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How to Start a Fish Tank – Keep Your Fish Safe

How to Start a Fish Tank – Keep Your Fish Safe

Keeping tropical fish can be a fun and rewarding hobby. But starting a fish tank is not as simple as filling an aquarium with water, decorating and adding fish. If you want to give your fish a healthy living environment for the start, you need to learn how to prepare the tank. The key is in understanding the nitrogen cycle. Sound difficult? It doesn’t need to be.

What is the Nitrogen Cycle?

Simply put, the nitrogen cycle is the process of an aquarium establishing beneficial bacteria colonies in the water. These colonies help to eliminate waste produced by your fish. Understanding what the nitrogen cycle is, how it works and why it is important is crucial to setting up and maintaining a healthy fish tank.

Why do I Need to Know About the Nitrogen Cycle?

In nature, fish live in biological systems that are ever changing and can filter waste efficiently. Your aquarium is not nature. In fact, it is a closed system in which filtration is provided by the filter system on your aquarium.

But no matter how good your filtration system is, it’s not enough. You, and your fish, need the bacteria created through the nitrogen cycle. These bacterial colonies do the work of converting the waste to safer by-products which helps keep your aquarium water safe for your fish.

Many new fish owners go through the difficult process of losing some or all of their first fish. This doesn’t need to happen. Fish owners that take the time to understand the nitrogen cycle can greatly decrease the chance of exposing their fish to toxic aquarium water.

What do You Need to Know to Ensure Healthy Fish?

First, let’s understand the three stages of the nitrogen cycle.

First Stage:

· Fish are introduced to the aquarium

· Uneaten food, urine and feces are broken down into ionized or unionized ammonia

· Ionized ammonia is not toxic to fish (pH below 7)

· Unionized ammonia is toxic to fish (pH above 7)

· Ammonia typically begins rising after the second day following introduction of fish

· If the unionized ammonia level reaches 2ppm, your fish tank has reached the danger level

Second Stage:

· Bacteria oxidizes the ammonia, eliminating it

· By-product of ammonia oxidation is nitrite

· Nitrite is toxic to tropical fish

· Nitrite begins to accumulate by the first week after fish are introduced to the aquarium

· A nitrite level of 1mg/liter can be deadly to some types of fish

Third Stage:

· Bacteria converts nitrites, which are toxic to fish, to nitrates, which are not toxic to fish at low to moderate levels

· With routine water changes, nitrate levels can be kept at acceptable levels

· Fish owners should test for nitrate levels on a monthly basis

How do You Manage the Nitrogen Cycle?

Now that you know how the nitrogen cycle works, how do you manage it? Testing. You need to test your aquarium water early and often. You want to make sure you are testing for two levels: ammonia and nitrite.

Testing for Ammonia

· Start testing for ammonia on day three after adding fish

· Test everyday thereafter until the ammonia level reaches zero

· If ammonia reaches danger levels (look for a chart at your local pet store or online), take action immediately

· High ammonia levels will vary with tank water temperature

· If fish show signs of distress, take immediate action

· Products like Ammo Lock can be used to treat high levels of ammonia

Testing for Nitrites

· Start testing for nitrite one week after adding fish

· Test every second or third day thereafter until the nitrite level reaches zero

· If fish show signs of distress, take immediate action

· If nitrite levels are high, perform and immediate 25 – 50% tank water change

What You DON’T Want to Do

· Don’t add more fish

· Don’t change your filter – filters incubate bacteria

· Don’t overfeed your fish

· Don’t alter the pH of the tank unless you test the tank and there is a serious pH problem

As mentioned above, although tank filtration systems alone won’t manage the nitrogen cycle, not all filters are created equal. It’s important that you research your fish tank before you purchase, keeping an eye to the available or included tank filtration systems. Good manufacturers provide multi-stage filtration systems that include biological, chemical and mechanical aquarium filtration. Purchasing a quality tank setup from brands like BiOrb, Marineland and Oceanic helps assure your filtration system will work to make your tank a healthy environment for your fish. Just remember to monitor the nitrogen cycle.