That which used to frighten us...

Having recently reconfigured an aquarium with a huge influx of fresh mangrove leaves, I'm in this funny mental space. As I often do when looking at new tanks, or tanks where I've just added fresh botanicals, I literally find myself longing for them to look less "crisp and new", and can't wait until they start softening and breaking down as a result of being submerged for a while.

I find the look of fresh leaves in my tanks to be too..."sterile." Yeah, I'm a bit crazy, I think! However, I think it's worth thinking about, right? Perhaps it's a sort of "reverse prejudice" against the idea that everything should be clean, neat-looking, and tidy in our aquariums. We have, as a hobby, sort of vilified the idea that stuff decomposes and breaks up in our systems. 

Those of us who love botanical-style aquariums are "all in" on the idea of these materials changing and influencing the aquatic environments in which they are immersed. We've seen the benefits. Reviewed the results. Learned some new things.

What caused us as a hobby to be so afraid of working with what Nature provides vis a vis decomposing botanicals and leaves: Fungi, biofilms...detritus?

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 in 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 and focusing on it's removal, that it's not given a chance to present its "good side" -which there most definitely is. And, the fact is that these life forms and processes appear in wild environments for a reason.

Like biofilms, fungal growth, aufwuchs, and decomposition- is this stuff that is inevitable, natural- perhaps even beneficial in our aquariums as well? Isn't 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. Ask yourself why it for answers. There is a lot there. 

The biofilms that we as a hobby have made such a big deal out of removing from wood and other decorative items in our tanks arise for a very specific set of reasons, and perform a role in the closed aquarium ecosystem. I believe that the fact that they may look a bit unsettling to us based on our rather close-minded  view of "proper" aquarium aesthetics and a general lack of understanding about their role in aquatic habitats is what has caused this.

Please, PLEASE do look at some pics and videos of wild tropical aquatic habitats and see that the stuff we freak out about in our tanks is practically the "basis" for these structural and functional aquatic ecosystems. 

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."

We are learning-together- that there is definitely "something" to these things which our fishes can benefit from.

Our willingness to make that "mental shift" and move beyond the simple look of them is what I believe will lead to a new sort of renaissance in the hobby. Perhaps, finally accepting these life forms and their collateral products will spur new developments and encourage us to embrace the many benefits to our fishes that have made them a vital part of the wild aquatic ecosystems of the world.

The ephemeral nature of botanicals. The tinted water. The appearance of biofilms. Decay. Leaves. Wood. Water. Life.

Words, sure...But very compelling ones. Important components of a successful ecosystem...and beautiful, if we make the attempt to embrace them.

Let's keep putting our preconceptions and fears aside as we continue to create and enjoy more natural looking - and functioning- aquariums! 

Stay curious. Stay unafraid. Stay unbiased. Stay resourceful. Stay diligent...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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