We straddle a line in the botanical-style aquarium world. It involves tradeoffs, understanding, and accepting different ideas than we've previously done.
And, as I've discussed many times here, it's about making those mental shifts to accept both the benefits and beauty of some of the processes which Nature utilizes to manage its ecosystems. Like decomposition, additions of materials, and exchanges of water.
It's about questioning why some things in the hobby are "taboo", and others aren't.
Some of the processes and products of the processes, specifically, have been, IMHO, unfairly vilified by the hobby for many years.
Like our old friend, detritus.
I think detritus has been so maligned as a “bad” thing in the hobby, that we have collectively overlooked its benefits to the organisms and overall closed ecosystems we create.
We need to question our attitude about this stuff.
And of course, we have those age-old "rules" of the aquarium hobby; guidelines and "best practices" passed on by our hobby forefathers. Time-honored traditions of aquarium management.
Conduct regular water exchanges. Stock your aquarium carefully. Feed precisely. Observe. Be habitual about these things. They're hammered into our heads from day one.
Now, these are not necessarily bad things at all.
In fact, they're concepts which form the fundamentals of our hobby practices. Over the years, we've seen lots of hobbyists trying to develop workarounds to try to avoid stuff like water exchanges, etc., clearly trying to defy Nature- and we don't question these things all that much, right?
I think that rather than just trying to avoid the "rules" of aquarium keeping, we should question why they exist, what factors make them important, and how we can embrace some of the things Nature already does to accomplish them same things we work so hard to do- or avoid- by other means.
And further, we almost never see discussions about how Nature, if allowed to do some of its own "work", will help us manage and evolve systems with tremendous success.
It's fine line that we need to walk. A line that straddles pushing against some natural processes while embracing others.
Why doesn't it seem almost like an act of insurrection when we question stuff in the hobby that we've taken as "gospel" for generations?
Maybe it's because we haven't really thought much about this stuff, in terms of how it is actually beneficial, as opposed to detrimental. And how, despite it not being the most attractive thing in the world, that some of these things are beautiful, natural, and incredibly important to the function of our closed systems if we give them a chance.
It seems that we spend so much time resisting the appearance of some of this stuff based on how it looks, that it's not given a chance to display its "good side" for us. For those of us who play with botanical-style aquariums, resistance, as they say, is futile.
Let's face it:
As everyone knows, when you put terrestrial materials in water, one of four things seems to happen:
2) It starts to break down and decompose.
3) It gets covered in a gooey slime of algae, fungal growth, and "biofilm."
4) Both 2 and 3
Why is the appearance of this stuff "bad?" What has caused the mainstream of the hobby to freak out about these things for so long?
Yeah, seriously. We need to step back and question why.
Like biofilms, fungal growth, aufwuchs, and decomposition- is this stuff that is inevitable, natural- perhaps even beneficial in our aquariums? Is it something that we should learn to embrace and appreciate? All part of a natural process and yes- aesthetic- that we have to understand to appreciate? Have you ever tried rearing fry in a tank filled with decomposing leaves and biofilms?
Try it. Question it. Work with it. But try it. Don't just dismiss these things outright. Ask yourself why it works...search for answers. There is a lot there.
Let's think more on our "number one" mental shift subject: Biofilms.
Biofilms form when bacteria adhere to surfaces in some form of watery environment and begin to excrete a slimy, gluelike substance, consisting of sugars and other substances, that can stick to all kinds of materials, such as- well- in our case, botanicals.
It starts with a few bacteria, taking advantage of the abundant and comfy surface area that leaves, seed pods, and even driftwood offer. The "early adapters" put out the "welcome mat" for other bacteria by providing more diverse adhesion sites, such as a matrix of sugars that holds the biofilm together.
Since some bacteria species are incapable of attaching to a surface on their own, they often anchor themselves to the matrix, or directly to their friends who arrived at the party first.
Sorta sounds like Facebook, huh?
(The above graphic from a scholarly article illustrates just how these guys roll.)
And we could go on and on all day telling you that this is a completely natural occurrence; bacteria and other microorganisms taking advantage of a perfect substrate upon which to grow and reproduce, just like in the wild. Freshly added botanicals offer a "mother load"of organic material for these biofilms to propagate, and that's occasionally what happens - just like in Nature.
Yet it does, so we will! :)
The real positive takeaway here: Biofilms are really a sign that things are working right in your aquarium! A "visual indicator" that natural processes are at work.
Yet, understandably, it may not make some of you feel good.
However, it should.
Push yourself...read. Research. There is a shockingly large amount of scholarly information out there on these very topics...way more, and way more detailed than what we provide here in "The Tint." It's a bit harder to digest, I admit...but the information is there for the gleaning, if you want to.
And I believe that, once you ask these questions, and make those mental shifts to accepting stuff that formerly frightened or repulsed you- it opens you up to a world of possibilities in this hobby.
The botanical-style aquarium that we play with is perhaps the first of it's kind in the hobby to really say, "Hey, this is just like Nature! It's not that bad!" And to make us think, "Perhaps there is a benefit to all of this?"
I think we're starting to see a new emergence of a more "holistic" approach to aquarium keeping...a realization that we've done amazing things so far, keeping fishes and plants in a glass or acrylic box with applied technique and superior husbandry...but that there is always room to experiment and push the boundaries even further, by understanding and applying our knowledge of what happens in the natural environment.
You're making mental shifts...replicating Nature in our aquariums by achieving a greater understanding of Nature...
Keep making them.
You're laying down the groundwork for the next great phase of aquatic husbandry innovation and breakthrough.
And all starts with questioning...everything.
Stay curious. Stay innovative. Stay bold. Stay observant...
And Stay Wet.