Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Tropical Biotope

Anubias Nana
Cabomba piauhyensis
Cabomba caroliniana
Aponogeton Ulvaceus
Cryptocoryne Balansae
Echinodorus Quadricostatus
Eleocharis Acicularis
Ludwigia Repens

Glofish (patented GM Danio rerio)
Symphysodon discus
and few Physa acuta Im trying to get rid off!
Bog, river rocks
Substrate- black silica sand
Light - 2 X 24 watts
CO2- Not supplied

Needs replanting, snail removal and hinding/ arranging equipments
   The boisterous   Glofish .
  Discus - got three of them.
     River rocks- and you can see the snails .
    Bogwood w/ Anubias  growing on them. I  snail treated anubias,  but  the eggs hatched soon. Time to  get rid of them with  cabbage leaf traps
The front glass has a convex curve, which makes photographing it so difficult,  they say.

    Feeding time- discus gets a block of bloodworms
Zebras  pound the  cube break and thaw it up for discus!

Monday, October 11, 2010


Photos- Devanand Pilai

They are the  among the  toughest  tropical FW fish to keep . They are  among the most expensive fish. They wont greet you like most fish do. They wont  swirl in joy when  you feed them. They wont splash a greeting when they see you. You just cant tame them.  Then, what makes discus so special?

Well, they are beautiful. No matter whether they are in the wild form or  come as bred variants. Is that all? Hell, no.  A well kept tank with content discus makes a statement about its aquarist- she/he  is an expert, who can   keep the tank in mint condition- discus in the tank is a big show off. Its a public statement of your expertise in managing the chemical balance of water, the vegetation, the  micro-organisms in there, the flora, the flooring,  the nitrogen cycle.    Its a statement  that you can do everything     WRT a  FW tank- perfectly.

If you are into aquascaping ,  I cant suggest anything better than a mix of boisterous lil ones like neon tetras and  a school of discus.  It  should present itself  like a  painting in you drawing room - redrawn every minute.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Aquarium Resources in Dubai & other Emirates

I haven't explored all the  places mentioned here. Nor do I intend to evaluate  individual shops. Generally speaking, aquarium shops in Dubai  and nearby places can provide you with a variety of tanks and fish. But  when it comes to  plants and aquascaping material, you may face difficulties. Staff in most of the shops cannot identify plant species, do not have much in stock except some pond weed and fanworts and  a few bog wood. You might  better forget CO2 supplied tanks and  plant carpeted substrate.

For a beginner, I would strongly propose a  visit to as many shops as you can for a week or so before buying anything so that you can compare options, availability, cost, hygiene and plan  and budget a tank.  Otherwise, odds are that you may wind up with a tank you did not envision.

Shops   I know of, that supplies aquarium products are listed below:
1. Pet Zone has three branches- Next to Al Mazaya Center on Sheikh Zayed Road, Opposite to Lulu Hypermarket in Barsha and opposite to Hilton in Marina Walk.

2. Pet Corner in  Green Community- interchange #7 , Sheikh Zayed Road (after Media and Internet City, before  JAFZA) - I havent been to this place yet.

3. Top Pin  and  some nearby Chinese  shops in I-Zone, Dragon Mart at International City, Hatta- Al Ain Highway- mostly equipment and tank at budget prices though you can buy fish also.

4. Creatures Oasis Satwa.  Google dug it out. I havent   been there.

5. World of Fishes Karama . There is also another shop next to Sunrise Supermarket in Karama

6. Shops at Animal Market,  Near Sharjah fish market, Rolla Road, Sharjah. There are dozens of shops in this area.

7. Nature Beauty,  Al Qusais Sheikh Colony, behind new metro station.  The florist in Lulu Hypermarket Qusais also  stocks  some fish tank and limited supply of fish and equipment.

8.  There is one in Bin Soughat Center, Airport Road, Rashidiya.

I will  edit the post and add to the list  when I discover a new place.

Few shopping tips:

  • Most of the places keep fish in reasonably good condition, but  some places also keep birds mammals and reptiles in tiny cages, sometimes even with no place to move around.

  • Make up your mind on what you are looking for, in terms of species,  size, health, color, brands, whatever you can think of. Sales  personnel are employed to sell, period. They will try to make you buy what they have,  which may not be what you want.

  • If you are buying live plants, snail treat  them and wash them in a weak potassium permanganate solution before planting them in your tank. Snails and snail eggs  come free with most of the plant purchases from almost anywhere. Once they get into your tank you may have a real tough time  eliminating  them and snail killers are too harsh on fish, biological traps  may not work effectively and you may wind up buying loaches  that were originally not planned to be part of the community.

  • Most of the shops does not have any standard price list- try bargaining  and ask for  quantity discounts- you may save substantially.

  • Ask for home delivery if you are buying tanks- chances are that you may get it free of cost.

  • Do not buy  fish  unless you know them, their feeding habits, water condition requirement, social behaviour,  adult size.   Buy fish that  appear healthy,  showing their natural swimming and schooling behaviour and  kept in hygienic tanks.

  • Look for branded equipment and products. You may not have many options, but you can easily find Sera and  Tetra products in almost every store.

  • Most of the sales personnel except in  one or two stores  do not speak much English or Arabic. If you can take a Hindi/ Urdu speaking friend along, you  should be able to communicate better.

  • None of the shops I visited so far has a return/ guarantee system.  Inspect thoroughly before  you buy anything.

Keeping an Aquarium in Dubai

I wouldn't  say there are  any   big challenges. Each place has its own peculiarities.  If you relocated newly, you may want to know what peculiar aspects you should be aware of before setting  up a fish tank.

  • PH & hardness- tap water tends to be higher in PH and on the harder side. I  usually get a PH level of 7.75 . If you are not comfortable with altering PH levels and hardness,  selecting fish that are tolerant to these conditions is advisable.    Some fish like discus need soft and acidic water. Others like  Bala Sharks are very sensitive to PH changes.  
  • Space constraints- majority of people in Dubai live in apartments.  Keeping  stock of hoses, pipes,  stand by/ breeding/  quarantine tanks and drums for  storing tap water  for  temperature adjustment and dechlorination   may be difficult.
  • Air conditioning- most of the homes will have a  air conditioners running around the clock and you will find aquarium  lights on almost always for tropical tanks. Acrylic tanks  seem to be a prudent choice  for tropical fish and  glass tanks for cold water fish  since glass   conducts heat easily.
  • Chlorine- I haven't tested chlorine and chloramine  of tap water yet. But  aquarium supply companies have issued enough caveats. For small tanks, water  drawn straight from a home water purifier may resolve chlorine, chemical and hardness problem at one go. You may need to add dechlorination chemicals every time you change water.
  • Hot water- from May till  October, tap water will be extremely hot and adding this  direct to tank can  be fatal. Storing water in a container may prove hard and tedious.   If you keep the home water heater permanently off, you should be able to get   cold water  from the hot water tap! Also,  restrict water changes to 10-15% of tank capacity at more frequency  instead of standard 1/3 change during summer.
  • Resources- aquarium supply stores seem to be  fewer and smaller in Dubai, compared to other cities.   Finding fish  may not pose a problem, but search for  plants, quality equipment and  natural decoration  can be challenging . A separate post is intended  on this topic.
  • Vacations- Trend here is that the whole family usually go on vacation, sometimes up to a month. If this is your case, you need to have a solid vacation plan.   How to keep your fish safe and fed while you are not around is a challenge indeed.
  • Expert help- I  do not know any vet in Dubai who  treats sick fish. Aquarium store personnel may not be experts in this either. You need to know at least the basics of fish health and illnesses.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Our first fish tank

      Photo by Devanand Pillai  

Our first fish tank was my first and my husband's second. Dev had, during his  early school days, built a cement walled fish tank and kept some fish for some time and had some "experience" and reasonably good  textual knowledge of fish species. I was a complete novice
We had the idea of having a home aquarium, but the flat we lived in had a tiny living room that couldn't accommodate any more furniture than sofas and book shelves. The day we moved to to a bigger flat   we decided to "buy" an aquarium. We just walked  into  pet store a few blocks away, ordered the most beautiful looking one they had ready in stock,  bought some plants and fish  we liked and asked them to "set it"  at our home that evening. Well, Dev did mention  he  wanted a tank cycling  before fish are introduced. Hogwash, declared the  pet shop guy. He had been setting up tanks all his life and there is absolutely no harm in introducing fish from day one. We were  confused. I trusted the expert. Dev  compromised  by instructing the salesman to floor our tank with used gravel so that  ammonia fixing bacteria will be there from beginning.

That day we had a tank up and running at our home, with angelfish, gold fish,  Japanese kois, mollies and sucker catfish.  Water was on the white cloudy side, fish seemed to be happy. They  fed themselves readily.  In a few days we  found water was too cold, thanks to A/c, we fixed an immersible aquarium heater. Fish showed some signs of infection and we added a UV filter  and things seemed somewhat fine.

The mollies died in a few days.   All but one of the remaining fish are still fine. Not because we did a thing right,  it just happened that they were strong enough to  survive  seemingly impossible challenges. We weren't smart, but  the fish were lucky. They  thankfully ate  all the plants though. The tank is still up and running at our home  for one and half years and we do intend to keep it.  It could have been worse, all the fish could have died and we might have given up. That one made us buy books, do research, experiment and learn.

Looking back, I can identify at least a hundred mistakes we did.  Top twenty in terms of seriousness are listed below so that  readers of this blog (if any!)   can learn from our mistakes.

  1. did not have a plan. We did not have a picture of the aquarium to be made  in mind .
  2.  did not plan space and did not decide in advance what size it should be and what material the walls should be made of.
  3.  bought the fish we  liked, not the ones we know well.
  4.  did not cycle the tank, ammonia and nitrates could have killed them all.
  5.  did not decide on the community  of fish to keep and would up with a mixture of cold water and tropical fish.
  6.  had fish that are incompatible in terms of size and behaviour.
  7.  introduced fish on day one!
  8. did not test water quality- running water in Dubai is desalinated sea water, which is guaranteed to be high in PH.
  9.  did not know what kind of food to be given at what frequency. Nor did we knew what to do with fish during vacation.
  10. did not know what should be the water temperature.
  11. did not know  members of carp species will eat the vegetation in a single day.
  12.  did not have a lay out plan and fish  got hurt from the rock pieces we placed in tank.
  13. even placed seashells and conchs in  the tropical tank.
  14. did not know when to  change water and to what extent.
  15. did not know what disease mollies died of.
  16. did not know how to fix and repair equipment.
  17. did not know of pathogens in tank and assumed it is safe fresh water.
  18. did not know how to change water when water running  in from taps are  hot as hell-  pet store guy instructed us to "just fill it and throw some ice cubes into tank".
  19. did not know how long lights should be kept on.
  20. did not know how  to change filter cotton and would  dispose off all old ones and replace them completely, causing the tank to  mini-cycle often.
Good thing that happened to us was that in a week or so we realized  we didn't have a clue about whats going on in the tank. Build knowledge, we decided. This time we went to the book store instead of pet store. Bought a few books on  aquarium keeping. Read   tons of stuff available on fish keepers forums, spoke to people who are seriously into it and were able to identify most of our errors.

Safety First

Most of us do not bother to read safety instructions of  household gadgets and most of us operate them safely. Some of us get hurt or wind up with broke  equips and almost always, these 'some of us'  belong to the 'most of us' who threw the safety  pamphlet away while opening package. Aquaria does not come with safety tips, you  are presumed to know them. Worst outcome you can have  trying to keep aquaria is to get injured, fall sick or hurt others.  Well a few simple  rules  followed religiously should keep hazards out.

Prevention of  Injuries

  1.  Never ever try to move a filled  fish tank  If you need to move or transport a tank  move your fish to containers, empty tank, remove all decorations and preferably substrate and attempt to shift it.

  2. Most fish tanks are usually too heavy to be lifted by one person. Ask for help instead of  breaking your bones. When buying new tanks ask for home delivery and in Dubai, usually you get it free.

  3. Never dip your hands into water while power is on for any gadget. Easier way is to have a single switch on the main outlet that can cut off all equipments. If any live wire going in or near water is frayed, replace it.

  4. Place your fish tanks on firm and full support  furniture. Best way to do this is to buy tanks that come with strong wooden stands. It looks neater and is safer.

  5.  Buy branded  electrical equipment. If you do  not know how safe is a gadget you  found in a pet store, it is prudent to put it back in the shelf and do more research on it.

Prevention of  infections
Though rare, it is possible to contact diseases from your pet fish. I am no molysmophobiac, but people usually assume they are putting their hands into clean water when they work with aquaria. Fish tanks host several pathogens, good and harmless bacteria and fish themselves may have illnesses that can be passed on to you.  Listing out each of them would be tedious. Here is one good link if you would like to know about some of the diseases that fish  can pass on to humans. TB is the most common illness you can get from your fish.

Almost all these diseases are passed on to humans in one of the two ways:

  1. Ingestion of contaminated water- avoid this in two ways- never mouth siphon   fish tank and wash your hands   with soap after  each dip of your hands in  aquarium.

  2. Pathogens reaching your body through  wounds-  never dip your hand in water if you have a cut, wound, blister or  a sore that can get wet. And be careful not to get cuts and bruises from rocks, bog wood, sharp edges or plastic decoration material inside tanks.

Prevention of  poisoning
Chemicals used  for water testing,  plant fertilizers, snail and algae killers , water conditioners and several other substances may prove harmful and can sometimes be lethal.  Take care to read instructions, use gloves and if requires masks and ensure to wash hands  afterwards.

Some pet fish such as  lion fish and stinging cat fish  are poisonous and can  pass  toxins to you. Never dip bare hands in tanks that have these fish even if fish are not near your hand- they  can sting real fast like a bee.

Child safety
I have a toddler who would like to mimic whatever me or his father does. Most of them are that way. They want to fit equipment, arrange  decorations , do water testing and operate electrical gadgets. Amma does it, why not me? Instructions just doesn't work with children, they are far too curious and get tempted easily.

  1. Keep all electric wires and outside tank equipments  safely inside the cabinet or over the hood if these places are not  accessible for the child.

  2. Tanks should be topple proof. If you are not sure  whether the child can climb up and reach  fish tank, cordon it with furniture or deny access otherwise.

  3. Lock up all  chemicals, testing equipments, spare electric equipments and tools, fish feed  properly in a cabinet.  It is better to hide pipes and hoses too.

  4. When you are performing water changes,  involve children in whatever  possible and safe ways- without getting them wet with used water and exposing them to chemicals. In my experience,  kids learn and abide by rules and once it is clear to them these are to be done in adult company, they adhere to it. It works better than a complete no-no. It also helps them to build   interest in fish keeping.

Yet another fish blog?

There are a few  hundreds, if not  thousands of aquarium enthusiasts blogs up and running already, with experienced expert's advices and great photographs. What's the point adding one more to it?

I decided to create one because of several reasons:
  • I couldnt find any aqua-blogger from Dubai- when I was desperately searching for  specific information on  buying and  maintaining a home  fish tank in Dubai, abolutely nothing but  a couple of pet stores' home pages with little or no information was available.
  • As a  new comer to the hobby, I keep notes and pictures for my own reference. Publishing them need no extra effort, but may benifit or even inspire someone some day.
  • This is not my profession, I may be wrong in something and an expert somewhere may correct me when I go for a wrong approach or arrive at the wrong conclusion. There also may be a short cut that somebody knows that can save time, effort or money.
  • Published notes tend to be neat and better preserved than scribbled ones and folders with txt  and jpg files with odd filenames.

Welcome to my blog. I  cannot promise to blog regularly, I cannot vouch for 100% accuracy of contents either, but I will try  not to post rubbish, not to blog about things I dont know.