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NEW - Mentor Needed

929 Views 17 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  SenorStrum
Hello all,

We are making the move from a reef aquarium to something different, having kept successful reefs for more that 15 years this is a whole new adventure and whilst we have a good foundation knowledge to base our Cichlid system, feels like we're back at the beginning again.

The current marine system is being sold off, will be left with, tank, sump, return pumps, heaters. Everything else will require consideration and planning.

About the system:

Display is 8ft x 2.5ft x 2.5ft
Sump is 7ft x 2ft x 1.5ft

Return pumps are 2 x Ecotech Vectra L1's
Display circulation TBC

2 x 500W Titanium heaters
Temp controller: TBC

Mechanical filtration: TBC
Biological filtration: TBC

Lighting: TBC

Stocking: TBC

Substrate: TBC

Will update this post as things progress.
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Here is my list of questions to kick things off:

Setting up the system:

1) Substrate, - what to go for? We want a very dark/black substrate.
- does it require cleaning/vacuuming? If so how often?

2) Circulation, will we require additional circulation in the display tank? Return pumps are pretty powerful but concerned about dead spots and detritus collecting

3) Decoration, will post some pictures in next post of what we are looking for, but likely a combination of rock/slate and bog wood. Any potential issues here?

4) The sump, how would you set this up for maximum benefit?
- What mechanical filtration?
- What biological filtration media?
- Are sponges required?

5) First fill and cycling?
- Getting the water parameters correct for first fill and water changes, do you pre prepare/mix?
- Best way to prep and mature filter system?

6) Water testing, conditioning
- What do you test and how often?
- What test methods/kits do you use?
- What products do you use to condition water parameters?

7) Lighting, what do you recommend for an 8ft x 2.5ft? (Low/Med budget)

8) We want to maintain an algae free clean look, do you recommend UV and/or some sort of phosphate remover?
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Stocking the system:

Here is where the fun begins, starting to see that much like marines this is a minefield of choices/rules/decisions.

On the basis our knowledge of Cichlids is pretty low at this stage, perhaps if we start with a very basic requirements list, you guys might be able to narrow down our direction.

1) More smaller fish is better than less larger ones
2) We like the high stocking level look, I.e a busy tank
3) Colours are key, we want as much colour diversity as possible

Stocking Process....

1) What order to introduce? Over what timescales?
2) Is quarantine a requirement?
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Oh my.... :eek:
It's very interesting that there seems to be some recent movement from saltwater-themed aquariums, over to freshwater.
I like that. :)
But, your freshwater possibilities with this tank are pretty big. So, first things first? By that, I can see an easy way out in recommendations to you for this aquarium.
- African Rift Lake: Mbuna. Yes, that would give you a ton of hurly-burly fish action. A LOT of different cichlids. Plenty of different colors! And, as a freshwater reef type eco-system.. it will ultimately, visually present as somewhat similar to your previous saltwater endeavor. Yes, there is a reason so many in the freshwater hobby have chosen the Mbuna of Lake Malawi to base their aquariums on.
And, well, there is nothing wrong with that!
I sense you may - possibly - have something else in mind? A couple things inform this, and has interested me in your project. Your member title 'ReefToRiver' is one. Another is that you casually dropped a reference to 'Bog Wood' in building structure for this tank. So, that brings us up to another bio-tope possibliity.
- Central American: Riverine. Oh my goodness! Instead of a gnarly rock pile and Aufwachs grazing cichlids? Now we're potentially looking at coarse sand, rocks, wood and... live plants! Your number of fish will ultimately come NOT from the cichlids themselves in a riverine-based aquarium. Oh no... those come from the so-called 'supporting cast', consisting of shoals of tetras. The cichlids stocked in a riverine-based tank will never have the pure numbers of the African Rift Lake biotope system, but are always indeed the center-piece, 'show fish' of the system.

And of course, there are endless variations on the New World, or African Rift lake based systems...including, South American Black Water, Central American Lake eco-systems or the definitely more challenging, African Riverine model.....
So, choices hmmmmm? With an 8 foot long tank, whatever you decide to go with is definitely gonna come out pretty impressive. You may want to do a little research and see what type of freshwater aquarium gets you motivated best. These decisions are important, as there are indeed substantial differences between all of these various types of freshwater aquarium biotopes. Selecting one will have some interesting cause & effect consequences later on, in the build cycle of your tank.
I'm looking forward to your response. 8)
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Agree, before you decide on water chemistry you need to decide what continent, whether you will do mixed gender and what body of water.

With the wood requirement you may want new world. A lot of them are big so don't meet the small/many requirement, but others will chime in for small/many species from CA and SA.

A good test kit is API Master Freshwater, and you will want to get the KH and GH tests as they come separately. Also phosphate if you suspect a problem in your tap water. Test your tap water and see where you are starting. May may not need to mix at all. ADVANTAGE of freshwater!!! Once you get everything stable you only test when there is a problem. Start-up you might test daily.

I like to stock all fish at once, and if you do no quarantine is required.

Algae free is a challenge. If plants will grow, algae will grow. Do you have phosphate in your tap water? UV does not help with this and I have never understood the benefit of UV, I do not use it. A heavily planted tank with fast growing plants can be algae free but getting the balance of fertilizer to keep the plants growing is tricky. A tank with CO2 may be algae free but it is expensive. You may also want to choose cichlid species that work well with algae eaters like otos and/or siamese algae eaters Crossocheilus oblongus, Do NOT get chinese algae eaters.

Most of us work with a natural tank that has algae, but algae that is under control. It never covers the decor 100% but weekly glass scraping is necessary for pristine glass.
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Thank you to both of you for your comprehensive replies, very much appreciated.

Spent some time having a look at the various options, I think we have landed with the Mbuna of Lake Malawi model, it fits the original image we had in our minds, it also fits the "Keep it Simple" requirement too.

You sold it to us here: "a ton of hurly-burly fish action. A LOT of different cichlids. Plenty of different colors!"

Display design wise we would like to achieve the following...

Something dark, sand or gravel?
Rocks, something like slate rock, sound ok?
Bog wood, is this ok even if were not going planted?

Now we have a clear direction, does that help with the approach/methods/setup etc?

Interesting you mention adding all the fish at once, guess that is to manage fighting/territory issues. How to you manage that in terms of building up an effective bio filter to cope?

Given my choice of direction, I would be really interested to hear your views on stocking, to maximise the variety. How many in my size system are we talking?
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Since a cichlid tank requires regular water changes, you might consider which species may do best with your natural water source. On the hard side, slightly alkaline and your Mbuna plan is good. Softer, more acidic may make a South American tank easier to maintain. Not sure I would want to buffer a tank that size. I'm a new world cichlid fan, and that tank just screams single male Dovii, or SA Umbee. Just sayin,lol.
With Malawi you want sand as they like to dig and spit it. Dark sand is expensive and tends to be fine IME. I tried it and removed it...threw it away. Pool filter sand is ideal.

Slate tends to be flat and you want large 3D rocks (fist to head sized) to form crevices in between for the fish to squeeze into. With mbuna you want to fill the bottom forming patches on the substrate to define territories and stack it as high as possible, at least 1/2 the height of the tank.

Regardless of the species we would recommending cycling with ammonia (see the article in the Cichlid-forum Library) and allow six weeks. This is how you support the entire bioload at once.

Think in terms of 8 species with 1m:4f of each after removing extra males. It might be hard to find 8 species that look nothing alike so an alternative would be have a smaller number of species in larger groups. Since color is #1 for you, choose species with colorful females. Example:

Labidochromis caeruleus Nkhata 1m:7f
Chindongo saulosi 3m:12f
Metriaclima callainos 1m:7f
Pseudotropheus cyaneorhabdos Maingano 1m:9f
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Ahhh yes..... 'Oscar6' is indeed a well-versed spokesperson for those New World aspects of the aquarium hobby! 8)
So well, though I'd absolutely love to help you set up some thing more quiet, green and actually kind of peaceful.... I'll give you some freshwater basics you can consider and possibly use.
To begin, one of the biggest advantages and draws of the freshwater aquarium is - freshwater! The simplicity of maintaining fresh water chemistry is hugely compelling. So, with that in mind as a so-called 'core principal' you will need to see just what sort of tap water you have. I suspect you have a city/municipal source - but sometimes well water comes up as a pleasant surprise.
- WATER: Think of this as a relationship. So, you will probably have the best long-term relationship with your source of freshwater, if you like what it is naturally and are able to use it 'as is'. Fighting that water to constantly modify it to fit your own needs, kind of kills the buzz I guess. So, test your tap water and see what's going on with it. If you have been provided with a relatively hard/alkaline source of tap water? You may not have to do ANYTHING with it when adding it to your tank, beyond adjusting the temperature a bit and adding dechloramine treatment to make it safe for your fish (Mbuna).
- BOG WOOD: In the relatively small confines of the African Rift Lake aquarium (even one as big as yours), the natural properties of the bog wood will affect the water chemistry of the aquarium. When submerged in your aquarium, natural bog wood will slowly leach acidic tannins into the water - counteracting the higher PH you need for the African Rift Lake eco-system. But, if the look and natural feel of bog wood will be important for this aquarium because of aesthetic reasons? You may be able to find artificial pieces that will have the look and feel of the real thing. Modern, resin cast pieces can look very authentic, and will be totally, chemically inert when placed in the water of your aquarium.
- PLANTS: The hard water and higher PH conditions of the African Rift lake are actually not much a problem for a great many aquatic plants. When introduced to that water, a lot of plants may sulk a bit initially, and some might even die. But by and large most will ultimately adapt to the hard water/high PH conditions and grow strongly in the aquarium when light and proper sources of nutrition are provided for their needs. So, if its not the water....? The problem with keeping ANY live plants in an Mbuna based aquarium is gonna be those cichlids. In Lake Malawi, Mbuna cichlids spend their lives grazing on thick sheets of algae growing on these massive, submerged rocks. Oh yes, and with long intestinal tracts adapted to eat that algae - they do love their veggies - and will just absolutely DESTROY just about any live plants placed in the tank with them. :oops:
- SAND SUBSTRATE: 'DJRansome' nailed that one. And yes, I know just how tempting it seems to provide a black sand bottom for an aquarium. Beyond the difficulty of sourcing that type of sand and much higher expense - it inevitably comes out over time looking washed and and kind of dusky in appearance. It's just going to happen as bio-slime, diatoms and other things will work their way into and coat the sand. This is actually a good thing - but will inevitably, visibly detract from the deep black appearance desired of a dark, bottom substrate. My recommendation? Go with coarse particle sized, pool filtration sand. Your cichilds will love sifting and digging through it, and It looks very natural. And when mixed with natural colored, small diameter gravel, will look almost identical in appearance to the sand bottom substrate of the rivers, lakes and other areas that the fish were initially sourced from.
Good luck with it. And, it looks like this one is gonna be a real beauty when set up and running. Send pics! :thumb:
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Fill it full of Topheus "Ikola", Petrochromis "Bulu point", Simochromis diagrama "Isanga" and a pair of gobies. :D
Hi All,

Thank you for the great support and replies.

Can you tell me if this rock is suitable, it is described as rustic slate.

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As far as being fish friendly, sure, slate is fine. In your case, big tank, big population of fish, a consideration is gathering of waste and detritus under it. Piled as in the picture would make for a real task to clean substrate under it.
Oscar6 said:
As far as being fish friendly, sure, slate is fine. In your case, big tank, big population of fish, a consideration is gathering of waste and detritus under it. Piled as in the picture would make for a real task to clean substrate under it.
Ah ha, brilliant thank you, I just used a stock image to show the type of rock, the plan is to have a much more open (minimalist) type scape.
Hey ReeftoRiver - I'll leave the stocking discussions to the folks who have experience in that area, and comment generally. I came back to aquariums after a ten year break and spent the quarantine researching what would be the "proper" way to set up a gigantic aquarium. Project is to set up a 10 foot long, 410 gallon Mbuna tank - it is on the truck and on the way here now. If it arrives undamaged, I intend to have it set up and fully stocked within two weeks.

Biggest difference between fresh water and salt is how you deal with nutrients and in particular nitrogen. In a reef, you can use natural processes to keep nitrates low like protein skimmers and live rock. Skimmer removes DOCs before they break down and then live rock eats/converts nitrates back to nitrogen gas. Low fish stocking is the result. In freshwater, you'll want to set your filters up with exactly the opposite in mind. You want so much biological filtration that a single pass through your filter will completely convert any ammonia to nitrate as well as a healthy colony of heterotrophic bacteria that will consume all other nutrients in the water also in a single pass. Then you simply perform lots of water changes to get rid of nitrates. I read through aquariumscience dot org (IDK if I would get in trouble for links). It was absolutely the single best science-based resource on freshwater fishkeeping I've ever seen. I read through the whole site twice and changed everything over to cannister filters with UV sterilizers and nothing but sponge for media. The results have been fantastic.

For substrate, look into black diamond blasting media. It will likely be right up your alley.

For rocks, I have lava rocks I collected in Oregon. Lots of them, piled high for Mbuna. If you're looking to go more sparse on the decorations, you might think of peacocks or haps?
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Minimal rocks will not be ideal for mbuna, so maybe you want to consider haps and peacocks instead? They like more swimming room.

The mantra for mbuna is completely fill the tank to the waterline with rocks.
SenorStrum said:
... read through aquariumscience dot org (IDK if I would get in trouble for links). It was absolutely the single best science-based resource on freshwater fishkeeping I've ever seen. I read through the whole site twice and changed everything over to cannister filters with UV sterilizers and nothing but sponge for media. The results have been fantastic. ...
Thank you SenorStrum for sharing this information! The site contains a wealth of information. I've been considering building a fluidized bed sump and the information provided on that topic alone was well worth the read.

I couldn't agree more. I have a cubic foot of K1 cycling now. People say it takes a long time to cycle, so I put it in a Rubbermaid container and have it fluidized with circulation pumps. The nature of this was an experiment to see if I'd be able to deal with the noise of a fluidized sump. Fair warning, I don't think that I will. Even though I'm using no air to fluidize the MBBR which will go in my sump later, the nature of the media banging into each other and the sides of the container is still noisy for me. Granted, it will be in my sump under the cabinet, but I'm not hopeful. I anticipate I'll run it all static. This will give me a mix of bio media in my sump - 1. Grey matala mats to separate flow. I will not be gluing any baffles in. 2. Static K1 for the main bioligical. 3. 30 PPI foam - the purpose of the foam is simply to mechanically filter out any bioflocs that might come off the K1 if it gets disturbed to keep it out of the display tank. This is going to be about 37 gallons of media. About1 gallon of media per 11 gallons of display. I will have roughly 1,000 sq. ft. of surface area.

However, biologically, it's amazing. I feed both ammonium chloride to grow autotrophic oxidizing bacteria as well as fish food for heterotrophic bacteria. At this point, this box ate 1/8 tsp. of dry ammonium chloride in about 24 hours, so I dosed again today with a full quarter teaspoon. I anticipate it will be gone tomorrow.
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