Monthly Archives: April 2011

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Hi, my name is Marcin…

I’ve been told to write a few words as an introduction post to blog so people know who I am. “Yeah, that’s a good idea” I replied. So here it is: Hello, my name is Marcin and I like keeping fish. 10 words, nicely done. Wait, you want to read more? Well OK then, just a friendly reminder- you may get bored if you go any further. I started keeping fish when I was 9 or 10 years old (it must have been somewhere around that time, I remember being bullied by 6th graders), it was when me and a couple of other kids figured out how to make and use a DIY hand net. First display tank was a rusted metal frame aquarium sitting on my balcony. I can’t say it was an extremely successful tank, but it caught my interest. After a couple of months I begged my mom to buy me a real aquarium and so she did, not knowing it would be a curse rather than blessing to her having a son spilling water everywhere. In the following years I’ve managed to keep several different fish alive-I even had some successes breeding South American cichlids. It was my “learning curve” that helped me get to the point where I am today. After graduating from high school I went to college but after two years of studying something I didn’t really enjoy, I needed to change something in my life. When the opportunity arose I packed my bags, tore down all my tanks and came here to the States. Yes, you see, English is my second language, that’s why you probably won’t find technical language and metaphors Shakespeare would be proud of in my blogs. I will be a headache to bloggers admins too, but there’s a good thing with all of that, but that’s later. My first years here were tough for me so I couldn’t have a tank at home, but I’ve been subscribing to almost all US aquarium hobby magazines (a dry hobbyist I would say). Finally our situation stabilized a little bit and my other half Kamila agreed to setup a 20g and then my current 75g planted tank. 

One tank is never enough, so I was thinking about a smaller setup, but when I calculated all the expenses and showed it to Kamila she said “Hey, as long as it costs so much to set up a planted tank, maybe you should think about the reef setup you always dreamed of?” We took our first real vacation in Florida Keys, I put on the snorkel mask, saw what’s underneath the surface of the ocean and made my decision-reef tank is an absolute must!… More:

Flash, or not to Flash?

 While it may sound like the perverted thoughts of a flasher, it really has to do with reefkeeping. The reefkeeping hobby often leads to new related hobbies. For some it’s diving, for me its photography. Photographing the reef creatures in the confines of a tank provides an excellent opportunity to photograph exotic specimens without having to leave the comforts of your own house. However, it comes with its own set of challenges. Shooting through aquarium glass and water adds an extra twist to photography. Even more challenging is the fact that the lighting is, more often than not, inadequate for photography. Using a flash can offset the lighting limitation, and works well in a lot of cases, especially when photographing fish. While there are certain “tips” that can be followed to prevent the flash from reflecting back into the pictures, I have encountered some issues especially when photographing fish with a lot of blue color. Using a flash tends to create an iridescent blue which to my eyes does not truly represent the color of the fish. While some may find it appealing, I do not like the rather unnatural appearance of the fish in the photographs. The 2 pictures below illustrate this effect. The pictures on the left are taken with a flash and the ones on the right without a flash. More:

Equipment from the Start

 I can unfortunately remember fish keeping from the early fifties.  The very early fifties and it was vastly different from today and almost a different hobby. Tanks were all made with slate bottoms and angle iron corners.  Silicone was not invented yet so they used this black stick stuff called asphalt varnish which was basically tar.  Now tar was great for sealing ancient sailing ships because they had slaves to bail out the water that continuously leaked into the ship but it is not the best thing for sealing a fish tank. I remember how thrilled my Mother was when my little five gallon tank leaked on our set of encyclopedia’s (encyclopedia’s are like huge computers made out of paper only they cost more).  By the way, the tanks had slate bottoms because in the 1800s when people in Europe started keeping fish their homes were not heated and they would place oil lamps or candles under the tanks to heat them but lets not dwell on that. Silicone was probably the single, most important thing that advanced this hobby past goldfish. But that was fresh water and the metal framed slate bottomed tanks were for the most part fine. Then we graduated into saltwater and found that those iron framed tanks rusted badly in just a few weeks.  I spent many hours re sealing those tanks with this black sticky stuff that came in a little tube.  Thank God for silicone. Of course salt water had other problems like filtration.  We all had those little HOB filters lying around so we used those.  They also had metal cased pumps so in a couple of months we had to throw out those rust covered disasters. Finally someone invented power heads that were in a plastic case.  Unfortunately the case was full of ventilation holes and the pump inside was made out of that same iron.  These were certainly not submersible but were carefully positioned on the tubes of the UG filter. Let’s talk about lights.  Metal again.  Everything was metal.  Don’t forget, plastic was not a common item a few decades ago.  I realize that today just about everything is made out of it but then there was almost no plastic of any type.  Wrap your brain around that for a while.  TVs were made of wood.  Yes the same stuff we make trees out of. … More:

I can’t believe she let me stick it in the bedroom

 While some members of this hobby are fortunate to have a significant other who is also into reefing, there are many of us our there who endure the daily looks of incredulity as we embark on yet another excursion or bring home yet another toy for our tank. It is for you, you lucky few, you band of scorned reefers, that this post is for. Contained in this post you will find a home survival guide to maintaining both your tank and your relationship. I have already gotten in trouble for it, and you get to learn from my mistakes. So get ready to pick up some buckets, hide some wires, and get the ro unit out of the sink. We are going to relationship-proof your fish tank. First we should define the three stages of spousal response. Spousal Response # 1 Bemused Tolerance This is about the most you can hope for.  While your significant other may not appreciate your little slice of the ocean in the living room, she will at least understand that much like your dirty dishes or the way you fart during your morning pee, it is part and parcel of dating/marrying you.  If this is the reaction you normally receive when reef related chores or expenses arise, consider yourself fortunate.  You are among the lucky few who are merely viewed as either a weirdo or idiot (depending on how much water you spill, or money you spend).  Kudos to you! I understand that this may be a foreign concept to many reefers with reluctant spouses, so along with each stage of the Spousal Response, you will find a photograph deciphering it for you.
Exhibit A: Bemused Tolerance {INSERT PIC} Spousal Response # 2 – Much like your underpants on the floor, your tank makes the place look like crap. This, I would imagine is the middle ground that most of us occupy.   While you may be focused on what is contained inside the four walls of glass you have sitting in the living room, she is obsessed with the fact that there is a giant glass box sitting in the middle of the living room.  The contents of this box are meaningless, all that matters is that it is big, kinda noisy, and smells like Gowanus. Luckily for you, there is hope in situations like these.  And it is for you that this article is primarily written.   … More:

Books are evil!

 I guess we all started the same way, you get your hands on a book full of beautiful fish or coral pictures and decide THAT’s what I want! In my case it was the first picture of the Resplendent dwarf angle fish (Centropyge respendens) I encountered in the famous book series “Das Meerwasser Aquarium” from Fossa & Nielsen.  I instantly fell in love with that little fish and its striking coloration.  It didn’t take me long to realize that this dream was really difficult to achieve.  But we are not real reefers if are not determined to get results – right ?! In one of the phone calls with my fish & dive buddy Jens Kallmeyer I told him about my passion for that fish and that it is impossible to get him.  He just said “Why don’t we go there and have a look?”  I laughed and forgot about it – it sounded really too far fetched.  A few weeks later Jens called me and had a draft plan worked out!  It took us then about 6 months of planning to get to Ascension Island.  You can only get to that island via the British Air Force and need upfront security clearance and long term flight booking. It was really difficult to get there and to get in the water, but it was even more difficult to finally find this fish! We where almost frustrated that all the effort and cost placed into this project was fruit less.  But our efforts did not stay unnoticed on the island and we where pointed to the right direction. After month of preparation, thousand kilometer flight, many dives and several thousand Euro spent, we finally found the mystery angel fish!  This is how a happy me looked just after we located the fish:  It was stunning and completely unexpected what we found.  But that’s a long story and stuff for a nice article on day …… More:

The Naming of Fish

There are new species of fish being discovered all the time.  In the last year alone, the discovery of a new species of fish living at extreme depths in the South Pacific, nine new species of handfish (a group related to anglerfish) off the coast of Australia, and two new anglers in the Gulf of Mexico (now endangered by oil spills) have all made headlines in the popular press and environmental blogs.  These are, of course, just the most amazing and most photogenic of the new species have been found; Larry Page of the University of Florida has been in charge of two National Science Foundation grants that have categorized approximately 1500 new species of freshwater fish in the last five years, few of which have been splashed across the blogosphere despite being important contributions to the understanding of biodiversity. While the discovery of new species of any animal is interesting, I thought it might be instructive at this point to talk about how scientists decide name them. 

Amphiprion ocellaris in the home aquarium (photo by L. Mann)

 All living things are given a two word name.  For instance, an ocellaris clown is named Amphiprion ocellaris.  That two word name serves to situate the fish within its taxonomy.  Most scientists still use the system of classification developed in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus where organisms are hierarchically classified into a Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and species.  So, if I go back to my clownfish example, all clownfish are in the kingdom Animalia, which contains all animals on earth (including humans!) and the phylum Chordata, which contains all animals with a spine (we’re in the phylum Chordata as well).  Since they have fins that contain bony rays, they are in the class Actinopterygii along with almost all typical aquarium fish, swamp eels, sea horses, trout and many other things.  They are in the order Perciformes, which contains pretty much all of the fish that are likely to come into the aquarium trade.  They are in the family Pomacentridae along with damselfish.  Perhaps you’ve heard that, “clownfish are just damsels” – that is because they belong to the same family of fish and they are in the same family because they have similar characteristics.  Your clownfish maybe more photogenic than a blue damsel, but they are mean and hardy! – just like those other, not-so-attractive feeder fish.… More:

Patience and Thoughtful Planning

In person and on online forums, many of us get asked for advice about setting up and maintaining reef aquariums. What is really involved? What are the secrets for success?  How do you answer these complicated and open-ended questions?  In multiple ways of course, but I thought it might be useful to take you through my approach to handling inquiries from aspiring hobbyists. First, I ask you all to consider your own humble entrance to this passion we know as reef keeping. I, for one, was wide-eyed, giddily enthusiastic and largely clueless regarding the practicalities, realities and demands of the successful reef-keeper. It took a long time and much trial and error before I was finally able to sort through and make sense of the flood of complicated and seemingly contradictory information coming my way. I had my share of difficulties and unnecessarily jeopardized the lives of far too many beautiful creatures. I learned a lot along the way, but it took quite a while to be in a position to meaningfully engage much of the higher -level information now so readily available. In short, beginners need really practical and reliable information.  The cutting edge and the controversies can come later, in fact, must come later.  I’m truly appalled when I see rank beginners being advised on such things as carbon dosing, amino-acid supplementation and the like. Most of these people don’t even know how to properly do a water change. In brief, successful aquarists don’t become successful over night.  By keeping the discussion practically oriented, and relatively non-technical, beginners can start to achieve success with a minimum of heartache and more quickly advance to the more complex issues of reef keeping. Whenever I am asked for advice about starting a reef aquarium, I always respond by asking, “Are you sure you want to do this”? An annoying response perhaps, but one which cuts to the heart of a lot of issues that surround the ultimate success or failure of many aquarists. Setting up and properly caring for a reef system is time consuming and costly. While we all strive for efficient, low maintenance, self-sustaining marine systems, novices should understand that a casual relationship to their reef is not realistic. The commitment to the animals in our care is long-term and needs to be taken seriously. It has been my experience that novices who carefully consider these realities and then decide they want to proceed are far more likely to succeed than those who don’t.… More:

The First Underwater Photograph

 National Geographic has a slideshow displaying milestones in underwater photography, and right at the beginning is the world’s first photo from the deep of this hogfish. Some interesting images in here that show our spirited journey to the current state of macro DSLRs and underwater video. LINKMore: is the world's leading destination for sustainable coral reef farming and the aquarium hobby. We offer a free open forum and reef related news and data to better educate aquarists and further our goals of sustainable reef management.