Zone

Use these tips to negotiate the speed bumps on your way from a 20-gaflor setup to one more than doubte the size«

By Jeff Rubin. Ph.D.

I must have seen a moray eel in the public aquaria I frequented as a kid whenever I had the opportunity, but the two times that stand out most in my memory are the two times I went scuba diving. I have later been given to believe that it is rather a party trick of scuba diving guides to take their neophyte undersea tourists to visit local morays, drawing them out of their hobbit hole with a meaty fish snack. And what I suppose fascinated me the most was the relationship between the eel and the diver.

With a snap of those great jaws, the guide would be less his fake Rolex. However, on my first experience, the eel smart enough not to bite the hand that fed it. As party tricks go, it is a rather good one. What never occurred to me, before seeing one for sale, was that you could keep one at home.

It was also the perfect justification for getting a bigger tank!

son's impatience got the better of me. All of 5 years old, he was very excited about having an eel and did not understand why we could not go out and get one that very afternoon.

On reflection, that did not seem the wisest plan in the world, but I was still tempted. I knew, though, with a bigger tank and a famously messy eater, we would need much, much more filtration. But, the major question remained; what kind?

Going Big

As readers may remember, in the October 2006 issue of FAMA, I wroi an article called "Saltwater on the Cheap" about taking a spare 20-gallon tank (now at my kid's school) and making a saltwater tank of it without ^Jfcnding a lot of money. The project was worthwhile — I learned a lot — but as is the case for every keeper of fish (save for those bonsai-loving pico-reef crazies), my thoughts soon turned to a larger tank. Now a 55-gallon is not exactly pushing out the boat, but I hoped it would be easier to maintain (which it certainly proved to be) and we could have an eel of our own.

In my mind's eye, my plan was to run the two tanks in parallel and gradually, very gradually, transfer the contents of the former to the latter, until the new arrival was fully cycled and the former was depopulated, but my

There's no getting around it; we open up all kinds of new opportunities when we accelerate our fishkeeping with a larger setup.

Filtration Upgrade

On the 20-gallon tank, options were limited both by the tank's size, my inherent cheapness and the desire to recycle as much spare gear as possible. Filtration was therefore a combination of live and soon-to-be live rock, a small hang-on-the-back filter and a pair of powerheads. The experiment was more or less successful. My dwarf lion seemed happy enough with its friend, the misnamed damsel, a clutch of crustaceans and a brittle star. Algae was always a problem, and the aquarium demanded quite a lot of attention in order to have it looking its best. Furthermore, there was the issue of that colored play sand that, at $3 a bag, was neither expensive nor beautiful.

On the 55-gallon tank, I thought I would try everything: a small canister filter that I had added to the 20 as a backup, a recycled Marineland Penguin Bio-Wheel 350, a Marineland HOT Magnum bought at a close-out sale and the most expensive piece of aquarium equipment I have ever owned, a medium-sized Coral Life Super Skimmer (worth every penny).

Planning for Our Pets

In addition, I prepared a deep sandbedless plenum (sorry Bob), added a bunch more base rock and planned to add more live rock if I could ever find any up here in Toronto worthy of its name. Understocking (aside from the soon-to-grow moray) and overfiltration was to be this aquarium's mantra.

Polario

- Singlo of dual outputs

- Entity Efficient, high Flow inw voltage wilier pump

- Bi-directional outputs to simulate natural wave and current actions of lite ocean

■ Pre-programmed in alt settings to gradually Increase flaw

- Variable time and output settings

- Magnet Mount*1' included

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Once bitten, twice shy. I did not go with the playground sand of the last tank, but a couple of big bags of fine, white aragonite along with a smaller bag of coarse, crushed coral, a few of the more interesting pieces of live rock from the old tank and, a few days after that, our old friend, Domino the damsel.

Actually, ours wasn't a domino damsel — he's a white tail — but the name stuck. I had no ethical qualms about throwing our friend, Domino, into the new tank because I had seeded it with some sand, rock and filtration from the old tank. I fully intended to keep Domino and, from experience, knew our Domino to be nearly immortal. He was the first saltwater fish we ever bought.

Putting Domino in such large surroundings may, however, have been a mistake. Within a few minutes I could almost here him scream "Mine!" He investigated all the nooks and crannies of his new, much larger home. Happier than a pig w^^ck, he proceeded to lay claim to each and every pebble of his new home and even, I believe, played an active role in the demise of our prized dwarf lion.

Shifting the Contents

After the dust had settled, and a week or so had gone by, I began transferring in earnest thscontents ^f the old 20 to the new 55. Here is where I Hhink I made a rather gross error. What I should have done wS put about 35 gallons of saltwater in the new tank and fill the balance with the remains of the old tank. But, I didn't do this, and it was already too late. Truth be told, the idea had not even occurred to me.

Domino was not exactly thrilled by the arrival of his new-^>ld tankmates.The crustaceans got along just fine, but we lost our beloved dwarf lionfish and bullying, I believe, may have np small part. Our lion, once in his new, much larger . luxurious surroundings, went off his food and j^^t withered away. Ammonia levels tested just fine, as did the other basic readings, but he did not. We were very sad ¡B^ose him. I suspect the problem may have had to do wifflThe chemistry in the old tank to which he had become accustomed.

Did I take readings from the last tgnk? Shoulda, woul-da, coulda, but I didn't. That was stupid of me.

Once the 55 was ticking over and the 20 was turned over to the local public school, I embarked on a bit of research before acquiring our little eely friend. Going by the Latin Echidna nebulosa, we learned that snowflake eels can be found in the wild from Hawaii, southward to Australia. They are relatively easy to keep if you take into account their messy eating habits and their penchant for gobbling crustaceans. We also learned that they were hardly an endangered species and, if properly fed, are very much reclusive. They'll do anything for a quiet life.

"You don't bother me, I won't bother you" is their atti

The snowflake eel is known to be hardy, and considering the appeal such creatures are bound to have with young children, consider one when you decide to upgrade your marine setup.

tude. "I'll just live in my hole and pop my head out now and again." Aside from the size of our tank, which is really the bare minimum, I thought I had acquired the acumen to safely get a snowflake.

Trying to Get Our Snowflake

Anyway, once it was time to get our friend, I found that a store I knew and liked, and even had a loyalty card to, had a couple of snowflakes. We were off. Forty five minutes later, wouldn't you know it, both snowflakes were gone, but they had these lovely ribbon eels for between three and 10 times the price. Also, though I didn't know it at the time, they are also much harder to keep.

I would like to blame my son, but we were both very eager to take an eel home with us and after having gone to such lengths to create a nice home for an eel, I bought a white ribbon eel. They wanted $200 for this eel!

Here, I'd like to say a few kind words about my friends at the big-box pet store here in midtown Toronto. Although they don't carry saltwater fish (they do sell some saltwater equipment, though) I have received consistently good advice from them, much better in fact than the much fancier fish stores that we are supposed to frequent. That my friends have a sort of lack of arrogance, a real interest in pets combined with their work at a big-box animal store as a career gap to going on to studying animal husbandry or semiotics, makes their store my first destination.

Indeed, I would have saved myself a lot of hassle and frustration if I had just taken the advice of the salesman not to buy the skimmer they were selling. It was from a reputable brand so I bought it anyway. When I went to return it, no questions were asked, and I didn't even have to suffer the slings and arrows of an "I told you so." Perhaps I have just been lucky, but it's always my first stop. Moral of the story: go to where you feel most comfortable. Now if they just sold premixed RO water.

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