Hobbyist Gallery - Manuel Melas

Manuel Melas, Sardinia, Italy, e-mail:

I’d like to make clear that my tank was bought and prepared with cost in my mind, since I tried to keep the budget as low as possible. I think it as an example of  setting up a tank for Malawi m'buna cichlids in an extremely economic way which is still functional and aesthetically pleasing while closely resembling the biotope of the inhabitants.

The dimensions of the tank, which is a commercially available one, are 120 x 45 x 40 cm. It has a total volume of 216 l. and a net volume calculated to be about 160 l.

The technical details are as follows :

·        1 biological internal filter, containing approximately 7 L of “razor a microcell superporous” (biomax-askoll); 2 l. of filtering wool and 250 g of activated carbon;

·        1 external filter (pratiko300-askoll), volume 6.6 l. with a pump of 1000 l/h;

·        1 heater of 200 watt (askoll);

·        1 pump for the internal filter (aquarium system-maxi jet 750);

·        1 x 25 watt fluorescent tube (Sera blue sky royal);

·        1 x 25 W Philips standard white - 10.000 kelvin;

·        1 sunrise-sunset system which was self constructed;

·        1 “venturi” system which was also constructed by me.

The setup of the tank consists of the following:

·        a self made background of polystyrene, covered with silicone and natural sand with grain diameter smaller than 1 mm;

·        a substrate of natural construction sand with a grain size less than 1 mm;

·        limestone rocks taken from nature, to pick up a natural “carsic” area. The rocks were put on a polystyrene rug and, in order to create the rocky wall they were laid down, glued together and covered with silicone and natural sand.

Plants do not exist. Natural algae covers most of the construction (simulating aufwuchs)

The fish present are:

·        Labidochromis caeruleus “yellow”: 1 F (3 cm), (1 M and 2 F will join them);

·        Pseudotropheus saulosi: 1 M (5.5 cm), 2 F (4-4.5 cm);

·        Cynotilapia afra: 2 M (4.5-5 cm), 3 F (3.5-4-4.5 cm).

The tank was setup in December 2004 and the fishes were all added at the end of the January 2005.


I clean the external filter once every two months or if necessary. The activated charcoal is replaced every two months or if necessary.

I clean the filter moss every seven days.

I replace 25-30% of the total water volume every seven days, treating it with “Aqutan new sera” and oxygenate it.

I vacuum the substrate every seven days or if necessary.

I add “sera nitrivec” every time I clean the external filter.

The fishes are fed once a day in the morning, with “sera flora” or  “nutrafin max spirulina askoll” - alternatively. The fish are fastened once or twice a month.

The light is on for 15 minutes as sunrise; 11 hours and 30 minutes as "day" and 15 minutes as sunset.

The chemical parameters of the water, (measured with “sera test” and “aquili kit test”), are:

ph 8

GH 15

KH 12

NO2 0 mg/l

NO3 0 mg/l

The water temperature is 23-24 °C in the winter and 28-30 °C in the summer.


MCH Verdict
I like this tank. The background is a masterpiece, especially when you know it's a DIY one and the filter has been built-in. The initial colours of the background are nice, but once that the algae have settled on the rocks, the looks are even more natural. It's a pity that this doesn't show better from the latest photo's, as the dark algae absorb all the light that's needed to see the contrast in the grooves, lines and holes. Fish density is exemplary and the species that are chosen complement each other very well colour-wise. The technical equipment also looks first class. My only negative comment is the size of the tank. Of course I realize that not everyone has the room or the money to set up a tank of 500 liter or even more, but these larger tanks seriously enhance the cichlid experience in my opinion. I would also do larger water changes of 50% each week, as I believe they are highly beneficial for Malawi cichlids. Very nice tank! 37+18

I like (a lot!) this tank, mostly now that algae has covered "everything". Nothing disturbing is visible (i.e. techie stuff is correctly hidden, while every piece of equipment chosen looks more than suitable for the job they're asked to do). The "self-made" background is outstanding (see the top image with no algae at all to see what I mean) and has been dramatically enhanced by the "natural way" the tank is kept. Fish species kept are nice: nothing really exotic but ... they mix really well with each other as far as "biological compatibility" is concerned while the same is true for the colours shown. The contrast between the black/blue pattern and yellow - even if common - remains remarkable. Water chemistry is fine, it looks like in summer temperature goes a bit too high, good water movement and oxygen supply (see pictures) allows fishes to happily handle those "heat spikes" ... chances are heavier water changes will make it easier for them. I agree that the only possible complain (to say so) is the fact that the tank is a bit too small, but we all know there could be many reasons not allowing a larger one. In the end, all I can say is: BRAVO, BEL LAVORO!!! This is (at least to the best of my memory) the very first tank presented here owned by an Italian "Malawi cichlid addict" (better late then never I may add ..), For those of you who don't speak Italian the translation of the sentence in capital letters is: Good, This is a really nice work!!!

When I saw the last photo taken from the side panel of the tank my mind travelled to photos taken from lake Malawi. I spent some time trying to figure out what this hobbyist had done to create such a realistic tank and then decided to read his comments. Let me tell you that I was impressed by his work in more than one ways. Technically speaking this is an exemplary tank. The correct equipment is there, the feeding is the correct one, the maintenance schedule is very good indeed and the water parameters are very good. The species chosen to habitat this tank were carefully selected and this is shown by the number of fish as well as the color combinations which are truly representative of this habitat. The background construction sets an example for most hobbyists and I would really like to have it in my tanks. It shows that if you can use your skills and imagination you can save a lot of money without affecting the final result. Spending less money to set up your aquarium means that you can buy a larger tank at the first place. I would really like to see this tank larger, at least 500 l. All in all, a very good tank. 17

Overall rating by MCH :  89/100

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