Yes, we throw dried leaves and seeds and stuff in our aquariums....

One of my friends told me the other day that it's been a whirl since I went off on one of my ridiculous editorial "rants", and that I need to drop one of those in "The Tint" soon...

Well, here I am, ready to do just that! I had this thought...

I love healthy skepticism.

It's kind of funny, when I explain our botanical obsession to hobbyists not familiar with the process..or even to non-hobbyists. Well, interestingly, non-hobbyists- especially people who fish or spend time on the water, are usually like, "That's cool! That's what lakes and streams really look like!" And curiously, long-time hobbyists are usually the rather skeptical ones, with response like, "Why would you to that? That adds a lot of pollution to the tank. Nitrates are gonna go through the roof!" (etc., etc.). 

Yet, it's always fun to see the initial skeptics in almost anything in our hobby start slowly accepting new ideas; foreign concepts: "I want to see what all of the buzz is about. I'll just set up a small tank and try this idea...."

And that's how it starts. 

I think it's really important to maintain a healthy skepticism of stuff we do in the hobby. It's important to be a little cautious about embracing new ideas completely without any evidence or examples of success to review. And in the aquarium hobby, particularly in recent decades, we've been fed a lot of promises, ideas about "techniques", and products claiming to do all sorts of incredible things. And we, as a group, have gotten pretty smart about a lot of things! The classic "eliminates the need for water changes" claim attached to almost any product will typically send the experienced aquarist running in the other direction, and rightfully so.

We are always looking for ways to do things better, but the majority of experienced aquarists, having "been through the wars" with diseases, algae issues, and husbandry techniques, have learned to question just about anything that sounds too good to be true. And that's great!

However, I also think that we as a group sometimes tend to be a bit myopic about some things. For example, you've often see me being rather critical of some of the aquascaping contests out there, as, in my opinion, they often appear to evaluate and judge by one specific set of criteria, seemingly ruling out almost any possibility of something truly "outside the box" (or the prevailing "approved" style, anyways) ever winning. Now, I get it- there is perhaps a certain guideline for some of these things, but when so rigidly enforced, it seem to yield...a sort of...sameness. In my opinion, all that has done is create a movement and perception in the hobby under which everyone seems to feel that they have to subscribe to a specific style to be "worthy", which I find incredibly disappointing.

Now, that's not to say that there is not room for innovation and change within given guidelines and "movements"- one need only look at some of the innovative work being done by many biotope enthusiasts. Following nature rather than some tight design philosophy, the opportunity for innovation and creative expression is limitless.

I sometimes worry about us as a hobby taking ourselves too seriously.

I mean, even in our geeky blackwater, botanical-style aquarium world, it's completely possible to become too rigid in our thinking, dogmatically creating "styles" and such. Fortunately, we haven't seen too much of this. We have questioned the wisdom of doing certain things. We have screwed stuff up. We've made some minor breakthroughs, too. We have developed techniques by which we prepare, add, and incorporate botanical materials into our aquariums, but we have not seen a close-minded imposition of "rules" for creating natural-looking aquariums, for example. 

Interestingly, for the most part, the inspiration for most of the new tanks I've seen comes from nature, as opposed to " _______'s aquarium." Oh sure, there may be some inspiration taken from an aquarium we find attractive, but it's not to the point of being insanely duplicative. For example, a lot of hobbyists love utilizing palm fronds in their tanks, to the point where you could almost call it a bit of a "trend" but we have not seen a situation where every single tank using them starts looking the same.

Now, in all fairness, one might say that our tanks look the same to an "outsider", much as we might think all contest-type tanks look similar. And I suppose that is a valid argument, although we don't impose rigid style guidelines, and upon examination, every botanical tank looks completely different, because of the very nature of the materials used and how they interact with the aquatic environment. And there is no one "preaching" style.

It's amazing how the hobby in general is becoming more experimental, for the most part. However, one of the things that I hear a lot from hobbyists who want to try new stuff (and this is in all sorts of "sectors") is that they are often greeted with negativity form "experienced" hobbyists who tell them that "You can't do that!" And, although such admonitions might be done in some sort of spirit of "helpfulness" in the minds of the person delivering the "critique", it's often an expression of consternation because they know that this is "not the way it's done."

Well, that's not the way THEY have done it. Why not try something different to yield a better outcome?

Change is scary to some. Stuff works. Why change it? Incremental changes are made and technique is developed, and that is usually accepted well. However, operating far outside of the defined "boundaries" of "conventional aquarium technique" is uncomfortable for many, and often results in undue criticism, for the simple reason that it might go against what we've done for so long. I hate hearing hobbyists tell me stories of how they were criticized for trying some totally radical approach to a common practice, like breeding a certain fish or whatever.  They will often tell me that the "critics" explain to them that their approach is "unrealistic" or "too stressful" to the animals or whatever, summarily dismissing the idea without even thinking it though. 

That's not skepticism. That's negative and judgmental. Do we really need that in the hobby?

No, we don't. We need skepticism. We need concern when someone does something in a manner that could damage the hobby as a whole (like importing illegal fishes or plants). We need to question products with shaky claims without anything tangible and replicable to back them up. Yes, we need to question new techniques, offer suggestions and even constructive criticisms. We need to examine new ideas before blindly embracing them. 

However, we should support innovation, rather than simply shrug it off as "folly" on the part of an aquarist who is "outside the loop" of what is commonplace.  Give things a chance. Changes, developments, breakthroughs will happen, and we need to do our best to understand that there are those who enjoy this process. There is a need for evolution, refinement, and yes...change. And there will be change. Let's embrace it. And let's not take everything too seriously, okay?

We throw dried leaves and seeds and stuff in our aquariums...

That IS kind of weird, huh?

Until next time...

Stay innovative. Stay curious. Stay skeptical. Stay supportive. Stay creative...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 




Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


Leave a comment