Fish keeping is easy: you get a glass tank, fill it with rocks and sunken ships and add fish. Right? Not so, I'm afraid. I have spoken with many people over the years who assume this is all one has to do to start keeping fish. This method of fill and dump will keep your fish alive for about a week, maybe. There are, of course, exceptionally hardy fish like goldfish that will defy this logic and remain alive until you are tempted to flush them down the toilet.
One of my biggest goals was to acquire a very large aquarium. I was able to acheive this one bountiful birthday. I got a 75 gallon tank complete with hood, stand and filter. So, what should your first steps be, regardless of size?
One: make sure you have a permenant place for your aquarium to be that is not in direct sunlight. Unless you like to fiddle constantly with the heater and scrape algae off the sides every other day , this is not a good idea.
Two: Pre-plan what kind of fish you would like to keep. I had wanted a planted community tank of freshwater fish. A tank of this size is very versatile and could accomodate anything from freshwater to saltwater. Do you want aggressive fish like barbs, gouramis or cichlids? They all require alot of space and hiding places in their environment. Or, like I did, do you want a relatively peaceful community tank?
Three: What kind of substrate (stuff on the bottom) do you want. I chose gravel since it's the easiest to clean and comes in a variety of colors. If you want a more natural tank choose black or "rock" bottom shades of brown, biege and tan. If you want a "fantasy" like tank there are hot pink, electric blue and purple to pick from.
Four: Water chemistry. This is the most important step in setting up an aquarium. Fill the tank (and don't forget to have fun doing it!) The excitement of seeing your dream coming closer is all part of fishkeeping. Now, comes the harder part, you MUST wait at least a few weeks for the water to settle. Plug in all filters, make sure they don't leak and plug in the heater. For most tropical fish the ideal temperature is between 78 and 82 degrees F. Monitor the thermometer and adjust accordingly. This step is called "cycling the tank" for other good articles on cycling you can go here. This site gives a more detailed account of why and how you should let the water "settle". The short version here: it gives beneficial bacteria time to build up so when you introduce fish their bio-waste load doesn't shock them and ultimately kill them. You can add a few flakes of fish food to build up the bacteria or use substrate from an already existing tank. Filling the tank!
Five: Once the tank has been cycled and you have decided what plants and fish to put in, it's time for the fun part! Introduce just a few fish at a time to make sure the bio load doesn't get overhelming. Fish produce ammonia as waste and this is toxic. There are many products at pet stores like "Ammo lock" that say they will safely reduce the ammonia. While this is a good idea and I have used it before, you can't just skip over nature's biological systems. Cycle your tank, do it slowly and you'll do it right. Plus, you'll save a LOT of money that you would be spending on dead fish, medications for the fish etc, that probably wouldn't have been necessary if you do introduce things slowly. Once everything is settled in, this will not be an issue because your filter and regular water changes will deplete the ammonia.
A successfully planted, freshwater community aqaurium!
Remember an aquarium might be simply aesthetic for you but for the live animals you put in it, this is their home and it is a working, breathing biological system. Fishkeeping is an education in itself.
For more information: contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Age of Aquariums is a website I have used often in my fishkeeping career. They have great advice and forums to search any questions you might have.