Walk the line...

Have you noticed that the "recommendations" for new hobbyists have been more or less constant over the decades? I mean, we've seen very little in the way of variation when it comes to what we should and should not do to keep healthy aquariums.

I mean, there is nothing wrong with us passing on the need to observe, test, employ regular water exchanges, etc. However, I think we tend to just sort of lay down the rules in a vacuum of sorts, without really considering that the little box of water in our living room- closed though it might be in many ways- IS still little "microcosm", and still interacts to  some extent with the environmental which it's located. 

And it still follows the "laws" laid down by nature over eons, albeit without some of the same conditions as found in nature (ie; weather, water flow-through, etc.). Well, that being said, we do mimic some of the natural process, like wether (via water exchanges and top off) and additions of fishes, etc. And with our emphasis on botanicals, it's different now. 

We "fuel" this process with these natural materials. They don't just look different and sexy- they perform a vital function in the closed aquatic ecosystem, right?

So, yeah- I think we need to teach new hobbyists- and re-train ourselves- to really look at our tanks as little ecosystems, not just artificial constructs, cut off from nature. 

It's important. There is something there for all of us.

You want encourage hobbyists to create and maintain good habits- water exchanges, not over feeding/stocking…but at the same time, I feel that we need to pay much more attention to facilitating the development of aquariums as little microcosms, with import/export mechanisms studied and developed to optimize conditions for the organisms that reside within them!

We walk a line. 

And, as I've discussed many times here, it's about making those mental shifts to accept both the benefits and beauty of some of the processes which nature utilizes to manage its ecosystems. Like decomposition, additions of materials, and exchanges of water. 

Some of the processes and products of the processes, specifically, have been, IMHO, unfairly vilified by the hobby for many years.

Like our old friend, detritus.

I think detritus has been so maligned as a “bad” thing in the hobby, that we have collectively overlooked it’s benefits to the organisms and overall closed ecosystems we create. I mean, it is a fine line, right? 

Conduct regular water exchanges. Stock your aquarium carefully. Feed precisely. Observe. Be habitual about these things. They're hammered into our heads from day one.

Yet, I think little energy is spent discussing the merits of why! And further, we almost never see discussions about how nature if allowed to do some of its own "work", will help us manage and evolve systems with tremendous success. 

A fine line that we need to walk.

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 that it's not given a chance to display its "good side" for us.

Like biofilms, fungal growth, aufwuchs, and decomposition- is this stuff that is inevitable, natural- perhaps even beneficial in our aquariums? Is 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 works...search for answers. There is a lot there. 

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."

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


Walk the line. Study. Learn. Teach others. Rinse and repeat.

Stay bold. Stay curious. Stay observant. Stay appreciative. Stay courageous. 

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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