Based on the questions we have been receiving from hobbyists, novice and advanced, it seems that it maybe useful to go back to the basics to make sure that we don’t forget core husbandry that must be maintained for successful aquarium keeping. If you are considering getting a new aquarium, please take a moment to understand these basics. If you have had an aquarium for some time, this may be a good refresher or provide a checklist to make sure you haven’t forgotten the basics.

In order to understand what’s happening in your aquarium’s general environment, an aquarist must be aware of these five basics and consistently monitor them. Unfortunately, an aquarium is not as self sufficient as a cat and can’t be left alone for more than a day or two without your supervision. Thus, if you are thinking of getting an aquarium, think of it as a new dependent or at least an additional part-time baby who while providing you with so much joy, will also require your weekly if not daily attention and care. This is what makes the hobby so engaging.

  1. Water
    Of course you know that water is essential in your aquarium. However, you will need to constantly maintain proper water level and water quality in your aquarium. Filling and topping it off with water of proper quality can be even a daily chore. While we will not drill down into the the specifics of water quality in this article, we do want to make sure that it is noted that the water in your aquarium will continuously evaporate. Let us say it again, it will evaporate daily, hourly, minute by minute..., you get the idea. This depends on your system. Let’s assume you are starting with a simple 10 gallon aquarium without an auto top-off gadget, you will need to add additional water to your tank at least a couple times per week depending on the climate you are in. In a dry winter this may be daily. This very basic aspect of having an aquarium will require almost daily monitoring on your part (unless you have set up an auto top-off system). While a novice aquarist may at first be annoyed by this chore, it does become a second nature after a few weeks. Then there are the water changes. Oh yes, those must be done at least monthly and in some instances weekly where you will have to remove at least 20% - 30% of the water from your tank and replace it with new proper quality water. To be a successful aquarist, you must take the time and learn more about the proper water quality for your aquarium (see our suggested list of books at the bottom).
  2. Temperature
    Temperature is also one of the most important environmental factors for your aquarium and will have major effects on your fish and corals metabolic rates, oxygenation and general health. Much like with humans and all other beings, large temperature swings or improper temperatures will cause illnesses, stress and even death. Depending on the type of animals you keep in your aquarium, you will have to provide and control the temperature with heaters and possibly chillers. Regardless of how expensive your equipment is, it will eventually stop working. Thus, you will need to frequently monitor the temperature in your tank either manually or via an electronic thermometer.
  3. PH
    If you didn’t excel in chemistry in school, your aquarium will teach you a whole lot about it. PH stands for potential of hydrogen and is a numeric scale used to specify the acidity or basicity of a solution. Your aquarium pets will thrive within certain PH ranges to which they are suited. Much like with temperature, large fluctuations in PH levels will affect your animals’ health, cause stress and even death. Because of that, understanding PH and watching for causes in fluctuations of PH is a requirement for any aquarist in any environment. You will need to purchase a PH meter or test kit and test your aquarium’s water regularly. Good news, there are even dip strip tests available for this. You will also need to learn how to acclimate new fish to your aquarium and understand that PH plays a very important role in the acclimation. Even more than temperature.
  4. NH3
    Our chemistry lesson continues with another element called NH3 or free ammonia. All fish excrete ammonia as a waste product and if it builds up in aquarium water, it will quickly become toxic even at low levels (NH3 should not be confused with non toxic ammonium NH4) . Your aquarium can experience a rise in toxic NH3 through things like filter blockages, large additions of animals in your aquarium, death of a fish, plants or coral, bacteria crashes, chemical additives, or even tainted water during water changes. Even after cycling an aquarium an aquarist must occasionally test the water for NH3 to monitor ammonia levels. Especially when adding new animals. One important tip is to never use conventional glass cleaners. These contain ammonia and, believe it or not, will absorb right through the glass or acrylic.
  5. Light
    Finally, the last basic and critical aspect of your aquarium environment is the light. The right type of light and amount of light will vary based on the type of animals and plants you will keep in your aquarium. All aquatic life needs a photo-period. This is a time of light coupled with a dark period. Your goal is to mimic a natural light cycle similar to what your animals would have experienced in their natural environments. First thing to keep in mind that the variation in the strength and duration of light can influence your water temperature as well as algal growth. The second thing to remember is that over time, all lights can reduce its output and spectrum. All lights including LED’s will need to be replaced in time. Don’t be surprised if the light you purchased several years ago does not provide the results it did when you bought it.

Above are five very important basics to consider prior to starting your aquarium hobby or to refresh your memory if you are a wizened care taker. Take a moment to check if you are maintaining a consistent and close look on these five aspects and take the time to learn more if need be. Below is a list of reputable and informative books that you can read to get in depth information about these five basics. Enjoy!

List of some books to own for successful aquarium keeping:

  1. “The Marine Aquarium Handbook: Beginner to Breeder” by Martin Moe
  2. “The Reef Aquarium: Science, Art and Technology” by Julian Sprung
  3. “The Simple Guide to Freshwater Aquariums” by David E. Boruchowitz

We at Aqua-Tech Co. are dedicated to bringing quality, science based information to aquarists. Don’t forget to like our Facebook page to stay connected and receive our notes about aquarium keeping and the aquatic realm.