The idea of blackwater aquariums is nothing new.
We at Tannin did not invent the concept. No one really did.
People love to point this out to me now and then, as if I have somehow "hijacked" the idea and presented it as our own creation...an absurdity that barely warrants a mention, of course. Blackwater aquariums have been executed for decades long before we ever emerged on the scene. Intrepid hobbyists have been experimenting with the idea of replicating blackwater conditions in their tanks for many years, utilizing natural materials like peat moss, catappa leaves, etc.
We've expanded the "palette" a bit, of course. But that's hardly earth-shattering. While we appreciate the many accolades we've been receiving of late, it's important to point out that we've barely done anything in the grand scheme of things, really.
What we did do is execute on our goal to elevate the art of natural, blackwater aquariums from strange "side show" to more of an "accessible to all" sort of thing. We curated and aggregated the materials and information to accomplish these cool tanks much more easily. We've shared our interpretations, theories, observations, and practices.
No, we most definitely didn't "invent" this stuff.
Like any hobby endeavor, ours builds on the work that was done before, and seeks to improve, evolve, and expand upon it.
Blackwater conditions have been created for the purpose of breeding a wide variety of fishes, such as tetras, cichlids, and Rasbora since my Dad was a young hobbyist. Often, natural materials like peat moss were pressed into filters, media bags, etc for the purpose of "conditioning" the water (when used in conjunction with water of minimal to no carbonate hardness, like reverse osmosis/deionization) to create optimum spawning conditions.
It's only been a bit more recently that these materials were utilized to recreate what we call "functionally aesthetic" aquariums replicating in greater detail the wild blackwater habitats of the world. Tanks which not only looked like the wild habitats of our fishes- they functioned somewhat like them as well. And even more recently, we as a community have really gotten into the weeds in an attempt to unravel the "why" and "how's" of these habitats and their ecology and function in the wild.
Okay, yeah, we know that. So, where is this going, Scott?
Well, here's the thing.
Have you noticed, over the past few years, that the idea of blackwater tanks is no longer this weird side show thing at all? I mean, maybe it's because I'm a bit more attuned to the topic than most, but it seems as if there are more and more talented aquarists experimenting with and creating unique blackwater displays each month. The idea has begun slipping into the mainstream consciousness of the hobby as just another approach to aquariums, not some novelty executed for the sole intention of being "anti-establishment" somehow.
What's really interesting to me is that we, as a community, are not fooling ourselves, either. We're all learning together and making a concerted effort to share what we are doing. We realize that we are just scratching the surface of what is to be learned out there. We're digging beyond the B.S. and commercial hype of products and looking more towards Nature and the science, which I find fascinating. We're actually calling bullshit on ideas and practices- some long held- that "X" is THE way to do things in natural, blackwater aquariums- and others (like understanding detritus....hello!).
The fact that we are actually looking at blackwater tanks as more than just some cool aesthetic is incredible. We're looking at them as a means to "unlock" some of the ecological components of these specialized aquatic habitats and apply them to our closed-system aquariums to the benefit of the fishes we keep. We're not just throwing leaves into 8.4 pH tap water, seeing it turn a bit brown, and hailing our tank as a realistic replication of the Rio Negro anymore. We're realizing that there is much more to this thing.
The thing I'm most proud of at Tannin is that we are not just "slinging leaves." We've made the conscious effort since inception to talk about the concepts and ideas behind the habitats we are looking to recreate in our aquariums. To create a forum and a sort of "clearing house" for ideas and discussions about this stuff.
As a community- a hobby "movement"- we're doing way more. Going deeper. I personally have spent way more time reviewing scientific papers on arcane aspects of these wild habitats than I ever have looking at some guy's "tank of the month" in some contest, and I think more and more of you are doing the same. And we're getting more out of it, too. More interesting ideas to apply to our aquariums.
So, when someone does pull off an incredible tank, we're evaluating it not only on the look, but the function and the aquarium's "ecology" as well. THAT is super cool.
We are studying the natural habitats of our fishes in a different way. Not just checking out the cool look, but understanding the function, the ecology, the environmental challenges they face...Imagine what that type of awareness can do to inspire more people out of the hobby to reflect on and admire these habitats and think about protecting them for future generations to enjoy.
Yeah, it's getting pretty good.
And it will be getting better still.
Keep doing what you're doing- and keep sharing your successes, failures, and everything in between.
We'll have some new and (we think) VERY exciting stuff to share soon. We're excited.
Stay diligent. Stay inspired. Stay curious. Stay unique. Stay devoted...
And Stay Wet.