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Lake Tanganyika Tank at Aquaworld Aquarium

Lake Tanganyika Tank at Aquaworld Aquarium


Published - 20060116, Revised:

At Aquaworld Aquarium, when you enter the front door, you are presented with a 240-gallon (908 L) acrylic aquarium populated with fish 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, I aimed to create a window into Lake Tanganyika. The purpose of this article is to explain how the tank was set up and maintained.

First, a foreword about Lake Tanganyika and its uniqueness. Lake Tanganyika is one of the great rift lakes of East Africa, surrounded by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire) to the West, Burundi at the Northern tip, Tanzania to the East, and Zambia at the Southern tip. Lake Tanganyika is the second deepest lake in the world, and 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, is also represented in the lake, like sponges, crabs, and jellyfish. Most fish 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, empty snail shells, or sand pits. Tanganyika also has mouth brooders, the most popular being the fish from the genus Tropheus.

Trickle towers left, and ultraviolet sterilizer right.
Trickle towers left, and ultraviolet sterilizer right.

The aquarium has 6 holes drilled in the back, 4 for water to drain to the filter, and 2 for returns. This aquarium is filtered with two connected custom-made trickle towers and flows 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.

Close up of the 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 of around 500 lbs (227 k). The base rock is placed in the aquarium first, so it is in contact with the bottom acrylic. Putting 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.

A view of the diversity of the aquarium.
Synodontis lucipinnis (petricola)
Synodontis lucipinnis (petricola).

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 the year, with a general hardness (GH) of less than 2 dGH, and 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 add to the aquarium can vary depending on your starting water chemistry. If you start with hard water, you will have to add less than if you start with soft water.

The plant you see growing across the bottom of the aquarium is Italian val (Vallisneria spiralis). Italian val normally can grow to over 36 inches (1 m), 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 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
Fry from Neolamprologus pulcher.

The aquarium is populated with Tropheus duboisi, Tropheus brichardi, Tropheus moorii, Neolamprologus pulcher "daffodil," Julidochromis regaini, Neolamprologus brichardi, Synodontis lucipinnis (petricola), Neolamprologus falcicula, Lamprologus caudopunctatus, Neolamprologus moorii, and Neolamprologus leleupi. Most fish naturally reproduced and raised fry in the aquarium.

Our maintenance includes cleaning algae off all four sides of the aquarium every 10 to 14 days and a 70% water change every three 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 checked about every two 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 can grow on the rocks for the Tropheus and Synodontis lucipinnis (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 chemistry 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.