Six lessons from the journal...

Some thoughts on better aquarium keeping are always in order, right? I mean, we practice this art with tremendous effort and expense, so it's nice to glean a few things that can be helpful to others.

I keep a journal of all sorts of absurdly obscure aquarium stuff...have forever. Some of the information I recorded didn't lead to any revelations. Some was actually kind of, well...dumb if I look at objectively ( Like this gem, from my 16-year-old-self: "Neons won't eat crumbled freeze-dried brine shrimp..." OK, well, so what?. )Some did result in some interesting information. I look at a ton of aquariums (not just mine) and speak with a lot of aquarists, and am always looking for little "pearls of wisdom" from them. There are some interesting things I've gleaned from it over the decades. I've made some conclusions based on many of these observations.

 Here are a few that you might find, well- interesting!


1: Practice Diversity on multiple levels in a community aquarium.

What strikes me most about many community aquariums is their refreshing diversity. They feature a complete range of life forms, such as fishes, plants, and even invertebrates. These aquariums are lush, and make no apologies for the complex growth of plants. Just like in nature, these systems incorporate life forms that provide beneficial collateral benefits for their inhabitants, such as food, shelter, and nutrient export.  Well-stocked community aquariums are beautiful systems that are a visual delight, affording many opportunities to see examples of the endless variety of aquatic life forms.


2: Green is Good!

It seems to me that most hobbyists, in our frenzy to get rid of algae at all cost from our reef systems, have banished them. In many natural systems, they are front and center.  With the unique substrates now available, consisting of more nutrient-rich materials than we have traditionally used in aquariums, there is a very  positive impact on the growth of plants and algae. And of course, with botanicals, the biofilms and algae are an integral part of the web of life i the aquarium. Just like in nature.

And that's not a bad thing, really. I wish that more hobbyists would see the real beauty of algae, and embrace them when they make an appearance. Like so many things in nature and in aquariums, they are harmless in small quantities, useful in larger quantities, and invasive in huge quantities, so care must be taken to strike a balance. As long as they do not smother other life forms in the aquarium, your algae can provide aesthetic and functional benefits, such as nutrient export, supplemental food sources, and an attractive alternative to the “pristine" aquarium featuring only plans, rock, and wood.


3:  Feed often and Well

Many of the most successful aquariums I've ever seen are well fed. The owner does not skimp on the food. With many hungry mouths, tentacles, and even polyps to feed (in reef tanks), healthy aquariums receive a lot of quality food, and in frequent intervals. One of the collateral benefits of creating diverse, complex microcosms is that that the aquarium will produce a fair amount of food (ie; microalgae, crustaceans, etc.) without any additional intervention on your part, to help supplement prepared foods.

This may be an overlooked benefit to keeping highly diversified systems. Someone is always reproducing, creating feeding opportunities for someone else! Snails, crustaceans, even some fishes. Just as in nature! Of course, it would be difficult to meet the gross nutritional needs of an entire closed system with just the foods produced naturally in the aquarium, but the benefits of supplementation they provide are very tangible.


4: Practice “Good Housekeeping”


Current good maintenance practices consist of respectable water changes and the occasional scraping of he glass to remove micro algae. Hasn't changed in a century.   The use of some chemical filtration media (such as activated carbon or organic scavenger resins) in media bags or reactors, to assist with removal of nutrients, is never a bad thing, IMHO.  Many successful hobbyists have developed that innate sense of “listening” to their aquariums. They understand what’s going on in their systems, and can tell if something is not right by simply examining their animals carefully every day. Observation is a "throwback" to a time when we had less technology to rely on, and it's not a bad thing!



5: Take a New Approach

Like many aquarium hobbyists, I have a keen interest in all things aquatic. I maintain both fresh and saltwater systems, and encourage others to do so. In my opinion, the “cross training” that keeping both freshwater and marine systems affords is both interesting and valuable in developing your hobby skills. Water quality management, system integration, and proper stocking technique are but a few of the lessons to be learned by working with both “media”.


6: Think outside the Box

What I am most impressed by with really great aquariums is how effortlessly they weave together the complex variety of plants and animals. These aquariums are not necessarily replications of specific biotopes, or rigid representations of a specific location on the reef. They don’t follow hobby trends. Rather, they are unique, elegant microcosms of life, assembled in such a way as to benefit all of their inhabitants. Most important, they are stocked with the animals that the hobbyist loves, and given optimal conditions for life.

By incorporating some simple ideas, any system could benefit. As the old hobby expression goes, “There is more than one way to run a fish tank”, and most successful aquariums certainly substantiate this. Thinking outside the box, having a plan, and following your inner voice when designing a system are so important, and add to the joy of aquarium keeping.

That's a few of the lessons gleaned from the old journal. Hope you might glean a few things from them!

Until next time.

Stay on top of things. Stay enthusiastic. Stay observant. Stay challenged.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 






Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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