Why an Aquarium?
Keeping fish can be a rewarding and educational hobby. It can be a personal hobby or one that involves the whole family. A well maintained aquarium is like a living work of art in your home. It can provide hours of relaxation, and studies have shown that sitting and watching an aquarium reduces stress. You are bringing a little piece of nature into your home.
Fresh, Salt or Cichlid?
When deciding which type of fish to keep it is not as simple as whether or not you want to add salt to the water. The requirements for keeping freshwater fish are very different than those of salt water fish, and if you want to keep a reef aquarium the financial investment can be significant.
Setting Up the Aquarium
There are several things to consider when buying an aquarium. Available space, type of fish you want to keep, and budgets are a few. Generally speaking, the greater the volume of water the better, so, it is recommended to start with the largest aquarium you can. A larger volume of water is easier to maintain, and you can keep more or larger fish.
Before filling the aquarium with water, make sure you have chosen a spot where the aquarium will be easily viewed, so you will be able to enjoy it. It should be out of direct sunlight and away from windows and doors to avoid drafts. You will also need access to electrical outlets for plugging in lights and filters, and you might want to consider how far you are from the nearest water source.
There are a great number of filters on the market ranging in price from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars. There are filters that sit inside the aquarium, hang on the back of the tank, or sit in the aquarium cabinet with tubing that runs in and out of the tank. The main thing to remember is that the filter should be rated for the size aquarium you have. In fact it is usually better to go up one size. If you have a 30 gallon aquarium, buy a filter that is rated for at least 40 gallons. The filter you choose should provide mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration. This is true no matter what type of fish you intend to keep.
Mechanical filtration is a media that traps suspended debris.
Chemical Filtration is used to remove dissolved compounds from the water. Carbon is an example of chemical filter media.
Biological Filtration is performed by beneficial bacteria. These bacteria break down ammonia and nitrite from fish waste and uneaten food. Even though the bacteria grow on many surfaces in the aquarium it is recommended to provide a growth space in the filter
Tropical fish can be sensitive to rapid changes in water temperature. These changes can lead to stress, illness, even death. You can help maintain a steady temperature in the tank by using an aquarium heater.
Air pumps do more than make the little ornaments in the tank move. The bubbles they produce help agitate the surface of the water which increases the oxygen level. Low dissolved oxygen is most easily corrected by an immediate partial water change and an increase in the aeration of the water. Aeration creates gas exchange at the water’s surface. Any water surface agitation increases aeration. Often signs of oxygen starvation are not observed; instead, dead fish are found. This is because during night when the aquarium is dark is the time that the oxygen levels are the lowest. When in the dark the plants (including algae) consume dissolved oxygen and lower its concentration in the water. If the level gets low enough the fish will suffocate.
Gravel should be added to the aquarium at about 1 pound per gallon of water. This should give you at least 1 inch of depth. If you are going to add live plants you should increase the depth to about 3 inches. Aside from adding an attractive bed to the aquarium and giving you a media for plants, the gravel provides a place for beneficial bacteria to grow.
Water Treatment (Freshwater & Cichlid)
Salt should also be added to the water. All fish benefit from low levels of aquarium salt. The salt adds electrolytes, helps protect fish against nitrite toxicity, and acts like a general tonic. For African Cichlids, there are various salt blends available designed to duplicate conditions where the different varieties originate.
You should test your pH to make certain it is in the proper range for the fish you plan to keep.
pH is the measure of acidity of water. A pH reading of 7.0 is neutral. A pH higher than 7.0 is alkaline, and a pH lower than 7.0 is acidic.
Most freshwater aquarium fish will live in a pH range from 6.5 to 8.2. A pH of 7.0 is ideal when keeping a community aquarium containing a variety of tropical fish. Goldfish prefer a pH of 7.5 and should not be kept with tropical fish. Angelfish, tetras, and other fish from the Amazon prefer a pH of 6.5 to 6.8. Livebearers thrive at pH 7.2 to 7.5. African cichlids prefer water with high pH around 8.2.
The mineral content of the water in the aquarium greatly affects the pH. Water with a low carbonate hardness (KH), the concentration of bicarbonate (HCO3-) and carbonate (CO3–) dissolved in water, will tend to be acidic. Water with a high KH will usually have a high pH and be difficult to adjust.
General Hardness (GH) is the measure of calcium (Ca++) and magnesium ions (Mg++) dissolved in water.
KH is important in relation to pH. KH, also known as alkalinity or buffering capacity helps stabilize the pH in the aquarium. Carbonate and bicarbonate ions give water its ability to resist changes in pH. Water with very low KH may experience wide fluctuations in pH because the buffering capacity is low. The pH in water with a high KH will be very stable. Water with a high KH almost always has a high pH.
Adjusting the pH is much easier after the KH has been reduced. Maintaining the pH once adjusted can be difficult with tap water having a high KH level.
MICROBEACT Buffers can be used to help accomplish this.
Tap water can contain chlorine or chloramines (a mixture of chlorine and ammonia) as well as heavy metals that need to be removed or detoxified. Even well water can contain heavy metals that can be toxic to your fish. Using a good water conditioner will make the water safe for your fish.
You can use MICROBEACT Dechlorinator + water conditioner or MICROBEACT Extreme to treat the water before adding fish. If your water contains chloramines you will probably want to use Extreme to remove the associated ammonia left after the chlorine has been removed.
Water Treatment (Saltwater)
You should start with R/O, DI, or distilled water and a top quality salt mix. Use a Hydrometer, an instrument used for determining the specific gravity of liquids, to make sure you have added the correct amount of salt. A good salt mix together with a substrate of crushed coral or dolomite will usually help get the pH close to where it needs to be. You can then add MA pH Buffer/Stabilizer to set and hold the pH at 8.2.
Adding Fish To Your Aquarium
As long as the water temperature is correct for the type of fish you are going to keep and you have conditioned the water, you are ready to add fish to the aquarium.
A good rule to follow for freshwater is 1 inch of fish for every 10 sq. inches of surface area. To get the number of fish you can keep in an aquarium multiply the length of the tank by the width then divide by 10.
Example: A tank with measurements of 30L X 12W = Surface area of 360 sq. inches
360 sq. in. / 10 = 36 inches of fish.
For saltwater fish, divide the surface area by 48. In the example given above, you would be able to have 7.5 inches of fish in that same tank if it was saltwater.
NOTE: It is better to start with a small number of fish and slowly build up to the maximum capacity of the tank
The best thing for the new aquarium owner to do is head out to the local aquarium and pet shops and check out the fish. The display tanks should be relatively clean and the fish should look healthy. Talk to the employees and ask questions about the fish. They should be happy to help you. If the fish are poorly kept or the employees won’t take the time to help educate you as a new fish keeper you should probably move on to the next store.
If you live in an area where there are not a lot of stores or you can’t get out to the stores, you can buy fish on-line and have them shipped to you.
Selecting Your Fish
Once you have found a good source for your fish, and decided what type of fish you are going to keep, start looking for your first few fish. You want to make sure you pick healthy fish so look for good color, no open sores, tattered fins or other damage, and no signs of parasites on the body. The eyes should not be cloudy and the fins should not be held clamped against the body. You also want to make sure you pick fish that are compatible. The store fish catcher can help you pick healthy compatible fish.
Live Plants In The Aquarium
Live plants can be both attractive and beneficial to an aquarium, but it is not absolutely necessary to include them in every set-up. Some things that you will have to keep in mind if you want to maintain a planted aquarium are that you will need special lighting, plant supplements such as MICROBEACT Bloom & Grow, and even special substrate. In some cases adding a CO2 generator will be needed for healthy plant growth.
Maintaining The Aquarium
With the use of the right bacterial products maintenance can be kept to minimum.
In order to keep your aquarium clean and healthy there is a certain amount of maintenance that you will have to perform. Cleaning the filter, partial water changes, and cleaning of the substrate and ornaments are important parts of the maintenance.
The filters should be cleaned as needed, but should in most cases be done at least once a month. Since you will lose some of the “Good Bacteria” when you clean the filter, you can inoculate your filter media at each cleaning with MA/GEL to avoid spikes in ammonia and nitrite.
If you test your water weekly and use the correct products to help control waste build up in the aquarium you can keep water changes to a minimum. Performing them only when needed, however, some people like to do them on a schedule just to play it safe. If you prefer to do water changes on a schedule you can do them in a way that works for you. (20% a month, 10% every two weeks, etc.)
If you have uneaten food and waste building up in the gravel and on the ornaments you will need to siphon it out or remove the ornaments for cleaning. Adding SA Gravel and Substrate Cleaner to the aquarium as directed will greatly reduce the need for this.
Note: Make sure to use the proper water conditioners whenever adding water to the aquarium.
You should test your water regularly. Taking a few minutes each week to test your water can help cut down on time consuming maintenance, expensive treatment of sick fish due to poor water conditions, and even fish loss. Using MICROBEACT Dip Strips to test your water is a quick and easy way to do this.
You should test the following:
pH – Fish from different waters prefer different pH levels. Big changes in pH in the aquarium can indicate problems (i.e. a drop in pH can indicate a a large amount of organic waste trapped in the gravel causing acids to build up) Sudden pH changes can be deadly to some fish. However, this is due to changes in the toxicity of ammonia (which is more toxic at higher pH), nitrite (which is more toxic at low pH) or carbon dioxide (which is also more toxic at low pH). Just changing the pH will not usually result in death, but may result in stress. For this reason if large adjustments need to be made to the aquarium pH they should be done in steps of no more than .3 pH at a time.
Ammonia – ammonia is toxic to your fish and is controlled by the good bacteria that make up the biological filter. If the ammonia level goes up, which often happens in a new aquarium, you can add MICROBEACT Ammonia Remover. It will remove the toxic ammonia without interrupting the biological filtration. Special Blend can then be added.
Nitrite – Nitrite is also very toxic to fish and is usually controlled by the biological filter. If the nitrite levels are high you can use Nite-Out II which contains the nitrifying bacteria that break down ammonia and nitrite in the water converting it to harmless nitrate.
Nitrate – Nitrate usually does not reach levels high enough to be of health concerns to fresh water fish, but can be toxic to some salt water inhabitants, especially invertebrates, at fairly low levels. Elevated levels of nitrate also contribute to algae growth. Nitrates are usually removed from the water by plants, bacteria (denitrification), and water changes.
Alkalinity (KH) – The KH is important in maintaining a stable pH, as well as playing a key role in the nitrification process.
Phosphates – Phosphates are a major contributor to algae growth in the aquarium.
General Hardness (GH) – GH is not as vital as some of the other tests. GH is more important to test if you are keeping live plants or certain types of fish, such as Discus.
Feeding Your Fish
There are a lot of foods out there to choose from and it is important to make sure you are meeting the nutritional needs of your fish. Do a little research on the fish you are keeping, ask the employees at the store to recommend a food or foods, and supplement their diet with MA Vitamin and Amino Acids.