Perhaps the title for this article should be “Expect the Unexpected,” but that struck me as a little too prescient for the average aquarium hobbyist. Nevertheless, if you plan to keep your prized aquarium running through thick and thin, there are some steps you can take to prepare for unexpected events:
- Nature Strikes: Perhaps the current weather has driven this point home, but you can pretty much be assured that there will be times when the power goes out. While short term outages may not require any preparations, for longer periods, you will want to have a battery operated air pump to maintain some water circulation and proper oxygenation of the water. If the tank starts to cool too fast, you can wrap old blankets around the tank, and if you have a gas powered water heater, you can fill a pop 2 liter bottle with hot water and float it in the aquarium. If the power stays off for more than a few hours, you will want to clean out all the filter media and replace it to avoid pumping dirty, stale water into the tank when the power comes on. You can place the biomedia in the aquarium to keep most of the biological filter active.
- Mere Mortals Interfere: Part of the attraction of having an aquarium is showing it off to friends and family. While most guests will be well behaved, others may insist on banging on the tank to get the fish’s attention, or maybe think the fish look thirsty and offer them a beer! (I would always arrange a feeding session during a party to showcase the fish and to convince the guest that the fish do not need hor d’oevres when they “beg” for food.) Sometimes, just the number of people in the room and the increase in the CO2 levels will stress the fish. You should plan on checking the filter and doing a partial water change after the party to help prevent undue stress, and possibly add a general treatment, like MelaFix.
- Teenage Angst: Eventually the fish in the aquarium will mature and start to behave like teenagers, bickering with their tankmates, trying to get the attention of the females, and just engaging in “improper” behavior. If some fish start to pair up, they may start to show aggression toward the other fish. If this happens you either need to provide a separate “spawning” aquarium for the pair or maybe add more décor in the display aquarium to distract the parents and provide more cover for the tankmates. This type of action can lead to the following:
- Unexpected Arrivals: If your fish are frisky enough, there will be new additions to the aquarium, and you may want to have a “baby saver” container or another smaller tank to raise the babies. Many a fish room has started with the arrival of a few new born fish! If you cannot offer the new arrivals hiding places or a separate aquarium, be ready to explain the concept of “survival of the fittest” to those with a squeamish stomach.
- Parts Wear Out or Brake Down: While the quality of most aquarium products is constantly improving, some piece of vital equipment is going to break down and need to be replaced, usually at the most inconvenient time possible. You will always want to have extra water pumps to keep the water circulating or an air pump and airstone combo to help oxygenate the water. A spare heater is a must to prevent temperature swings that can stress out the fish. Replacement lights are not as critical unless you are keeping a mini-reef or planted aquarium, where long term darkness would be detrimental to the survival of your inhabitants. Spare bulbs are not too costly to have available, and with today’s web market, a new light could also be had in just a few days.
- You ignore the rules and pay the price: Admit it, most of us do not use a quarantine system and always run the risk of introducing a new pathogen to the aquarium that can wrack havoc with our fish. Some of these problems can be controlled with a general bacterial treatment, like Melafix, and for most freshwater applications, even a parasite infestation can be treated fairly easily with Formalin-MS or Rid Ich+. If it is a marine reef tank, the treatment is more difficult for parasites. There are reef safe treatment for white spot/Ich like No Ich Marine or Stop Parasite. The key to success is having these treatments on hand for immediate treatment at the first sign of trouble!
- Emergency absence: If you are away for 3 to 4 days, the aquarium should be able to survive your absence. If you will be gone longer than that, it would be good to have trained someone to perform the general maintenance/feeding for the aquarium. The food (flake/pellet or frozen) can be pre-measured using ice cube trays, and it will usually be best to just ask for one feeding a day. With a marine aquarium, it will help to have 20-30 gallons of premixed salt water ready for quick use. This is when it is best to have a good relationship with a local store, so in a dire emergency, they would be willing to help out at your home.
Perhaps you have noticed I did not mention anything about algae, but this is because I can GUARANTEE you will have bouts of trouble controlling it. This is not unexpected; it is a certainty! It will also be a certainty that you will get a desire to set up a bigger aquarium!!