Our not-so-secret obsessions...

Getting out of your self-impose "comfort zone" is never an easy thing, particularly in the aquarium hobby.

Like most of you, I'm pretty set in my ways in a lot of aquarium things. I'm not a big fan of sweeping changes to my personal "best practices" and such.

I don't think it's all that unusual, either. As fish geeks, we simply have certain ways of doing stuff that we like. And changing those ways of doing things-being forced out of our "comfort zone"- is a bit...uncomfortable for us, right?

That's one thing.

What about when outside forces push change on us?

When unexpected things happen, or circumstances intervene, forcing us to change the way we do stuff, or alter plans to counter them...We, well- many of us- freak the ---- out.

Yeah, we do.

And you can't deny this, either. You do, and you know it! 😆

I remember growing up (and even times not all that long ago, as well, actually!), and there were things that would happen in my aquariums- or things I'd find in them- that would kind of just freak me out...or at the very least, "throw me off my game" a bit, so to speak.

Okay- wait a minute. These things can still freak me out.

They can freak any red-blooded hobbyist out.

You know what I'm referring to: "Stuff." 

Stuff that happens in our tanks.

Stuff we find in them that we don't want there.

Changes that we need to make. Corrections. Repairs. Repositioning. Tasks we forget to do, etc., etc., etc.

We all have these things.

Here are just a few shining examples that I'll bet more than one or two of you can relate to:

That first spot of algae you see in a new aquarium. It seems like no occurrence is cloaked with more fear, confusion, or outright dread than the appearance of the very first visible algal growth in your brand spankin' new aquarium. Doesn't matter if it's green algae, hair algae, diatoms, cyanobacteria, or whatever. It's freakin' ALGAE! Algae to many aquarists is a sign...a bad sign- an omen, even-that something is up.

The whole tank will be taken over by a green blob in days!


Which, in the case of algae, as we know, is kind of ridiculous, because algae important, beneficial, and in many cases, indicative that our tank is doing what it should be doing.

It's necessary. It generally only becomes excessive in the presence of combination of certain things, such as too much light and nutrients. The "fix" is pretty straightforward, although sometimes it takes a while. Of course, we as fish geeks, see its initial appearance as if it's a prophecy of some sort...Kind of like farmers of ages past, who, upon seeing a reddish-appearing moon, or whatever, would see this as a sign of a bad harvest.

It literally ruins your day.

It weighs heavy on your mind. Affects your sleep and your demeanor. I know this. I've experienced it myself and have seen it in my friends. I get emails about this kind of stuff, and I can just feel it in the writing.

It does suck.

Of course, we all know that the appearance of algae in a new aquarium is completely normal; a sign that the biological processes that support life are operating, producing nutrients to fuel their growth. It typically only becomes a problem if we set the stage for it to do so.

However, we imagine things.

We have images in our head of our carefully-planned display tank going down in a carpet of disgusting green (or brown, or red, or...whatever color).

Many a sleepless night has followed the initial discovery of algae in our aquariums. Reef aquarists and planted tank people are probably the most affected by this stuff, but in general, every aquarist freaks out about algae. We realize that we should know better, yet we ponder...

We know it will typically pass as excess nutrients are utilized by higher life forms, or no longer accumulate. It's often self-limiting. Yet, we can't help but think to ourselves, "Can this be the start of a continuous, epic battle?" 

(Only in our heads, usually...but it haunts us nonetheless.)

"Uh-oh, I skipped a water exchange." 

Okay, the fact that you actually have a regular water exchange schedule puts you in an elite group of hobbyists to begin with- like a small percentage of aquarists! Regular water exchanges have benefits in our closed systems that are so well known, so widely discussed, written about, and drilled into our heads that they scarcely deserve mention here.

And of course, those of us who operate with some sort of "onboard guilt barometer" really can be hard on ourselves when, for whatever reason, we miss a water exchange. It doesn't matter if your grandmother was in the hospital, your daughter was graduating Kindergarten, or if your neighborhood was evacuated, for that matter.

The fact is, you missed a water exchange, and you're f- ing freaked.

Now, far be it from me, an obsessive water change fanatic, to tell you it's not big deal, and that you should "just relax."

However, it IS no big deal, and you should just relax. Really. Think about this objectively: Unless you run your systems right up to the edge of failure by radically overstocking, dosing stuff, constantly tweaking pH or alkalinity, etc., then missing one scheduled water exchange is not going to push it over the cliff towards failure.

In fact, you could probably miss a couple...

The nitrogen cycle is an amazing thing.

Those little bacteria seem to do their jobs just fine.

Missing one water exchange, or delaying it (typically, those of us who freak out about missing one will simply do an exchange at the next earliest opportunity) is not going to have any real lasting impact on most well-managed systems. Yet, the internal "guilt struggle" in our heads is very real, very impactful...and very difficult for some of us to handle. 

We need to lighten up...just a bit, huh?

"The way that one rock shifted is driving me crazy." 

Let's be honest, there is not one aquarist among us who doesn't give a shit about how his/her aquariums look. Not one. Even the most hardcore breeder, with bare tanks, spawning mops, flower pots and sponge filters imparts some order to his or tanks. We are rightfully obsessive about the art we create, and that's why entire portions of the hobby focus on aquascaping.  Your overall aquascape is the first thing most people see when they look at your tank!

So, after we've spent enormous amounts of time trying to "get the balance right" (to appropriate an old Depeche Mode lyric), it totally freaks us out to find something "askew."

We have to fix it. Now.

At 5:30 AM on Tuesday morning.

Nothing else is quite as urgent at the moment. Really.

I don't know about you, but I don't think I've ever made a "quick aquascaping fix" before heading to work in the morning, by tilting one rock to the right, or whatever and calling it a day.

No. It always starts with that one rock.

And of course, you can't position that one rock that way without moving that other rock to the left just a bit, and...

Yeah, before you know it, you're like two hours in, you've gotten almost every rock, piece of wood, and plant repositioned. At least four times. You're a bit frazzled. You've called in "sick" to work, long since giving up on the idea of going in late due to "car trouble", and there is no end in sight to this thing.

You keep going.

And, many hours later, with a missed day of work, two meals skipped, a sore back, and at least 6 towels employed (and a fairly big mess in the room where the tank is located), you step back to admire your newly "re-tweaked" creation. You smile with satisfaction, only to reach that realization in the back of your mind that it looks almost exactly like it was before your started the 9-hour process...

Wow. Really? How can it be? I mean...

Yeah, just leave things alone. Seriously. You'll get used to them. Trust me.

However, you won't. I know this. 

Because I'm exactly like you.

I won't, either.

Yeah, these are just a few common examples of the dozens of things that freak us out as aquarists.

There are dozens more.

It's funny, as fish geeks, we're so predictable that we can almost all relate to this stuff. If it doesn't apply to us directly, it certainly applies to one of our fellow fish geeks, right?

Yeah, we are just a bit "different", being fish people, aren't we?


We're obsessive, hyper focused, a bit OCD perhaps? And definitely opinionated, and altogether kind of... well, strange...to outsiders.

And that's perfectly okay, really!

Because the stuff that gets us freaked out is important. And if it pushes us outside of our comfort zone to address it once in a while...that's okay, too! 

It's part of what makes us enjoy this whole thing we call the tropical fish hobby.

It's what makes us stand out from stamp collectors, scrapbookers, and needlepoint makers, right? We're in control of a little slice of the underwater world and some of its inhabitants, and that is no small responsibility. We take it very seriously, as we should.

Sometimes, we get a bit too obsessive about things, but it's because our hearts are in the right place. 

I hope that never changes.

Yeah, freaking out about some stuff is not a bad thing at all, is it?

However, if you try to look at it objectively... it is kind of funny.

Okay, I have to cut this short.

I have to go reposition a piece of driftwood in one of my display tanks right now. It's driving me crazy.

Just needs a quick reposition. An easy fix. No big deal... On it.

Catch you in just a few...

Stay crazy. Stay obsessed. Stay devoted. Stay observant. Stay self-deprecating. Stay objective. Stay diligent...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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