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Aquafest 2009 – Aquascaping Challenge!

October 19th, 2009

I haven’t posted in a long time, largely because I’ve been incredibly busy preparing for Aquafest 2009 in Laurel, MD. As president of GWAPA, one of the three clubs hosting the convention, there was plenty to do, but after a blur of a weekend, I think the convention was a success. Thanks to all of the sponsors, attendees, and volunteers who helped us pull it off! The main event that I was responsible for was the aquascaping challenge between Jason Baliban, our speaker, and Jeff Ucciardo, GWAPA’s vice president.

Aquascaping Challenge

We spent the hour prior to the event sorting a mass of materials into two equal piles so that Jeff and Jason would start on a completely level playing field. Above is some of the manzanita wood that we got from Manzanita.com to use in the scapes. Jason got off to a quick start, putting in the white pool filter sand, developing a hardscape, and topping it off with some Aquasoil.

Aquascaping Challenge

Jeff took a little bit of time to plan his scape, but was right behind Jason once he got his hardscape placed. Jason chose to extend the white sand all the way from front to back, while Jeff kept the sand confined to the foreground. Both competitors divided the tank into two mounds, one larger than the other.

Aquascaping Challenge

In the end, both Jason and Jeff finished before the hour was up, which is quite impressive given the amount of time I usually spend working on an aquascape. Below is Jason’s finished scape from the side. The judges liked the rockwork in his scape, as well as the use of manzanita to provide flow to the layout.

Jason Baliban's Scape

However, the judges thought he could have filled in the scape with more plants than he did, but recognized that it should fill in nicely once it grows in. The tanks themselves are very nice, being a first look at Aquarium Design Group’s own line of rimless aquariums. They are 24″x16″x16″ and Catalina Aquarium donated a pair of HO-T5 lights to go with them.

Jason Baliban's Scape

Jeff’s finished aquascape is below, and as you can see, he did a very nice job filling in the scape with plants from the get-go. The judges took off points for his hardscape saying that it got lost in the plants.

Jeff Ucciardo's Scape

They also wondered why he didn’t extend the white sand front to back between the two mounds. Ultimately, we ended up being able to exhibit two very nice scapes, especially considering that they were completed in an hours’ time frame. The judges gave a slight nod to Jason’s scape, but explained to the audience what they liked and disliked about each.

Jeff Ucciardo's Scape

Also, during the whole hour, I gave a mini presentation about Aquascaping in general. We wanted to avoid folks from getting bored while the planting was going on, so I fielded a number of questions keeping the competitors from having to. Our A/V team also did a great job projecting the two tanks live onto two large screens so that everyone could see what was going on. Overall, the event was a success!

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Aquafest 2007 – Aquascaping Demo & Auction

October 24th, 2007

Aquafest 2007 was much more than just a set of lectures. In addition to being a fun, social event, CCA also hosted a fish show, showcasing over 100 top-quality fish from around the area. As you can see below, there was no lack of tanks. Cichlids seemed to be the most prominent type of fish on display with discus the size of dinner plates, gorgeous Africans, and even a few apistogramma making appearances. There were also a number of catfish showing.

Fish Show - Aquafest 2007

In addition to the fish show, Ray “Kingfish” Lucas had a number of displays setup, touting products from a number of great aquarium-related manufacturers. Tony Orso was also setup, with a few other vendors, such as Anubias Design, at the festival.

Vendor Displays

Besides introducing Eric Do, GWAPA’s big event of the weekend was the aquascaping demonstration, led by myself and recent APC tank-of-the-month winner, Jeff U (bigstick120). Aaron T, Dave W., and Eric Do also helped field questions while we were presenting.

Creating the Hardscape

We gave a pretty straight forward aquascaping demonstration, trying to mimic Amano’s demonstration at the 2004 AGA convention that GWAPA hosted. Jeff added some brand new Seachem Flourite Black to our 37G Oceanic tank, and began setting up the hardscape. I did my best to explain that you often want to group rocks into odd numbered groupings, and avoid symmetry when possible.

Dual Planting

Once the hardscape was in place, Jeff and I started planting HC in the foreground, along with some Blyxa japonica, anubias barteri var. nanaand downoi in the midground.


We explained how you want to plant the tank mostly dry, with just enough water to compact the substrate for easier planting. After planting all of stems it was time to fill up the tank.

Nearly Done

Eric Do helped out with the chore of filling up the tank, using the empty Flourite Black bag as a shield to disturb the substrate as little as possible. (I mentioned yesterday how Eric is a great guy, right?) I continued planting, and also added some Java moss to the branches of the manzanita.

Eric Do Helping Out

Finally, with the help of a H.O.T. magnum micron filter, the water cleared, and we were left with the aquascape below. It didn’t come perfectly, but it was enough to inspire plenty of questions from the folks attending. This entire setup was raffled off the next day, with lucky winner Rodney C., winning the raffle.

Finished Aquascape

The auction itself was a HUGE event. Registration started around 9:00am. All items were auctioned off by 7:45pm. Yes, the auction ran non-stop from 10:00am to 7:45pm, selling at least2000 individual items by my estimate. Some club members believe that it may be the largest aquarium auction ever in the history of the three clubs participating. If you missed it, you missed an opportunity to grab anything from books, tanks, equipment, fish, plants, invertebrates, substrate, etc. at great prices.


I didn’t come away empty-handed, either. I won the following:

Nannochromis nudiceps
Ancistrus sp. L279 “Huaco Mayo”
Corydoras Paleatus

Crypt. wendtii “Dewitt”
Anubias sp. “Gasser”
Anubias barteri var. ‘nana eyes’

I’ll post more about where all of those things went later this week.

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Aquafest 2007 – Speakers

October 23rd, 2007

On Saturday, three local clubs, GWAPA, CCA, and PVAS put on a great aquarium festival. Over 100 hobbyists attended, and the fish show was stocked with the best fish of the area. Three key speakers were present, each giving very insightful presentations about their area of expertise.


Tony Orso gave the first talk about West African Fish. Tony and his wife breed many exotic fish, and also had a vendor table setup with many for sale. During his talk, Tony rattled off facts about more West African fish than I could scribble notes about in my notebook. He ran through nearly all of the Hemichromis jewel cichlids, spent quite a bit of time on the Tilapia, and many other genera. As it turns out, he talked about Nanochromis nudiceps, which I ended up snagging in the auction on Sunday. Ultimately, I have a long list of species names that I need to start chugging into the web to learn more about after this presentation.

Rusty Wessel

Next on the bill was Rusty Wessel to talk about experiences collecting in Honduras. Rusty has been to the country over 18 times, and noted many differences between his visits. He mentioned how much more accessible the rivers became after Dole corporation built paved roads all throughout the country to transport their produce from the fields to port. Unfortunately, deforestation by slash/burn, generally poor infrastructure and pollution throughout the country, and introduced Tilapia still threaten the native fish population.

Liberty Molly - Rusty Wessel

Above is a brand new fish discovered in Honduras called the Liberty Molly. Rusty was nice enough to bring a pair of these to auction on Sunday. He talked about many different river systems, including the Rio Choluteca that flows toward Nicaragua, and is home to many convict cichlids and a native anableps livebearer, shown below.


The Honduran Red Point Convict Cichlid is another excellent fish from the country. It is easy to breed, producing up to 75 fry per spawn, and only grows to 3-4 inches in length. In addition, it’s not very agressive, and is pretty too, as you can see below. This species was just described about a week ago, and is distinguished from other convicts by the broken vertical line above the head.

Honduran Red Point Convict Cichlid

Rusty went on to cover a number of other native fish such as the Rainbow cichlid, Black-belt cichlid, Jack Dempsey, cuteri, and many others.

Eric Do at Aquafest 2007

Finally, GWAPA’s speaker, Eric Do gave his presentation about “Freshwater Invertebrates in Planted Aquariums.” I was fortunate enough to spend most of Friday with Eric and a few other GWAPA members as we gave him a brief tour of Washington D.C. Not only does Eric know his invertebrates and plants, but he’s a great guy. Eric gave an updated version of the same presentation I saw him give at the AGA last year. He went through a huge list of shrimp that we know in the hobby — Cherry Reds, Amanos, Snowball, Red Dragons, Tigers, Greens, etc…

Crystal Red Color Morph

New to his talk were many pictures of some of the color morphs breeders are creating with the crystal red shrimp. Above is a very valuable anomaly of a crystal red where half of its body is red and the other half is black. He also noted that although uncommon, crystal reds and cherry shrimp can hybridize so they should be kept separately. In of tank of many females of one species, and only a few males from the other, nature will find a way.

Aegla platensis

Finally, Eric introduced the Aegla platensis freshwater dwarf crab. It really looks more like a cross between a crayfish and a crab, but is a crab nonetheless. It only gets to 2″ in length. Neat!

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