Central American Estuary/Mangrove Biotope Aquarium Setup

A biotope aquaria is an aquarium that is set-up to simulate a natural habitat. The fish, plants, water chemistry, and furnishings are similar to those that can be found in a specific natural setting.

Central American Lowlands -- Estuary/Mangrove Biotope
Refugio de Vida Silvestre Cuero y Salado, Honduras
In 2004 I visited The Refugio de Vida Silvestre Cuero y Salado in Honduras. This refuge is comprised of 13,225 hectares of mangrove-covered wetlands and lowland rainforest and includes freshwater, brackish water, and marine habitats.

Due to heavy rains, the water was muddy and visibility was limited. When it is drier, the waters can be quite transparent but dark tea colored. I could not measure the water chemistry due to an unforunate mishap with my equiptment. Cuero y Salado is a highly diverse reserve for Honduras.

What makes Cuero y Salado interesting for a biotope tank is you can go brackish water or freshwater. Many fish species found in the reserve live in both.

    You can model a brackish water biotope tank on the roots of a mangrove tree. In you have access to Red Mangrove seeds, propagules or clippings you can grow a mangrove -- just remember that the mangrove will need to grow out of the water and require frequnet pruning [check out Southeast Asian Mangrove Estuary for ideas on a "split" tank]. If you don't have this flexibility then consider using driftwood to mimic mangrove roots found in this habitat. Almost no commercially available aquarium plants tolerate brackish water so your biotope-specific vegetation is extremely limited. If you're willing to go outside the biotope you could use Java Fern.

    As for the substrate use sand (Silica/silver sand or clean beach sand) or very fine gravel. In real life the biotope generally has leaf matter on a sand substrate but this isn't practical for most home aquariums. Water current is not particularly important, but be sure to have sufficient filtration as some brackish water fish prove to be big eaters.

    Lighting can be bright.

    A little more about mangrove habitat [Underwater View]: Mangrove forest is found in silt-rich, saline (brackish water) habitats worldwide, generally along large river deltas, estuaries, and coastal areas. It is characterized by low tree diversity, almost exclusively mangroves, with a low broken canopy. Mangroves are evergreen trees and shrubs that are well adapted to their salty and swampy habitat by having breathing roots (pneumatophores) that emerge from the oxygen-deficient mud to absorb oxygen. more>>
    I recommend modeling a freshwater biotope after a forest backwater off the main waterways of Cuero y Salado. Typically the banks will be heavily vegetated with forest and a canopy overhead will shade the water. The substrate will be a layer of decaying leaves on top of sand or clay. There is a fair amount of vegetation growing emersed out of the water and a few fully submerged plants. There is very little water current.
pH: 7.3-8.0, 15-25 dH, 75-86 F (24-30 C)
Brackish water salinity of 1.005 to 1.008 is good [Pure water has a density of 1.000, while seawater typically has a density of around 1.025].

See the above description.

    Very limited. Pretty much mangrove seedlings that grow above water. If you go outside the biotope, Java Fern can be used in brackish water. Outside the biotope you could also consider: Aponogeton crispus, Bacopa monnieri, Crinum calamistratum, Crinum natans, Crinum thaianum, Cryptocoryne pontederiifolia, Cryptocoryne wendtii, Glossostigma elatinoides, Lilaeopsis brasiliensis, Lilaeopsis novae-zealandiae, Nymphaea lotus, Samolus valerandi, Shinnersia rivularis, Vesicularia dubyana. See Tropica for more ideas.
Fresh: FISH:
Brackish: Fresh:
    Blue-eye cichlid - Archocentrus spilurus "Inhabits lakes and rivers, preferring the shallows and bank areas. Found over sand, mud and rock bottoms and prefers the slower moving waters of the lower river valleys" [quote: Fishbase.org] [Picture]
    Flier cichlid - Archocentrus centrarchus "Inhabits mainly shallow waters or swampy areas of lakes and rivers. Often found in many eutrophic oxbow lakes, ponds, roadside ditches and remnant pools of floodplains with thick vegetation. Prefers warm temperature and thrives in stagnant waters ... Feeds on detritus and insects" [quote: Fishbase.org] [Picture]
    Jack Dempsey - Cichlasoma octofasciatum "Occurs in swampy areas with warm, murky water. Found in weedy, mud-bottomed and sand-bottomed canals and drainage ditches ... Prefers coastal plains and slow moving waters of the lower river valleys ... Feeds on worms, crustaceans, insects and fish" [quote: Fishbase.org] [Picture]
    Rainbow Cichlid - Herotilapia multispinosa "Central America: Atlantic slope, from Rio Patuca (Honduras) to Rio Matina (Costa Rica); Pacific slope, from Rio Guasaule (Nicaragua) to Rio Tempisque and Rio Bebedero (Costa Rica) ... Inhabits lakes and swampy areas with muddy bottoms. Feeds on considerable ooze, detritus and filaments of algae [quote: Fishbase.org] [Picture]
    Guapote blanco, Wolf cichlid - Parachromis dovii "Central America: Atlantic slope, from Rio Aguan (Honduras) to Rio Mo'n (Costa Rica); Pacific slope from Rio Yeguare (Honduras) to Rio Bebedero (Costa Rica) ... Inhabits lakes but also thrives in various lower and middle river valleys. This species is an avid cavern digger. Piscivorous, though also eats crustaceans and insects in smaller numbers. [quote: Fishbase.org] [Picture]
    Friedrichsthali - Parachromis friedrichsthalii "Central America: Atlantic slope, in Mexico (Rio Usumacinta), Belize, Honduras and Guatemala ... Inhabits rivers and lakes, preferring the slower moving waters. Feeds primarily upon other live fishes. Enters brackish water" [quote: Fishbase.org] [Picture]
    Blackbelt cichlid - Vieja maculicauda (Machaca, Boca colorada) "Central America: Atlantic slope, from the Rio Usumacinta drainage in Guatemala to Rio Chagres in Panama. ... Inhabits lakes and rivers but migrates to the extreme lower sections of the lower river valleys where current is slow. Prefers muddy and sandy bottoms and lives among submerged trees and logs for protection. Thrives well in shady bank areas of rivers. Able to tolerate brackish and marine conditions. Feeds on benthic detritus consisting of vegetable matter, both aquatic and terrestrial plants, seeds and fruits" [quote: Fishbase.org] [Picture]
    Blue flash - Thorichthys aureus "Inhabits warm lakes and lagoons but prefers the lower and middle sections rivers" [quote: Fishbase.org] [Picture]
    Tropical gar -- Atractosteus tropicus "America: Caribbean and Pacific drainages of southern Mexico and Central America ... Inhabit backwaters and slow moving sections of rivers and lakes. Often found in the warm stagnant waters of the lowland." [quote: Fishbase.org] [Picture]
    Yucatan goby - Gobiosoma yucatanum "Known from rivers, estuaries and inland lagoons" [quote: FishBase.org]
    Ariidae Catfish
    Mayan Cichlid - Cichlasoma urophthalmus "Inhabits freshwater marshes and mangrove swamps. Prefers coastal lagoons and rivers and will tolerate marine conditions. Feeds on small fishes and macro-invertebrates ... Spawns in both fresh and salt water" [quote: FishBase.org]
    Cathorops arenatus "South America: Caribbean and Atlantic coastal rivers from Belize to Brazil" [quote: FishBase.org]
For other ideas, see Fishbase - Honduras listing or a broader broader look at Central American Fish

Honduras Cuero y Salado Photos
Molly Habitat, Honduras