Great Expectations:

I was cleaning my 55 gallon freshwater fish aquarium yesterday and placed a new Aqueon 55 power filter on the tank to collect some of the algae debris floating all around the tank. I noticed about 1/2 an hour later that the filter cartridges were already clogging! (OK, there was a LOT of algae before I cleaned.) This reminded me of a “problem” I sometimes ran into back in my retail store days. A customer would decide to upgrade their power filter to a larger, more powerful filter. About a week later they would come in and complain that the new aquarium filter was no good because it clogged in half the time as their old filter. After trying to trouble shoot the new filter it finally occurred to me that the filter was probably fine, it was just that it was more efficient at removing the fish wastes. This would lead to a discussion on why all the debris had been settling in the gravel and needed to be vacuumed with a water changer. I would point out that the new filter did not create more wastes, it just trapped the wastes quicker. After a few minutes of conversation the customer would skeptically accept my argument and I would try to reinforce the fact that the aquarium would be healthier with more of the wastes removed. This would also make long-term aquarium cleaning less work. To paraphrase, “with great power comes great expectations”, but sometimes the result is not what you expected.

Wishful Expectations:

As long as there have been aquariums, people have been looking for that “magic bullet” treatment to

  • Control nitrates and eliminate water changes
  • Control and eliminate algae
  • Treat and prevent all types of disease

All live fish, other aquarium critters and bacteria in the aquarium excrete wastes, primarily ammonia. Fortunately there are bacteria to digest the ammonia(very toxic) to nitrite(somewhat toxic) and then others to convert nitrite to nitrate(not toxic). In freshwater aquariums we can use Ammo Chips to absorb the ammonia or water conditioners like AmQuel to chemically neutralize the ammonia. It is the slow build up of nitrates (and other wastes)  that contribute to algae problems and require partial water changes. New products are now available that are selected strains of bacteria to help control all of the types of wastes and eliminate the need for water changes or extend times between water changes.  Tetra Easy Balance and the new Aquabella Water Treatment are two of these types of products of better living through technology. If I had a dollar for every time a customer told me that they never did water changes or that their aquarium was so large they did not need to do a water change I would be retired. Every hobbyist knows someone who never changes water, but closer observation usually shows that there are few fish, no new fish have been added and the algae is out of control. The slow build up of nitrates and other wastes allows the fish to slowly adapt to worsening conditions. If they try to introduce a new fish, it almost always goes into shock and dies. As to the aquarium so large argument, I would reply with a somewhat crude analogy, “I do not care how large the toilet is, eventually you will want to flush it!”. Ten to fifteen minutes to do  water changes  twice a month is not too much to ask for to help maintain proper water chemistry for your aquarium fish.

Algae is the bane of all aquarists. Something about having water, light and nutrients just makes the stuff grow everywhere! We need to remember that this is totally natural and does not bother the fish, it is just unsightly to us. Customers would always ask for one treatment to eliminate that algae, and while some products like Algaefix can do a good job of controlling algae, you cannot totally eliminate the nuisance algae. We can control nitrates with water changes and phosphates with resins designed to remove phosphate, Phos-Zorb or Phosban, in an attempt to starve out the algae. (Phosphates are more of a problem in the saltwater aquarium.) In freshwater aquariums we can use freshwater plants to compete with the algae for the nutrients and with the proper balance of fast growing bunch style plants and controlling the amount of fish food we offer we can get the algae under control. One trick I usually offer is to just let the algae grow as it wants on the back panel of the aquarium so it acts as an algae farm to compete for the nutrients.  Hair or string algae can usually be controlled with the use of Algone packets in the filter system.

Disease control has become a lot more effective, but we still do not have one “cure-all”. Products like MelaFix or PimaFix are all natural treatments that are effective for most external bacterial and fungal infections. They do not disrupt the biological filter and can be used as both a preventative and as a treatment. CopperSafe is generally safe to use as a preventative for parasite infestations, though there are better options for treatment (Formalin MS, Rid Ich+, Maracide). Of coarse, if we would all do what the books tell us to do and set up a Quarantine Aquarium to treat all new fish before they were placed in the display aquarium we could eliminate about 90% of all problems!

True Expectations:

The aquarium hobby can be a bit challenging but also very rewarding. Some of the milestones you will achieve without too much effort include:

  • Learning scientific names of fish, plants, bacteria and parasites
  • Learn the geography of most bodies of water
  • Developing improvisation skills to fix filters and water pump systems
  • Rudimentary plumbing skills
  • Comparing nutritional values of all tropical fish food
  • Aquascaping for the demanding Cichlid
  • Understand just exactly what  they mean by “survival of the fittest”!
  • Learn the different personalities of your fish and how they react to you
  • Be on a first name basis with your favorite aquarium store clerk
  • Make many new friends both in your area and via the Internet fish sites
  • Put a smile on your face when you think back to your first aquarium when things were “simple”

About The Author Don Roberts

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