I had the ocean in my living room and now...the desert!
In the beginning, an ocean was born!
Six years ago, I was visiting the eccentric pet store located twenty minutes from my home town. I often frequented this pet shop due to the fact that I could enjoy fresh and salt water fish, reptiles, arachnids, amphibians, large and small birds, kittens and much more.
You see, I am a sucker for a pretty face. Or, an ugly face. Any face that belongs to an animal. Over the years I have added to my household a rescue rabbit, a puppy mill Newfoundland, two Cockatiels, a Collie, a Yorkshire Terrier, two rescue cats and a little, toy Pomeranian.
Six years ago, I also made the decision to take the wild ride of setting up an ocean aquarium in my home. My initial excitement turned to boredom and anticipation as I waited the three necessary months to cycle the live rock and live sand. At night, I would take out a flash light and look for the creatures that inhabited these substrates and would find worms, sea stars, odd looking mollusks and algae that began to grow. In fact, the algae took over my tank and turned the water into what looked like pea soup.
Disheartened, I called the pet shop and found that I needed air pumps (fans), a UVB sterilizer, a Protein Skimmer and more! After a couple thousand dollars of investing in rock, sand, the tank, pumps, skimmers, special lights and heaters, I was now ready for what was called "The Cleanup Crew". This crew was comprised of many snails, little crabs, sea stars and shrimp.
For another month, I watched my clean up crew. I found that crabs like to eat snails and rip them out of their shells so that they can inhabit them. I found that shrimp only eat detritus (dead food items) and don't do a whole lot to help a tank. Now, four months into my "relaxing" ocean I was able to finally get some fish.
I started with clown fish and lost many. Finding the right mix of salt, getting reverse osmosis water, keeping the growth of algae down; all of these were lessons that I will never forget. Another month passed by and I began to get the hang of being an Aquatic Specialist. Six years later, I had a beautiful, huge 75 gallon aquarium in my living room. Full of healthy fish, corals, mollusks, crabs, snails and an urchin.
My tank from a distance; 100 pounds of live rock, corals and fish... my vacation away from it all!
A vacation away from home or a Sailor's nightmare?
I loved my tank. I found it very relaxing to sit in my over-sized chair with a bowl of Ramen noodles in my lap and a Caramel coffee in my hand, watching my creatures dart in and out of the rocks and play tag with each other in this soothing habitat.
The one thing that people don't realize about salt water tanks however is the amount of work it takes to keep them clean and looking like the crystal, clear ocean!
It was required to do 25% water changes every two weeks. This was also accompanied by vigorous scraping of the sides and front of the tank with a special handle with a razor blade. Algae and Coraline substances grow thick and quickly in a healthy tank and the "clean up crew" often gets lazy and choose to eat the food you drop in the tank, rather than eat the gunk that builds up in the tank. Water tank changes get expensive. You can't use regular tap water. You must use RO (reverse osmosis) water or your fish will not live for very long. I began to buy pre-mixed salt water from the pet shop as well because it was too difficult to find the right mix. In comparing the cost of salt, RO water and buying it pre-mixed, the pre-mixed was more cost efficient for me.
I also didn't plan on having to test my water's levels weekly for calcium, PH, ammonia, nitrates and nitrites. My KH kept dropping quite a bit too and I kept getting out of control growths of red and green algae at different times.
Don't misunderstand me when I am gushing love about my tank one minute and complaining about it another. I did adore having a mini ocean in my own home. However, my "vacations" were always cut short when it came time to clean this beast of a habitat.
Whoever said Clown fish were sweet and cute like Nemo in the movie didn't know what they were talking about. My female; Nemo, was very territorial and each time I tried to clean her left side of the tank, she and her mate Tiny would attack my hand; ripping chunks of skin out of me and causing bleeding wounds. Even when I wore rubber gloves, she always knew that my wrist was attached to those gloves and she would jump up and grab onto my wrist.
My corals would also choose to get temperamental. I received quite a few stings from those lovely creatures if I brushed up against one that didn't like company.
Some of my fish, like the Chromis, would try to jump out of the tank because they are neurotic, scared creatures that think everything is going to eat them. Heaven forbid you have a Jaw-fish and an open top of your tank. These jumpers look for the tiniest of holes to escape from the tank and end up dead in the middle of your living room. I gave up on keeping these unique creatures after the third one committed suicide. I couldn't take the casualties!
The crack that ended it all....
One day this past August, I was scraping the algae off of the front of the tank. Nemo and Tiny were attacking my hand and the scraper and I was trying to fend them off, when I noticed a crack in the upper left hand corner of my little ocean.
A small crack may not sound like anything to get upset about unless you have 75 gallons of water being held in a vessel that has thousands of dollars of living creatures housed inside.
I thought about my options. I could buy a new tank. Let it cycle with some of the rock I had in my current tank. Try to find a place to house my fish while I emptied their current habitat and replaced it with a new one. I could wait a couple months and hope that my fish would survive a temporary home and I could also hope that a new tank would cycle that quickly using cultured rock and sand from my current tank. This also was contingent on the hope that the tank wouldn't burst before all of this could be done.
The other option was to take the tank down and return my fish, corals and other beasts to the pet shop from which they had come and ask to allow me to trade my precious and beloved tank inhabitants for a totally different type of creature; a Bearded Dragon and all of the items necessary to help him/her thrive.
Luckily for me, the pet shop and I had a wonderful friendship that had been built up over the past 6 years with my visiting them weekly at a minimum and sometimes more often during the summer. They understood my plight. They knew I was an exceptional care taker of my tanks creatures and that I would bring in healthy fish and corals. They agreed to the trade and I went from Ocean to Desert in a matter of days.
Journey is the name of my Bearded Dragon. She is a baby and I love her. I am a teacher and she has a tank, both at home and at school. I used the 75 gallon aquarium that once held my salt water creatures and turned it into a desert habitat. I named her Journey because she is a traveling lizard! She lives at school during the week and comes home with me on the weekends.
She is much easier to care for and loves to be held and pet too. She doesn't rip chunks of my skin off and she lets the students pet her as well. Her tank is appealing to the eye; with lots of plastic foliage, drift wood, rocks and turf.
I do not regret my six years as an aquatic enthusiast. My tank brought me such joy and many peaceful moments. I still stop by the fish section in the pet shop to check on my "babies" and some are still there, awaiting new homes. I only hope that the new owners will love them as much as I did.