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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Keeping A Clear Fish Tank, And A Clear Conscience

I remember my first aquarium. I was so excited, I had been perusing the local fish stores for weeks looking at all the beautiful fish from all over the world and I couldn't wait to make my first little ecosystem in my own room. I set up my ten gallon and it was perfect. The water was crystal clear, the plastic plants carefully arranged, and a small rock formation placed ever so carefully so my new fish could hide but I could still see them. I was very proud, and very naive. I went to the pet store and picked out about a half dozen of the prettiest fish I could find. I brought them home and placed them in my fish tank, the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
My Fish Tank by ryarwood, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  ryarwood 
But like most people, it didn't last. As I slept that night, with visions of colorful fish darting to and fro in my fish tank, nature took over and crushed my dreams. Within a day, the water had turned cloudy. Two days later the tank was so cloudy I couldn't see anything, and my fish began to die. It was hopeless, or so I thought.  It wasn't until years later when I learned what had really happened in my aquarium that week, and how it could have been prevented. 

When we have an aquarium, we are caring for a complete ecosystem in a glass box. If we don't put something that is necessary into this system, it won't be there. Likewise, if we don't take out things like fish waste, they will remain there forever, building to lethal levels. Nature is willing to give us a hand with a natural process that happens constantly in the world we live in. It's called the nitrogen cycle. It is the constant recycling of nitrogen in our environment, so levels don't get too toxic for life.  This cycle runs constantly in a healthy aquarium, processing toxins from fish waste and converting them to non-toxic compounds. It's like a very slow motor, constantly driving the process of life in your fish tank. 
Like a very slow motor, it has to get up to speed before it runs efficiently. Each step in this cycle takes 2-3 days to complete. After your fish tank goes through this cycle the first time, it is a constantly occurring process. When I added fish to my tank the way I did, I basically inserted fish waste into the tank, and started the cycle. At day two, my tank was still probably only on the fist step, and the fish waste was being converted into ammonia. If I had only known I still had two more steps to go through before my tank would be safe for my fish! This is why my tank turned cloudy after a day, and the fish began to die after two.

So what should I have done differently? I should have set up the tank and added a small amount of bacteria to get the process started. This can be done by buying a bottle of bacteria from your local pet store, or adding 1 or 2 very small fish, depending on the size of the tank. In a small tank like a ten gallon, buying a bottle of bacteria culture would have been my best bet. Even one fish in a ten gallon tank or smaller, can have a gigantic impact on the cycle. 

The second thing I should have done, is the most difficult task of any aquarium owner. I should have done nothing. I should have let the tank sit empty, with the filters running for a week. To be a successful aquarium hobbyist, patience is a virtue. After a week has gone by, and the tank has gone through it's first cycle, then fish should be added 2-3 at a time. Every time fish are added, you should wait another week before adding more. This will allow the cycle to catch up to the new amount of waste you have added to the tank.

If you find yourself in the same position as I did, there is still hope. Since we are in control of this ecosystem, we have the ability to physically remove the toxins ourselves. We can do this by doing water changes. If you have added fish to your tank too soon, and your water starts to become cloudy, you can take out 25% - 50% of the water and replace it with fresh dechlorinated water. This will drop the levels of ammonia down to a safer level for your fish. These water changes must be done every day to keep the levels safe. Anyone who attempts to do this for the first week will be thankful mother nature takes care of this for us! If we didn't have bacteria converting toxins to safer chemicals, we would have to do this constantly to keep fish alive in an aquarium.

Learn from my mistakes. When you take the plunge and set up an aquarium for the first time, patience will guarantee you success. When the proper precautions are taken during the initial setup, an aquarium can be a gorgeous addition to any room. Fish and other aquatic creatures are interesting and relaxing to watch, so take your time, and you will keep your fish and yourself happy!

1 comment:

  1. I agree that having an aquarium must be given complete attention as to its ecosystem because it is a improvised habitat for the marine creatures. It is not like the sea that cleanses the nature of water on its own.