We dream in water.

I will bet that you're a bit like me (well, maybe not quite as weird..) in that you'll often fall asleep dreaming up your fantasy aquariums in your head. You know, the crazy idea that you've wanted to execute- the one with the huge tank, the outrageous aquascape...the one that technology isn't quite available for yet..Or maybe it's a fish room..Not JUST a fish room, but one with a perfect design, awesome filtration, great access, lighting...all that stuff.

Or maybe it's a dream of breeding that one fish that you covet. When I was a kid, I dreamed about breeding the Black Ghost Knifefish...well, not just breeding it- creating different color strains! Like, a Black one with a bright red anal fin and tail...yeah...I mean, it WAS a fantasy...

Every once in a while, it's kind of fun to indulge those dreams. Particularly, those dream concept tanks. I often think that many of these tanks are actually derivations or perfected versions of the ones I currently work with. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that my current leaf litter-dominated aquarium in my office, which I often sort of take for granted, was a "fantasy tank" of mine a number of years back. I mean, I played around with leaf litter in tanks, but just doing a "casual" display tank with the botanical "concept" was definitely "fantasy material" for me for a lot of years.

It's funny to see some of the technology that I needed all those years ago to execute on some of my dream concepts actually come to fruition. Stuff like LED lighting with all sorts of controls, electronic pumps with precision flow adjustment, filtration technology. Some of the tech we are actually starting to take for granted, like inline heaters. Think about it: For years, hardcore aquascapers had to figure out any number of ways to hid the unsightly aquarium heater from view in our display aquariums. Then, inline heaters came out and- wham- problem solved!

Another one of those cool ideas are seemingly simple and easy to take for granted are those cool Riparium planters from Aqua Verdi. Now, you have an easy, off-the-shelf way to grow marginal plants in Paludariums and Ripariums. This solves a big headache for a lot of scheming hobbyists like myself!

Speaking of Paludariums- for at least the last 10 years, I've been fantasizing about doing  a marine palladium to mimic those "Rock Islands" that you see in Palau, essentially pinnacles of coral rock with lush terrestrial plant growth above water, and a vibrant reef below. Seems so obvious, so easy...so unique..Yet to my knowledge, no one has done this yet. Part of the problem, I think, is that you're working with two distinctly different environments (terrestrial plants and a reef system) in one aquarium, which requires proper lighting, filtration, containment, humidity and lighting, and a bunch of other things- all of which are totally "doable" with a little ingenuity. Oh, and capability/experience with both plants and corals...

The closest thing I've seen to this concept is hobbyists playing with mangroves in a reef system. Close, as they say, but "no cigar..." I came really close to doing this in a 450 gallon cylinder aquarium during my days as co-owner of Unique Corals, but the realities of designing, assembling, and maintaining such a tank in a busy coral propagation facility were too great, would take us off focus, etc. the timing was wrong, even though we had a lot of the elements in place to pull it off (labor, smart people, a great working space/tools, and of course, the aquarium- not to mention, unlimited access to coral!). It became a "standard" reef tank. Nice, but not that crazy "concept tank" I dreamed of. Practicality won out.

Of course, that brings up the other issue with making dream tank a reality: Sometimes, it's not about our lack of skills to pull it off- it's about lack of resources (time, money, space). In the case of my "Palau thing", it was time. Just not enough to allocate to such a detailed and innovative project. Could I have scaled it down? Could I simply have done this at home or something? Well, sure, but then I had to find a place that would work, purchase the right equipment for the space, etc., etc.

Some ideas are definitely doable from a technology aspect, but require a bunch of the right factors to line up in order to execute them. For example, I've long dreamed of doing a river tank. I mean, a serious river...like 15-20 feet long and sort of "meandering" into a pool, then recalculating into like a waterfall at the other end.  Big, potentially expensive, complex...and entirely doable. In fact, I saw one in Hanover, Germany a few years back...it was amazing.  Of course, in order to pull something totally outside-the-box like this off, you need all of those elements, right? Space, time, money, do-it-yourself (DIY) skill, etc. It's another one of those fantasy projects that are just at the outside edge of practicality...You can see yourself executing it, if only you had__________.

I suppose that's why many of the most seemingly achievable hobby dreams are those that involve acquiring, keeping, and maybe breeding fishes that we covet. I say, "seemingly achievable", because we often run into problems that make things a non-starter, like availability of the fish you want (Hmm, what collector wants to risk kidnapping and torture from crazy Guerrilla forces in the rain forest to get that rare cichlid?). Or, you have this fantasy about keeping that little cryptic brown fish that commercial collectors simply toss back as "commercially unviable" (because who wants a little cryptic brown fish that dwells in leaf litter?).

Or, perhaps the fish comes from an environment that is really impractical to replicate in captivity, like the African "Soda Lake" cichlids. The "Soda Lake" cichlids, like Danakilia dinicolai  and Alcolapia alcalica, have adapted to survive in extreme aquatic conditions of high pH (8.8-10.2), high salinity and high temperatures (30-43⁰C). I mean, something this weird is begging for a chance in the hobby, but the odds of this fish being imported with any real regularity are quite slim.

(Danakilia dinicolai.  Photo by Giuseppe de Marchi)

Still, many of us harbor even more achievable dreams: Breeding Discus, perhaps?

Or, maybe our dreams are even more realistic, such as simply having a larger aquarium.

The best part about having dreams as a hobbyist is that you always have a possibility- a chance- no matter how remote it seems- of pulling off one of your fantasies. We live in a globally interconnected world now, with hobbyists form all backgrounds, skill levels, and regions communicating daily. Perhaps you'll stumble on a kindred spirit- a hobbyist much like you, who, after years and years of dreaming, just pulled off the same thing you've been fantasizing about. And maybe, just maybe, this hobbyist can provide some encouragement, guidance, assistance- even fishes- that you need to pull of YOUR fantasy...

It's that amazing "what if?" and the endless search for the stuff that keeps us excited which inspired me to launch Tannin. I felt that, if I dreamed about creating botanical-influenced aquariums and blackwater environments, and curated all of the knowledge, ideas, and materials that I amassed over the years to make MY fantasy come true, then maybe- just maybe- other hobbyists who harbored some similar dreams could utilize the resources we have at Tannin to help pull them off.

Yes, we all dream in water. Be it fresh, salt, brackish, or soda water, as the case may be. We dream and ponder and scheme, and more often than not, pull off those dreams, satisfying ourselves, and delighting and inspiring other hobbyists around the world. It's that dreaming, scheming, creating, and sharing that make being a tropical fish enthusiast a very special thing.

Keep dreaming. Keep scheming. Stay relentless. Stay inspired.

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics




Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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