Nathan Hill explains why he feels nervous around large pumps.
Clicka… clicka click… CLICKA!’ We’ve all been there, right? At the end of the evening, when you’re just killing the house lights and getting ready for bed, your filter decides it’s going to toss out the aquarium equivalent of whooping cough. It’s a crushing moment, because you could really do without getting elbows deep in filters at five-to-midnight, so you stand there and just listen to check that it was a complete one-off and not a problem. Thirty seconds of silence. Then, ‘clicka clicka…’
My gear habitually chooses really unfortunate moments to croak. I’ve been in my tank after lights out at least five times this month. I don’t even have fish in this aquarium yet, but something in there keeps putting sand in my impeller in the small hours.
It was the same in retail. On Christmas Day years ago, I went to my store and heard a sound like a thousand dying donkeys — a 0.5 horsepower Argonaut pump had decided that the day of festive cheer would be the perfect moment to turn red hot and start eating its own innards. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried disassembling an oven while it’s running, but that’s pretty much what it was like. I had hot metal, melting pipework, with a few thousand fishy lives on the line, and all I wanted was to get fat on an Aldi three bird roast and drink my own bodyweight in scotch.
Ramming the beach
As for public aquaria. Damn. At Hastings Sea Life (as it was back in the late ‘90s) we had these outrageous pumps that were so terrifying that I didn’t even like being in the building when they came on.
The way that water changes at Sea Life would work involved us using actual seawater that we kept in colossal, underground chambers, which held something like 25,000 l. To fill them, which we could only do at high tide, we had a huge pipeline going from the chambers, under the car park and all the way down the beach to below the high tide mark, where there was this big screen set up under the shingle. Come high tides, the pumps would be timed to activate, sucking up enough water
“Poor pump maintenance is a sin. I visit a lot of pump and filter manufacturers, and the worst thing about the returned, faulty goods ” is that very few of them are faulty. They’re just dirty...
pre-filtered through shingle to fill the vats, and then we were good to water change the next day.
Hastings has an inshore fishing fleet. That means there’s no man-made harbour. To get ashore, the boats literally ram the beach at full pelt, while another person races to meet it with a whacking great steel cable on a winch, to haul the thing up out of the sea.
One night a fisherman (we think) rammed the beach right on top of the Sea Life water-inlet screen, smashing it to bits. Then our pumps activated, these horrendous, steampunk style pumps with massive belts and howling motors – the sort of thing you’d expect to find in the bowels of a warship. Did they die? You know it, but only after they’d filled the chambers with about 20 cubic metres of shingle.
And that is how you have a really bad day in public aquaria. All because we didn’t check everything before firing the pumps up.
On an eco-mission
Why am I banging on about all this? I want to sow some seeds. I’m on an eco-mission.
If I could start one campaign, it would have a title as obvious as I am frustrated. ‘Maintain your pumps’ I’d call it, featuring a magnetic mascot with a cheeky face and plastic vanes for a hat.
Poor pump maintenance is a sin. I visit a lot of pump and filter manufacturers, and the worst thing about the returned, faulty goods is that very few of them are faulty. They’re just dirty, impellers clogged with gunk from a lack of cleaning, returned indignantly to retailers with a torrent of vitriol, and duly replaced. And just like my Sea Life experience, it’s avoidable.
The difference is, we managed to repair the Sea Life pumps. Nothing wasted, aside a few new bolts. Every time a pump is replaced because it hasn’t been cleaned properly, you’re wasting magnets and copper — valuable resources. Even when smelted and re-used, that’s a big carbon footprint, just because you couldn’t be bothered to get in the impeller well with a cotton bud.
Now, when was the last time you cleaned yours? It’s fine, feel free to go and check now. The mag will still be here when you get back.
Nathan Hill is Practical Fishkeeping’s features editor, photographer, videographer, wannabe aquascaper, closet killifish admirer, freestyle skater and beatmaker with a deep-seated fear of any pump bigger than a large dog.
Hastings is a fishing port — but there’s no harbour.