Nathan Hill ex­plains why he feels ner­vous around large pumps.

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Welcome - with Nathan Hill

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.

Hot me­tal

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.

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