The "movement"...evolved

You might not realize this, but it's been just over two years since we've began our existence! During that brief time, we've seen quite an evolution in this sector of the hobby, from obscure "novelty" to genuine "movement" within the hobby.

I've been fascinated lately by the many different approaches that our customers are taking to blackwater/botanical-style aquariums. It's happening on multiple "fronts", with hobbyists dabbling with botanicals who are breeding fishes, shrimp, etc. Some are working on "converting" planted tanks to "tinted planted tanks".

Others are trying their hand at replicating very specific biotopes (or facsimiles thereof) for different types of fishes...some are just digging the aesthetic and are playing with new aquascapes incorporating botanicals and blackwater. Our rapidly expanding community is really a microcosm of the aquarium hobby as a whole, and it couldn't be more interesting to see!

What is really fascinating to me as that you guys (yeah, YOU!) are far more into the "software" (fishes, plants. environment) of your systems than the "hardware" (filters, tanks, gadgets, etc.). To many of you, the tank and filter and such- important though they are- are merely a "canvass" upon which you draw...a means to an end. Yes, due consideration is paid to having good equipment, but it seems to me that the types of hobbyists we work with could be just as happy with a plastic sweater box for an aquarium as they would with a 5-gallon glass tank! Okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea!

As I've mentioned before, this is a sharp contrast from the world that I came from previously, where hardware, gadgets, additives, and equipment were almost as popular as the fishes and corals. I mean, the intentions of most of the reef "gadgeteers" are good- they want to keep stuff healthy- but the emphasis is that "this__________" is the way to do it, rather than looking at things from a technique point of view... It's incredible to see so many hobbyists with some many cool ideas pushing the envelope of technique!

I'm also excited to see a terrific interest in the natural habitats from which our fishes came, and to have more an more of you ask about which botanical items would be most similar to those found in the natural habitat of ________________. This is great, because it means we're taking an even deeper interest in our fishes and where they come from, and attempting to understand how and why the habitats from which they evolved influence them from a physiological standpoint.

Despite the fact that many of the fishes we work with are now captive bred for generations, much effort is being made to provide them with environmental conditions they evolved from over eons, versus aquarium conditions they were adapted to for a a few dozen generations!

We've spent a lot of time discussing "evolved" botanical concepts, like they idea of the "deep botanical bed" that we looked at yesterday, and what's really cool is that there is a tremendous amount of experimentation going on with this within our global community.

One of the things I've been particularly interested in is the experiments that some of you are doing with recreating "food webs"- or more precisely, "in-situ self-perpetuating food sources" in your aquariums! I know our friends Mike Bognich and Craig Thoreson have done some very interesting experiments in this area, along with several others, and it will be interesting to see how this evolves! Long term botanical-stye aquatic microcosms with "on board" supplemental food sources is a very exciting area of the hobby,  to which we can all contribute! 

Those of you working with frogs and herps have been an amazing source of inspiration to all of us, and the "crossover" potential of the things you're doing is tremendous. And the results of your hard work have been incredibly inspiring!


And we've seen an incredible increase in "birth announcements" from our community- spawning events shortly after their aquariums were "reconfigured" with botanical materials! Now, we're always skeptical of "anecdotal" inferences about stuff like that, but the sheer volume of spawning reports which occurred shortly after a transition to a blackwater/botanical-style environment was made has to make us wonder if it's more than just the fact that "any old change" was made to the environment, and that it's the kind of change that was made which had some influence over the event? What do you think?  "The jury is still out on this one", as they say...

 I'm kind of wondering what the next "evolutions" of our blackwater/botanical movement will be. Will they be further refinements of stuff we're doing already, or entirely new directions? Will you be trying to breed fishes that were previously seldom bred? Rearing fry in specialized botanical-oriented systems? Evolving the concept of a "freshwater refugium" using botanicals to the process? That's an area in which I'd like to see more work being done! Lots of potential there!

The important thing for us at Tannin is to keep the creative energy flowing into and among our community, and that starts with offering new stuff, new ideas, and new ways of thinking to sort of "disrupt"- or at least- question- the way we've done some things for many years. Some may resonate. Some may confuse. Some may even repel- or at least frighten. Yet all will stimulate some thought; some discussion..and hopefully, some cool executions of aquatic displays! 

I think that we'll start seeing some interesting developments in the previously "staid" and rather predictable world of brackish aquariums. With some specialized botanical items and such soon to be made available via our "Estuary" product line, you'll have the materials you need to create some potentially "game changing" brackish aquariums, too!

And we'll keep providing the inspiration, with some new aquariums and videos highlighting our brackish approach as well! We will do what we did in blackwater- learn...together...while inspiring each other to try new stuff; to push new boundaries.

And wherever we as hobbyists go; whatever new stuff we try-one thing is certain:  We will share. We'll share our successes, our failures, our struggles...Our progress. For the benefit of the entire aquatic community.

What new ideas are you working with? What secrets are you trying to unlock? What boundaries are you pushing? And most important- How can we help?

Stay excited. Stay creative. Stay motivated. Stay curious. 

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


1 Response


April 28, 2017

I’m very interested in the “freshwater refugium” concept. It’s remarkable to me how it seems you can throw any old leaf or stick that you find outside into an empty aquarium and a week or two later – boom, there’s a whole gathering of tiny white critters swimming and crawling about. Encouraging the growth of this microfauna (or infusoria, I suppose) through moderation of aquatic botanicals, especially large amounts of them, can only be beneficial to the aquarium’s food web and ecosystem in general. I’m fairly confident that I have attained in my tank a “critical mass” of botanicals and the infusoria that feed on them, and I’m hoping that this in turn will provide a perpetual source of live food for the small amount of fish that live in the tank (supplementary on top of regular feeding of course – I have no delusions that I am creating a self-sustaining “ecosphere”).

I am hoping that the future of blackwater enthusiasts (enthusiasm?) will bring the idea of spacious species tanks to the forefront. Seeing a well-designed tank with only one or two species flourishing in it is a real thrill and a bit of a rarity. Our LFS just got a massive shipment of cardinal tetras in, and it’s quite awe-inspiring to see a ball of several hundred navigating a large tank. I hope that “Estuary” will encourage this, as brackish fish seem to be especially niche in their requirements.

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