again, hating on social media!" ) I'm NOT hating social media- it's one of the greatest facilitators of human communication in history. However, I am criticizing the behavior of humans who use it. We want to show only the best side of everything; we seem to want to create an aura of excitement, energy, and momentum, I guess.

Just glossing over the daily progress in order to show the "finished product", overlooks the evolution, the experiences, and the little bits of knowledge gleaned along the way. Enjoyment of the developments, the process.

Botanical method aquariums pretty much demand that you slow down. Since the very nature of utilizing materials such as leaves and botanicals will result in them gradually decomposing in water, and not only changing in appearance, but influencing the water chemistry and physical environment of the aquarium to a varying degree, we as lovers of botanical-style aquariums view every aquarium as an evolving entity.

And, as an evolving entity, a botanical aquarium requires some understanding and patience, and the passage of time...

You can't rush this process and expect good results.

t's why we literally pound it into your head over and over here that you not only shouldn't try to circumvent these processes and occurrences- you should embrace them and attempt to understand exactly what they mean for the fishes that we keep.

They're a key part of the functionality.

I've always been fanatical about NOT taking shortcuts in the hobby. In fact, I've probably avoided shortcuts- to the point of making things more difficult for myself at times! Over the years, I have thought a lot about how we as botanical-method aquarium enthusiasts gradually build up our systems, and how the entire approach is about creating a biome-Just like what Nature does.

It works exactly the same in an aquarium...If we let Nature do her work without excessive intervention.

Just be patient. Really patient.

The lack of patience in the hobby is often reflected in social media posts, especially many of the so-called "tank build threads."

I see these in reef-keeping forums constantly, and sadly, they often follow a very predictable path. They start out innocently and exciting enough- the tank concept is highlighted, the acquisition of (usually expensive) equipment is documented, and the build begins. The pace quickens. The urgency to “get the livestock in the tank asap”  is palpable. Soon, pretty large chunks of change are dropped on some of the most trendy, expensive coral frags- or worse yet- colonies- available. 


Everyone “oohs and ahhs” over the additions. Those who understand the processes involved- and really think about it- begin to realize that this is going too fast…that the process is being rushed…that shortcuts and “hacks” are cherished more than the natural processes required for success.

Sure enough, within a month or so, frantic social media and forum posts are written by the builder, asking for help to figure out why his/her expensive corals are “struggling”, despite the amount spent on high-tech equipment, additives, and said corals from reputable vendors.


When suggestions are offered by members of the community, usually they’re about correcting some aspect of the nitrogen cycle or other critical biological function that was bypassed or downplayed by the aquarist. Usually, the “fixes”  involve “doubling back” and spending more time to “re-boot” and do things more slowly. To let the system sort of evolve (oh- THAT word!)

And, then, the “yeah, I know, but..”  type of responses- the ones that deflect responsibility- start piling up from the hobbyist. Often, the tank owner will apply some misplaced blame to the equipment manufacturer, the livestock vendor, the LFS employee…almost anyone but himself/herself. And soon after, the next post is in the forum’s “For Sale” section, selling off components of a once-ambitious aquarium.

Another hobbyist lost to lack of patience.


We have to overcome this phobia that we have collectively developed which says, "I can only share my best work!" or, "I need to get it to some point where I'm comfortable showing it off.."


Because people might see that your tank had to start somewhere? Because you might have some algae in there? Because you haven't yet arrived at the final wood configuration? Don't have all of the leaf litter in place?

For every excuse, I can think of several reasons why you should share.


Even ideas that I thought were a bit "out there", or "not quite ready to show the world" based on the idiotic standards we in the aquarium community have set for ourselves, I shared, and continue to share.

Because to not share not only perpetuates this absurdity, it glorifies the finished product over the process.

Because, all of the things that we do- especially in an up-and-coming hobby speciality like the botanical-method aquarium movement- are important, special- and inspiring! 

All of it.

Even the stuff that that we think is not so good. Or, not fully-fleshed-out just yet.

Sure, these aspects don’t make for the best “optics”, as they say in politics. You can’t show an empty, cloudy aquarium on Instagram or Facebook and get 400 “likes” on the pic. Sadly, acceptance from others of how cool our tanks are is a big deal for many, so sharing an “under construction” tank is not as exciting for a lot of people, because we as a hobby celebrate that “finished product” (whatever it is) more than the process of getting there.


However, it's all good. It's all important. Because what you may think is an undeveloped idea could very well be the spark- the inspiration- for someone else who may have been "stuck", and was just waiting for the right idea to come around.

No need to rush. Go at the pace that you're comfortable with. No matter what it "looks like" or how it might play out on Instagram.

Just share. Be proud and happy with what you've accomplished. Enjoy the aquarium that you're working on NOW.

Stay patient. Stay thoughtful. Stay brave. Stay happy.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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