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Saltwater Planted Tanks



By David E. Boruchowitz

One Facebook reader asks about an article on planted marine tanks, using macroalgae. I have been interested in this topic for some time and have some experience with the topic myself. Although I didn’t originally plan it, I have a 33-long marine setup full of macro. I have ocellaris clowns, a few damsels, cardinals, and a dwarf angel. They all enjoy browsing through and lurking in the seaweed thickets. The aquascape changes constantly, as the various Caulerpa sends out runners and battle each other for territory. When the Chaetomorpha gets too thick, I pull some out. I enjoy the tank so much that I’m contemplating setting up a larger system planned around macro plantings from the start.

We would love submissions about planted saltwater tanks. And to learn more about one type of macroalgae that is often used in planted setups, keep your eye out for our next issue!

Posted June 3rd, 2015.

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What’s Wrong with Colored Gravel, Plastic Plants, and Bubbling Divers? Nothing!

A tank with herbivorous fish decorated with artificial plants. Photograph by Jeremy Demas.

By David E. Boruchowitz

There is a bit of snobbery in the hobby regarding action ornaments, plastic plants, and colored gravel. Some seasoned aquarists look down their noses at the use of such artificiality, but many people, particularly but not exclusively beginners and youngsters, love a neon substrate with fluorescent plantings and burping treasure chests.

The snobbery is unwarranted, and even a bit hypocritical. How so? Well, often the aquarist decrying fake plants uses lengths of PVC pipe as refuges in breeding tanks. Or, the disparager of colored gravel relies on bare-bottom tanks for raising fry. Obviously, plastic pipe and glass substrate do not occur in any natural fish habitat any more than purple gravel and silver Amazon swordplants.

So, what’s the explanation?

Some hobbyists entertain that there are two types of tanks: display and utility. Utility setups use only the bare essentials and are not intended to be decorative. Display tanks are ornamental, and they try to replicate a natural fish habitat. This black and white distinction does not hold up, however, and I have seen both lushly planted breeding tanks and bare bottom display tanks. I’ve even seen an entire fish house of a very serious breeder that has at least one ceramic castle in every single aquarium. There are no hard and fast rules. In addition, “natural” setups are mostly anything but.

Plastic plants and driftwood decorate this goldfish setup. Photograph by Jeremy Demas.

Usually display tanks are not really representative of any natural habitat. Most hobbyists only want a pretty aquascape and do not try to create an actual representation, and even many of the biotope systems expressly intended to be accurate replications of a specific habitat fail to really make the mark. There is nothing at all wrong with any aquarium decor that is safe for the fish, whether it pretends to be natural or not, whether it is collected in the wild or created in a factory. Unwarranted snobbery aside, however, there is a basis for the observable fact that the majority of seasoned aquarists prefer gravel that is not dyed over its garish counterpart, live plants over plastic or silk ones, and rocks and driftwood over divers, skulls, and toxic waste barrels.

Most often—but certainly not always—the deeper one gets into fishkeeping, the more one’s primary appreciation is of fish and their natural ecology. We look at our fish as marvels of nature, and we want our aquaria to display them that way. Yes, I am among those who prefer a more natural decor, but I also have bare bottom tanks with PVC tubes. I also use plastic plants as fry refuges in breeding tanks and have no aversion to ceramic or resin decorations if they serve some purpose in one of my setups and I have them on hand.

So, what’s wrong with colored gravel, plastic plants, and bubbling divers? Nothing! Go with whatever floats your sunken, bubbling boat.

Posted May 8th, 2015.

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The Driftwood

By David E. Boruchowitz

David’s 450-gallon tank.

When I give presentations at clubs or conventions, my favorite part is always the question-and-answer segment. I really enjoy touching base with hobbyists, hearing their concerns and bouncing ideas back and forth. Since I mentioned my 450-gallon setup in my May 2010 editorial, many people have asked me about it, so I thought I’d start off the blog with a report about this tank and the story of The Driftwood.

At the American Cichlid Association Convention last year in Milwaukee I wanted a gigantic piece of driftwood that was for sale for the tank. Since the herbivorous fish precluded any plants, I needed an impressive centerpiece, and this wood was perfect! At more than 5 feet long, it was hardly going to fit in my carry on, so I gave up. However, the astute saleswoman went and asked Ray “Kingfish” Lucas if he would truck it back to New York State for me. Kingfish quickly agreed, I bought it, and we loaded it into the back of his truck. He lives only a couple hours from me, so we agreed we’d find a mutually available time for me to drive up and get it.

Well, we started playing date tag—his proposed date was no good for me, my proposed date was no good for him, and so on. Finally he said he’d take it with him on a trip to a show in New Jersey, and I could pick it up along the way. Well, that didn’t work, either, so he wound up hauling it back home. This went on for months.

Finally, in October we both went to the Potomac Valley Aquarium Society Catfish Convention in Virginia, and at long last I got my driftwood, which had traveled from Milwaukee to Buffalo, then to New Jersey, then back to Buffalo, then to Virginia, and only then finally back to my place.

Much thanks to Ray for his generosity and patience!

I love the wood, and so do the fish. My large Burmese cat Mystus leucophasis lives in one furrow in the wood, and various other fishes make their homes in or under it. The Ancistrus sp.  (bristlenose pleco) graze it, and two catfish schools, one of Pimelodus pictus and one of Horabagrus brachysoma (sun cats)share the cavern made by a large concavity on the right end.

The other inhabitants include two arowanas Osteoglossum bicirrhosum, a large school of tinfoil barbs Barbonymus altus, a smaller school of one of the silver dollar species, and several species of Central and South American cichlids.

Posted August 16th, 2011.

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