Hobby Gear > Public Aquarium Gear?

In some sad news I heard on the commute today, The Brookfield Zoo just outside Chicago came in to 16 dead stingrays in their temporary “Stingray Bay” exhibit. The temperature controls reportedly malfunctioned, and they came in to 90*F water and 16 dead stingrays. I can’t help but think… controller?

As a hobbiest, I have access to affordable control for my aquarium that can help prevent catastrophes like this. Of course, all equipment does have the potential to fail, and likely will at some point. But one might think that if I can have a (what, $500?) monitor that not only emails me, but sends a text message to my phone if something in the tank is awry, then why doesn’t a zoo that spends tens of thousands of dollar on an exhibit have something like this in place? Had the head aquarist had something like Neptune System’s Aquacontroller 3 in place, he could have possibly been woken up with a text when the temperature was raising, logged in and checked the status, and raced down to the zoo for a late night fix…

This brings me to “best practices” for a controller. It is simple enough to set your controller, we’ll take the AC3, for example, to turn heaters / chillers on and off at a given temperature. For those of you who have an AC3, you may have something like this:

If Temp < 79.0 Then HT1 On (Heater On when Temp drops to 79*F)
If Temp > 80.0 Then HT1 Off (Heater Off when Temp reaches 80*F)
If Temp > 80.0 Then COL On (Chiller On when Temp hits 80*F)
If Temp < 80.0 Then COL Off (Chiller Off when it drops the temp back down)
If Temp > 82.0 Then ALM On (Alarm on, i.e. send email / text if temp too high…)
If Temp < 78.0 Then ALM On (Alarm on if temp too low)

That code effectively provides the reef tank with a couple degree swing in temperature, turning on and off the appropriate temperature controls per the given range. If it goes out of range, an alarm is turned on (text message send to phone, email sent). That code works, albeit a bit simple since we’re not bringing into account fans / lights, and other gear for the purposes of this post. However, what about malfunctioning equipment, as in the case of Brookfield Zoo? In their case, the chiller never turned on, and the heater was left open ended to keep raising. This 2nd code set takes into account parameters way out of normal range sends and alarm, and just shuts the heater and chiller down. Leaving the chiller on may just keep cooling and cooling. The same goes for the heater.



If Temp < 79.0 Then HTR On (Heater On when Temp drops to 79*F)
If Temp > 80.0 Then HTR Off (Heater Off when Temp reaches 80*F)
If Temp > 80.0 Then COL On (Chiller On when Temp hits 80*F)
If Temp < 80.0 Then COL Off (Chiller Off when it drops the temp back down)
If Temp > 82.0 Then ALM On (Alarm on, i.e. send email / text if temp too high…)
If Temp < 78.0 Then ALM On (Alarm on if temp too low)
If Temp < 75.0 Then COL Off
If Temp < 75.0 Then HTR Off (Temp way too low, cut heat off, something is up)
If Temp < 75.0 Then ALM On (Another alarm)
If Temp > 84.0 Then COL Off (Temp way too high, turn chiller off, something wrong)
If Temp > 84.0 Then HTR Off (Temp way too high, make sure heater off)
If Temp > 84.0 Then ALM On (Alarm notification)

I do really wonder now what kind of gear Brookfield has in place. With all the time and money I’ve spent on my tank, a controller is really not even a question.

Of course, one can’t completely avoid mechanical failure, but I at least feel a bit better taking the extra step with a couple fail safes in the code & text message alarms. I have been woken up in the middle of the night by a text message from the aquarium controller telling me the water was 65*… ran downstairs and turns out I forgot to plug the heaters back in after the water change earlier that night.

On the other hand, I was out of town for 4 days and kept getting messages that my tank was pushing 87*F. I logged into the AC3 from 500 miles away, made sure heaters were off, fans on, though there was nothing I could do - so I turned off the alarm and tried to ignore the nerve to just hop in the car and drive the 6 hours home ;). Turns out our A/C had not turned on and the house was boiling, the aquarium gear couldn’t keep up with it.

Basic idea - Sh*t happens, but there are steps we can take to help avert disaster. The peace of mind a controller can offer is indispensable, in my opinion. I wonder what may have been if the zookeeper got a text at midnight that “Stingray Bay” temperature was out of the ordinary? Could they have run out and fixed it?

Gotta leave the ringer on though. Vibrate may not wake you up…