Live rock and live sand

new live rock

Live Rock and live sand for Your Saltwater Aquarium

new live rock

If you are in the process of setting up a saltwater aquarium in your home and wondering about what live rock and sand are, and how to incorporate it into your tank, you will find all the answers below.

What is Live Rock?

Live rock comes from the ocean and is made up of the aragonite skeletons of corals that have long since died, and other calcareous organisms. When live rock comes from the ocean, it is usually inhabited by a variety of marine life, hence the name “live Rock”. Live rock is harvested from the sea for the aquarium trade and is not only necessary, but also adds to the décor of your tank, making it visually appealing.

Live rock needs to be cured before it is placed in your aquarium. Most of the organisms that did live in the rock before being taken out of the ocean, would have already died, which can pose a risk to a new aquarium. To avoid this problem, the rock gets put into water for a few weeks, making sure that all the dead organisms decompose completely. This process is needed so that the rock can no longer be a threat to the water quality.
There are a variety of different kinds of live rock, which get their names from the area where they came from. Each different type has different qualities that work better in certain kinds of aquariums.

uncured live rock
newly introduced uncured live rock

Types of Live Rock Available for Hobbyists

There are many different types of live rock available. Which type you choose to use is a personal choice. Here are the names of the variety of live rock available for your reference:
Fiji live rock, Totoka live rock, Florida rock, Caribbean rock, Vanuatu rock, Tonga rock, Base rock, Pacific rock, Atlantic rock, Reef rock, Cultured rock, Base rock, Artificial rock, Cured rock, Uncured rock, Eco-rock, Tonga rock and Aqua-Cultured Rock

What is Base Rock?

Base rock is a dry rock that never had any organisms living on or in it. Base rock is generally used as a filler for your aquarium and is much cheaper than live rock. It can also be hand-made from concrete called aragocrete. Hand-made base rock tends to be less attractive and heavier than natural rock that was harvested from the ocean.

How to Cure Live Rock

uncured live rock
uncured live rock

There are a number of different ways to cure live rock, but here are two methods that are recommended. Although it is not necessary for you to do this, as already cured live rock can be bought, if you wish to cure it yourself, here is how to go about it.

Method 1

This is the process to follow for aquariums that already contain corals, fish and other marine life.
Rinse each and every piece in a container of saltwater. This is done to remove debris, sand and other loose matter.
Using a new 30-gallon plastic container, put the live rock into the container and add seawater (gravity 1.021-1.025), making sure the rock is completely submerged.

Use a heater to keep the temperature of the water between 76 and 84 degree F. The warmer the water is, the faster the process will be completed.

Use an air stone or power head to create constant movement in the water.
It is important that you keep the area dimly lit because this prevents algae blooms.
You need to change the water every week – 100%of the water!
The rock will need to be scrubbed. Use a toothbrush or other nylon bristled brush. This needs to be done every time you change the water. Scrubbing the rock removes any dead materials.
After a week, you must periodically check the nitrate and ammonia levels. The rock is considered to be cured when the ammonia level tests reveal zero and when the water has stabilized. Once you reach this stage, your rock is ready to be put into your aquarium. It usually takes between 3 and 5 weeks for rock to be fully cured with this method.

Method 2

This is the process used for curing rock for an aquarium that had NO coral, fish or other marine life.
Live rock can be used in new aquariums. Firstly, you need to follow the directions provided by the manufacturer with regards to the installation of the filtration system and all other accessories. Fill your new aquarium with water and enough salt to get the correct water gravity (1.021-1.025). One that has been done, activate all the equipment, check to see if there are any leaks and then set the chiller/heater to between 76 and 84 degrees F.

As with method 1, rinse all the rock in a container to free it from all debris, sand and other organic materials.
Put the rock directly into the aquarium, creating a stable base for decorations and corals.
In order to reduce the possibility of algae grow, it is important to remember to keep the lighting system off during this time.

The rock will need to be scrubbed. Use a toothbrush or other nylon bristled brush. This needs to be done every time you change the water. Scrubbing the rock removes any dead materials.
The water will need to be changed (50%) on a weekly basis. This is done by siphoning out loose debris and other organic matter that has accumulated in the aquarium.

As with method 1, the nitrate and ammonia levels need to be checked on a weekly basis.
When the levels of the ammonia and nitrate are at zero, you need to perform a water change (50%).
Check the pH level of the water after 24 hours and adjust accordingly. The correct level is between 8.1 and 8.4.
With this method, most aquariums will be ready in 3-5 weeks.

How to Control Unwanted Pests

unwanted pests from live rock
unwanted pests from live rock

Place new rock into a container filled with saltwater (gravity 1.035-1.040) for one minute. Any bristle worms, mantis shrimp and crabs will very quickly leave the rock and end up in the water.

After the minute, take the rock out of the container and go through the invertebrates that are left behind. There may be some that you actually want in your system, so sort through them and get rid of the pests that you do not want to add to your aquarium. Bristle worms tend to stay attached to the rock, but you an easily remove them with a tweezers or a needle-nosed pliers. You can use this process before or after your rock is cured.

What is Live Sand?

newly laid live sand

Getting a new saltwater tank ready for the first few animals can be a challenging task. It can take some time to build a solid base for a successful aquarium.

Live Sand Explained

Basically, live sand is sand that a variety of invertebrates and bacteria call home. The sand is like an organ to an aquarium, much like the kidneys are to the human body. The kidneys take away pollutants and replace them with not so toxic chemicals that your body can deal with, which is what the sand does for your tank.

Live sand is a place where your tank’s “clean-up” team grow and live. Copepods, bristle worms, mini starfish and other marine creatures all live in and around the sand. They are all important for the health of your tank. They keep your tank clean.

When you buy live sand from a fish store, it is already inhabited by the invertebrates and bacteria that are needed to keep your aquarium healthy and clean.

Do I Have to Use Live Sand in my Tank?

It is not necessary to use live sand in your tank. Some people opt for not using any sand at all. Any sand that you add to your tank will become live sand after a while. Buying live sand can be a lot more costly than dry sand and comes in smaller bags as well. You do not need to buy live sand, as you are able to add dry sand that has just been washed, but make sure it has not been treated with any chemicals.To the sand you could add a little live sand which will spread into other sand creating a tank full of live sand.

You will need to boost your biological filter in some way, but if you are adding live rock to your tank, that will be the cultural boost that it needs and any sand that is present will become “live sand”.

The “Cheap” Method

It is recommended that you use regular sand in your tank if you are working on a strict budget. Live sand might work faster, but dry sand will work just as well, only it will take a little longer to see results. Adding just a small amount of live sand to regular sand will give it the boost it needs. The bacteria and other living creatures in the live sand will move into the dry sand and eventually make it become live sand.

How to Choose a Product

There are so many different options available, so how do you choose the right one for you. It is pretty simple actually you should choose a product according to how you want your tank to look. CaribSea is a popular choice for many people. You will also need to think about the types of animals that will be in your tank. Are they going to burrow in the sand? If so, you will need a specific type of sand.

The Benefits of Using Live Sand

It starts the cycling process right away.
Helps to maintain the correct pH levels.
It provides shelter for fish who like to bury themselves and a place for invertebrates to hide.
It lowers the levels of harmful nitrate
Essentially, at the end of the day, the live rock and live sand that you choose to use is a personal choice. Consider all your options and speak to the staff at the store for further advice on how to achieve what you are looking to create with your unique aquarium.

Cycling your aquarium

mature cycled aquarium

The first thing you should learn about keeping fish is cycling your aquarium. Once you understand the basic idea it will be the single most important piece of knowledge that helps you keep your fish alive.

Most newbie fish keepers learn about cycling after they have set up an aquarium with fish that have died. Only then will they pick up a book to see why their fish died. That is a lesson they will not make again when they read about cycling.

mature cycled aquarium
mature cycled aquarium

1. What every new fish keeper must learn

Fish live and breathe in water. They urinate and poop in the water they breathe. Only one thing can stop them polluting themselves and that is bacteria that eats fish waste and converts it to the relatively harmless fertiliser, nitrate.

Your job as a fish keeper is to grow and keep alive a colony of bacteria that will clean the fish’s water. That is the secret to keeping fish alive for any length of time.
When you add fish to a new fish tank the water is clean. But day by day the fish’s waste product will build up because there is no colony of bacteria to digest the fish waste.

2. Emergency cycling

This is where there is fish in an aquarium and there isn’t a colony of bacteria that can convert the fish’s waste product into nitrate.
This usually occurs when a new tank has been set up and stocked with fish. It can also happen when chemicals or medications have been added to the aquarium which kill off the beneficial bacteria in the filter. It can also occur when the filter stops working, such as when the pump stops working or the filter gets clogged up with gunge. In these situations the bacteria die off and stop converting the fish waste.
Sometimes even when there is a bacterial colony in your filter, there can be an overload of fish waste or a source of decay such as rotting food or a dead fish. Or you might have an overstocked tank, such as when you have just bought some new additional fish or your fish have outgrown the tank or even when your fish have bred with many new baby fish overcrowding the tank.

The question is: How do you deal with this situation?

You need a nitrite and ammonia kit that measures these chemicals coming from fish waste decay. When the reading for ammonia is above 0.25ppm or nitrite above .5ppm then you will need to do a water change with water that has been dechlorinated with a chemical you can buy from the aquarium shop. The closer this reading is to 0ppm the safer it is for your fish but the longer it will take for your filter to develop enough beneficial bacteria. To reduce the amount of ammonia produced by your fish, you need to reduce how much you feed your fish and even stop feeding them for a day or two.

Adding aquarium plants can also help this process because they can actually eat up the ammonia. And usually plants have beneficial bacteria around their roots that will help speed up the the colony in the filter becoming established.

If you have a fully stocked tank with high ammonia levels then you could also try moving some of the fish to a second aquarium.

If you have another aquarium or a friend with an established aquarium then you can squeeze off the sponge (which is full of the beneficial bacteria) from that filter into the new tank. This will make the water cloudy but the filter will draw in the cloudy water with the beneficial bacteria. You will see clean water after a few hours. And with good luck the filter may mature within a couple of days.

3. What is cycling

Cycling is the process where an aquarium develops beneficial bacteria (unsually inside the filter) that breaks down the fish urine and poop into a fertiliser called nitrate. Fish waste products break down into ammonia. The beneficial bacteria eat the ammonia and convert into nitrite and then nitrate. In a new aquarium there is very little bacteria. When ammonia is created by the fish the bacteria eat it and begin to muliply. This takes a while. During this time there will be an excess of ammonia and nitrite. When the bacteria culture is mature, it will completely eat all of the fish waste. At that point the aquarium is declared ‘cycled’.

4. Fish in cycling

Easiest way to cycle your aquarium is by having a few hardy fish in the aquarium while the bacteria colony in the filter is maturing. The fish do suffer stress during this process which is why many advanced aquarists have turned to fishless cycling.
Recommended fish for a tropical aquarium are zebra danios, barbs, platys, or some of the hardier tetras. For coldwater the common goldfish is a tough cookie. For a marine tank blennies, gobies and perhaps damsels are possible candidates. Even though these fish are quite tough don’t be surprised if you have some fish deaths on the way to getting your filter matured.

You will need to do large daily water changes keeping the ammonia under 0.25ppm and the nitrites under 0.5ppm

A way to by-pass or reduce the risk of fish deaths during cycling is by priming the filter by squeezing the sponge from a mature filter into your new aquarium. The cloudy bacteria laden water will be filtered allowing the filter to have an instant colony of beneficial bacteria. You could also cut the sponge from an established tank in half and placing that in the new tank’s filter. You must also cut the new tank’s sponge in half and put that in the old tank’s filter.

Ideally you should have a low stocking level of fish. You will need to monitor your ammonia and nitrite levels daily. When the ammonia and nitrites levels start to drop off then you should be safe to add a fish or two. Then carry on the water changes and water tests. And when the levels drop off again then add one or two fish again. Repeat this process until the aquarium is cycled and the tank is stocked to your satisfaction.

5. Fishless cycling

This is the best way to cycle your aquarium but few aquarists bother with the extra wait before buying fish and with the hassle of buying ammonia and dosing their aquarium with ammonia every day.

Fishless cycling is a safe way to mature an aquarium without risking any fish deaths. And once the tank is fully cycled you can fully stock the aquarium.

Fishless cycling is also faster the fish in cycling because you can increase the amount of ammonia present in the aquarium which will encourage the beneficial bacteria to grow much faster. You can also have the water temperature higher in the mid 80s Fahrenheit. The higher temperature speeds up the life-cycle of the bacteria giving you a full colony of bacteria much quicker. The ideal level of ammonia is about 4ppm in a fishless tank. Higher levels of ammonia much above 4ppm will actually kill off the bacteria in the filter.

How to do fishless cycling

To do fishless cycling you will need to buy a bottle of pure ammonia without any scents or other additives. You will also need to buy an ammonia, nitrate and nitrite test kit. A few drops of ammonia need to be added every day with the aim of getting the ammonia level to 4ppm by using the test kit. If the reading is too high then reduce the dose and if the reading is too low then increase the amount. Always test after you add the ammonia. If the ammonia level is very high then do a water change to get the level down to close to 4ppm.

As with fish in cycling you can also speed up the process by adding bacteria from a mature filter. You can also add plants to help the process. You will have to do the occasional water change to keep the nitrate levels below 40ppm. And you will have to do a final water change to get the nitrate levels below 20ppm when you add all your fish.

When the bacteria is eliminating the ammonia and nitrite very quickly after you dose your tank with ammonia then you know your tank is mature and ready to cope with fish.

6. Recognising ammonia poisoning

If your fish are gasping at the surface or lethargic or have red blotches or have ragged fins or have laboured breathing or they are not moving much then it is likely they are suffering form ammonia poisoning. This usually happens several days after a tank is newly set up. At first the new tank will be fine but as the fish continue to poop and urinate in their own water, the ammonia from their waste is building up. The fish can cope with small amounts of waste but as it builds up it becomes lethal.

You must take immediate action to save your fish. You need to stop feeding your fish. You need to change 50% of the water with water of the same temperature and with the chlorine removed using a dechlorinator. Then you will need to test the water again. You need to get the ammonia level below .25ppm and the nitrite level below .5ppm. You should also consider spreading out your fish by putting some of them into other aquariums.

How to maintain a clean tank

How to clean your tank

How to keep your water clear

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.

10 most common mistakes beginner fish keepers

Typical overcrowded and incompatible fish tank

10 most common mistakes beginner fish keepers make and how to avoid them

Typical overcrowded and incompatible fish tank
Typical overcrowded and incompatible fish tank

New aquarium hobbyists are generally an excitable bunch—they are quick to purchase all the tools necessary and eager to begin their first foray into the colorful and rewarding world of fish keeping. That excitement, however, can lead to some important oversights when it comes to maintaining a successful tank. If you are new to the aquarium hobby and would like to ensure success, make sure you avoid these common pitfalls:

Number one: lack of patience

In order to ensure the success of your aquarium, you must be able to provide your fish with a stable environment that is carefully and patiently attended to. The desire to get everything done right now and enjoy a colorful display of fish may be overwhelming, but if you do not take the time to address the water conditions of your tank first, you run the risk of killing fish.

Examples of impatient behavior that threatens fish include placing fish into your tank before it is cycled, placing multiple fish in your tank on the same day, and overfeeding. It is important that each of these steps is taken carefully and with respect towards appropriate timing.

Make sure you treat tap water to remove chlorine or allow a bucket of tap water to rest for 36 hours before adding to the aquarium.
When adding new fish they should ideally be quarantined first and when putting a fish into an aquarium put the bag into the aquarium first for 15 minutes before emptying the fish into the aquarium.

Don’t overfeed your fish. Any uneaten food should be removed within five minutes. Use a siphon to hover out uneaten food. The amount of food a fish can eat is minute. Most beginners overestimate what their fish can eat.

Don’t feed just for entertainment, to get the fish to actively swim for food is not a good idea.

Don’t buy sick or unhealthy fish. Keep your money in your pocket and find a shop where they sell healthy fish.

Wait until your fish tank is ready before buying fish.

Number two: not understanding the nitrogen cycle

All about cycling here

Make sure you have a good filter. The more powerful, the better. Not buying a filter is the surest way to fish death.

This mistake links heavily with mistake number one, since an unsuccessful tank cycling is often the result of impatience. Getting bacteria in your tank to reliably convert toxic ammonia into nitrite and nitrate is of critical importance to the health of your fish, and it takes time. If you rush this important step, your fish will have a very hard time surviving.

Thankfully, there are numerous guides on this website and others dedicated to helping newcomers understand the nitrogen cycle. By following those guidelines to the letter and giving your tank time to become the ideal environment in which the necessary bacteria can grow on your filter medium, you will ensure that your first fish thrive.

Buy a filter with a lot of surface area such as a sponge and make sure it is well powered. The bigger the aquarium the more powerful a filter you need. The filter is not there to just filter ‘bits’ out of the water but more importantly it is there to allow bacteria to break down fish waste into harmless substances.

Do not clean everything in the tank. You will remove the healthy bacteria. Washing the gravel is a big no-no. But you should hover the gravel to remove any debris or fish waste.

Do not wash the filter’s sponge in tap water as you will kill the healthy bacteria.

Also do not use soap or detergents or any other chemicals to clean the aquarium or any equipment. Most are poisonous to fish.

Number three: buying a small tank

Often, newcomers to the aquarium hobby will look at large tanks and think they require expert-level care due to their size when in fact, the opposite is true. Large tanks offer a far more forgiving environment for your fish when it comes to water quality—one of the most challenging areas for newcomers.

If you choose a small tank, you run the risk of upsetting the balance of water acidity, hardness, or ammonia levels very easily. In a large tank, even significant mistakes can be remedied with relative simplicity, owing to the greater volume of water present. You are much less likely to accidentally kill your fish in a large tank, so it is worth it to invest in the biggest one you can afford!

Goldfish bowl – this is a big no-no.

Number four: overstocking your tank

If you succeed in properly cycling your tank and setting up the right conditions for your fish to thrive in, you still run the risk of overstocking your tank with fish. Experienced aquarists can run highly populated tanks, but a newcomer would invite disaster by the attempt.

There are many rules to combining the ratio of fish to tank volume, but one of the most common is through measuring the total length of your fish and comparing that to the volume of tank. One safe option is to measure 1 cm of fish for every 2 liters of water. Thus, a 60 liter tank (16 gallons) could reliably support 30 cm (12 inches) of fish.

Stop buying every fish that takes your fancy. If you buy more fish, you must first buy another aquarium.
Also check the adult size of the young fish you buy. When your fish start to grow they can become overcrowded.

Number five: choosing incompatible fish

Suggested compatible fish

Appropriate research into the needs and behaviors of your fish is key to maintaining a safe and pleasant environment for them. Certain species require very different water conditions, and others will behave aggressively. It helps to have the advice of an experienced aquarist on hand when choosing your fish so that you can enjoy a colorful, rewarding selection of fish.

While there are numerous guides available for choosing your first group of fish, and many helpful suggestions can be found online, even the most studied of newcomers can make mistakes. Taking fish behavior, ideal water conditions, and favorite position in the tank (bottom-dwellers, surface feeders, etc.) into consideration is best done with the help of a mentor.

Number six: overfeeding

Easily the most common mistake made by new fish owners, overfeeding can have disastrous consequences on the condition of your tank. Fish are opportunistic eaters that will generally consume whatever food is present—just because they eat does not mean they needed to be fed.

When starting out, feed your fish once per day, taking care to test the water before feeding and, if necessary, withhold their food for a day or two. You are not starving your fish, but making sure that their waste is effectively processed before you introduce more food. Give them only enough food for them to finish in five minutes, and they should be fine.

Number seven: infrequent water changes

Many new aquarium owners, having learned about the nitrogen cycle and taken the time to set up their tank properly, make the mistake of believing that this chemical cycle will take care of all waste in the tank. While it does convert harmful ammonia into nitrate, it does not protect against high levels of nitrate which can irritate fish—you still need to perform water changes and hover your substrate every week.

Also do not change more than 25% of the water at any one time.

Number eight: insufficient filtration

Your filter could be the single most important piece of equipment in your tank. Not only does it separate debris from your water, but most of the beneficial bacteria responsible for the nitrogen cycle inhabit the filter medium. For this reason, you should err on the side of over-sizing your filter.

For the best results, purchase a filter that can turn the volume of your aquarium 4 or 5 times per hour. This is slightly more than commonly recommended, and ensures that you have enough power to keep your water in prime condition. Remember, too much filtration is never a problem, but insufficient filtration is a constant frustration.

Number nine: not adhering to a maintenance schedule

Suggested maintenance schedule

This mistake is often the root cause of mistake number seven. Fish keeping is not a set-and-forget hobby—you need to apply yourself to keeping your fish healthy on a regular basis. Depending on the size of your aquarium, you will need to dedicate between one and three hours per week to cleaning the tank, testing the water, and performing your water changes.

Doing this effectively requires that you introduce this into your weekly schedule. Newcomers to the hobby who attempt to rely on their intuition will suffer disastrous consequences eventually. Keeping track of your maintenance schedule is key to success, and easy to organize: simply set up a reminder program in a calendar application on your computer or smart phone for reliable reminders.

Change 10% of the water every week should be fine for most fish. Rinse the filter out in aquarium water when the flow starts to slow down.

Number ten: not including live plants

Suggested beginners plants

While newcomers to the aquarium hobby often like the look of live plants, they frequently omit these important and helpful aquarium guests, thinking that they require too much maintenance. In reality, live plants reduce maintenance needs by passively out-competing algae for nutrients in the tank and oxygenating the water efficiently.

If you want to ensure the greatest conditions possible for your first aquarium, invest in some hardy live plants and let them perform some of the work for you. You will be glad you did!

Even if you have a good filter removing the fishes waste products. Over time nitrates will build up. When you do water changes you dilute the nitrate however you do not remove it entirely. Plants remove nitrate so helping to remove the low level waste of nitrates.

Plants also help to remove some toxins from the water. Plants help prevent algae by absorbing fertiliser from the water before algae can absorb it.

Don’t buy snails to clean algae, they will just eat your plants and poop everywhere.
Also, don’t leave your aquarium by a sunny window. You will just get a tank full of green water, even with plants. And don’t leave your aquarium light on all the time. 8-10 hours a day is sufficient.

Conclusion

The decision to keep your first aquarium can be an exciting one, and it is easy to rush into things, but the best results come to the aquarists who focus patiently on providing the best environment for their fish. Address these ten common mistakes to enjoy the best chance of success for your first fish tank.

 

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.