Money's no object - what's YOUR dream tank?


If you won the lottery tomorrow and could afford to set up your perfect aquarium, what would you choose? Nathan Hill and Jeremy Gay share their fantasies...

Fishkeeping has hit its golden age this last decade. Advances in technology, especially those derived from the ever-explosive growth of computer technology, have seen a glut of digitally controlled, finely balanced aquaria in both the public and private domains.

I know this, as part of my job is to go out and see such delights, including the likes of the mighty reef set up of Stuart Bertram of D-D fame (pictured above) I also get to see huge tanks in public aquariums, and get to scuttle around behind the scenes, prodding at buttons and touching things I shouldn’t, while concerned aquarists try to thwart me with sticks and lengths of hose.

Now, I’ll happily admit that after I’ve seen these glorious tanks, I am full of green-eyed monster. Though I am full of praise and flattery on the outside, my inside beast is bubbling over with jealousy. Of course it’s a lovely tank, I’ll say. But all the while I’m thinking that I will never, ever be able to afford such delights. Unless I get a lottery win, or get that ten-minute trolley dash in the De Beers warehouse I’ve been hankering for.

Thankfully, what I do have is a cracking little venue inside of my own head. When I’m feeling down, and my own valiant efforts at aquaria in my home just aren’t enough, I can retreat there and walk around my virtual aquarium, where smiling butlers hand me rum cocktails, and I can smoke cigars without poisoning anything.

If the money ever came to light, I’d extricate these grand designs from my imagination and give them physical form – and what tanks they’d be. Currently, I have four in mind that I’d love to construct, and I know that PFK editor Jeremy has some that he’d like to make, too.

So, that in mind, we’re going to share those perfect tanks, as we see them. Afterwards, we’re really interested to know what your perfect tank would be. Would you try to copy something like the massive Churaumi aquarium in Okinawa, replete with Whale sharks and gargantuan, moving shoals?

Or would you hurl your loot at the finest technical minds in the land, to create you a whole new tank so that you could be the first private owner of your own Gulper eel, squished inside the immense pressures of a deep sea abyss tank, presumably with viewing windows about three feet thick, made from the toughest acrylic known to man?

Straight up, we really want to know what you’d do if you were sat on Bill Gates' money.

For myself, my tanks might be considered a little basic, but what the hey. It’s my fantasy, and I’ll be as reserved or as extreme as I like…

Mudskipper mangrove

Tank one of my dream system is a whopping five metre by five metre footprint, with glass coming up one metre on each side, and a completely open top. Two thirds of the tank would be flooded to a depth of 50cm at high tide, and the final third would be dry land, a sloping, soft bank of mud and sand leading up to an area dominated by live mangroves, and gesticulating Fiddler crabs, waving at me like an old buddy as I walk past.

The clever bit would be the tide. Stealing ideas from my old public aquaria days, I’d have a pipe network beneath the sand itself, drawing water from the water table underneath, and returning in a crashing tumble-system that recreates a wave action onto the surface of the tank at the furthest point from the bank.

A series of sumps and timed solenoids hidden from view would gradually move the water level up and down over a 24 hour cycle, recreating the ebb and flow of natural tidal movements.

And the centerpiece to this tank? The mudskippers, obviously! Those cheeky scamps could spend their days flapping about on the banks, chewing the fat with the crabs, and generally having a great time.

And as for the risk of a wayward skipper taking it upon itself to scale one of the glass panels to go for a wander, I’d have a couple of full time keepers employed, whose role it would be to gently nudge the skippers back down into the drink if they ever came too close to getting out…

Pictus river

This one ranks as my favourite, and for most casual observers who witnessed it, their reaction would be ‘you spent money on that?’

The tank would be around four metres long, and two wide, once again open topped, and shallow, given its other dimensions – no more than 80cm deep.

The design would be a derivation of the classic river manifold, but with a series of bulkheads going in to one end of the tank, and a weir/overflow at the other, giving me a strongish, unidirectional flow straight down the tank at all times.

The substrate would be sandy, and the décor simply a (giant’s) handful of stones. Lighting would be a line of low output LEDs along the top, to accentuate the rippling effect, though the tank would be rather dull in illumination.

And into this drab, hardscape-devoid tank, I would stick nothing but Pimelodus pictus. Maybe twenty or thirty in total, buzzing around the base of their river like miniature sharks, and turning into a ball of frenzied chomping whenever I upended a load of fresh bloodworms in there for them.

If any generous philanthropists are reading, you’re more than welcome to make this a reality for me. I’d be ever so grateful.

Indoor rock pool

Oh my, yes. Nothing tropical here, just a return to the happy times of my youth. I want a huge, indoor beach at low tide that I can explore whenever the mood takes me.

Make it big, maybe some four metres by four metres of artificial rock face, made from concrete, and ingeniously plumbed so that each of the tiny pools has flow in and out, connected to a filtering sump and chiller. Fence it off with a glass surround to keep the inhabitants inside and safe – and allow for periodic flooding - and that’ll do me nicely.

This is absolute interacton aquatics right here. I’d not be looking at my charges through glass, but rather I’d be getting in there, clambering over my faux-rocks, and getting down and dirty with the inhabitants. There’d be Shannies, Blennies, Beadlet and Snakelocks anemones, Whelks and Limpits, and a myriad other trappings of the UK coastline.

Admit it, you’d love to have something like that in the house. Unless you live on the beach. But even then you’re restricted by the tides, right?

Ray pond

When you last went to a public aquarium, I’ll wager that one thing that stuck in your mind was the ray tank. That big, rounded, wide, open plan tank teeming with Thornbacks and Undulate rays, dashed across the base with dozens of Mermaid’s purses, and bitter looking Spider crabs. Am I right?

I love the ray tank concept, but would want to be a bit more elastic in the layout of my own. To my mind, two things need changing to make the ray tank a really attractive proposition. First of all, make it freshwater. Second, get tetra and plants in there.

This would be my largest and most ambitious dream tank. I’m thinking public aquarium money and resources, so at least six metres in diameter, with a standing height of 120cm, and glass on at least 75% of the edges.

A big bubble bead filter, with strategically placed inflows and outflows in the tank would take care of movement and clarity, and I’d indulge myself an actual sand base, as opposed to the coarse substrates public tanks often use with rays.

As for décor, what décor? Hardscape would be limited to a couple of large, fallen branches, but that’d be it. No intricate networks of wood tangles or rocky precipices here.

Plants, however, would be abundant. Give me lilies, Amazon frogbit, and a forest of Myriophyllum on one edge, and I’d be happy.

The fish themselves? Not many, actually. Stingrays do that annoying nipping of each other, especially when breeding, so I’d go for minimal numbers with plenty of swimming space. I’ve never seen the point of cramming as many fish as you can into an area and hoping for the best. No, I’d have six rays at most in this tank, though maybe less. As for species, I’ve a strong hankering for a nice P14 lately.

There’d be other fish here, too. I’m thinking a nice aggregation of Cardinal tetra, because there’s nothing more stunning than a massive tank with tiny fish in it. Though maybe that’s a personal thing. Either way, it’s my fictional money, and I’ll spend it however I like.

So that’s my own fantasy aquaria sorted, here’s what Jeremy Gay has to say about his…

Mention dream tanks to me and I won’t take long to offer a reply. That’s because I dream about ultimate fantasy aquaria on a daily basis, and with a recent lottery winner coming from Peterborough, where we work, the conversation came up once more.

So we’re talking dreams here, but if you say the words “money no object” to me I’m no longer thinking off the shelf tanks or even tanks you fit inside a house. No, I’m talking mega tanks.

Mega tank, mega fauna

So several public aquaria around the world are having a tank-off at the moment, one after the other producing larger and larger tanks, and the ultimate display fish - the Whale shark – but why go to all that trouble and significant expense to put pelagic marines it? No, let me loose on the world’s largest aquaria and I would go freshwater every time.

And what ever happened to the Nirah project? Billed to be a freshwater Eden project containing large endangered fish in both a mega Amazon and mega Mekong display, that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about and with umpteen million quid in my pocket to invest I would go with the Nirah project idea and have several tropical river and lake displays holding mega fish from the Amazon, Mekong and the Congo.

For my lake tanks I’m talking of the size and proportions of the shark tank at London aquarium, several stories deep, but again you wouldn’t find mackerel or sand tiger sharks in my tanks, no, instead my really deep tank would be home to Frontosa, Benthochromis tricoti, and above them a huge shoal of Cyprichromis with males carving out three dimensional territories in mid water and displaying. Imagine that Tanganyikan cichlid lovers!

Best of all, these public aquarium sized displays wouldn’t be open to the public and instead would be mine, all mine!

Centre Parks

Continuing with the huge theme I’ve always thought, in my sad tropical fish obsessed way, how good the likes of Centre Parks or other leisure pools would be as fish habitats, turfing out the people, dechlorinating that water and stocking it with aquarium favourites instead. Put some sand on the bottom, a few rocks and wood, maybe a raft of floating plants and you’d have fry swimming round in the shallows and some monster sized examples of aquarium fish in no time. I’d even keep that water slide for oxygenation…

World’s best Koi pond

On a complete tangent would be my koi pond, holding the best damn Koi any human had ever seen. I start with a trip to Japan to chose my fish and get them prepped for delivery to the UK down the line. Go-Sanke only, and from the best bloodlines, and I’d want the massive.

I’d get the guy who just got a gold at the Chelsea Flower Show to landscape around my pond with a Japanese style garden and I’d get the UK’s best Koi pond builder to help me plan and build my 100,000 gallon pond. Barbeque around mine anyone?

Reef tank

One of the few factors holding me back from the reef tank of my dreams are of course finances, so take that out of the equation and I’d start with something along the lines of the famous 20,000 gallon reef tank at Atlanta Aquarium, and I’d get its creator, Joe Yaiullo to design and build it for me. Hard coral heaven!

And that’s our dreams laid bare. Give us the money and we’re away, but for now, these aquaria only inhabit the realms of our minds.

So now it’s over to you. If money were no object, exactly what would you do? Feel free to push the boat out, it’s only a fantasy after all!

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