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A New Tank at the Office

by George J. Reclos, John G. Reclos & Thomas C. Tsakarisianos

Following the recent relocation of our company's office to a larger place, we decided that a nice, large tank at the entrance hall would be a nice addition both for decorative and relaxing purposes. Since this would (or should) be a "display" tank, the decision called for a careful approach with much more attention to details (which I often don't pay attention to). Thus, Thomas and I collaborated for a couple of months to set up an 825 liter tank starting with an old cabinet furniture (measuring 210 x 35 x 80 cm) which was available (and almost useless) at that moment. I am sure we would go on with this project even if this furniture didn't exist but it sounds nice to use it as an excuse. Since the furniture was too narrow we decided that the tank would be longer (and wider) so the first step was to build a surface on which it would stand. We started with 3 pieces of wood, each measuring 100 x 60 x 3 cm which were to be cut to size, painted, screwed on the furniture, aligned etc. Needless to say, this is not my specialty but luckily it was Thomas' !

Thomas looked a bit confused at the beginning but he soon came back with a step by step plan, lots of ideas and the skills to materialize them. He would always take a brake and think of the next step or improve on my suggestions. No, unfortunately, he will not be available to the rest of you. I have some more plans in my mind.

It was the first time that we started such a project therefore, obviously, we lacked many of the tools needed to make it. One of the nice "side effects" of this project is that we also acquired a nice selection of tools which will help us in any future project. Our brand new circular saw is shown in the picture (along with the instructions for use). After giving it a try, using it was a piece of cake!

You will need a good set of hand tools, an electric drill, an electric screwdriver (preferably with a large battery, 18 V being a good starting point), an electric saw, sandpaper, cable extension for electricity, multiple electrical outlets, paints, brushes, silicon, screws, special glue for the background poster and many more. It may sound like a big investment (and it is) but you will be able to do a lot of DIY projects in the future.

Screwing the top wooden plates on the furniture below. The plates were adjusted and aligned symmetrically on the underlying furniture, leaving the same space in every direction. The length of the screws used was 4,5 cm, which was enough to hold the plates securely on the furniture without protruding on the underside (3 cm wooden plates + 2 cm of furniture top cover). With the electric drill and screwdriver this was done quickly and will less effort.

After testing the furniture, it was obvious that some extra support would be needed since it was much narrower than the tank. Thomas prepared two wooden legs to support the back side of it while he also ordered four metal supports (two for the sides and two more for the middle of the wooden plates.

The wooden plates were not painted so we decided to use external varnish to paint them. This pains claimed to protect the wood from external factors like sun and water. Sun was not the case but water was. We tested two different hues and decided to use the darker one which would (ideally) match the color of the furniture.

In this photo you can see Thomas applying the first coat (note the difference between the painted and the "raw" part).

This is the look of the wood after we finished this stage. We applied 4 coats (one every day) and the final color was very close to that of the furniture.

This is the interior of the cabinet. As you can see, it needs some work, too. At the back you can see one of the wooden legs in place. The shelf which runs across the opening would be cut in half (the air pumps were going to be placed on it), the interior should be painted, too, while many electrical outlets would be attached on the sides of this compartment. We estimated that we needed 10 outlets for this compartment and another three in the next one.

The back of the tank would not be visible of course but Thomas decided to pay some attention to its appearance. After all, this masterpiece would bear his name so he had to pay some more attention to the details. The left part of the back had to be cut at a later stage since I decided that it would be better to filter the tank by taking water from both ends of it. Two external canister filters would be placed in the new compartment which needed to have no back.

The electrical outlets in place. Nine of them would be available to us. The other two would be used to power other similar units. A total of 18 outlets were placed on the stand. Night lights were attached on each unit which allowed us to know at a glance if everything was OK.

The left compartment is now ready. The shelf is nicely supported (half of it had to be removed to make room for the huge Eheim 2260 filter which was going to be placed there), the interior is painted with the same varnish (just one coating), the electric outlets are in place and the back is removed.

Due to its instability (which became even more noticeable when the empty tank was put on the furniture), our construction needed to be further supported. Thomas prepared four extra iron cast supports and decided to paint them with anti-corrosive paint (see photo above) and then two coatings of black paint (photo below). This is a part I would definitely skip if I was alone. Although we have many cameras (too many one might say) still I had to use the camera of my mobile to capture some stages of this project..

The painted metal supports while drying in the open space. As per the instructions, they were allowed to completely dry for 24 hours before a second coat was applied.

With the help of the "usual suspects" the tank is now in place. Many thanks to the two Nikos, Antonis, Andreas, Johnny and Minos for their help. Carrying it inside took us exactly 15 minutes. Following that, we wouldn't let this opportunity pass away so we had a nice, although short, fishy conversation (after 3 hours we had to break it !). You can see one of the metal supports in place (right side of the tank).

Johnny assembled the Eheim 2260, connected the hoses, added the filtration material and finally put it in place. A huge filter indeed which proved our idea to make the tank much wider than the furniture was right.

Next came the addition of the background poster and the air lines which would be buried under the sand. Background poster, when added with tape, tend to get loose at several points, which, in turn, allows water and dust to accumulate between them and the glass. This looks ugly, so we decided that this time we would (should) place it carefully aiming in a perfect fitting. We used the special poster glue (made by JBL) and, with the help of the special rollers, the poster was placed nicely without any gaps or air pockets. It takes a bit of measuring and cutting but the result is really much better than the "old" way.

Time to work inside the tank now. Three strong air pumps would provide air to it so we decided to have one air outlet every 80 cm. The three air lines would be burried in the sand and only the outlets would be visible (which would be hidden behind other decoration elements like stones or bogwood). The air lines were secured in place with tape, stones were placed in front of each outlet (to keep it vertical) and the relative position of the whole system were checked. After that, the air lines and the stones were glued with silicone and allowed to dry for 36 hours. The tapes were removed and we were almost ready.

The substrate consists of 150 Kg of sand which was collected by Thomas from a nearby beach. The sand was cleaned and disinfected as already described in other articles. Adding the sand was a tiresome procedure which took us more than 2 hours on a very hot day. You can see the interior of the tank after the addition of the sand in the photo above. Some more stones were placed on the air lines before the addition of the sand. After adding all this sand we were happy to see that a nice, 5 cm sand bed would be available to the fish.

This is the first time water was added in the tank. No matter how well you clean the sand, the water will get cloudy. If allowed to settle for 24 hours, usually it will clear up, although this is not always true. In our case, we had to make a huge water change the day after to get some acceptable results.

After the water was clear, some bogwood and larger stones were added, the air diffusers were installed and the tank was now operational. The large filter was operated for a couple of days to make sure there were no leaks and then the first fish were added along with a matured filter which was running for several months in the nearby 240 liter tank.

The first guy to get in the new tank was a 24 cm male Cichlasoma pearsei. Click on the image to see the high resolution picture

followed by 3 more of its kind (one male and two females).

At the same day, we also added a male Paretroplus menarambo and a Paretroplus nourissati pair.

The fish were not added in random order (as you have probably guessed). We decided to leave the two Paretroplus menarambo pairs last since we knew that they would be aggressive (if the pair bond was not "broken" during their transfer to the new tank. Those pairs, would need a territory and a spawning site which means that, if added first, they would simply divide the tank in half giving a very hard time to any newcomers. The bond was not broken and it didn't take long for the two pairs to find their "preferred" sites and resume normal spawning activities (as you can see in the photos below). Although P. menarambo is not regarded to be an aggressive fish, it is every inch a cichlid and this becomes obvious when they defend their spawning site. The (much larger) C. pearsei soon realized that and decided to leave them in peace. Of course, we wonder what will happen when the C. pearsei decide to spawn..

It is definitely a joy to work with a friend and setup your tank without being in a hurry. This was the first time we took our time with it and the result definitely justifies the time, effort and (of course) money that went into this project. This tank serves both purposes nicely: it is an impressive element of the decoration of our office and also a home to some interesting (and large) cichlids. Without the help of Thomas, I would skip quite a few things while "cutting corners" would be my motto. He insisted in doing everything the right way and right he was. I guess some of you may wonder why we keep on adding detailed reports on the initial setup of our tanks. Well, there are a number of good reasons. First, any new tank should be better than the previous ones both in functionality as well as aquascape. After building and running a tank for some time you know which points can be improved so the next "version" should - at least - address those issues. Second, no two tanks are built the same way while minor or major differences in the surrounding area may result in changes which you could use while setting your own tank. For instance a tank may have a sump or a filter compartment built in it or rely completely on external filtration - as this one does. Last, while we usually employ simple solutions which are available to everybody, some ideas may prove useful (or even a combination of ideas). For those of you seeking detailed and "advanced" DIY projects, you can always check the articles by Frank who specialized in this field.

After finishing this project, we also realized one more thing. Large cichlids are like gas. They will simply occupy all the space they can get out with. In their 120 cm (240 L) tank they were crammed and fights were very common especially since there were two (spawning) pairs. In the much larger 250 cm tank, they are still fighting for the same thing although the distances and water volume have more than doubled. It looks as if we got their old tank, stretched it to the dimensions of the new one with their territories being stretched alongside. Another observation is that a spawning cichlid is a really aggressive fish and will give a hard time to its tankmates no matter if they are bigger and heavier. Thus, although Paretroplus menarambo are known to be the mildest of all Paretroplines, they proved beyond any reasonable doubt that, until the much larger Cichlasoma pearsei start to breed, they will simply rule the tank.  The funny thing is that there are two breeding pairs in this tank which are almost continuously in breeding "mode". One of them has already declared the left side of the tank as its territory, digged a 10 cm deep crater and defends it very efficiently. The second pair (the one which has also spawned three times in the smaller tank they were kept till now) is still searching for a suitable place which will become its territory. Interestingly enough, the pair bond was not broken during transportation but you have to keep in mind that the transfer took less than 15 seconds since their old tank was just 5 meters away. Moreover, Johnny managed to net each pair in one shot (both fish travelling with the same net at the same time). We don't know what would happen if the fish had to be transferred in buckets over a longer distance. Finally, this tank proves that length is a really important factor and can work really nicely for large fish substituing - in part - the need for a much larger water volume.

In this respect, we are all happy now. The Paratilapia sp. Andapa have a 360 liter tank on their own, the P. menarambo, P. nourissati and C. pearsei have got a more suitable home, we have got 3 empty tanks at home (what a nice experience), Thomas will get the 240 liter tank as an addition to his smaller tank, we have raised the total water volume to 4.700 liters (1.243 gallons) and we can just sit back and enjoy it for a while. Is it the last project ? No, but we are getting close.. The next step is to organize my fishroom with a semi automatic water input - output system plus ventilation (sometime before autumn) and then add the last tank to it. We will come back on this during this year.

Not surprisingly, after a month or so, my teammates decided that the tank needed some final touches. Thus, we decided to add a wooden border at the height of the water level (which would hide both the water level and the edge of the horizontal stretch glasses) and also paint the outer surface of the light reflectors black to match the colors of the furniture. The idea was to have only two colors in the furniture (the reflectors were initially painted white) and make the interior of the tank the point of interest. Thomas got back from a large store (Praktiker) with the wooden decoration, which was painted with the same varnish used for the wooden base on which the tank was standing.

After three coats, the colors matched perfectly so the wooden borders were glued in place with silicon while special tightening screws kept them in place during the first 3 hours (till the silicon had hardened enough to keep them in place).

The light reflectors were taken out and painted by Johnny who applied two generous coats of black paint.

The final result was really pleasing and rewarding as you can see in the photos below. In the end, starting with an old furniture which would have probably been discarded from the office we ended with a really nice tank and a nice looking stand. It took a bit over two months and about 1.800 Euro (about 2.000 $) to finish the whole project but - as previously mentioned - this includes the money spent on tools and consumables which will be used in other projects, too.

The tank as it looks now with the wooden borders in place

Inhabitants

Species

Comments

Paretroplus menarambo

Five individuals which have grown together since acquired by us. These are the survivors of a 7 member team. They have formed two pairs and one of them has spawned three times up to now. Size ranges from 17 to 20 cm (total length).

Paretroplus nourissati

One pair. After reading a lot about them, we decided that adding more would result in troubles. One of them is 18 cm and the other one 14 cm long (total length).

"Cichlasoma" pearsei

Two pairs (?). The males are sized about 24 cm while the females are smaller at about 18 cm (total length).

Corydoras aeneus

Two individuals, old survivors from our "discus" adventure. They have been with us for many years so they deserved a place in that tank. Most probably a pair.

Technical details at a glance

Dimensions

250 x 55 x 60 cm; 825 liters (220 gallons)

Filtration

One Eheim 2260 (1900 l/h) at one end (spray bar output), two Eheim Ecco 2236 (650 l/h each; matured filters) at the other end of the tank (right side in photo). The two Eheim Ecco filters are equipped with a prefilter sponge.

Air pumps

Three Schego M2K3 pumps, each delivering 350 l/h (total 1.050 liters of air / hour) to ensure maximum oxygenation of the water.

Heating

Two 300 W Eheim heaters submersed and attached at the two side glasses of the tank very close to the filter intakes to avoid "temperature" zones in the water. Temperature is set to 26oC

Water changes

About 80% weekly. Water is added in the right side of the tank and is removed from the special outlet of the Eheim 2260 (left side of the tank) which also takes away the debris accumulated at its bottom. Water conditioner is added in three steps while the water change takes place. It usually takes about 2 hours for a water change.

Lighting

Four cool white 120 cm / 36 Watt fluorescent tubes with white reflectors and special hoods and holders. They are arranged in two fixtures and are covered with the reflectors so that no light hits the ceiling.

Decoration

Sand, bogwood, stones. Bogwood was purchased; the other elements were collected by us.

Sand

About 150 Kg of sand forming a 5 cm layer. Sand was collected from the beach, cleaned, disinfected, washed and de-chlorinated.

Bogwood

Three large pieces weighting about 45 Kg and many smaller pieces of bogwood. They form a great number of hiding places with various size opening.

Stones

Some large stones – as potential spawning sites (mainly for the C. pearsei)

Stand

Old office furniture (archive cabinet) reinforced in the back with two wooden legs and six metal ones at strategic points (corners and middle). The tank is actually larger than the cabinet.

Others

Digital thermometer, background poster, wooden border at the water surface level.

Filter material

Eheim 2260: Blue sponge at the bottom; thick floss for large particles (a large bag), six liters of Eheim Substrat and two liters of Ehfi fix. Ecco 2236: blue sponge at the bottom, Eheim substrat at the middle (1.5 L), blue sponge and fine floss at the top. Prefilter sponges are attached in the inlets for easy cleaning and less frequent service of the canisters.

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