Alexander Foreman's page

Initial planning and prep for the Amazon tank

I started planning this tank with a list of wants:

  1. A very cool tank to show off my skills as an experienced fish keeper
  2. Big and spectacular fish to entertain the girls
  3. Aggressive fish to entertain the boys
  4. Modern and fasionable look that would make to most snobish yuppie go "WOW"
  5. Top quality filtration for crystal clear water
  6. Internal background with plants to best simulate an Amazonian environment
  7. No visible equipment
  8. No distracting aquarium noise
  9. Lighting to bring out the best possible colour
  10. Large enough that big fish can behave in a natural way

 Artificial Plants

Well before I had the aquarium I aquired a collection of artificial plants for decorating the tank. None of the plants are designed for aquarium use so I decided to soak them in water for 6 months to remove any possible toxins.

Mallee root wood pile with plant - experiment

I wanted to use a wood pile as the feature for this tank. I found some twisted mallee root in a wood yard and purchased it for about $10. I tested a few ways to set it up, then soaked it for 6 months to get the tannins out.

 Wood and plants after 6 months soaking

 Experimental home made artificial rock - Melted styrofoam with rubberized coat sprinkled with river sand.

My 3d internal background was going to simulate a rock wall with plants growing out of the cracks. I started messing around with ideas on how to make it. I made about 15 different fake rocks before I chose my final look.

Experimental home made artificial rock - Melted styrofoam with rubberized coat sprinkled with quartz crystals - looks like a lamington!

I don't have a picture of all the sketches I made to decide the layout of the tank decor. I think I pumped out 30 sketches before I was satisfied with the look. My final rocks were made from high density styrofoam coated with sandstone bondall pond sealer.

 Plan for layout of tank lids and lights

I hate the way aquarium lights are not at the front of the tank. When the fish parade up and down against the glass the lights fail to bring out their colour! I came up with the above idea to maximise the light on the fish. It works a treat.


Filter plans

Sump filter plan

I wanted to keep all my equipment out of the tank, so I planned a sump that could fit the pump, heaters and all the filter media.

Top/bottom draw overflow box and pipes plan

I wanted my overflow system (that channels water into the sump filter) to have several characteristics:

  • Redundant safety to prevent flooding
  • Small and unobtrusive
  • Silent
  • Collect as much debris as possible

Overflow pipes plan

I set up twin overflow pipe that passed through holes drilled in the bottom of the tank. If one pipe clogs then the second one still works. I used screw on flanges where the pipes penetrate the tank and then coated them in silicone sealant to guarantee a seal. The overflow pipes proved noisy in operation so I designed and added silencers.

Overflow box (without bottom draw chamber)

The overflow box provides an extra level of safety in case the pipes leak. The water in the tank will only drain to the top of the overflow box. It also provides a suface to add tank decor.

Bottom draw chamber

Most overflow systems only draw water from the surface of the tank. I wanted my overflow to draw from the bottom as well to pick up all the fish poo that can build up there. I designed the overflow box to draw half its flow from the bottom of the tank.

Bottom draw chamber inlet

Water flow through the overflow system


The tank

 7' tank being prepared for transport

My tank was built in Queensland Australia for a mere $600AU from 12mm annealed glass! It had an unusual steel frame over the corners for reinforcing. It was pre-drilled for me and had the under/over draw of my own design installed.

 Cabinet undergoing repair

My cabinet was a disaster. It was somewhat expensive to buy and arrived in very poor condition. I had to throw away all the doors (which had been made different sizes) and redo many of the joints. I then had the cabinet re-painted properly. Cost over $1,000 to fix all the problems, not to mention lots of my time.

 300 litre sump baffle filter

Sumps are great value, next time I'll use a trickle filter instead of baffles.


Making the spectacular background

My garage turned artificial rock workshop!

I settled on using high density stryofoam as the background material for the following reasons:

  • Non-toxic
  • Cheap
  • Strong
  • Easy to work with
  • Insulates the tank
  • Acts as padding if the fish hit it
  • Lasts forever


  • Very low density so it doesn't like to stay underwater! It needs serious gluing down!
  • Brittle surface can be torn off by fish so it must be coated

Styrofoam rocks being arranged and fitted

What I needed for this job:

  • Hacksaw
  • Various knives
  • Small blowtorch
  • Paint brushes
  • Silicon gun and aquarium silicon
  • A texter
  • Sheets and blocks of high density styrofoam
  • Dust buster (for the stryofoam bits)
  • Drop sheet
  • Bondall pond sealer or equivalent
  • Imagination

I ordered styrofoam sheets of 3 different thicknesses and 2 large solid blocks for the really big rocks. I cut them up into various shapes. I worked on the big rocks first. Then I rolled the aquarium on its back and put the big rocks into it. I then worked on the smaller rocks to fill the gaps between the big rocks. I only used very thin pieces at the surface because I did not want to reduce the surface area for oxygen exchange.

More foam rocks being arranged and fitted. I wanted to rocks to hide the internal plumbing (recirculation fitting and pipe on the right)

I made the rock shapes by first sketching the shape I wanted onto the foam and then cutting with the saw / knives. I then worked on the detail by cutting with a stanley knife and melting sections with the blow torch. I then hardened the entire surface of each rock by slightly melting it with the torch.

Testing the fit for the plastic plant holders and recirculation jet cover (bottom left)

I carved special recesses into the rocks for the plastic plants to sit in. I wanted the illusion that plants were growing out of the rock wall.

View through the bottom of the tank

 View from the side

Almost done

I photographed the positions of the rocks so that I could put them back in their proper place after painting them.

Undercoat applied and then rocks put back to test fit.

I took all the rocks out and painted them with a pond sealer called Bondall. The painting was a very easy process. All I had to do was open the tin and brush the sealer onto the the rocks. Each coat took a day to dry properly. After I applied the undercoat I put the rocks back into the tank. It was like making a jigsaw puzzle :)

Extra rocks (white) being added to fill gaps

As the rocks were painted they became noticeably larger. This meant that they didn't go back into exactly the same positions as originally planned. A few rearrangements were required. I made some extra rocks out of the leftovers to fill gaps and add a bit of depth to the look of the rock wall.

Final coat applied and rocks placed back for final test fit

After the final coat (3rd coat) I put them all back in again and tested the plants. Then came the hardest part. I had to paint pond sealer on the glass between each rock. I couldn't paint the entire background because the pond sealer doesn't bond to glass well enough to hold the rocks down. The rocks just tear the sealer off the glass when the tank is filled. The rocks must be siliconed directly onto the glass or the system doesn't work! I had to painstakingly trace around each rock and then remove it. Once the rocks were out I painted in the gaps.

Painting pond sealer where the rocks have gaps

I had to paint pond sealer on the glass between each rock. I couldn't paint the entire background because the pond sealer doesn't bond to glass well enough to hold the rocks down. The rocks just tear the sealer off the glass when the tank is filled. The rocks must be siliconed directly onto the glass or the system doesn't work! I had to painstakingly trace around each rock and then remove it. Once the rocks were out I painted in the gaps.

Painting the gaps and the plumbing (the fish eventually pulled the sealer off the pipes)

I then added silicon to the back of each rock and put it in the tank. The painted gaps formed an outline so it was easy to put the rocks in their correct place.

Bottom painted and plants glued in

I then rolled the tank upright and painted the back of the tank black to prevent light shining through the gaps. I added a few rocks to the bottom of the tank and painted the bottom with black pond sealer. Since I planned to have digging fish I didn't want to see exposed glass.

Wood pile added as a feature and to conceal the recirculation pump

Tank ready to be set up

It was worth the effort!

I set up the sump filter and installed the overflow pipes. Initially they were extremely noisy so I made a set of silencers for them. Now they are very quiet.

Making the overflow silencer

The three parts needed for the silencer

My overflow pipes gurgled so much that they were keeping me awake! I ended up building silencers for the overflows to stop the gurgling. All I needed was 2 PVC 90 degree fittings, a short PVC pipe and a drill.

Silencer complete with hole

I fitted the bits together and put them on my overflow pipe. The result was silence most of the time with an occasional mighty surge with my tank water level dropping several centimeters as all my water was syphoned to the sump! A small hole drilled in the top of the silencer solved that problem. The noisiest part of my tank now is the return pump.

Releasing the fish

Golden serverums

I released 4 golden severums into my tank. Unfortunately one was crazy and killed the other three. This is very odd for a severum! The crazy one grew big and beautiful but remained mad.

Tinfoil Barbs

I ordered my barbs in advance. Due to delays with the cabinet my barbs had grown to 20cm by the time they were put in the tank!

Tinfoil barb ballet

Oscars - the feature fish

I chose Red Oscars for the feature fish of my tank due to their extroverted character, size and rich colour.It is hard to find good quality Oscars in Australia so these ones were obtained throught a LFS from a very good breeder in Singapore. It cost me a fair bit and I lost a few but it was definately worth the effort!

Oscar exploring its new home

Tiny Oscar looking lost in the massive tank

Oscar six months later - eating a tank mate

Its why we love them :)


3 years later...

How it looked at day 1

Algy starting to grow

About 1 year in

Artificial rocks looking more natural than ever after 3 years

The artificial rocks are still in very good condition. Algy has given them a distinct brownish green colour and made them look very natural. No guest can tell that the rocks are fake.

List of problems:

  • My Oscars nested on a rock and managed to pull off some of the sealer, exposing the foam. I just put another rock over the top.
  • There are always annoying fine particles suspended in the water. I suspect that they are detaching from the pond sealer as it slowly breaks down. The particles accumulate in my sump filter and form a kind of glue that clogs everything up. I need to clean it out once every year.
  • Most of the artificial plants have deteriorated to the point that they have been removed or replaced.
  • I don't think the pond sealer would survive a plecostomos!


Upgrading the sump with a $60 monster mechanical filter box

Sump prior to upgrade

My sump filter is and excellent biological filter, but I'd been wanting to upgrade my sump's mechanical filtration for the following reasons:

  • The mechanical filter did not work very well! I had filter wool virtually suspended in the first chamber and it didn't pick up all the filth.
  • There were annoying fine particles always suspended in the water that the filter was not picking up.
  • The mechanical media was hard to clean. Getting the media out of the sump was a messy and irritating business.
  • It needed to be cleaned too often. I didn't have enough media volume.

I removed the 2 plastic overflow pipes that go into the sump. I also pulled out the felt and re-used it.


Picked up these items from "cheap as chips" for about $20AU:

  • 1 plastic storage tub
  • 1 blue A4 paper tray
  • 2 small pink paper trays
  • 1 plastic disposable cup

I also had:

  • 2 sheets of felt/acrylic blend fabric
  • Sheets of polyester pillow batting
I wanted a tub 15cm high, it would have been perfect. Unfortunately the store only had 10cm or 20cm high tubs. I went for the 20. I had to modify my overflows to make it fit.

A4 paper tray cut down

I cut the blue A4 paper tray so I had a stand about 2cm high.

Stand fitted

Then I installed the stand in the tub. The stand allows water to pass through a hole in the bottom of the tub unrestricted.

Drain hole cut and safety overflow installed

I cut a hole in the bottom of the tub and installed a plastic cup as the drain. The pink tray is the safety overflow. It provides a way for water to flow to the drain if the media clogs. The safety overflow prevents flooding.

Mechanical filter media installed

I put in 5 layers of mechanical media.The media is:

  • Polyester batting, normally used to stuff pillows. I got it at a linnen shop called "spot on". This stuff is very cheap.
  • Felt/acrylic fabric. I couldn't find any without colour so ended up getting the "camel" colour. Again I got this from the linnen shop and it was not expensive.

This is how the filtering works:

  1. The pink paper tray distributes the water evenly into the media (it also holds the media in place).
  2. The water passes through 3 layers of batting, normally used to stuff pillows. It traps the regular debris in the water, allowing fine particles to pass.
  3. The water then passes through 2 layers of felt/acrylic fabric. This material "polishes" the water by trapping the fine particles.
  4. The outer layer is batting again. There should be not debris left in the water by this stage, the batting it there to assist water movement through and around the felt, particularly on the sides of the filter.
  5. Water passes through drain into sump.

Safety overflow

The safety overflow provides a direct escape route for water to the drain.


This is the drain. It is just a plastic cup cut off. The tub it a tight squeeze between the sump and the overflows so I needed a drain that could recess into the tub as I slide it in and out. The cup does the job perfectly.

The tape it on the tub because I cracked it while cutting . If it leaks I'll get another one for $10.

Mechanical filter installed and running

I forgot to take a pic of the lid. I cut the lid so it could slide over the overflows.

The final product



Oscar hatchery

I set up a hatchery to use the next time my Oscars lay eggs. I planned the hatchery so it could be set up quickly and easily. I put the sponge filter in my sump so it will be cycled all the time and ready to use.

 Sponge filter in aquarium sump


  • 9 Litre food container
  • 25W heater
  • "Quiet" air pump
  • 1 meter air line with:
    • Non-return valve
    • T piece
    • Airstone
  • Bubble lift sponge filter

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