There you are, relaxing to the gentle sound of rain. Suddenly awake from the crack of thunder and your house in complete darkness from a power outage. You know the routine: light the candles, dig out the flashlight, and look outside to see if the neighbor’s lights are still on. Something then occurs to you, filling you with a sense of horror: the aquarium has no power! If you haven’t prepared in advance, panic ensues.

So, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. However, if you have an aquarium filled with a thousand dollars worth of living things, it’s probably not too far from accurate.  To save you the heartache, we put together our tips to help you protect your beloved aquarium. Planning and preparation can help keep fish alive during a power outage, even for several days!

Preparing in advance:

  • Preparing for a power outage in advance is the best way to go. It will give your fish the best chance of survival and reduce panic when a surge breaks or a storm rolls through. Have a plan of action for your aquarium much like you would for your family or household.
  • Get battery-powered air pumps for your tank in advance. Make sure you have the right amount! Keep them in a convenient location, with a few sets of fresh batteries. This is a great way to go if your tank is lightly populated. If the tank is 38 gallons or less, generally one air pump will do the job. For larger tanks, two or three running at once would be recommended. Recently, having a battery back up on aquarium equipment has become popular as well.  Most people typically use the ones for computers.If you choose to do that, be sure not to plug the lights in to the battery backed up outlets. Plug in only the necessities of filter and heater.
  • For large tanks using massive filtration system, keep a smaller hang on the back or canister filter as a spare. You’ll run it from the battery, rather than the primary filter. The battery backup method works very well but should only be for short-term power loss. The battery life depends on the power consumption of the filter and the size of the battery backup used. In addition, there are gas powered generators that can be hooked up outside.

    You haven’t prepared in advance (the guide for the rest of us):

  • The first thing to remember: don’t panic. Most fish and invertebrates are pretty durable and can handle temperature changes and lack of filtration for short periods of time. Unplug your light fixtures, filter and heater. Covering the tank will help keep the fish calm. Fish can become stressed by a lot of movement and energy in the room. Fish that are stressed pollute their water  so do your best to to stay calm while handling the tank.
  • Do not feed your fish during the first two days of a power outage. If the outage is only short-term, a day or two without food will not hurt them. Adding food add sto the pollution in the tank, which you want to keep at a minimum. If the power outage extends a third day, skip feeding again or feed less than the usual amount.
  • If the outage lasts longer than a few hours, it’s important to oxygenate the water. If you don’t have a battery operated air pump available, then you’ll need to do it manually. Use a bucket to scoop water out of the aquarium and then pour it back into the tank from a height of about 10 inches or so. Stir the water rapidly back and forth in order to create turbulence. The idea is to break the surface as much as possible and encourage water movement for oxygen exchange.
  • As a last resort, you can use 3% Hydrogen Peroxide to quickly raise the level of dissolved oxygen in the water. The dose is approximately 1cc of peroxide per 10 gallons of water once per hour. Using peroxide in your tank is will damage the bacteria in your biological filter, so it should only be used in an extreme emergency!

In Conclusion…

Once power is back, it’s important that you do a series of small water changes  over the course of a few days. Some sources recommend doing one large water change immediately after power is restored. However, small water changes will be less stressful on your fish. They have already been through quite a bit!  Typically, changing 10% of the water at a time should be enough. This will clear pollutants that accumulated in the tank during the power outage. Each tank will vary so use a reliable water test kit to see where you stand.

Lastly, monitor your fish VERY closely for a few days after the power is restored to your aquarium. Be prepared to medicate your fish for ich, because an outbreak is likely due to the stress your fish went through.There are far more extensive discussions of power outage procedures available, but those listed above will be good for quick and simple reference to help your fish survive.

About The Author John Flynn

John is the Live Deliveries Manager at Petsolutions, and has 20 years of experience working in the pet care industry specializing in live fish, plants, corals, and reptiles. Outside of PetSolutions, John enjoys photography as well as outdoor activities such as camping and hiking.

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