Brackish 46 G Bow Front [1.005 S.g.] Green Spotted Puffer Rescue Project.

  • #1
I had gotten it into my head to get a Puffer. Why? Well because they are intelligent, pugnacious, attractive and have a semi-anthropomorphic look to them. They have forward facing eyes and their fused tooth beaks are behind lips giving them a human face of sorts. They can live up to 20 years with proper care and are not a casual hobbyist decision. You will come to discover that I never do anything easy any more. This is my idea of a Betta Bowl...

I have had Puffers in the past but always the Pea Puffers. I have bred them and they have always been a rewarding effort. However, I have never taken on a brackish fish tank. I have had freshwater fish from the typical tropicals to South American Cichlids (I love Dempseys and even had genuine Blue Fire Oscars in the late seventies) and then graduated to African Cichlids (mostly Mbuna and some other Lake MalawI fish). I have also kept Seahorses which I plan to do again later down the road.

Brackish water is in a class by itself of complexity and maintenance effort. No one really sells Brackish water so you have to make it to the right specific gravity for every water change. It is challenging to get an attractive and ecologically compatible setup to stay alive owing to the fact that few plants like Brackish water and the salt plants like Cypress and Mangrove are not sold acclimated (and doing it is a serious pain in the fanny). So this was my thinking process that led me to put up a Brackish tank.

I live in San Antonio, Texas. There are a fair number of LFS opts here. Frankly, they all have serious shortcomings; minimal selection, almost no plants, poorly educated personnel, deplorable tank maintenance and more. No one shop is top flight in all areas and taken as a whole there are large gaps in availability of live stock. I moved here from Portland, Oregon and we had two VERY well heeled shops; The Wet Spot (you can shop them online and I encourage you to do so) and The World of Wet Pets. My point is that I have been spoiled. It looks like I will have to move closer to Houston to get what I want more often -- but I digress.

I called around and no one had either Figure 8 or Green Spotted Puffers for sale. I asked a fairly reputable store to order one in for me and they did. I raced out to the shop and bought the animal (still in its shipping bag). When I got the animal home I examined it more thoroughly and found that he was in terrible condition. His dorsal fin was virtually non-existant and the had clear white bacterial infection there. It caudal fin was similarly damaged and he had an open wound on him body near his (missing) dorsal fin.

I do not really blame the shop owner; he had a lot of stock to get through and I had asked to pick the animal up immediately to reduce it's stress. Additionally, I asked him to order the animal in so I was going to take it no matter what. The supplier should be held accountable and I later had a discussion with the shop owner to that effect.

So the very 1st thing I did was place the animal in a small tank and begin dosing him with Erythromycin to kill the bacterial infection.

Four days later his infection had cleared up and I knew I needed to get him into a more permanent residence. I was prepared with the tank as detailed below...

Tank: used 46 gallon Bow Front
Glass top (new purchase to replace plastic top
Light: original fluorescent hood. [will be replaced]
Heater: used Aqueon 150 watt
Filter: Fluval 406
Stand (because I think they are cool as tank stands): Stack-On steel leg workbench
Substrate: broken coral topped with a nice marine sand.

The intial setup looked something like this:

There are two large, expensive (at $35 a piece) driftwood pieces that I soaked for two days, the plants are
Anubias sp.
Java Moss
Java Fern.

The water eventually cleared up and the tank looked like this once it was up and established (the 40 next to it is part of a different thread...)

Note the excellent utility value of the stands...

If you know anything about puffers you will know that they are wasteful and messy eaters -- rather ironic given that they are sensitive to ammonia and the results of having uneaten food in the tank. To compat this I added in a couple of tank residents:
Knight Goby -- darn near as big as the Puffer and they treat each other with respect.
Bumble Bee Goby -- cute and smart enough to stay away from the puffer.

Both of these have been pretty successful cleaning up after the puffer.

I soon found that my over-priced driftwood was still VERY rich in tannins. It turned my otherwise attractive tank into fish swimming in either tea or urine depending upon your viewpoint. Yeah, I know, it is harmless and will clear up. I put some extra charcoal packets in my filter and decided to wait it out -- because the wood was too big for me to boil.

Then I made a serious mistake.

I went to the nearest LFS to get some more danios as snack food for my Axolotls. As is my habit I wandered around and then got struck by an impulse buy opportunity:

Oh yeah! I was totally in for this guy. When the LFS employee told me it needed soft water with a back fill of trace elements - and he was only $5... I bought him and the bottle of trace elements and immediately put him into the temp tank I had 2 Electric Blue Rams sitting in. I thought that the two Blues would be cool together.

So... what was wrong with this was that the animal is NOT a soft water resident but a Brackish water (1.005-1.008) fish. There was more than that but, like I said, the LFS's here leave much to be desired of several levels across a spectrum of issues. Fortunately I check my resources - and we all know that we are ultimately responsible for the animals we take on so ignorance is no excuse for failure.

So, though irritated, I was also perfectly fine with the idea of adding this goby to the Brackish tank to round it out.

That was a mistake. He is a shy and retiring sort of guy and diggs... constantly. The only problem I have with that is that I have the wrong substrate for a digger... He has, in short order, made a terrible mess of the tank.

But that means that I have an opportunity to correct a number of mistakes (like it or not) in the tank! So I am in the process of fixing things. Here is a list of the changes I need to make;

1. get the tannins out of the darned driftwood once and for all.
2. Remove the plants that are failing to adjust to the natural beauty of Brackish water...
  • Bacopa is not making it
  • Hygophila may have a species that is brackish friendly but I do not have it
  • The Java Moss... is not Java Moss. It is probably Willow Moss which looks similar...
to be fair, the Dragonfish has coated, repeatedly, all stationary elements of the tank in a choking dust from the substrate. I will invest in more Anubias I think as they are pretty much bulletproof.
3. replace the substrate entirely with aragonite sands. This will still help keep the pH and water elements in trim and be suitable for the digging goby.

The primary challenge is that I am needing to keep the tank running while I get the changes managed. So I will be keeping the animals in the tank until the very last minute when I do the substrate switch out. For the next week or whatever I will have the tank in an ugly state -- but I will still maintain proper quals in the water.

I am, even now, boiling the largest driftwood piece - in stages... the main body, the largest off-branch and then the last branching. It is a serious pain let me tell you - especially in my small apartment kitchen (I moved here to get residency and will be buying a home in a bit so the place is - in a word - tiny).

So... here is where the project stands as of this moment:

The driftwood major piece has been boiled for about 12 hours for its trunk. Left overnight in a clear water bath it did not leech any tannins... Today I am boiling the larger branch off the trunk.

The tank is a sight...

Note the tea color in the water. The animals are not suffering any real ill effect - ****, if anything they are enjoying the fact that I am constantly looking after them.

Again, the challenge is to get a complete tank Re-Do done while still maintaining the population in the tank and minimizing the impact. I will keep you posted.

  • #2
Excellent thread! Great read. I look forward to seeing how the tank progresses.

  • Thread Starter
  • #3
Redo is now accomplished

1. boil the driftwood - I boiled what I thought was the offending piece of driftwood for 4 days (owing to having to boil it in sections). I Finally was able to soak it for several nights and the water remained clean. I then boiled what I thought would be a smaller concern piece. Holy ! I was dead wrong... this piece, the slammer one that is now laying across the tank lengthwise, boiled out to produce waste water that was darker than french roast coffee! Several times I had to boil this over the next few days. I was appalled. In the end it soaked clean. I also boiled all the little pieces along the way - though I have decided to use most of them in a different tank.
2. Change the substrate completely - I bought the wet version of Carib-Sea's Aragon-Live (40#). The sand comes in three particle grades. I bought the middle one since the Dragonfish will be filter feeding through it. I removed the water completely - or at least until the hose sucked only air... I obviously removed the fish to a large container during this process. I decided to save the original substrate mix and bought a suitable container to air dry it over time on my porch.
3. Keep the fish alive - I put the 4 fish; Puffer, Knight Goby, Bumble Bee Goby and Dragonfish Goby into a 5 gallon bucket of clean tank water after visually verifying each of them eat. I removed most of the plants to different tank but reserved some leafy plants and the Anacharis to float in the bucket to pacify the animal and reduce the likelihood of the puffer or the Dragonfish getting froggy.

I returned the Driftwood and the rocks. I am not completely finished with the hardscape since I ordered a sizeable Cichlid Stone to make the Dragonfish more comfortable. Once it arrives I will finalize the rocks. The Dragonfish has dug himself a small nest under the rocks - purposely placed in the center to inhibit his tearing the plants to **** and gone.

Adding back a full tank of Brackish water increases the complexity of steps. Here are the method and measures I used;
  • Using a Gram Scale I measured out 30 gallon of marine salt. I added this to ~250 mL of tap water (recall I have very hard water). This results in 1.006 s.g. brackish water. If you want to hit 1.005 s.g. then reduce the salt to approximately 29.7g per gallon. The safest bet is to make your water and test the gallons randomly for the 1st 4 or so. Adjust up or down for salt weight to reach your target.
  • Initially I used an Oster blending wand to mix the salt thoroughly. I point of fact I had been doing so for a while. I got about 8 gallons into my refill process before it just utterly failed. It was not exactly a surprise.
    I ran to Target and noticed that the 900 watt Ninja Professional Juicer/Blender was on sale (63.00 instead of 99.00) and jumped on that bad boy! I can tell you that the difference in power was almost comical! If you have one of these Brackish Water changes become virtually trivial.
  • I added Prime to each of two 1 gallon fish water jugs (I favor the Hi-C fruit juice jugs and mark them with a Fish symbol... you can do as you like) and then poured the salt water into the jugs. I then poured the water into the tank (using the popular salad plate on the substrate to prevent making a mess of it).
    The result is 46 gallons of 1.006 s.g. brackish - exactly what was in the tank after it had started at 1.005 s.g. - the salinity increase coming from evaporation.
I returned the plants that did not fall to ruin in the brackish water
  • Water Sprite
  • Anacharis
  • Java Moss (might be willow moss... but it seems to be holding up alright)
  • Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus var. 'windelov')
  • Anubias barteri

Here is the tank right after restoring the animals...

The milky water is, of course, typical of any complete redo. This morning found all of the animals very alert and seriously hungry!

On the whole the redo went very well. The puffer seems a little insecure and wanting attention whenever he sees me - and I offer him a little something so he knows I am paying attention...

I wanted a puffer and to see if I could make keeping a brackish water tank attractive and simple to maintain. I am, I think, on the path to that goal.

Thanks for stopping by.
  • #4
That's a nice looking tank!
  • Thread Starter
  • #5
Thank you! When it grows out I expect it to be pretty special for the Puffer.
  • #6
From a fellow Portlandian: Wassup!

Can't wait to see the progression of the tank!!!
  • Thread Starter
  • #7
Hello Portland! Man! I miss the Wet Spot down here I can tell you!

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