Discussion in 'Reef Aquarium Discussion' started by Scott Fellman, Jul 19, 2017.

We play nature's game...

As some of you might know, I’ve done a little “pivot” away from the business end of the reef hobby world, to focus on my other aquatic obsession,...
  1. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    As some of you might know, I’ve done a little “pivot” away from the business end of the reef hobby world, to focus on my other aquatic obsession, blackwater aquariums. Doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned reefkeeping. Nope. Just put my business focus on a different challlenge. It was funny, when I announced that I sold my interest in Unique Corals and started my own FW gig,some of my daily readers were sort of freaked,thinking,"Old Fellman's lost it and gone off the deep end!" Which, of course, I found amusing, because I'd "gone off the deep end" long before that, lol!



    My new company, Tannin Aquatics, focuses on some really “niche” aquatic interests, and I’ve spent the better part of the last two years interacting with and “penetrating”, if you will, the freshwater aquarium world. No one really knew me, so it was totally cool being this opinionated NOBODY, writing insane rants about weird topics, talking about "crossover reefing skills", and selling dried "twigs and nuts" intended to be placed in your aquarium to make the water brown. Yeah. That took a while to sort of seep into that world!



    And, oh my- it has. We've created a global movement. Crazy.

    I still blog every single day on my own website, where I give the usual "Fellman-drivel" to a whole new audience. Yet, for some reason, I am always drawn to the reef world. My company is just two years old, yet headed into some very interesting things in the freshwater (and now brackish) world. Our version is not the sterile green and white world you've come accustomed to in FW. Rather, it's about living, breathing, earthy habitats, with tinted water, decomposing botanicals...in many ways, "reef like." Oh, and don't rule out a "niche saltwater re-entry" at some point...All sorts of ideas here. Okay, enough about me and my company.



    Let’s focus on the hobby world...The freshwater one...for minute. No
    groans. This is about us, too.


    Yeah, the freshwater world...

    It’s a radically different world than the one we are used to here. It’s been established for more than century, and there are specialties for just about everything, making it unbelievably segmented (good and bad if you’re a marketer, of course- depends on how you look at it)! And the freshwater world, sophisticated as it may be, has some strong “cultural beliefs” which keep it hanging on to some, well… close-minded thinking, in my opinion. Oh, and many of them look at us reefers as trend-mongering hipsters. Now, some of that might be true, but the fact is- we young upstarts can teach the old “freshies” a thing or two…



    So what does this have to do with reef keeping, you might ask? Well, quite a bit actually. There’s a little “theme” I’ve noticed in large swaths of the freshwater world that could benefit from a little “reef makeover”:


    I’m often surprised during conversations with some freshwater hobbyists who are thoroughly convinced that it’s important and beneficial to the aquarium hobby to have adapted fishes to our captive conditions, even to breed under them, rather than attempting to accommodate their needs by recreating the habitats from which they come. In other words, fishes which for eons have evolved to inhabit soft, acid waters are being “acclimated” to, and even bred under hard, alkaline tap water conditions. How long will this work before something gives?




    The idea of "repatriating" fishes which come from soft, acidic blackwater habitats from our "tap water" conditions back into the water in which they have evolved, and learning how to manage the overall captive environment is by no means new or revolutionary. It's just that the hobby has sort of taken a mindset of "it's easier/quicker for US" to adapt them to the conditions we can most easily offer them. Just because they can "acclimate" to wildly different conditions than they have evolved to live under doesn't mean that they should. I mean, it's not about us. Right? The consistently successful serious breeders have understood this for a long time, and we all should, IMHO. As we’ve demonstrated, it's not at all impossible to provide such conditions as a matter of practice…




    Need some examples of this concept? Well, look at us here in the reef community! Once hobbyists devoted their energies to providing fishes/corals/inverts the conditions that these organisms required to thrive- conditions the organisms evolved in over eons- rather than the conditions that were "easiest" for the hobbyists to provide, the hobby exploded, with successes beyond our wildest dreams available to everyone who learned the rules of the game.




    And yes, technology and products eventually showed up on the market to enable this process of more easily providing what corals need. NOT to adapt them to more easily/conveniently-provided "tap water" conditions, low light, low flow, etc. Rather, it was to make it easier for the largest number of hobbyists to provide the natural conditions which make it possible for these organisms require to thrive. As much as we would have liked to be able to keep thriving reefs full of corals in table-salted tap water, nature won't let us play that way!


    We have to play nature's game.


    And nobody in the aquarium hobby does it better than reefers!






    Pat yourselves on the back. It’s a lesson learned early in the “modern era” of reefkeeping, some 30-odd years back, which has enabled landlocked hobbyists in frigid climates to be able to successfully keep delicate reef-building stony corals in their living room. It’s what has enabled an entire industry of dedicated professional coral propagators to grow enough coral to someday meet the demands of the entire market, making it unnecessary to harvest from wild reefs. It’s what’s enabled even the neophyte reef hobbyist to be able to enjoy the wonders of the tropical ocean in his/her very first aquarium.


    Accommodating the organisms we want to keep based on THEIR needs. NOT the other way around. A valuable lesson that the entire aquarium community could learn from. And it’s just “the way we do stuff” around here as reefers. The cost of admission. No other way is considered.


    That’s the kind of stubbornness I can get behind!


    Stay stubborn. Stay curious. Stay dedicated. Stay proud!


    And Stay Wet.



    Scott Fellman…REEFER
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 19, 2017
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  2. Ranjib

    Ranjib Valuable Member R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award Reef Squad Build Thread Contributor

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    Thank you for the write up Scott. I concur your view on technology , that it should adapt to make the captive habitat of these sentinel beings more like nature, not the other way around
     
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  3. Scrappy RN

    Scrappy RN Nurse by night, Mom by day, Mad Reefer in between! R2R Supporter Build Thread Contributor

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    Thanks for the write up! It is a great reminder!!

    As a science nut and also an artist I find that so many specialize in one thing or another and develop very narrow world views. This is as true in my current profession of nursing/medicine as it is in the aquatic worlds. But to truly develop full potential of all things we should always strive to be global thinkers and at least test combined theory. In my experience nothing but good things have ever come from a combining knowledge for a broader perspective. Hence the "practice" of medicine and the "art" side of any discipline is furthered. It's amazing how many solutions I've come up with in the world of medicine (and vice versa!) that I learned while cooking, or while knitting, or while painting --or heck, even from the aquarium world! That's why I love a broad scope of things and think that well-rounded people are the most interesting :)

    Have a great day and good luck in your adventures!
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2017
  4. Dsnakes

    Dsnakes Knight Reefer R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award Reef Squad Partner Member 2019 Reef Tank 365 Build Thread Contributor Hospitality Award

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    That was a good read, definitely true. There are some amazing black water fish. My all time favorite is the Chili Rasbora (Brigittae). Small and colorful!
     
  5. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    Excellent points! I think "eclectic" reefers are the best! Well, I actually think almost every reefer is a sort of "eclectic" person to begin with! Your nursing examples is spot on. I think a broad, more "decentralized" background can only help us be more solid reefers/aquarists/nature lovers! Thanks for the feedback!

    -Scott
     
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  6. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    Thanks, Ranjib,

    Exactly right. For a long time I was rather critical of reefers using technology as a "crutch" to avoid learning the "down and dirty" fundamentals, and I think we're sort of out of that phase. You can't last in the reefing game if you DON'T have those fundamentals down, and it's obvious to everyone who keeps a reef! Technology can't save you if you have no clue what fishes and corals need. And the beauty is that we're seeing so much technology in reef keeping emerging to solve problems that are related to giving these animals what they need...not JUST making our lives easier. Rather, making the job of giving our captive organisms what the require to thrive more easily attainable to all- and that's a beautiful thing!

    -Scott
     
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  7. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    Thanks for the kind words. Great fish you're talking about!

    Yeah, blackwater is really cool..."reef-like" in many ways, and lots to learn still.

    I think the time is now for reefers to play with experimental freshwater stuff. The "state of the art" in freshwater is slowly getting pushed and prodded, and reefers can lead the charge. I mean, FW is a huge percentage of the hobby, and only recently is switching over to LED's and utilizing advanced electronic pumps, and just now starting to realize that some of what we do and equipment and practices in reef keeping apply to them as well. "Crossover" is huge. Things like refugia, algae reactors, application of "high concept" water movement...all are starting to be more obvious to the FW crowd, so manufacturers of reef gear, and reef hobbyists in general, should take note! Lots of opportunities to not only benefit financially, but to push the state of he art in aquarium keeping (it's not SOLELY about "the bottom line")...An exciting time, actually.

    Scott
     
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  8. Paul B

    Paul B Valuable Member R2R Supporter Reef Spotlight Award Partner Member 2019 Reef Tank 365 Build Thread Contributor Article Contributor

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    I totally agree with this and I also feel a great majority of reef hobbyists are working against themselves to try to force reef creatures to live in sterile habitats and eat commercially available food that is easier for the hobbyist instead of thinking of the welfare of the fish.
    I myself add mud a few times a year from a bay here in New York just for the bacteria and try to feed food that our fish can recognize such as clams that I either buy or collect in the sea.
    This has allowed me to keep fish far beyond their natural, presumed lifespan, some reaching as today 26 years old.
    This natural concept has also allowed all of my paired fish to spawn and remain immune from disease for decades.
    I think we need to try to learn how fish make their living in the sea rather than try to force them to live the way we want.
    Great article Scott.
     
  9. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    Thanks, Paul. Coming from you, who pretty much have personally "set the standard" for long-term maintenance and husbandry of reef systems, this is important for aquarists to grasp. As you probably know, I'm extremely fascinated with the idea of utilizing mud and what we as reefers would call "alternative" substrates in the display aquarium itself, as opposed to just a refugium. I love your addition of mud. So much to learn/discuss/explore from your practices with it! I think that with the fascinating and (okay, I have to say it) somewhat amusing rekindled love affair with macro algae (due in part to the introduction of "algae reactors"-don't get me started on that...It took a gadget to make us love Chaetomorpha again? Okay, whatever.) we might be seeing a swing back to a more "holistic" approach of reef environment replication. This was definitely more popular earlier in the decade, when it seems like DSBs, refugia, mud, etc. were really "cutting edge", and a lot of work was being done cultivating more complete little ecosystems in out tanks. Then "frag-mania" hit the hobby, and it was all about coral... Now, with better technology and a bit more experience at using it, as well as more interest in the state and function of the reef environments, I'm fascinated how we as a hobby will start marrying this stuff with the tried and true natural system approaches of the past decade. I'd like to see a lot more mangrove, mud-based, sandbed/"alternative substrate" work done by the new generation (and OUR 'old guy generation) reefers. Coming full circle again- and you've been there before it all started, which is amazing and inspiring! With all of the potential...it's more exciting than ever to be a reefer, wouldn't you agree?

    -Scott
     
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  10. Paul B

    Paul B Valuable Member R2R Supporter Reef Spotlight Award Partner Member 2019 Reef Tank 365 Build Thread Contributor Article Contributor

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    Scott, I totally agree. I get a lot of "push back" from my methods because they can't possibly work. :cool:
    People think of mud, bacteria, algae and parasites as a bad thing, but those things are what make up most of the earth and have been there way before fish were even invented, by Al Gore I think.
    There are so many problems in this hobby and they are the same problems we had at the beginning. I was there, I think it was on a Tuesday about 2:00pm
    Anyway, at first I had as many or more problems than people have now because I just couldn't grasp the idea that bacteria (in mud and other places) algae "and" parasites could benefit us so we should look at those things as a way to make this easier rather than harder.
    My tank used to be an ich and algae infested farm.

    It's like bright sunlight. 60 years ago it was horrible to live in the tropics because it was just too hot, especially inside a building. Very few people could live even in Florida. Now we found out how to use that sunlight to make electricity to run air conditioners so the brighter the sun is, the more air conditioning we can make for free. Now, in those places, the sun is our friend.

    After "many many" years of problems, I have found out how to use bacteria, algae and yes, parasites to actually help me have a reef tank with virtually no problems, not even diseases. And the best part is that it is much easier and cheaper than the "other" way. I have no use for reactors, test kits, medications, pellets, dosers, hospital or quarantine tanks so my maintenance is a matter of cleaning the glass and a few times a year changing some water.

    I love the fact that you, who is a well known name in the hobby, are embracing this idea of a more natural approach.
    I think we have to stop this idea that everything has to be clean, free of bacteria and other pathogens.
    We need to focus more on nature and less on technology.

    I collect mud from here at low tide, but I think garden soil would also work.

    [​IMG]
     
  11. vlangel

    vlangel Seahorse whisperer R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award 3RMAS Member Reef Tank 365 Build Thread Contributor Article Contributor

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    Thanks Scott, being an old school reefer, (or maybe more accurately being just plain 'old') I got my start in FW. I actually worked in a lfs that strove very hard to replicate natural conditions for their brackish fish, (at least with the info that was available in the 70s) using drift wood and loam-like substrate so the ph would naturally be more acidic. I had a 40 gallon tank (which was considered huge at that time) in the wall and successful kept some inhabitants for over a decade until I rehomed them to venture into marine life in the 90s. It is so true that FW also has a mysterious beauty all of it own and I will enjoy checking out your blog. Again, thanks for rekindling that aspect of aquaria.
     
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  12. Paul B

    Paul B Valuable Member R2R Supporter Reef Spotlight Award Partner Member 2019 Reef Tank 365 Build Thread Contributor Article Contributor

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    Vlangel, I actually do miss my freshwater 40 gallon tank from the 60s and 70s. ( I am also Old) It was such an adventure to go to "Aquarium Stock Company" here in Manhattan which spanned two blocks right near the Trade Center. They had everything you could imagine including (unfortunately) baby sea turtles.
    They had a huge tank in the center that was decorated in old plumbing fixtures including a toilet bowl and yes, a kitchen sink. I was totally fascinated and saved up my nickels to get there and find something unusual.
    Those were the good old days when every fish you saw was something new and exciting and there was virtually no information available so you had to learn by doing.
    I gradually added more salt to my tank so I could keep brackish fish as they were the rage at the time even though there were only maybe 4 or 5 brackish fish available.
    Fish food was a joke so I would dig up worms and bugs to feed them as well as whatever we were having for dinner. :D
     
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  13. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    Oh, I thought the beginning was a Wednesday at 1:00PM... You must have forgotten..I'll forgive ya! :)

    I am humbled by your compliments..Thank you. So much more to do in this area.

    I agree about the "stigma" we in the hobby associate with "natural" in this context- We have a sort of preconceived notion that reefs are this sterile, pristine habitat, when the reality is that they are teeming with life at all levels; we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg, not really paying that much attention to the "supporting cast" of bacteria, biofilms, fungi, mud, plants, algae, and other biota which make up the ecosystem. We have placed so much emphasis on growing colorful coral frags, virtually at the exclusion of everything else, that we may have lost sight, just a bit, of how amazing these systems are. It's like we're trying to recreate Bethoven's symphonies by spending most of our attention on finding the best Cellos, violins, and flutes, rather than learning about the notes and syncopation which make up the music. We have to do more, IMHO, to dig beyond just providing the best equipment to do the job..Rather, we have to foster, as much as we can- the ecosystems which run the whole thing.

    For examples, one need only look at your tanks, or Julian's (Sprung(- little "microcosms", with dynamic "food webs" and other interactions reminiscent of the way a real reef ecosystem functions.

    262912_1880467540006_7225784_n.jpg
    (Yes, there was a pre-vegan, slightly more rotund version of me. And those guys, Sprung and Dilbeek, and that Vargas guy..they know a bit about reefs...One of Julian's systems...teeming with life.)

    I've played with mud and terrestrial soils in saltwater before, when I was growing Halodule and Thalassia seagrasses outdoors a few years back (and I will be again..s.tay tuned). There is much to be gained from playing with these materials!

    IMG_5988.JPG

    I believe the time is right for a resurgence in more "holistic" reef keeping...an embrace of some of the natural processes, like use of mud and other natural materials to create more diverse, more long-term, non-tech-dependant sustainable systems. We can use the technology to assist in creating such systems, rather than having the tech be the sole vehicle to run them. I hope we can see more experimentation and discussion about the systems than we see about integrating the latest gadget or app or what not. We cannot lose sight of the underlying biological factors involved in our systems. There is SO much to learn! And so much benefit for us, our fishes- and the habitats we hope to replicate.

    RN_biotope1.jpg

    I think that part of why I like the blackwater, botanical-laden habitats of The Amazon so much is that they are very much like reefs, with layers of life and biodiversity. Reefers would do well to study the relationships of fish, substrate, leaf litter, fungi, etc.

    I've been playing around with brackish systems...sort of studying the "mud" aspect, and playing with the function and aesthetics of mangrove leaf litter, etc. So much importance can be ascribed to leaf litter in mangrove habitats...and it all ties to the reef down the line...

    IMG_6036.JPG

    This will dovetail back into my next reef system for sure!

    IMG_5979.JPG

    Paul, I 100% agree with you on this. We have the technology. We have the experience. We have the talent. Now it's time to sort of tie it all together, for an even better reef keeping experience! I'm going to continue, and step up my work in this area, and I am glad to see you still plugging away at it. Natural systems, supported by effort and/or technology...Appreciate the "dirt", and see the beauty in all living things...It will open up your mind as a reefer for sure!

    Wow, I'm too excited now! So much to do. So much to learn!

    -Scott

    IMG_5988.JPG
     
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  14. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    Oh, I love the fact that you have the skills and the drive to play with this stuff! I love the idea of your substrate work with brackish..."Botanical-style" brackish aquariums fascinate me...Leaf litter, wood, rich substrates, etc. Integrated with a reef, this could be crazy cool..Could you imagine a "brackish water refugium" somehow tied to a reef system, integrated via controller to an auto top off to keep a reasonably stable specific gravity in the reef, while delivering the benefits of a mangrove biotope to the reef tank? WOW! Old school, new tech, new ideas, old experience- all working together to push the state of the art!!!!
     
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  15. Paul B

    Paul B Valuable Member R2R Supporter Reef Spotlight Award Partner Member 2019 Reef Tank 365 Build Thread Contributor Article Contributor

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    To see the role natural biofilms and mulm make all we need to do is dive in places that are not exactly the coral reefs we are used to looking at. I took these in Florida in a place with a thriving ecosystem in "spite" of all the decaying matter that was full of life.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    This was off a remote Hawaiian Island a couple of years ago. Look how happy that spotted moray looks in the center. That stuff is full of life. Most life hates to hang out on bare, clean, sterile rocks.

    [​IMG]

    And look what we have here on the same reef thousands of miles out in the pacific Ocean. A place that is totally devoid of nutrients or pre packaged food. Could it be, OMG, hair algae? Who would have thought!

    [​IMG]

    I posted something about "mulm" here. I forgot about it as most people don't like the stuff.
    https://www.reef2reef.com/threads/mulm-in-a-reef-tank.252780/
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2017
  16. revhtree

    revhtree Owner Administrator Staff Member Team R2R R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award Photo of the Month Award Partner Member 2019 R2R Secret Santa Build Thread Contributor Article Contributor Cyber Monday Sponsor

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    Love having you write something new! Nice job and thanks for taking the time!
     
  17. Paul B

    Paul B Valuable Member R2R Supporter Reef Spotlight Award Partner Member 2019 Reef Tank 365 Build Thread Contributor Article Contributor

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    Love the mangroves, I have them growing in my goldfish pond in my yard. (not very successful) Fascinating and beautiful plant.
    This is above the water from where I took that underwater shot in Florida.


    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2017
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  18. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    Unbelievably cool pics...Dove in those habitats myself and went nuts! Was so excited I burned through air way to quickly considering I was like 5 feet deep, lol. SO much to learn from and replicate here. My stated goal is to make the reef hobby love this stuff again. And it's still early days on this "re-birth." We've got a lot to do!

    -Scott
     
  19. Scott Fellman

    Scott Fellman Active Member R2R Supporter Article Contributor Expert Contributor

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    It's nice to be back "home." Are you sure you want me here? I mean, I'm just getting started....;)Lots to talk about here!

    Scott
     
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  20. Salty1962

    Salty1962 Wrasse and SPS Lover R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award Reef Squad Build Thread Contributor

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    Great to hear you back on the forum Scott! Nice read.
     
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