It started with a foray into Cartimar searching for the ideal Christmas project, which Sam wrote about in his blog. What started as a dream just last weekend is now a reality. We now have a miniature coral reef and its inhabitants right in our living room.

Sam and the Aquarium
Coffee on the reef

An investigative walk twice around the aquarium fish section of Cartimar led us to Edna’s Pet Shop on the far edge, where the displays aren’t as flashy as the ones in the middle lanes, and where the owners themselves man the stores (as opposed to the middle lane shops with watchers who don’t know the difference between a 10-gallon tank and a 20 gallon tank). This is where we met Lonie, who gave us our first lesson in putting up a sea water aquarium.

We had initially planned on a 75 gallon tank, a wrought iron stand, and two overhead filters, but Lonie showed us the folly in that plan. Two overhead filter pumps were not going to be enough to handle the filtration needs of a tank that size. What we needed—and for this he took us behind their 300 gallon aquarium display—was a subtank.

our subtank
the all-important subtank

A subtank looks like an aquarium but is divided into three compartments, two of which are filled with crushed coral. The water is filtered through the two coral-filled compartments and the clean water is pumped back into the tank. Lonie advised us to look around in the other shops for pricing and any particular fish, plants and decorative items we wanted and then if we went back to him he will try to beat their prices.

This we did, and as we walked further on in and out of other aquaria stores we felt like we were being gypped or robbed. And so back to Lonie’s place we went. This time his aunt Edna was present. Edna, we soon realized, was from Butuan, and from her we learned that Lonie was her Cebuano husband’s nephew. In a hearty Visayan conversation we learned that she had been in the aquarium business for more than half her life, first as a buyer for a Taiwanese fish exporter, and for the past few years working with her husband Ondo and trusted assistant Lonie.

The price she quoted us for a complete sea water aquarium setup seemed steep at first, but when we learned all that was required for a low maintenance tank, the amount didn’t seem too farfetched. After Sam and I had mapped out our resources, we called Edna and agreed on a day for the setup.

Ondo and Lonie setting up the tank
Ondo and Lonie setting up the tank

They arrived at our house shortly after 8pm on Saturday. They agreed that the place where we wanted the tank was the best place for it in the living room, visible both from the sala and the dining room. The tank they provided was a seasoned one, which meant they could go straight from laying out the substrate, rocks and filtration system to putting in the fish after the sludge had been cleaned out through the subtank, doing away with the cycling process.

They filled the tanks with live sand and rock which have been kept in porus sacks and doused daily with seawater (as opposed to plain pebbles and landscape rock which have been dried out and have no organisms on them). And then slowly they filled up the 75 gallon tank plus the 30 gallon subtank with filtered seawater.

substrate and live rock
substrate and live rock

In less than two hours they had the tank setup running, water cycling from tank to subtank and back. They also put the fish in when the water had cleared, an assortment counting to a little over twenty which Sam and I still need to identify, being the amateurs that we are. Tomorrow evening Edna and company will be back to put in some live coral and plants to finish off the seascape. They will watch the tank for a month under warranty, making sure that we are following their instructions on general maintenance and that we’re not overfeeding the fish.


We will write more on this after Edna’s visit tomorrow, but even in its unfinished state we can already feel the satisfaction of finally having the sea in our home.

more fish!

The Sea in Our Home

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