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Reflecting on the concept of an aquarium as a "microcosm."

Tannin Aquatics

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Today, I'm a bit more philosophical; reflective...


For a long time, we looked at an aquarium like a vase with cut flowers. Merely a vessel holding water, plants, fishes, and other stuff...key word was "holding."

Then, of  course, hobbyists got into the idea of breeding stuff. And propagating plants.We were no longer content to merely keep aquatic creatures alive in our aquariums. Pretty soon, we were thinking of an aquarium as a place to grow stuff.


I saw a compressed version of this century-long evolution of freshwater aquaristics during the rise of the reef aquarium hobby, which really started to take off in the mid 1980's. For the longest time, we were happy to just keep a box full of fishes and maybe a few tough invertebrates alive. Then, we evolved up to trying to house them long term. Experiments with new technology and technique resulted in the birth of the modern reef system, with robust filtration, lighting, and studious analysis of water chemistry. The emphasis was on providing a great environment for the animals, so that they can thrive and reproduce.

Within the past 10 years in the reef side of hobby, we've went from a doctrine of "You should have undectable nitrates and phosphates in your reef aquarium because natural reefs are virtual nutrient deserts!" to "You need to have a balance between too much and too little." We've come to understand that reef aquariums- like any type of aquarium- are biological "microcosms", which encompass a vast array of life forms, including not just fishes, corals, and invertebrates, but macro algae, benthic animals (like worms, copepods, and amphipods), planktonic life, and more.

Reefers came to understand- as freshwater pioneers did generations before- that just because a reef has undetectable phosphates and nitrates in the waters surrounding it, our aquariums don't have to run that way. Corals need nutrients and food, and an aquarium is not a natural reef; an open system with uncounted millions of gallons of water passing through it hourly.

We've begun to understand that it's not all about creating the most scrupulously clean environment possible for the animals under our care- it's about maintaining the best possible dynamic for their overall health, growth, longevity, and hopefully- reproduction. That may include, in our case- biofilms, algae, and occasionally, some detritus. Creating and fostering processes and conditions that create a biological balance within our little (or not so little) glass and acrylic boxes we call "aquariums."

With biotope and theme aquariums all the rage, we've come to really appreciate the acceptance of this mind set...that an aquarium is a microcosm- a functioning little biological community, with a full compliment of life forms. Planted aquarium enthusiasts have really embraced this, understanding the need to provide a full compliment of nutrients, trace elements, and overall environmental stability to get pants to grow and reproduce. Environmental stability is still important...within a range. We're not obsessing about specific numbers anymore- nor should we, IMHO.

When I talk to aquarists who are putting together specialized aquarium for say, Bee Shrimp, wild Bettas, or Apistos, I am reminded that we are in a wonderful time in the hobby. We have access not only to amazing inverts and fishes from all over the world- we have access to technology, materials, and techniques to create realistic and functional simulations of the diverse and fascinating environments they come from like never before.

Today's aquarist can appreciate the elegance in the complete aquatic ecosystem, from the most beautiful fish to the lowest bacterial life form, and everything in between. When we strive to understand, embrace, and replicate natural systems in our aquaria, we are truly embarking on a more enlightened way of aquarium keeping.

Just something to reflect upon.

Stay fascinated. Stay excited.

Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquaitcs


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Scott, your pictures are great to break up the length of the article and provide interest.  Another fine thought sharing. :)

Thanks...Yeah, I tend to write pretty long "blogs"- more like "mini-articles", so I try to break 'em up with pics whenever possible!



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6 hours ago, Soothing Shrimp said:

Are you a writer by profession?

LOL, absolutely not...just love to write; love the written word, and love talking about aquariums! My background is marketing, so the concept of writing as a means to promote the philosophies of my hobby/ business is something I am familiar with, but writing "professionally" is something I'd need a lot of work on, lol.



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6 hours ago, Shrimple minded said:

Really enjoying your contributions, Scott.  Big fan of both your knowledge and writing style, as are many others.  Great to have you join us here on TSS.  Thank you.  

And THANK YOU very much for the kind words, and for stopping by! It's neat to be hear among such a cool group! Thanks everyone for the warm welcome we've received thus far!


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38 minutes ago, brocknorman said:

Man Scott, that "mini-article" was AMAZING! :thumbsup:

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

Thanks so much for the very nice words. Still so much to learn with regards to playing with botanicals and such, particularly with shrimp- but it's nice to see some open-minded hobbyists engaging the idea! Looking forward to more sharing and discussion!


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9 minutes ago, dazalea said:

I thought the same as soothing... your posts are written so well. Your dialogue is so fluid and keeps me interested in reading more

I'm glad...I guess I write stuff the way I'd want to read it...which doesn't appeal to everyone...but those of you who enjoy it- I'm grateful for your nice words!



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