|I was always interest in the setup of tanks irrespectively of the
final result which may or may not satisfy my aesthetics. The whole
process from planning to the little details and tips of the project was
full of information which solved problems or gave rise to issues which
should be dealt with in the future. This interest helped me to decide to
present the process of constructing and operating my 500 L tank which
The whole process was the result of my desire to keep discus, which
haunted me ever since I entered the hobby. Since I knew that keeping
them asked for knowledge and experience I decided to wait for a couple
of years before giving it a try. During this period I spent a lot of
time with Andreas Kamarinos (Hydrocosmos) discussing tank sizes, various
equipment, as well as the provisions one should make before starting
this project. After some time, taking into consideration every possible
alternative, we finally made our mind and came up with a glass tank
150x70x50cm (LxHxW), with six holes which would be used to connect the
overflow as well as the inlet and outlet of the filters and the waste
The final location of the tank was already decided - it would stand in
the place of my smaller 60 L community tank (photo 01).
The first item to come in place was the metal stand. This was an
especially sturdy construction, perhaps more than was actually needed,
with the same dimensions as the tank to be placed on its top and a
height of 70 cm. It was made from metal bars with a 4x4 cm crossection.
After I applied a coat of anticorrosive paint and a second coat of black
paint, I added some plastic pads (one under every leg) as well as
shelves made of black melamine, which would hold the supporting
equipment. The stand was now ready to welcome the tank which came in a
few days later (photo 02).
As soon as the tank came home, my first impression was that it was a
huge tank (this is always the first impression). While enjoying this
feeling of satisfaction I started working on it. The first step was to
put the adhesive background in place (photo
03). This adhesive can be purchased from stores selling signs for
shops (the kind which is lighted from the inside). Its price is
correlated to the length you will need and is available in a large range
of colors. Its main advantage is that it will attach firmly and
completely on the glass without the usual air pockets humidity can't
enter between it and the glass creating the ugly look commonly seen when
posters are used instead. Following that, I added the connectors at the
back and the bottom, the outlets and the overflow which would drive
water in the sump (photo
04, photo 05, photo 06, photo 07).
Next came the leak tests. As is always the case, some small leaks (at
the joints of the outlets) were observed which were fixed. Then the
system was theoretically ready to by used. In theory, because in
practice there was still too much to be done. The main issue was -
naturally - the wooden cabinet which would cover the metal stand.
Waiting was a must since it would be impossible to move the tank and the
stand when filled with water. I chose9 mm thick plywood as the material
for the cabinet since it is known to have a high resistance to humidity.
I applied an extra coat of varnish for additional protection. This
particular varnish mimicked wood fairly well but.. there was a problem.
There were some holes drilled on the cabinet which would allow it to be
secured on the metal stand. Those holes were covered with putty which
was not covered by the varnish and the overall result was far from
satisfying. It tool me a lot of time and research to find the right
stuff (I didn't have a clue what to use). In the end, I managed to find
a special varnish which could be worked with a brush and mimicked wood
Last came the three doors which would allow access in the space under
the tank. They were made of the same material (plywood) with a different
thickness (18 mm). The stand was now ready and the tank was moved to its
final location. Sixty Kg of quartz sand were added (very fine grain),
three large pieces of bogwood (after treating them), water (absolutely
necessary) and then the filters were started. Cycling had started - at
last.. (photo 08)
Filtration was performed by two Eheim 2217 (1000lt/h each one) filled
with a total of 10 Kg of biological substrate (EHEIM EHFISUBSTRAT) as
well as a 60 L sumo with 4 compartments and an EHEIM 1250 water pump (1200lt/h) (photo
09, photo 10). The two middle compartments of the sump were
filled with sponges with different size of openening (30, 20, 10 ppi),
mainly to collect floating particles but also to be colonized by
bacteria (photo 11). The water enters
the sump at the right most compartment as you can see in the picture.
When the first compartment is filled with water, the water is directed
at the sponges following the direction of the arrows in the photo. The
bottom of the two middle compartments of the sump is covered by the
white plates with openings which are used in undergravel filters. In the
fourth compartment the water pump sends the filtered water back to the
main tank. In the first and last compartments a 300 W is placed. Last,
there is an overflow located at the top of the first compartment which
is used to remove water during water changes (photo 12).
Although I have repeatedly calculated and tested the capacity of the
sump to make sure that it is able to accept the extra water from the
main tank in case of power failure, this overflow is an extra protection
apart from being extremely handy during the regular water changes.
(photo 13) The inlets of the two
kanister filters is at the bottom of the aquarium - in the middle(1),
one of them has its outlet also at the bottom of the aquarium - at the
left part (2), while the other in the upper part of aquarium, at the
right side, next to the overflow (3). The sump has an inlet coming from
the overflow by TUNZE (1500lt/h) at the right side of the aquarium (4),
and the outlet at the top left side (5). At the right part of the
aquarium bottom there is a sewerage for the fast removal of water (6),
while the sump has its own sewerage, which is linked with the one coming
from the tank and leads to the balcony via a permanently fixed plastic
(Φ40) (photo 12).
The lid was made last since I wanted to be sure about the water level
with the sump in operation. I do not like the line of water level to be
visible under the lid of the aquarium, so I wanted to be sure that my
construction would cover it completely. A second element that was very
important for the design, was my wish to have a lid with a minimum
height. I have always disliked the sight of canopies which had a height
almost equal to half the size of the aquarium itself and this was
something I would really like to avoid. Keeping those two thoughts in
mind, taking functionality into account as well as using the experience
I had acquired by building canopies for two more tanks I was ready to
materialize my project. I must confess that I also searched the web and
saw some solutions used by other hobbyists to solve the same problem.
Plywood (9 mm thick - as the one used to cover the stand) was the
material of choice once more and the final height of the canopy was a
mere 8.5 cm (thanks God). It has two openings at the top and a vertical
joint in the middle.
In detail, I used a simple lath (cross section: 1x1 cm) which rested
on the edge of the glass tank creating the perimeter of the canopy from
the inner side (photo 14). The edges
were cut at a 45 degree angle although this is not necessary. Next, the
two sides, with a height of 8.5 cm and a length equal to that of the
glass tank (150 cm) were glued on the wooden perimeter described above
with special glue for wood, while small nails (those which lack a head)
were used to ensure maximum stability of the whole construction. They
were placed in such a way to leave a space of 1 cm so, when the top
covers would close, they wouldn't be visible from the front side of the
tank. This was also one of my ideas, since I had noticed that lids which
close on top of the canopy always allow some light to escape while they
are aesthetically inferior.
There was a
gap at the edges of the side panels of the canopy (photo 15)
which was covered with a special, "rounded" piece of wood. The result
was a seamless, rounded corner (photo
At the back of this
frame I fixed permanently, in the same manner, a panel; this rests on
top of the back part of the frame. The length of the panel is 150cm (the
full tank length) while its width is 8,5cm. The panel supports the two
top openings thus allowing for easy access to the tank. It doesn’t get
in the way as it is placed over a 10cm stake. A 6cm wide joint,
permanently fixed, connects the front to the back part of the frame for
added stability. I then secured the two
covers of the top openings in place (72x41,4cm). These are fixed on 4
hinges each which allow them to open and close (photo
This brings us to the last detail of this construction, namely the back
openings. These openings are used to feed through the lighting cables.
They also accommodate the joints from the return pipes (photo
It is important to note that the construction should be such as to allow
for the lid to be easily removed, without being hindered by anything
After completion of the construction, putty was added at the edges
which were smoothed with sandpaper and painted with three coats of a
wood-like paint, the same used to paint the cover of the stand (photo
Next step was to add the light fixtures and the necessary connections
and wiring. Three T8 fluorescent tubes (120 cm each) were selected.
Two of them were white (Arcadia Freshwater) and one with a slight pink
color (Arcadia Original Tropical). They rest on thin (2 x 1 cm) aluminum
racks so they can be moved easily back and forth and are powered via
watertight end caps made by Arcadia. The transformers and starters are
located under the tank along with the other electric components
(multiple sockets, timers etc.) (photo 21).
The duration of the light period has been set to 10 hours for all three
lamps while one of them (the pink one) is turned on half an hour before
them and turns off half an hour after them (11 hours in total).
The first fish to inhabit the tank (six months had already passed since
the tank was received !!) were a school of 10 Corydoras sterbai,
2 Sturisoma Aurium and a small
Ancistrus sp. which lived in one of my old tanks. Unfortunately,
after two days I lost 2 of the C. sterbai which were stuck in the filter
inlets (that I had not covered till then) and one of the S. aurium
(which was obviously weak and didn't make it). A month later, a school
of 30 Hemigrammus Βleheri was added.
I wanted to stabilize the system as much as possible, find solutions for
all the maintenance routines of the tank, resolve any issues which might
rise at the beginning and then add the discus (for which this whole
system was set up). This took another 9 months !!
One of the most important issues that I had to deal with was the water
quality, its preparation and the (frequent) water changes. The obvious
solution was to get a reverse osmosis unit but the fact I would throw
away three times the volume of water I would use forced me to reject it
- at first. After some research I decided to buy a deionization column.
The specific model I got has a capacity for 1200 L of water with a GH=8
and can deliver 10L/min of deionized water. This column contains a mixed
bed of resins and absorbs all ions dissolved in water as well as traces
of F, Cu and more. Although I had my doubts at the beginning, a recently
calibrated monitor showed an indication of 0μS at its outlet. Pure water
22, photo 23)
The column was placed
behind the refrigerator and the water, after deionization was stored in
an 100 L tank (70x55x30 cm) which is located in a cabiner under the
kitchen pass. The pass is next to the tank so I can use a water pump
(1000 L/h) to send the "prepared" water (75% deionized - 25% tap water)
in the tank (photo 24,
photo 25, photo 26).
seemed to be in order now and after checking the water paremeters for
some time (photo
I started my investigation about the discus "species" which would get
into the tank, as well as which would be the source for my fish. I used
the singular form because my intention was to get only one type of
discus. In general, I don't like the "color sampler" type of tank, in
which you can see red, yellow, green and blue fish. Apart from that, I
wanted all the fish which would be added in this tank to be adults, of
similar size and to add them all at the same time (for obvious reasons).
Finally, I decided that I would keep six fish while I asked for (and
got) a warranty that these would be 3 male and 3 female specimens. The
discus type was "Brilliant Turquoise" by the well known German breeder
The order was placed and -
finally - the box with the fishes arrived !!! (photo 29).
I had already made my preparations to welcome the newcomers. A large
water change was made in the main tank, most of the glass surface was
covered with black nylon bags while a 60 L tank was to be used for the
acclimatization process. This was also covered with black nylon bags
while a heater and an air diffuser (connected to an air pump) were
placed inside (photo 30)
I opened the
box and the bags which contained the fish in a room with low light
levels to avoid extra stress of the fish. The bags were carried (opened)
in the acclimatization vessel which contained a small quantity of water
inside to adjust the temperature, which had dropped to 25οC
during the transportation. I kept on adding a small quantity of water
from the main tank in every bag and eventually I emptied the bags in the
small tank (photo
31, photo 32)
The paremeters of the water in which the fish were transported were pH: 7,
GH: 18 and NO3: 20ppm. I went on
adding water from the main tank to the small tank for a while. The whole
acclimatization process lasted for 3 hours. The fish were then placed in
the main tank, one by one. Although I expected all of them to run and
hide being out of my sight for several days (I had already decided to
keep the lights of the tank turned off for some days) they didn't. On
the contrary they gathered together at the upper part of the tank which
was not covered with black bags. They didn't seem to be frightened at
all and they rushed to the front glass whenever they felt human
presence, most probably in anticipation for food. (photo 33,
photo 34) The German breeder had told me that adult discus can
take 3 weeks or more before they accept food after being transported,
without any adverse effect on their health. Thus, I didn't offer them
any food for the first couple of days but since I saw this fearless and
social behavior I decided to remove the bags and offer them frozen beef
heart on the third day.
Needless to say, they accepted the food greedily. After a couple of days
I turned on the lights (gradually) and all of them seemed as happy as
ever. I only refer to discus because the H. bleheri which were used to
swim in there alone, were far less active, probably waiting to see how
their new tank mates would behave.
After 15 days or thereabout, the first pair formed laid eggs and was
faced with aggression of the rest. Long fights, fierce defend of the
territory by the parents, attacks to destroy the eggs from the rest etc.
35, photo 36). A few days later, a second pair was formed, which
naturally claimed its own territory turning the tank in a war zone (photo 37).
Well, you can guess the rest.. separators were added, the aggression was
still high, problems because of the poor water flow due to the
separators (along with the development of BGA)... this case looked more
and more like... new tanks !
Some pictures of the fish taken at the beginning of 2006...
(photo 38, photo 39, photo 40, photo 41, photo 42,