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November '04

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November '04 - Travis Simonson's 470 L Planted Mbuna Aquarium. (USA)

Now here's a setup you won't see very often! Ever since I featured George Reclos's Planted Mbuna Tank way back in August'99 I get a fair share of planted cichlid tanks as submissions for Tank of the Month, but this one here goes way beyond the "let-me-see-which-hardy-plants-I-can-keep-alive-in-my-cichlid-tank" style. Travis's setup is a fully aquascaped, competition-level planted tank, including delicate species such as Didiplis diandra and Ludwigia glandulosa, pearling Riccia...the works. The tank is 5 months old right now and seems to be maturing very well, so I think the mid-term viability is well established. But before you even think about engaging in something like it, I strongly advise you to take a good look at the tank stats below, with special attention to the high-tech equipment used, the detailed water control, and Travis's maintenance schedule, not to mention the obvious research that was done way before the project even started. Definitely not for everyone...but if you're up to it, best of luck! :-)

Owner:Travis Simonson, 35, from Colorado (USA), 1.5 years of keeping African Cichlids, 5 months of keeping plants
Setup:July 2004
Dimensions:183x46x56 cm
Volume: 470 L (nominal), 415 L (effective)
Filtration:2 Rena Filstar XP3 Canisters Using Cell-Pore Bio Media and 50 Micron Pads
Heating:2 Hydor 300 W In-line Heaters (one on each canister outflow)
Lighting:444 Watts Total - 2x96 W 10000 K, 2x96 W 6700 K, 2x30 W 6500 K. Photoperiod 12 Hours/Day with Dawn-Day-Dusk-Night Cycle with Moonlights
Substrate:1.3 cm Styrofoam Support Base, 2.5 cm Caribsea Cichlid Sand covered with 5 cm Caribsea Eco-Complete Plant Substrate (used to create hills and terraces)
Decoration:70 kg of Lace Rock, 2 pieces of Driftwood (unknown origin), numerous Riccia rocks
Others:JBJ Pressurized CO2 Regulator and Bubble Counter with Milwaukee SMS122 pH Controller and AB AquaMedic Reactor 1000 (on one filter outflow); Aqua 25 W UV Sterilizer (on the other filter outflow, timed to run only during lights-out to reduce possible oxidation of trace elements); Eheim Auto-Feeder.
Water:Temp 25-27C (lighting brings it up during the day), pH 7.2, KH 14-15, GH 15-17, NO3 6-8 ppm, PO4 1.0 ppm, CO2 25-30 ppm
Fauna:Labidochromis caeruleus 'Lion's Cove', Pseudotropheus acei 'Luwala Reef', Pseudotropheus demasoni 'Pombo Rocks', Pseudotropheus sp. elongatus 'Usisya' (wild-caught F0), Jordanella floridae (Florida Flag Fish), Crossocheilus siamensis (Siamese Algae Eaters)
Flora: Ammannia sp. 'Bonsai', Anubias barteri v barteri, Anubias barteri v nana, Cabomba furcata, Ceratopteris siliquosa, Ceratopteris thalictroides, Cryptocoryne affinis, Crypt. blassii, Crypt. crispatula v balanciaga, Crypt. longicauda, Crypt. nurii, Crypt. wendtii 'Green Gecko', Crypt wendtii 'Red', Crypt. wendtii 'Tropica', Cyperus helferi, Didiplis diandra, Echinodorus 'Red Flame', Echinodorus tenellus, Glossostigma elatinoides, Heteranthera zosterifolia, Hygrophila difformis, Hygrophila polysperma 'Rosanervig', Lilaeopsis brasiliensis, Ludwigia glandulosa 'Peruensis', Marsilea quadrifolia, Nuphar japonicum v formosa, Ranalisma humile, Riccia fluitans
Maintenance:Fish are fed once daily in the morning. Water is changed 50-70% weekly on Saturday as per Tom Barr's Estimative Index recommendations to reset nutrient levels. Nitrates rarely need supplementation due to extremely adequate levels of fish waste. Phosphate is supplemented in the morning on Saturday, Monday, and Wednesday to maintain 1.0 ppm levels using KH2PO4. Traces are supplemented in the morning on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday using a custom mix of CSM+B, MgSO4, and K2SO4. Sodium bicarbonate is used to buffer water to 14 dKH after water changes.
Comments:

I've been constantly told that most plants cannot be kept with African cichlids, but have had very good luck in my tank. I find that, as long as I give them some open gravel to dig in, the mbuna will dig there and not uproot the plants. The only plants I have tried that haven't worked so far have been Vals and Java Moss. They love to eat the Vals and shred the Java Moss. Ground cover has been a little hard to get established too, with mbuna's tendencies to uproot things, but once it is, it grows in well. I've got both Glosso and Riccia growing with no problems now.

The African cichlids have been acclimated to pH 7.2, showing great coloration, appetite, behavior, and breeding like rabbits. My fish seem to love the plant cover, even though it is not normally found in their biotope. It provides excellent hiding spots for the numerous holding females and fry that I've got. At any given time I usually have two to three females carrying eggs or fry. The survival rate of fry in this community environment has gone up considerably with the plant cover. And the plants seem to do quite well in the hard water conditions. It has been a fascinating experience creating this aquascape.

If you'd like to submit an aquarium for Tank of the Month, just contact me.

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Photos taken by Travis Simonson and displayed here with his permission.




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