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20 Gallon Long Brackish Tank


Chris
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Hello!

I set up a 36 gallon bowfront for a Figure 8 Puffer around 3 months ago. Initially, I planned on just doing the puffer, but found that the tank was far too similar to my Green Spotted Puffer tank. I put in a small female guppy to see how he'd react to her, and he paid no attention, even when she was stealing his food. So, I decided that a lightly-brackish planted community tank was the way to go.

I chose a coarse sand for the puffer, since they like to blow the substrate around while looking for food. I went with black to highlight the green on the puffer’s back, and the green/black combo with the plants is always nice too. I used two pieces of Mopani to “scape” the tank - I stuck them in there in a position I found pleasing and called it quits. I’ve never been much of a scaper, lol.

Once I found that the guppy did well with the puffer, I added a male and a second female. Then, a week or two later, I added a trio of platies. The tank was still freshwater, as I figured I’d just acclimate the whole tank to low-end brackish once it was stocked to make it easier on everyone. At this point, I noticed that the puffer had come down with a little bit of ich, and one of the platies had some spots as well. So, I went ahead and began increasing the salinity of the tank, and that took care of the ich after around 8 days. After the ich was taken care of, I introduced a trio of balloon mollies as well as around 8 ghost shrimp. I expected the shrimp to be hunted down in a few days, but the puffer doesn’t really hunt them. He ate one when I dumped them into the tank, but I think he figured out they’re hard to catch, and I keep him well-fed enough that he doesn’t have a chance to get hungry enough to try too hard. The shrimp still give him a wide berth, but spend plenty of time out in the open. They make great additions to the tank.

 

Then, I added 4 black racer nerites, since I was getting some pretty intense diatoms on the glass. Nerites are one of the few snails that I know of that’ll do well in brackish and have a small enough foot that they can protect it while they’re stuck to something. One of the snails didn’t make the acclimation, unfortunately, but the other three have done well. The puffer pays a lot of attention to them, but I haven’t seen him pester them too much. A few days after that, I added in some Limia Nigrofasciata, the Humpback Limia. They’re roughly as brackish-tolerant as platies, and I was surprised to find them at my LFS. They’re a common Limia, but definitely still pretty rare in your average LFS, I’d say. I ordered 8 bumbebee gobies at my LFS that same day, and picked them up last Thursday. They ordered 12 and had 11 make it, so I took home all 11. I've since lost 1, that I know of. I probably went heavy on stocking, but with how I tend to maintenance my tanks, I think it'll be okay.


I’ve got a pretty wide variety of plants, including:
Crypt Wendtii
Crypt Wendtii Red
Crypt Tropica
Flame Sword
Jungle Vallisneria
Marimo Moss
Anubias Nana
Anubias Golden
El Nino Fern
Java Fern Windelov
Golden Pothos (growing out of the top of the tank)

Everything except for the Pothos is doing well so far, although I may get rid of the Anacharis. I like the plant, but it’s just so hard to keep planted! It’s almost more trouble than it’s worth. I’m always looking for more brackish-tolerant plants, too, so if anyone has suggestions, hit me up! I especially love Crypts, but am finding them to be incredibly slow growing under brackish conditions. All the plants are growing slower than they do in freshwater, but the Crypts are especially slow - I did start with small plants, but still.

The tank is filtered by an Aquarium Co-Op sponge filter and an Aquaclear 50, but I plan to remove the HOB once the tank is more established with a few more plants. Don’t need the HOB sucking up babies! I just have a generic Top Fin heater in the tank right now - I’d like to get a nice Fluval or Aqueon heater, once I can find the models I want in stock. For lighting, I’m using a 30” Finnex Stingray, and plan to stick with that light. I love it! It’s perfect for that low-medium light range in this tank.

Maintenance in this tank consists of weekly 50% water changes, and the occasional glass scraping. Frequent re-plantings of the Anacharis have been a requirement, too, and I need to whip out the super glue and attach some Anubias to the driftwood more permanently - I’ve just been lazy. I have some sponge and cuttlebone in the HOB, but haven’t been running any chemical/physical media. I may add some carbon to help with the tannins, but I’m undecided. I don’t especially hate the tannined look, but I’m not necessarily a fan, either.

So far, this tank is just fun for me. I love seeing how organisms react in situations we may not necessarily expect them to be in - plants and the common livebearers in salty water, for example. I bred some guppies in full saltwater, and had a blast with that. I just kinda play with this tank, and of course love the Figure 8 Puffer, the reason the tank even exists. This one is actually fairly brave, even compared to my larger GSP who tends to flip out if I approach the tank too quickly. I do a lot of saltwater tanks, and have several breeding projects going that tend to be a bit higher pressure, in a way. Plus, I work at a pet store, so I’m around tanks 24/7. Having a tank I can just enjoy is a nice change of pace!

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Male guppy.JPG

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Male Limia.JPG

Bumblebee Goby 3-8.JPG

Edited by Chris
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26 minutes ago, OceanTruth said:

Very cool! You don’t see brackish water community tanks very often, or even brackish in general. I don’t have any experience with brackish water, but I’ve always read Bacopa Caroliniana can grow in it.

Thanks!

My mom has some Bacopa growing in her 29 gallon, so I may have to steal some. I'm not sure which species it is - I think she bought it at Petsmart in a tissue culture, so it's whatever species they sell. I'll have to look into it!

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So cool! I've often thought about starting a brackish tank to hopefully breed nerites, but haven't pulled the trigger yet.

The conclusion I've come to from my (brief) research into plants for brackish is that: it's not possible. I've read that there may be some plants that are tolerant of brackish water for short period, but no aquatic plants that'll  successfully grow and thrive in it. Except for mangrove trees, if you want to set up a tropical paludarium!

You may have some success with macro algae from marine tanks called Chaetomorpha linum (or "Chaeto" or "cheato" for short) that can tolerate lower salinities.

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8 minutes ago, Kirsten said:

So cool! I've often thought about starting a brackish tank to hopefully breed nerites, but haven't pulled the trigger yet.

The conclusion I've come to from my (brief) research into plants for brackish is that: it's not possible. I've read that there may be some plants that are tolerant of brackish water for short period, but no aquatic plants that'll  successfully grow and thrive in it. Except for mangrove trees, if you want to set up a tropical paludarium!

You may have some success with macro algae from marine tanks called Chaetomorpha linum (or "Chaeto" or "cheato" for short) that can tolerate lower salinities.

I'm sure for many, many species of plants that's true. But people keep salt-tolerant plants (anubias, java fern and java moss being the most popular examples) in brackish aquaria fairly often. This is a slightly brackish tank, too (something I failed to mention) - the SG never rises above 1.005. Any higher, and you'd be absolutely correct. I think Chaeto only survives down to around 1.009 or so.

 

All that said, information on the subject is pretty limited. It's all anecdotal, as far as I can tell. There are some scientific papers written on it, but they're all on plants that you don't see in the aquarium trade.

This is a fairly helpful website for basic brackish research: https://thebrackishtank.tumblr.com/post/107155036207/planting-the-brackish-aquarium-2-1

He also has a page where he lists macroalgae that can do well in lower salinities.

Edited by Chris
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23 minutes ago, Chris said:

This is a slightly brackish tank, too (something I failed to mention) - the SG never rises above 1.005. Any higher, and you'd be absolutely correct. I think Chaeto only survives down to around 1.009 or so.

Ah, awesome! That should work for your java ferns and other hardy plants, then.

Still thinking about putting a whole stinkin mangrove tree in like a half-full 120 with fiddler crabs, nerites and mollies. Actually, maybe gobies instead of crabs. The thought of a crab climbing out and interacting with my cat is...not a good thought.

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4 minutes ago, Kirsten said:

Ah, awesome! That should work for your java ferns and other hardy plants, then.

Still thinking about putting a whole stinkin mangrove tree in like a half-full 120 with fiddler crabs, nerites and mollies. Actually, maybe gobies instead of crabs. The thought of a crab climbing out and interacting with my cat is...not a good thought.

That'd be an awesome tank! I'd love to try a mangrove, but I've heard that they're extremely hard to move around. As in, once it's rooted, it won't survive very well in other water conditions.

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Nice looking tank going on there. I was surprised at the list of plants, a lot of those I would not have guessed would live in water with salt for much time, especially the swords and jungle val. I knew anubias and java fern could, but the rest is interesting. Good luck with your tank, look forward to seeing more.

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8 hours ago, Andy's Fish Den said:

Nice looking tank going on there. I was surprised at the list of plants, a lot of those I would not have guessed would live in water with salt for much time, especially the swords and jungle val. I knew anubias and java fern could, but the rest is interesting. Good luck with your tank, look forward to seeing more.

Thanks!

This particular sword is a flame sword, which I haven't found any direct references to in brackish tanks. But, normal Amazon Swords are listed as being pretty salt tolerant, and they're closely related. I've had it in here for a few weeks and haven't seen any degradation, but not a lot of growth, either. Jungle Val, from what I hear, actually photosynthesizes using carbonate hardness, meaning that it loves hard water (and salt).

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Unfortunately, I lost the smaller of the two female Limia last night. The other two are in good health, and other than the BBG that I lost this is the tank's first death.

The parameters all check out - no ammonia, no nitrites, and nitrates well under 40. SG is 1.003. They are all ammonia burned, and this was the least outgoing of the three. Perhaps it was just in poor shape when I got it? I see no physical injury.
 
In other news, all of the female ghost shrimp in the tank are now berried. I bred ghosties in a tank not much different than this (other than the fish and power filter), so I think it's safe to say the fish will have some live food here soon!

I also saw a total of 9 BBGs out this morning, the most I've seen out at one time so far. Some of them are just 1/2" long, so it's hard to say how many I have. At least 9!
Edited by Chris
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I'm pulling the plug on the Pothos - I had read that it could do well with some salt in the water, but that's not been my experience. Maybe it was because I got Golden Pothos and not the regular species. It's doing well in my 5 gallon pea puffer tank.

Some of the other plants are struggling too. The Anacharis is growing (very slowly), but the old growth is getting covered in hair algae pretty quickly. The Crypts are doing fairly well - growing new leaves, with only a small amount of hair algae overtaking old ones. The Java Fern isn't growing, but I keep on seeing baby ferns floating around the tank, so I assume that's probably a stress response? The El Nino fern (Bolbitis) is developing brown spots and doesn't seem to be growing. Same for ALL of the Anubias, except for one random Anubias Nana that's clinging to life. The Flame Sword actually seems to be growing, but it's hard to tell how much with it being at the back of the tank. The Jungle Val is beginning to die back, which is especially strange since it's supposed to be extremely salt tolerant.

I dose Easy Green, Easy Iron, and Easy Carbon every 2 days at 3 pumps. I add root tabs monthly under the rooted plants. Nitrates stay high in this tank (always above 20 - usually around 40 by water change day) and there's obviously plenty of minerals, with all the salt in the water. I use a 30" Stingray, which is admittedly pretty low light (especially when the water is tannined), but I'd still expect more growth. I guess some of these plants aren't as salt tolerant as people advertised, or perhaps it depends on the specimen? I'm especially surprised that the Anubias and Java Fern aren't doing better. I've always heard that they're stupid tolerant of salt.

TL;DR - Brackish Planted Tanks are hard.

But, on the bright side, the fish are thriving! I'll have to get my DSLR out here soon and take some new pics. With the exception of the single BBG and the Limia I lost (which turned out to be the male), everyone looks fat and happy. The Balloon Mollies keep on catching my attention, especially - I think this is the ideal environment for a Velifera Molly, personally. They look great!

I keep on expecting to see a ton of fry, but I think I have too many predatory fish in the tank for any to survive without me intervening. The HOB doesn't help, either.
Edited by Chris
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  • 2 months later...
  • 3 months later...

So, I thought I'd post a quick update on what became of this tank.

I had to remove all of my fish and tanks from my apartment so that it could be treated for pests - the pest company used tear gas as part of the treatment, so I couldn't simply cover the tanks and keep them in here. I ended up losing a lot of fish, unfortunately.

Instead of keeping these guys in a 36, I decided to rehome the majority of the surviving livebearers and move the tank into a 20 long - I only kept 3 molly fry and (accidentally) 1 platy. I plan to rehome any females I get, and just keep a few males in here for variety and activity. I kept the puffer (of course), and all of the BBGs, as well, and ended up with a fairly decent stocking, IMO.

I'm not using any live plants this time, although I'd like to revisit it in the future. I actually found a baby Crypt Wendtii growing in the 36 behind all the wood, several marimo balls, some anacharis, and a few bits of moneywart, so it seems that some individual specimens had rooted and were growing to some extent, However, as a whole, I'd say that the plants definitely did not thrive in this case. Instead, I've opted to use some silk plants. I'm not a huge fan, but it gives some cover for the fish and some decor for me to look at. I also used some dragon stone, instead of the driftwood, to try and avoid all the tannins in the water this time.

FTS:

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Bumblebee Gobies:

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Super Secret Goby Meeting!:

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The puffer has an eye infection, unfortunately. I'm starting the tank on Erythromycin to (hopefully) get it taken care of.

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Anyway, thanks to all of you guys for help with the brackish plants, and I hope maybe I can revisit the idea with more success one day!

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On 9/26/2021 at 3:47 PM, H20CultureLabs said:

A cool journal! For what its worth, I have seen pathos growing in and around salt water hot springs in Hawaii. Its not worth giving up ok just yet; just a matter of finding the right plant!

I completely agree! If I had more time to devote to this tank right now, I would be all over it! I do think that, in my case, a lot of the problems I had were the specific varieties I chose. I used Golden Pothos, which may not be as salt-tolerant as other varieties, and Crypt Wendtii instead of Crypt Ciliata, a Java Fern Windelov instead of plain Java Fern, etc...

Not to mention that I ran this tank without a lid for quite a while, which caused the SG to swing higher sometimes. I'm sure the plants didn't enjoy that!

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On 9/26/2021 at 8:52 PM, Hobbit said:

Sorry you lost so many fish, but I’m glad you still have a lot left. I love the super secret goby meeting. 😄 

Yeah, unfortunately the majority of losses were directly my fault - not all of the heaters I was using were submerged all the way to the fill line, and they got stuck on and cooked several different buckets of fish the first night. I ended up losing my mantis shrimp, my group of damsels, my pair of clarkii clownfish, two different pairs of ocellaris clownfish, a royal gramma, a firefish, a neon goby, a cleaner shrimp, a tailspot blenny, a starfish and an urchin, and a handful of tetras/white clouds/rasboras. I haven't had the stomach to put a dollar amount on everything yet, but one of those pairs of clownfish alone was more than $100 per fish due to the morph. Not a fun time!

But I still enjoy it! The little gobies are my current fascination! So little, yet so feisty! I fed everyone some earthworms tonight - check out how the swarm around the worm! (and, yes, I did remove leftovers after I filmed :))

 

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That looks like a super fun tank!

On 9/26/2021 at 9:10 PM, Chris said:

Yeah, unfortunately the majority of losses were directly my fault - not all of the heaters I was using were submerged all the way to the fill line, and they got stuck on and cooked several different buckets of fish the first night.

Ahhh tragic 😭 I’ve done the opposite before (forgot to plug the heater back in). Such a bummer!!

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Alright, so it's 1 AM and I can't sleep, so why not upload some pics and talk about the tank?

I guess I forgot to mention that the puffer had a minor eye infection shortly after coming into this tank. It started with just a bit of a haze over one eye on Sunday, and quickly turned into both eyes being rather cloudy by Monday. So, I dosed Erythromycin once, and it was cleared up by Wednesday. All good now!

You can see a bit of the cloudiness in this pic:

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You can also see that his beak is getting a little long - this particular puffer seems to have a faster growing beak than any other I've had. Makes me wonder if some are more genetically prone to beak issues. I'm going to feed some more snails, and I'm also scraping most of the meat off of clams now (so he has to scrape the little bits off) and feeding the meat after he cleans the shell. Hopefully that's enough, and I don't have to play dentist on the little guy.

The BBGs are doing really well in this tank - maybe better than they were in the 36. I am SO glad I've never had issues getting these guys to eat. They take everything except dry!

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I'd like to find some nicer silk plants, but so far I haven't found any that really wow'd me. Apparently some of the Imagitarium (Petco) branded stuff is pretty nice, but the nearest petco is 45 minutes away. I may make a trip out there sometime to look.

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