Away from the high energy aquascapes and sanitised community tanks, a movement for natural layouts is slowly growing. Josh Beeston gives us an insight into a gorgeously organic display.
(Photo credit: Neil Hepworth)
PFK: Josh, start me off with the hardware on this system. What size is the tank, and what equipment do you have running?
Josh: It’s 6ft long, 45cm front to back and 65cm tall, holding approximately 600 litres of water. A friend and I built the cabinet from structural timber cut offs and pallets. I found info online on how to build it because the downwards force of 800kg (including glass) isn’t as problematic as the potential for the cabinet to twist and buckle. The lighting is from three 30w Energizer 6500k led floodlights —enough to grow plants under. I use two Eheim heaters in case one fails, but also because water flow is dulled, it helps with heat distribution a little. The filter is an FX6 canister – the outlet is behind a mass of roots to attenuate the flow.
How would you describe your set-up?
It’s an aneurism for anyone who loves a biotope. I guess you could call it ‘biotope inspired’. There was an article by Colin Dunlop called ‘All the leaves are brown’, where the benefits of using dried leaves were outlined, and I fell in love with the idea. At the time I was heavily into CO2 injection and that manicured but unnatural style of aquarium. After reading that article I set about creating a 4ft blackwater aquarium, with a breeding group of Sphaerichthys vaillanti and a shoal of Trigonostigma espei.
I moved house at the start of 2021, and then I purchased the current tank. My idea was to combine the artistry of aquascaping with my love of blackwater tanks which are typically devoid of much in the way of greenery. I wanted it open top, with lots of emergent growth to try and blur the line between my world and the fish’s world. It’s inspired by the stagnated blackwater pools you find in Indonesia and Malaysia, but falls short of a biotope — not only from the oak leaves on the floor, but the plants and fish are from all over the place too.
Over my 19 years of keeping aquaria, I have amassed a somewhat eclectic group of fish that have all retired to this aquarium. It’s a community tank with some focal species, plus a mish mash of fish from previous aquariums.
Which fish do you keep in here?
There are 14 Sphaerichthys vaillanti in there, all bred by myself. There’s a shoal of approximately 150 Boraras maculatus, and 20 kuhli loach. The combination of huge tank and tiny fish combine to make a display where you can see natural behaviours that you wouldn’t otherwise observe. There are a few failed breeding projects, and fish left over from aquariums that are no longer running: four Betta rutilans, six Parosphromenus paludicola, six Paracheirodon simulans, eight Otocinclus, and four Microctenopoma ansorgii.
The large tank means I’m able to have species like the Microctenopoma (which REALLY go for each other when they fight) able to live quite happily together because they can escape each other. I think this increases their quality of life because it’s a form of enrichment and allows them to display natural behaviours without the risk of constant bullying, and lets them form territories. The Sphaerichthys can be a little cantankerous, but I find vaillanti more peaceful than osphromenoides.
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