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Lake Tanganyika Tank at Aquaworld Aquarium

Lake Tanganyika aquarium at Aquaworld Aquarium

By Tony Griffitts

At Aquaworld Aquarium when you enter the front door you are presented with a 240 gallon acrylic aquarium populated with fish that endemic to Lake Tanganyika in Africa.  Many of our customers try to mimic this aquarium at home, because of its many different fish and natural look.  When setting up this aquarium my goal was to create a window into Lake Tanganyika.  The purpose of this article to explain how the tank was set up and how it is maintained.

First a foreword about Lake Tanganyika and its uniqueness.  Lake Tanganyika is one of the great rift lakes of East Africa that is surrounded by Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire) to the West, Burundi at the Northern tip, Tanzania to East, and Zambia at the Southern tip.  Lake Tanganyika is the second deepest lake in the world, Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia is the deepest.  Lake Tanganyika is like an inland freshwater sea, with most of its fish being endemic to the lake.  Animal life usually thought of as being found in our oceans are also represented in the lake, like sponges, crabs, and jellyfish.  Lake Tanganyika is a fairly remote lake with some countries experiencing civil unrest in recent years.  Most fish that are endemic to the lake command a higher price than fish from Lake Malawi (the other famous rift lake known for "African Cichlids").  The water chemistry of Lake Tanganyika is also unique, being very hard and basic (alkaline), with a pH value reported to range from 8.6 to 9.4 (seawater is usually around 8.2).  While cichlids from Lake Malawi are primarily mouth brooders, many Tanganyikan cichlids are substrate spawners, often laying their eggs in caves in the rocks, or in empty snail shells.  Tanganyika also has mouth brooders, the most popular being the fish from the genus Tropheus.

Trickle Filter Towers25 watt UV Sterilizer

Trickle towers left, and ultraviolet sterilizer right.

The aquarium has 6 holes drilled in the back, 4 for water to drain down to the filter and 2 for returns.   This aquarium is filtered with two custom made trickle towers that are connected and run to an external pump that pushes about 1200 gph (at zero head).  The water from the pump is teed off, with one running directly to the aquarium and the other passes through a 25-watt ultraviolet sterilizer and then back to the aquarium.  Lighting is supplied by two 4 foot power compact fluorescent light boxes with four 55/65 watt 6700K bulbs.

Rock work in the aquarium.

Close up of the rock work in the aquarium.

Rockwork is done with Utah lace rock on the bottom (base rock) and river cobblestone total weight being around 500 lbs (227 k).  The base rock is placed in the aquarium first so it is in contact with the bottom acrylic.  Placing the rock in contact with the aquarium bottom prevents shifting when the fish dig.  The river rock is stacked on top of each other with only the weight of the rock holding it in place.  The substrate is about 150 lbs (68 k) of fine coral (aragonite) sand, this helps make the water hard and maintain a high pH.

Long view of Tanganyikan tank.

A view of the diversity of the aquarium.

Lake Tanganyika has a unique water chemistry that is very hard and basic (alkaline).  In the aquarium it is highly advisable to try and mimic the water conditions for the health of the fish. Our tap water at Aquaworld Aquarium is very soft most times of the year with a general hardness of less than 50 ppm total dissolved solids (tds).  We modify the water by adding Seachem's Tanganyikan Buffer and Cichlid Lake Salts.  The Tanganyikan Buffer brings up the pH of which our target range is above 8.4 to as high as 9.0, and the Cichlid Lake Salts add hardness to the water, of which our target range is 250 to 350 ppm tds.  How much of each you would have to add to the aquarium can vary depending on your water conditions.  If you are starting with hard water you will have to add less than if you are starting with soft water.

The plant you see growing across the bottom of the aquarium is Italian Vallisneria, This plant normally can grow to over 30 inches (75 cm), but in this aquarium the Tropheus help keep it mowed.  The Italian Val was an experiment that surprisingly worked out very well.  It was initially planted with only 6 plants, and soon after they were chewed down by the Tropheus and then they started spreading across the bottom.  After 2 years most of the bottom of the aquarium is covered with a thick grassy bed.


Fry from Neolamprologus pulcher.

The aquarium is populated with Tropheus duboisi, Tropheus brichardi, Tropheus moorii, Neolamprologus pulcher "daffodil," Julidochromis regaini, Neolamprologus brichardi, Synodontis petricola, Neolamprologus falcicula, Lamprologus caudopunctatus, Neolamprologus moorii, and Neolamprologus leleupi. The majority of the fish population was naturally reproduced and raised in the aquarium.

Our maintenance includes cleaning algae off of all 4 sides of the aquarium about every 10 to 14 days, and a 70% water change every 3 months.  After the water change the pH and hardness are adjusted over the course of several days to get it to our target range.  The pH is check about every 2 weeks and adjusted if necessary.  Polyester filter pads in the trickle filter are replaced once a month.

We feed the fish New Life Spectrum sinking pellets, San Francisco Bay Brand frozen Brine Shrimp, and live newly hatched baby brine shrimp for the cichlid fry born in the aquarium.  Natural algae are allowed to grow on the rocks for the Tropheus and Synodontis petricola catfish to graze on all day.

If you're interested in Tanganyikan fish, it is highly recommended that you try to provide the correct water conditions for the fish, as they tend to be more expensive and less forgiving on improper water values than their Lake Malawi cousins.  If you want to keep Tropheus, these fish require algae in their diet, it is not recommended to add a Pleco to the tank as they will out compete the cichlids for the algae, and also Plecos are soft water fish.

Published - 20060116

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