(MSAD) Master School of Aquarium Design Team 5: The Island-Style Aquarium

Tobias Gawrich, known on youtube as AquaOwner was one of the masters at The Master School of Aquarium Design 2018 during the Tierwelt exhibition in Magdeburg. The event was a kind of intensive workshop, where each of the five masters created an aquarium within a short time with the help of two apprentices each.

Every master received the same aquarium (Fluval F90), with all technical fittings. We at JBL supplied the products needed to set up and maintain the aquarium. Tropica gave them the choice of any aquatic plants within a certain budget. The masters only needed to select the hardscape beforehand and to bring it along.

Tobias, who otherwise works as a photographer and photography teacher, really enjoyed the day. He is excellent at explaining and he managed to involve the spectators right from the start while answering any questions in full posed by his team members and by the fascinated exhibition visitors.

Although they only had a small “working area“ the division of labour in the team worked very well. You never saw anyone standing around with nothing to do. The three of them used their time well while setting up and organising the aquarium.

The layout wasn’t strictly specified by the master. Yes, Tobias had a basic layout, which, in the end, was realised, but the team initiated some details and, for example, modified the use of the grey sand. And the results are very convincing! Inspiration struck for the team during the preparation and while adding the plants. The handling of the plants can be done quite differently which let to useful tips when it e.g. came to the shortening of the roots or to the immediate pruning of the leaves to enable the plants to quicker adapt to the submerged growth. Which plants are really to be planted and which plants are only used as epiphytes on stones or roots? Both apprentices got a large amount of knowledge and after this day they will be more self-assured and confident when it comes to the set-up of their future aquariums.

We promised you detailed information about all five aquariums and this post tells you all you need to know about Team 5’s aquarium. It was created by Master Tobias Gawrisch and his two apprentices Florian Junghans und Lea Brammer.

There now follows some important facts and background information about Team 5’s layout.

What does the layout show?

Tobias’s basic layout grounded on the “island-style”. You ought to create two islands with roots and stones, which should be separated from each other by sand or a dense carpet of ground cover plants. That’s why he had ordered Eleocharis sp. 'Mini' and Marsilea hirsuta as bottom covers in reasonable quantity so that both opportunities would have been possible.

Which materials were used?

As hardscape he used Talawa wood and Seiryu Ryouh stones (mini landscape).

Talawa grows in a very definite direction and is therefore highly suitable for a dynamic layout which emphasizes the flow of the water. If complemented with the mini landscape it forms a few attractive islands, yet the overall layout makes a unified and harmonious impression.

The following plants have been selected:

  • Eleocharis sp. 'Mini'
  • Marsilea hirsuta
  • Ludwigia Rubin
  • Alternanthera reineckii 'Mini'
  • Cyperus helferi
  • Microsorum pteropus
  • Bolbitis heudelotii
  • Cryptocoryne albida 'Brown'
  • Anubias barterie var. nana
  • Versicularia ferriei
  • Hygrophila pinnatifida

The substrate consists of JBL ProScape Volcano Mineral as foundation, above it JBL ProScape PlantSoil BEIGE and on that a decorative layer, made of JBL Sansibar GREY .

What special features does the layout involve?

A distinctive feature of the layout is the Talawa wood, which partly protrudes from the aquarium. Of course, such layouts are only possible in aquariums without covers, but they can create a feeling of “real nature” in the living room (albeit to a great extent, but not completely, tamed). Such outstanding hardscape elements also allow the use of emersed plants and blur the boundaries between aquarium and terrarium.

Which difficulties did the team face?

Although Talawa wood looks very beautiful, it has the disadvantage that it doesn’t stay under water in the aquarium. That’s why it needs to be fixed tightly to prevent the complete layout from floating up and collapsing when you add the water. For this reason they bonded the wood onto the bottom pane with JBL ProHaru Universal 200 ml .

Because one of the three pieces they were using had no surface to glue they simply attached it to the other root with cable straps and reinforced the contact points between the roots with the adhesive. The cable straps were concealed under the moss they had also glued on.

Another trick for concealing such problem areas is to cover the relevant spot with adhesive ( JBL ProHaru Rapid ) and pulverized sand/substrate. This way you achieve a natural look while covering the artificial workings.

To be on the safe side the roots were weighted with a few Seiryu stones, which also provided the “island look”. This secured the hardscape and meant it was almost complete. After this they only needed to place two Seiryu stones to the left on the left section, to support the general flow direction of the layout and to soften the borders.

The masters’ maintenance tips

At the end we asked Tobias, the master of the team, which maintenance he would recommend for the initial phase and later during its operation. These are his tips:

The tank is mainly planted with epiphytes and ferns, which are quite low maintenance. However amongst this you can also find the Cryptocoryne albida ‘Brown‘, which can be more difficult, but is actually also an easy-to-grow plant. It just sometimes needs A LOT of time before it adapts to submerged growth and renews its leaves.

Plants in the layout which benefit by contrast a lot from CO2 ( JBL ProFlora u504 ) and separate fertilisation ( JBL ProScape Fe +Microelements + JBL ProScape NPK Macroelements ) are:

  • Eleocharis sp. 'Mini'
  • Alternanthera reineckii 'Mini'
  • Hygrophila pinnatifida
  • Cyperus helferi
  • Ludwigia Rubin

The comparatively dense planting from the start is intended to make the running-in phase progress smoothly and keep the aquarium free of algae. I recommend you carry out two 50 % water changes per week for this layout during the first two weeks, so as not to let the nutrients, added by the soil ( JBL ProScape PlantSoil BEIGE ), get the upper hand. After that a 50 % water change per week is sufficient.

Later on you will need to start fertilising the tank. If larger fish stock is planned, fertilisation with iron and potassium will be sufficient ( JBL ProScape Fe +Microelements ). If you run the aquarium as a pure plant tank, you will need to add nitrate and phosphate separately ( JBL ProScape NPK Macroelements ). You need to start fertilising after 3-4 weeks, and ideally connect a CO2 system ( JBL ProFlora u504 ) from day one to keep a CO2 value of 25-35 mg/l. Initially the lighting duration ought to be limited to 6 hours and be increased from week 4 to 8 hours. If the operation of the tank stays stable in the following weeks the lighting phase can be prolonged up to 10 hours.

The plant care in this layout is quite simple: along with the stem plants Ludwigia Rubin and Alternanthera reineckii you only need to trim the Eleocharis sp. 'Mini' now and then.

Cut the stem plants to about half of their height and then form shoots with the cut-off stems in two new spots. This will make it bushier in appearance and the plant mass will increase by itself, so to speak. Just make sure that the lower leaves get enough light, otherwise the stems below will become bare. First and foremost with the Eleocharis sp. ‘Mini' ensure that no offshoots grow on the path, which consists of grey sand, to keep the layout as clean as possible. Just cut off and remove the offshoots there. All the other plants are slow growing and hardly need trimming. The weeping moss on the roots might need to be pulled into shape from time to time and just trim the Hygrophila pinnatifida, if it becomes excessively long.

© 23.05.2018
Matthias Wiesensee
Matthias Wiesensee
M.Sc. Wirtschaftsinformatik
JBL GmbH & Co. KG

Social Media, Online Marketing, Homepage, Kundenservice, Problemlöser, Fotografie, Blogger, Tauchen, Inlineskating, Aquaristik, Gartenteich, Reisen, Technik, Elektronische Musik

Über mich: Seit Teenagerzeiten mit Aquarien in Kontakt. Klassische Fischaquarien, reine Pflanzenaquarien bis hin zum Aquascape. Aber auch ein Gartenteich und Riffaquarien begleiten mich privat im Hobby. Als Wirtschaftsinformatiker, M.Sc. bin ich als Online Marketing Manager bei JBL für die Bereiche Social Media, Webentwicklung und der Kommunikation mit dem Anwender der JBL Produkte zuständig und kenne die JBL Produkte im Detail.

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