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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Specific Gravity

This is a hydrometer and its a hydrometer with a really suggestive name - Deep Six. What's it used for? It used to measure the specific gravity or salinity of the aquarium's water.

Specific gravity of a liquid is a unitless measurement that indicates the density of that particular liquid with reference to another (usually pure water) The density of water is taken to be 0.001kg/1cm^3 that's what we learnt in secondary school that 1 litre of water has a mass of 1kg. Specific gravity of the aquarium's water is calculated by (density of the aquarium's water) / (density of pure water).

In this instance, a hydrometer saves us the trouble of needing to measure exactly 1 litre of aquarium water and then weighing its mass and calculating its density before finally deriving its specific gravity. The hydrometer invovles a free suspended 'pointer/indicator' which when submerged in water will start to float. Based on the principle of displacement, the denser the water the higher the 'pointer' would float. In the case of the aquarium, the more amount of dissolved salt there is in the water, the greater the reading. The less amount of dissolved salt, the lower the reading. From the pictures you can see that when the hydrometer is out of the water, the pointer is just resting down. When water pours into the hydrometer, the 'pointer rises' and when the entire device is finally submerged, the 'pointer' will float and come to a rest point which indicates the specific gravity reading. The specific gravity of sea water ranges from 1.020 to 1.023. So if the reading is too low, I'd need to dose more marine salt. If its too high, I'd need to dilute the aquarium's water with more water. Also in a closed environment such as that of the tank, as water evaporates, salt remains in the aquarium and so the specific gravity will rise. An aquarist has to be aware of that and top up the tanks water from time to time.

Work Work Work!

What has school work to do with an aquarium? Not much actually but i've just been too pre-occupied with school work. Well actually becasuse of work, many people find that they do not have enough time to maintian their aquariums and then they give it up. So a lesson to be learnt is that consider the amount of time that you have to spare.

In my case, the tank is cycling, so being pre-occupied with school work is actually a good thing, cos it distracts me from my impatience in getting rocks and fish into the aquarium.

A very interesting piece of news, next week I'm going diving with the school's marine biology department. Apparently they have a small 'coral conservation/farming' site off Singapore's shores. SWEET!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Fish Hunt

The tank is up, one last component - protein skimmer to complete the whole set up. It's come the time where I've gotta figure out what kinda organisms do I want in my tank. What kinda aquarium should it be?

1. A fish only tank or what aquarists term as a FOWLR (Fish Only with Live Rock) setup. Its just rocks and lotsa fish. Very colorful, very lively.

2. From a fish only tank, I could have a happy fish tank, keep lotsa cute little fishes, colorful and cheery.

3. Or i could have a predatory fish tank. So I keep more agressive fish like a lion fish, bigger angels, triggers.

4. Reef tank with corals and all. I didn't really favour this initially because they require alot more care. But it seems that the equipment that i have in place, especially the chiller has make conditions possible to sustain a reef. Its very tempting!

I gotta note tho, that some of my favourite fishes in this hobby are what you call non reef safe, means they chew up corals, nibble here and there. Tough decision...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Nitrogen Cycle & The Shrimp

You must be wondering what the hell is that? Its a shrimp. A piece of shrimp rather. The filter and the chiller are both up and running, marine salt has been added and now there's salt water running through the system. Till now its just a tank with 'no' life in it and here's where the nitrogen cycle begins. The shrimp was dropped in to introduce ammonia into the aquarium. The shrimp will rot and from the past couple of pics, the tank water is rather clear and subsequent pictures that I post will show cloudy tank water. I dropped the shrimp in at 10am today and after going to sch and back, there's a little stench if you sniff the surface of the water. Good sign, rotting has begun and the shrimp has began to decolor. The shrimp will rot and leech ammonia NH3/NH4 into the water, and this where naturally occuring bacteria will feed on that ammonia and multiply forming bacteria colonies. Ammonia levels will increase as the shrimp rots and so will the bacteria colonies because they have more to feed on. It will come a point in time that the rate of rotting is exceeded by the number of bacteria colonies and ammonia levels will start to drop. That is part 1 of the nitrogen cycle.

The filters that i've installed are what we call biological filters. It is not designed to remove physical waste from the aquarium but they are more like a bacteria farm to house bacteria colonies that will help break down waste in the aquarium. So imagine that waste from fish are broken down into harmless natural occuring substances. It becomes an all natural aquarium. Fish eat food and shit and feed the bacteria and in turn cleans up the water. Perfect relationship. So here you see a pick of these 'cocopops'. They're actually special media that's super porous and so provdes alot of surface area for bacteria to populate. The bacteria farm behind the aquarium.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Water + Marine Salt = Sea Water!

Since the last picture of the empty tank, there's been a lot of hustle and bustle going on. That ridiculous amount of money spent, together with all the late night fiddling and fixing. Setting up an aquarium is always an exciting task. With each aquarium you build, you leverage on past experience and you try to improve on the new aquarium. I've gotta prioritize between school work and this little project. I refuse to stay home this couple of days. Somehow's there's this strange phenomena that happens. Even though its an empty tank, I can't help but just gaze into it, day dream and idle precious time away. You can imagine what it'd be like when the fishies get here. So these afternoons and evenings I try to hold myself in school to finish as much as work as possible because when I come home, I'd be tweaking about the aquarium, checking for leaks, making sure all is well. Very very distracting!

Now more about the technicalities. From my earlier sketches, you'd see how i intended to suspend my lamp and now i've put it in action. All thanks to a very helpful uncle who got me the chains to suspend the lamp, I think it's pretty neat.

I initially filled the tank with freshwater and got the filter running. Its always important to do that first to check the tank for leaks. Its always easier to clean up a fresh water leak then a salt water leak. Now that everything seems fine, I've dosed couple of kilos of a marine salt mix in to convert the fresh water into 'sea water' NOTE! you DO NOT just put any salt into the tank. You put marine salt. Salt that has been specially treated or rather preserved to keep its 'sea-water properities'. Alternatively aquariusts can buy real sea water from aquariums but that's only feasible for small tanks. How would you expect me to carry 100L of sea water up to my deep blue sea in my 5th story HDB? If you observe the bottom of the tank, there's some white residue. Just like how you'd only get 99.999% Gold, you can never get 100% seat salt that dissolves 100%. Its inevitable to have some impurities, maybe specs of sand, dust etc.

2 posts ago I talked about water circulation. The water is running throught the filter, shouldn't the residue be all floating around? Why does it seem like they tend to settle down only on some parts of the tank? Its exactly what i've talked about previously. It is very important to be able to have a filtration system that removes all physical waste from an aquarium effectively.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Going Mad!

If you take a look on the right, i'm about to go mad. Its not cos i'm mad about fish thats why i spent so much. Its more like I spent so much that's why i'm going mad. Goodness me!

You know i used to spend bit at a time and never realised the full cost. But today, I had the car and i told myself since the car is with me, i'll just go get everything i need. I guess couple of hundred spent at one go is the same as a couple of hundred spent spread over a period of time. On the bright side, I've got everything in half a day. I won't have to waste any more time making trips to the shops.

Will talk about the equipment piece at a time in subsequent blogs. Just a update on what's happening, bio filter has been fully filled with media and set to run. Salt has been added, and i'll have sea water tomorrow. Lighting structure is almost complete.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Water Circulation

In any aquarium, water circulation is a very important factor. The pumps driving the filtration system must be powerful enough to circulate the water through the entire aquarium, drawing water from the main tank into the filter and then pumping it out again.

If you observe a shoreline, as the wave retreats, it takes all the water back into the sea, and with the next waves that rolls in, water comes back to the shore. The turnover rate of the water is instanateous. There is no stagnant water. If you take a reference point as a piece of rock, it is flushed by water action constantly. This is what we hope to achieve in a marine aquarium, to have a high water circulation rate.

In the ocean because of the large volume of water, the a water molecule might never ever return to the same point it was at, or perhaps only after a very long time. This is not the case in aquariums, especially in small aquariums termed as nano tanks. Although water in an aquarium is re-cycled just like in nature's water cycle, the aquarium's water cycle is limited to the volume of water in it. Water circulation is very important, it prevents waste from accumulating in one spot, transporting it to deeper water to dilute its harmfulness and when the waves come in again, they bring 'fresh' water loaded with deep sea nutrients to feed corals and what not.

All pumps come with a flowrate say 1050L/H or 350L/H and in my case those are the flow rates of my filter canisters making a total of 1400L/H and i have a aquarium volume of approximately 100L. Intuitively the water in my tank is cycled 14 times an hour.

Besides the rate of water circulation, the other factor is the way water flows in the entire system. Because its not like in the ocean, water input and output are usually done through pipes so water movement may only be isolated to certain parts of the aquarium depending on how the filter's input and output are positioned. Parts with stagnant water are called dead spots at which waste will accumulate and not be removed by the filter. It is also possible to generate a 'cyclone' effect causing a vortex to draw all waste to the centre. It'd be wise to centre the filter's input at that center but if not, the water flow will draw all waste away form the filter and the filter will not be effective. It is very important to arrange and position filter inlets and outlets to produce maximum water movement eliminating dead spots as well as to make sure that waste are not counter actively hindered from being taken in by the filter.

Time Schedule for the week

So today after spending an evening working in school, headed off to my favourite aquarium shop to buy the hoses to hook up the filters with the tank. Came home and got the bigger of the canisters set up and working. Canister filters are all about syphonic action and pressure differences. You really need to understand these physics concepts to work with them easily.

Time line for the next couple of days.
1. Tomorrow set all hoses in place and get both filter canisters working.
2. Wednesday collect my chiller and buy aquarium supplies. Get chiller running and add carbon to the system.
3. Thursday put salt and bio filter media into the system.
4. Friday introduce ammonia to kick start nitrogen cycle.

What Lies Beneath...

From the earlier sketches, there was one pathetic shelf that could only house perhaps both of this filter units, but I need more space because I wanna install a chiller to cool the water for the fish. So with a little fiddling around i manage to rip that shelf off, hence you see the small dot on the left on one of the table's shafts. Thats the screw hole. The middle beam across was obstructing the floor space so that I couldn't put anything big under the table. But again with a little creativity, two wooden planks solved the problem. They look really ugly but they'll make do for now. I'm sourcing for a carpenter who could give me some nice white wood planks to do with the entire look. See the wood jutting out at the bottom left corner? I've gotta shave that off. Daddy's bought a saw for me! Just for that... I'm gonna hack that part off soon as mummy starts complaining that either her feet or her mop gets caught in it.

The twin towers, there you have it. The two main engines driving the entire aquarium's water circulation. The taller canister at the back will serve as a biological filter while the smaller one in front will be both mechanical, and chemical and it will also act as a pump to push water through the chiller coming to fill up that empty space. Going to get a second hand chiller. Already reserved it and its coming soon!

The Tank is UP!

Ah ha! A picture of the tank finally. Really beautiful tank that I inherited sometime back. To think about it this tank's been with me for couple of years already. Before this it was a freshwater tank with lotsa plants, some kinda like a underwater tropical jungle. Its a totally different game in all between fresh water aquariums and marine aquariums. With a fresh water, there's much less to bother about. Water could easily be taken from the tap and things were lot more convenient. Besides the maintainence requirements, the feel of it is entirely different. When you look into a freshwater planted tank, you somehow feel a sense of peace, tranquility, serenity, its kinda like a lil underwater refuge and esp when you keep a school of small fish and watch them swim slowly and gracefully among the leaves of the plants, you get a calm relaxing feel. Very therapeutic. Marine aquariums are entirely different. You feel a sense of excitement, life and mystery. Its just amazing how diverse and colorful the life forms can be. Gazing into a marine aquarium makes me feel happy and excited. Also depending on the way the tank is set up, the arrangements of rocks can be made to create an environment some sorta like an underwater paradise. Like you see in Finding Nemo. I also feel that the behaviour of marine organisms are much more interesting to observe. There are fishes that bury themselves in the sand, symbiotic relatoinships between anemones and anemone fishes etc.

There you go, another picture of the tank. Before i left for California I cleared out this tank and it was filled with junk. It took me quite a while to shift everything out. just couple of weeks back I emptied the tank and took it out for a wash. Everything looks good, silicon joinings are in tact and in good conditoin.

One aquarium technqiue here, you realise that there's a piece of styrofoam under the tank. NEVER EVER place a tank directly on to the supporting platform or table. Reason being should there be any irregularities in the platform's surface, the weight from all the water pressing down on the tank's base is conventrated on to any 'protruding' bump and as you know pressure = weight / surface area. A small bump results in concentrated pressure at a particular point on the tank's bottom and will cause it to crack. The styrofoam solves this problem as its able to 'mould' to the irregularities and compensate for that. Just a tip that everyone in this field knows.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

No Easy Task

Its been a while since i posted. I'd make it a point to post every other day from now on. So updates on whats happened:

1. I've redesigned the entire filtration system
2. Bought a canister filter
3. In the process of negotiating for a chiller
4. Washed out the tank, got a styrofoam to support it as well.

I've been so busy lately with all the projects in school coming along. An aquarium is always a finanacial drain and i guess people seldom share about that emotional strain. Yes you plan for a good aquarium, but then as you buy one component at a time, you realise the expenses climbing bit by bit. This is one of the most disgusting part of the hobby. Thinking about the finanaces.

Monday, October 16, 2006

More Equipment

This aquarium project was meant to invovle as many people as possible. They could be friends, random fellow aquarists, people on the net who stumbled on this blog. Anybody! The whole idea is to create awareness about this hobby in my own little circle.

This week Kelvin did me a big favour! He collected a pump for me. Collected it, brought it all the way home, kept it for a week and then brought to me. Thanks dude, saved me heckalot of trouble. Seng thanks again for that little discount!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Scrap the Overflow Box

So i said that i might be doing some re-design of tank after accquring some of the components only to realise that it all doesn't fit together really well. This is the overflow box I bought. There are 3 ways in which water can be drawn from the main tank into the sump tank. First is through surface skimming where water overflows into a comparment that pipes/drops straight to the sump. Overflows are useful to remove floating waste, bubbles, and oil from the water surface. However they usually require a hole to be drilled in the main tank that will lead down to the sump tank. Second, you draw water from any point in the water colum. This is very useful to remove floating pieces of waste etc. Third is through underneath the substrate. A plastic structure is placed right at the bottom of the tank and on substrate(sand) is poured over it forming a pocket of water beneathe the substrate. Water is drawn from that pocket and water from the main tank seeps downwards through the substrate to fill that pocket again. People do this because they want a constant flow of water through the sand and bacteria living in the sand can have a biological filtration effect on the water. However this method traps all waste inside the tank and doesn't remove it and over time, the accumulation of waste can cause a spike in ammonia levels and that can be very ugly.

So this device you see on the left skims water from the surface as well as takes water from within the water colum. All this is done without the hassel of drilling a hole in the tank which in turn can compromise the structural soundness of the tank. This device works on the principle siphonic action but its way too much to explain. Maybe sometime in my future postings.

So what's wrong with this device? its way too big for my tank and I can't refund it for cash, but the shop has so generously offered me a chance to exchange for products of equal worth. Sweet! So i guess i'm gonna take the opportunity to stock myself with lotsa chemical test kits.

I Spy With My Little Eye

When you start a aquarium, there's always a sense of impatience and an urge to get things up and running asap. This is one of the emotions that an aquarist would need to overcome. Rushing into setting up and running an aquarium can have a very detrimental effect. Take it easy, think ahead, plan carefully.

The final plan is to hook up the aquarium to the internet via an internet web cam. I went shopping for one today. The Linksys cam looked pretty sturdy and cost $200. The D-Link cost $299 and what's cool about the D-link is that it'd support GPRS and 3G access and up to a total number of 16 simultaneous connections! $299! Gotta massage my heart when i spend that sum.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Crazy Times

Schoolwork is piling up. Really big time! its crazy. 3 am and i've just spent my whole evening pouring through some PHP code, struggling hard to figure out what's happening. Fish tank wise, I've a few components on hand and it all doesn't seem to be piecing together all too well. I might just scrape the idea of the sump for several reasons namely complication of building it, the space constraints, can't have a chiller, the danger of flooding my room. Anyhow, here's the second another sketch explainng what i had in mind for the sump tank.

4 main tank compartments. Water flows in through a wet/dry filter and then flows through some chemical media to the protein skimmer and water is pumped back into the main tank. Alternatively water may flow from the wet/dry filter into the refugium which is a place with low water movement providing a favourable growth environment for healthy bacteria which will in turn regulate the water quality.

This is a really exciting set up but unfortuantely because of constraints, it may not be the best choice. Until an alternative is more certain, I'll keep you guys posted.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


This blog's invited quite abit of fiery comments. Perhaps this is a good time to explain my intentions. This is an aquarium that friends can adopt the organisms living in it. Not necessarily in money terms but it could just be a commitment to drop by the blog every now and then to check out on the organism you adopted.

Friends who wish to buy a fish for the aquarium are most welcomed to do so. However the condition is such that we go shopping for the fish together. You pick the fish and should i think that the fish is not suited for the aquarium, I have the final right to reject it. 3 months stay alive garantee. That I feel is a acceptable time period that if the fish dies after that, the problem doesn't lie with my tank. Perhaps its of old age or something. If the fish dies within the 1st 3 months, I will refund the cost of the fish in full. This raises a question will i start killing fishes or selling them after the 3 months claiming they have died. I love fishes and thats the reason why i started this blog. So i assure you that'd never happen.

At the end of the day, I hope to be able to share the joy of keeping fishies and also share the good practices of responsible reefing (keeping of marine fishies). Bring the ocean to the world so that more people can see its beauty.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Design Stage: Filtration Mechanism

Let us make a distinction between filtration mechanism and a filtration system. The mechanism deals with how you get water out of the tank into the filtration system and then back into the tank. It is a very thin line between the two. For this aquarium, the mechanism makes use of a sump tank housed beneath the main tank. A sump tank is basically a water containter that extends the overall volume of water in the aquarium and it usually also houses the filtration system. Water is draw from the aquarium via the natural force of gravity down into the sump and then pumped back into the aquarium so that it forms a water cycle. In the attached picture you can see how one hose draws water from the main tank into the sump under the table, and how the return pump pumps water via another hose back into the main tank.

Many people use glass sump tanks but for my case, I've chosen to use a plastic tub which cost $8.50. After all a sump tank is usually hidden out of sight so I felt that there is no need for an elaborate and signifcantly more expensive sump tank made of glass. A plstic tub will work just as well. However when it comes to newly purchased plastics, you have to be careful of the prescence of oil, odour which may be harmful to fishes. It is advisable to soak the tub for a couple of days.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Design Stage: Let There Be Light!

Alot of itsy bitsy progress has been going on and I guess its finally time to start documenting the process. Someone remarked that i made setting up an aquarium sound like a breeze well i guess that's because all you've heard me talk about is how nice it is watching my fishies and feeding them.

I will reveal all the technical, finanacial and whatever considerations i've taken into account when setting up an aquarium. Hopefully that through this blog, readers will appreciate that being an aquarist or a reefer is not so simple as just to bring some fishies from the ocean and dump it in a tank. There is alot of careful thought invovled. It is the aquarist's responsibility to give his fishies the best that he can afford both in time as well as in equipment. The aquarist must be committed to learning about the ocean's natural environment and how best to simulate its aspects into the aquarium.

So above you see the sketch of my proposed aquarium. Finally you guys have an idea on how's its like. For now the tank is still filled with junk so pictures are inappropriate. My first component as mentioned yesterday was the MH light and you can see how I intend to suspend it. It will be hung from a wooden beam drilled and secured to the top of my wardrobe. On top of that, the heavy e-ballast for the lamp will be used as a counter weight to further stablise the bar.

This aquarium is a project meant to involve a community of friends. So i would like to say a big thank you to the first few people to be invovled. To Seng for letting me have your lamp cheap, Eugene for driving me to Pasir Ris to collect it and to Deborah for putting up with my nonsense along that trip and also for contributing 20cts to the cost of the lamp :)
Thanks Seng for the Metal Halide lights. So there my first piece of equipment has been accquired. Bright bright lights for the fishies! The delivery of the overflow box will come on Monday. Will probably buy my plastic sump and whatever pipes on Sunday.

Pictures will come soon, you can also look forward to sketches on how the aquarium is going to designed, how certain components work.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Been a really busy week but things are rolling along. For all those of you who have bothered lending me a ear, listneing to my crazy idea on this fishtank, thanks! Though I don't have everyone convinced, I've set my heart on it.

Going to collect a lamp for the tank's illumination from a fellow aquarist later in the evening. I've placed my order for my first piece of equipment, an overflow unit. Its so pricey that i'd need to massage my heart but its a pretty rare device and not many people have that out for second hand sale.

Haze is just crazy, throat's feeling scratchy, it stinks and we all don't feel comfortable. Perhaps you could see this as quite a similar situation for the fishies if no effort is put into ensuring good water quality. The fishies are going to suffer.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Disappointment... just when I thought I had gotten my hands on a chiller so that my fish can live more comfortably in an 'air con' environment, can't seem to find a chiller small enough that would fit under my table.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

This blog has not really started yet. So long as there's no title, these are just random ramblings about the headaches, complications as well as the excitement leading up to the official opening of the aquarium. After much thought and consideration I've finally decided on the design. The first setback to happen. Thought i'd my hands on a very reasonably priced 2nd hand protein skimmer but someone beat me to it. Still looking at a few other 2nd hand components from other aquarists.

The contents of the blog is gonna document the entire process of setting up a tank with explanations on the equipment, the considerations etc. I'd cover a small detail each day in small readable chunks. I'm looking forward to it.