If the hobby were the same all over the world, it would be pretty boring. So Jeremy Gay was determined to squeeze in the odd reader visit when he visited Singaporeâ€™s Aquarama.
You can see Singapore for miles as you approach by air – it is literally a tiny island of high-rise buildings, and the majority of its 4.5-million population live in these towering blocks. And this, I was to learn, has an immediate impact on the fishkeeping hobby.
I love visiting readers and seeing their tanks – you get a good feel for how the hobby is progressing, and in what direction. So when we were in Singapore visiting Aquarama, I had my heart set on visiting some of our readers halfway across the world. I was particularly curious to see whether they did things differently to us in the UK, and if so, how. Thanks to our friend Benny Ng, he introduced us to fellow Singaporean fishkeepers Eugene Sng and Lawrence Siow.
Benny told us: "In Singapore, the ambient room temperature is too hot even for tropical fish so we use aircon or fans, and never heaters." Hot – that must be an understatement. Average day-time temperatures tend to be around 30°C/86°F.
But back to the high-rises – there really isn’t much room in them. "Because of this, tanks of 1'-5' are the most popular," explained Benny, "and tanks of 5'-plus are considered a luxury. Not many people keep large tanks like in Europe."
Eugene’s tanks demonstrated space saving perfectly, being stacked three high in his bedroom. Eugene loves keeping Apistogramma and has subdivided three 60 x 45 x 45cm/2 x 1.5 x 1.5' tanks into three, giving him nine small tanks in a neat and compact stack.
He’s had the stand custom-made, and to save on weight (yes, this is also a consideration), he only half-fills the tanks, giving each tank a volume of about 30 l. Unusually the tanks are stacked face on as well, meaning that each division is 20 cm/8" wide across the front, but 45 cm/18" front to back.
Eugene started in the hobby when a schoolboy of about 10, and he kept all the usual stuff before getting into planted aquariums and being bitten by the Nature Aquarium bug.
Testament to this is his main display tank, 90 x 45 x 45cm/3' x 18" x 18", that takes pride of place in the living room. This high-tech planted tank with carpeting plants – it has short Japanese hairgrass in the foreground – follows the EI (Estmative Index or hi-tech) method of plant fertilisation. Eugene is constantly making subtle changes to it. He says that he won’t change the hardscape anymore, just the plants.
Lighting is supplied by four linear T5 lights, three plant growth tubes, and one blue tube. There was some algae growth on the Anubias, and I asked Eugene if he thought the algae was down to the inappropriate blue light, but he didn’t think so. The lights are on for ten hours a day, and CO2 is added at the rate of five bubbles per second, which is a lot compared with most of us in the UK. He adds it from two sources.
Hunting the unusual
The other part of his hobby that keeps him busy is his Apistogramma, his favourite being A. bitaeniata, thanks to their finnage and colouration. He keeps them in soft water and can achieve a low pH by using ADA aquatic soil and filtering through peat.
He was using two types of ADA soil in different tanks and said that the dark Amazon substrate brings the pH down to 5.5, but the lighter African substrate brings it down to pH 4.6. He uses two types of soil because some species need it really low, like A. elizabethae.
His tapwater has a pH of 6.8 and he measures pH with a digital meter: 20-40% of the water is changed weekly, with temperatures staying at 28-29ºC/82-85ºF – without air-conditioning.
He also keeps some Endlers livebearers, principally as dither fish for when the Apistos spawn. I was surprised that the very low pH had not affected the Endlers and that they had spawned. His Endlers aren’t ordinary Endlers either, but the Tiger and Peacock varieties.
The tanks are all filtered by air-powered foam filters, but the middle row of tanks are also systemised for ease of water changes. They are decorated with Java fern and small plant pots laid on their sides, and we were lucky enough to see several pairs with young fry.
Eugene feeds the fry newly hatched brineshrimp until they are three weeks old, and then moves them onto ADA API Gold, a fine powdered food, and Tetra Pro color.
Apistogramma aren’t bred in their thousands in farms like so many other species, so compared to local stuff, they don’t come cheap. Eugene has to pay S$180/£60 for a pair of unusual ones, and says that he sometimes flies to Hong Kong to buy imported wild pairs and then hand-carries them back.
If he doesn’t get wild-caught ones, he will get F1 tank-breds from suppliers in Germany. He has collected some unusual species including A. diplotaenia, taeniata, elizabethae, bitaeniata from two regions, wilhelmi and cacatuoides.
He really wants some red variant elizabethae and says that Hong Kong is the place to go: there is a district that is lined with aquatic shop upon aquatic shop, easily 100 in all, where you can get anything.
I want to go there. I really, really want to go there.
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