PATERSON, NJ – Flooding from the Passaic River had left them trapped on Alfano Island in a life-threatening situation and time was running out. That’s when Vince Tartaglione came to their rescue.
It was a few days after Hurricane Irene and Tartaglione spotted them – two catfish from the river that floodwaters left behind in a sinkhole puddle.
Tartaglione had a home for them – the 35-gallon tank at his store on the island, Universal Silk Screen. Over the past 18 months, Tartaglione’s aquarium has served as a makeshift refuge for marine life from the Passaic River.
“It’s become my hobby,’’ said Tartaglione, whose business opened in Paterson 32 years ago.
He started the aquarium in the summer of 2011 when one of his customers spotted a turtle on a road near the river in Fairfield. The person feared the reptile, a red-eared slider, would end up getting crushed by traffic on the road and scooped it up and brought it to Paterson.
“He was going to throw it in the river,’’ Tartaglione recalled. “I told him to give it to me.’’ He calls it Myrtle Turtle.
Not long after that, Tartaglione was walking his dog on the island when he saw another turtle crawling among some rocks. And so Shellie joined Myrtle in the aquarium. The next additions to the collection were the sinkhole refugees – Catfish Hunter and Felix the Catfish.
Over time, customers would bring Tartaglione their own turtles. He also bought some Comet Goldfish to add variety to the aquarium. “It was a bargain,’’ he recalled. “They were 10 cents each. They were going to feed them to bigger fish.’’
Eventually, the 35-gallon tank was no longer big enough. So Tartaglione went searching for a 125-gallon tank. “I looked all over New Jersey and couldn’t find one,’’ he said. But then he spotted a pet store on Main Street and there it was. “I never thought I would find it in Paterson,’’ Tartaglione said.
Next, Tartaglione built a second-level for the tank – this one an open-air deck with platforms on which the turtles could take a break from the water. He found a panorama of the Great Falls online and printed it out to use as background for the tank’s upper level.
Tartaglione says has decided not to add any more creatures, lest he risk the lives of the ones he already has. Customers still come in asking if they can drop off a turtle or two, he said. Now Tartaglione tried to connect them with others who are looking to get turtles.
“I’m the go-between,’’ he said.