Setting up an aquarium aquaponics system

Complete aquaponics aquarium set up

A guide to setting your own aquarium aquaponics system

Complete aquaponics aquarium set up
Complete aquaponics aquarium set up

Intrepid aquarists that want to do something special with their tanks will be glad to know that turning an aquarium into a small-scale aquaponics system is not quite as hard as it looks. It may seem complicated, but the underlying science of the matter is stuff that any aquarist should already be comfortable with: the nitrogen cycle, the symbiotic relationship between fish and plants, and the health benefits they offer one another.

If you have kept a planted aquarium before, you already know that the nutrient-rich water of the tank is perfect for plant growth. Aquaponics is just a system by which you can maximise that growth and raise some terrestrial plants while you’re at it. A successful mini aquaponics system can provide you with delicious fresh vegetables, herbs, and spices while giving your fish excellent quality water.

Making your aquaponics system self-sufficient

There are several different ways to construct an aquaponics system, but this article will focus on ways to make it as self-sufficient as possible. Self-sufficiency will cut down on maintenance, but may also deliver smaller yields in return. If you would like to grow large quantities of vegetables, you will need to invest in a more robust set up.

The system described below is a perfectly suitable beginning aquaponics setup that focuses on minimising the need for strict maintenance. If you would like to improve it once you get it up and running, you can invest more time and effort into producing larger yields.

An aquaponics syste has all the hallmarks of a Walstad aquarium. With the closed ecosystem and natural substrate of the growbed. The fish providing nutrient manure for the plants and the plants filtering out toxic waste products from the fish, ie nitrogen recycling. However, where the system differs is that there is a nutrient export. The plants when they get harvested do not recycle back into the system. In the medium to long term there will be a deficiency of minerals that the plants are taking from the water. You will have to occasionally replenish these nutrients.

What you need to build your aquaponics system

  • components of aquarium aquaponics system
    Diagram of basic components of aquarium aquaponics system

    Your aquarium tank, of course

  • A gravel substrate, 1 kg for every 20 litres of water in the tank
  • A small circulation water pump
  • 1 metre length of plastic tubing, that will fit on the outlet of your pump
  • An air stone
  • An air pump matched to your tank’s size + (optional sponge filter)
  • Another 1 metre length of plastic tubing, sized for the air pump outlet
  • A growing medium, pea gravel, perlite, and peat moss work well
  • A plastic grow bed, ideally the same size as your tank and sitting on top of it with a depth of 7 – 20 cm
  • actinic lights for your plants
  • Ordinary aquarium lighting for your fish
  • A pH testing kit
  • A drill
  • A heater for the fish
  • And some fish

How to setup your aquaponics system

One thing you must bear in mind is the height and weight of the whole system when it is all put together. The height will be the height of the aquarium plus the height of the grow bed plus the height of the lighting system above the grow bed. So either obtain a shallow aquarium of make sure there is plenty of room above the aquarium for access.

The first thing you will need to do thoroughly wash your gravel substrate and line it along the bottom of your tank. Then drill tiny holes (3–5 mm) into the bottom of your grow bed with an even distribution, every 5 cm or so. This will let the water drain into the aquarium. Drill a larger (10–12 mm) hole into one of the corners of the bed so that the water pump tubing can pass through.

Now you can place the water pump inside the tank and cap the top with your grow bed. Insert the water pump tubing through the hole you made in the grow bed—leave a little bit of extra tubing to loop around inside the grow bed and cut of the rest. Fold the end of the tub over and seal the folded tube with tape.

Once you have this done, puncture tiny holes every 5 cm in the looped section of tubing in the grow bed. You may now fill your grow bed with your peat moss or pea gravel up until you cover the tube. This is the basic form of your aquaponics system.

Now you can focus on the aquarium: fill it with water and plug in the pump. You should see the water pumping into the grow bed and trickling down through the peat moss and back into the tank. Now is a good time to adjust the flow to make it run smoothly and gently.

Connect your air pump to your air stone using the other tubing, and place the stone in your tank. Attach a sponge filter for added filtration for your fish. Plug the pump in and you should see oxygenating bubbles rising through the water—your system is almost ready.

Check the pH level of your water. It is best somewhere between ph6.8–ph7.2, with ph7.0 being the ideal. If you have to adjust the pH level, now is a good time to do so. If your water is clear from chlorine and chloramine you can add your fish immediately—otherwise, let the water sit for 24 hours or treat it with a water conditioner before you begin.

Since your tank is not yet cycled, you will need to add your fish very slowly, gradually introducing additional fish to the tank while the bacterial colony in your grow bed grows to support them. You may need to perform daily water changes at first, in order to clean the water for your fish before the plants have a chance to do it for you.

If you take good care of your aquaponics system in this period, you should be ready to add plants within 4 weeks when the system is completely established. Introducing them slowly will make sure that you do not upset the careful balance between your fish population and plant population. Leave your actinic light on once you plant the seeds and wait for results to bloom.

Fish selection and care

For your first attempt at an aquaponics setup, avoid selecting fish that are too delicate to survive any water quality issues. Hardy species that can tolerate the varying water conditions that will be present in the beginning are highly recommended. platies, catfish, kribensis, danios, tiger barbs, dwarf gouramis or goldfish can all be used with success.

The notoriously messy nature of the goldfish is actually a benefit in this circumstance, since increased levels of fish waste mean more food for your plants. So long as you do not overwhelm the balance in nutrients between the plants and fish, you will enjoy success.

Plant selection and care

While you can grow just about any plant in an aquaponics system, you will find that fruit-bearing plants and spices may not grow to their full potential from this kind of setup—they will need a more robust, higher maintenance system. With the system described in this article, however, you can grow spinach, lettuce, basil, parsley and many other leafy green herbs.

If you decide to transplant your plants from soil, take very special care to thoroughly wash away all of the dirt surrounding the roots and to clear the plant’s entire surface of insects or other pests. Transplanting is an easy way to introduce an invasive species to your system without knowing it.

Maintaining your aquaponics system

A successful aquaponics system will give a bountiful crop
A successful aquaponics system will give a bountiful crop

The system described in this article has two major inputs: fish food and electricity. You will want to make sure you do not overfeed your fish—a single feeding should consist of enough food for your fish to consume in 5 minutes and no more. Your tank may also gradually lose water over time to absorption and evaporation, so you should perform a monthly 10–15% water change and refill that keeps it topped up.

Your plants’ mineral needs may need to be considered as well: Flowering plants and vegetables may benefit from having additional minerals added to the water at the start. Also as time goes on, the nutrient export must be replenished. If you notice that your plants are struggling, you may be able to find help in the form of liquid fertilisers designed for aquaponics systems. They contain soil components like phosphorous and potassium that your plants may be missing.

If your plants are growing nicely and your fish are active and healthy, then you’ve done it! Good job on creating your first mini aquaponics system. Cosmetic improvements can be made to the aquaponics system by boxing in the growbed to hide the tubing and wires. Now you can relax and enjoy the fruits of your labours: healthy fish and fresh home grown herb and spices. You can nibble on some lettuce while admiring your fish.

Adjustments to your aquarium aquaponics system

If there is too much fish waste in the system, instead of reducing the fish, add more sponge filtration. If the plants are not growing then try different plants. If the plants are growing long and stringy then they are not getting enough light. Increase the lighting. Keep checking the ph. If it keeps rising then add more peat. If it keeps falling then add some coral sand.

You should experiment with growing different plants. You can also try increasing and decreasing the pump flow rate, thereby increasing or decreasing the water around the plant roots.

If you get bored of your aquaponics system or it is not working out, you can always remove the plastic growbed and have just an ordinary aquarium. Or you can do more research to do it more professionally.

The nano marine aquarium

The fascination of the nano marine aquarium

Larger aquariums are better than nano marine aquariums if you have the money

If you are a newbie marine aquarist, then you may be tempted by the lower cost of buying a smaller aquarium. Or you don’t want to commit to a larger aquarium until you know you can look after aquarium fish. So you might buy a smaller tank as a trial. This can be a mistake. If your dealer is persuading you to buy a larger tank then listen to him, if you can.

A small aquarium, especially a marine aquarium, is more difficult to cope with because of sudden water quality problems. In a bigger aquarium these problems are diluted by the larger quantity of water. Any rise or fall in salinity, pollution or other water parameter will be much slower in a large aquarium than a small aquarium. It is a falsity to believe a small aquarium is easier to maintain than a bigger aquarium. The opposite is true.

A freshwater nano aquarium is certainly much easier

List of beginners recommended saltwater fish

Comparison of large aquariums with nano marine aquariums

You will still need to buy all the same equipment for a nano aquarium as a large reef aquarium. For example hygrometer and water test kits. Some of the equipment is just miniaturised versions of the ones available for large aquariums, but the price is not miniaturised being about the same price. Savings in costs are usually made in the price of the aquarium, stand or cabinet, price of lighting, costs of live rock, cost of live stock because you will only be able to keep a small number of fish and invertebrates. Smaller heaters are a little cheaper. But the rest of the equipment is about the same, including on going costs.

Your first foray into keeping a marine aquarium will have a greater chance of success if your choice of tank size is at least 160 litres. With a tank of less than 160 litres, monitoring and maintenance work doubles. You will have to buy a good quality test kit that is easy to use and you will have to keep using it daily or even twice a day. The water has to be checked daily for salinity levels, ammonia, nitrites and nitrates. Adjustments and interventions will almost certainly have to be made more often. Things change so fast in such a small aquarium that salinity levels due to evaporation or pollution levels may change quickly and kill your fish or invertebrates in a day. In a larger aquarium these changes are slower and your fish have more time to adapt. And there is more opportunity for you to catch these dangers and correct them in time.

Beginners saltwater aquarium here

First Saltwater aquarium here

Stocking the nano marine aquarium

For many aquarists the prohibited costs of the larger aquariums leave them with no option but to start with a smaller aquarium. To be successful in a smaller aquarium your choice of fish and invertebrates must be made with more care. Corals from shallower waters are more tolerant of changes to water conditions than their deeper water counterparts. Also, your choice of fish is limited to the smaller and hardier species. Common clownfish, pyjama cardinalfish, dwarf angelfish and neon gobies make the best choices for the smaller aquarium and are great beginner fish anyway.

Once you have fish in a smaller marine aquarium then your options for invertebrates becomes limited both in the number and range of invertebrates you can successfully keep together with your fish. Shrimps and small hermit crabs are the hardiest invertebrates that might survive with fish present.

It is better to understock and overfilter for the first few months. It will take this long for your filters, live rock and live sand to fully mature. In this period you will get practice and experience of running your aquarium.

Maintenance of your nano marine aquarium

More careful attention to the diet and especially the feeding has to be made to make sure that the fish are well fed without allowing waste food to occur that will pollute the aquarium. If you good have experience in keeping fish then you will know what to do. For the less experienced, great attention has to be made to uneaten bits of food.

In a smaller aquarium it is better to have a protein skimmer and a uv filter. But don’t overdo it. The protein skimmer will remove essential nutrients while the UV filter may kill off helpful plankton. You must have live rock and live sand which will provide biological filtration. Once established this will greatly enhance your chance of succeeding.

You will have to buy the live rock. Cured live rock is better but more expensive than uncured live rock. Uncured live rock will cure in your aquarium. The effect of this is that pollutants from dying organisms will seep into your aquarium water for weeks until the rock cures. The live sand will develop by the migration of microscopic lifeforms and bacteria from the live rock into your sand. Also have a good external filter to perform additional biological filtration. Remove excess waste from the filter media by squeezing out once a week. Do not rinse out or you will lose the nitrifying bacteria.

Buying several small pieces of live rock and plenty of ocean rock is one way to create enough live rock in your aquarium but you will have to wait while the life from the live rock migrates to the ocean rock. This process takes time. if you have the patience then you can save money this way. Remember live rock will start to die when not submerged in sea water. Newly bought live rock from your dealer needs to be kept in seawater on the way back home. Make sure you buy solid live rock and ocean that is not prone to crumbling.

It is highly recommended to do many small partial water changes to the nano aquarium. Have a large container of pre-mixed saltwater. This will reduce the amount of times you have to mix water and sea salt to create seawater. The use of reverse osmosis water is highly recommended. Buy a RO water kit that will convert your tap water into pure water. Otherwise you will be spending a small fortune on continually buying RO water from your dealer.

Self contained nano marine aquariums

There are many self contained nano aquariums. These have advantages and disadvantages. Some are enclosed systems that reduce the water evaporation. The downside to this is that they tend to overheat, because of the enclosed lighting, especially in summer. The open top varieties are better in this regard but will require topping up with water daily to maintain the required salinity. Because of their all in one nature, these aquarium set ups work out cheaper. But invariably modifications will be necessary to these set ups to make them work.

Conclusions

Today, you have a better chance than ever before of having a successful nano aquarium because of
1. Advances in technology of filtration, monitoring and maintenance equipment
2. The wider availability of aquarium bred fish
3. Wide availability of good knowledge of the marine aquarium environment
4. The price of marine fish and live rock is falling because of the success of home produced sources
So, why not give it a try and start enjoying the colourful world of marine fish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can buy clownfish and dwarf angelfish online with home delivery in the US.


Featuring Angelfish

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clean and clear aquarium water

Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal

Clean and clear aquarium water: A guide to water quality and management

Also see: Cure and prevent cloudy or green water

and Why does my aquarium get dirty

Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal
Clean and clear aquarium water should be all aquarists goal

Water may appear clean and clear but, actually, be absolutely toxic to your fish. You need to be able to create water that is clean and healthy for your fish. Below I will explain how to create clean and clear water and how to maintain this indefinitely by establishing a balanced ecosystem. It can be said that you are not taking care of your fish but rather you are taking care of the water the fish live eat and breathe in.
 
A fully-functioning aquarium is a balanced ecosystem that needs to remain balanced in order to let your fish thrive. Setting up and maintaining this ecosytem is the first and most important step towards taking good care of your fish.

Water composition

In order to understand how to successfully manage your aquarium water, you need to become familiar with the various attributes of water that aquarists generally deal with. The water in your tank will have more in it than simple H20, and frequent testing is the best way to keep all of those additional elements in check. Some of the attributes and chemicals worth paying attention to follow:

  • Temperature – your water needs to have a controlled temperature for your fish to survive. Tropical aquariums are typically heated to a temperature between 23–28° C (74–82° F).
  • pH level – This is the measure of your waters acidity, and is affected by its hardness. Certain fish have pH requirements determined by their natural habitat, but a range somewhere between 6.5–8.2 is the norm.
  • Hardness – The amount of dissolved minerals in your water contribute to its hardness. Soft water generally carries a lower pH level. Most fish are tolerant of moderate hardness between 100–250 mg/l.
  • Chlorine and chloramine – These chemicals are added to municipal reservoirs to keep your tap water clean and safe to drink. They are toxic to fish, however, so you will need to remove them from your water. Chlorine will evaporate on its own if left to sit for a few days, but chloramine requires the use of a water conditioning product to successfully remove.
  • Phosphate and other minerals – These are substances that are usually ignored by most aquarists. But there are times when it is necessary to test for other substances. Such as when algae becomes a persistent problem or plants are not growing.
  • Ammonia – Ammonia is toxic to fish and is caused by decomposing waste, and the point of your aquarium filtration system is to remove harmful ammonia by converting it into nitrite and then nitrate. That takes place during the nitrogen cycle, which will be covered in more detail below. The optimal level of ammonia in your water is zero. Anything above .25 mg/l of ammonia means you need to perform a water change.
  • Nitrite – A secondary element of the nitrogen cycle, nitrite is not as toxic as ammonia, but it reduces the ability of your fish to oxygenate their bloodstream. A normal tank should not have more than .5 mg/l of nitrite. If it does, it is time for a water change.
  • Nitrate – The end product of the nitrogen cycle’s chemical conversion. Not as harmful as nitrite or ammonia but still harmful in high doses. Nitrate can be tolerated at levels up to 40 mg/l.

Cycling your aquarium water

See cycling for more info

Since substances like ammonia and nitrite are toxic for your fish, you need to remove them from your water on a continually. Fortunately, once matured, your filter will automatically remove them for you. Your aquarium’s filtration system is designed to host a range of beneficial bacteria that convert ammonia into nitrite, and nitrite into nitrate; a process called the nitrogen cycle. In order for that to happen, however, you need to set up your aquarium for cycling.

Since fish produce ammonia, they are typically used as the beginning point of the nitrogen cycle. After being added to a tank, very frequent water changes are needed to keep the fish healthy until the bacterial colony which feeds off the ammonia has developed sufficiently. Fishless tank cycling can be achieved using pure ammonia, as well.

Once ammonia is in the tank, bacteria will naturally show up to begin consuming it and converting it into nitrite. This can be speeded up by introducing a working filter from another aquarium, since a colony of bacteria should already be present established there. If this is not an option, then they will develop, on a new filter, slowly over 30-60 days. A secondary layer of bacteria will also appear that will convert the newly created nitrite into nitrate.

The end result of growing these bacterial colonies in your aquarium filter is that your water will essentially be recycling its own waste. However, nitrate still needs to be reduced through partial water changes. Luckily, that is only a weekly task. If you are keeping fish in your tank while cycling, you will need to perform large daily water changes until the ammonia levels fall to near zero.

Setting up a water management routine

Once your tank is properly cycled, you will still need to monitor your tank’s water. Since the nitrogen cycle is taking care of your immediate concerns over waste matter recycling, you can keep your water quality high with minimal effort. The only daily task that is necessary at this point is checking the water temperature.

Weekly tasks include performing a small water change, between 10–25%, as needed according to the nitrate level of the tank. You should also be testing your water every week in order to gauge the nitrate level as well as detect and prevent any possible ammonia, nitrite, or pH problems that may spring up, before they get serious.

Your monthly tasks should include a vacuuming of the tank gravel, a squeezing out of the excess dirt from your filter sponge and a scrubbing to remove any algae present in the tank. Never use tap water on your filter sponge. Squeeze out the sponge using some water from the aquarium. This avoids harming the beneficial bacterial colony growing on it.

Common water quality problems

One of the most evident signs that your aquarium water has a problem is if the smell changes. Aquariums generally have a pleasant lakeside scent to them once they are properly cycled, but excess ammonia and other elements can change that, giving you a warning to test the water and change it quickly.

Most often, bad-smelling water is a sign that there is too much waste in the tank as a result of overfeeding. Your fish should generally eat all of their food in two minutes or less and not leave any to rot. Excess food will rot which releases excess ammonia that will poison your fish. Occasionally your fish will go off their food. Feeding at this time will just result in food being left uneaten and rotting. Remove any uneaten food using a siphon.

A fish that dies in the tank should be removed immediately. A rotting fish will release a lot of ammonia which your filter will not be able to cope with.

Algae is another common result of poor-quality aquarium water. Again, excess nutrients (especially nitrate and phosphate) can allow algae to bloom, turning your water green and presenting problems for your fish. If you are not overfeeding your fish, then algae may bloom because of an excess of yellow light. Also, be sure to keep your aquarium out of direct sunlight.

If you pay attention to your water and follow the guidelines mentioned above, you should have a tank full of clean and clear aquarium water for your fish to enjoy.

Aquarium pests

An aquarium blighted by algae

How to control aquarium pests

An aquarium blighted by algae
An aquarium blighted by algae is an eyesore

Your aquarium is very similar to a carefully-tended garden in many ways, especially when it comes to unwanted pests that can accumulate, often rapidly, and begin causing damage to your delicate aquatic ecosystem. There are numerous types of aquarium pests and fish parasites that, if left unchecked, can seriously affect the health of your fish and even kill them.

Some of the most common pests that you will find in a typical tropical aquarium are as follows:

  • Algae – This is by far the most common pest, and it comes in many flavours: brown algae, hair algae, bubble algae, slime algae and more. Most of these are easily controlled by addressing your tank’s water quality and level of light exposure. Though not harmful to your fish, it is unsightly.
  • Snails – These small creatures can suddenly appear in your tank, where they will begin to eat your live plants and reproduce rapidly. If left unchecked, they will push your tank’s biological load far past its limit. They also eat fish eggs.
  • Hydra – Tiny freshwater polyps that like to feed on fish fry, Hydra can be very difficult to eliminate from your tank once an infestation begins. They can also irritate larger fish and are generally unwanted even if you do not have fry present.
  • planaria can be a nuisance and are an indicator of a dirty aquarium
    planaria can be a nuisance and are an indicator of a dirty aquarium

    Planaria – These creatures occur as a result of overfeeding or bad water management. Although not harmful to fish, though they may irritate the fish, they are unsightly and are a sign that the aquarium is not well cared for.

  • Floating Plants – If left to grow unchecked, floating plants can become a nuisance and need to be trimmed down to size.

How aquarium pests get introduced to your aquarium

The one major difference between your fish tank and a garden is the fact that your aquarium, at least in theory, is a closed ecosystem. You may be asking yourself how aquarium pests occur in such an environment: Most commonly, they are introduced as eggs, larvae or pupae on rocks, driftwood, and other aquarium decorations that have not been thoroughly cleaned.

The most effective way to prevent most of these pests from invading your aquarium is to carefully clean anything that you introduce to your aquarium. Snail eggs can ride in on live plants, or even with newly bought fish in some circumstances, which makes absolute prevention impossible. Pest control is occasionally still necessary, however. Another sure way is to absolutely avoid adding new objects, plants and fish to the aquarium.

What to do about aquarium pests in your tank

By far the most common pest is unwanted algae, which is relatively simple to control. New aquariums are particularly vulnerable to brown algae, which will usually go away on its own after the aquarium becomes properly established. Regular water changes and a strictly controlled lighting set up will discourage algae from growing, as will the introduction of plants to your tank.

Algae grows as a response to certain wavelengths of light. If your lights are old the wavelength changes, which may encouraging algae growth. If you continue to have problems despite using the correct lighting, it is a sign that your water is saturated with nutrients. A protein skimmer can help remove the organic waste that algae feeds on. A reverse osmosis water filtration system can remove nutrients before they enter the aquarium. Another option for immediate control is blocking out all light entering your aquarium for a few days.

Snails can be controlled by a variety of means. You can crush the shells yourself and let the fish eat their remains. Or add a snail-eating loach to your tank. You can also buy assassin snails which will hunt down and eat your snails reducing the number of snails. Another way to reduce the snail population is by adding copper to your water, which is a toxic substance for most aquatic invertebrates. Small copper coins can work, although they must be cleaned before introduction to the tank.

When it comes to hydra, the problem can get a bit more complicated. Chemical solutions exist, but can be harmful for live plants, fish and the beneficial bacteria in your filter. A better way to control these creatures is through the introduction of hydra-eating fish like three-spot blue gouramies. If that is not an option, you will have to cook them.

hydra catching daphnia. hydra is a threat to fry
hydra catching daphnia. hydra is a threat to fry

Hydra will die at a temperature greater than 40°C, which is less than what would kill your beneficial bacteria, so if you temporarily remove your fish and raise the heat to this temperature for a few hours, your tank will be free of these aquarium pests. You can then turn the heat back down, vacuum your gravel and perform a 50% water change to clear the tank. Once the water temperature is back to normal, you can re-introduce your fish safely.

Planaria are often much more difficult to contain. They will generally have to be physically removed or starved through decreased feeding. These worms can regenerate when physically damaged, making them particularly problematic in large numbers. Many aquarists find that chemical solutions are the only effective solution when dealing with a planaria infestation. However, some gouramis, guppies betta, mollies and kribensis sometimes eat them.

Controlling your plants’ growth

When it comes to controlling the growth of plants in your tank, you will need to take a more careful approach since these are organisms you want in your tank, but at levels and sizes that your aquarium can support. Plants can be particularly troublesome since an improperly trimmed stem will simply grow back, often bigger than before.

The key to proper plant control is to use specialized aquascaping tools to trim your plants. Aquascaping scissors allow you to use the correct technique when trimming your plants: cut stems should be sliced at a diagonal angle that prevents the plant from simply regenerating the stem. This is very difficult to do with regular scissors, but very easy with a pair designed specifically for aquascaping.

Fish parasites and diseases

Many of the more common aquarium pests take the form of fish parasites that infect your fish and make them sick. These can seriously affect the health of your fish and often need to be addressed using a separate quarantine tank in order to separate the infected fish from the rest of your tank. Common fish parasites include:

  • Ick(ich) – This is a very common problem for fish that are stressed as a result of rapid changes in water quality or temperature. Ick infections make your fish look like it has tiny white grains of sand covering its body. Commercial cures are available in tablet form or liquid form. However, they don’t always work because some strains of ick have become immune. Raising the temperature for a week and dosing the tank with salt usually works.
  • Gill Flukes – These tiny flatworms infect the gills of your fish, and can be identified with symptoms similar to ick but with erratic movement and eye spots on the scales. Flukes cannot be seen with the naked eye. Often encouraged by poor water quality or overcrowded tanks, gill flukes must be treated immediately with anti-parasitic aquarium tablets.
  • Water Lice – If your fish seem to have pale, tiny eight-legged crabs on their bodies, you are looking at fish lice. These aquarium pests need to be physically removed from the fish and the wound treated with an antiseptic such as iodine. Another common solution is bathing freshwater fish in a salt bath of 35 ppt seawater for 5 minutes every day until the parasite falls off.
  • Gill Mites – These microscopic creatures can be identified if your fish is gasping at the water’s surface and has partially opened gill covers showing inflammation or infection. They must be treated with anti-parasitic treatments in tablet form, with water changes in between each treatment.

Hopefully, you will never have to deal with any of these aquarium pests or fish parasites. But, you should always be prepared to put a plan into action as soon as any of these pests are first spotted, before they cause problems to your plants or fish.

Once a problem has been cured, that is not the end of the matter. It is vital that you correct the conditions that caused the problem in the first place. Overfeeding, poor water quality, lighting problems, overcrowding are conditions that must be recognised and corrected so that the problems do not re-occur.

 

low maintenance fish keeping

three year old Walstad aquarium

A guide to low maintenance fish keeping

three year old Walstad aquarium
three year old Walstad aquarium

Why create a low maintenance aquarium? So you can spend more time admiring your fish, perhaps. People who are just getting started in the aquarium hobby are often taken aback by the level of maintenance that a successful fish tank usually needs. The cultural stereotype of keeping a goldfish in a tiny bowl and enjoying some kind of no-maintenance pet that just floats around and nibbles on flake occasionally is quickly dispelled once the conversation turns to biological filtration systems, cleaning schedules and balancing the nitrogen cycle in your tank.

It should come as no surprise, then, that many fish keeping enthusiasts have come up with some clever ways to lower the maintenance needs of their tanks. Thanks to one of two approaches, aquarists are getting closer than ever to a no maintenance sustainable environment that does not need constant upkeep and vigilance to keep their fish healthy.

Two approaches: natural and high-tech

If the average aquarium maintenance seems like hard work then there are two basic ways to approach your setup in order to enjoy a tank that allows for low maintenance fish keeping:

natural tanks-These tanks are designed around sound ecological principles. While complex these greatly reduce the amount of work that you have to put in on a regular basis. These tanks focus on providing a closed ecosystem that is as close to natural as possible, with plants, algae, bacteria, microscopic planarians, freshwater shrimp, and fish completing the food cycle for you.

High-Tech tanks-This kind of aquarium does away with the need for ecological purity and uses automation and chemicals to maintain comfortable water conditions without your help. This means using sterilisers,  over-filtration, automatic feeders, algae-reducing chemicals, and more. These tools work in concert to keep the tank healthy and clean.

In natural tanks you will want to plan your tank around hardy, low maintenance fish that can tolerate the occasional change in water quality without being too badly shaken by the experience. Natural tanks will have occasional biological issues, and high tech tanks may suffer malfunctioning equipment from time to time, so it is important that you do not commit yourself to extremely delicate species.

Designing a natural tank

newly set up Walstad aquarium
newly set up Walstad aquarium

If you would like to set up an natural aquarium for low maintenance fish keeping, your tank will need to put a premium on long term planning and maintaining adequate life cycles for all of the tank’s inhabitants. Your choices regarding the species that you would like to keep will be very important, since they will all need to work together in order to maintain a healthy tank.

In the case of a natural, self-sustaining aquarium, the simplest aquarium tools can be put to effective use while plants and bacteria take care of your biological filtration needs. A drip-feed system can make water changes unnecessary, and with the right approach to your plants, you may even eliminate gravel cleaning from your to-do list, leaving you only with the responsibility of feeding your fish.

Plants are a necessity for the low maintenance fish keeping set up. By absorbing unwanted fish waste and keeping algae in check, they can help reduce the need for water changes while keeping your fish healthy. Good low-maintenance choices include the following:

  •  Water wisteria,
  •  Java moss,
  •  Lilaeopsis,
  •  African water fern,
  •  Java fern.

Simply keeping plants in your aquarium is not enought to ensure a stable low maintenance environment. Using soil as a substrate can allow biological filtration to occur directly within the tank when done properly. One of the most effective natural tank designs is the soil-based tank developed by Diana Walstad.

The Walstad Method

Diana Walstad has pioneered an unorthodox method of low maintenance fish keeping  that makes heavy use of plants and organic soil conditions to keep aquarium water healthy for fish. The combination of a soil substrate with fast growing plants takes out the nitrate and ammonia present in the water. This natural approach allows for filtration to occur through the land-based plants’ absorption of those chemicals in the roots and their subsequent release in to the atmosphere, above the water line.

These aquariums, when properly set up, can greatly reduce the need for mechanical filtration tools and other gadgets while also eliminating the need for you to personally change the water constantly. The key is to be found in the proper use of soil as a substrate rather than conventional gravel. Having your plants rooted in a thin layer of high quality soil allows anaerobic bacteria to filter the water without overwhelming their roots. This high quality soil boosts plants growth and activity. Thriving plants take out a lot more of the harmful ammonia, nitrites and nitrates than their struggling counterparts in a gravel tank. This also makes gravel cleaning a thing of the past.

With this kind of tank, supplemented by the addition of microscopic planarians or daphnia and other live food, you can enjoy a truly low maintenance fish keeping set up. You can do away with all the specialized equipment and other products. Often, a natural Walstad tank can be enjoyed indefinitely with only a heater, good lighting for the plants, and a light-duty mechanical filter or aerator that keeps the water flow up. The Walstad set up can be enhanced with a modicum of equipment, especially a small biological filter and a drip feed water system. But then it is not a 100% natural system.

You can buy Diana Walstad’s book on Amazon.The book goes into detail on how the aquarium ecosystem works. She details some of the experiments in building a sustainable ecosystem that have lasted several years. This is not a book full of pretty pictures. It is a book that will tell you how to build healthy and low tech aquariums where the plants thrive and the fish are healthy. Click on the book on the left to buy the book.

 

The value of high quality soil in an natural tank

Since it is clear that the use of soil as a substrate is what makes this tank special, it is important to determine what constitutes high quality soil and sets it apart from other options. The main concern here is to use properly natural soil—that is, soil that is made of 100% natural matter so that natural decomposition can take place.

The composition of the soil will greatly affect the water quality of your tank as it decomposes, so you will want to perform frequent water changes while your tank and its fish adapt to the presence of the soil and an ecological balance is created. Regular potting soil is largely excluded due to the presence of additives that will contaminate your water.

Step by step process for setting up a Walstad Method natural tank

• Start with your tank’s essentials: the heater and filter/power heads should be in place before you add anything else to the tank.

• Begin by adding a 3 cm layer of untreated, non-sterile top soil to the tank.

• Cover the soil layer with an additional 3 cm of medium fine gravel, or a fine layer of sand. Be gentle: too much covering will deprive your bacteria of oxygen.

• Your plants will need calcium. If your water is soft, add in bone meal or coral gravel to compensate.

• Add your choice of plants and turn on your lights: 2 watts for every 3.8 litres is a sufficient amount.

• Add clean room temperature water that is free of chlorine or chloramine.

• Use filters or power heads to maintain brisk water flow and keep the water oxygenated, especially until cycling is complete.

• Test for pH, ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite every two days for two months, changing the water as necessary. Some soils will require frequent changes to rid the water of toxins.

• You can add fish immediately after setting up, but be sure to perform 25% water changes as soon as you see ammonia or nitrite levels above zero.

• If algae becomes a problem, reduce your lighting or add floating plants to the tank. Once the tank is established, the plants will effectively out-compete algae for nutrients.

To read more about the techniques and why they work then read

The high-tech tank

If you would like to enjoy low maintenance fish keeping without making any compromises on fish choice or plant presence, the high-tech tank might be for you. This type of tank has a number of benefits, including the fact that you can keep just about any type of fish you desire, and plants tend to grow bright and beautiful quickly in this environment.

Some delicate fish species that usually live in river environments are especially suited to the high-tech tank. The increased flow, filtration, and continuously changing water will make river species feel right at home.

The main drawback to the high-tech tank is that setting it up is a long process. After set up there is usually a tinkering period where you fine tune things. You will have to invest a bit of time, energy, and money into maintaining a proper balance through technological means. This could mean using any or all of the following tools to keep the water conditions ideal for your fish:

• Double filtration—Using multiple filters will effectively double the period before you need to clean the filter media. Doubling the filters maximises biological filtration to keep ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels at zero.

• Power heads—These can help keep the flow rate high within the tank, enabling effective filtration and keeping detritus and mulm from settling into the gravel substrate. This gives more of a chance for the filters to pick it up instead.

• Drip-Feed System—This is a very useful DIY project that will continuously drain and replace water from your tank: Pre-filtered water is drip fed to the tank while an overflow system drains all excess water. Carbon filtration is needed to remove chlorine.

• Automatic feeder—A programmable fish feeder can store days’ or even weeks’ worth of food and reliably deposit a controlled amount directly into the water at regular intervals. Robust, high quality units can be left on their own for weeks at a time without worry. You can even go on holiday and not worry about hungry fish.

• UV steriliser—Low maintenance fish keeping practitioners still need to control algae, and if you want to avoid regularly scraping your aquarium glass clean then a UV steriliser will provide the algae control that you need.

• Algae-controlling chemicals—Another low maintenance fish keeping solution for controlling algae is through the use of specialized chemicals. These can be found at many fish and aquarium supply stores. But these are a last resort.

• Light timers—Choose your lights carefully to avoid encouraging algae growth. A light timer can also help by allowing you to set a specific lighting schedule that offers just enough to help your plants grow without triggering an algae bloom.

• Protein skimmer—Often found in saltwater aquariums, these devices greatly reduce the amount of organic fish waste in your tank, reducing the need for water changes.
This approach to low maintenance fish keeping allows you to enjoy your aquarium without needing to worry about your fish’s basic needs such as feeding and water changing. You will still need to perform regular cleaning. But with high-powered filtration of your tank and a good control of algae, you should be able to get by with a quick monthly vacuuming and filter rinsing schedule.

Step by step process for setting up a high-tech tank

• Again, start with the tank’s essentials: Your filters, heaters, and lighting setup should be ready.

• Add a 5 cm even layer of gravel along the bottom of the tank. If you use sand, a very shallow layer will make vacuuming easy.

• Plant any plants you may have now. If you use the easy-to-clean thin gravel substrate, your plants should be potted or attached to rocks and other decorations, which you can also add in now.

• Add clean, conditioned, de-chlorinated water to your tank.

• Insert and activate your filter, lights, and heater.

• Begin cycling either by adding starter fish, fish food, or another ammonia source.

• After cycling begins, you can activate the drip-feed system for constant water changing, though you may need additional water changes until cycling is complete.

• Test the water every two days for two months, waiting for ammonia and nitrate readings of zero.

• Respond to algae growth with reduced light until cycling is complete. The UV steriliser and protein skimmer should help here but if it is not enough, you can add algae controlling chemicals after cycling is complete, or even use low maintenance floating plants to control algae growth.

Once you’ve successfully cycled your tank, you should have a complete low maintenance fish keeping solution on your hands: high water flow, drip feeds, and automatic fish feeders will ensure that your aquarium stays sustainably healthy without constant care. Again the high tech system is enhance by having floating plants and biological filtratrion. So not a pure high tech solution.

Now you can sit back, relax and enjoy your fish. You’ve earned it.

 

Set up your first tropical marine tank

Final complete marine aquarium set up

Your first saltwater tank set up

well designed marine aquarium
well designed marine aquarium

If you have already enjoyed the success of keeping your own tropical freshwater aquarium and would like to move onto a more beautiful but complex aquaria, your next step may be to attempt your first tropical marine tank. A saltwater tank setup tends to require a bit more investment on your part, both financially and in terms of setting up the complete marine aquarium , but the fascinating end result is worth it.

While at first glance, it may seem that keeping a saltwater aquarium should be the same as keeping a freshwater one, but with added salt. However, there are some key differences that you will need to pay attention to in order to get your tank set up properly. One of the first that should be taken into account before you start buying any marine tank equipment is the type of set up you would like to keep.

See also beginners saltwater tank step by step
 
and live rock and live sand
 
and beginners saltwater fish
 

Three types of tropical saltwater tank setups

Fish only marine aquarium
Fish only marine aquarium is quite lively and active

Your first tropical marine tank will fall into one of three broad categories:

• Fish only tank

• Fish only with live rock (FOWLR) tank

• Complete reef tank (as above but with corals and invertebrates)

There are a wide variety of advantages and disadvantages to keeping each type of these saltwater tank setups. For your first tropical marine tank, however, it is important to keep things as simple as possible so that you can get acquainted with the specifics of keeping saltwater fish before moving on to more complicated setups involving corals and invertebrates.

Of the three choices above, the easiest option is the fish only with live rock tank. Intuitively you might think a fish only tank would be simpler to keep. Not so, the truth is that maintaining the correct water quality and filtration without live rock will require more work on your part. Live rock provides vital biological processes that eat up a lot of waste matter from the fish, purifying the water.

marine aquarium with live sand, coral and fish
marine aquarium with live sand, coral and fish

Reef tanks, too require a lot of hard work and monitoring in order to get running smoothly and maintaining, and are often some of the most expensive tanks to keep. They tend to require more equipment and more expensive livestock than tanks that focus solely on fish and live rock.

If you have decided to keep a fish and live rock tank and are ready to begin purchasing equipment and setting up, the list and guide below will help you get everything you need to begin.

What you need for your first tropical marine tank

As mentioned above, the technical requirements of maintaining your marine tank will be a bit more complex than those of a freshwater tank. You will need to collect the following equipment in order to get started:

• Aquarium As always, a larger tank is generally easier to keep and will make sudden changes in water quality less of a danger for your fish. At least 100 litres is recommended for your first tropical marine tank.

live rock is great for biological filtration
live rock is great for biological filtration

• Substrate There are three main options to choose from here: a shallow sand bed, a deep sand bed, or a bare bottom tank. A shallow sand bed is often ideal for first-time saltwater aquarists.

• Live Rock Getting about one 1 kilogram per 7.5 litres of high-quality live rock is important for your tank’s biological filtration.

• Saltwater Mix There are many brands of saltwater mix available both online and at your local aquarium shop.

• Refractometer This measures your water’s salt content, and is often included as part of high quality saltwater testing kits. Hydrometers also work, but tend to be less accurate.

• Protein Skimmer Your marine tank will need a protein skimmer. While it is possible to run a tank without one, you will have to work much more in order to avoid problems with algae and fish waste— you are better off starting with a skimmer that will take care of this for you.

• UV Steriliser This useful device uses high-frequency ultraviolet light to kill free-floating bacteria in your water. This makes it a type of filter, but one that uses light instead of mechanical or biological means to keep your water clean and healthy.

• Multiple Power Heads These devices provide water flow, which is very important in saltwater tanks. Turbulent flow, on the order of 10-20 times the tank volume, will help guarantee a clean, healthy tank by preventing detritus from accumulating.

• Reverse Osmosis Water Filter A water filter of this kind of necessary for preparing tap water. It removes minerals from tap water. So when you add sea salt to this water you will get pure sea water.

• Heater And Thermometer Some saltwater aquarists choose to purchase two smaller heaters instead of one large one, in order to avoid crisis should a heater malfunction.

• Test Kits Be sure to stock up on test kits for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates. These will be very useful during the initial cycling of the tank.

• Lights Thankfully, FOWLR tanks do not have very strict lighting requirements like reef tanks do. A mix of white and blue actinic lights should be sufficient for most fish and live rock setups.

• Quarantine tank You may need to setup a small, bare quarantine tank for your fish, as saltwater organisms may have a hard time getting comfortable in captivity, and can easily get sick.

Choosing fish for your tropical marine tank

clown-fish
clown fish is a good marine beginner’s fish

While keeping your marine tank opens the possibility of keeping a wide variety of exotic fish and invertebrates, you will want to start with simple and inexpensive saltwater fish in the beginning. While the accidental loss of a fish is always a tragedy, that tragedy could be more pronounced if you just lost a rare exotic fish that cost more than £100!

The best fish to begin with are simple, hardy species that can help you get used to caring for the saltwater environment, such as:

• Clownfish (though these do prefer to live in coral)

• Blennies

• Damselfish

• Gobies

Putting your first tropical marine tank together

After you have gathered all of the equipment that you need, you can begin preparing your marine tank for activity. The first thing you will want to do is wash out your aquarium— be sure not to use any soap, as the residue will be harmful for your fish.

Painting your aquarium background black or deep blue makes fish colours stand out beautifully. However you might prefer a stick on background. When the tank is suitably prepared, you can begin adding pre-mixed saltwater to it.

Fill a standard 20 litre bucket with filtered water that is free from chlorine and chloramine, add the salt mixture slowly, referring to the instructions on the packet it came in. Stir well and refer to your refractometer frequently. Once you have a specific gravity reading of 1.021 and 1.024, you can add the water to your aquarium, repeating as necessary until the tank is filled.

Once the tank is full, you can activate your equipment and let the tank begin the cycling process. After a day or two of water circulation, you can add your live rock to the tank.

Curing live rock

Fish swimming amongst live rock
Fish swimming amongst live rock

The greatest expense of your marine tank will probably be live rock. High quality specimens can get costly, but offer excellent biological filtration. Before you can enjoy these benefits, however, you will need to cure the live rock for some time; between a week or two months depending on the condition of the rock.

To cure live rock, drain some of the aquarium water and place the live rock inside the tank, preferably in the centre and with your power heads pointed directly at it. Every few days, you will need to turn off the power to the tank and clean the live rock with an old toothbrush to remove debris and dead organisms. After each cleaning, siphon the debris and refill the tank with pre-mixed saltwater.

This process needs to be repeated every few days until the water has no ammonia readings, no nitrite readings, and a smell somewhat like the ocean. When the tank is cycled, you are ready to add sand.

Adding sand to your tank

The best way to properly add your sand substrate to the tank is by draining some of the saltwater into a 20 litre bucket and emptying your sand into the bucket. Stir the resulting mixture until you see dust and dirt rising. Siphon off this dust and dirt before it settles. Repeat this process until there is not dust and dirt.

Once the sand is cleaned, you can ladle it into your aquarium. If any sand gets caught on your live rock, use a power head to blow it off so that your rock maintains uninterrupted contact with the water. In a few days, if all goes well, you should be ready to starting adding fish to your tank.

Finishing your first tropical marine tank

Final complete marine aquarium set up
Complete saltwater tank setup

After letting your tank circulate for a few days, you should begin to see consistent water quality readings such as:

• A temperature of 24-27°C;
• Specific gravity between 1.020 and 1.024;
• pH between 8.0 and 8.4;
• Ammonia and nitrite readings of 0;
• Nitrite readings of less than 20 ppm;
• Carbonate hardness between 7-10 dKH.

Once this happens, you are ready to begin adding fish to your tank. It is highly recommended to use some of your water to make a small quarantine tank for them to get used to first, reducing the risk of disease.

Add your fish slowly, one at a time so that the tank can adjust to the increased biological load. Your fish will be stressed out at first, but should begin acting normally and feeling comfortable after a few days. At that point, you can test the water and, conditions permitting, add your next fish. In a short time, you will have a fully stocked saltwater aquarium. Now you can sit back and enjoy your small piece of the ocean. But remember you still need to keep monitoring your water quality and topping up your aquarium with newly made seawater regularly.

 

Setting up a tropical aquarium: step by step guide

fish tank set up

Setting up a tropical aquarium professionally

This is an easy to follow step by step guide on setting up an aquarium for the beginner aquarist. Following these steps closely will allow you to have a successful aquarium set up at home, even if you don’t have any experience in keeping fish. You will avoid the most common disasters such as dead fish, dying plants and green water.

1. Buy the biggest aquarium with a fitted hood that you can afford. Buy a 15″ high aquarium for larger fish or a 12″ high aquarium for smaller fish
2.Buy a heater-thermostat. Buy a larger wattage than recommended so that the heater doesn’t have to struggle to maintain the temperature
3. Buy a large sponge based internal power filter. Again get one with a higher turnover than recommended
4. Buy a stand or cabinet that will allow easy access to the top of the aquarium
5. Find a location away from direct sunlight near power sockets where the floor will support the weight of the aquarium
6.Use a spirit level to ensure the aquarium is sitting perfectly level
7. Place a sheet of polystyrene between the aquarium and stand or surface the aquarium is to sit on. This will help to spread out any pressure points which may crack the glass
8.Buy a hand pump action aquarium vacuum to assist in the maintenance of the aquarium

9.Buy some aquarium gravel
10. thoroughly wash the gravel until no dirt comes off in the water
11. Line the aquarium with the gravel. Slope the gravel. Higher at the back of the aquarium and lower at the front
12. Buy a flourescent tube with a peak in the red, blue and yellow areas of the spectrum. This will benefit the plants who will absorb the light
13.Buy a test kit that will test for ph, hardness, ammonia and nitrites
14.Fill your aquarium with water and treat the water with an anti chlorine chemical that will remove the chlorine. Or leave the water for standing for seven days so that the chlorine and ammonia will evaporate. Use a plastic sheet on the gravel when pouring in the water to avoid disturbing the gravel.
15. Set up a large barrel in the back yard or garden and fill it with tap water
16. Turn on your heater
17. Check your ph and hardness of your water.
18. Use the ph and hardness figures to guide you in selecting your plants and fish. If you have hard and alkaline water then it is much better to buy fish that thrive in such water such as Malawi fish.
19.Buy some plants and insert them into the gravel or in clay pots if needed.
20. Turn on the filter.
21. Add 2 hardy fish (such as zebra danios or mollies) after 7 days. Don’t feed for two days then feed sparsely to not pollute the aquarium. Any uneaten food must be removed within 5 minutes.
22. Do daily tests of the ammonia and nitrate. Do a water change with water from the water barrel when the ammonia starts to rise. Top up the water barrel as necessary.
23. After another 7 days buy a few more fish. Do half stock at this point. Keep feeding sparsely and clean up all uneaten food. For every litre of water allow 1cm of fish. 150litre tank = 150cm of fish. At this point 75cm total length of all your fish for a 150litre tank for example. But allow for growth. Calculate using the adult size of the individual fish.
24. Keep doing the water tests and do daily water changes of 10-25%.
25. After another 7 days buy some more fish. Stock at 75% at this point which for a 150litre tank is 112cm total length of all fish. keep feeding sparsely. Again calculate using the adult size of the fish.
26. Keep doing the water tests and daily water changes
27. After a month you can fully stock your aquarium but you will still need to test the water and do water changes. This is 150cm of fish for a 150 litre aquarium. 50cm for 50 litre. 100cm for 100 litre aquarium, etc. Again calculate using the adult size of the fish. Start feeding normally but keep a close eye on the ammonia and nitrite levels.
28. As the ammonia and nitrite levels stabilise to 0ppm, which may take up to 6 weeks, then you can cut back on the water changes to once a week or longer.
29. Check your plant growth. Some plants may be thriving while others may be struggling. Remove the struggling plants and buy some more suited to your aquarium.
30.Check for algae growths. If algae has taken hold then reduce the duration of lighting during the day and or cover one side or the back of the aquarium to reduce the light.
31. Siphon through the gravel by churning the mouth of the vacuum into the gravel. The gravel will not be sucked up but accumulated fish waste will be removed.
32. Use tablet fertilisers pushed near the roots of any plants that need it.
33. Swap or sell any fish that don’t settle in. Either they are bullying the other fish, being bullied, they are constantly hiding or have fallen ill.

So, set up your aquarium in a planned way so that the plants get acclimatized.
Beginners plants

Also a tank’s bacteria must mature to recycle fish waste so that the fish don’t die. Also make sure you buy fish will that get on with each other.

compatible fish lists here

Never have a newly bought fish die again and have that fish living for a long time.

Cycling your aquarium – explains the process in detail

Let aquarium set up mistakes be a thing of the past.

 

Guide to aquarium filters

various filters

Your guide to aquarium filter types: what kind of filtration is best and why

different types of filter
Aquarium filter types: canister, power, sponge, internal filters

 

Without a doubt, aquarium filters represent one of the most important elements of a properly functioning fish tank. Without proper filtration, your fish cannot possibly survive in the tank habitat you introduce them to.

The process of keeping the water clean and free of waste is so important that the aquarium industry has developed numerous solutions to approach the issue of filtration. A quick look at your local fish shop will show a wide variety of filters, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Understanding your aquarium filter types

Your aquarium water needs to be filtered in three ways to offer your fish a pleasant environment in which they can thrive. These three filtration methods are defined as follows:

• Mechanical Filtration. This refers to the physical act of pulling unwanted matter out of the water and leaving it in the filter, to be disposed of when you clean the filter. Dead plant leaves and foreign particles are commonly filtered mechanically. Vacuuming your tank regularly is also a form of mechanical filtration.

• Chemical Filtration. Chemical filters remove toxic chemicals by attracting them chemically to a filter medium as the water is pushed through them. Carbon is a very common filter medium for chemical filters because the majority of toxins will attach to carbon.

• Biological Filtration. Biological filtration takes place on the filter medium when beneficial bacteria consume poisonous waste products, saving your tank from becoming toxic.

Biological filtration cycling explained here

Also in saltwater aquariums live rock and live sand biological filtration

What are the various aquarium filter types?

Since there are so many different filtration options available, beginning aquarists can easily feel overwhelmed by the number of different products available. The differences between these filters may seem quite complicated, but the following list of filter types described below will help make the subject much more accessible:

sponge filter
Typical air powered sponge filter

• Sponge Filters. The sponge filter is one of the most basic types available on the market. It is distinguished by its lack of complex mechanical, chemical, or biological components and makes an acceptable, inexpensive filtration solution for small tanks, hospital tanks, and spawning tanks.

The sponge filter operates by using an air pump to pull water through the sponge material where unwanted particles are caught and beneficial bacteria consume ammonia and nitrite. Despite its simplicity the sponge filter provides excellent biological filtration

• External Filters. External filters are very common for aquarium hobbyists because of their excellent combination of effective mechanical, chemical and biological filtration as well as their price. External filters are usually grouped into hanging filters (HOB) for medium-sized tanks and external canister filters for larger tanks.

Both of these filters draw water into a canister filled with filtering material that provide mechanical, chemical filtration and biological filtration.

Larger external canister filters also pressurize the water when inside the canister. Because the water is pressurized and there is no air-to-water contact occurring within the canister, biological filtration is not as effective.

• Internal Canister Filters. Aquarium filters that sit directly on the glass of the inside of your tank are called internal canister filters. These filters combine excellent mechanical, biological and chemical filtration with very quiet usage, being completely submerged.

The drawback to these types of filters is that they take up space inside the tank. If you are short on space or would like to keep your tank interior pristine and natural, you may want to look at other filters.

undergravel filter operation
Details of how an undergravel filter works

Undergravel Filters. These filters are installed underneath the gravel substrate of your tank and pull water through the gravel and into uplift tubes where it is again deposited into the tank. These filters use your gravel as a mechanical filter, but leave out the chemical element.

Undergravel filters are generally not recommended for a number of reasons: Biological filtration is limited to whatever bacteria live on your substrate, mechanical filtration continually builds up a mass of decaying matter under your gravel, chemical filtration is not present, and any plants you may keep will have to deal with having their nutrients siphoned off.

Chemical Filters. Aquarium filters that base their entire filtration process on chemical means often use activated carbon as their primary filter medium. There are other materials on the market, but carbon remains by far the most popular, and for good reason.

A chemical filter that uses activated carbon can remove a great deal of unwanted chemicals from your water simply by letting the water pass through the carbon. For this reason, many external and canister filters include a small chemical filter that uses carbon.

• Fluidised Bed Filters. Fluidised bed filters are cylindrical filters that hang off of the back of your fish tank. They connect to a water pump that forces water through the bed of small, heavy particles— often sand or silica chips.

These filters can be expensive, but they offer a very useful combination of mechanical and biological filtration while remaining generally low maintenance.

Many of these filters will provide successful levels of filtering according to their type, while sacrificing their efficiency towards the other two filtering methods. In order to realise all three filtration methods for the best quality water, you will probably want to combine two filters.

The benefits of combining filters

While a great deal of aquarium filters promise effective mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration, many aquarists prefer to use two types of filters that only perform a single filtration task each. Combining filters can provide distinct benefits that even a large all-in-one canister filter cannot meet.

One benefit of combined filtering is that of redundancy— if one of your filters breaks down, you will still have some filtering going on through the other filter. Since these devices are so critical for the continued survival of your fish, it pays to keep a backup running.

Another benefit is that dedicated filters perform their jobs better than mixed ones. A single mechanical filter that does not provide chemical filtration has access to more water and space for its filtration job than it would if it had to do double duty. For this reason, many aquarists prefer to purchase multiple dedicated aquarium filters.

Choosing aquarium filter media

So far, this article has covered the various types of aquarium filters available on the market and categorized them by the way they function. There is another important way to categorize these devices, however, and it is by the medium that they use to filter water.

Mechanical filters have the widest range of filter media options, generally categorized by the size of the particles they can capture:

• Fluval Prefilter Media. Essentially a coarse, sponge-like material, this is called prefilter media because it is designed to catch large debris before it makes its way to a finer mechanical filter.

• Filter Pads & Foam. This medium-grade sponge material will clean most visible debris from your water without issue, and do not need to be replaced as often as finer filter media.

• Filter Floss. This fine material requires higher maintenance in the form of more frequent cleaning, but leaves your water much cleaner in the process.

• Micron Filter Pads. The very finest filter media available, these pads can filter material that is only fractions of the width of a human hair in length. These filters require frequent replacement, but can make your water crystal clear and even parasite free in the process.

Other considerations for aquarium filters: noise

The filter you choose could make a big difference not just for the lives of your fish, but yours as well: certain filters will produce different levels of noise. Controlling that noise can be difficult with certain types of filter.

Large external filters are usually the most common culprits of unwanted aquarium noise. Those that pressurize the aquarium water will often have to make some commotion in the process.

In general, any aquarium filters that rely on air pumps are usually quite noisy. High quality filters tend to be much quieter than their less expensive counterparts, and many self contained external filters are reasonably quiet.

The quietest filters are those where the main pump is fully submerged in the water such as the internal canister filter which can be almost silent.