Brown algae

Brown algae growing on coral sand

Brown algae growing on coral sand

Brown algae a common problem for new tanks

What is brown algae?

Brown algae is a form of algae called diatoms that can photosynthesise as well as eating chemicals in the water. So they can survive even in low light levels as long as their alternative food sources are available. Silicate, phosphorus and nitrates in the water are potential food sources for them.

Recognising brown algae.

When you see a light to dark brown blotches which appear as a slimy film covering any aquarium surface then you are highly likely to have brown algae. It is easily displaced from any surface and can be vaccuumed off glass, plants and gravel.

What causes brown algae?

It usually comes about when there is low light levels, low green algae or plant growth and when there is an abundance of silicate, nitrate or phosphorus in the aquarium. This usually happens in a new aquarium. The silicate can come from the glass of a new aquarium leaching silicate into the water or from newly used sand leaching silicate. Sometimes the rocks in the aquarium contain minerals that feed brown algae so may need removing.

Is brown algae harmful?

It can be harmful to plants or corals because it can coat them and block sunlight and nutrients to them. It the algae starts to die it can cause pollution problems. However, many algae eating fish will relish brown algae and is generally not harmful if it doesn’t overly cover plants or corals.

How can you cure brown algae?

The best way is to deprive the algae of the nutrients that the it feeds off. Correct the lighting problem, such as buying a new light if your aquarium bulb is old or buy a brighter light. The algae will take up the nutrients from the newly set up tank. Once the tank has matured the algae should run out of food.

The second way to cure brown algae is to continually scrape it and syphon it from the aquarium. The nutrients locked inside the brown algae will also be removed along with it. When you scrape off the algae make sure it is removed from the water. If it is allowed to remain in the water it will simply re-attach elsewhere or it might die and leave silicate in the aquarium water, so will re-appear. If the water you are using contains silicates and phosphorous then you might either need to put silicate/phosphorus remover in your aquarium or you could try mixing tap water with reverse osmosis water.

Removing any suspect rocks or gravel in the aquarium and replacing with safer gravels without silicates or phosphorus. Sometimes all it takes is to wait for the aquarium to cycle and mature. The brown algae usually gets overtaken by green algae.
Add a couple of otocinclus catfish which will devour it. In a saltwater tank fish like yellow tangs like to eat it too.

I suggest you avoid any chemical treatments to kill off the brown algae because of the side effects on your other tank inhabitants and the harmful effect on the biological filter.

Preventing brown algae.

Use good lighting. Set up fast growing plants. Use safe gravel or aged sand. Check out the mineral content of your rocks. Do not overfeed the fish. Make sure you cycle your aquarium properly. Use a silicate free source of water such as reverse osmosis water.

Brown algae in a saltwater tank

Check for silicates in your saltwater mix. Look through the list of ingredients to see if any silica based compound is in the list. Try using reverse osmosis water rather than tap water for your saltwater mix. Make sure you clean the brown algae off the corals daily. Use a phosphate/silicate-absorbing material in the filter.

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.

Photograph your tropical fish successfully

Difficult to beat the beauty of a male pearl gourami

Photograph your tropical fish successfully

Excellent scene layout with Discus fish
Excellent scene layout with Discus fish

With the advent of good quality high resolution digital cameras that are nearing the quality of optical cameras, creating high quality tropical fish pictures has never been easier.

If you breed your fish for pedigree surely you would want to have a visual record of your prize fish. You can then keep a visual family tree of your best line breeding efforts. Even the best looking fish will eventually grow old and die and it would be a shame to not have anything to remember the fish by.

If you are into aquascaping then you will also have a motive to also develop your picture-taking techniques to record your under water masterpieces.

If you become adept at taking really good pictures of fish, aquascapes or fish action shots then you can have a go at selling them to magazine publishers, who will buy good quality or rare pictures regarding the aquarium hobby. Most magazine publishers don’t pay huge amounts for photographs unless you develop a reputation as a professional photographer.

Buy the right camera to take pictures of your fish

Digital camera with optical zoom
Digital camera with optical zoom

Buy a camera that has an optical zoom function and not just a digital zoom. And the higher the optical magnification rate the better.

Buy as large a memory card as you can afford then you can take multiple snaps of the same scene and pick from the best shot without worrying about running out of memory. With a large memory card you can take movies of your fish in action. Make sure you get the right resolution for the movie because the standard setting is usually low resolution. You can change the settings to get a higher resolution. From the videos you can take snap shots from the movie to get a picture out of the movie. Take several snap shots and pick from the best one. Snap shots are taken using a movie player on a computer. Taking snap shots from a movie allows you to capture your fish in action in the perfect pose. Fish are notorious for turning the wrong way or closing their fins at the wrong moment or hiding behind another fish or plant.

If you have shaky hands then to take really professional pictures, you will need to rest the camera on a table or stool or some other stable object before taking the shot. You could also invest in a tripod for your camera if you become particularly serious about your fish photography.

Lighting techniques to help take good quality tropical fish pictures

Correct lighting really enhances a marine aquarium
Correct lighting can really enhance a marine aquarium

Aquarium lighting by itself is not bright enough to take very high quality aquarium pictures. Another factor against aquarium lighting is that the bulbs will give off lighting with a tinge of colour. Some bulbs give off a green tinge while other bulbs give off an orange tinge.

Aquarium photography is best done in natural sunlight with light coming into the aquarium from the top. Sunlight from the rear will only silhouette your fish and ruin your shots. Sunlight during the middle of the day is best

If sunlight is not practical then you can try your hand at strobe lighting if you can afford it. When you are using external lighting you will need to clean and polish the glass on the outside of the aquarium as well as scraping clean the glass on the inside of the tank. Reflections can be a big problem with fish photography. To help avoid reflections you will need to take pictures at an angle to the front glass and avoid the reflection from lighting.

Composition of your aquarium scene

Nicely balanced scene moss and driftwood
Nicely balanced scene moss and driftwood

You need to organise the picture into a balanced and pleasing scene. In other words to need to place your plants, rocks and ornaments into an aquascape. The fish will obviously swim around and so you will have to wait to take just the right shot (which is easier said than done) or set your camera into movie mode for a few minutes. You should be able to see your fish swim into position. If not delete the movie and try again until your movie contains the shot you are after.

When taking pictures of your aquarium it is not only the fish that might be the main subject of the picture. Sometimes it is the aquascaping scene that might be the main focus of the picture with a few shoaling fish to add visual interest or it might be some prized architectural ornament that may be the main feature or even a large imposing rock or rockwork.

Sometimes a blurred after image can give a better impression of motion in a still frame of your fish swimming past. There should be a setting that allows you to take after-image photographs to achieve this effect. Take the picture at the same level as the fish are swimming. By panning left and right or taking the picture from an angle you will enhance this sense of motion in the fish.

Taking close up shots of your fish

gold betta or metallic yellow siamese fighting fish
gold betta or metallic yellow siamese fighting fish

Good close ups can be obtained by making sure the subject fills 75% of the of the frame. Focus on the most interesting aspect of the subject such as the body or head colouration of the fish or some exotic finnage such as a crown tail betta’s tail.

Fish make unreliable photographic subjects. They are always on the move, changing direction and orientation and twisting and turning as well as opening and closing fins. Luckily unlike people they do not blink but can suffer from red eye.

Tips on obtaining better tropical fish pictures

  1. Create crystal clear water – extra filtration for a couple of days before filming will produce good results. Carbon filtration will create even better crystal clear water.
  2. Clean the tank in and out, including the gravel, rocks, plants ornaments and aquarium equipment. Hide the wires and equipment behind plants if you can. Prune your plants and remove any dead leaves.
  3. Make sure the cover glass and the aquarium bulbs are clean. This is so that you don’t get cloudy or patchy lighting. But before cleaning let them cool down for 15 minutes first and dry before switching on again.

Use of a special photographic aquarium

This is the fishy equivalent of a photographer’s studio. This is a small temporary aquarium set up for just taking pictures from. The tank should small and narrow front to back. The tank should have a movable glass divider to further restrict the motion of the fish.

Using the glass divider you can then bring the fish into the ideal location and into a good focal range for you to take your perfect shot.

Use of coloured backgrounds for photographing your fish

Some natural aquarium backgrounds can be attractive
Some natural aquarium backgrounds can be attractive

Coloured backgrounds make a good contrast to your fish. They will bring out the colour of your fish and bring all the attention on the fish themselves. Matt black backgrounds work well with lighter coloured fish and will have the effect of making these colours look more solid. Darker fish need a lighter coloured background such as a pale blue background. This will have the affecter of opening up the darker colours to makie them brighter. You can also provide a grey rock work background for colourful fish such as Malawis.

You are now ready to make the most of your digital camera and with a bit of practice and experimentation you will soon be creating masterpieces of the fish world. One word of warning add a copyright signature to each photograph in case you publish them online.

Sprucing up an old aquarium

Sprucing up an old aquarium

Sprucing up an old aquarium

Find out about how to maintain a tank here

Find out about aquascaping here

Perhaps you have an old aquarium that hasn’t been used in a while and you want to spruce it up and make it usable once again. Or you could have an aquarium that is in use, but you have had it for a long time and you might be feeling a bit bored with it, even if your fish aren’t. After all, every once in a while we need to change the décor of our home, right? An aquarium is like a tiny room in our house that needs sprucing up every once in a while. There are a number of ways to spruce up an old aquarium for your pleasure and for the current or new occupants.

Give your aquarium a good clean

It’s best to start with a thorough cleaning of your aquarium. While you likely clean your tank weekly, as recommended, sometimes an aquarium needs some spring cleaning, aka. a complete overhaul. Before you decide to spruce up the old aquarium, start by cleaning it thoroughly. In fact, you can alter the appearance of your aquarium simply by making everything bright and clean once again.

Changing the water

The first thing you will need to do is change the water in the tank. To do this, you will need to syphon off at least half the water in the aquarium and add “aged water” to the tank to replace the water you removed. What is “aged water”? This is water that you have poured from your home faucet into a never-used or sterilized container, such as a bucket.

The key to aging this water is to allow it to sit and reach room temperature. You can allow it to sit and aerate long enough to de-chlorinate, which takes about 24 hours, or you can use a de-chlorination tablet or solution from your local pet store. You should also ensure your water is at the correct pH level, between 6.5 and 7.5. If your water is outside of this range, use a product from your pet store to adjust the pH of the water.

Cleaning the gravel bed

All kinds of debris gets buried in the gravel bed of your aquarium, including fish waste, uneaten food, and parts of plants that are dead and decomposing. These need to be removed by syphoning them from the tank. For this reason, it is ideal to do this at the same time you are removing old water from the tank.

Remove any accessories you have in your aquarium before you begin. Live plants can also be removed and placed in a dish of water. Place one end of the syphon in a bucket and place the other end in the tank. As you syphon the debris, use the end of the syphon hose or your fingers to gently stir up the debris, but not so much that it spreads throughout the whole aquarium. Remove as much debris as you can.

Scraping and cleaning the tank

After about half the water and as much debris as possible is removed from the aquarium, you can clean the sides of the tank and the accessories that were in it. Scrape any algae and other material off the sides of the tank and wipe it clean with paper towel. Use a brush or abrasive pad to clean accessories. Never use soap or chemicals when cleaning any part of your tank. It is also important not to change or clean the filter at this time. Good bacteria live in your aquarium and in the filter. Since you have probably cleaned much of it out of the aquarium, you need what is in the filter, so wait two to three weeks before cleaning or changing the filter.

Tank accessories

Once your tank is clean the real fun can begin. Changing the accessories in your tank, or simply adding new ones, is perhaps the easiest way to spruce up your old aquarium, but there are other ways to make it look grand and provide you with a much-needed change. Here are a few suggestions:

Get some live plants:

If you have only synthetic plants in your aquarium, you can choose to replace or augment those with live plants. If you are unsure about using live plants, just start with one or two. They will help oxygenate the water and create a more natural environment for your fish. They also look beautiful. You might have to trim them back as they grow and they will need a full spectrum light on the tank, but otherwise they are very low maintenance.

Change the color of the gravel:

This is a bigger job that requires the removal of the old gravel, but changing the color of the gravel will really add some new zing to your aquarium.

Go with a theme:

You can choose new accessories for your aquarium based on a specific theme. You are only limited by your imagination, so check out the many different types of accessories and themes at your local pet store and online. Choose from sunken ruins, Easter Island, Super Mario, a bathroom scene, Sponge Bob Square Pants, an underwater volcano, or any one of a number of others. Make up your own scene for a more personalized aquarium.

Use a 3D background:

3D aquarium backgrounds offer an added dimension of scenery for both you and your fish. These backgrounds don’t just offer a pretty 3D picture on a 2D surface; they offer a vertical 3D surface that is textured and can even provide crevices, ledges, and rocks fish can explore and hide in. A 3D background definitely provides your fish with a more natural-looking environment, making them feel right at home.
Add different fish: Finally, to spruce up your old aquarium, you can add new fish. Of course, you have to have the space for these fish and you need to be sure the new species can comfortably live with the fish you already have, but as long as these factors allow for it, new colors and types of fish can be a welcome change.

Change the lighting:

You can go with a brighter light to bring life to a dark aquarium. Or get a day glo type bulb to reveal more natural colours. There are even bulbs that bring out reds or blues more. If you have red fish or blue fish that you would like to bring out the colours, then bulbs like this will add sparkle to your aquarium.

Sprucing up an old aquarium can be a fun, creative project. You can do it on your own or involve the whole family. Just remember that the happiness and wellbeing of your fish come first. As long as this is your first priority, use your imagination and have fun creating an aquarium that will not only look great, but will become a conversation piece for anyone who visits your home.

Aquascaping for Beginners: Getting the basics right

Aquascaping for Beginners: Getting the basics right

More about foreground plants here

More about midground plants here

More about background plants here

About Aquascaping

balanced aquascaped rocks, plants, gravel and fish
balanced aquascaped rocks, plants, gravel and fish

Aquascaping is the art of setting-up, decorating and arranging aquatic plants along with stones, rocks, driftwood or cavework in an aesthetically pleasing manner. Also termed as underwater gardening, aquascaping was first introduced to the world way back in 1990’s by Takashi Amano from Japan, who made the natural underwater gardens look like dreamscapes. Although it is possible to create an aquascape with plants only, it can also be set up with fish as well as plants; or with rockwork, hardscape and no plants by following some specific methods.

If you find it difficult to create an aquascape then scan through the many examples of good aquascape scenes on the internet and pick a scene that you really like and that you can replicate.

Basic Principles for Aquascaping

aquascape to replicate amazon river scene with angelfish
aquascape to replicate amazon river scene with angelfish

To reach the perfection in the design of your aquascape you must follow a few important principles that are listed below:

Simplicity is the key – While aquascaping is all about imagination, it is recommended that you follow a particular style and maintain simplicity which would make the aquascape look more appealing to the human eye.
 
Choosing the aquascaping style – There are several major styles that you can choose from, which you can create a visually-enticing aquascape. These include the Japanese-inspired nature style, the garden-like Dutch style, the jungle style and many others. While the nature aquarium style is the re-creation of terrestrial landscapes – mountains, hills, valleys, etc., the Dutch style is characterized by terraces or raised layers containing distinct types of plants with different leaf types.

Balanced aquascape using moss covered driftwood.
Balanced aquascape using moss covered driftwood.

Maintaining Proportion- To maintain harmony in the aquarium, it is crucial to strike the perfect balance between plants, decorative items and fish as well as between filled and empty spaces in the aquarium. Also, arrange plants, rocks and wood in a manner that there is a balancing contrast of light and dark spaces.

Use your imagination- There are no defined rules for aquascaping. Use your imagination to make a beautiful aquascape that has clean water and an appropriate amount of light, CO2, and other essential elements.

To ensure proper care, maintenance and success of an aquascape, aquascapers must keep in mind several factors to strike balance in the closed system of the water tank. These factors include:

  • aquascape with clever use of various plants and driftwood
    aquascape with clever use of various plants and driftwood

    Filtration System

  • Liquid fertilizers
  • Medium to high level of lighting
  • Maintaining the correct amount of carbon dioxide to support photosynthesis
  • Frequent water changes
  • Substrate and fertilization
  • Algae control

Plants and Plant Types

Besides the layout, style and design of an aquascape, aquascaping require specific ways to ensure proper care and maintenance of plants underwater. One of the most crucial things that aquascapers must keep in mind is choosing healthy and vibrant plants. Also, they must be trimmed to get the desired shape and positioned properly using a thread. Before beginning, you must know the plants and plant types that we shall discuss now!

Dwarf hair grass makes a nice flooring plant
Dwarf hair grass makes a nice flooring plant

Carpet Plants: Just as the name suggests, carpet plants are used by aquascapers to create a mat of plants or a lush of green lawn, making the underwater garden more beautiful and attractive. You can choose foreground pl ants such as Hairgrass, Dwarf Baby Tears, Java Moss, Water Wisteria or Willow Moss as they stay low to the ground and spread horizontally across the floor of the water tank.

Fast Growing Plants: When you begin with aquascaping, you can choose fast growing plants like hornwort, Vallisneria, Cabomba and Hygrophilia that would grow quickly, with no effort and would not even put a hole in your pocket. Other stem plants including sword plants, Java fern are also suitable but a little expensive.
Floating plants: While a number of floating plants can block light, many aquascapers prefer using them for visually-enticing aquascape. These plants include Hornwoot, Java Moss and Najas.

Artificial Plants: While using artificial plants is not considered aquascaping, it is one of the easiest ways for beginners. So, if you find it difficult to care for and maintain natural plants, you can go for artificial plants that do not require light or water parameters.

green cabomba or fanwort makes a nice bushy background plant
green cabomba or fanwort makes a nice bushy background

Location for Short, Large and Bushy Plants

To create a beautiful landscape underwater, it is essential for aquascapers to place the plants in an aesthetic manner. The major aspect to keep in mind is the focal point. It can be anything like a rock, a piece of driftwood or a bunch of plants or even one dominant plant. It is recommended to begin with carpet plants at the foreground and place the bushy and large plants at the background.

You can begin with the focal of the water tank and continue with the low-growing and mid-growing plants. At the end, place the higher plants. You can choose an appropriate composition such as the concave set up, the convex set up, the rectangular set-up, the triangular set up, or the Iwagumi set-up.

Different Coloured plants

red water hedge plant nice alternative to green
red water hedge plant nice alternative to green

To create in-depth perspective and make the aquarium look more natural, aquascapers use plants of different colours and sizes. Plants can be grown in groups and with rich colour contrast. Commonly used plants for colour contrast and highlights include lutea, lucens, wendtii, walkeri, and becketii of the Cryptocoryne species, Ammania, Alternanthera reineckii and Rotala.
Notably, 3 plant species per foot would be preferred to ensure good colour contrast.

Open Spaces for Fish

Before you kick-start aquascaping, you must understand that plants as well as fish are EQUALLY important in your water tank. When you provide the best conditions for your plants to stay healthy, you are providing a healthy environment for the fish as well. At the same time, it is a must to wisely use spaces between plants by creating imaginary streets as well as pathways. Also, make sure that you have as must open space as must filled space to provide space for your fish to lively comfortably and happily.

Hardscape: Use of Bogwood/Driftwood

discus in an amazon biotope with driftwwod to simulate roots
discus in an amazon biotope with driftwwod to simulate roots

Hardscape is one of the most commonly used techniques used by aquascapers across the globe. It involves using driftwood, rocks and resin sculptures. Driftwood adds a decorative touch to the aquarium, while making it look natural. The wood can be the main focal point, around which the plants can be placed. Many aquascapers prefer using the Malaysian driftwood or manzanita branches, depending on their preference.

Use of Rocks and Stones

In addition to wood, aquascapers use rocks and stones at the heart of their aquarium to create a natural-looking aquascape underwater. You can place boulders, large cobbles and smaller pebbles aesthetically in the water tank to further enhance its beauty. The classic way to use rocks is to place 2-4 flat rocks on the bottom of the aquarium and then arrange other rocks in the order of their size. Alongside, you can also add airstones and submersible lights to create visual effects and make the water tank more attractive.

Balanced aquascape with driftwood, plants and hairgrass carpet
Balanced aquascape: driftwood, plants and hairgrass carpet

Get Started!

Aquascaping is not all about creating a plan and sticking rigidly to it. Sometimes it is better to do a quick sketch up and then proceed to plant according to your rough draft. Then when it’s all laid out, you can see that it might not be right so you will need to rearrange things until you get it right. And don’t forget plants do grow and some grow more than others. So your aquascape will actually develop over time.

Aquascaping is all about imagination and creating enchanting visuals that appeal to the human eye. So, make sure that you use your imagination to create an amazingly-looking aquascape. Happy aquascaping!

Setting up an aquarium aquaponics system

Complete aquaponics aquarium set up

A guide to setting your own aquarium aquaponics system

Complete aquaponics aquarium set up
Complete aquaponics aquarium set up

Intrepid aquarists that want to do something special with their tanks will be glad to know that turning an aquarium into a small-scale aquaponics system is not quite as hard as it looks. It may seem complicated, but the underlying science of the matter is stuff that any aquarist should already be comfortable with: the nitrogen cycle, the symbiotic relationship between fish and plants, and the health benefits they offer one another.

If you have kept a planted aquarium before, you already know that the nutrient-rich water of the tank is perfect for plant growth. Aquaponics is just a system by which you can maximise that growth and raise some terrestrial plants while you’re at it. A successful mini aquaponics system can provide you with delicious fresh vegetables, herbs, and spices while giving your fish excellent quality water.

Making your aquaponics system self-sufficient

There are several different ways to construct an aquaponics system, but this article will focus on ways to make it as self-sufficient as possible. Self-sufficiency will cut down on maintenance, but may also deliver smaller yields in return. If you would like to grow large quantities of vegetables, you will need to invest in a more robust set up.

The system described below is a perfectly suitable beginning aquaponics setup that focuses on minimising the need for strict maintenance. If you would like to improve it once you get it up and running, you can invest more time and effort into producing larger yields.

An aquaponics syste has all the hallmarks of a Walstad aquarium. With the closed ecosystem and natural substrate of the growbed. The fish providing nutrient manure for the plants and the plants filtering out toxic waste products from the fish, ie nitrogen recycling. However, where the system differs is that there is a nutrient export. The plants when they get harvested do not recycle back into the system. In the medium to long term there will be a deficiency of minerals that the plants are taking from the water. You will have to occasionally replenish these nutrients.

What you need to build your aquaponics system

  • components of aquarium aquaponics system
    Diagram of basic components of aquarium aquaponics system

    Your aquarium tank, of course

  • A gravel substrate, 1 kg for every 20 litres of water in the tank
  • A small circulation water pump
  • 1 metre length of plastic tubing, that will fit on the outlet of your pump
  • An air stone
  • An air pump matched to your tank’s size + (optional sponge filter)
  • Another 1 metre length of plastic tubing, sized for the air pump outlet
  • A growing medium, pea gravel, perlite, and peat moss work well
  • A plastic grow bed, ideally the same size as your tank and sitting on top of it with a depth of 7 – 20 cm
  • actinic lights for your plants
  • Ordinary aquarium lighting for your fish
  • A pH testing kit
  • A drill
  • A heater for the fish
  • And some fish

How to setup your aquaponics system

One thing you must bear in mind is the height and weight of the whole system when it is all put together. The height will be the height of the aquarium plus the height of the grow bed plus the height of the lighting system above the grow bed. So either obtain a shallow aquarium of make sure there is plenty of room above the aquarium for access.

The first thing you will need to do thoroughly wash your gravel substrate and line it along the bottom of your tank. Then drill tiny holes (3–5 mm) into the bottom of your grow bed with an even distribution, every 5 cm or so. This will let the water drain into the aquarium. Drill a larger (10–12 mm) hole into one of the corners of the bed so that the water pump tubing can pass through.

Now you can place the water pump inside the tank and cap the top with your grow bed. Insert the water pump tubing through the hole you made in the grow bed—leave a little bit of extra tubing to loop around inside the grow bed and cut of the rest. Fold the end of the tub over and seal the folded tube with tape.

Once you have this done, puncture tiny holes every 5 cm in the looped section of tubing in the grow bed. You may now fill your grow bed with your peat moss or pea gravel up until you cover the tube. This is the basic form of your aquaponics system.

Now you can focus on the aquarium: fill it with water and plug in the pump. You should see the water pumping into the grow bed and trickling down through the peat moss and back into the tank. Now is a good time to adjust the flow to make it run smoothly and gently.

Connect your air pump to your air stone using the other tubing, and place the stone in your tank. Attach a sponge filter for added filtration for your fish. Plug the pump in and you should see oxygenating bubbles rising through the water—your system is almost ready.

Check the pH level of your water. It is best somewhere between ph6.8–ph7.2, with ph7.0 being the ideal. If you have to adjust the pH level, now is a good time to do so. If your water is clear from chlorine and chloramine you can add your fish immediately—otherwise, let the water sit for 24 hours or treat it with a water conditioner before you begin.

Since your tank is not yet cycled, you will need to add your fish very slowly, gradually introducing additional fish to the tank while the bacterial colony in your grow bed grows to support them. You may need to perform daily water changes at first, in order to clean the water for your fish before the plants have a chance to do it for you.

If you take good care of your aquaponics system in this period, you should be ready to add plants within 4 weeks when the system is completely established. Introducing them slowly will make sure that you do not upset the careful balance between your fish population and plant population. Leave your actinic light on once you plant the seeds and wait for results to bloom.

Fish selection and care

For your first attempt at an aquaponics setup, avoid selecting fish that are too delicate to survive any water quality issues. Hardy species that can tolerate the varying water conditions that will be present in the beginning are highly recommended. platies, catfish, kribensis, danios, tiger barbs, dwarf gouramis or goldfish can all be used with success.

The notoriously messy nature of the goldfish is actually a benefit in this circumstance, since increased levels of fish waste mean more food for your plants. So long as you do not overwhelm the balance in nutrients between the plants and fish, you will enjoy success.

Plant selection and care

While you can grow just about any plant in an aquaponics system, you will find that fruit-bearing plants and spices may not grow to their full potential from this kind of setup—they will need a more robust, higher maintenance system. With the system described in this article, however, you can grow spinach, lettuce, basil, parsley and many other leafy green herbs.

If you decide to transplant your plants from soil, take very special care to thoroughly wash away all of the dirt surrounding the roots and to clear the plant’s entire surface of insects or other pests. Transplanting is an easy way to introduce an invasive species to your system without knowing it.

Maintaining your aquaponics system

A successful aquaponics system will give a bountiful crop
A successful aquaponics system will give a bountiful crop

The system described in this article has two major inputs: fish food and electricity. You will want to make sure you do not overfeed your fish—a single feeding should consist of enough food for your fish to consume in 5 minutes and no more. Your tank may also gradually lose water over time to absorption and evaporation, so you should perform a monthly 10–15% water change and refill that keeps it topped up.

Your plants’ mineral needs may need to be considered as well: Flowering plants and vegetables may benefit from having additional minerals added to the water at the start. Also as time goes on, the nutrient export must be replenished. If you notice that your plants are struggling, you may be able to find help in the form of liquid fertilisers designed for aquaponics systems. They contain soil components like phosphorous and potassium that your plants may be missing.

If your plants are growing nicely and your fish are active and healthy, then you’ve done it! Good job on creating your first mini aquaponics system. Cosmetic improvements can be made to the aquaponics system by boxing in the growbed to hide the tubing and wires. Now you can relax and enjoy the fruits of your labours: healthy fish and fresh home grown herb and spices. You can nibble on some lettuce while admiring your fish.

Adjustments to your aquarium aquaponics system

If there is too much fish waste in the system, instead of reducing the fish, add more sponge filtration. If the plants are not growing then try different plants. If the plants are growing long and stringy then they are not getting enough light. Increase the lighting. Keep checking the ph. If it keeps rising then add more peat. If it keeps falling then add some coral sand.

You should experiment with growing different plants. You can also try increasing and decreasing the pump flow rate, thereby increasing or decreasing the water around the plant roots.

If you get bored of your aquaponics system or it is not working out, you can always remove the plastic growbed and have just an ordinary aquarium. Or you can do more research to do it more professionally.

Lake Malawi biotope aquarium

Malawi biotope aquarium with algae on rocks

Lake Malawi biotope

See also perfect Malawi Aquarium

and Breeding Malawi

Malawi biotope aquarium with algae on rocks
Malawi biotope aquarium with algae on rocks

Reasons for creating a Lake Malawi Biotope

Now more than ever, is a good time to set up a natural biotope of Lake Malawi. For instance, there is a lot of information on the behaviour and environment of most species inhabiting Lake Malawi. Which means we can recreate conditions in the aquarium, that are very close to those found in Lake Malawi.

Another reason is that with the discovery of oil in Lake Malawi, the ongoing destruction of the habitat in and around the lake is increasing. This is causing the near extinction of many species of fish and plants. How does setting up a Malawi Biotope aquarium help this, you may ask? In conservation, it is only species that people are aware of that get saved. And so if many aquarists set up a Lake Malawi biotope then what better way of showing what beauty will be destroyed by showing off their aquariums. The press can be invited to see the natural beauty of fish from Lake Malawi and told about which species are facing extinction in order to raise awareness and save the lake.

A final reason is that the fish can be observed in something that approximates their natural environment. The fish will of course be happier and you, the observer, will get to see the full range of natural behaviours and interactions between the fish and their environment. The fish will naturally try to inhabit the same niche in the biotope aquarium that they would normally inhabit in the wild, instead of being forced to lump it with other species that they would normally avoid.

How faithful a Malawian biotope can be created?

Recreating a Lake Malawi Biotope that is absolutely accurate down to the`smallest detail is an impossible task. But we can go a long way to recreating something that very closely resembles the lake. We can also very closely recreate the same water parameters, lighting, rocks and sandy base. Recreating the muddy parts of the lake would requre a very large aquarium, such as a public aquarium. So is not really feasible in the home aquarium. Luckily there are lots of sections of lake Malawi that are just rocks and sand, just rocks mostly or just sand mostly. These we can recreate in the aquarium.

Different approaches to building a Malawian biotope

There are possibly two approaches to recreating the biotope. The first way is to base it around the fish species in your possession or that you intend to buy. Then it would be a matter of researching to find out which environment your fish live in and if they are compatible. Then you would have to recreate a biotope that best accommodates your particular set of fish.

The second approach is to have a look at many pictures of lake Malawi in order to choose a scene that you particularly like. Then recreating that scene in the aquarium. Once that scene has been created then it would be a matter of finding which species would comfortably fit in your biotope and going out to buy them.

If you have species that inhabit different environments within the lake, then you need a very large aquarium to try and accommodate them all. Lake Malawi divides into two areas mostly with an open sandy region broken up with a few scattered rocks and a dense rocky area with many hiding places consisting of caves and crevices.

Aquascaping your Malawi biotope aquarium

Typical hobbyists biotope aquarium
Typical hobbyists biotope aquarium

The base is going to be a layer of sand of about 3 inches in depth. Most normal sands are fine, even crushed coral sand should be fine. However, wash well because sand creates more cloudiness than gravel.

Your rock choices are limestone and sandstone. The sand comes from the sandstone in the lake. Limestone is present in the lake also and gives the lake its ph and hardness. The sandstone can be the golden type or a grey type. Choose types of various sizes with smoothed edges. Algae will also grow quite well on these types of stone.

Arrange the stones in your aquarium so that caves, crevices and hiding places are created. Leave an open space of sand in the front of the aquarium. Scatter a few smaller rocks around the sand but separate from each other.

The rocks at the back need to be stacked up along the back so that they reach the surface and even break the surface of the water in places. To ensure the safety of your glass and fish, use silicone to glue rocks together to create a stable rock formation.

Plants and other creatures

planted rocky malawi aquarium
Atypical planted rocky malawi aquarium with sand substrate

Besides the fish there will be algae and small insects and invertebrates. Since many species from lake Malawi feed off snails then including snails in the aquarium is a good idea. Try apple snails that are native to lake Malawi or snails that are similar to those of lake Malawi such as snails of the genus bulinas. Obtain snails that look and behave similarly that can live in hard water.

Most mbuna species feed off the algae growing on the rocks and the micro organisms growing in the algae. In the sand will be worms and other insects that the Auloconara species(peacock) feed off. Trying to find suitable creatures that will live, grow and reproduce in the sand is a difficult task. You risk the creatures dying and polluting the sand and the aquarium. In the wild it would be these creatures that would dig through the sand that prevents the sand in the wild from compacting the way it does in the aquarium.

Insects found in lake Malawi include water bears, daphnia, cyclops. Create a separate culture of these and feed the fish. These will be native food for your Malawi fish.

There are few plants in lake Malawi so you do not have to have any plants in the aquarium. But valisneria and hornwort are a possibility that do occur in lake Malawi. Plant singly and sparsely.

Which fish to have in a Malawian biotope

Malawi biotope typically found in public aquariums
Malawi biotope typically found in public aquariums

Mbunas are perfect for the rocky parts of the biotope. One or two species will quickly set up home and create territories within the rocky structures, each fish with its own little cave or crevice. Aulonocara species like open waters above sand but not too far from rocks. One or two species will be great for the open, sandy areas. They feed off insects that they can find in the sand. The aggressive mbunas will only rarely venture out from their rocky area while the Aulonocara will avoid the rocks.

In a large enough aquaria with distinct areas the two groups of fish will approach each other and there will be aggression but the fish usually retire to their own habitat.

If your aquarium is not too large then you will have to settle for one group or the other. If you settle for auloconara then you shouldn’t have a large rocky formation. A smaller rocky set up is better for them. Aulonocara do like to swim in open spaces. However, aggression between the fish means that they too need hiding places.

Finally, it is an aquarium so run it like one

You can buy Malawi salts to recreate the exact water found in the lake. However, don’t just add it to tap water. Tap water already has some hardness and minerals which you will have to take into account. SInce you are creating a biotope you should use a reverse osmosis filter to remove all minerals from your tap water then add your Malawi salts to get the correct hardness and ph. For tap water you will obviously have to reduce the amounts of Malawi salt per litre. This is best done by testing your water after adding a half dose to tap water. If it comes out too hard reduce the amount of salt used. If not hard enough increase the amount of salts.

You need good quality lighting that will encourage rock algae without causing an algae bloom. Also, too bright a light will spook the fish. In lake Malawi the waters are not pristine and there is a little murkiness there. This is where most aquarists depart from the strict biotope by having pristine water.

The ecosystem however needs some way to operate the nitrogen cycle without plants. This means that you will have to have powerful biological filters that have a high turnover of water and a filter media with a large surface area for the nitrifying bacteria to grow on.

Water changes are also a necessity. While some may consider this as cheating, you may want to consider the real lake Malawi. There is an inflow of fresh water from the Ruhuhu river. And the lake is vast giving a lot of scope for de-nitrification.

If you have followed these guidelines, the end result should be a pleasant aquarium full of colourful fish. It should look like a piece of lake Malawi. So, sit back and enjoy your hard work.

Keeping aquarium plants healthy

Healthy aquarium plants in an aquarium

See also best plants for beginners

and succeed with plants

and aquascaping for beginners

healthy but overgrown aquarium plants
healthy but overgrown aquarium plants need trimming

Healthy plants AND healthy fish

Keeping aquarium plants healthy is vital. However, most aquarists put the welfare of their fish first and are not willing to promote the health of their plants, if it may affect their fish. I will explain how you can do both. And, the two are not mutually exclusive. Healthy plants can promote health in your fish.

If your planted aquarium is not regularly maintained, it can quickly become a jungle. Quick growing plants will out grow smaller and slower growing species. The larger plants will hog the light resulting in the smaller plants not getting enough light. Fish waste and plant sheddings will accumulate, polluting the water. Fortunately, maintenance is not time-consuming if carried out every week. If you do half an hour a week maintenance then your aquarium plants will be kept in tip top condition. To the right is what an otherwise healthy planted aquarium looks like when trimming and maintenance has been neglected. With a bit of trimming and relocating of plants this could look like a cracking aquarium and you could actually get to see the fish.

Healthy aquarium plants in an aquarium
Healthy aquarium plants can add to the look of your aquarium

But it is not just the welfare of the plants you need to also take care of the lighting, filtration, water quality and the fish. All these factors also affect the plants.
Every aquarium is different so I will give a general guideline which you will have to adapt to your specific set of plants and aquarium.

Relocating aquarium plants

Plants will naturally grow and spread with new offshoots. Some will grow so much that they crowd out other smaller or slow growing species. Also, you might do a spring clean or fancy a change of scenery. All this means that you will have to relocate some plants.
You can’t just uproot a plant and plant it somewhere else. You have to consider its root system which might be quite extensive if the plant is well established.

When removing a plant take out as much of the root system as possible, avoid ripping roots. Try to take out all the surrounding substrate with the roots intact if you can. If this is not possible, then use your fingers to gently tease out the roots without disturbing the gravel too much.

Once you have extracted the plant then knock off any attached gravel or dirt. Then, trim any long roots to just a few centimetres. Long stringy roots are not easily replanted and are easily damaged. Once replanted the plant will grow new roots and become re-established much quicker.

When you replant, create a hollow in the gravel. Put the roots into the hollow. Put a fertiliser tablet underneath or on the roots, then pack the gravel around the roots. The fertiliser tablet will speed up the plant’s recovery.

Plant diseases

It is rare for plants to actually suffer from disease such as bacterial infections or viruses. Except for crypts there are no common aquarium plant diseases. When your plants start displaying symptoms of ill-health these are almost certainly caused by environmental harm or nutritional deficiencies.

If you spot any symptoms early then the remedy is usually quite simple with the plant making a quick and complete recovery.

Cryptocoryne rot is a condition that only affects crypt plants. It looks like small holes in the leaves or the leaf edges. It is not certain what the cause is but it can be set off by a change of environment such as high nitrates, lack of water changes and lack of lighting. Crypts usually recover quickly once you have found the cause and fixed the problem. However, if left the plant can completely break down and die.

Aquarium plant poisoning

This is usually caused by adding medications to cure fish ailments. But could also come from recently added ornaments or rocks. After medicating your fish, use a chemical filter with activated carbon, for example, to remove all chemical residues to reduce any harm from the medication. Saying this, most medications are harmless or only slightly harmful.

But this is not the case with algicides which can harm plants. If at all possible it is better to cure your algae problem without using chemicals.

Another possible harmful substance is hydrogen sulphide that may form in the gravel or sand where anaerobic conditions allow food to rot to give off this poisonous gas. One last possible source of poisoning is from over use of fertiliser, which is beneficial in normal doses but can become a poison with over use.

Snail damage to aquarium plants

Snails in small numbers are unsightly and a nuisance. But, in large numbers they can take a toll on your plants by chewing away little by little every day. They are usually introduced to your aquarium as eggs attached to the under side of plant leaves. The eggs look like blobs of jelly and are difficult to see especially when the plant is in water.

Once snails get established in the aquarium it is impossible to completely eradicate them by hand. You could try adding snail eating fish or even assassin snails that chase and eat snails. This will help keep the numbers down.

You have to eradicate snails from plants before placing the plants in the aquarium by dipping the plants in an anti snail solution that will kill off the snails. Then wash off any chemicals before placing the plant in the aquarium. It is not recommended to add chemicals to the aquarium because the chemicals can harm the plants and fish.

Fish harming the plants

healthy plants and fish
healthy plants make fish feel more relaxed

Unless you keep plant eating fish then it is unlikely that your fish are causing much damage to your plants. The only exception is with cichlids and other large fish that can tug at the plants and uproot them. What may look like fish bites out of your plants is usually some other cause.

Algae

Algae occurs naturally in all aquariums that have some light and some nutrients. If you keep plants you will also get algae. Small amounts of algae growing slowly on rocks, driftwood and large plant leaves are of little consequence to your plants or your aquarium. Indeed, your fish may enjoy a nibble from time to time. And, the algae helps in the removal of fish waste products.

However, when conditions in the aquarium, such as excess light, wrong type of light or excess nutrients occur then an algae bloom is a real danger. The pea soup effect which is unsightly, will be disastrous for your plants, preventing light getting to your plants. An algae bloom can also release dangerous gases into the water.

Green water, caused by algae bloom, cannot be filtered out, and even if you used a filter with a very fine media, that filter would quickly become choked. Also if you try to remove the algae by changing the water, you will make matters worse. New tap water has dissolved nutrients that will feed the algae.

Treatment of algae in the aquarium

Reduce the lighting quantity and duration of the lighting and make sure no sunlight reaches the aquarium. Remove excess waste matter on a daily basis using a siphon. When feeding make sure that your fish eat all the food fed to them. Any uneaten food will rot and create waste products that feed algae.

The problem of blue-green algea

This is like a slime that covers just about every surface in the aquarium. Although typically bluey-green can also be greenish-brown or even black. Algae eating fish will not eat it. You can siphon off most of it using a siphon pump but it will re-occur. The solution is to reduce any fertiliser and any nutrients getting into your aquarium from fish waste and uneaten foods.

Blanket weed problems

This fibrous, hair like, algae grows on surfaces. it will cover plants and decor and is hard to remove. It is caused by an excess of light, especially sunlight, and excess of organic matter in the water. Chemicals are largely uneffective against it. The only solution is to remove as much of the algae as possible by hand. Then thoroughly clean the gravel with a siphon to remove excess organic waste.

For algae – prevention is better than cure

Although a small algae bloom is almost inevitable in a new aquarium, the problem is largely avoidable. Here is a list of preventative measures that if you follow will prevent algae ever getting a foothold.

  1. Have a few algae eating fish. Small species such as otocinclus is ideal.
  2. Avoid an excess of fertiliser. Using fertiliser tablets on a plants roots is better than pouring liquid fertiliser into the water. Ferilisers with phosphates are the worst culprit, so use a fertiliser without phosphates.
  3. Avoid direct sunlight. Even well maintained aquariums can attract algae when placed in direct sunlight.
  4. Lighting should be on for less than 12 hours per day.
  5. Make sure you use the correct type of bulb with the correct wattage for your aquarium. In other words, buy a bulb that gives off the correct wavelength of light and is of the right brightness for your size of aquarium.
  6. Clean the gravel properly and regularly by sifting through the gravel with a siphon removing accumulated fish waste. Do not remove the gravel to wash under the tap.
  7. Do regular water changes to dilute the excess of nitrates and phosphates that accumulate in the aquarium.

Finally, alleopathy can stop certain plants growing together

Certain plants release chemicals that are harmful to certain other plants. So that when one type of plant is in an aquarium, it is impossible to grow another incompatible species of plant in the same aquarium. Even, when the aquarium conditions are perfect for the incompatible plant it just will not grow until you remove the first plant. Not much is known about this process, so there isn’t a guide to tell you which plants are incompatible with other plants.

Succeed with marine corals

Final complete marine aquarium set up

How to succeed with marine corals in your reef aquarium

Final complete marine aquarium set up
Final complete marine aquarium set up

If you have already set up a successful marine aquarium with a host of saltwater fish, live rock, and perhaps even a few invertebrates, you might be entertaining the possibility of keeping marine corals in your tank as well. While you may have heard that keeping corals in your reef aquarium is a difficult task, it can be a vastly rewarding experience if it is approached correctly. And may not be too big a step up from the set up you already have if your marine aquarium has been running for quite a while.

Saltwater aquarium maintenance

Saltwater fish for beginners

Live rock and live sand

Consider what your set up offers

As always, a larger tank will provide you with a sufficient volume to reduce eventual problems with water quality management. If you are fortunate enough to be the owner of a large tank, you will find that the health of your fish will be easier to manage during the period when you introduce corals to your tank. The larger your tank is, the better you will be able to adapt it to the presence of coral colonies.

If you already have high quality filtration and an adequate lighting set up, you are well on your way to enjoying a successful reef tank. In terms of filtration, you will need a greater amount of water flow throughout your tank than you may currently have, since corals are immobile and will need to draw their nutrients from the water itself as it passes through them.

Your aquarium’s lighting set up will have to closely replicate natural sunlight: a spectrum of blue UV light for 12 hours a day and a full spectrum white light for 8–10 hours a day would be the minimum for ensuring a healthy coral population in your reef aquarium.

Water quality and management

The ideal temperature at which most marine corals will thrive is between 23–25° C, with 25°C representing an optimum temperature for coral tanks. Temperature is very important due to the effect that warm water will have on the level of dissolved oxygen present: Oxygen level will decrease with higher temperatures, causing respiratory problems for your corals.

The most dependable way of keeping your water temperature constant is through the use of a refrigerating chiller with a temperature gauge. While it is possible to maintain the appropriate temperature without a chiller in many circumstances, you may want to use one in order to give your marine corals the best opportunity to thrive.

If you have a quality filtration system in place in an already cycled tank, you will not have to worry too much about ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels, but organic compounds could become a problem if they are allowed to break down into harmful waste products. The use of a protein skimmer can be a great help when keeping a coral reef aquarium.

Corals tend to do their best with a pH level between 8.0–8.3. You will want to test your water regularly to ensure that the levels do not change after you introduce corals to your tank, since they can upset this delicate balance of water acidity and harm your entire tank population in the process.

One of the key indicators that aquarists use to determine whether their tank is ready for the introduction of live corals can be seen in the live rock already present: When your live rock begins developing spots of purple, this indicates the presence of coralline algae, which grows as a result of the same conditions necessary for the growth of marine corals.

Choosing and introducing live corals to your tank

Once you have the appropriate conditions ready, you can introduce your corals to the tank. Proper coral choice is important here, since dissimilar species of coral can be very difficult to maintain. Two basic types of corals commonly found in reef aquariums are as follows:

  1. corals, which feature a hard exoskeleton and are also often called hard corals, and;
  2. Soft corals, which do not have an exoskeleton and often inhabit different waters then their stony counterparts.

You may be tempted to mix these two types of corals, but you are recommended to stick with one or the other for your first coral experience. You should thoroughly research the species you would like to incorporate in your tank to make sure they are compatible—coral competition and aggression is not uncommon in reef tanks.

Soft corals are generally easier to care for then stony ones, although not always: preferred choices include any of the following species:

  • Finger leather coral
  • Pulse coral
  • Jasmine polyps
  • Star polyps,
  • Clove polyps
  • Cabbage leather coral

If you would prefer stony varieties, peaceful stony corals such as the popular candy cane coral can make an excellent choice for your first foray into keeping a coral aquarium. Also, whisker coral, also known as Duncan coral, can make a fine addition. Bubble coral is easy to care for but can be aggressive in temperament.

Once you have your tank prepared and have purchased your desired coral fragments, you are ready to attach them to the interior of your tank. Specialized aquarium glue exists for exactly this purpose, and can help make the process much easier than attempting to secure the coral with toothpicks and hoping it sticks.

Coral placement depends on the strength of your tank’s lighting and your corals’ specific needs. Marine corals may need to be gradually acclimated to your tank lights, which can be done by placing them at the bottom of the tank at first and then gradually moving their foundation upwards over the course of a week.

Once you attach the corals to the interior of your tank, you will have to carefully monitor the water conditions in order to make sure that no abrupt changes take place. This, along with regular maintenance, will ensure a long and healthy life for your corals.

Coral maintenance and care

Once your marine corals begin getting accustomed to their new lives inside your reef aquarium, you will need to take care of them in order to ensure lasting success with your reef aquarium. You should be testing your water weekly for pH changes as well as ammonia and nitrite levels, and have a cleaning routine ready that includes both your filtration system and your lights as well.

Some species of corals have more specific feeding and maintenance needs than others, but if you choose to keep varieties of coral that require the weekly addition of coral food, the trace elements you should generally add include calcium, strontium, iron, and magnesium. Other than this, your monthly partial water change schedule should run normally.

Responsible coral harvesting

As a last word on keeping a successful coral aquarium, you should be aware that there are two types of coral suppliers in the aquarium trade: those that are licensed by the Convention for International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and those that are not. Licensed providers cannot exceed an annual quota of coral sales, and are compelled to source fragments from sustainable areas.

Licensed suppliers also contribute to marine conservation, and you should always purchase your coral fragments (or whole live corals, if your budget permits) from these vendors. Unlicensed coral sellers can do enormous damage to already endangered natural habitats.

If you follow this guide and choose your marine corals carefully, you should be well one your way to enjoying a beautiful and colourful coral display in the comfort of your own home. Remember that some species such as the clown fish live between the fronds of coral. And so will make a lively display. Sit back relax and enjoy the show!

low maintenance fish keeping

three year old Walstad aquarium

A guide to low maintenance fish keeping

three year old Walstad aquarium
three year old Walstad aquarium

Why create a low maintenance aquarium? So you can spend more time admiring your fish, perhaps. People who are just getting started in the aquarium hobby are often taken aback by the level of maintenance that a successful fish tank usually needs. The cultural stereotype of keeping a goldfish in a tiny bowl and enjoying some kind of no-maintenance pet that just floats around and nibbles on flake occasionally is quickly dispelled once the conversation turns to biological filtration systems, cleaning schedules and balancing the nitrogen cycle in your tank.

It should come as no surprise, then, that many fish keeping enthusiasts have come up with some clever ways to lower the maintenance needs of their tanks. Thanks to one of two approaches, aquarists are getting closer than ever to a no maintenance sustainable environment that does not need constant upkeep and vigilance to keep their fish healthy.

Two approaches: natural and high-tech

If the average aquarium maintenance seems like hard work then there are two basic ways to approach your setup in order to enjoy a tank that allows for low maintenance fish keeping:

natural tanks-These tanks are designed around sound ecological principles. While complex these greatly reduce the amount of work that you have to put in on a regular basis. These tanks focus on providing a closed ecosystem that is as close to natural as possible, with plants, algae, bacteria, microscopic planarians, freshwater shrimp, and fish completing the food cycle for you.

High-Tech tanks-This kind of aquarium does away with the need for ecological purity and uses automation and chemicals to maintain comfortable water conditions without your help. This means using sterilisers,  over-filtration, automatic feeders, algae-reducing chemicals, and more. These tools work in concert to keep the tank healthy and clean.

In natural tanks you will want to plan your tank around hardy, low maintenance fish that can tolerate the occasional change in water quality without being too badly shaken by the experience. Natural tanks will have occasional biological issues, and high tech tanks may suffer malfunctioning equipment from time to time, so it is important that you do not commit yourself to extremely delicate species.

Designing a natural tank

newly set up Walstad aquarium
newly set up Walstad aquarium

If you would like to set up an natural aquarium for low maintenance fish keeping, your tank will need to put a premium on long term planning and maintaining adequate life cycles for all of the tank’s inhabitants. Your choices regarding the species that you would like to keep will be very important, since they will all need to work together in order to maintain a healthy tank.

In the case of a natural, self-sustaining aquarium, the simplest aquarium tools can be put to effective use while plants and bacteria take care of your biological filtration needs. A drip-feed system can make water changes unnecessary, and with the right approach to your plants, you may even eliminate gravel cleaning from your to-do list, leaving you only with the responsibility of feeding your fish.

Plants are a necessity for the low maintenance fish keeping set up. By absorbing unwanted fish waste and keeping algae in check, they can help reduce the need for water changes while keeping your fish healthy. Good low-maintenance choices include the following:

  •  Water wisteria,
  •  Java moss,
  •  Lilaeopsis,
  •  African water fern,
  •  Java fern.

Simply keeping plants in your aquarium is not enought to ensure a stable low maintenance environment. Using soil as a substrate can allow biological filtration to occur directly within the tank when done properly. One of the most effective natural tank designs is the soil-based tank developed by Diana Walstad.

The Walstad Method

Diana Walstad has pioneered an unorthodox method of low maintenance fish keeping  that makes heavy use of plants and organic soil conditions to keep aquarium water healthy for fish. The combination of a soil substrate with fast growing plants takes out the nitrate and ammonia present in the water. This natural approach allows for filtration to occur through the land-based plants’ absorption of those chemicals in the roots and their subsequent release in to the atmosphere, above the water line.

These aquariums, when properly set up, can greatly reduce the need for mechanical filtration tools and other gadgets while also eliminating the need for you to personally change the water constantly. The key is to be found in the proper use of soil as a substrate rather than conventional gravel. Having your plants rooted in a thin layer of high quality soil allows anaerobic bacteria to filter the water without overwhelming their roots. This high quality soil boosts plants growth and activity. Thriving plants take out a lot more of the harmful ammonia, nitrites and nitrates than their struggling counterparts in a gravel tank. This also makes gravel cleaning a thing of the past.

With this kind of tank, supplemented by the addition of microscopic planarians or daphnia and other live food, you can enjoy a truly low maintenance fish keeping set up. You can do away with all the specialized equipment and other products. Often, a natural Walstad tank can be enjoyed indefinitely with only a heater, good lighting for the plants, and a light-duty mechanical filter or aerator that keeps the water flow up. The Walstad set up can be enhanced with a modicum of equipment, especially a small biological filter and a drip feed water system. But then it is not a 100% natural system.

You can buy Diana Walstad’s book on Amazon.The book goes into detail on how the aquarium ecosystem works. She details some of the experiments in building a sustainable ecosystem that have lasted several years. This is not a book full of pretty pictures. It is a book that will tell you how to build healthy and low tech aquariums where the plants thrive and the fish are healthy. Click on the book on the left to buy the book.

 

The value of high quality soil in an natural tank

Since it is clear that the use of soil as a substrate is what makes this tank special, it is important to determine what constitutes high quality soil and sets it apart from other options. The main concern here is to use properly natural soil—that is, soil that is made of 100% natural matter so that natural decomposition can take place.

The composition of the soil will greatly affect the water quality of your tank as it decomposes, so you will want to perform frequent water changes while your tank and its fish adapt to the presence of the soil and an ecological balance is created. Regular potting soil is largely excluded due to the presence of additives that will contaminate your water.

Step by step process for setting up a Walstad Method natural tank

• Start with your tank’s essentials: the heater and filter/power heads should be in place before you add anything else to the tank.

• Begin by adding a 3 cm layer of untreated, non-sterile top soil to the tank.

• Cover the soil layer with an additional 3 cm of medium fine gravel, or a fine layer of sand. Be gentle: too much covering will deprive your bacteria of oxygen.

• Your plants will need calcium. If your water is soft, add in bone meal or coral gravel to compensate.

• Add your choice of plants and turn on your lights: 2 watts for every 3.8 litres is a sufficient amount.

• Add clean room temperature water that is free of chlorine or chloramine.

• Use filters or power heads to maintain brisk water flow and keep the water oxygenated, especially until cycling is complete.

• Test for pH, ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite every two days for two months, changing the water as necessary. Some soils will require frequent changes to rid the water of toxins.

• You can add fish immediately after setting up, but be sure to perform 25% water changes as soon as you see ammonia or nitrite levels above zero.

• If algae becomes a problem, reduce your lighting or add floating plants to the tank. Once the tank is established, the plants will effectively out-compete algae for nutrients.

To read more about the techniques and why they work then read

The high-tech tank

If you would like to enjoy low maintenance fish keeping without making any compromises on fish choice or plant presence, the high-tech tank might be for you. This type of tank has a number of benefits, including the fact that you can keep just about any type of fish you desire, and plants tend to grow bright and beautiful quickly in this environment.

Some delicate fish species that usually live in river environments are especially suited to the high-tech tank. The increased flow, filtration, and continuously changing water will make river species feel right at home.

The main drawback to the high-tech tank is that setting it up is a long process. After set up there is usually a tinkering period where you fine tune things. You will have to invest a bit of time, energy, and money into maintaining a proper balance through technological means. This could mean using any or all of the following tools to keep the water conditions ideal for your fish:

• Double filtration—Using multiple filters will effectively double the period before you need to clean the filter media. Doubling the filters maximises biological filtration to keep ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite levels at zero.

• Power heads—These can help keep the flow rate high within the tank, enabling effective filtration and keeping detritus and mulm from settling into the gravel substrate. This gives more of a chance for the filters to pick it up instead.

• Drip-Feed System—This is a very useful DIY project that will continuously drain and replace water from your tank: Pre-filtered water is drip fed to the tank while an overflow system drains all excess water. Carbon filtration is needed to remove chlorine.

• Automatic feeder—A programmable fish feeder can store days’ or even weeks’ worth of food and reliably deposit a controlled amount directly into the water at regular intervals. Robust, high quality units can be left on their own for weeks at a time without worry. You can even go on holiday and not worry about hungry fish.

• UV steriliser—Low maintenance fish keeping practitioners still need to control algae, and if you want to avoid regularly scraping your aquarium glass clean then a UV steriliser will provide the algae control that you need.

• Algae-controlling chemicals—Another low maintenance fish keeping solution for controlling algae is through the use of specialized chemicals. These can be found at many fish and aquarium supply stores. But these are a last resort.

• Light timers—Choose your lights carefully to avoid encouraging algae growth. A light timer can also help by allowing you to set a specific lighting schedule that offers just enough to help your plants grow without triggering an algae bloom.

• Protein skimmer—Often found in saltwater aquariums, these devices greatly reduce the amount of organic fish waste in your tank, reducing the need for water changes.
This approach to low maintenance fish keeping allows you to enjoy your aquarium without needing to worry about your fish’s basic needs such as feeding and water changing. You will still need to perform regular cleaning. But with high-powered filtration of your tank and a good control of algae, you should be able to get by with a quick monthly vacuuming and filter rinsing schedule.

Step by step process for setting up a high-tech tank

• Again, start with the tank’s essentials: Your filters, heaters, and lighting setup should be ready.

• Add a 5 cm even layer of gravel along the bottom of the tank. If you use sand, a very shallow layer will make vacuuming easy.

• Plant any plants you may have now. If you use the easy-to-clean thin gravel substrate, your plants should be potted or attached to rocks and other decorations, which you can also add in now.

• Add clean, conditioned, de-chlorinated water to your tank.

• Insert and activate your filter, lights, and heater.

• Begin cycling either by adding starter fish, fish food, or another ammonia source.

• After cycling begins, you can activate the drip-feed system for constant water changing, though you may need additional water changes until cycling is complete.

• Test the water every two days for two months, waiting for ammonia and nitrate readings of zero.

• Respond to algae growth with reduced light until cycling is complete. The UV steriliser and protein skimmer should help here but if it is not enough, you can add algae controlling chemicals after cycling is complete, or even use low maintenance floating plants to control algae growth.

Once you’ve successfully cycled your tank, you should have a complete low maintenance fish keeping solution on your hands: high water flow, drip feeds, and automatic fish feeders will ensure that your aquarium stays sustainably healthy without constant care. Again the high tech system is enhance by having floating plants and biological filtratrion. So not a pure high tech solution.

Now you can sit back, relax and enjoy your fish. You’ve earned it.

 

Amazon biotope aquarium

amazon biotope with angels rummy nose and rams

Introduction To The Amazon Biotope Aquarium: Recreating The Amazon River

amazon biotope with bolivian rums and rummy nose tetras
amazon biotope aquarium-Bolivian rams and rummy nose tetras

One of the more popular options when it comes to biotope selection is the Amazon biotope aquarium. This is a setup that is designed from the ground up to emulate the conditions of the Amazon River, and, if done right, will give you a unique insight into the ecology of this fascinating part of the world.

While keeping a biotope aquarium of a tropical river with such diversity may seem like an expert-level challenge, the truth is that beginners looking to set up their first Amazon biotope aquarium have little to fear if they do adequate research and make the right choices. If approached correctly, the Amazon River can be a very accessible biotope choice.

Also Malawi biotope here

Getting started on your amazon biotope aquarium

Despite its apparent complexity, the Amazon River environment can be relatively simple to replicate. The key is making practical choices concerning the accuracy of your biotope aquarium: The Amazon River is full of undesirable predators, leeches, and parasites among many other qualities that are detrimental to the aquarium environment, so you will need to make some compromises.

These issues do not stop at aquatic predators, but go on to include dark, muddy water conditions that offer very little visibility and a thick soil bottom that would be impossible to clean. That will not only make your tank plant-less and barren due to the lack of light penetrating the water, but will also make it difficult for to you enjoy seeing your fish at all. In general, you are best advised to avoid trying to create a 100% faithful biotope aquarium.

amazon biotope with angels and roots
amazon biotope with angels and roots

You can, however, make great strides forward in your plans to keep an Amazon biotope aquarium if you combine some effective aquascaping with common sense ecological accuracy. The best way to do this is to scan the Internet for images of Amazon biotopes that you like the look of and then work towards your own expression of that example. Once you have a clear idea in mind, there are three basic methods to approaching your biotope aquarium:

• Find the fish that you like, determine what part of the Amazon River they are from, and then create the biotope to suit them;
• Choose a specific part of the Amazon River to replicate and fill your tank exclusively with fish from that area;
• Begin with the plants, driftwood, and substrate and then build your tank upwards from there.

Either one of these methods can produce a successful Amazon River biotope aquarium if handled correctly. You need only choose which elements you are most comfortable starting with.

Types of amazon biotopes

Since the Amazon River is so large, there are a number of options from which you can choose when it comes to your specific type of tank. Some biotope options will be very different from others, and more ideally suited to certain species that would naturally live there. A short list of options include:

• Whitewater Stream—This environment features water with a slightly muddy appearance. Whitewater tanks look their best with driftwood and dead branches added in, as well as a dark sand substrate.

• Blackwater Stream—Waters that originate deep within the rainforest and contain a high level of dissolved leaf litter are usually referred to as blackwater streams. This water is more acidic due to the dissolved leaf litter that you will need to add, or even use as a substrate.

• Oxbow Lake—This refers to the many crescent-shaped lakes that form when the Amazon River changes course. These lakes tend to be both muddy and filled with accumulated leaf litter and debris. For this reason, mud is an ideal substrate, and Oxbow biotope keepers will want to keep filtration to a minimum.

How to simulate amazon river water

The acidity of your Amazon biotope aquarium will vary depending on which of the three above choices you choose for your tank. For example, a whitewater river environment will require water with a pH level between 6,3 and 7,0, while a blackwater biotope will be more acidic—between 4,5 and 6,5, and the Oxbow Lake water has a pH between 5,4 and 6,8.

The temperatures of the various forms of the Amazon biotope aquarium tend to be less varied, with 24-28° C being the norm. Water hardness should be kept reasonably low, as most of the dissolved materials in Amazon waters are not mineral, but organic: a dH level between 3-8 should be ideal.

When it comes to attaining the signature colouration of Amazon water and keeping the fish as comfortable as they would be in the wild, it is necessary to mix peat with your reverse osmosis-filtered water as well as some leaves to give it substance. Examples of leaves that will help create the tannic water commonly seen in the Amazon are:

indian almond leaves
indian almond leaves

• Indian almond leaves,
• Oak leaves,
• Copper beach leaves.

The idea is to stain the water using these leaves in order to give it the unique brown appearance that every Amazon biotope should have to some degree. The other main element of your biotope water will be peat.

Peat is widely available from aquarium supply stores and fish shops and is necessary for gaining the correct level of dissolved organic matter in the water and reproducing the Amazon River environment correctly. In order to maximize the benefits of peat, it is recommended that you do not use with activated carbon filtration or with waterborne fish medicine.

Peat is a unique element of the Amazon river environment and one part of your biotope that cannot be skipped. Your Amazon biotope aquarium tank should be cycled with peat present, and topped off if the water gets too clear after changing later on.

Populating your amazon biotope aquarium

amazon biotope with angels rummy nose and rams
amazon biotope with angels rummy nose and rams

The Amazon River is home to an enormous number of different species, and some of them are better suited to certain tanks than others. Naturally, you will want to choose species that do not prey on one another and that can live in relative peace and harmony in your tank—this can be tricky when it comes to Amazon fish.

One of the main aspects that you will want to take into consideration is the size of your tank. If you plan on keeping a small tank, then basing your Amazon biotope aquarium on a population of tetras or dwarf cichlids would be a great idea, while larger tanks can afford to support more exotic options.

More on tetras here

More on dwarf cichlids here

If you have a large enough tank, you can populate your tank with Angelfish, Silver Dollars, or even piranhas. Care must be taken with larger community tanks keeping these kinds of fish, as most of them are very aggressive. Often, aquarists will stick to a single species in order to minimize violence between fish—and even then the tank is not guaranteed to be 100% violence-free.

Considering plants for your tank

Plants, too, must be considered in light of the unique water conditions that the Amazon River provides. The main issue here is that the standard water conditions of the Amazon offer very little light penetration. Some flexibility on your plant choices here can help a great deal in the long run. Some plants that would be at home in this biotope would be:

• Echinodorus (Amazon Sword, Dwarf Sword, etc.);
• Hair Grass;
• Cabomba;
• Myriophyllum.

One of the major concerns for plants in an Amazon biotope aquarium is access to light. If your water features a high level of dissolved organic material like it should, your plants might not have adequate access to regular aquarium lights, requiring you to get more powerful ones for them. Cabomba and Myriophyllum plants, in particular, can present problems from this point of view.

Another concern when it comes to aquarium plants in this environment is the number of plants to keep. That level of dissolved organic material in the water will make algae control a challenge—keeping lots of plants will help balance your tank and keep it relatively clear. Again, if you choose to be flexible in your plant choices, you can benefit from a healthier aquarium even if it is not 100% faithful.

Aquascaping and driftwood

mail order driftwood is suitable for amazonian biotope
mail order driftwood is suitable for amazonian biotope

While you may have all the information you need to begin your new Amazon aquarium, creating a natural-looking Amazon river environment requires that you take the time to plan your tank out carefully and find the right décor for it.

Driftwood is an essential element of a faithful Amazon biotope aquarium tank. If you have a larger tank and would like to keep one or two panaque catfish, you may even need to provide driftwood as food for the fish. Trying to source natural driftwood from the actual Amazon River is a futile task for most aquarists in the world—instead, you will have to find suitable wood from other sources.

In general, clean bog hardwood that has been carefully dried out can be used in your aquarium. You will want to introduce the wood before the plants and fish in order to compensate for any water quality issues that may occur.

Putting together your tank with all of these separate elements will take some planning and forethought. If you have taken the time to look at other aquarists’ Amazon biotopes, you might have a good idea of where you want to go with yours. Another option it to find genuine photographs of the Amazon river and to use the materials at hand to replicate the aquascape to the best of your ability. Both of these are equally suitable methods of making an ideal Amazon biotope aquarium.

When you have completed your aquarium it is worthwhile going back to the original images to see how closely you have replicated the original biotope image. Perhaps you have surpassed the original and can relax. Or, perhaps you have forgotten some element that would add the finishing touches. When all is complete you can then sit back and enjoy your small simulation of the amazon river. After all this is what all the effort is all about.

Review: Ultimate Secrets to Saltwater Aquarium Fish and Corals

well designed marine aquarium

Review: Ultimate Secrets to Saltwater Aquarium Fish and Corals

by Andrej Brummer

The ultimate investment in knowledge for every aquarium owner

Successful marine aquarium by Andrej Brummer
Successful marine aquarium by Andrej Brummer

With no previous experience of owning a marine aquarium, I was daunted by the responsibility of keeping marine creatures alive and healthy, when I had no idea what equipment to buy, which fish to choose or how to stock the tank. Ultimate Secrets is a fantastic investment, whatever your level of experience, whether you are nervous about setting up your first aquarium, if you own an aquarium and can’t figure out why things go wrong, or if you have years of experience and want a comprehensive reference book on hand to help you deal with unexpected issues.
This book will help you look after your marine aquarium correctly so you build a healthy and compatible aquatic community of fish and invertebrates into beautiful and entertaining part of the ocean in your own home. It is easy to navigate and has a simple conversational style with extremely informative explanations, so you will find it easy to follow the instructions and understand exactly what you are doing.

 

 

 

selection of clownfish
selection of clownfish

I will be keeping Ultimate Secrets next to my aquarium so I am ready to deal with any eventuality. I showed my copy to a friend who has owned an aquarium for years, and he also found the information valuable and inspiring.
The author, Andrej Brummer has an inspiring passion for marine creatures and their environment. Brummer has shown me that saltwater aquarium owners are creating a safe nurturing ecosystem for marine creatures whose natural habitat is becoming endangered. He has channelled his knowledge and experience as a scientist and expert aquarist into this comprehensive guide, so you will know how to care for all the marine inhabitants including fish, coral, plankton and healthy bacteria.
Brummer divides his extensive material into short informative chapters covering everything from the basics, such as buying equipment, stocking your aquarium and feeding your marine family, to expert advice on filtration lighting, rockscaping, making marine organisms work for you and even how to perform surgery if necessary! Ultimate Secrets has several colourful charts, including one that identifies 16 popular saltwater aquarium species so you can build up a compatible marine community, according to their feeding habits and their activity levels.

Review by Kirsten Ehrlich Davies.

The only shortcoming of the book is there is no information on breeding marine fish. Perhaps because of the complexity of the subject Brummer thought that it needed a whole book dedicated to the topic. We await the sequel.

Brummer is the aquarists version of Steven Seagal. If you click on the correct picture you get the chance to buy a kick ass book. If you click on the wrong picture you will just get your ass kicked.

Steven seagal
Steven seagal
andrej brummer
andrej brummer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hi, I’m Andrej Brummer, the #SaltwaterScientist

I am a biological scientist who has had a life-long interest in the world of marine organisms. Growing up on the sea shores of New Zealand and Australia I learned a healthy respect for ocean conservation and sustainable aquarium keeping, but I do still eat seafood however

In my formative years I will admit, I killed many a fish and a few corals in aquariums before I learned what it took to keep captive marine life thriving through trial, error and scientific training.

I enjoy raving about Tangs, LPS corals and how to be a sustainable saltwater aquarium hobbyist to anyone that will listen.

Now I am proud to say I have advised and educated over 3000 saltwater aquarium hobbyists through my best selling ebook.

Set up your first tropical marine tank

Final complete marine aquarium set up

Your first saltwater tank set up

well designed marine aquarium
well designed marine aquarium

If you have already enjoyed the success of keeping your own tropical freshwater aquarium and would like to move onto a more beautiful but complex aquaria, your next step may be to attempt your first tropical marine tank. A saltwater tank setup tends to require a bit more investment on your part, both financially and in terms of setting up the complete marine aquarium , but the fascinating end result is worth it.

While at first glance, it may seem that keeping a saltwater aquarium should be the same as keeping a freshwater one, but with added salt. However, there are some key differences that you will need to pay attention to in order to get your tank set up properly. One of the first that should be taken into account before you start buying any marine tank equipment is the type of set up you would like to keep.

See also beginners saltwater tank step by step
 
and live rock and live sand
 
and beginners saltwater fish
 

Three types of tropical saltwater tank setups

Fish only marine aquarium
Fish only marine aquarium is quite lively and active

Your first tropical marine tank will fall into one of three broad categories:

• Fish only tank

• Fish only with live rock (FOWLR) tank

• Complete reef tank (as above but with corals and invertebrates)

There are a wide variety of advantages and disadvantages to keeping each type of these saltwater tank setups. For your first tropical marine tank, however, it is important to keep things as simple as possible so that you can get acquainted with the specifics of keeping saltwater fish before moving on to more complicated setups involving corals and invertebrates.

Of the three choices above, the easiest option is the fish only with live rock tank. Intuitively you might think a fish only tank would be simpler to keep. Not so, the truth is that maintaining the correct water quality and filtration without live rock will require more work on your part. Live rock provides vital biological processes that eat up a lot of waste matter from the fish, purifying the water.

marine aquarium with live sand, coral and fish
marine aquarium with live sand, coral and fish

Reef tanks, too require a lot of hard work and monitoring in order to get running smoothly and maintaining, and are often some of the most expensive tanks to keep. They tend to require more equipment and more expensive livestock than tanks that focus solely on fish and live rock.

If you have decided to keep a fish and live rock tank and are ready to begin purchasing equipment and setting up, the list and guide below will help you get everything you need to begin.

What you need for your first tropical marine tank

As mentioned above, the technical requirements of maintaining your marine tank will be a bit more complex than those of a freshwater tank. You will need to collect the following equipment in order to get started:

• Aquarium As always, a larger tank is generally easier to keep and will make sudden changes in water quality less of a danger for your fish. At least 100 litres is recommended for your first tropical marine tank.

live rock is great for biological filtration
live rock is great for biological filtration

• Substrate There are three main options to choose from here: a shallow sand bed, a deep sand bed, or a bare bottom tank. A shallow sand bed is often ideal for first-time saltwater aquarists.

• Live Rock Getting about one 1 kilogram per 7.5 litres of high-quality live rock is important for your tank’s biological filtration.

• Saltwater Mix There are many brands of saltwater mix available both online and at your local aquarium shop.

• Refractometer This measures your water’s salt content, and is often included as part of high quality saltwater testing kits. Hydrometers also work, but tend to be less accurate.

• Protein Skimmer Your marine tank will need a protein skimmer. While it is possible to run a tank without one, you will have to work much more in order to avoid problems with algae and fish waste— you are better off starting with a skimmer that will take care of this for you.

• UV Steriliser This useful device uses high-frequency ultraviolet light to kill free-floating bacteria in your water. This makes it a type of filter, but one that uses light instead of mechanical or biological means to keep your water clean and healthy.

• Multiple Power Heads These devices provide water flow, which is very important in saltwater tanks. Turbulent flow, on the order of 10-20 times the tank volume, will help guarantee a clean, healthy tank by preventing detritus from accumulating.

• Reverse Osmosis Water Filter A water filter of this kind of necessary for preparing tap water. It removes minerals from tap water. So when you add sea salt to this water you will get pure sea water.

• Heater And Thermometer Some saltwater aquarists choose to purchase two smaller heaters instead of one large one, in order to avoid crisis should a heater malfunction.

• Test Kits Be sure to stock up on test kits for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates. These will be very useful during the initial cycling of the tank.

• Lights Thankfully, FOWLR tanks do not have very strict lighting requirements like reef tanks do. A mix of white and blue actinic lights should be sufficient for most fish and live rock setups.

• Quarantine tank You may need to setup a small, bare quarantine tank for your fish, as saltwater organisms may have a hard time getting comfortable in captivity, and can easily get sick.

Choosing fish for your tropical marine tank

clown-fish
clown fish is a good marine beginner’s fish

While keeping your marine tank opens the possibility of keeping a wide variety of exotic fish and invertebrates, you will want to start with simple and inexpensive saltwater fish in the beginning. While the accidental loss of a fish is always a tragedy, that tragedy could be more pronounced if you just lost a rare exotic fish that cost more than £100!

The best fish to begin with are simple, hardy species that can help you get used to caring for the saltwater environment, such as:

• Clownfish (though these do prefer to live in coral)

• Blennies

• Damselfish

• Gobies

Putting your first tropical marine tank together

After you have gathered all of the equipment that you need, you can begin preparing your marine tank for activity. The first thing you will want to do is wash out your aquarium— be sure not to use any soap, as the residue will be harmful for your fish.

Painting your aquarium background black or deep blue makes fish colours stand out beautifully. However you might prefer a stick on background. When the tank is suitably prepared, you can begin adding pre-mixed saltwater to it.

Fill a standard 20 litre bucket with filtered water that is free from chlorine and chloramine, add the salt mixture slowly, referring to the instructions on the packet it came in. Stir well and refer to your refractometer frequently. Once you have a specific gravity reading of 1.021 and 1.024, you can add the water to your aquarium, repeating as necessary until the tank is filled.

Once the tank is full, you can activate your equipment and let the tank begin the cycling process. After a day or two of water circulation, you can add your live rock to the tank.

Curing live rock

Fish swimming amongst live rock
Fish swimming amongst live rock

The greatest expense of your marine tank will probably be live rock. High quality specimens can get costly, but offer excellent biological filtration. Before you can enjoy these benefits, however, you will need to cure the live rock for some time; between a week or two months depending on the condition of the rock.

To cure live rock, drain some of the aquarium water and place the live rock inside the tank, preferably in the centre and with your power heads pointed directly at it. Every few days, you will need to turn off the power to the tank and clean the live rock with an old toothbrush to remove debris and dead organisms. After each cleaning, siphon the debris and refill the tank with pre-mixed saltwater.

This process needs to be repeated every few days until the water has no ammonia readings, no nitrite readings, and a smell somewhat like the ocean. When the tank is cycled, you are ready to add sand.

Adding sand to your tank

The best way to properly add your sand substrate to the tank is by draining some of the saltwater into a 20 litre bucket and emptying your sand into the bucket. Stir the resulting mixture until you see dust and dirt rising. Siphon off this dust and dirt before it settles. Repeat this process until there is not dust and dirt.

Once the sand is cleaned, you can ladle it into your aquarium. If any sand gets caught on your live rock, use a power head to blow it off so that your rock maintains uninterrupted contact with the water. In a few days, if all goes well, you should be ready to starting adding fish to your tank.

Finishing your first tropical marine tank

Final complete marine aquarium set up
Complete saltwater tank setup

After letting your tank circulate for a few days, you should begin to see consistent water quality readings such as:

• A temperature of 24-27°C;
• Specific gravity between 1.020 and 1.024;
• pH between 8.0 and 8.4;
• Ammonia and nitrite readings of 0;
• Nitrite readings of less than 20 ppm;
• Carbonate hardness between 7-10 dKH.

Once this happens, you are ready to begin adding fish to your tank. It is highly recommended to use some of your water to make a small quarantine tank for them to get used to first, reducing the risk of disease.

Add your fish slowly, one at a time so that the tank can adjust to the increased biological load. Your fish will be stressed out at first, but should begin acting normally and feeling comfortable after a few days. At that point, you can test the water and, conditions permitting, add your next fish. In a short time, you will have a fully stocked saltwater aquarium. Now you can sit back and enjoy your small piece of the ocean. But remember you still need to keep monitoring your water quality and topping up your aquarium with newly made seawater regularly.

 

Get sophisticated with aquarium lighting

Advanced lighting freshwater aquarium

Get sophisticated with your aquarium lighting

aquarium in kitchen
beautiful aquarium in kitchen. Good lighting and lots of angel fish

When considering all of the different elements that go into creating a successful aquarium, it is easy to let things like filters, tanks, and water circulation distract you from paying appropriate attention to aquarium lighting. The truth of the matter, however, is that lighting is an incredibly important element of your tank’s success.

The goal of proper aquarium lighting is no different than the goals of all the other parts of a successful tank: reproducing the natural habitat of the creatures you want to keep. This simple rule is what dictates most of the following tips concerning appropriate lighting for your aquarium habitat.

The importance of the day/night cycle

Many beginning hobbyists who are starting their first tanks make a critical mistake concerning their aquarium lighting: leaving it on. It may seem simple, but your fish feel just as uncomfortable being constantly bombarded with bright lights as you would, and this can make them feel stressed and begin acting unnaturally. It can even affect their health, making the day/night cycle an incredibly important element to reproduce for your tank.

Recreating the day/night cycle is not as difficult as it sounds, but it does take some effort. For one thing, you will almost certainly want to invest in an automatic lighting timer so that you do not have to rely on your memory to switch from day to night every 12 hours.

Another important consideration is the fact that most natural environments are not pitch black at night. Low-intensity lights can help your fish feel natural and happy at night by simulating the effects of moonlight, and offer you a convenient night light so that you can observe nocturnal behaviour without disturbing your fish.

How to reproduce daylight In your aquarium

While moonlight is relatively simple to simulate, reproducing daylight in an aquarium lighting setup is a bit more complex. This is because of the unique characteristics of the light that the sun emanates. Conventional lighting does not carry the same spectrum of wavelengths that sunlight does and can, in fact, be detrimental to a tank by promoting algae growth without offering the necessary ultraviolet benefits.

In order to reproduce daylight, it is necessary to understand the value of light wavelengths for the organisms in your tank. Generally, fish and plants respond best to a combination of ultraviolet light and low-wavelength red light. Combining bulbs that produce these two types of light in a balanced way is key to promoting plant photosynthesis as well as healthy, colourful fish.

Ultraviolet lights designed for aquarium use are commonly called actinic lights. They provide wavelengths of light that the human eye cannot see, but which are nonetheless necessary for the promotion of healthy plant and fish life without promoting uncontrolled algae growth.

Using light to control algae

well lit marine aquarium
Metal halide lamp lit aquarium

Encouraging the growth and health of aquarium plants without being overwhelmed by algae is a common concern for aquarists. Since both these organisms photosynthesize light in order to grow, your aquarium lighting can just as easily be used by algae as it can by your plants.

Fortunately, well-tended plants with about 12 hours of daily light will tend to outcompete algae for essential water nutrients. This means that if you have large, healthy plants that are receiving enough light to grow, they should keep algae to a minimum all by themselves.

One of the most common lighting issues that leads to algae growth is direct sunlight. If you are supplementing your aquarium lighting setup with direct sunlight, chances are that algae will grow in order to use the excess light, quickly overwhelming your aquarium in the process.

If you find that your tank is a target for constant algae growth, you probably need to reduce the amount of light that it is receiving every day. Some aquarists do this gradually, reducing the 12-hour day to a 10-hour day, and others prefer to cover the whole tank with a thick sheet for several days to create a total black-out. Either method can help control algae growth by limiting their access to light.

Managing the lighting needs of your fish

While light is incredibly important for live plants, and, if properly used, can help to control your algae population, your fish are also very sensitive to aquarium lighting. Different combinations of light temperatures can help fish exhibit more varied and exciting scale colouration. The overabundance of bright light of a single colour can make fish scales turn dull and unattractive.

This is especially true if you are using sand or some other bright, reflective substrate to line the bottom of your tank. Bright light reflecting off the surface of your substrate can spook your fish and make them act unnaturally, hide more often, and dull their scales’ colouration. In this case, a more subdued lighting setup is recommended.

If you have a dark-coloured substrate such as gravel, then you may be able to get away with bright aquarium lighting on the higher end of the Kelvin-temperature scale without spooking your fish. This will help encourage plant growth, inhibit algae, and keep your fish looking bright and healthy.

Using aquarium lighting to encourage breeding

If you are an aquarist who would like to encourage your fish to breed, you may have to alter the light conditions of your tank in order to get your fish to spawn. Some species of fish may even require you to reproduce the lunar cycle using your night lights in order to begin properly breeding with one another.

In general, fish are reluctant to breed if placed in a brightly lit environment. Most fish are conditioned to begin breeding in the morning when lighting is dim, so timing your lighting correctly can make a great difference in encouraging your fish to begin spawning young fry. In this case, slowly raising the intensity of your lighting setup can help create the impression of a rising morning sun.

Types of lights and their benefits

While there are numerous options on the market for aquarium lighting solutions, the three most common choices are as follows:

• Flourescent Lights;

• Metal Halide Lights;

• LED Lights.

Of these three, fluorescent lights are by far the cheapest, and offer the simplest lighting solutions for a wide variety of aquarium habitats. Metal Halide lights are notably more expensive, but make one of the best possible choices for reef aquariums and other tanks that need high quality full-spectrum light. For most aquarium keepers, however, LED lights are the best choice available.

LED lit marine aquarium
beautifully lit LED tropical marine aquarium

LED lights represent some of the newest advances in lighting technology for aquariums: they are inexpensive, do not produce the same overheating problems that other lights do, and often last for years. As an additional benefit, aquarium-specific LED lights produce much less yellow/green spectrum light, which helps to maximize the efficiency of your aquarium lighting set up.