Here are the answers to many questions for the aquarium enthusiast.
WHY SHOULD YOU GROW LIVE PLANTS?
Fish produce waste in the form of ammonia. The biological filtration in your aquarium (numerous types of good bacteria) take that ammonia and convert it to nitrite. Other bacteria convert the nitrite into nitrate, which is thereby removed from the tank water when you perform weekly partial water changes on your tank.
Nitrate happens to be a form of food for aquatic plants. Growing aquatic plants in your tank can help to keep the nitrate level to a minimum, or even zero if the tank is heavily planted. When nitrates are low, you are helping to limit unwanted algae growth.
Fish love plants! Some fish will nibble on plants for food. Plants provide security, and will absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen as a bi-product, creating a healthy, natural environment for your fish.
THE WATER IN MY AQUARIUM IS CLOUDY WHY?
WHITE CLOUDY WATER:
New Tank Syndrome: In new tank set-ups, the biological filter does not have a sufficient population of bacteria, which creates white, cloudy water. It takes as little as two months and as long as three or four months for the bacterial to reach a sufficient level. However, you can give your tank a jump-start by adding a live bacteria product, which will colonize quickly in your aquarium to create crystal clear water!
GRAY CLOUDY WATER:
Overfeeding Your Fish: If the water is gray in color, you’re looking at a probable bacterial bloom caused by overfeeding of dry fish food. Excess food at the bottom of the tank will spoil, causing an abundance of bacteria to grow. To prevent this problem:
- Feed your fish no more than they can eat in three (3) minutes. If they eat all the food within that time, you can give them a little more to ensure they’ve eaten enough. Remove excess floating food from your tank afterward; and
- Add bottom feeding fish to your tank like loaches, cory cats, or plecos. These act as a clean-up crew and will eat any excess food that settles on the gravel, helping to keep your tank water clean. Take care that your bottom feeders receive adequate nutrition in addition to any scraps they may locate in the gravel.
GREEN CLOUDY WATER:
Algae Bloom: If your tank water is green, it’s an algae bloom – algae that is suspended in the water. Algae blooms happen from overfeeding your fish AND having too much light in your tank, causing algae to feed and grow. Here’s what to do:
- Feed your fish no more than they can eat in three (3) minutes. If they eat all the food within that time, you can give them a little more to ensure they’ve eaten enough. Remove excess floating food from your tank afterward;
- Limit the amount of light in your aquarium. Do not keep your lights on 24/7! A timer is very useful. If you do not have live plants, set the timer for 6 to 8 hours when you’re home and viewing the tank. If you have live plants, 10 to 12 hours max is needed for optimal photosynthesis; and
- Do not locate your tank where it gets direct or indirect sunlight. Sunlight is considered excess light and will absolutely contribute to algae growth.
- While it is preferable to take a natural approach to algae elimination, through regular water changes, there may be times when either the algae is heavy in concentration, or perhaps you might just want a quick fix. Liquid algaecides can be purchased to provide temporary relief, however, the cause of the algae bloom must be addressed to prevent reoccurrence.
UNCURED LIVE ROCK VS. CURED LIVE ROCK - WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
- Uncured or pre-cured live rock is fresh rock from the ocean that is full of waste and debris. This waste emits ammonia and will kill everything in your tank if not taken out of the rock through a curing process.
- You can use uncured live rock at the beginning of a tank set-up to cycle your tank. The cycling process cures your rock while breeding beneficial bacteria.
- You can cure this uncured live rock yourself. The reason a hobbyist will buy uncured live rock is that it costs less than cured rock.
- Cured live rock is "clean", full of beneficial bacteria, and can be placed directly in your tank.
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO CURE LIVE ROCK BEFORE ADDING IT TO MY AQUARIUM?
- Think about aquascaping as you buy rock. Cheaper Fiji rock can be used for base rock while more interesting shaped Tonga Kaelini and Branch rocks can be used to create caves and obstacles for fish or surfaces for coral.
- If you buy rock from Aquarium Center, we can pick special pieces for your needs. Do let us know!
- If you are setting up a new tank, save money by buying pre-cured or uncured rock!
- You should have between 1-1.5 lbs of live rock per gallon of water for proper filtration if you are using live rock as your main filtration. (Also, water should pump 10-15 times the volume of your water per hour.)
HOW SHOULD I CURE MY LIVE ROCK?
- Freshly imported live rock has some die-off which occurs during the shipping process.
- If you place uncured rock directly into your aquarium this die-off will create excess ammonia, which can be toxic to fish.
- We recommend that you cure live rock for at least ten days before adding it to your aquarium.
- For brand new aquariums without any fish, you may add as much uncured live rock as you want directly to your aquarium. It will actually expedite the cycling process of your aquarium as it cures.
- If you don't want to cure the rock yourself, try our fully cured live rock.
- Our fully cured live rock may be added directly to your aquarium. Just rinse it in a bucket of saltwater first.
HOW SHOULD I SET THE ROCK IN THE AQUAIRUM?
- Fill a new trash can or large plastic tub with saltwater.
- Place the new live rock into the tub or trash can.
- Place one or two powerheads into the tub or trash can with the live rock to create water movement.
- Make sure the powerheads are submerged and cannot turn to where they could pump water out of the tub.
- After 4-6 days perform a 50% water change on the tub or trashcan.
- After 10-14 days you may remove the rock and place it in your aquarium.
- Dunk the rock in a clean bucket of saltwater to rinse it off one last time before placing it in your aquarium.
- Remember, cured live rock should not have the same pungent smell as uncured rock.
HOW DO I MAINTAIN MY FRESH WATER AQUARIUM?
- Please note: Be careful not to let the rocks touch the front of the aquarium or fall against the aquarium, because they will definitely scratch it.
- Always use two hands when setting rock.
- For new aquariums, it is much better and easier to set the rock into an empty aquarium with only a sand bed and then fill it with saltwater.
- First, make sure that you wiggle the bottom layer of rocks down through the sand so that they rest firmly on the bottom of the aquarium.
- Stagger the rocks on the bottom layer creating interesting caves and passageways through them. Use bigger, heavier rocks for the bottom layer.
- For the next layer use longer flatter rocks to bridge the gaps between the rocks on the first layer. Make sure to wedge the rocks in securely.
- If the rocks don’t seem to fit together try adjusting some of the rocks on the bottom layer.
- If the rocks don’t fit together tightly, use smaller rocks to act as spacers and give the larger rocks a sound foundation.
- If you need smaller rocks, use a hammer to break one of the larger rocks into pieces.
- Use the bottom palm of your hand to hit the rocks and wedge them tightly into place.
- When setting the rock, think about creating caves and hiding places, as well as many levels of platforms for your coral to sit on.
- When you are finished, tap your hand around on the rocks to make sure they are secure and not wobbly. You do not want rocks to fall down or get knocked over.
Maintaining your freshwater aquarium system is absolutely vital to the health and well-being of your fish.
Every system is different. For example, a goldfish or large cichlid tank may require more water and filter changes due to the amount of waste produced by these types of fish.
Test your water frequently for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. After a tank has cycled, ammonia and nitrite should always
be zero. Nitrate should be maintained below 20ppm and perhaps lower. If you notice your nitrate level starting to creep up, use that as your cue to do a water change.
You can start out with the schedule outlined below and then modify it to fit your system if more/less maintenance is required:
- Feed your fish. Some species are best fed once or twice per day, others only every few days. Feed only what can be eaten in three (3) minutes to prevent overfeeding. If all food is consumed within that time, you can feed a little more to ensure they’ve had their fill.
- Check every day for injuries and that all your fish are accounted for.
- Check the temperature of the water to make sure the heater is set and working properly (goldfish tanks generally do not need heaters).
- Either weekly or bi-weekly, change out 25% of the tank’s water using a siphon to draw up the water and debris from the gravel or substrate. You can replace it with R/O water (filtered, purified water free of contaminants) treated with an R/O conditioner; water that has been stored; or tap water treated with a water conditioner or dechlorinator.
- Test your water. If at any time your ammonia or nitrite levels are above zero or the nitrate level is above 20ppm, it's time for a water change.
- Check your filter media, and clean or replace it if necessary.
- Trim any live plants and clean up plant debris.
- Clean the outside of the glass (use plain water and a clean rag, or spray cleaner on the rag, never on the glass!)
- If necessary, scrub algae off decorations and the inside of the glass using an algae sponge or scraper.
- Clean the lid or cover of your aquarium.
- Inspect all equipment including lights, power heads, air pumps, and filters.
- If needed, clean any equipment, especially the intake tubes on your filters.
- Change bulbs every 6 to 9 months in your lighting system.
- Replace airline tubing and air stones.
As you become more familiar with your system and its needs, you'll learn what you need to do and when. Regular tank maintenance will ensure a healthy aquatic environment, and make your tank more enjoyable for your fish and for you.
HOW DO I SETUP A FRESHWATER TROPICAL AQUARIUM? (SET-UP FOR BEGINNERS)
Where to Put the Aquarium
Carefully select a location for your aquarium. In front of or next to a window is probably the worst place of all. In hot weather, the tank water will get too warm, and algae will grow at an alarming rate! In cold weather, the aquarium will struggle to remain at the correct temperature. An ideal location is a neutral corner or along a wall. Make sure it is close to the power supply. Once the aquarium is set up, it will be too heavy to move, so make sure you are satisfied with the location beforehand.
Here is a list of components you’ll need to set up a new freshwater tropical fish aquarium:
- Aquarium Tank & Stand
- Hood or Canopy
- Heater & Thermometer
- Substrate (gravel/sand)
- Gravel Vacuum
- Tap Water Conditioner
- Fish Net
- Air Pump, Air Supply Tubing, Air Stone Live Plants
Aquarium Tank & Stand
An aquarium tank should be big enough for the number of occupants (including room for new additions), it must be in the right location, and it must be within your price range. The water capacity of the aquarium is not as important as the shape and proportions. When choosing an aquarium, thinking bigger is really better. Conditions in a larger, wider aquarium are more stable than in a smaller one, so there are generally less problems. A larger water surface is best because the water will hold more oxygen, so more fish can be kept.
One gallon of water weighs about eight pounds. If you were thinking of placing your aquarium on a piece of furniture, please think again: A small 10 gallon tank with water and equipment can weigh close to 100 lbs! The surface on which the tank rests needs to be strong enough to hold the weight of the aquarium and be level. If not, the tank may crack or leak, burst, or the furniture may just collapse under the weight of the aquarium. Therefore, when buying an aquarium, it’s always best to purchase one with its own special stand or cabinet.
Hood or Canopy
In a freshwater aquarium, it’s important to have a hood or glass canopy to cover the top of the tank. Using a hood or glass canopy keeps dust and dirt out of the aquarium water, and the fish safely inside the tank.
Lighting can become a lengthy subject! For beginners however, using basic fluorescent strip lighting or compact fluorescent lights will suit your initial needs. Be sure to purchase a timer to turn the lights off after about 8 hours (12 hours if you have live plants).
Most freshwater tropical fish like to live in water around 78F, so a heater with a built-in thermostat is required to ensure a constant water temperature. You will also need to purchase an aquarium thermometer so the water temperature can be easily monitored.
It is important to buy the correct size heater for the aquarium. Too large, and it will heat up the water too quickly which can be fatal to fish. Too small, and the heater will work too hard to maintain the required temperature and will eventually burn out and fail. If in doubt, ask our staff to select the correct size for your tank. NOTE: A heater is not required for a goldfish aquarium.
Filters are used in aquariums to keep the water clear and to remove waste. Filters may be fitted either inside or outside of the aquarium. There are three methods of filtration:
: The removal of the waste from the water - where the water passes through a filter and waste is trapped.
The most common form of chemical filtration is activated carbon, which works by absorbing waste in the water.
Bacteria in the water breaks down toxic substances like ammonia into less harmful substances that are eliminated from the water through regular water changes.
Your choice of filter will depend on the size of your aquarium, the fish you will keep, and personal preference. If you are unsure when choosing for your aquarium, we recommend discussing filters in more detail with our knowledgeable staff. Some popular types of filtration are:
Power Filters: These filters hang off the back of the aquarium and provide mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration.
Canister Filters: Placed under the aquarium, these filters provide mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration. They are best for larger aquariums.
Submersible: Small filters that fit inside the aquarium. These are especially useful for breeding or quarantine tanks.
Under Gravel (UGF): A series of plates on the bottom of the aquarium under the gravel. Water is drawn through the gravel and under the plates to remove waste and debris. The gravel will still need to be cleaned occasionally using a gravel vacuum to make sure the debris is not excessive.
Setting Up The Aquarium
Now that you have all the components, it is time to set up the aquarium. This must be done BEFORE you purchase any fish.
Place the aquarium in the desired location.
HOW DO I SWITCH A TANK FROM FRESH TO SALTWATER?Some of the most important principles relating to freshwater tanks actually apply to marine tanks as well:
If you have a background picture for the tank, this is a good time to stick it on. Seaview is a great product to use to adhere the background to the tank.
Add the substrate. Because the substrate (gravel/sand) must be first be rinsed (plain water only - NEVER use soap), the easiest way is to put it in a bucket no more than half full, take it outside and run a hose into the bucket, occasionally stirring up the gravel. When the water runs clear, the gravel is clean. Gravel will look best if either laid flat, or sloped from back to front to add depth to your tank.
Rinse any rocks and decorations and arrange them in the tank.
Add the filter, heater, air pump, air tubing and airstones. Attach all these to the aquarium in the desired locations, but DO NOT plug them in!
Time to add the tap water. If your tank is larger than 20 gallons, you may want to purchase a water delivery/changing system like the Python No Spill Clean & Fill. Otherwise, place a saucer or container on top of the gravel, and run a hose or use buckets to fill. If the water is directed onto the saucer, it will be diffused so as to not disturb the gravel. If you are adding live plants, only fill the tank about two thirds full so the water does not spill over the top as you arrange the plants. It usually looks best to have taller plants at the back and shorter ones toward the front.
Fill the aquarium to the top, plug in all equipment to the power supply (a power strip is recommended) and switch on. Check that all your equipment is working.
If you are looking to introduce fish soon, add the tap water conditioner or dechlorinator now. This product neutralizes chlorine and heavy metals in the water that are harmful to fish. Use a tap water conditioner every time you do a water change as well. The addition of a live bacteria product like Cycle or Safe Start is recommended to jump-start the biological filtration in your aquarium.
When the water temperature reaches 78F, you are ready to add some fish!
- Same idea of cycling the tank
- Proper stocking of fish and feeding rates are just as important
- Three basic forms of filtration are the same: mechanical, chemical, and biological
- Water changes are still required to maintain water quality
Much of the equipment can simply be switched over!
Items that can be used for either salt or fresh:
- Tank, stand, fluorescent bulbs (if fish-only)
- Canister or hang-on-the-back filter and media (upgrade if necessary)
- Wet/dry filter and media
- Siphon, algae magnets and pads, tongs, etc
- Power heads
Items to purchase specifically for saltwater:
SO WHY EVEN CONSIDER SALTWATER TANKS?
- High wattage bulbs or metal halides (reef tanks, not necessary for fish-only)
- Protein skimmer
- Sea salt mix (Brands to consider: Kent, Coralife, Instant Ocean)
- Hydrometer to test the salinity level
- Live sand, crushed coral, or aragonite
- Live rock (can be used in conjunction with live sand)
- Test kits for saltwater (Ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH; calcium/magnesium for corals); many test kits already come with saltwater versions
- Calcium and trace element supplements (reef only)
- UV sterilizer (optional)
- Reverse Osmosis unit (optional)
- Saltwater setups turn out to be very educational and allow people to witness a habitat that can only otherwise be seen with the use of expensive scuba equipment or submarines.
- Saltwater fish have vastly differing behaviors than freshwater fish, many of which are unique to only marine fish. You can witness these personalities and behaviors in the tranquility of a saltwater tank
- The beauty of saltwater tanks offer aesthetic appeal to the viewer- a few minutes in front of a marine aquarium is relaxing and can help restore tranquility after a hard day’s work.
WHAT TYPES OF SALTWATER FILTRATION ARE THERE?
- physically strains out and removes particulate waste. This waste would otherwise decompose and degrade your water quality. Mechanical filtration prevents unsightly debris from clouding the tank and accumulating on rocks, décor, and substrate.
- Hang on filter- Easy to use (set-up within minutes), but they detract from the natural beauty of the tank because they mount to the side or the back. Media becomes clogged with dirt and debris, so water may not be effectively filtered. They are also less versatile in terms of chemical and biological filtration.
- Canister filter- Can be placed under the tank- less unsightly. More versatile- put mechanical, chemical and biological media into separate compartments. May seem more complicated, however, and you can’t simply shut off the system and take off hoses without spraying water everywhere (it uses a series of valves instead).
- use activated carbon to remove dissolved organic compounds- these compounds form a chemical bond with the carbon’s surface to be removed.
- The most important for saltwater!
- Nitrification process- ammonia is released by waste or decomposing food. Nitrobacters (beneficial aerobic bacteria) feed on ammonia and convert it into nitrites, which are less toxic, but still harmful to fish. Bacteria then convert nitrites to nitrates, which are less harmful and the final byproduct of this process. The nitrates are removed with a water change, filter media, or natural nitrate reducing solutions.
- This bacteria lives off of the rockwork and substrate, so ‘live rock’ and ‘live sand’ are necessary in saltwater tanks.
- Wet-Dry filters- water is spread out over various bacteria-rich filter media, then collected in the sump and pumped back into the aquarium.
WHAT ARE SOME SALTWATER PESTS?
Many ‘hitchhike’ on the live rock and invertebrates you purchase
- Mantis shrimps- nicknamed ‘thumb splitters’ because if accidentally disturbed, they can produce a vicious wound. These shrimp lash out at prey and predators at high speeds. They often hunt fish and invertebrates at your prey and are hard to remove because they hide in live rock. You can remove them with baited fish traps at night.
- Fire worms- they are covered in venomous bristles, which are more like needle-like spines that inflict painful stings if touched by accident. Some may be beneficial, however, since they scavenge substrate. To remove them, use commercially manufactured fire worm traps or add a Copperband Butterfly, certain triggerfish, and filefish (these may nip at coral though).
- Aiptasia anemones- small, drab brown colored anemones, but can wreak havoc on corals because of their stinging polyps. Copperband Butterflies Klieni Butterflies and Red-Legged Hermits may take care of them.
HOW DO I CHOOSE THE PROPER SALTWATER TANK?
Depends on if you want a fish only or a reef tank. Fish only tanks offer a higher margin of error with water parameters, initially cost less, and can always be switched to reef tanks later on.
HOW DO I HEAT AND LIGHT A SALTWATER TANK?
- Glass Tanks: Available in a wider stock of sizes and shapes than acrylic, cheaper, scratch-resistant, but are heavier than acrylic and less shatter- and leak-proof.
- Acrylic Tanks: Very shatter-proof, excellent thermal insulation, however are more expensive and scratch easier
- Size- In small tanks, problems may occur quicker, especially when overstocking occurs. Large tanks ‘regulate’ themselves better. The preferred tank size is at least 55 gallons, but if a smaller tank is desired, just keep up on water quality more.
- Shape- Tall tanks are good for only certain creatures, like seahorses. Otherwise, standard long tanks are better because the amount of space for fish movement and territory establishment is greater. Corals can also be spread out more in a long tank so that each gets the optimal amount of light.
- Location- Keep the type of flooring in mind. A gallon of saltwater in a tank weighs about 10 pounds per gallon. Don’t place tanks directly in sunlight or else algae blooms may occur. Select a calm location with minimal foot traffic, which could disturb organisms too much.
- Saltwater organisms enjoy water temperatures at approximately 76-78 degrees; however, the exact value of the temperature is not as important as the stability. Do not keep saltwater organisms if your heater produces erratic temperatures, which can stress out fish and kill coral.
- At least 5 watts of heating capacity per gallon of water for a small tank, or 3 watts per gallon for larger tanks
: For fish only tanks, fluorescent lamps are fine
- Some invertebrates, like certain anemones, feather dusters, and soft coral do not need higher wattages
- For fish-only, offer 6-8 hours of light. For corals, offer 10-12 hours of light
- For other corals and invertebrates, at least 3-5 watts per gallon needed
Higher-wattage fluorescent fixture- more convenient, cheaper, and produce less heat; however, they do not penetrate water deeply and are better for smaller tanks.
Metal Halide Bulbs- better for deeper tanks, but can heat up very fast, must often be fan-cooled, and are expensive. They are better for replicating the natural color spectrum and light intensity of tropical reefs. Most commonly sold in 175, 250, or 400-watt sizes. With newer technoology make this selection very expensive with energy consumption and bulb replacement.
VHO Bulbs- provide 110-160 watts each and offer sufficient lighting too. This selection is fast becoming obsolete.
Power compacts- Produce a brighter light with less wattage needed (a 55 watt PC can provide more light intensity than a 110 watt VHO!)
LED Lighting- this is the newest and most energy efficient choice on the market today. Although these LED lighting fixtures are still very new, and the cost can be intimidating, the benefits are impressive. The energy savings are only one benefit, anyone can feel good about reducing their carbon footprint by going geen, and most importantly, with the lower energy comes lower heat output, and that usually means no water chillers. If you know fish tanks you know what a headache heat can be, so this is another huge benefit. This is the way to go.
HOW DO I KNOW WHICH CLOWNFISH GO INTO WHICH ANEMONE?
Clownfish and Anemone Compatibility
There is a definite closeness between clownfish and their host anemone. The anemone provides protection for the clown, and in turn for this protection the clown feeds and cleans the anemone and also may even drive off fish that could be harmful to the anemone. These two animals share a true symbiotic relationship. But will any clown go into any anemone? The answer to this question is most definitely NO!
Each of the clownfish varieties has a definite preference as to which anemone is suitable to become their home. For instance, a False Percula (Ocellaris) clown would be very at home in a carpet anemone, would probably accept a bubble anemone, might put up with a sebae anemone, and wouldn't even consider an Atlantic anemone.
The following table pairs each variety of clown species of anemone that might be accepted. Anemones in bold represent a natural host anemone for that species of clown:
Bubble anemone = Entacmaea
False Percula Clown
Ritteri (Maroon) anemone
Ritteri (Maroon) anemone
Long Tentacle anemone
Ritteri (Maroon) anemone
Long Tentacle anemone
Ritteri (Maroon) anemone
Long Tentacle anemone
Pink Skunk Clown
Long Tentacle anemone
Ritteri (Maroon) anemone
Bubble anemone = Entacmaea quadricolor
Long tentacle anemone = Macrodactyla doreensis
Sebae anemone = Heteractis malu
Ritteri (Maroon) anemone = Heteractis magnifica
Carpet anemone = Stichodactyla gigantea
Saddle anemone = Stichodactyla haddoni