The Macquarium That Wasn’t Meant To Be

VMM-Macquarium1A few years back I purchased a Macquarium on eBay, one actually sold as a kit rather than a DIY project. All the little pieces of the case internally which needed to be cut or trimmed were already cut and trimmed, and the kit included a plexiglass tank, pump, heater, light and some fake plants. Just add gravel, water and fish!

Like other projects at the Vintage Mac Museum this one was proceeding slowly, the empty assemblage had been sitting in my front foyer for some time. It occasionally elicited questions from visitors, requiring my explaining how a Macquarium worked. I’ve had more clients coming to my house recently to drop off items so I decided it was time to actually get the thing working.

A friend with more acquarium savvy than I agreed to assist. We cleaned everything, added water and gravel, and let the tank condition for a day. With this classic style Macquarium access to the tank was tight – just a small opening in the top rear where the handle had been cut away. Any other adjustments required removing the front bezel and sliding the tank forward. This proved to be more than a minor inconvenience in the days to come.

The next day I went to the pet store and picked up some fish. The tank is about 5.5 gallons. My friend recommended just one or two fish, but that seemed potentially lonely to me for the critters. At the pet store they said a tank that size could hold 5-8 fish, which makes things more interesting. I picked up five little guppie and zebra-fish types, and introduced them to their new home.

That first day all went well. How cool was it to have real live fish swimming around inside an old Mac case! I liked the bubbling sound of the undergravel filter. Life was good. Take that After Dark!

I awoke the following morning to a somewhat cloudy tank. By evening the cloudiness had increased. I thought perhaps the carbon pack in the old filter was expired and needed replacement, so I bought a fresh one. No difference. By the third day things were really getting murky.


OK next step – try a new filter, this time a small one which hangs from the side of the tank and is submersible. It’s rated for up to a 10 gallon tank. That blocked some of the access space in the top rear of the case, but was still maneagable. However sliding the tank in and out to make these continued changes was getting to be a pain. I decided to leave the Mac faceplate cover off so I didn’t need to keep removing it.

Another day or two goes by, and there’s no improvement in water quality. It’s now a brownish soup and I’m beginning to worry for the health of the fish. I start siphoning out a bit of water every few hours and replacing with fresh, to help dilute the waste. That doesn’t really seem to make much difference.

Well, maybe this filter just doesn’t work correctly either. One more trip to the pet store to get another, larger filter. I repeat the tank removal/reinstall process. This larger filter barely fits in the tank, and creates a stream of water so strong that it shoots the fish around inside the tank. Sigh. After two hours I removed it and put the older submersible filter back.

One final attempt: start fresh. I put the fish and some existing water into a small container, then dumped the old water, cleaned the tank and gravel in the sink, and refilled with fresh warm water. I waited a few hours for the tank to settle and get to the right temperature, then put the fish back in.

They seemed OK. It had been a long few days for the acquatic ones. Not knowing whether I just solved the problem or delayed a repeat, I did some work elsewhere for a few hours, then returned to the tank.

Four fish were floating on top or bottom. The remaining one was barely twitching. What happened??? I thought it was just too much water-changing shock, but then noticed the light for the heater was not glowing (green or red). I poked a finger into the tank, and the water was noticeably colder than before.

The heater had failed.

After all that – three filters and multiple water changes – the damn heater craps out without warning? Now I’m not sure which shock killed the fish. But the experiment is over. I’m out of energy, and the fish are dead.

I washed out the tank again and set everything aside. Lessons learned:

– this aquarium thing is not as easy as it looks
– a classic Mac looks cool as a Macquarium, but the design is not optimal
– next time I’ll start with just one or two fish (if there’s a next time)
– maybe the After Dark fish module isn’t a bad solution after all!

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