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Monster Tank 2 - The Revenge

by Francesco Zezza

FOREWORD: the idea to switch from my 360 lt tank (the one I commonly refer to as the "Amazon tank") to something bigger was – even though a low priority – in my mind for a very long time, and the reasons were (and still are) very clear: it is a very old tank showing a whitish (i.e. worn) silicone sealant, severely scratched glasses and – of course – the wish for a larger tank. As I said this WAS in my mind but the time Stefania told me the tank was leaking was perhaps the worst possible moment to make such a decision: there were a lot of higher priority things to deal with (most of them related to Leonardo), an almost complete lack of money and no spare time to build the new unit. My answer was something like: "let’s empty it, let it dry, glue and refill it!", as easy as drinking a glass of water … Although I said that, I immediately had some second thoughts :

  • where shall I keep – in the meantime (there were NO spare tanks available) - all the fish living in there, the bare minimum needed being 200 liters?
  • was it worth to repair a tank with damaged glasses which was already re-sealed by the previous owner?

Of course, there were more questions like this … After having checked, again and again, all the options Stefania came back with the solution: " we need a new, large, extremely affordable, all glass tank, our fishes deserve it!" As a matter of fact the only thing that sounded "wrong" although it was absolutely true was the "extremely affordable" which didn't quite fit with the other specifications set for that particular tank. Anyway, we decided to start looking for a used tank in the 500 liter range. The size was decided based on the fact that the new tank should not be smaller than the leaking one. Of course, a similarly sized tank was not exactly my dream bit the larger you get the more expensive they become - I wish we could go for something larger. After checking some used tanks offered for sale we chose a 130x60x60 cm all glass tank with a gross capacity of 468 liters (in US units : 51"x23,5"x23,5" – gross capacity: 123 US gals).

DESIRED BIOTOPE: one of the most interesting parts of our Amazon cruise was the "night floats" during which we sailed the Rio Orosa upward on a dugout canoe, powered by a tiny outboard engine, and then to come back, along the banks of the river "driven" by the stream, to our main camp in Madre Selva II. This was done during the night and the darker the night the better. Along the banks where a lot of roots, broken branches and alike which were sunk in the ink black water. Using a powerful lamp was sometimes enough to spot the shadows of loriicarids feeding and – with a bit of luck – few (very few) of them ended their dinner into our buckets. This scenario of silence, yellowing nocturnal  animals, bright stars, gently flowing water, roots, bogwoods and secretive fishes (we also caught characins and other species) fascinated me a lot. Thus, when the issue of aquascaping this tank was raised I remembered this scene and tried to replicate it to some degree. The main "mistakes" in my tank is the use of small grain pebbles instead of mud as a substrate (impossible to reproduce it in a tank) and the presence of some plants … actually there were almost no plants there (at least not below the waterline!)

Enough with the introduction - LET’S GO FOR THE REAL TANK !!!

+ Getting the glasses ready.

One of the key points for a finished tank which is nice to look at is "top quality" glasses (clean, no scratches, correctly "glued" and so on). When choosing a used tank it is quite easy to spot some flaws while it is quite difficult to spot all the scratches on the glass. That's why, even after a long, fussy check-out I was anything but sure about the suitability of this tank. You should keep in mind that it was a leaking tank which was the driving force to get a replacement so I was even more suspicious than usually. I must confess that when the overall examination of the tank on sale was finished, I was more than happy. It was a really good choice

The wet/dry filter (see black box at left in the picture) won’t be used: dealing with material falling at the bottom  would be too much of a mess...

+ Getting the stand ready.

The was really an easy part of the whole process, both actually doing it as well as describing it here. All it needed was to get rid of some rust (this tank was used as a marine tank before) and to apply a coat of water resistant paint.

A TIP FOR YOUR SAFETY: beware of vapors (when working with paints and/or solvents) and powders (when using the grinding machine). Always work with a protective mask or – at least – in a WELL ventilated area!

How it looked AFTER sand-papering and BEFORE painting,

This part of the work is done: fully painted it looks much better.

One plus one makes … what you see in the picture: the tank with its glasses cleaned sits on its newly painted, stand. We’re, at least one step closer … the tank is not, yet, in it’s final position. It is a pity this photo is a bit dark.

+ Cover for the tank (project and design).

Creating a cover according to my own design was a long, tiring and difficult process. From the first moment I had a few points in my mind but creating the real thing was a bit tougher than I thought. The basic points of my "design  were : a) a wooden cover looking as natural as possible when finished, b) a glass top which would offer the additional advantage of shedding some light in the room, too and c) to hide all technical stuff using the black column of the former, wet/dry filter as a hiding point. After long debates with friends (including George), many hours of designing, pestering carpenters for suggestion etc. the final design looked like this:

I think these drawings worth thousands of words. One comment is that hole number four (in the second diagram) is missing; believe it or not, I forgot it …

To finish with the tank cover issue here comes an image of the sides taken during the painting stage.

Last point is the addition of the glass covers which was made of glass 10 mm thick. I admit this was a mistake since they turned out to be extremely heavy. If I could re-design them I would choose 6 or 8 mm glass at most.

+ Studying the aquascape (bottom materials, woods, plants).

This is either a really complicated issue or an extremely simple one. Basically, you have two choices:

    • Hardest way to go: mimicking the real environment fully
    • Simplest way to go: use what you prefer and forget the rest!

Of course, it is not that easy. There are some things to be considered first: for instance, purple (or pink!) sand is not the choice since fish do not come from a disco!!! Hence let’s go for subdued colours resembling the original, wild, ones (see the environmetal target section) and here comes the main point:  Rio Orosa’s banks are made of mud. Not very fine sand - just mud. It should be clear to everybody that this is something not feasible in a tank and, as a consequence, I had to go for the "barely close" option. Considering the idea of Stefania who insisted in adding some plants (such as Vallisneria gigantea) I considered the addition of some clay pellets (as a bottom fertilizer) but – after testing them– I had to give up: they floats, badly … no matter how long you soak them! Buying commercial fertilizer will – at least – help my LFS business …

It was really a pity since they are cheap and (at least in hydroculture pots) work well …Back to sand now: this was my choice since it offered some advantages for most tanks: limited reflections and an almost natural colour that – when wet – becomes darker!). The grains were a bit large for my taste but more, smaller sized-  sand grains would come from the tank already in use.

+ Technical services: heater(s), filter(s), lights.

This IS an easy issue filters will come (along with fishes and some of the water) from the other tank: hence completely cycled and running. I’ll use an Eheim Professionel II filter and a Rainbow Lifegard FB300 fluidized filter unit (driven by a 1000 lt/h pump on its own). At the beginning one 100 watt heater will be in use (and a second one will be ready to be added), lamps will be two (30 watt each) with a "daylight" period of about 12 hours ... that’s all: as easy as drinking a glass of water!!!

A final note on electrical wiring: NO wire diagram has been shown since the whole matter is extremely simple: each and every appliance has its own wires linked to a "box" that is plugged to main outlet (of the house). Nothing more! Of course a timer (for lights, 12 hours "on") is in use.

On the other hand I’d like to add a picture showing the results of my attempt to hide (as much as possible) all the technical stuff (electric wires, filter tubes and/or pumps) and to gather them inside the, so called, "technical service area" (see drawing presented above).

Of course servicing appliances in such a crammed area could result a bit "tricky" but (while keeping the number of inhabitants LOW which will probably result in a very rare need for maintenance) the clean overall look – almost nothing in sight – pushed me to give this approach a try. Of course, any further addition won’t fit in here and my effort will be lost (or greatly diminished) but, for now, things are neat and clean ...

Continued in next page

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