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Archive for Saturday, October 11, 2003

Aquariums add contemporary appeal

October 11, 2003

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Now that you've found Nemo, you need to keep him and his saltwater buddies looking good.

That means selecting the aquarium for your fish and home. There weren't many choices until just a few years ago.

"Aquariums are considered furniture these days," says Christopher Beth, marketing manager for the Dallas-based Oceanic Systems, an aquarium manufacturer. "It's gone far away from the stereotypical-box tank on a metal stand."

Most contemporary aquariums feature curved fronts, similar to car windshields, so the eye travels to look at the fish and the aquarium. And, customers can buy aquariums that have unfinished wood equipment cabinets so they can stain them or paint them to coordinate with their decor. Beth says Oceanic is starting to offer stainless steel and more color options, following the trend of sleek kitchen appliances.

Custom aquarium designer Carlos Veras says he's made moon shapes, triangles, pentagons and wall units. He's also been making coffee-table aquariums for between $300 and $400.

"Anything's possible," says Veras, owner of the Florida-based Aquatic Life Systems.

People shopping for aquariums should decide whether they want acrylic or glass. Veras says more seamless shapes can be created using acrylic, which is stronger yet weighs half as much as glass. It also retains a consistently cooler water temperature.

But acrylic scratches easier. If you have snails, glass would be a better option because they can chip away at acrylic and make it look dirty. Enthusiasts argue glass showcases coral and lighting systems more dramatically.

Keep in mind where you want to locate the aquarium. Tim Watson, co-owner of the Reef House in Kansas City, Mo., cautions customers not to put them near heating or cooling vents because that could affect the tank's water temperature and can kill the fish.

Another factor to consider is sunlight. Watson says the room where the aquarium is situated should get no more than 30 to 45 minutes of natural sunlight a day. Close the shades or consider ultra-violet film for the windows, he advises.

"Otherwise algae will go crazy. It will kill beautiful coral and make the tank look unattractive."

Parents who have been persuaded to buy an aquarium for the first time (probably after watching the summer animated Disney hit "Finding Nemo" with their kids) should consider buying the largest tank they can afford, experts say. They suggest buying at least a 50-gallon model.

"They're easier to maintain," says Mike Meyer, vice president of the Heart of America Aquarium Society in Kansas City, Mo. "Smaller ones have to be cleaned more."

The good news for saltwater novices is that recent high-tech filter systems sustain colorful saltwater fish varieties that were almost impossible to keep alive in the past. And vibrant fish -- the orange clownlike Nemo at $40 -- are sometimes half the price they once were.

But creating a saltwater aquarium is still expensive. Plan to spend about $800 for an aquarium, basic supplies and starter fish.

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