Quick changes...significant impacts!

One of the things I've noticed about my blackwater/botanical-style aquariums over the years is that, as they age, the 

Like most fish geeks, I'm always thinking two moves ahead. I mean, it's sometimes hard to just look at my aquarium and enjoy it without thinking about the next upgrade, the next fish I'm gonna add, or the next "iteration" I'm going to work on These things almost always involve change, or changing something. Maybe it's simply a part of the aquarium keeping mindset; I think so, because I am certainly not alone in my obsession! The common denominator is about things that I want to change. I suppose it's a good thing- always striving to improve. Or, perhaps it's a form of OCD. I couldn't tell you.

What I do know is that when it's typically about change, the change is often a good thing.

And, of course, it's Spring- a season of change, so what better time to focus on changing stuff? Rather than discussing what grandiose upgrade plans you might have for your system, let's focus on changes that you could- and probably should- change right now. These are changes that can not only improve your aquarium's short term appearance and health; if done regularly, they can have real and lasting long-term impact! Here are a few things you can quickly and easily change right now. Of course, my list is by no means complete, and in no particular order¦

Your mechanical filter media- Yeah, go ahead and change it. If you're not doing it monthly or more frequently already, you should. It's important. The gross particulate matter than accumulates around most filter media can break down quickly if unattended, and will have an impact on your system's water quality.  In a botanical style aquarium  it can also result in diminished water flow- you'll often get that sort of "mash" of decomposed botanical material (often bits of leaves) that can impede circulation from pumps and such. It just makes sense to clean any pre filters, filter pads, etc. as part of your regular maintenance as often as possible in these tanks.  As you might have surmised, "dirty" filter media (and I'm thinking more about uneaten food and such as opposed to botanical debris here) are one of the culprits in declining water quality that are often sitting in front of our very nose, that we fail to take into account when algae problems and other water quality issues arise. Try weekly or every 3-4 days if you really see a lot of trapped matter in them, and you've eliminated a major contributor to declining water quality and potential nuisance algae.

Super easy change...

Your dull algae scraper- Seriously! Regardless of the type of aquarium you have- glass or acrylic- there is a point when the blades on those scrapers (plastic or stainless steel) need changing. Mine are always losing there edges- literally. They get worn down, pitted, and otherwise degraded, and cannot perform for the job the way they were originally intended. Don't be lazy or cheap about replacing them. They can damage your aquarium if not replaced regularly. Especially the acrylic scrapers! I mean, you pretty much look at acrylic tanks the wrong way and they scratch anyways, so the last thing that you want to do is increase the potential for damage by not changing the pitted $1.29 plastic blade on your scraper. (I know, I've done it!) And, as you know, glass can scratch, too, so not changing a dull and/or damaged blade for glass opens up similar problems for glass aquariums. It's such an easy and inexpensive change that you should treat it like changing a razor blade on your shaver.  Hmm...is there a "subscription service" for "aquarium consumables" in your future..? Perhaps....In the mean time, just replace them every three weeks or more frequently if needed and be done with it! (was there a hint of a  "big idea" in there? I think there was...)


Test kit reagents- If you are a water testing geek- and many of you are- you need to make sure that you're getting accurate results. I mean, how else could you rationalize your decision to by that new monstrous canister filter if you can't demonstrate to yourself that your water quality needs improvement? (amazing rationale for a major purchase, huh?) And if you're utilizing test kits with liquid reagents, you'll need to replace them from time to time, as they degrade, affecting their accuracy. I've seen a bunch of cases where hobbyists were convinced that there might be a problem in their system, as test kit results were showing problematic readings. Upon cross-referencing every other factor they could think of, it turned out that the same test performed with new reagents yielded drastically different results. Problem solved! Instead of buying a some new expensive gadget to "fix" a perceived "problem", they bought more fish! Man, I LOVE hobbyists! Change those reagents regularly!

(Extra credit: If you use electronic test meters, replace the batteries and calibrate them regularly!)

Activated carbon and other chemical filtration media- I am a big fan of carbon and such to help continuously remove potentially problematic substances from the water. Some of you are big fans of using them to keep the "tint" down...gulp. If you are utilizing these media full-time, it's important to recognize that they don't last forever, and that they will eventually stop removing organic substances and simply retain detritus and such, trapping it in their structure, which will function more as a "biological" filtration substrate at some point. Not all that bad, but when you have stuff accumulating in a matrix of carbon, resin, or other water-polishing chemical media, it's just a matter of time before the once helpful chemical media becomes the metaphorical "old broom that attracts "dust bunnies" instead of doing it's job." So if you use these "dream killers" (anything that removes tint falls into this classification in my world, lol), replace them regularly.

Water- "OMG, Fellman, you're bringing THAT up again?"  Yup, I'm going to make you a habitual water changer yet. There is, in my opinion, no single practice, piece of equipment, or routine that you can utilize on your aquarium that will have more positive impact on your aquarium than a water change. We all know this. We do. As I discussed in previous columns in "The Tint", it's not a bad habit to employ smaller, more frequent changes. You can do a small water change right now, and virtually assure yourself that you're doing something beneficial and positive to keep your system running in top form. Closed systems can only export so much dissolved organics without needing to physically remove some of the water on a regular basis. And of course, in our case, it keeps the visible "tint" where you want it, too! There's no time like the present, so why not perform a 3% or 5% water change today? Your fishes will thank you, and I'll get off of your back....at least, for now.

Honorable Mentions:

Your aquascape- Yes, in keeping with the time-honored tradition of changing pretty much everything in the aquarium from time to time, most of you are going to want to shuffle stuff around again at some point. You hate the wood stack or rockwork in your tank. You know you need to do something...It's part of the aquarium- keeping mind set, I think. Even the "pros" seem to not be able to deal with their own 'scapes for indefinite periods of time...If you just can't stand your aquascaping, and you can see a practical as well as aesthetic advantage to doing so (like, the present wood and rock configuration interferes with your flow, maintenance, etc.), then go for it. If you don't, you know it's just going to haunt your mind and aggravate you every time you look at your tank, right? One tip- do it on a day when you're not rushed, have time to contemplate, and are in a generally creative mind set. Otherwise, you're almost guaranteed to have all of the rocks and wood out of your tank and then have some weird psychological ""meltdown- you know, one of those "Omigod, what have I done?!?" moments. Been there-done that.

Botanicals- I know, oddly self-serving,right? However, the reality is that, like everything in our aquariums, they don't last forever, either. As botanical materials (leaves are the obvious example) break down, you can either leave 'em in, add to them, or remove them from your tank. Regardless of the route you take, adding some fresh ones figures in the picture somehow. As we've said a million times before, removing/adding/substituting new botanicals in your tank is absolutely analogous to what happens in nature, where new materials end up in the water as older ones are broken down, swept away by currents, or otherwise removed from the physical environment. Regularly replacing/adding botanicals not only creates a sort of "environmental refresh" on your tank, it gives you a continuous aesthetic "edit" that keeps the aquascape an even more dynamic environment!

Okay, I've sort of gotten this party started...time to hand it off to you brilliant people. What are some changes you can do to your tanks right now that will reap immediate benefits? Let's hear 'em.

As always, thanks for stopping by this morning. Love your family, care for your tanks, and above all...

Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


1 Response


May 19, 2017

In keeping with yesterday’s theme, I’m going to have to recommend – PLANTS! Get a new plant in your system. They’ll help remove nitrates, oxygenate the water, and just generally look good! If you have a black thumb, get something tough and low-maintenance like java fern or anubias. If your fish (or in my case, snails) will destroy greenery, keep it externally – throw a pothos vine into your HOB, or a bundle of hornwort or frogbit into a refugium. Since introducing plants to my system, the fish are happier and more active, the water parameters are more stable, and it looks so lush and verdant! Not to mention, the aquarium’s smell – even though I appreciate a good, earthy blackwater smell – has completely disappeared, even if you stick your nose right up to the water (when nobody is around to see you).

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