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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi. I inherited a 408 litre/108 US Gallon rectangular fish tank from my son approximately two years ago when he sold his fancy goldfish and went travelling the world. The tank measures 67 inches wide by 2ft (top to bottom) by 1.5ft (front to back).

For the last two years the tank has been run fishless, that is to say, the water has continued to run through the filters, without any lights or without any cleaning. I decided in the run up to Christmas that I was going to set up a cichlid tank for myself in the New Year.

Last week I finally got around to starting the process. I cleaned the algae from the front, back and sides of the tank. I turned the filters off and disconnected them from the tank. I threw away the sponges inside the filters and bought new ones. I removed the gravel substrate and drained the water from the tank. I have purchased a black sand substrate.

I am now ready to start the process of setting up my new aquarium. I intend to keep Mbuna and subject to being able to source them have decided to kick off with 1m:7f Maingano, 1m:4f Acei, 1m:4f Yellow Labs and 1m:4f Albino Socolofi plus a pair of Synodontis njassae.

I am hoping that you guys will help to guide me through the process and help me to avoid any major mistakes along the way.

I have made a very quick shopping list. Is there anything I have not included that I will need to purchase to get me to the point where I can put the first drops of ammonia into the water in the aquarium?
  • egg crate
  • heater
  • wave maker
  • tap water dechlorinater
  • nitrifying bacteria supplement
  • liquid ammonia
  • test kits

The first decision that I need help with is whether or not to use egg crate in the tank. I'm thinking yes. Anybody disagree?

Secondly, I have rocks that my son had in the goldfish tank. These have been kept outside for the last two years. I'm not sure if these can be reused. Do I need to follow a particular cleaning process to eliminate any parasites picked up from being left outside?

Kind regards,
Patrick.
 

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Skip the egg crate and bacteria supplement.

I just scrub rocks with hot water and a wire brush.

I would stock Synodontis lucipinnis (often sold as Petricola) or multipunctatus group of 5 instead of the njassae. I don't see them for sale much if ever in any case.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Just curious, what was the point of the egg crate?
Is it to be put under rocks?
Yes. The main advantage appears to be because it relieves pressure points by evenly distributing the weight of the rocks across the whole of the glass bottom of the tank. I'm not sure what the disadvantages are. Are Mbuna likely to knock over rocks as a result of burrowing?
 

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There was a school of thought a number of years ago that using lighting grid (egg crate) drop ceiling panel would help to spread out the weight of rocks and avoid pressure points on glass tank bottoms as @ballpiefun said above. I used it just under the rocks in my 220G tank, unfortunately the cichlids uncovered most of it during their excavating endeavors and sometimes the small pockets accumulated dirt, food and feces.

The current recommendation is to place the rocks directly on the bottom of the tank and then add substrate so this reduces or eliminates the ability of the cichlids to undermine the rock piles. Just make sure you take care not to drop rocks in the tank when placing them or creating piles. A few well placed thick towels on the glass bottom where the rocks won't be can be helpful if a rock falls as long as there is no water in the tank.
 

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I have also found (beyond the digging cichlids uncovering egg crate in an unsightly manner) that the interstitial spaces in the egg crate tends to trap more detritus, leading to more hydrogen sulfide pockets than normally form under rock work.
So after trying egg crate a while, I took it out because I saw no real advantage.
I have been keeping cichlids over 60 years (many large, and more earth moving types than your average Malawian, and have never had them topple, well situated rock piles.
If I did have a precarious pile, my tendency would be to use aquarium safe epoxy to help stabilize it
 

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Yeah, I think we ALL got sold a 'bill of goods' with that egg crate - or the supposed vulnerability of the bottom glass to those rocks sited directly on it. I gave up on the egg crate after one tank, then 'improved' on the idea by siliconing a sheet of plexiglass down to the bottom as a sort of 'sacrificial layer' above the glass.
RIDICULOUS!!!
But, at least that method didn't trap waste products or anything down with the substrate. :rolleyes:
 
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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
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Morning. I have two external cannister filters servicing the tank. They are both Aqua Manta EFX600. I think this brand is unique to the UK market. They have a stated flow rate of 2700 litres per hour. Each cannister has 4 trays. The bottom tray contained a black 35ppi sponge, a Phosphate Pad and a Wool Pad. The next tray up contained what looks like little pieces of calcium rock which they describe as Advanced Biological Media. In the tray above that sits a bag of Carbon on top of a blue 15ppi sponge. The top tray is filled with black Plastic Bio balls.

If you were following my newbie post you will know that I foolishly discarded the foam sponges from these filters in favour of new ones. The replacement pack contains a new bag of Carbon, 2 Fine Wool Filter Pads and a Phosphate Pad but not replacements for the black and blue sponges nor for the ceramics or the bio balls. I did not throw away the bio balls or the ceramics when I cleaned the cannisters.

My questions are.
  • Do I just wash the ceramics and bio balls in water before putting them back in the cannister trays?
  • Is it correct to replace the blue and black sponges or is there something different I should be using as media for the filters?
  • Same question in relation to the fine wool and phosphate pads and the carbon?
  • The instructions state that the bag of Carbon needs to be thoroughly rinsed and soaked in RO water for 24 hours.
  • Is bottled drinking water from a supermarket deemed to be RO water?

I have (hopefully) attached some photos of the filters and the media to help you to be able to answer my questions.

Kind regards and thanks in advance for your time and knowledge.
Patrick.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Here is a photo of the substrate I have purchased. It is a black sand. The grains are bigger than normal sand so I am hoping they will not float around too much. I haven't opened the bag so it's not too late to change these if you think this product is unsuitable. Each bag weighs 20kg (44lbs). Is that enough substrate for my tank size? Kind regards, Patrick.
Leaf Fish Terrestrial plant Event Plant
 

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My goodness, it's like Christmas! :)
So...
  • Rinse out the Matrix Rock first. It can get kind of dusty, so it's definitely best to clean that up a bit before risking a pump impellor or something with a bit of grit. The bio-balls could go with a light rinse I suppose, but don't expect much beyond maybe a bit of dust or something on them...
  • Go ahead and use the blue and black sponges. That's probably mechanical type filtration, but sponge filtration can build up a lot of beneficial bacteria as well.
  • I would save the Phosphate and Carbon pads for later, when you may actually need them. The fine wool might be a poor choice, as the poly-fil stuff that is sometimes used in filtration has a tendency to clog up really fast.
  • Don't use the carbon. Long-term use of that stuff has been linked as a known causal agent for HITH/HLLE in Cichlids. Save the carbon for medication removal, or to remove an annoying tint or something from the water. Carbon stays in for no longer than 30 days, then is discarded.
  • Bottled drinking water can be Reverse Osmosis filtered water. But not always. Best to check with the written info on the bottle or get info from the provider on how they prepare that water for sale.
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And then there is that Black Sand substrate. And yes, when new - it is quite lovely looking stuff. But before committing to it, I strongly recommend you get a look at an older aquarium that has been using a black sand substrate for at least a year or two. Compare that dusty, washed out brown looking stuff to the crisp, black promise offered in those new bags, then decide whether or not to keep it. Plus, some of us have experienced drab-looking, dark pigmented and almost colorless Cichlids kept over Black Sand. The effect on Cichlid coloration when they are transferred over to a light colored substrate, can be startling and kind of amazing.
 
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Wholeheartedly agree with the filter advince above, and as you know, because you have discarded some old media (and any beneficial bacteria that remained), you will need to start your biological "cycle" (seeding) all over.
This normally takes 6 to 8 weeks, so there will be plenty of time for the tank (and its substrate) to settle in, before you add fish.
I rinse substrate, and new biomedia with tap water, especially for fish like Malawi cichlids, RO is a waste.
Malawi (and all rift lake cichlids) prefer high pH, mineral rich, hard water conditions, so buying RO to rinse, (which tends to remove mineralization) is not necessary.
If you were going to keep Amazonian soft water, low pH species, like some Apistogramma, wild angels, or Uaru fernandezyepezi, then using RO to help strip minerals from new substrate, would be a different scenario altogether.
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
And then there is that Black Sand substrate. And yes, when new - it is quite lovely looking stuff. But before committing to it, I strongly recommend you get a look at an older aquarium that has been using a black sand substrate for at least a year or two. Compare that dusty, washed out brown looking stuff to the crisp, black promise offered in those new bags, then decide whether or not to keep it. Plus, some of us have experienced drab-looking, dark pigmented and almost colorless Cichlids kept over Black Sand. The effect on Cichlid coloration, when transferred over to a light substrate can be startling and kind of amazing.
I have read a lot about fishkeepers using Pool Filter Sand as substrate. My local Aquarium store does not sell it. I have had a look online and there is a lot of variety. Is all PFS suitable for Mbuna? Is there any particular characteristics I should be looking out for or any trusted brand?
 

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It will all work. I recommend that you use the pool filtration sand sold specifically out of dedicated spa or pool supply stores, (should come in MUCH cheaper than the black sand you just purchased from the LFS). The higher-quality stuff is typically less dusty and easier to rinse out. Plus, has a more uniform (larger) grain size that your filtration will appreciate, as those larger/heavier grains of sand will tend to be much less 'floaty' and stay closer to the bottom if kicked or churned up by your Cichlids.
 
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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
  • I would save the Phosphate and Carbon pads for later, when you may actually need them. The fine wool might be a poor choice, as the poly-fil stuff that is sometimes used in filtration has a tendency to clog up really fast.
  • Don't use the carbon. Long-term use of that stuff has been linked as a known causal agent for HITH/HLLE in Cichlids. Save the carbon for medication removal, or to remove an annoying tint or something from the water. Carbon stays in for no longer than 30 days, then is discarded.
If I hold back the Fine Wool Pads, the Phosphate Pad and the Carbon Bag, should I double up on the blue and black sponges to fill the voids in the filter trays or is there something else I should be putting in there that is not included?
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Liquid Bottle Fluid Bottle cap Plastic bottle

The new sponges have now been loaded to the canisters. All of the inlet and outlet tubes have been cleaned. The rocks have been recovered from the garden and washed in boiling water. I returned the black sand to my local aquarium supplier and exchanged it for white coral sand. My online order just arrived a few moments ago. It contains heaters, a wave maker, test kits, ammonia, nitrifying bacteria, dechlorinator, pH up, lube and new clips for the inlet and outlet tubes. Anything else I need before I start the cycle?
 

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Oh wow....
Is somebody's birthday happening or something?!!
You might wanna look into getting another container of Fritz Aquatics 'Fishless Fuel' to sustain the fishless cycling process (can take longer and use more of that stuff than you'd think...).
Otherwise - looking good!
 
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