Setting up an Aquarium

Tips for a successful aquarium

Properly maintained, aquarium fish are undemanding and fascinating pets and an aquarium can be a relaxing and attractive addition to your home. Like any animals, they should not be purchased on impulse but help is at hand to make your experience of fish keeping a happy one for both you and your pets.

The following points are aimed at both novice and experienced aquarists and may help you avoid some of the more common pitfalls.

Use the largest tank you can:           

Although it may sound odd, large aquariums are easier to keep and have the advantage of greater stability in terms of temperature and water quality. In the event of a power cut, a large volume of water will take longer to cool or become polluted. Although a little more work is required when servicing a large tank, more stable conditions will mean healthier, happier livestock. Unlike many other pets, your fish never stray from the confines of their aquarium and deserve a home that ensures a good quality of life.

Bear in mind that while your fish and your interest can grow, your aquarium will not and as a result many budding fishkeepers find that they often spend more money upgrading their initial set-up to something more versatile. You may find that after starting with a  community tank you are ready to progress to more demanding species such as marines or Malawi cichlids which require more spacious tanks.

Avoid ‘new tank syndrome’:

Fish produce ammonia as a waste product that is broken-down by filtration into the equally harmful nitrite, both of these chemicals are deadly to fish but are dealt with by bacteria that live in the filter.  These bacteria take time to establish themselves, meaning that a new filter must go through a process of maturation before it can support fish life. This period of maturation is often referred to as ’new tank syndrome’ and is the frustrating time when your newly installed aquarium is unsuitable for fish due to deadly levels of pollutants.

Adding bacteria to speed up the process of maturation can help in the early days of any aquarium and for those with the patience, ‘fishless cycling’ is a process where ammonia and nitrite levels are allowed to peak in the absence of fish to avoid exposing fishes to the stresses of this difficult time. Never add fish to an aquarium where ammonia and nitrite can be detected and whatever method you use, start with a small number of hardy fishes and stock your aquarium gradually.

Testing times saves lives:

The secret to successful fish keeping is knowing about water quality. Unfortunately, because it remains a secret to many people, too many fish are lost due to poor water conditions.

Buy a test kit and monitor your aquarium to ensure your    fishes remain healthy. It may seem like an extra expense but it will pay for itself very quickly.

Your parameters:

Aim for the following water parameters:

  • Ammonia – 0ppm
  • Nitrite – 0ppm
  • Nitrate – <50ppm (lower for marines and delicate freshwater fish)
  • pH- between 6 and 8.5

Choose the right filter and know how to use it:                   

Some particularly messy species such as goldfish produce copious amounts of solid waste that can block small filters. Make sure that the filter you choose is large enough to cope without needing excessive cleaning. A large filter can also house carbon or other chemical media to help improve water quality.

When cleaning biological filter media, use aquarium water and try not to clean all the media at the same time. Washing a filter sponge under the tap will kill filter bacteria and may result in problems with ammonia and nitrite.

You keep the water, the water keeps the fish:                    

A mature filter will control ammonia and nitrite but nothing can replace the need for regular partial water changes to control the build-up of pollutants such as nitrate.

In very direct terms, your fish can only ever be as healthy as the water in which they swim. Even the best fish will fail to prosper if placed in water which is polluted or unsuitable. Note that fish are not all equally hardy and that new fish will often be lethally stressed by conditions that established inhabitants have had time to adapt to. If you lose any fish, a water test will often highlight the underlying cause. Like any pets, fish are keen to die of old age and rarely die without good reason.

Take care when introducing new fish to your aquarium, as water chemistry may be very different from the conditions that they are used to. Follow the instructions supplied by your retailer and for best results, use a device that offers a gradual mixing of the water such as a ‘Fintro’.

By performing water changes and removing solid waste with a gravel cleaner, you can avoid the common problems that occur when organic compounds accumulate. By carrying out regular maintenance, you can keep your aquarium looking fresh without having to undertake any large-scale cleaning out, which can be stressful to both fish and fish keeper alike. Aim to change a quarter of the tank volume weekly and always use a water conditioner to avoid introducing the harmful chlorine found in tap water. Always ensure that replacement water is similar in temperature to the aquarium.

In many areas of the country, tap water has high levels of nitrate or phosphate which can be harmful to your pets. If you live in such an area, purified water can be purchased to make your aquarium more suitable for more demanding or delicate species. Chemical filter media can also help with these problems.

Do your homework:                                                  

Take time to research your new pets and use the early days of your new aquarium to consider which fish you would like to keep. Some species will outgrow your tank and eat their tank mates – avoid buying a fish that you know nothing about and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Most community fish are shoaling and can be stressed when kept in ones and twos. For best results, pick your favourites and keep in appropriate numbers. Many otherwise peaceful species can become a nuisance   without others of their own kind to interact with.

Make sure that all your fish are compatible. Fishes such as cichlids are often peaceful when young but become aggressive when mature – plan your tank around the size and requirements of adults to avoid unpleasant surprises. Above all, enjoy your fish and spend time watching them. They rely on you for all their needs but if you provide them, they can lower your blood pressure and provide the perfect relaxing antidote to the pressures of everyday life.

Your Shopping List:

  • Aquarium with hood
  • Stand/Cabinet
  • Polystyrene
  • Foods
  • Test Kits
  • Heater
  • Thermometer
  • Nets
  • Cleaning Equipment
  • Filters
  • Light Unit
  • Light Tubes
  • Gravel or Sand
  • Decor & Plants
  • Water Conditioners
  • and finally your Fish