Wow- it seems like our announcement of "Estuary", Tannin Aquatics' foray into brackish water aquariums, has generated a HUGE amount of excitement among not only our community, but with an even broader base of hobbyists. As something we've loved and played with for years, it made sense to develop a product line and concepts to bring the brackish water speciality a little more love; kind of like what we did with blackwater. It's a largely obscure and neglected segment, which is as compelling and fascinating as any other that we choose to replicate in the hobby. And of course, the words "obscure" and "neglected" in the aquarium context are like a "siren song" to us!
Now, first off- to answer a few quick questions- "Estuary" will not be a separate company. Rather, it will be a line of products available on our main site. And no, it will not diminish our blackwater mission at all. Rather, it will serve to create a more common, complimentary ground between these two seemingly unrelated hobby specialty areas, and the takeaways from our experience with both will benefit the larger hobby community as well. We'll be offering some ideas that are perhaps contrary to what has been done before, and some materials that, although we've thought about- have not previously been offered to brackish enthusiasts, to our knowledge.
A lot of people were wondering why we chose the name we did for this line. This might give you some insight:
Let's start with a quick definition of what an estuary is. An estuary is the areas of water and shoreline where a freshwater stream or river merges with the ocean. Estuaries can be partially enclosed bodies of water (such as bays and lagoons) where two different bodies of water meet and mix. Hence the whole "brackish" thing. Salinity varies in these habitats, often depending upon tidal influences. And these regions are very ecologically "productive," because of the nutrients brought in by rivers. Many of the fishes and invertebrates that inhabit these brackish water communities migrated from the ocean or freshwater habitats.
Although aquarists have been playing with brackish tanks for decades, in my opinion, what's been missing is a focus on the actual habitat and how it functions. Just like what the hobby was doing in the blackwater area for years, I think we've been collectively focusing on the wrong part of the equation for a long time- just "salt" and basic aesthetics. As we've done with Tannin, we're going to focus a lot of energy on the functional AND ( far different) aesthetic aspects of the brackish environmen than has been embraced before. Our approach to brackish will be a little different than the "throw in a couple of rocks and white sand, a few teaspoons of salt per gallon, add some Monos and Mollies, and you're good to go!" concept that you've seen for a long time in hobby literature.
(Diagram by Miss Julian APES used under CC BY SA-3.0)
Rather, we're going to really focus on helping you replicate and understand the complex web of life that occurs in brackish water habitats, and we'll evolve the practice and appreciation of this unique niche just like we've all done with blackwater. In fact, the approach that we will take to brackish is unlike what has previously been taken before, but one that is incredibly familiar to you as "tint enthusiasts."
Those of you new to the world of Tannin Aquaitcs will learn about making that "mental shift" to a different style of aesthetics and management of the aquatic environment. Veteran "Tinters" will have already made that shift in blackwater, so applying this attitude to a "new medium" in brackish will be easy!
Witness the rise of the botanical-style brackish-water aquarium. A system that embraces natural processes and functionality...And just happens to have a different aesthetic, too! Less emphasis on sterile, white sand and crystal clear water, and more emphasis on a functional representation of a tropical, brackish water ecosystem: Muddy, nutrient rich, and stained a bit from tannins. Beautiful in a very different, yet oddly compelling way. A "tinted" brackish water aquarium.
And it all starts with the Mangrove.
(Red Mangrove. Image by Andrewtappert, used under CC BY-SA 3.0)
Mangroves are amazing trees, which literally form the "backbone" of many tropical brackish water habitats. As part of their growth, they frequently drop leaves in the waters in which they reside. Yeah-Mangrove leaf litter...and of course, the leaves contain... tannins. Yeah. That's why the water in many brackish mangrove habitats is brownish.
Do you see where we're going with this?
I think you do.
We're sort of obsessed with the idea of Mangrove habitats in brackish water estuaries, much like we are with leaf litter communities in blackwater habitats. They do share some similar traits: They are complex, food-web-based systems with a huge diversity of life. And the food web in mangrove communities starts with the fallen leaves- just like it does in the blackwater systems. When leaves fall from the trees, fungi and bacteria decompose the leaves and turn them into detritus. Detritus, as we know by now, forms the base of the food web, and many species such as crabs, shrimps, oysters, clams, and fishes, depend on detritus for food in these habitats.
From a "structural" standpoint, this is a very unique, fascinating environment to study and replicate in our aquariums. Now, I have no illusions that we're going to grow these huge trees to any sort of substantial size in the confines of the aquarium; they also grow very slowly. However, we can grow them and maintain them for many years, and replicate, to a certain extent, the communities which surround them. We'll talk more about Mangroves down the line, of course.
Mangroves, which grow at the water's edge, have roots that are either submerged or very wet most of the time, which makes them the perfect habitat for all sorts of aquatic life forms- mussels, oysters, crabs, fishes, etc. They draw oxygen from the air through small areas of spongy tissue on their bark.
Mangroves are what botanists call "halophytes"- plants that thrive under salty conditions. And they LOVE high-nutrient substrates! In many brackish-water estuaries in the tropics, rivers deposit silt and mud, which generates nutrients, algae, and other small organisms that form the base of the food chain. This food chain is very similar to what we've been talking about in our botanical-style blackwater aquariums.
The nutrients the mangroves seek lie near the surface of the mud, deposited by the tides. Since there is essentially no oxygen available in the mud, there is no point in the mangroves sending down really deep roots. Instead, they send out what are called "aerial roots" (that's what gives them their cool appearance, BTW), sort of "hanging on" in the mud, which also gives the mangroves the appearance of "walking on water."
There is a lot to be learned from the composition of the substrates in which Mangroves grow, much like we've learned about blackwater substrates in our journeys.. In many habitats, the "mud layer" is actually peat ( as much as 3 meters deep, in some instances) overlain with a shallow (0.5 m) layer of sand. Mangrove soils with a high content of organic matter are very common. Planted aquarium hobbyists can be a huge help in understanding this habitat- welcome aboard. We need your skills and knowledge!
Another typical feature of the substrates in mangrove areas is the development of "iron pyrites" (FeS2). This typically occurs in estuaries because of the presence of plenty of iron (which is scarce in seawater, but abundant in freshwater rivers), sulphates (in the seawater) and all sorts of organic matter, coupled with a lack of oxygen in the soil. This creates a very unique substrate for growing Mangroves.
Of course, these thick, anoxic mud layers are awfully tricky to replicate without either making a mess (not that big a deal to me) or potentially producing conditions that could poison your fishes (a big deal to everyone, lol). Far better to use a sand-based substrate, perhaps mixed with a soil additive like laterite, used in terrestrial planting. We've got some possibilities here.
Oh, and here's something cool: Brackish stream mangroves are also accompanied by Nypa palms, growing side-by-side on the shore line...the only palms that are ecologically adapted to grow in the Mangrove biome! Specifically, we are referring to Nypa fruticans. If the name sounds familiar, it's because the botanical we call "Rio Fruta" is the fruit of the Nypa palm. It's the perfect, "biotopically correct" botanical for a tropical brackish water system! We have sourced a larger, more robust version of "Rio Fruta", which is more representative of the size of the fruits that fall into the brackish waters of Mangrove habitats!
And live plants. We're into using live plants in these setups. We'll chat more about them in coming weeks, and I encourage feed back from you plant people.
And of course, we've got some other stuff up our sleeves that, if you're familiar with our modus operendi, will not come as too much of a surprise...but we hope they will delight you!
Welcome to the journey towards 1.003.
Yeah, it's not really a new journey- rather, it's a different part of the same one. We will learn- together- as a globally interconnected, enthusiastic community. We'll make mistakes, chase down false leads. We will disagree, even argue. We'll screw stuff up. We will question why stuff was done the way it was done for decades. We will bring some of that with us. Other parts will be kicked to the curb. We are embarking on a journey to parts unknown to many of us. It's sure to be a fun one, filled with some interesting experiences, great discussions, stunning success, and spectacular failures. We're not "inventing the wheel"- we're merely using it in a more appropriate manner.
As we roll out some products for Estuary, you'll start noticing this icon, which is your cue that it's suitable for brackish...
There may be a lot we aren't familiar with along the way. I'm no expert, but I'm excited, open-minded, and humble. And eager to learn more. This is an open invitation to join our community. Everyone will contribute to this process. Everyone is welcome. Bring your ideas, your dreams, your fears, your creativity. However, please leave your ego, attitude, and "that won't work" attitude at the door. Loosen the chains of conventionality and preconception- and "rules." We're here to work together to push the boundaries in this formerly under-represented arena.
And there is, of course, one thing we will all relate to on this journey to the saltier side...
Stay bold. Stay excited. Stay creative. Stay ready.
And above all-whether fresh or "sort of salty..."