The smallest of efforts...

The aquarium world is filled with many "rules", guidelines, and suggestions, isn't it? Sort of like life in general, there are time-tested approaches, mindsets, attitudes, and practices which work quite well repeatedly... And, it's funny how various concepts from other aspects of life dovetail so well with what we do as aquarists, isn't it?

Here is one of those concepts that I find so fascinating and applicable to aquariums:

The "Pareto Principle" (also known as "The 80/20 Rule""The Law of the Vital Few", or "The principle of Factor Sparsity") states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. ... This concept was named after named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who developed it after studying of the distribution of income and wealth among the population.

It makes total sense, doesn't it?

It's like he antithesis of my generations' Depeche Mode-derived philosophy that "Everything counts in large amounts..."

The "Pareto Principle" applies generically to many different things...including, of course, aquariums!

The assumption of this "principle" is that most of the results in any situation are determined by a small number of causes- and how can we disagree with that?

In our aquariums, we have a lot of stuff going on, but the reality is that it only takes one or two things to make a positive-or negative-impact on the system. And this makes a lot of sense, because we're talking about closed little microcosms, and small moves can typically have magnified impacts.

I mean, just think about some of these classic examples:

Small, frequent water exchanges can have a tremendous positive impact on the overall health of your aquarium. We usually do a ten percent weekly exchange...maybe this Pareto guy is on to something...may as well do a 20% exchange in his honor!

Effort expended monitoring the basic water parameters of your aquarium- while taking mere minutes of time weekly, can significantly bolster the understanding of your tank and the way you manage it.

Spending those extra few minutes removing, cleaning, or exchanging pre filter pads or filter media can result in an overall cleaner system- one which functions trouble- free for extended periods of time.

Taking the extra few minutes to "target-feed" a shy fish as it adjusts to a new tank results in a better outcome for the whole less stressed fish, which might potentially contract disease that could infect every inhabitant of the tank.

Stuff like that. 

Little things. The smallest of efforts, often.

And of course, it works in the negative, as well...failure to do some small thing could potentially bring down an entire system, right? For example, failure to quarantine one newly-arrived fish can wipe out an entire population of fishes. We've all seen that happen before.

And there are some many applications of this principle that we just "do" and don't really think about, such as the addition of small amounts of botanicals to a tank, which can impact water chemistry just enough to stimulate breeding behavior for some fishes. We've seen this and heard about it many times from our community.

In general, it seems like the most impactful things we do to our aquariums are often the smallest, done repetitively and consistently. I can't help but think that the best way to apply the "Pareto Principle" for success with our aquariums is to do those small, impactful things regularly...Not overreacting to problems and making big corrective moves, or knee jerk reactions. 

Pretty simple. Shockingly impactful.

Could it be that my generation's anti-anthem was wrong, and that everything counts in small amounts? 

Of course, the rebellious teen in me says a resounding NO!

But the more logical adult screams...yeah, probably! (still a little fire left in there!)

Keep doing those little things with your tanks.

The seemingly insignificant things which, in the grand scheme of things, provide the most significant and beneficial impacts. Do them consistently...regularly. And do just the opposite with those practices and habits which can have negative consequences, right?

The smallest of efforts often loom large in our everyday aquarium work.

Quick. Easy. Logical. Beneficial. Today's ridiculously simple thoughts...

Stay thoughtful. Stay dedicated. Stay diligent. Stay proactive. Stay consistent.

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 



Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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