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.

 

Why do my fish keep dying?

two dead goldfish neglected in an aquarium

Why do my fish keep dying?

Mistakes beginner fishkeepers make

two dead goldfish neglected in an aquarium
two dead goldfish neglected in an aquarium

There can be several reasons for the death of your fish; however for beginners the main reason is new tank syndrome. This is a situation where you have bought new fish and placed them in a newly set up aquarium. Your fish start dying and you are unable to explain the cause. This syndrome is usually experienced by new fish owners who have yet to master keeping fish safe, healthy and alive. Here are some things that you should look out for and avoid to explain and prevent new tank deaths

  • Uncycled aquarium & filter
  • Water chemistry problems
  • Diseases
  • Poor diet and overfeeding
  • Over population
  • Wrong type of fish
  • Buying sick fish

Uncycled aquarium & filter

dead catfish on the tank floor
dead catfish on the tank floor

 
Most fish owners will be buying their new pets along with new equipment, such as an aquarium and a filter. They will fill the aquarium with water and then put in the fish and they will think that the work is done. This is a common error by most new fish owners. Even before you introduce your desired fish population, you need to create a nitrifying bacteria bed in your aquarium and filter.

Take note that the same way human bodies have good bacteria that can protect them from harm, so does the aquarium. An aquarium and especially the filter must have good bacteria that can protect them from risks to their health. The bacteria work by neutralizing or converting toxins that are produced by the fish’s droppings and urine such as ammonia and nitrites.

Without good bacteria, these toxins build up in the aquarium. When they reach dangerous levels, the fish will absorb these toxins and cause them to become ill. Since it is often difficult to detect if a fish is sick, new fish owners will only discover it when it is too late and the fish are dead or about to die.

It takes time for the healthy bacteria in the filter to build up, between 4-6 weeks before a healthy population of bacteria develops in the filter capable of fully removing fish waste products. So, what do you do in the mean time? You have to do daily partial water changes to dilute these toxins. Perhaps, remove 5% of the water and top up with (chlorine free) fresh water.

dead fish on the tank floor that needs removing asap
dead fish on the tank floor that needs removing asap

This explains a common pattern to newly bought fish that will be fine for up to a week or longer. Then something seems to change and the fish start getting ill. Finally they start to die. And, the few fish that survive start to get better and if all is well the survivors live a long time.

This is all explained by the cycling of the filter and the fish waste product. When the fish first enter a new aquarium with fresh water there is no waste matter in the water. As the fish start to poop and urinate in the water this waste starts to build up. This poisons the fish. Slowly the bacteria in the filter build up and digest this waste cleaning the water, but this takes weeks to establish.

Water chemistry problems

Fish require a delicate balance in the chemicals in the water. Clear water does not necessarily mean an ideal environment for the fish. Ammonia, nitrites and nitrates are some of the chemicals, which when uncontrolled, can cause significant harm to your fish that will eventually lead to death. These toxins are from the waste your fish produce. These are harmful toxins that should be neutralized or kept at a minimum during the course of your taking care of the fish.

Cycling explained in full here

When looking after fish as pets you are not necessarily taking care of the actual fish themselves but rather of the water quality instead. Measuring devices and kits are available to keep a check on the various chemical parameters of the water of your fish tank. You must also have keen observation, noting changes such as the tinge of the water, any discoloration of the gravel in the aquarium or the behaviour of your fish. However, as a beginner, if you rely solely on observation, the toxic levels will already be too high to before you understand that something is wrong. At this point any chance for survival of your fish is slim.

Tap water usually contains chlorine which is lethal to your fish. To remove it leave the water standing for 1-2 days before adding to your aquarium. Alternatively, use dechlorinating medication that removes chlorine immediately from tap water.
Check the ph and hardness. Ph between 6.6 – 7.6 is okay for most fish. Test the hardness level. A moderate level of hardness is ideal for most beginner fish.
Diseases

Don’t buy sick fish! Beginners often buy fish that have illnesses from the pet shop. This is easier said than done. Check the pet shop aquarium if there are any sick or dead fish in there. Check if there are any spots on the fish or markings or fungus like patches. Make sure the fish are active and swim towards food. Don’t buy fish that are sulking or have clamped fins (ie fins held close to the body). Check the fish has bright colouration.

Another cause for fish death is because of disease. As the water quality becomes poorer from elevated levels of toxins, the fish health also becomes poorer with it. When the fish become weaker, they are more vulnerable to disease. A healthy fish will normally be able to resist these illnesses but a weakened fish will succumb to them.

Some examples of these diseases are bacterial infections, fungal infections, internal parasites in the fish’s body, dropsy and other opportunistic diseases. Most new fish owners will attempt to cure these diseases by adding antibiotics, anti-parasitic or anti-bacterial medicine into the water. However, without treating the underlying cause of the disease, which is the toxicity from waste matter, there will still be fatalities, despite the medication. Experienced fish owners are able to nurse a fish back to health where a beginner may or may not succeed.

Poor diet and overfeeding

Most new owners will enjoy feeding their fish. Who wouldn’t enjoy seeing their fish swim towards the food and follow the trail wherever you sprinkle the food? It is also fun to see some fish diving towards a food pellet that sinks towards the bottom of the aquarium. Ironically, feeding your fish or rather overfeeding is also one of the main causes of fish death.

Fish should be fed once a or twice day, with the fish eating everything within 5 minutes. But most new owners will feed their fish every chance they get. On top of this over feeding, other members of the family may also be feeding the fish on their own without the owner’s knowledge. Fish food that is uneaten, such as food left floating on the surface of the water or sitting on the aquarium bed will rot and pollute your aquarium, leading to the same problems as fish waste. Rotting food in the aquarium is the second biggest cause of fish deaths after new tank syndrome.

Over population

Another cause of death for fish is the population itself. Despite the care you make on making a balance in the water chemistry, proper feeding schedule and best equipment you can provide, your fish may still die because there are just too many fish in too small an aquarium. But problems may also arise if you have the wrong combination of fish species.

There isn’t a strict rule on the ideal number of fish for a certain size of aquarium. More experienced fish owners recommend a ratio of 1 inch of fish for every 1 gallon of water. Take note that the 1 inch is meant to be measured on each fish’s eventual adult size. The more fish there are, the greater the chance for oxygen deficiency, self pollution and diseases to spread.

The wrong combination of fish can also lead to stress and deaths. If you put together an aggressive fish with a more passive or smaller fish, the passive fish may be bullied. In their natural environment, a passive fish would be able to escape the aggressive fish, but in an aquarium they have no chance for escape. The constant stress will cause death.

Wrong type of fish

Finally, the beginner may have bought a difficult to care for species of fish. Difficult fish may need special water requirements, special dietary needs or some other type of specialised care. You must always ask the pet shop owner if the fish you are buying are beginner community fish to avoid such problems. Only buy more difficult fish when you have more experience.

You should buy popular starter fish such as gold fish, tetras, platies, swordtails and bettas. These are colorful, active and most importantly easy to care for. Avoid buying difficult fish such as saltwater fish.

Recommended compatible fish groups here

Conclusion

Once you have mastered the two main causes of fish death which is new tank syndrome and rotting uneaten food in the aquarium you will have a good chance of keeping your fish alive long term. And, if you follow all the above advice you should hardly ever see a fish death in your tanks. If you follow all this advice, not only will your fish stop dying but you will see your fish in full glowing health.