Aquarium Design, Installation and Maintenance, Thousand Oaks, CaliforniaMarine Aquarium Maintenance and Installation, Thousand Oaks, California

1500 gallon Reef Tank in Bermuda


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The following are my daily notes on a trip to Bermuda to convert a 25 foot long, 
5 foot tall, 1500 gallon tank into a living reef.

DAY 1, Los Angeles International Airport,10:30 PM, I had checked in the eight large boxes containing 3 Metal Halide lighting systems, 6 ballasts, 4 Oscillating powerheads, and assorted other items I was bringing, filled out all the paperwork and tags properly, would all the boxes make it ? Had I forgotten something ? Oh well, too late now. I settled back into the cramp airline seat and began to think about the 5 hour flight ahead of me. I find flying exciting but really very uncomfortable. Hec its night, I'll sleep. Right ! I was so excited my Knee caps were tingling.

DAY 2, What seemed like all night, and now was 6:00 in the morning, the plane landed in Newark, N.J. With a 3 hour layover ahead, I found a McDonalds in the airport and had breakfast. Getting back on another plane I had to prepare myself for another 2 hour flight. At least it was daylight and I could look outside. Yeah lots to look at over the Atlantic Ocean. Just before we finally landed, I caught a view of the coral reefs and the turquoise colored water below and knew that the flight was all worth it. As we got off the plane the signs pointed us to the Customs check-in area. I thought I had all my paperwork ready. Well I didn't have the address of the fellow I was staying with, and was told I would have to step into the room opposite where everyone else was going. OH OH. In moments a British speaking fellow came in and asked why I was here and the name of the fellow I was staying with. I told him he was suppose to be waiting for me outside and with that the Brit got on the P.A. system and paged my friend. By now everyone is looking in the window at me. A telephone rang, the Englishman answered it, asked for the address, and turned to me and said I could go. WHEW ! At the carousal I found my boxes, a little beat up, got a Porter and wheeled myself to the next desk, the Duty Officer. This lady looked at me then looked at the mountain of boxes on the cart and then looked back at me. She asked me what was inside and if I had any paperwork stating their contents. Just then my friend, Cesaer, came up with another lady, the Duty Officers boss, who told to the officer to figure out the duty tax and move me on through.

My friend Cesaer is Italian, he's lived in Bermuda for 30 years, he owns one of the most popular restaurants on the Island and he looks like what you would think Cesaer the Great looks like. Well he gets his Van, now remember that Bermuda is a British Island and all the vehicles are these small European, economic ( gas was about $ 4.00 a gallon ) variety. We loaded the boxes or at least half of them, the other half stuck out the back of the van. I had to ride in the back just to hold the boxes in. Now here's the first thing I noticed that was amiss, the steering wheel was on the the wrong side of the car ! The next thing I noticed was everybody drove on the wrong side of the road ! And the roads were very narrow and they all drive too fast !

Cesaer lives on a peninsula that is in the Hamilton Sound. His home has a wooden dock that goes half the way around the house and he has created many little gardens and patios within it. Inside the house were many rooms, but the largest room had the Aquarium in it. The tank is 25 feet long, 5 feet from the floor upwards and 30 inches wide. It was built out on what used to be a balcony, which is now enclosed with glass. The interior of the aquarium is covered with local dried coral rock and the bottom has two levels. The lower level is half the width of the tank bottom and runs the length of the tank. Previously this trough was used as the lower section of an undergravel filter. The tank is viewed through 3 large glass panels. Now here is the nice thing, there is a 5-MD water pump that draws water from the ocean, 10 feet away, and pumps it into the tank at a rate of about 500 GPH !. Constant water exchange ! Well we ended the day with a boat ride of Hamilton Sound and many, many discussions on how I was planning on setting up the tank.

DAY 3, Got up at 8:00 AM and sat out on the dock enjoying the sun. Cesaer said lets go snorkeling and with that we put on face masks and snorkels and jumped off the dock. Wow, Condylactus Anemones a foot across, sea cucumbers two feet long, Four Spot Butterfly's, sponges of many colors and lots of gorgonian fans. The water was 76 degrees but I got a little too cold and climbed back up on the dock to dry off in the sun and have breakfast.

Wasn't long before we went to work. We unpacked all the boxes and began to position the items on the tank in a mock set-up. We discovered that the light enclosures didn't reach the distance between the supports that spanned the width of the tank. This could have been a problem, but with some quick thinking, I suggested we use to the old tank tops and cut out the area where the enclosures could sit into. Cesaer was pleased. Again we loaded half of what we had, the other half hanging out the back, into the little van, and off to the carpenters shop we went. Steven, the carpenter, was also a Bermudian ,born on the Island. He proceeded to cut the openings in the three aquarium tops. A few hours, one Router and a few table saw blade teeth later we loaded the tops back in the van a went home.

DAY 4 First thing was to drill 5 three inch holes though the back of the tank. Three holes for overflows out of the tank and back into the ocean and two for electrical cables. The Electrician, Harry, a real Bermudian, a descendant of the British who shipwrecked here back in 1607. He drilled the holes using a large electric drill with an auger looking drill bit. Because of the Re-enforcement bar within the cement back of the tank, none of the holes were straight or at the same angle. This would make things interesting. Harry finished the holes and had to leave, so it was my turn, I had to create an over flow system and link three holes to the pipe going back to the ocean.

Well I got out a hammer, chisel and some PVC pipe and fittings and began to construct the overflow system and collection manifold. While working away the phone rang. Cesaer had gone to get some more materials, so I set my tools down and went in to answer the phone. It was Rolf, he was calling to confirm our venture tomorrow to gather the Live Sand and Live Rock I was going to use in the reef tank. I wrote down his number so Cesaer could call him back. I walked back out to my work spot, reached down to pick up the hammer and chisel, and the dog, which had settled down next to my tools when I went in to answer the phone, growled and lunged forward. White teeth apparent ! SHE BIT ME ! Right across the back of the hand. Pinta was an Akita, 13 years old and I guess I had startled her. Just before the blood appeared to flow out of the two wounds in my fore finger I thought I could see white bone. OH MY ! I sat down and began to think how I was going to resolve this situation.

When Cesaer returned he said "lets go to the Hospital ". HOSPITAL ! In Bermuda ! OH MY. Off we went in his little van with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the van and driving on the wrong side of the road. I thought I remained quite calm for the situation. We got to the hospital and Cesaer persuaded the nurse to have the doctor look at my finger right away. " Well Mr. Stime, when did you have your last Tetanus vaccination ?" I thought and said " no idea ". The nurse then said that I should get the vaccination now and she would administer the shot. SHOT ! OH MY ! Moments later she reappeared, I took a deep breath and looked away. I felt a prick in my arm and she was done. "The doctor will be with you in a moment " she said and left. In walked Dr. Schaeffer, a bearded fellow. He asked me a few questions, looked at the wound and decided that it required further examination and said that I would need a stitch to help the wound stay closed. Off to another room and as I laid on my back , my left arm covered in clothes, he said "this will burn slightly". BURN was a good word ! Fortunately, as he applied the local anesthetic it only burned for a moment. I could feel my finger become numb. He used a syringe and about a Liter of Saline solution before he declared that the bite had not broken the Tendons or hurt the bone. The doctor used a stitch to close the wound, applied a bandage and said " to avoid infection, it was a good idea not to go into the water". Well there went any diving for me.

When we returned home it was time to go out for dinner, a French restaurant. First we had Breads and Cheeses, then Scallops and Escargot ( in a pastry ) appetizers, then Mushroom soup, and then the steak with Peppercorn sauce I had ordered. And then dessert, some sort of dark chocolate cake with thick frosting and walnuts. Oh life isn't so bad , even with a bandaged finger !

DAY 5 Today I met the young fellows who would help us collect the Live Sand. Rolf and Stephen were both Watchmakers from Germany and Thomas, a Chef who was from Austria. We loaded 14 five gallon buckets, masks, fins, snorkels and scuba equipment, and off they went in the boat. I remained, as I was not able to go in the water due to the bandaged dog bite, and worked on finishing the overflow system.

A few hours later they returned. They unloaded the buckets of sand and told their stories of what they had seen while gathering the sand. I ran my fingers down into one of the buckets, lifted up a handful of sand and saw many forms of live scatter from it. We then began cover up the trough in the bottom of the tank with Plexiglas panels that had holes drilled in them. The Plexiglas was supported by large diameter PVC pipes sat on their ends. Over the panels we siliconed nylon window screen. The trough was now an enclosed area that would serve as the Plenum in a Jaubert / NNR type system.

Next we placed the buckets of Live Sand ( about 700 lbs ) over the bottom of the tank. This gave us about three inches of sand the length of the tank. Then we went out to what Cesaer called the hole and lifted up the Live Rock that he had previously placed. There were pieces that were about 2 feet long, a foot wide and at least 6 inches thick. It took two of us to lift them out of the water. These rocks were covered with Zooanthid Button Polyps, some had Gorgonians growing off them. I saw many different types of Caulerpa's, calcareous algae's and sponges. We hauled these up to the tank. With two men inside the tank and two handing the rock to them, I directed where I wanted the pieces placed.

Once the rock was in the tank Cesaer turned on the pump and the tank began to fill with fresh seawater. Even at 500 GPH it took almost three hours for the tank to fill. I watched as the water level neared the three over flows. They seemed to all be at the same height. As the tank filled, each over flow evenly took 1/2 an inch of water and there were no leaks or drips in the collection manifold. Things were working out well.

DAY 6 The Electrician showed up to run the new circuits that would allow Cesaer to turn the lights on and off from the living room wall switch. Cesaer had called a local Acrylic supplier, Willy. Willy was part Portuguese, part Lebanese and ran the "outlet" store in town. They had decided to replace the old tank tops, we had cut the other night, with custom made Acrylic covers that would hold the light hoods. Unfortunately the new light hoods wouldn't arrive for at least two weeks. In the meantime I used some 3/4 inch thick Acrylic supports to place the light hoods on top of. The lights consisted of seven 250 watt 55 K Metal Halide bulbs and six 40 watt Actinic fluorescent bulbs. These were placed in three light hoods and their power cords ran out the back of the aquarium to the ballasts placed in a cellar below the aquarium.

At the ends of, and between the light hoods I placed the four Oscillating Power Heads. These "AquaGate" units generated 950 GPH each and the discharge slowly swings back and forth 45 degrees. OH BOY do we have water movement ! After fooling with the fluorescent bulb fixture connections, the tank began to come ALIVE. With the alternating discharge angles of the powerheads creating a very "chaotic" water current in the tank, combined with the ripples of light or "glitter line" created by the Metal Halide lights, the tank really began to look like a piece of the ocean.

DAY 7 Decided that we would go scuba / snorkeling at some of the local beaches ( well Cesaer and Thomas would ). It was my job to watch the equipment. As I watched them go out into the water, I almost decided to go out with them and hold my bandaged hand out of the water. I decided not to and watched the girls on the beach. I recall one in particular, a blonde with short hair, tiny turquoise two piece bathing suit and long legs.

That afternoon we went to dinner at Cesaers restaurant. This was a real treat. After appetizers of Cheeses, Salami's, Ham, Mushrooms, Mediterranean Olives, Scallops, Clams, Calamari, Peppers and various fruits, we then ordered our meal. I selected the Fettuccini. It was delicious. Joining us was Thomas and his friend, Jennifer. A very attractive girl with black hair, creamy skin, and beautiful light blue eyes. She was from Boston. While being pampered by the waiters, I was introduced to many of the local prominent businessmen and another young pretty girl, Susan. She was a D.J, ( also from Boston ) at the local radio station. We chatted about music, what was current and favorites. The evening was very filling, exciting and socially entertaining. Jennifer asked if I wanted to go with Susan and others to the local "club". Well I had left my wallet at the house ( remember I'm on vacation ) and only had three dollars on me ( CLUCK CLUCK ). I wouldn't feel right not being able to pay my own way ( CLUCK CLUCK ), didn't have a ride home ( CLUCK CLUCK ) and had to get up early the next morning ( to crow at the morning sun ! ) Well I chickened out, but have a date with Susan, if I return. Jennifer is leaving Bermuda in January, she said she had relatives in L.A. We plan on getting together if she comes to town.

DAY 8 Today we went to the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo. We saw many exhibits of the local marine life and history. I got an opportunity to visit with the Aquarium Curator, Richard Winchell. We then sped off to the Crystal Caverns. 180 feet below the surface was a cave with million year old Stalactite and Stalagmites. We were told that if we dove down into the 65 degree crystal blue water we could swim into another chamber that was even bigger.

In the afternoon we went to the Bermuda Biological Society and spoke with to Dr. Smith who was involved in coral research. He talked about coral bleaching. Dr. Smith indicated that the expulsion of a corals Zooanthelae was due to some form of environmental stress. He also said that a coral could lose up to 99 % of its internal algae and if conditions became less stressful they could redevelop the algae. His researched centered on the causes of the environmental stresses.

That evening we began to fine tune the positions and placement of the corals and gorgonians. We then cleaned the glass panels, adjusted the oscillating powerheads and sat back to enjoy our efforts. As the powerheads alternately created currents in the tank, the seafans swayed back and forth. Under the Actinic lights the Brain corals glowed brilliant green. The "glitter line" created by the rippling of the light from the Metal Halide lamps really gave you the impression that you were looking at a 25 foot section of the ocean. Then it occurred to me that this tank was, literally, a piece of the ocean, 10 feet from the ocean ! There was no filtration, just the constant flow of new seawater into the tank. The power heads would keep the debris in the tank suspended long enough so that they would eventually be flushed out of the tank. All the life that was introduced, via the live sand and rock, along with the anoxic layer ( Jaubert / NNR ), below would help digest the debris that might settle. We had a long conversation on the other types of life that could / should be added. These items Cesaer would add at a later time ( maybe I will be invited back in June ). For now it was time to enjoy our indoor ocean reef.

Day 9 After a peaceful breakfast out on the dock we raced off for the tourist part of town, so that I could pick up a few souvenirs. Once done it was off to the airport. After filling out more paperwork, paying duty on the bottles of Rum I was bring back and through the metal detectors, I was ready to board the plane. One last deep breath of clean Bermudian air and I stepped onto the plane. It was two hours back to New Jersey and another six hours back to Los Angeles. As I sat on the plane, I thought about the job I had just completed, the people I had met, the friends I had made, the places I had seen. The foods I had eaten. The flights I had to endure. Certainly this was the largest tank I had ever worked on. What an opportunity, WHAT AN ACCOMPLISHMENT


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