We've talked a lot about what exactly "blackwater" is, and many of you probably have better-than-average working knowledge of the stuff by now, right? We've talked about many of the chemical parameters, husbandry requirements, potential downsides, challenges, and precautions for maintaining soft, acidic blackwater conditions in our aquariums.
However, I think what we don't always talk about here is how blackwater aquariums give totally different mental and sensory experience to those who experience them. It all starts with that visual experience of the darkly-stained water. I often visit aquascaping and plant forums, and cannot help but occasionally stifle a smile when I read posts from aquarists, desperate to rid their tank of the tannins released by a new piece of driftwood; I think to myself, "Do they realize how cool what they have is? These hobbyists just don't get it."
Of course, it IS a matter of perspective, really...
From a "degree of darkness" perspective, you can really be sort of creative here- I mean, by utilizing different concentrations and combinations of botanicals, particularly leaves- you can get the water as dark and brown as you'd like, and create a varied aesthetic and environmental impact for you and your livestock.
When you use leaves to create a scape and provide "tint", you can also vary the aesthetics as you like, by simply removing/replacing/adding new leaves to your leaf litter bed. This is sort of the leaf-litter-hardscape equivalent of the planted tank enthusiast ripping up his scape every few months and re-doing it, sans the trimming!
And there is something about that scent...yeah, that invigorating, earthy, woody scent that botanicals add to the water. It's different than any other type of aquarium. It's fragrant, complex, and really adds to the sensory experience of a blackwater aquarium. Sort of the way the aroma of freshly brewed coffee adds to the whole experience of a "good 'cuppa!"
And a blackwater, botanical-influenced aquarium evokes an almost immediate response in most hobbyists and non-hobbyists alike. You seldom hear statements like, "Oh, that tank is okay, but.." from someone who sees your blackwater aquarium for the first time. Rather, the kinds of responses you'll hear are things like, "Why is the water so dirty looking. Doesn't look healthy!" or "Wow, that looks awesome...there is something about this tank...it looks really natural."
Blackwater aquariums are aesthetically unlike any other form of freshwater aquarium we work with. Not only does the physical "framework" (i.e.; the water) look completely different than what we normally experience- the thought process behind it is different.
Because you're typically "going blackwater" to meet the needs of a specific fish or type of fishes...South American dwarf cichlids and characins, Asian anabantoids, African killies, Discus, etc. A very specific "target market" and thought process are involved.
Oh, yeah. The fish.
Is it the optical effects played by the filtered light and water tint? Or, maybe it's simply the healthy result of providing fishes water that is similar in composition to their native environments?
Regardless, there is something about blackwater that just makes the colors of fishes which hail from these environments pop! Fins look better, scales somehow are more reflective..okay, seriously- the fishes just look...better. You'll have to trust us on that.
And spawning behavior for fishes that tend to be a bit more challenging tends to come a litter easier at times. Instead of going to the trouble to manipulate water chemistry and conditions in preparation for breeding, you can just keep them in the type of conditions they favor year-round. Hardly a novel concept, I admit, but one which we probably tend not to think about in terms of reproductive "strategy."
And of course, there is always something just a bit cool about doing something that most people consider odd, unattractive, counter-culture...whatever. Owning blackwater aquarium will definitely set you apart from the hobby masses- a cool thing, certainly, but obviously this should not be a primary motivator to try one!
Once considered an "oddity" (okay, still considered an oddity..) by many hobbyists, blackwater aquariums bring a new dimension to tropical fish keeping. They provide more than just a different "medium" for you to express yourself in the aquatic world- they offer an opportunity to see fishes and other animals interact with an environment that they have evolved to favor over earns; one that they were only recently adapted and bred to live without.
Seems like its as good a time as any to "take them home", doesn't it?
Stay tinted. Stay thoughtful. Stay adventurous.
And Stay Wet.