November 13, 2015

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So you say you want a revolution? Will "evolution" suffice?

I love this hobby, despite my seemingly grumpy assessment of things from time to time.

One of the coolest things about our hobby is the amazing progression over the years in both the state of the art and the technology that we embrace.  Yeah, I know, I love to bash you techies, but I am appreciative for what you’ve done. Really. You’ve helped make some things possible with an ease we’ve never enjoyed before. Amazing  improvements that have enabled us to do things previously thought incredibly difficult or even, impossible, unfold daily here on the forums and elsewhere.  And the progression seems to be accelerating constantly.  Okay, I gave you guys your moment in the sun. Go back to your controller readouts, and create a program that someone other than an engineer can figure out, okay? 

Regardless, we’re in a great “Postmodern” aquatics era..What an amazing time to be a hobbyist!

It’s interesting, however, to watch some hobbyist’ reactions to new products, techniques, etc.  After reading about some new product or evolved technique, you’ll often see comments like “That’s nothing new, really. ___________ had something like that a few years ago.” or “All that guy did was add______. It’s not really new.”

Ok, well, maybe. And so what?

Comments and attitudes like this seem to overlook a few simple facts, so let’s look at this a bit closer.  Did you ever think about how the technology and practices we routinely utilize in the hobby came into being?  Much of it is built upon achievements and developments from the past. Successes and failures contributed to this process, of course.  I mean, it all started with a goldfish bowl, right?  Sure, there are brand new technologies that trickle into the hobby all the time, yet many of the hottest new products and techniques of today arose as a result of someone looking at something that was already in existence and saying, “I can do better than that.” 

It’s the “better mousetrap” theory.  Things evolve over time, often borrowing from existing technology or technique. And what’s wrong with that? I mean, Hollywood does it all the time with the wretched and vapid lack of creativity that you see in remaking everything from comic strips to children's toys in an attempt to entertain people…and it works.. sells billions of dollars of tickets despite the insanity of sequeIs to movies that should have never gotten green-lighted in the first place…But I digress.. think we do a bit better in the hobby, but the point is, you can draw from the past and create cool stuff for the present.

Evolution, I suppose.

One need not look to far back into the hobby’s past to see a prime example of this evolution: Remember when reef aquariums hit the U.S., and there was the sudden introduction of the 'trickle filter?" Derived from sewage treatment technology, this venerable invention powered the reef systems of the mid eighties, placing the promise of the “miniature reef” into the grasp of almost every marine hobbyist. George Smit’s landmark series of articles in FAMA magazine in 1986, extolling this technology, helped launch the modern reef craze as we know it. By 1988, it seemed like the marine sector of the hobby exploded in popularity, with dozens of new filter manufacturers arriving on the scene almost monthly, everywhere you looked.

As the decade wore on, however, hobbyists and manufacturers saw fit to improve the trickle filters that were available at the time, creating new models with greater media capacity, more baffles to break up flow, and compartments to hold equipment like skimmers and reactors. Little improvements that provided increased performance. Nothing revolutionary, mind you- just “tweaks”. Good tweaks, nonetheless.

Eventually, it was determined that trickle filters were great at removing ammonia and nitrite, yet tended to allow nitrate to accumulate rapidly.  In the nineties, many embraced the belief that accumulating nitrate could be a potential detriment to coral growth and long-term fish health, and almost overnight,“conventional” trickle filtration began to fall out of favor.  Hobbyists everywhere began yanking the plastic filter media (bioballs, etc.) from their trickle filters.

The “filter” became the “sump”, and was primarily the nexus for water treatment (mechanical and chemical) for the aquarium.  With no use for biological “towers”, within this new school of thought, this feature began to disappear from filters. Kalkwasser dosing was utilized to increase alkalinity and calcium and to precipitate phosphates… 

 The “Berlin Method” of reef keeping had arrived, and a derivative of this method has been the state of the art ever since, with many subtle tweaks.  Once again, existing technology had “morphed” to accommodate the prevailing school of thought.  The state of the art evolved, and so did the equipment.  An idea from the past improved upon to accommodate the needs of the present. Woah!

It's all over the hobby, in both fresh and saltwater.

In my opinion, we are often too quick to chide such evolutionary steps as “copying” or “ripping off” existing ideas, when in reality, they are simply improving and building upon what was already there.  This is the necessary progression of things in many cases. We didn’t make the leap from undergravel filters to high-capacity sumps and hyper efficient protein skimmers and canister filters, or from N.O. fluorescent to LED lighting overnight.  Hobbyists, manufacturers, and product designers looked at the prevailing technology of the day, assessed the needs of the hobby, and attempted to improve upon these existing technologies. Remember, many of  these improvements are done to gain a market advantage over one’s competitors.  For example, if I make an easier to maintain protein skimmer, hobbyists are more likely to purchase my product. Further refinements take place all the time.  This is how the hobby progresses.

It’s good.

It’s not just limited to the hobby, of course. Think about everyday technologies, such as telephones.  When the cord on the phone was cut, it changed the way we communicate.  Improvements in technology revolutionized the way we could quickly interact with others and gave us the “smart phones” that pretty much everyone on the planet carries in our pockets.  These “smart phones” allow us to talk, write, text, send photos,  use wretched platforms like Twitter and Instagram (because apparently, 140 characters, or only pictures, is the new human limit of information absorbtion…),and video conference effortlessly and instantaneously with others, creating true global communication once though impossible. Other than the two unexplainably popular stupid ideas mentioned above, these things are awesome!

Need more proof that change and progression in our hobby are often the result of evolution?  Indulge me again with another reef aquarium reference, but this is one that I've personally "lived through", so it comes to mind quickly:

Those of you familiar with my rants on reef aquarium aquascaping know that I am no lover of the ever pervasive “wall of rock”, which is essentially a large quantity of  live rock, more or less stacked end-to-end in the aquarium, it’s been utilized as the  “default” aquascaping configuration since the beginning of the reef aquarium hobby.  In my opinion, it’s outdated, uninspired, and essentially unnecessary.  I feel so strongly about this because, among other reasons, I understand its history. And, because I like to take a strong position on stuff and tick people off…Yup.

Anyhow..

Back in the 80’s, “live rock” was a breakthrough in aquarium management. Biological “filtration” and diversity of life were considered revolutionary concepts in aquaria. It was widely believed that you needed “x” number of pound per gallon of aquarium capacity to achieve these results, so when we set up our tanks, we dutifully dumped tons (literally, in some cases) of rock into them!  How else do you get 100 pounds of rock in a 50 gallon tank? You arrange it like a wall! Even though water capacity, swimming area, and flow were often compromised with this configuration, it was a widely held that the benefits were far greater than any potential downside.

Over the years, however, it was discovered that we really didn’t need all that rock for biological filtration, and that you could utilize other techniques (use of refugia, protein skimming, macroalgae) to help efficiently process nutrients in our aquaria. Hobbyists began to experiment by creating systems with less rock.  With the better understanding of biological processes and their affect on husbandry that we developed over the years, water volume and movement have taken on greater significance, and hobbyists began to utilize far less rock in their aquascapes, unless their design called for it.  

The “rock wall” was no longer considered the “only way” to run a reef system, and the concept of reef aquascaping has evolved dramatically, experiencing a real renaissance of sorts..Okay, the "rock wall" aquascape in reef aquariums is still around, but it’s kind of fading…

Thank goodness we never went through this phase in freshwater!

Inspiration is an “open source”, and innovation is for anyone to embrace. It can come from anywhere, at any time. Thanks to global communication fostered by the Internet, ideas can be presented and tweaked easily. Some aquarium technologies, such as lighting and controllers, borrow from other industries or fields of endeavor, whereas others, such as the development of new food products, arise out of  knowledge and experience gained within the fields of aquatic science and aquaculture-and good old hobbyist experience as well. Ideas, technologies, and technique “cross-pollinate” between fields, and the changes benefit us all. Sweet.

There is no great “hobby hegemony” that seeks to keep ideas and progression in the hands of some chosen few.  No sir. These days, anyone with an idea, determination, and a Facebook account can forge a new path for the hobby, and get the word out quickly.  Think about this for a while: As a Tannin customer you’re actually a participant in the progression in the hobby.  No watching from the sidelines for you…You’ve got a front row seat to the revolution, and your comments and questions do not go unnoticed by manufacturers, fellow hobbyists, and industry people. Seriously. I think Twitter’s stock just fell 20 points because I said I think it’s stupid….yeah.

Getting back to the topic at hand, the next time you might be tempted to criticize someone’s new hobby idea or product because it seemingly ”borrows” from something already in existence, realize that you’re merely seeing the evolution of the hobby at its flash point. The “bleeding edge”, as they like to say. Don’t just chide the development because part of it seems derived from something familiar.  Embrace it, enjoy it, and utilize it…. improve it.

Okay, time for some chin-ups and green tea…I’m outta here. Evolution awaits.

 

Till next time…

 

Stay wet.

 

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

 

 

 

 

November 11, 2015

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Our unabashed obsession with Guava leaves...

When it comes to leaves that you can utilize in your aquarium, it seems like almost everyone has heard of, and even tried, Indian Almond Leaves (Catappa). Of course the Almond Leaf is popular- it's attractive, breaks down moderately fast, and does impart desirable tannins and their associated "tint" to the water. 

Of course, the exhalted Catappa leaf is NOT the only one that we recommend- and might not even be the very best for every circumstance. Like so many things in the aquarium world, it's important  to utilize a variety of leaves in many setups. Having different types of leaves provides both diversity AND the opportunity to achieve different effects.

Guava leaves have become increasingly popular in recent years because of their use as a food for ornamental shrimp. They are slower to decompose than other leaves, in our experience, and are aesthetically one of the most beautiful ones out there! When you incorporate them into your "leaf litter zone", they adda note of "jungle sophistication" that compliments the other more popular leaves and pods so nicely! They also seem to be exceptionally efficient at generating a nice "biofilm" for grazers to consume- more so than most other leaves, in our opinion!

They can be steeped in boiling water before you use them, or simply soaked and rinsed for some extended period of time...Mainly to get 'em to sink. They tend to hold their shape and form a long time...unless of course, you happen to have some hungry shrimp, which tear into them eagerly! They will give your water some of that tint, but not nearly to the extent of the Catappa and other leaves that we offer. This is nice, because you could conceivably use more in a given water quantity to achieve the effect that you'd get with just a few Catappa leaves, for example.Of course, they look awesome when mixed with other materials!

All in all, these beautiful leaves are both aesthetically and practically beautiful for aquarium use! We have a lot of frog enthusiasts who use them as a supplemental component of the leaf litter in their vivariums and terrariums as well, and they are equally in love with these cool leaves. If you're looking for something just a bit different, definitely check them out!

 

November 09, 2015

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Long Live the LFS!

Not too long a go, I was driving by an area where a tropical fish store has long resided, one that I used to go to as a kid. Being in an introspective mood, I decided to drop in and see what was cooking! At first, you’d think, “Why is this owner of a couple of internet-based marine aquarium companies dropping in to a local fish store?” It’s an easy question to answer: Because I’m a hobbyist, and as a hobbyist, there are few better places in the world to go than the local fish store! It’s one of the best things that we can do!

In this postmodern, internet-enabled hobby world, it seems that the venerable local fish store (“LFS”) is under constant attack. Online vendors, hobbyist garage-based start-ups, group buys, eBay, Amazon, and even club auctions and frag swaps are but a few of the challenges facing the brick-and-mortar fish store’s very existence. These guys get it from all directions! Our hobby changes constantly and quickly. What was hot 3 months ago is yesterday’s news. Trends and shifts in interest happen so quickly in this internet-based world that the LFS barely has time to source a hot new item before it fades into memory.

Add this to the fact that many “dialed in” hobbyists seem to enjoy bashing the “guy at the LFS”, and you’ve got a big-time assault on one of the hobby’s most endearing institutions. Why is this so? What created this unfair stereotype? Does being active in a forum or buying only online make you somehow cooler? Does everyone who owns works for an online vendor have some special “instant cred” because they have  a fancy logo and an email address? (Wait, don’t answer that..LOL). But seriously, what gives? 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again- it’s time to re-think the much-maligned LFS and take a look at what it does so very well.

Believe it or not, the LFS has significant advantages over many other forms of aquatic businesses.

First, think about convenience. For most hobbyists, the LFS is convenient, close and quick, especially if you know what you want.  If you need a pack of frozen food, a replacement filter cartridge, or a length of tubing, you can get it the same day. No worries about shipping, lost packages, and weekend delivery delays.  And, you have the chance to check out some cool livestock while you’re there! Sure, you can do that on line, but there’s nothing like seeing that hot new Apistogramma swimming right in front of your face!

Sure, the LFS will not have every item that you see on line, but neither do many on-line sources. You’ll need to do some legwork to find the more exotic things. Many good LFS owners will try to source specialty items for you if they can. Remember, the LFS owner has different overhead to cover, and his/her business model is quite different than an online business. 

That trendy LED light, German filter system. or ultra-hot protein skimmer that’s all the rage on the forums will sit on the shelf at the LFS for months or longer before it’s sold, so you’re more likely to see more well-established products with broader appeal at the LFS. Notice I said “broader appeal”? The LFS has to cater to a far wider variety of customers than your typical e-tailer, who, with less overhead, and the wonder of drop-shipping, can typically offer more obscure products much more easily. It’s just unfair to expect the same from the LFS. They sell what works, because they have to. And you know what? There is room for both in this hobby.

In my travels, I’ve met many really cool LFS owners and visited some amazing stores. The great ones are always run by passionate, committed, and knowledgeable people, and they are clean, well stocked, and thoughtfully configured. The really great ones become what I call “destination” stores – businesses you’ll gladly drive an hour or more to visit, schedule a layover to see, or take every out-of-town fish geek to.  There are plenty of ‘em out there, too.

A common knock on the LFS is the stereotype of the “ignorant employee”. Hobbyists on forums love to share stories of the  LFS employee that sold that Catalaphyllia to the hobbyist as an anemone, or the one who sent the beginner home with a Nano Cube, two Oscars and a Plecostomus at the same time. Let’s be honest here- ignorant fish people are not limited to the LFS. After perusing forums and message boards for decades, I’ve seen far more absurd “advice” and stupidity online than I ever have in the local stores. 

 Some online coral “vendors” are  (I will be frank here) some of the stupidest hobby people I’ve ever met. Just because you can buy a cheap coral from Indo, hack it into 3 pieces, and sell it on a website under a trendy name for an obscene price does NOT make you more qualified to dispense hobby advice, or even a good business person. In fact, I’d sometimes be more inclined to take the advice I’d hear from the 17-year-old passionate reef geek working behind the counter at the LFS than I would from the “expert” at the online “coral chop shop.” At least the 17-year-old is physically working with fish and corals daily, and his work is obvious to all those who see. He’s not hiding behind a URL or fancy logo.

OK, I just bashed one of my own industry sectors. Is NOTHING sacred, Fellman? Nope.

Advice from ANY source in this hobby should always be taken with a grain of salt. Whether you’re buying on line or buying at the fish store down the street, caveat emptor applies! The ultimate responsibility for bad decisions is that of the hobbyist. A little reading and talking to more experienced hobbyists before making that purchase will go a long way towards greater success.

The LFS is a “breeding ground” for hobby/industry talent. Many great hobby movers-and-shakers got their start at the LFS. I vividly recall the first time I ever saw captive-bred Cardinal fish many years ago at my LFS. The enthusiastic teenage employee proudly pointed them out to me and lovingly showed me how he fed them, etc. An amazing accomplishment at the time-and the kid was just over-the-top stoked! 

I never forgot his enthusiasm, and neither did he! His name is Dustin Dorton, who is now President at a little aquatic business in Florida called ORA. Yeah, those guys. He’ll be the first to tell you that it all started at his LFS, where he gained valuable experience that you just can’t gain through other retail avenues. Who knows what other future “superstars” are out their right now, netting Neon Tetras for customers while experimenting with the next great hobby breakthrough in the back room?

 

Let’s face it-even in this Facebook-optimized, Twitter-enabled, Instagram-powered  world, there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction with other fish geeks.  The idea of 140 characters being able to communicate all that you need to know to make a buying decision is just stupid. There, I said it again: I think that some of the social media platforms we embrace (and yeah, I embrace them reluctantly) and hold up as a “better way” to reach consumers are…well…idiotic. Who is stupid enough to make a buying decision based purely on an Instagram pic? Are today’s consumers too dumb, too busy, or too important to read more than a few words about something they supposedly love? What’s wrong with a conversation with an LFS employee before you buy? Better to “dumb down” the message? Who is the benevolent, apparently “godlike” patron of the marketing world who decided that consumers don’t like to actually understand what they are purchasing?

Calm down, Fellman….

 The LFS is, and hopefully always will be, a “watering hole” for local hobbyists. A place to swap stories, exchange experiences, offer wisdom to beginners, and to keep the love and lore of the hobby alive. When you’re at the LFS, you’re among friends. It’s our tribe. You can’t always get that from a keyboard and monitor. It’s one of the delightful intangibles that the LFS can offer than no other hobby source can. 

So stop trashing the LFS.

Finally, there is the…wonder. I remember seeing my first Sea Anemone at the LFS when I was a kid, and I never forgot the thrill. It seems like every time I visit my LFS, there is some kid just like me, with his face pressed up against the glass as he squeals with excitement at seeing a real “Nemo,” a Black Ghost Knifefish, or school of Neons for the first time. I still enjoy seeing fish that I’ve only read about, right there in front of me. Just because I have a couple of websites and a traveling hobby lecturer “career” doesn’t mean I’ve seen it all. For many of hobbyists, their first brush with the wonders of the aquatic world was at the LFS, and it launched a passion that changed the direction of their lives.

 

For the above reasons, and for hundreds more that I didn’t think to touch on, the LFS must endure. Support your LFS- encourage it, and participate in the culture that it perpetuates, just like you do on this forum.  Think about the many benefits that the LFS  offers, and think about what it will mean to our children to have this precious hobby resource, and to the generations of children as yet unborn. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it yet again! Long live the LFS!

 Until next time...

 

Stay Wet

Scott Fellman

 

 

 

 

November 07, 2015

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The importance of doing...something.

I field a lot of questions from fellow hobbyists every day…Email, calls, texts..whatever. Part of the fun. The JOY of being in the hobby and industry.

Do you know what the most common questions I field from fellow hobbyists during my days at Unique Corals and Tannin Aquatics are? “My shipment was delayed and the coral died? My food is delayed in Memphis!” Nope. “What’s that 'hair' you packed with my Savu Pods? Food? Nah (shredded wood fibers). “Do you have any…?” Not that, either.

Give up? (Please do, I don’t want to keep giving examples, lol). The single most common question I get is “My tank just doesn’t look right. The fish are just not..well..looking good. What’s the problem? I’ve tried everything. Should I give up and try stamp collecting?”

No you shouldn’t give up. And you sure as heck shouldn’t get into stamp collecting…

What seems to be the biggest problem in our hobby is when stuff doesn’t meet our expectations…And when we are ready to throw up our arms after seemingly trying every avenue. We turn to friends and even strangers like me for answers…hope, a possible suggestion of something we missed…Anything.

What to do? How do you recover from what appears to be an inevitable tailspin?

You do SOMETHING. 

Yeah, very prosaic, huh?

Look, I’ve been know to dispense some very “Tony-Robbins-esque” crap about unlocking your inner reefer and all that crap, and it works to an extent..Getting yourself excited be alive and just involved in this game does help. But in the end, there is only one thing you can do to make a problem with your tank better.

Do something. Take action. Try something else. The almost insulting absurdity of my “advice” is almost eclipsed by the stark reality and appropriateness of it. 

We’ve said it ad naseum in this column over the years. Problems happen for a reason…The only way to fix them is to get to what caused the problem in the first place. Then you can think of solutions- in fact, they usually become obvious. 

Ask yourself, objectively- why you think whatever disaster befell your system happened. When did it first manifest? Was there some event, some failure, some…thing that could have made things go south?

If there is one thing I learned in a lifetime in the hobby, it’s that there will always be assorted problems…And there will always be solutions out there, ready to be found…simply by asking questions. And the problems? Well, they’re really easy to solve. If you just do…something.

Until next time.

 

Stay Wet

 

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

November 05, 2015

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Product spotlight: "Fundo Tropical!"

At Tannin, we're always looking for ideas, products and applications that help you create a real "slice of the bottom" in your home aquarium. Building biotope aquarium displays has become a popular diversion within the hobby, and has proven to be both educations for the hobbyist, and beneficial for the fishes he/she keeps. A win-win!

One of our favorite newer products is what we call "Fundo Tropical", which we offer as a "natural substrate enhancement media." In other words, the stuff helps you create a more natural-looking substrate in your aquarium!

Comprised of clean, natural coconut fibers, this material is easy to work with, and when mixed with more traditional substrate materials, like gravel and sand, evokes the look of a tropical stream bottom, hence its name!

One of the cool things about "Fundo Tropical" is that, once you've prepared it, it lasts almost indefinitely! When you first boil it, it will definitely color the water a dramatic dark brown...probably more brown that you might care for. It leaches a lot of tannins after immersion and boiling, and this will continue for a while.

So, we recommend that you place this material in a large bucket of clean fresh water (RO would be awesome!) to let it soak and leach out more tannins before you add it to your aquarium. Each day, dump out the "soak water" into your garden bed, and refill the bucket with fresh water. This process can take some time- several days, evan a week or two. You need to be patient!  Depending on how much "Fundo Tropical" you are using, and how large the bucket is, eventually, the water will be a bit lighter in color, as most of the initial tannin will have leached out.

 Incidentally, this type of "wait it out" preparation is recommended for almost every botanical we offer. Sure, some will be read sooner rather than later- and some, like Catappa leaves, will start breaking down rather quickly, so you have to use some judgement. As mentioned before, go slow when adding any botanical, so you can gauge the affect on your water quality and most important, the fishes.

When the water is looking a whole lot less dark brown, this is the optimum time to utilize this material in your tank!

You could mix it into gravel or sand substrates, as well as incorporate it into leaf litter and other aquatic botanicals that you might use. It creates a very realistic bottom for many South American fishes, like characins and cichlids, and catfishes, just to name a few.

Now, one of the coolest features of "Fundo Tropical" is that you can use it as a peat moss replacement for spawning of many bottom spawning killifish, including Fp. gardeneri and its relatives, as well as more "annual" species, such as Cynolebias, Austrolebias, Nothobranchius, and Austrofundulus. They readily dive into it as easily as they do peat moss. And, I know some enterprising hobbyists with very understanding significant others, who grind up "Tropical" into a super-fien consistency for breeding, which facilitates the easy removal of eggs from the substrate.

 

Best of all, this stuff is easy to reuse. Just boil it again and rinse thoroughly, and it's ready for another spawn! So it's economical as well! An added bonus!

 

All in all, "Fundo Tropical" is a versatile, attractive, and highly useful material that you'll find lots of uses for in the aquarium. I even know of a few customers who use it as a water conditioner, placing some prepared "Tropical" in mesh micron filter bags and installing it in their canister filters. Since this is a far, far more sustainably sourced material than peat moss and other products traditionally used for this and the aforementioned other functions, it's not only effective, but it's ecologically more sound, in our opinion!

If you're looking to rev up your biotope, check out "Fundo Tropical" today!

Oh, and stay tuned for a more "fine grained" version of "Tropical", coming soon! It's that much easier to use as a spawning substrate!

Stay Wet!

 

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

November 03, 2015

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One species. One love.

If you've read my ramblings before, or have seen one of my talks, you know that I'm always trying to push fellow hobbyists to create aquariums that are a bit out of the ordinary.

So, I present you with my latest challenge: How about a system based on the needs of just ONE animal? What would you keep if you could just keep one species of fish? Would you even be able to do it? Coming from the "reef" side of the hobby, I'll take the liberty of speaking for my people and saying a resounding "No!"

Postmodern reefers have pretty short attention spans. We like variety, we like diversity, and we like action! I wonder if it's even possible for a reefer to keep just one species of coral? I'm the ultimate reef geek, and it challenges even my crazy sensibilities! Heck, I have a warehouse with hundreds of species...I wonder if I could handle it. 

On the other hand, as freshwater hobbyists, we're far better equipped, mentally, to do this. I mean, with dedicated breeders working with Guppies, Discus, Plecos, etc., it's a non-issue.

Or is it?

Let's take the specialized fish breeder out of the equation for a minute and wade into the more populated waters of the mainstream aquarium hobby.

It seems that, short of hobbyists who breed certain fishes, you rarely see anyone keeping a tank devoted to just one species in a display tank- fresh or saltwater...

Why is that? 

How cool would it be to just create an aquarium around ONE species of fish, coral, etc? I think it would be off the hook! I mean, you'd be an expert on Lamprologus steppersi, or the go-to-geek on Nannostomus trifasciatus, or..well, you get the idea. Limited thinkers may scoff at your apparent narrow-mindedness, but you'll know in your heart that your tank with 12 Scarlet Badis in an Indian jungle stream biotope is as cool as it gets!

There are a number of benefits to keeping a dedicated species aquarium. First and foremost, the fishes will not have to deal with the competitive stresses caused by the presence of others. Fishes will be more likely to develop a natural social structure, feeding habits, and reproductive behaviors than they will in a typical captive "community" situation. It will become much easier to develop a "baseline" behavioral/growth model for the animals you keep this way. Deviations from what you will come to recognize as "normal" for the species will be readily apparent and obvious over time.

 

Of course, breeding fishes and propagating plants is not only a fascinating specialty, it may be the key to survival for many fishes in the hobby, as wild collection becomes less and less sustainable for many. You hear it everywhere from hobbyists more familiar with this dynamic than I, but captive breeding is truly the future of the hobby. We've done an amazing job in the freshwater world, and the marine sector is playing catchup, steadily but surely!

 

By devoting a tank to one species, and possibly creating conditions conducive to their reproduction, you're embarking on a journey to learn all about them. This is truly taking the first steps towards reducing the pressures off of wild populations, so that we'll be able to enjoy them for generations to come.

 

Monospecific- One species....A very cool idea...And, if nothing more, it's a great excuse for another aquarium! "Honey, I'm trying to save the Xenophallus umbratilis from extinction..." Say THAT With a straight face, as you pitch the idea of yet another aquarium to your skeptical spouse, parent, or significant other!

In the end, it's just another way to enjoy an aquarium- one of many possible concepts you can try for interest, aesthetics- and just maybe- a chance to bring about the next hobby breakthrough! So here's to you and your bravery as you take the "road less travelled!" See you en route. In the mean time, let's see your "monospecific" tanks, or hear your equally wacky ideas for one! Inspire, share...scare! LOL

Until next time,

Stay Wet

Scott Fellman

Tannin aquatics

November 02, 2015

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"The man who knew too much..."

Oh, a very Hitchcock-like title, wouldn't you say?

Actually, there's a whole lot less intrigue in it and more philosophy... This is a saltwater story today, but I think just about any hobbyist- fresh OR salt- can relate...

I finally received my Innovative Marine "Fusion Lagoon 50." Yeah, an aquarium- an All in One aquarium- right there in my home office...ready to rock and roll. Nicely-built, and filled with potential. Yeah, I'll be giving a blow-by-blow review later, as I use the "everyman's reef tank" to prove that you can do cool reef aquariums with a "pret a porter" aquarium system. (not like this tank is some kind of let down- it's not. In fact, it's very nicely built- more so than a few of the custom jobs I've owned over the years, trust me!).

So, I'm at this new phase now. I have this tank, some of the equipment I'll be using, and a whole lot of ideas bouncing in my head. Some are new thoughts on how I want to approach familiar problems, like like "If I go with these corals, who will I have to position them to take advanatage of the tank's footprint, water flow, and lighting?" Others are far more esoteric, like thinking through positioning of circulation pumps within the display, or thinking through maintenance strategies.

Still others are...well- weird.

Case in point. Like any good reefer, I spent some time this weekend pouring over "build threads" on a few reef keeping forums, to kind of get a read as to how other reefers are approaching certain things. Funny, actually, because one of the first things I told myself is that I wouldn't allow any of my decisions to be influenced by others...Kind of a ridiculous position, actually- because we can't help but be influenced by the work of others in this hobby, right? 

So anyways, as I pursued a few threads, I'd see the usual iterations of live rock, the fancy equipment shots, the ridiculously over-blue lights-on shots (I mean, it's late 2015- we've had LED's for like a decade, and we're still into making our tanks look like Studio 54? What gives. Ever heard of "full spectrum" or "daylight?"). Apart from stuff I'd laugh and comiserate about, I saw IT. You know. The big "hurdle." The right of passage.

ALGAE.

Yikes, I forgot about that phase. Yeah. That part when all of your good work looks like...well, you get it, as it's covered with that familiar patina of algae while the tank goes through its nutrient cycling phase. The part where every hobbyist, experienced or otherwise, has those lingering doubts; asks questions- goes through the mental gymnastics to try to cope: "Do I have enough flow?" Was my source water quality any good? Did I cheap-out on the salt mix? Is it my light? When does this go away? It does go away. I know it's just a phase. Right? Yeah, it goes away? When? It WILL go away. Right?"

I mean, it's one of those rights of passage that we all go through. The early doubts. The questioning of ourselves. The reviewing of fundamental procedure and practice. The need to reach out to the community to gain reassurance. It's normal. It's often inevitable.

The point of this piece is not about algae, per se. It's about the mind set that we bring to the table when we experience such things. The "algae bloom" phase brings out familiar feelings...

But it IS a phase. I know this..and you do, too.

Yet it bothers us, huh?

We reach back into our minds- our experiences- every time our protein skimmer releases micro bubbles into our tank, or whenever our pumps make that funny noise...Whenever the temperature seems to be harder to dial in than we expect. We KNOW what stuff should be like, we know that we set ourselves up for success...yet we look, and ponder- and we worry. But we DO know better. We know that all of this wonderful thing are just a phase. Our experience- and the experience of our "tribe" tell us this.

Yet it's part of the game. The worry. The reflection. The doubts. The...learning- which comes about as a result of our doing something that, in reality, is among the most enjoyable of pursuits in the hobby- starting a new tank.

We know what to expect. 

And perhaps- just maybe- we know too much.

We understand all of this stuff. We experienced it many times over the years, and have watched- and even reassured- others that "all of this is normal" and to "just be patient and it will pass..."

You know- reef stuff. But it's really "aquarium stuff", so as not to alienate my fellow freshwater enthusiasts!

Outright beginners actually have it much easier in this regard, I think. I mean, when just having a glass or acrylic box of saltwater or freshwater  in your home is a novelty- a cause for rejoicing- you tend to live in a bubble of gentle "ignorance" (eeehw- that's kind of harsh)- okay, let's call it "blissful lack of awareness" that some of this stuff sucks...

And that's a beautiful thing- because a beginner is taken by the sheer wonder- and joy of it all. They don't stress out about stuff like micro bubbles and Asterina starfish and bristle worms in their rock work. They're not worried about that yucky age like we are, because they don't KNOW that it can linger a long, long time if you don't manage the tank correctly at this phase. They're not handcuffed by their past experiences and the knowledge of having set up dozens of reefs over the years. Rather, they're just stoked as all get out by the thought of Azure Damselfish, Banded Coral Shrimp, Green Star Polyps and ultra-common pulsing Xenia taking up residence in the new little utopian microhabitat they just set up in their New York City apartment.

Perhaps the beginner knows something we don't.

I think I- we- know too much. 

And I don't mean that from an arrogant perspective.

I think I, like so many reefers at my level of hobby experience, tend to overthink every aspect of the reefing hobby, particularly the new tank startup phase, rather than just letting ourselves enjoy the moment- the wonder, and the awe that comes from doing something special, beautiful, and, let's face it- incredibly cool! We do it in freshwater just as often- and we've been doing it a lot longer. Yet this IS something amazing, huh? 

Something that nine tenths of the world will never get to experience or even comprehend.

I think it's entirely possible to release ourselves from the "burden" of our own experience, and to allow ourselves to enjoy every aspect of this great hobby, free from preconception or prejudices. To just make decisions based on what our research- gut, or yeah- I suppose experience- tells us is the right thing to do, then letting stuff happen. In other words, taking control of the influence our own experience provides, rather than allowing it to taint our whole journey with doubt, dogma, second-guessing, and over-analysis of every single aspect.

I'm looking forward to the next phases of my journey. Looking forward to solving problems, creating solutions, trying new things, experiencing the familiar ones- and just taking each step as it comes as I build out my new freshwater and reef tanks in my home. Not over-thinking, and not being completely ignorant, either.

Because I certainly don't want to carry the burden of the man who knows too much.

Stay excited. Stay engaged. Stay tuned!

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman
Tannin Aquatics 
November 01, 2015

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You CAN go home again.

So, I'm in that cool phase of setting up some new tanks at home...And with it comes the excitement, anticipation, fun...and a certain "Don't f*** it up" attitude!

I mean, I haven't created a new aquarium in my home for over 4 years. Oh sure, I've worked on a lot of tanks in that span, most associated with my other business, Unique Corals. Tanks of all sizes, ranging from nanos to 500 gallon reef tanks,  a tank in my office, and of course, our coral growout facility, which encompasses more than 6 raceways and around 16,000 gallons of saltwater...Yeah, I've had my "hands wet", but when it comes to creating and managing a tank in my own home, it's been a while. 

The "hiatus", if you will, was kind of cool- very good for me, actually. It gave me the chance to want it a little more- to sort of "crave" the whole personal aquatic experience that I missed out on for the past few years. It gave me a chance to sort of clear my head, so to speak, to rid my mind of preconceptions I had and maybe even purge some old bad habits I've accumulated during a lifetime of personal aquatic experience. 

The thought of waking up on a rainy Saturday (gosh, do we EVER get them here in L.A.? We're supposed to get a LOT of 'em this winter!) and scrape algae, tweak my plumbing, adjust my lights, obsess over fish health, corals, and plants is looking so good right now...And it feels so right

Really, I think for the first time in my life, other than a few brief years when I was in diapers, I experienced life without a tank in my home. And it worked for me...if only for a while. 

But I don't think I'll ever do that again. The urge, the appeal, the enjoyment is too great to forgo again. There's nothing quite like being able to relax in front of your own home aquariums- your own little aquatic dreamscapes that YOU created, and feeling the connection to your animals. They say that only an aquarist understands the feeling- and I agree. 

Yeah, sometimes it's okay to take a little "sabbatical", but it's only okay, IMHO, if it's for a short length of time...and only if it served its purpose- that being to refresh, revitalize, and renew your love and enthusiasm for the hobby. So if you feel you need a break- for whatever reason- go for it. 

But come back.

And, if you're like me- coming off of such a hiatus with a new enthusiasm and feeling of excitement- there's a whole world to come home to!

So, I disagree with the expression "You can't go home again."

I'm proof.

I'm home.

So, until next time..

Stay wet (or dry, as the case may be).

 

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

October 30, 2015

0 comments


Woah! Slow down there! There's no rush.

As fish geeks, we are a patient lot in some respects, and perhaps, just a bit impatient in others. I'm realizing this a bit when it comes to preparation of our aquatic botanicals. A lot of aquarists are excited to use them, and I can't blame them! Unique, natural materials like the botanicals really add a special "something" to any aquascape, and we want to see them in our tanks asap!

The reality, however, is that any type of natural material that you put in the water will have some impact on the chemistry and visual clarity. This is why we admonish you to "go slow" when adding these botanicals to an established aquarium with a population of fishes and plants. You want to add your botanicals over the course of several days, or even weeks if you're the really patient type. 

Patience is super important when using these materials.

Adding them slowly will give you a chance to gauge the effects on your water, bot aesthetically and chemically. Remember, these materials will start to break down after boiling and soaking, and gradually leach some tannins and other humic substances into the water. Also, decomposing plant matter will create a "propagation substrate" for bacteria and other microbial life forms.

This is very beneficial for shrimp and other creatures that graze on the biofilms that occur on these materials. However, if you have a large amount of denying material all at once added to an established system, you could see a significant bloom, which could, among other things, result in a drop in oxygen levels as a result of this bloom- something that could jeopardize your fishes. It's especially profound in a smaller system, or one that contains a significant number of fishes already.

Obviously, I'm not forecasting "doom and gloom" here- just preaching a little patience.

We've tested these materials with all sorts of fishes in our own systems, under circumstances that you would never think of subjecting yours to (like dumping them right into established tanks without any prep at all). Fortunately, we have not lost any fishes or other animals as a result- but we steal recommend that you be patience and highly cautious when you use these materials in your own systems!

Putting our botanicals through these paces was the responsible thing to do when offering materials like this which have never been sold in the hobby before, and it's an ongoing thing with us. Our concerns aren't just "making stuff sink", and how brown the water gets- we are also keenly aware of the possible chemical and biological impacts that botanicals can have on the inhabitants of our aquariums.

So, in summary- just continue to be patient when using our botanicals- or for that matter, any botanical materials, including wood and leaves- in your aquariums. Take the time to prepare the materials by steeping or boiling- and be sure to let them soak in a bucket of  fresh water with a bag of activated carbon for several days afterwards, to help remove some of the initial tannins and handle some of the early burst of decomposition. When you're satisfied stuff looks good- give 'em a final rinse, then place them in your tank.

Like some many things we do in fish keeping, using aquatic botanicals requires thought, patience, and the willingness to observe and evaluate what's happening in YOUR specific tank. The extra effort you take in this area will help assure you of a great experience using these wonderful natural materials in your aquatic displays!

So, stay patient!

And stay wet!

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

 

October 28, 2015

0 comments


How adopting a simple husbandry philosophy can have a profound impact on your aquarium!

Recently, I gave a talk at a reef hobby club meeting in, and the topic was "Nutrient Control and Export." I've given versions of this talk at some other clubs aound the nation before, as well as at a major conference a few years back, and I'm frequently surprised by how much hobbyists like it. You'd think that this topic is kind of, I dunno..dull. We know this stuff cold, right? I mean, the reality is that we are all working with this stuff daily as hobbyists...The topic is surprisingly dynamic, really. I mean, taking care of reef tanks isn't as dull as, say, brushing your teeth, is it? No- It's interesting and challenging, really. 

During this talk, we touch upon such seemingly basic aquarium husbandry issues, and doing this talk for the "x-hundredth time" (along with ensuing dynamic discussion that followed) made me once again realize that there is a definitive, unwritten, yet super simple "philosophy" to aquarium husbandry that seems to be shared among the most successful aquarists that I know:

"Good things done in small measures, with frequency."

We probably don't even give it any thought as we apply this philosophy regularly. Incredibly simple words, but what do they mean to the successful aquarist? 

A whole LOT, actually. 

 

The key to ultimate long term success in the hobby is not just having the rarest hyped corals and a five-figure investment in the hottest equipment- it's the repetitive (some would even say, "dull") effort that you put in as a hobbyist to provide your animals with the best possible care. And the common thread among successful aquarists seems to be that they share that basic philosophy. Instead of knee-jerk reactions to problems like fish dying or water quality declining, they proactively avoid many of these issues by following some sort of regular husbandry regimen. Typically, this consists of modest (like 5%-10%) weekly or slightly larger (20%) monthly water changes, daily observation of major life support systems, frequent cleaning/exchanges of chemical and mechanical filtration media, and regular, but not obsessive water chemistry tests to monitor trends. 

Nothing obsessive here. Right?

This stuff is really basic, but I am frequently surprised, when brought in to troubleshoot an "anomalous" tank crash or other issue, by the seemingly complete lack of regular husbandry procedures in place in the affected system. As the aquarium keeping aphorism goes, "Nothing good happens quickly in an aquarium." More often than not, in my experience- neither do BAD things! They happen (in a lot of cases) over time, and the cumulative effect is what causes the ultimate decline in many cases. Algae problems, for example, often have their roots in something simple, like bad feeding habits- just dumping heaps of frozen food (packing juices and all) right into the tank in large quantities, failure to execute water changes with any degree of frequency, allowing filter socks and other mechanical media to become saturated with detritus or organics, or the hobbyist just flat-out forgetting to change the membranes and cartridges on his/her RO unit (I can't tell you how many times this has been the cause of gradual declines in water quality). 

If your source water that you use to make saltwater with sucks, well...you get the picture. Can't build a solid house with a shaky foundation, right?

 

And let's face it...it's time to think more about the trace elements and other compounds that comprise our water. Stuff gets used up, some is unnecessary, and some is even toxic over time. THAT is something to think about. Replenishment via direct dosing and/or water exchanges is pretty darned important.

Sure, sometimes there is a rare and very real case of a  chemical poisoning incident, heater failure, etc.- but typically, most water quality (and therefore environmental quality) issues result from lack of consistency in our husbandry practices, and a certain lack of information about what exactly is happening in the aquarium. My point of this rant is not to beat you over the head with the basics, but it is to point out that a simple, consistent effort on your part will lead to greater system stabilty, animal health, and ultimately greater success as a hobbyist. Force yourself to adopt good practices-most of us already do, but apply them in manageable tasks (many of us don't- for example the "big 4 month water change" or "spring cleaning"of the tank). And do them often! 

 

Easy...right?

A 2% twice weekly, or 5% weekly water change can make a huge difference in long term stability of your system. If you don't believe me, give it a shot for a month and see if you notice a difference in your system. l'll bet that you will. Use every means available to get a handle on what's going on in your system, and what is considered a "baseline" for it. If you know what the parameters are like when your tank is really kicking butt, you'll definitely get a better picture when something is wrong.

So get up, look yourself in the mirror, and then look at your system. Ask yourself if you are making the hobby easier for yourself by following a sporadic husbandry program, or making it harder. I'll bet that, after adopting a more regular, frequent maintenance schedule, you'll be asking yourself more "unusual" questions, like "Why did my Angelfish spawn again?", or "Dang, I have to prune that Crypt AGAIN?"

Good "problems" to have, huh? 

"Good things done in small measures, with frequency."

Think about it. Stay focused, stay sharp, and most important...


Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics