How to move a large aquarium

Move a large aquarium - in the new house

Moving a Large Freshwater Fish Tank

(Without killing any fish!)

I have kept tropical fish for most of my life. During that time I have had the occasion to move with a 55 gallon fish tank three different times. The longest move entailed a 3 hour drive to get from my apartment in New York to our new house in Pennsylvania. Employing the same strategy each time, I successfully relocated my aquarium and all of its inhabitants safely to their new location over the course of a few days. Let me tell you how I did it.

Move a large aquarium
Move a large aquarium – before the move

My aquarium setup at the time consisted of a 55 gallon tank with an Aquaclear 110 HOB filter and an Eheim Classic canister filter. I had a standard fluorescent light hood with plant enhancing bulbs. The tank was occupied by 8 Buenos Aires Tetras, 6 Rosy Barbs, 6 Pearl Gouramis, 1 Red-Tail Shark, 1 small pleco and 7 Pepper Cory catfish. A large piece of driftwood, 2 very healthy Amazon Sword plants and several bunches of Anacharis were also in the tank when it was moved.

Planning and Preparation

This key step began a few weeks before the actual move. We had decided on the aquarium’s location in the new house. I used 2 twelve gallon Eclipse tanks that I had for a staging area for when the fish arrived and set them up on the floor close to the tank’s eventual location.

I had been saving and collecting empty 1 gallon water bottles for several months and had 20 of them. Over the course of 10 days I did 3 water changes and saved the water from the tank in my gallon bottles. I took a road trip to the new house 2 days before the move with the water and filed my two eclipse tanks filled with 90% aged water. I topped them off with fresh water, turned on the heaters and filters and the tanks were ready to receive some temporary guests.

One concession that I felt had to be made in the interests of completing this move in one day was to use mostly new substrate in the new location. This saved a lot of gravel washing and some valuable time. So I had 60 pounds of new substrate rinsed and ready to use stored nearby.

plastic storage box
plastic storage box

Many options had been considered for transporting the fish. Choosing against large plastic bags because of the oxygen deprivation factor I finally decided on using an old, solid plastic, picnic cooler. It sealed tightly and could be carried by two people once it was full. It had a capacity of 10 gallons and we wouldn’t need to fill it completely. I drilled 12 holes in the top for airflow. Now we were ready to roll.

Taking Down The Aquarium

On the morning of the move I began by taking down the filters, taking care to keep the filter media wet and in a plastic bag. These will be used at the new location to maintain the biological filtration and not shock the new tank. I am also taking about 5 pounds of the current substrate to get the new base started.

Now, with the help of my trusted assistants, my wife and son, we started emptying the tank. Using my siphon we filled the cooler about 3/4 full and then started filling the gallon bottles again. As the water level dropped in the tank I took out the plants and placed them in the cooler. The driftwood and rocks went in a bucket and now it was time to get the fish.

With the water now in the bottles and cooler the tank was only about half full. This made it easier to capture the fish and I started with the gouramis and got them safely one by one into the cooler. They swam down under the floating plants as I concentrated on the other fish. I started catching anything I can and soon had all the fish in the cooler. We closed it up and taped down the cover and put it into back seat of a car.

Moving quickly we finished emptying the tank and removed as much of the gravel as we could before picking up the tank and taking it outside. We gave it a good rinsing and loaded it into the back of an SUV.

Setting Up The New Aquarium

Move a large aquarium - in the new house
Move a large aquarium – in the new house

We drove to the new house with the fish securely strapped-in on the back seat. We had the water and all the other media and equipment and after a 3 hour drive arrived at our destination.

First I took the cooler and put the fish into their temporary tanks, putting the gouramis and cories on one tank and the rest in the other one. We then placed the aquarium and stand in its new location and filled it with the clean substrate. I mixed in the 5 pounds of older substrate I had gathered, concentrating it where my plants would go.

Now I filled the tank with the 20 bottles and the water that had travelled with the fish in the cooler. I put the filters into place using the old media and had them ready to go for when the tank was full. The tank was now half full and contained substrate so next I put the plants and driftwood piece in place.

Starting with the tank containing the smaller fish I began introducing the fish to their new home, which was the same as their old home. After finishing with the first tank I used its water to continue filing the main aquarium. I followed the same process with the second small tank and after its liquid contents went in we were almost full. A few extra gallons of fresh water were next and then the filters and heater got turned on.

I have had a 100% success rate with this procedure and have never lost a fish during a move. I think the key is to bring as much old water and biological media that you can to quickly ramp up the tank to its former state. This reduces the stress on your fish and leads to a smooth transition. Good luck if you are attempting to move with your tank. Following these basic tips will allow your fish to have a safe journey to their new home.

by AQUARIST GUIDE

 

How to Clean a Fish Tank

syphoning aquarium

This article will explain how to clean a fish tank in a professional way

syphoning aquarium

What you are trying to achieve

You need to have 2 goals when cleaning a tank. The first is to clean up the appearance of the glass in and out, the gravel, ornaments, equipment and plants, and the other is to clean up organic pollutants in the water which might not be visible to the eye. The first is for your viewing benefit while the second is for the fish’s benefit in terms of health.

Equipment and Supplies needed

You will need :

  • Matured and dechlorinated water (20 litres. More for a bigger tank. Less for a smaller tank.) and warmed to the temperature of your aquarium
  • An algae pad for cleaning the inside glass of the aquarium.
  • A large bucket 20 litre bucket.
  • A siphon gravel vacuum with tubing
  • New filter media may be needed
  • An old credit card/store card or other similar piece of plastic to scrape off stubborn stains.
  • White vinegar
  • Old but clean towel
  • Old but clean cloth

Step by step cleaning your fish tank

Remember your fish do not like being disturbed. This method of cleaning your glass involves only a partial water change. Also you should not remove your fish while you are cleaning the aquarium. That is the best way to reduce fish stress.

Get your replacement water ready. If your tank is new you will need to prepare 20% of the volume of your aquarium in new water. To prepare the water, leave the water in a bucket for 24 hours or use a dechlorinator chemical. The use some boiled water to bring up the temperature of your replacement water to that of your aquarium.

Turn off all electrical equipment. Once you have turned off all equipment then you will have to do all your cleaning tasks without pausing because the water will start to cool and the biological bacteria in your filter will start dying after an hour of the filter being switched off. Note: do not remove your heater from the water for cleaning for at least 15 minutes because it will overheat out of the water.

Use your algae cleaner and scrub the inside of the glass to remove algae or other internal growths. Clean the front and sides, but leave the back glass. The algae is actually healthy for the fish because of its cleaning properties and the biological action of bacteria within the algae. Some fish even feed off the algae.

Take out any ornaments, rocks and equipment that have become coated with algae. Clean these objects with the algae scrubber and then replace them back in the aquarium. Remember to put all these objects back in the exact place from where they were removed, this will reduce stress to the fish in your aquarium.
Wipe down plant leaves with your algae scrubber but do not remove them from the aquarium. Plants do not like to be disturbed and might die back if you interfere with their roots.

If your filter has slowed down then you will need to take out the aquarium sponge. If you have other filter medium that has become clogged then you should change about 50% of this medium and replace with new filter medium. With a clogged sponge, you need to take the sponge to a sink and give it a good squeeze until most of the mulm comes out. Do not clean with tap water or cold water because this will kill off the essential bacteria that biologically filters the water. If the sponge has become too clogged then you will need to cut the old sponge in half and cut the new sponge in half and put the old and new sponge back into your filter.

After cleaning your filter the water may be cloudy for a while. Do not worry this cloudiness will be filtered back into the filter and some of it will drop to the aquarium floor where you can syphon it off later.
With your old credit card start scraping the inside of the aquarium above the water line. Use some water to soften the residue. Then use the sharp edge of your credit card at an angle and push firmly to scrape the glass clean. Take care not to scrape the silicone, because you may cause a leak.

Make a mark with a felt tip pen at about 20% of the way down the aquarium to use as a guide to how much water to syphon out.

Syphon through the gravel use the base of the vacuum tube to disturb the gravel or sand to release trapped pieces of dirt. Syphon out any loose algae that has been produced by your scraping the aquarium.
Your syphoning should result in about 20 litres of water being removed.

There will be some gravel or sand syphoned out with your water but don’t worry, it sinks to the bottom of the bucket.
Pour the dirty water away but take care not to pour out your gravel/sand. Then just rinse out the sand/gravel under running water until it runs clean. Then carefully pour away all the water. Replace the cleaned gravel in the aquarium.
Pour the newly mixed water into the aquarium. Turn back all the equipment.

Now you can start to clean the outside of the aquarium. Use white vinegar, which you may need to dilute depending on the concentration. Dip an old but clean cloth into the vinegar and use the cloth to wipe the outside glass. Clean it in the same manner as you would clean your windows. Do not use any soaps, detergents or any other cleaning agents, because these are usually lethal to the fish.

Once you have cleaned all your aquarium with the white vinegar you will need to rinse off any residue. You do this by rinsing out your cloth in warm water. Wipe each surface of your aquarium with the wet cloth and then dry down with the dry towel. Your aquarium should truly sparkle. Finish off the front before moving to each side in turn.

If the hood is dirty, you can also clean the hood in the same way as you cleaned the glass, but be careful that no vinegar falls into the water because it might harm the fish.

If there is still dirt at the bottom of your aquarium after this procedure then wait a few hours then syphon off this dirt and then prepare some water to replace this water. Replace the next day when the newly prepared water has matured. Make sure this water is at the same temperature as your aquarium.

Cleaning is now complete. You should have given your aquarium a new lease of life with this makeover. The preferable fish is otocinclus. Use several in the aquarium. Use more for larger aquariums.

Cleaning the tank: preventative measures

If you are getting too much algae growing or your aquarium water is becoming pea-green then you need to remove the cause. Algae feed of nitrate in the water and use excess of light, especially daylight.

To reduce the light you should first of all remove all sources of direct sunlight into the aquarium. If that is not the cause then you will need to reduce the duration of time your aquarium lights are on and perhaps reduce the strength of the bulbs. You could also try increasing the number of plants in your aquarium. The plants should eat up the nitrate before the algae in order to starve the algae.

To reduce the nitrate, feed the fish less and syphon daily any waste matter such as uneaten food, food poop and dead leaves on the aquarium floor. Also you could increase the frequency of your aquarium’s water changes. Remember to replace with dechlorinated water at the same temperature as your aquarium.

Another way to help reduce algae in the aquarium is to have fish that eat algae. These fish will continually browse on the algae thereby reducing your need to clean the algae.

And finally have two filters instead of one to double the amount of filtration in your aquarium and so improve the speed of waste removal in the aquarium.

Brown algae

Brown algae growing on coral sand

Brown algae growing on coral sand

Brown algae a common problem for new tanks

What is brown algae?

Brown algae is a form of algae called diatoms that can photosynthesise as well as obtaining chemical forms of sustenance enabling them to survive even in low light levels as long as their alternative food sources are available. Silicate, phosphorus and nitrates are potential food sources for them.

Recognising brown algae.

When you see a light to dark brown blotches which appear as a slimy film covering any aquarium surface then you are highly likely to have brown algae. It is easily displaced from any surface and can be vaccuumed off glass, plants and gravel.

What causes brown algae?

It usually comes about when there is low light levels, low green algae or plant growth and when there is an abundance of silicate, nitrate or phosphorus in the aquarium. This usually happens in a new aquarium. The silicate can come from the glass of a new aquarium leaching silicate into the water or from newly used sand leaching silicate. Sometimes the rocks in the aquarium contain minerals that feed brown algae so may need removing.

Is brown algae harmful?

It can be harmful to plants or corals because it can coat them and block sunlight and nutrients to them. It the algae starts to die it can cause pollution problems. However, many algae eating fish will relish brown algae and is generally not harmful if it doesn’t overly cover plants or corals.

How can you cure brown algae?

The best way is to deprive the algae of the nutrients that the it feeds off. Correct the lighting problem, such as buying a new light if your aquarium bulb is old or buy a brighter light. The algae will take up the nutrients from the newly set up tank. Once the tank has matured the algae should run out of food. If the algae is continually removed from the aquarium, the nutrients inside the brown algae will also be removed along with it. When you scrape off the algae make sure it is removed from the water. If it is allowed to remain in the water it will simply re-attach elsewhere or it might die and leave silicate in the aquarium water. If the water you are using contains silicates and phosphorous then you will either need to put silicate/phosphorus remover in your aquarium or you could try mixing tap water with reverse osmosis water.

Removing any suspect rocks or gravel in the aquarium and replacing with safer gravels without silicates or phosphorus. Sometimes all it takes is to wait for the aquarium to cycle and mature.
Add a couple of otocinclus catfish which will devour it. In a saltwater tank fish like yellow tangs like to eat it too.

I suggest you avoid any chemical treatments to kill off the brown algae because of the side effects on your other tank inhabitants and the harmful effect on the biological filter.

Preventing brown algae.

Use good lighting. Set up fast growing plants. Use safe gravel or aged sand. Check out the mineral content of your rocks. Do not overfeed the fish. Make sure you cycle your aquarium properly. Use a silicate free source of water such as reverse osmosis water.

Brown algae in a saltwater tank

Check for silicates in your saltwater mix. Look through the list of ingredients to see if any silica based compound is in the list. Try using reverse osmosis water rather than tap water. Make sure you clean the brown algae off the corals daily. Use a phosphate/silicate-absorbing material in the filter.

Saltwater aquarium maintenance

aquarium-vacuum

Saltwater aquarium maintenance

List of recommended Saltwater fish for beginners.

Setting up a saltwater tank step by step guide.

The importance of live rock and live sand in maintaining a healthy saltwater aquarium.

Daily tasks in saltwater aquarium maintenance

Once your saltwater aquarium has become properly established with all the fish, corals and invertebrates that you want and the liverock has developed a healthy colony of de-nitrifying bacteria and other micro-organisms then your job should start to get easier. This process may take a few months.

Your daily routines now should include checking the temperature and checking the evaporation level against a pre-marked line against the water surface. Also check to see if all your fish and invertebrates are present. This can be done while feeding, when all the fish will come to eat. But don’t just check to see if they are present but also check to see if they are behaving normally and do not show any signs of injury or illness.

If any of the fish or invertebrates has died then remove it immediately. A dead corpse will quickly rot in the water and start to pollute the water and will eventually cause illness to other fish and invertebrates. After you have removed the corpse then your next job is to investigate the cause.

First check your water parameters, especially ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels. Any unusual readings spells trouble and will require an immediate water change. Syphon off 25% of the water in the aquarium. Syphon in or near the sand where there might be some decaying organic matter. Then replace with clean saltwater to top up your aquarium. Try to maintain pre-mixed saltwater that has been allowed to settle that can be used immediately. If there are no unusual readings then check all the fish for any symptoms of illness. Look for laboured breathing, split or frayed fins, white/grey/brown spots, any slime or fluffy grey/white patches, any red sores. If you see any of these signs or anything similar then your fish have an illness and you will have to diagnose the illness using a checklist.

Once you have determined the illness of your fish then you can obtain the medication or treatment and start medicating your whole aquarium. But be careful in the choice of medications because some corals and invertebrates are susceptible to them. And be careful not to overdose with medication as invertebrates may survive normal doses but high doses may kill them.

However, if you cannot determine the cause of your lone fish death then it may remain a mystery. The cause may be a hidden illness of the dead fish, perhaps an attack from another fish or invertebrate or perhaps from an overcrowded aquarium. When a fish dies from an overcrowded aquarium then the death actually gives breathing space to the rest of the fish.

Invertebrates usually rely on scraps of food that are left over remains of uneaten fish food. If the fish do not leave enough scraps for them they can go hungry. Make sure you feed the invertebrates directly. remove any uneaten food after 15 minutes.

Weekly tasks for saltwater aquarium maintenance

Weekly tasks include checking ph is between 8.1-8.3. If it falls below 8.1 then you may have decaying organic matter in the tank. This causes a drop in ph. If there is a ph drop then check your ammonia and nitrite levels as well. Then syphon around the sand, looking for any decaying bits of food. Open up the filter and remove excess mulm by rinsing in a bucket full of aquarium water.

Another weekly task is to check the salinity level. First off, check the water against the original line you marked on the side of your aquarium when you first filled it. If the water level has fallen then you will have to top up with fresh saltwater (preferably reverse osmosis water) Make sure the water is the same temperature. Check your phosphate levels and calcium levels as well.

After this check the salinity with a hygrometer. Your reading should be 1.025. If the reading is less than this then you will need to do adjust the salinity slowly over many days. Everyday change 5% of the water with a freshly mad batch of seawater with a reading of 1.026. Repeat daily until the aquarium gets back to 1.025. Likewise if the reading was higher than 1.025 then you will need to change 5% water daily and replace with a mix of 1.024. Again repeat until you get the 1.025 reading again. If the reading was correct at 1.025 you should still do a 15% water change with water at 1.025.

Check the output flow from your filters. If the flow feels less than normal then you will have to take apart the filter. Place the filter material in a bucket of aquarium saltwater and rinse out any excess mulm before putting back the filter material into the filter and putting back the filter. Do not use tapwater or cold water to rinse the filter material because you might kill of healthy bacteria in the filter which you must preserve at all costs.

Scrape off any algae that has grown along the front glass. Do not remove any algae off other parts of the aquarium because algae is a natural biological filter that removes nitrates from the water.

Clean out the protein skimmer cup. If there is a lot of waste skimmed out then you might need to do this more often. You also may be feeding your fish too much. So consider reducing your feeding a little.

Lastly do a thorough inspection of all your corals. Check for any infections or lack of growth or bleaching of the corals. If there is excess growth then you need to trim them back. If the corals have become ill then you might be able to frag off a healthy piece to save your coral because ilness usually spreads to the whole coral. Fragging may be the only way to save it. Sick corals are best left undisturbed. The best way to treat them is by fixing water parameters. Usually high phosphates, high nitrates and change of lighting or water flow can be the cause. Sometimes invertebrates or fish may take chunks out of them.

Finally, if you don’t see any of the listed problems then well done! You are doing a good job and everything is running smoothly.

 

Common livebearer illnesses: how to recognise and treat them

pineapple male swordtail

Common livebearer illnesses

livebearers facts and info

How to maintain healthy livebearers

Most tank raised livebearers are quite healthy fish. In other words they hardly ever get sick as long as their aquarum is kept clean and healthy and nothing goes wrong such as a faulty heater.
However, dirty water, overcrowded aquariums, overfeeding or even a poor diet can lead to livebearers getting sick.

Diseases can be avoided and should be avoided rather than relying on medications and treatments to cure sick fish it is better to avoid the conditions that lead to sick fish.

Here are some common sense tips:

  1. Don’t buy sick fish. Even apparently healthy fish should be quarantined for a few weeks in case of hidden illnesses to avoid spreading illness to your existing fish.
  2. Remove dead fish immediately. I dead fish which may have been carrying an illness will release its illness into the water as it decomposes. Also a decomposing fish will rot and pollute the water causing the other fish harm. A partial water change after removing a dead fish is a good idea too.
  3. Check your fish daily for any signs of lack of health such as lethargy, clamped fins, scratching against objects or unusual breathing by the fish.
  4. Treat your fish as soon as a disease is spotted. Some diseases can only be cured if the disease is treated early.
  5. Keep common fish medications at hand. In other words buy them early. Methylene blue, malachite green, white spot medication and an antifungal medication are helpful first aid. Also sea salt is often helpful.

Common illnesses that affect livebearers

1) White spot
The signs of white spot are white dust like spots about the size of a grain of salt sprinkled over the body and fins of affected fish.
Treat fish early. Fish can die from untreated white spot. Raise the temperature to 85F but less for livebearers from cooler waters. Add some salt to the water. 1 teaspoon per 5 litres of water. Treat with the latest white spot medication as well.

2) Mouth fungus (cottonmouth)
Recognised by white fluffy growths around the mouth or occasionally along the fins. Although it looks like fungus, it is not. It is actually caused by a bacterial infection – columnaris.
Treat fish with marycin, salt added to the water and malachite green. Cottonmout has become resistant to some antibiotics so you might have to re-treat with a different antibiotic.

3) Fin Rot
Signs of fin rot are split or frayed edges to the fins with dark or white edging to the fins.
Treat with nitrofurazone or a similar wide spectrum antibiotic. Also add salt and methylene blue to the water.

4) Fish tuberculosis
Symptoms include bloated stomachs, pop-eyes, body abscesses and protruding scales.
This is very difficult to treat because TB forms a protective mass coating that prevents antibiotic penetrating to kill off the bacteria. Very sick fish are best killed.

5) Gill flukes
Symptoms include: fish having laboured breathing with gill covers open. Fish may also start scraping their gill plates against objects.
Treat with praziquantel baths. Alternatively treat with a dylox bath.

6) Intestinal parasites or worms
Symptoms are thin bellied fish, stringy white poop. Fish may go off their food.
Buy anti-parasitic medication that can be mixed into the fish’s food. If the fish are not eating you will have to capture the fish and inject the medication directly into the fish’s mouth.

7) Cloudy Skin
Slimy looking film on the skin or fins is an infection of ciliates or flagellates. This may be cured by raising the temperature slowly over several days until it reaches 85F and treating with methylene blue.

8) Poisoning
The fish will have clamped fins and may dart about the tank and rub against objects. Fish will also breathe heavily.
The main causes of water poisoning are Chlorine from tap water, ammonia from decaying organic matter or a build up of fish urine and poop, chemicals from aerosol sprays, insecticides such as fly killers are pretty bad.

Do an immediate 50% water change with safe water that has been standing for at least 24 hours and is the same temperature as your aquarium. Remove any decaying matter or dirt in the aquarium, remove excess mulm from filters, stop feeding. After 24 hours do another 50% water change.

9) Fungal infections
Symptoms are white or greyish fluffy patches on the body or the fins. This may come about from injury to the body or fin. Dab the affected area with cotton wool dipped in malachite green or set up a malachite green bath dip for the fish. Leave the fish in the bath for 1 hour.

10) Shimmies or livebearer disease
Symptoms are when your fish continually rock from side to side.
This is thought to be because many livebearers prefer hard alkaline water with some salt added. Livebearers kept in soft acidic water will over time develop this disease.
Treat by adding some salt to the aquarium and find ways of adjusting the ph and hardness of the water. Perhaps by the use of crush coral sand or dolomite sand.

 

Maintaining a healthy livebearer aquarium

guppies and platies in a community tank

Healthy water leads to healthy fish

Diagnose and treat Livebearer illnesses here.

The secret to keeping healthy livebearers is in keeping the water they live in healthy and suitable for them to live in. The major element in maintaining healthy water is the continuous removal of pollution from the water.

the basic air powered sponge filtered
the basic air powered sponge filtered

Where does aquarium pollution come from?

Pollution in the livebearer aquarium comes from the fish themselves. Livebearers are continually producing urine and occasionally pooping in their own environment. Also pollution can come from any uneaten food left to rot in the aquarium. Occasionally from the rotting of a dead fish or other water borne creature can cause pollution as well as dead plant material.

You can certainly remove much of the pollutants from the water by siphoning them away and disposing of it. However there is much that will be missed and so you need a filter to remove the remaining pollutants.

A much better automated way of cleaning the fish waste is by relying on biological filtration known as cycling.

Maintaining the correct environment for a livebearer aquarium

Female Black Molly
Black Molly female

Besides keeping the water clean, to maintain a healthy livebearer aquarium you need to maintain temperature control and provide lighting as well as providing suitable water conditions.

Electrical safety in a livebearer aquarium

Most of the equipment used to maintain a healthy livebearer aquarium is powered by electricity. And as you may well know electricity and water make a dangerous combination. So, you must observe certain electrical safety rules as follows:

  1. Only buy and use electrically certified equipment from a recognised aquarist supplier
  2. Buy a safety cut out cable that will cut all electricity to the aquarium when there is a fault.
  3. Unplug all electrical devices in your aquarium when you are working inside the aquarium water or you risk electrical shock. Don’t forget to turn it all on afterwards.

Livebearer fish tank selection

hawaii-platy-variatusThe first thing you need to buy when keeping livebearers is a fish tank. This ideally should be an all glass aquarium bonded together with silicone. Plastic aquariums although lighter are easily scratched and ruin the view of your fish.

Fish need a good supply of dissolved oxygen in the water to breathe. This oxygen comes through the surface of the water. The area of the surface of the water determines how much oxygen will be available for your fish’s use. In other words, the larger the area, the more oxygen and so allowing you to keep more livebearers. Measure about 5 litres of water for every fish as a bare minimum. A 100 litre tank should allow you to keep up to 20 livebearers.

Remember that water in large aquariums can be very heavy and must be placed on a solid floor that can support the weight. If the floor is concrete then it should be fine. However with floor boards you will have to find out where the supporting joists are underneath the floorboards and place your stand on top.

Because livebearers are surface swimmers they tend to be jumpers. This means that livebearers occasionally make a leap to freedom and can end up dead on your living room carpet. So, you need to buy a tight fitting lid to prevent this.

Filtration in the livebearer aquarium

mickey-mouse-platyThe most important piece of equipment in eliminating pollution in your aquarium is the filter.

Sponge filters

A surprisingly good and effective filtration system is the sponge filter powered by an air pump. Sponge filters are not very powerful but you can use 2 or 3 of them together in the one aquarium. A great advantage of the sponge filter is that they are low maintenance and also they are cheap to buy. All you need to do to clean them is to squeeze them out in a bucket of aquarium water and then swirl them about until most of the excess dirt falls off. Do not remove all the dirt as the biological bacteria that filter the fish waste live in the dirt. Removing the excess dirt will unclog the filter and allow this bacteria to breathe and grow.

Contrary to popular belief, the most important job a filter has to do is not to remove particles and dirt from the water. No, the most important job of a filter is provide a breeding ground for bacteria that break down decaying organic matter into harmless substances.

It takes between 4-6 weeks for the bacteria in a filter to mature to the level where it can remove all the decaying pollution effectively. It is very important that you take care to not kill off the bacteria in the filter. Washing the filter in tap water that contains chlorine will kill the bacteria. Certain medications can also kill of the bacteria. And finally turning off your filter for more than an hour can kill off most of the bacteria in your filter.

Box filters

guppies and platies in a community tank
guppies and platies in a community tank

Box filters can also be used to filter the aquarium water. These are more powerful but cost more than a sponge filter. They may contain an internal sponge too. The disadvantage is that they are difficult to clean and maintain.

External filters

There are even more expensive and powerful external filters that may hang off the back of the aquarium. These may use various filtering material.

All filters ultimately rely on the same method to filter and that is by passing water over a colony of bacteria that have grown inside the mulm that has collected in the filter.

Other methods of removing waste

Despite filters doing such a marvellous job of biologically breaking down waste matter into less harmful waste products, you still need to do some clean up yourself. At least once a week you will have to use a siphon device to sift through the gravel stirring the dirt up to be siphoned into a bucket and thrown away. Siphon away any dead plant material as well.

Uneaten food should be siphoned five minutes after feeding. Dead fish and other creatures should be removed as soon as seen.

Lighting is another important piece of equipment.

Livebearers enjoy bright lighting conditions. However, bright lighting may encourage excessive algae (which is microscopic plant life). Algae is usually healthy for your livebearers who will eat it, but it is an eyesore and may choke off your plants.

The solutions to prevent or remove algae is to keep your aquarium away from direct sunlight and also to reduce the number of hours per day your aquarium lighting is on for.

There are 3 types of bulb that you might use in your livebearer aquarium.
a) incandescent bulbs
b) fluorescent tubes
c) Mercury vapor lamps

Incandescent light bulbs (ie home light bulbs) can be used in fry rearing tanks and quarantine tanks. For most aquariums you should use fluroescent tubes that are widely available and inexpensive. Although expensive, mercury vapor lamps can be economical in very large aquariums where 1 vapor lamp bulb would replace many fluorescent tubes. Vapor lamps are very bright. One vapor lamps is 4 times brighter than a fluoresent tube.

Gravel or sand? The choice is yours.

If you use gravel then you can put plants directly into the gravel with a tablet fertiliser pushed in near the roots. The gravel should be 2 inches deep.

Sand is not so good for plants because it is too compact. Sand may also trap dirt and compact creating stagnant “dead-spots” that may foul the water. To lessen this risk use a shallow layer of 1 inch or less. It is recommended that you place plants in their own little plant pots above the sand.

In the wild livebearers swim in waters where the base is light coloured, so sand is quite comforting for them. You could also buy a light coloured gravel. The lighter coloured base brings out the best in your livebearer’s colours.

Before using gravel or sand in your aquarium you must rinse out dust by placing some sand or gravel a bit at a time in a bucket and running tap water through while swirling it with your hands until the water runs clear.

Plants for a livebearer aquarium

Thriving plants remove the waste products created by the fish. Indeed the plants feed off the decomposed fish waste matter.
Plants also add visual naturalness to an aquarium that is comforting to the fish. The plants create hiding places for females and young livebearers. And finally plants also provide a source of fresh food for your ever hungry livebearers.

Choose plants that like your tap water’s composition in terms of ph and hardness and are hardy aquarium plants. Plants such as Java moss, Java ferns, Cryptocorynes and vallisneria are ideal choices for livebearer aquariums.

What is the correct conditions for livebearers?

Not only do you have to maintain clean water for your aquarium, you also have to provide water of the right composition. Tap water is normally within range of suitability for livebearers. The main factors in water composition are ph level and hardness level of water which can be tested using a test kit bought from your aquarium store. If your tap water has a reading of ph 6.5-8.4 and the hardness reading is above 8dh then that should be acceptable for most livebearers. If the ph and hardness fall out of this range then you need to perform the laborious process of adjusting the water condition. This is best done by having a 200litre barrel and preparing large batches of water at a time.

What exactly is harmful about fish waste? When fish poop and urinate where does this go? What happens to it?

When fish poop and urinate this waste matter decomposes slowly releasing ammonia, which is quite poisonous. In a mature aquarium with a mature filter bacteria breaks down this ammonia into nitrite. In a new aquarium with no bacteria this ammonia builds up and slowly poisons the fish.

How to create a mature filter – cycling.

Nitrite is also poisonous but a second set of bacteria digest nitrite and convert it into nitrate which is relatively harmless. Nitrate is absorbed by plants as a fertiliser.

With this in mind it is essential to buy and use a test kit that measures ammonia and nitrite levels in a new aquarium. You will need to check the ammonia and nitrite daily until they come down to 0.0. In a new aquarium you will have to do daily water changes of between 10-20%. This will reduce the pollutant levels. You have to carry on the daily water changes until the readings hit 0.0 at which point your filter’s bacteria will be mature enough to cope. If you get a particularly high reading during this process do a bigger water change and stop feeding for a day or two.

With all this new found knowledge you should now be in a position to keep your livebearer aquarium healthy in the long term.

Your first saltwater aquarium: Step by step guide

Typical beginners saltwater fish tank set up

Your first saltwater aquarium: Step by step guide

Marine fish such as the azure damselfish have the best colours

Buy and assemble all the equipment

Equipment you will need

  • A 120 litre 4 foot tank. This is a basic minimum size.
  • Buy a hood with a normal lighting system.
  • You will also need a protein skimmer,
  • An external power filter,
  • 300w heater,
  • A thermometer and hydrometer to measure the salinity,
  • Good beginners fish pajama cardinalfish
    Good beginners fish pajama cardinalfish

    A marine water test kit

  • Bag of seawater salt mix
  • Natural coral sand
  • Fish tank stand.

Inhabitants for your saltwater fish tank

  • 10 kilos of live rock
  • 1kg Live coral sand
  • 10 margarita or asteria snails
  • 2 hermit crabs blue or red-legged
  • Some hardy peaceful fish species

Find out more about live rock and live sand here.

List of beginners recommended saltwater fish

Preparing your first saltwater fish tank

Live rock with coral sand in a beginners saltwater aquarium
Live rock with coral sand in a beginners saltwater aquarium

Put together your stand and aquarium. Wash the inside of the glass with warm water. Never use any chemicals or soaps. If there are any stubborn stains then use white vinegar and a razor blade to scrape the stain. Rinse any white vinegar with tap water. Remove water with a siphon hose. Paint the rear glass in black, blue or marine or apply a stick on background.

With the tank empty move the stand and tank around the room until you find a location you are happy with. You can use a spirit level to adjust the levelness of the aquarium. If the aquarium doesn’t sit level then you can use thin flat pieces of plastic or wood to raise the leg that is lower. Once the aquarium is sitting level then you can then fill with water. Once the aquarium is 95% full then again check the aquarium for levelnbess. If the aquarium is not level then you will have to remove all the water and adjust the levelness again before re-adding water.

Once the tank is 95% full of water and level then you have to wait 24 hours to see if any slow leaks occur. If there are no signs of any leaks then install the filter, heater and protein skimmer. Set the heater to 76 Fahrenheit.

Plug in all the equipment and switch on everything. Leave everything running overnight. The next day check the temperature to be 76F. If the temperature is out then you have to adjust the thermostat.

How to get the salinity right for your saltwater aquarium

Royal gramma is a hardy fish but can be a little aggressive
Royal gramma is a hardy fish but can be a little aggressive

Calculate the volume of your aquarium then add your sea salt mix according to the recommended amount on the bag of your mix. If you wait another 4 hours your salt will have completely dissolved in the water. You can then check the salinity of the water with your hydrometer. The reading should be between 1.022 to 1.024 when the temperature is 76F. If it is less then you can adjust by adding a little sea salt mix. If it is more then you can reduce it by adding a little fresh water. Thenm wait a further 4 hours before testing again. When you achieved your ideal density use a black marker to mark out the water level in a hidden part of the glass. This mark will be your guide to the level of water before any evaporation. Topping up back to this level should get you back to the correct salinity.

Now test the water’s ph. It should read 8.2-8.3ph or close to this. If it is far from this then you’ve done something wrong somewhere or your hydrometer or thermometer is wrong. Fix the problem by changing your hydrometer or thermometer and make adjustments. If there is still a misreading then you will have to switch everything off and remove all the water and start again with the water mix.

Adding live rock to your saltwater aquarium

golden wrasse - perfect lemon yellow fish
golden wrasse – perfect lemon yellow fish

When the water is just right you then need to start adding your pieces of live rock. Start with the larger pieces first. Move the rock about to create a pleasant aquascape. Test each piece is stable by prodding and adjusting into a settled position.

Place the bigger, heavier pieces directly on the glass. These should be arranged in a long semi circle along the sides and back. Leave gaps in between the individual pieces of live rock for your fish to swim through. Place the smaller pieces of rock in front of or even on the larger pieces again making sure that the whole setup is table. Use the live rock to hide the heater and protein skimmer behind.

Adding coral sand to your saltwater aquarium

You should clean your sand before you put it in the aquarium. All you need to do is rinse it thoroughly in a bucket of water by running the water through a bucket of some sand. Do it in small batches of sand and swirl the sand round until the water runs clear. Remove the water from the backet and put the sand into the aquarium all along the floor of the aquarium around the live rock.

Once the sand has been added the average level should be 2 inches deep. Then take your 1kg of live sand and spread it evenly over the other sand. Do not wash the live sand. It should contain beneficial bacteria and life forms which you risk killing by washing with tap water.

Check all your water measurements again such as ph, salinity and temperature. Adjust if necessary.

Adding background creatures to your saltwater aquarium

blue legged hermit crabs cleanup crew
blue legged hermit crabs cleanup crew

After a week add your first creatures. Remember your filter, heater and skimmer should be running continuously throughout this time. Add your snails and hermit crabs. Algae eating species are recommended to clean up any algal blooms that usually break out in new saltwater aquariums. You should not just throw your snails or crabs directly into the water but float the bags in the water for 15 minutes then add some aquarium water to the bag slowly over ten minutes before releasing them into the aquarium.

Feed the snails and crabs with tiny amounts of fish food as a top up to the algae that the snails and crabs may eat, which may be insufficient for their needs.

Adding your first fish to your saltwater aquarium

yellowtail-blue-damselfish may not be the perfect 1st fish
yellowtail-blue-damselfish may not be the perfect 1st fish

More on clownfish types

More about clownfish

More on Damselfish types

Some experts recommend adding a couple of damsel fish as your first fish because they are a tough fish and can cope with the conditions while your aquarium water is cycling. While this is true I recommend an alternative to damsels as a first fish such as tank bred clownfish because damsels can be aggressive to future fish additions. You can start off with just a couple of clown fish to add colour and interest to your tank.

During this time your aquarium filter and live rock will be cycling by developing a colony of bacteria that can digest fish and other creature waste products turning it into less harmful nitrate. This process can take anything from 4-8 weeks. During this time there will be an excess of ammonia and nitrite which are harmful to your fish and other creatures.

Complete your saltwater reef aquarium set up

orchid dottyback is the least aggressive dottyback
orchid dottyback is the least aggressive dottyback

After your first fish have settled in and looking healthy and happy you can start adding some invertebrates and a few other fish. Add hardy species of anemone. A good choice of anemone are feather dusters.

Fish to consider at this point will be wrasses, dottybacks and banggai cardinal fish. Try wherever possible to buy tank bred fish as these are fish that have adapted to life in the aquarium and should prove better survivors in your saltwater tank. Add fish at a rate of 1 or 2 a week. When you add new fish keep a close eye on them and make sure the newly added fish start feeding within 2 or 3 days. Also check the nitrite and ammonia levels daily. Stop adding new fish if the readings rise.

Some fish and other creatures to absolutely avoid as a beginner are: seahorses, octopuses, angelfish, clams, scorpionfish, and damsels.

When you have a settled tank and have introduced all the fish and other creatures for your aquarium then you can reduce the water testing to once a week.

Now you can sit back and enjoy your own piece of the ocean in your living room. However, you still need to keep checking all your water parameters once a week at least or when something doesn’t look right with any of the inhabitants.

Fish adaptation in the wild

Nothobranchius rachovi. Killifish have adapted to extreme conditions.

Fish adaption in the wild

The mudskipper can walk on land using its front fins as legs
Mudskipper walking on land on its front fins

Fish as a group are one of nature’s success stories. Fish can be found in nearly all bodies of water and on occasion can be found flopping onto land. Even the most inhospitable bodies of water such as suphurous thermal springs, ponds that dry up in summer, the deepest part of the ocean have all been colonised by fish.

It is estimated that there are currently 30,000 different species of fish on earth. That is more than any other vertebrate. There are thousands of species that live in freshwater tropical streams, rivers, ponds and lakes. The most abundant of these are in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

The most popular species of fish from these bodies of water have found their way into the aquarium trade and into people’s homes the world over. The most popular species in the hobby are usually the most colourful, hardy and easiest to breed or they may have an unusual shape or unusual behaviour.
Adapting to life

Salmon after 2-3 years at sea swim up river to breed
Salmon after years at sea swim up river to breed

Fish have been on earth longer than reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals, all of which have evolved from fish. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to note that fish have had longer to adapt to their environment than the other groups of animals listed. They are better adapted to their aquatic environment than most other life forms. They have found their way into many niches and developed many unusual behaviours that better allow them to cope with their environment.

Adaptation to life in rivers

The upper parts of river have fast flowing turbulent waters with little mineral content. The fish that live in these waters have adapted by becoming streamlined and fast swimmers and are able to mainatin a stationary position relative to the river bed while water flows past them. Because of the noise from the turbulent waters these fish have developed better eye-sight and lesser hearing ability. These adaptations help predator fish to better hunt their prey and also helps fish to avoid predation by larger fish and other predators.

Discus with flattened sides and vertical stripes
Discus with flattened sides and vertical stripes

Mid river, further downstream, is where the flow of the river is less and the river widens. Fish found in this part of the river are usually deeper bodied and less stream lined. Water in this part of the river is usually clear which aids fish with good eyesight.

In the river low lands the river becomes even slower and even wider. The water is usually cloudy with dissolved decaying vegetable matter and tannins from submerged logs, pieces of wood and roots.

Because of the water cloudiness in this part of the river fish cannot rely so much on their eyesight. They instead have developed better sense of smell, taste and hearing. Many shoaling fish in this part of the river have developed bright or even reflective scales to enable them to see each other in the murkiness.

Adaptation to life in ponds

There are other tropical fish that have adapted to live in lakes and ponds of Asia. During the hot and dry seasons the ponds and small ditches evaporate and reduce to small and stagnant bodies of water. Gouramis are a class of fish that have adapted to these low oxygen conditions by developing the ability to breathe air. They achieve this by gulping air into a specially adapted labyrinthian organ that absorbs the swallowed air. This allows them to survive in low oxygen conditions that would drown normal tropical fish.
These ponds and lakes are usually muddy or cloudy so having good eyesight is not such an advantage. Fish in these cloudy conditions have developed barbels near their mouth to help them find food. The gouramis have developed a pair of thin hair like fins that they use to feel and taste their surroundings and help them find their way through the thick vegetation. Fish in these cloudy conditions have also developed a better sense of smell.

Water: the essential element for fish

The texture of good quality water is subtle

Water: the essential element for fish

The texture of good quality water is subtle
The texture of good quality water is subtle

On a very basic level water is 99.98% H2O in a liquid that your fish swim, eat, breathe and excrete into. What about the other .02%? Is it important? Of course it is. It is these minute quantities of dissolved gases and dissolved solids that makes all the difference in whether the water is hospitable or poisonous to the fish. It is this 0.02% of dissolved substances that make sea water, river water and lake water different from each other. Note that seawater has a much higher level of dissolved salts of around 3.5%. It only takes minute quantities of the common gases such as ammonia, carbon dioxide or insufficient oxygen to poison or drown fish. Likewise it only takes a small amount of pollution or the wrong type of chemical to be dissolved in the water to poison and kill fish. But when conditions are just right or within reason then your fish will thrive without much care from you.

Creating a generic biotope for your fish to live in

The most common elements of an aquarium biotope
The most common elements of a biotope

As a fish keeper is is your responsibility to recreate a reasonable biotope for your fish that is as close as possible to the fish’s natural environment as you can.

Water has dissolved gases such as oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, ammonia and chlorine. Some of these gases are poisonous while others are necessary for fish to breathe. Water also contains dissolved minerals that determine the general hardness of your water. Some fish thrive in very hard water with a high ph, while other fish prefer much softer water with a lower ph. Organic matter can also dissolve in the water, usually darkening the water and acidifying it.

A biotope should include a substrate, plants and a source of light with the temperature of the water kept within a suitable range for the plants and fish. The choice of subrate includes gravel, sand, and even soil. Soil is usually topped with gravel. Other less essential features you might want to include in your fish’s biotope could include rocks, roots and branches.

The Lake Malawi Biotope explained here

The Amazon Biotope explained here

Is tap water safe for fish?

Is tap water safe for fish
Is tap water safe for fish

Tap water direct from the tap is not suitable for use in an aquarium. The main problem is chorine which water companies put in the water to kill off any potential bacteria in the water. To remedy this you need to leave your tap water standing in a container for at least 24 hours. This allows the chlorine to evaporate. This can be achieved by using buckets of water or water barrels to store the water.

Another danger to your fish is from dissolved copper which can come from copper pipes. Water that comes into contact with copper will slowly absorb the copper. This problem is worse for new copper pipes. But this can be remedied by running your tap water for a few minutes until uncontaminated water starts to come through. Copper is poisonous and even copper coins left in your aquarium will slowly dissolve and kill your fish.

If you are going to be serious about the quality of your fish’s water then you should buy a water test kit. A good test kit will test ph, ammonia, nitrite and nitrate as well as general hardness.

If you are a new fish keeper who wants the best chance of keeping your fish healthy and alive then test your tap water before you buy any fish. When you know the ph and hardness of your water then you can buy fish that prefer the water from your tap. Adjusting your water to suit fish that like a different type of water is best left to the advanced aquarist who don’t mind the extra effort. Some fish when kept in the wrong type of water will simply die after a few weeks and certainly won’t thrive.

If you are a more experienced aquarist then you can start adjusting the ph and hardness of your tap water so that you can keep the more delicate species of fish. To soften your water you can buy a reverse osmosis device that will remove the minerals from your water. Such water is usually too soft and must be mixed with unfiltered tap water to achieve the correct level of hardness. You can also use rainwater collected from a safe source.

To adjust the ph of your water you can either use a muslin bag containing peat moss to acidify your water or you can use calcium carbonate sand to alkalinify it instead. In order to reach the correct ph level.

All these procedures are complicated and time consuming and even prone to error. Messing with your tap water usually means you will have to monitor changes in your water conditions to maintain it. To make this complicated process a little easier it is best to prepare large batches of water in say a 200 litre barrel all in one go and then draw off water as needed.

I recommend that you don’t bother with all this messing around and just buy fish that can do well in the water that comes from your tap. There is usually quite a variety of fish that will suit your water conditions but you may have to avoid a particular species of fish that you might be keen on.

What water conditions are best for fish?

Normally the ph used in most freshwater aquaria ranges between 6.0ph and 8.3 ph. However Lake Tanganyika fish like an even higher ph, even as high as 9.0ph. And they also like hard water. Ph nearly always varies together with hardness. High ph above 8.0 usually means very hard water, while low ph of 6.4 or less coincides with soft water. Some amazonian fish like water that is of a ph less than 6ph and have very soft water.

Most of the commonly available fish in your aquarium prefer an average ph around 7ph and a medium level of water hardness. Not only that but such species can also tolerate a wider variation away from this medium than other more exotic species. Tank bred fish that have been bred in aquaria for several generations are overall more adaptable to variations in aquarium conditions compared to their wild caught counterparts.

Most average species will live in a wide range of possible water condititions. However, when it comes to breeding the ph and hardness must more closely resemble the fish’s conditions in the wild. Only then will some fish be capable of breeding and their eggs hatching.
Water hardness

This is a measure of the amount of dissolved minerals in your fish’s water. The most common minerals are calcium, magnesium and sodium.

These dissolved minerals are also essential for the health of your fish and plants.
Most cyprinids, tetras, rasboras and similar river fish like soft water. Most livebearers, Malawi fish and Tangayikan fish prefer quite hard water.

Plants also show a similar type of preference for different levels of hardness depending on the plant species.

Iron for fish health

Plants require minute levels of dissolved iron for optimum health as do fish. Fish acquite iron from their diet while plants will absorb it directly from the water. Pure iron quickly rusts in water making it unusable for the plants and animals. Feeding fish iron rich fish food will not only provide iron for the fish but allow the fish to provide manure that is rich in iron for the plants use.

Dissolved oxygen in water that fish breathe

Dissolved oxygen is essential for fish to breathe. The main source of oxygen in an aquarium is through the surface of the water. So a large surface area of water is essential to allow sufficient oxygen to dissolve into the water to replace the amount of oxygen that the fish breathe in through their gills. Also excess carbon dioxide that the fish release into the water from their gills has to be released from the water through the surface of the water. Plants also give off oxygen when they are in bright light, but will release a small quantity of carbon dioxide at night.

It is best not to rely on the quantity of oxygen that plants produce during the day to supplement the amount from the surface because this source of oxygen stops at night. If you see your fish gasping for air very early morning this is a sign that there is not enough oxygen and too much carbon dioxide in the water in the night so you will have to reduce the number of fish in the aquarium. This can also be a sign you have too many plants.

Fish waste in water

One lethal cause of fish deaths is ammonia poisoning which burns the skin and gills of the fish while also displacing oxygen in the water. Ammonia comes from fish waste and from decaying fish food and other decaying organic matter. In a new aquarium there will be no ammonia but this will build up over the fish few weeks. If you are new to fish keeping you will see your fish as being fine for the first week and may not realised that the fish are slowly but surely poisoning themselves in their own waste matter.

To overcome this you need some way to remove the ammonia as it gets created. You will have to for the first 6 weeks have to do daily water changes, use a filter and make sure that you under stock your tank until it is mature. Also avoid any uneaten fish food being left in the tank that will quickly rot and cause an ammonia spike.

A filter is not just for removing particles from the water but also for providing a base for the growth of bacteria that digest ammonia converting it into nitrite which is also poisonous. Later on another set of bacteria develops that will digest the nitrite converting it into nitrate which is much less harmful. This process takes between 4-6 weeks from new. So partial water changes are needed daily until the filter matures.

This is better explained in cycling your aquarium

Plants take up nitrate but usually not enough so you will need to keep doing partial water changes, perhaps once a week. 10% of the water changed is a reasonable amount of water change.

During this filter maturation period you should test your water daily with a test kit and if the ammonia or nitrite reading becomes particularly high then you will have to do another partial water change to bring it down to acceptable levels.