Water with "flavor?"

One of the big discussion points we have in our world is about the color and "clarity" of the water in our blackwater aquariums.

Those of us in the community of blackwater, botanical-style aquarists seek out tint and "body" in our water...while the rest of the aquatic world- well, they just sort of... freak the f---- out about that, huh?

Our aesthetic "upbringing" in the hobby seems to push us towards "crystal clear water", regardless of whether or not it's "tinted" or not. And think about it: You can have absolutely horrifically toxic levels of ammonia, dissolved heavy metals, etc. in water that is "invisible", and have perfectly beautiful parameters in water that is heavily tinted and even a bit turbid.

(FYI, WIkipedia defines "turbidity" in part as, "...the cloudiness or haziness of a fluid caused by large numbers of individual particles that are generally invisible to the naked eye, similar to smoke in air.")

That's why the aquarium "mythology" which suggested that blackwater tanks were somehow "dirtier" than "blue water" tanks used to drive me crazy. It's not a measure of the "cleanliness" of the water in an aquarium, is it?

Color alone is not indicative of water quality for aquarium purposes, nor is "turbidity." Sure, by municipal drinking water standards, color and clarity are important, and can indicate a number of potential issues...But we're not talking about drinking water here, are we?

No, we aren't! 

I've seen plenty of botanical-influenced blackwater aquariums which have a visual "thickness" to them-you know, a sort of look- with small amounts of particulate present in the water column- yet still have spot-on water conditions from a chemical perspective, with undetectable nitrate, phosphate, and of course, no ammonia or nitrite present.

One of my good friends calls this "flavor"- which sort of makes me laugh every time I hear it...but it seems to be an apt descriptor, huh?

It's important, when passing judgement on, or evaluating the concept of botanicals and blackwater in aquariums, to remember this. Look, "crystal clear water" is absolutely desirable for 98% of all aquariums out there- but not always "realistic", in terms of how closely the tank replicates the natural environment.

In other words, not every natural habitat is crystal clear, blue-white water..and not every "natural aquarium" needs to be, either!

Remember, the color, turbidity, chemical characteristics, and sure- the overall quality of the water - are profoundly influenced by the terrestrial environment surrounding the body of water in question.

Soils, geology, the presence of decomposing leaves, vegetation, rainfall, etc. all play a role in this.

Understanding that the wild aquatic habitats of the world are, in essence, a "by-product" of their surrounding terrestrial environment is extremely helpful in "de-bunking" the long-held aquarium hobby "myth" that all water needs to be colorless and clear to be considered "healthy."

A funny by-product of our more recent obsession with blackwater aquariums in the hobby is a concern about the "tint" of the water, and yeah, perhaps even the "flavor" of said water! A by-product of our acceptance of natural influences on the water, and a desire to see a more realistic representation of certain aquatic environments.  

We now see posts and discussions by hobbyists lamenting the fact that their aquarium water is not "tinted" enough.

You sort of have to smile a bit, right?

Total mental shift, huh?

And of course, a healthy botanical- influenced tank also may typically not be turbid, but that doesn't mean that it's not "functioning properly." Again, this realization and willingness to understand and embrace the aesthetic for what it is becomes a large part of that "mental shift" that we talk about so often here on these pages.

The color of the water and influence of tannins-and the turbidity, for that matter- are profoundly influenced by the ionic charges and other physio-chemical characteristics of the water as well as the materials interacting with it; at the risk of over-simplifying things, my advice is to look at your aquatic environment as a "whole", much like we'd examine a natural aquatic habitat- and think about the influences on the color, quantity, biological stability of the water which are imparted by materials (ie; botanicals, wood, substrate, etc.) present.

The beauty of an aquarium is that you can either remove or contribute to the color and clarity characteristics of your water if you don't like 'em, by simply utilizing "technique"- ie; mechanical and chemical filtration, water changes, etc.

It's that simple.

And that complex, too.

Take stuff out or continue to allow it to remain and influence the water. Add more- or less- to achieve the desired goal. Evaluate, observe, adjust, test, and tweak. 

There is NO recipe for this- no "plug-and-play" techniques- each one is bespoke, custom, one-of-a-kind, etc...


And difficult...

And pretty darned fun, huh?

Stay curious. Stay excited. Stay open-minded. Stay observant...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 


Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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