The Time Is Now:
Aquarium emergencies historically seem to happen at the worst possible times, late at night or when you are getting ready to leave the house. If we want our fish to survive the crisis, we need to be ready at a moments notice to correct the problem or come up with at least a temporary fix. The biggest crisis would involve the aquarium springing a leak or actually breaking. An emergency holding “tank” could consist of 5 gallon buckets, 15-20 gallon plastic storage bins to a 30-40 gallon Rubbermaid trashcan. Obviously you would want to use buckets and trash cans that are only used for aquarium purposes and for most of us are part of our maintenance equipment for the aquarium. Try to save as much water from the aquarium as possible and net/lift the fish into the container(s). Once all the fish are rescued, try to move any filters to the holding tanks and get them running to provide filtration for the fish. If you cannot keep the filters running, you will need to clean them before putting them back into use once the aquarium tank is replaced. Most of today’s submersible heaters will automatically shut off when taken out of the water and should still be good, simply place them in the holding tank and plug back in to maintain the proper temperature for the live fish. You will want one of the ammonia neutralizing products like AmQuel to add to the water to protect the aquarium fish from any sudden ammonia spike, and to neutralize the chlorine/chloramines from any water you needed to add. For freshwater fish this is rather straight forward, for saltwater fish it will help to have some premixed water on hand. If you need to mix up saltwater quickly, it is best to err on the low side of the salinity range, maybe two cups of salt for 5 gallons of water. Now that the fish are safe and swimming in their temporary home you will want to sit back and relax, I am afraid to say that now the hard part begins!
Urban Renewal, Aquarium Style:
Now you are left with a soon to be stinky aquarium full of wet gravel and ornaments, and the smell will only get worse the longer the tank sits. There is nothing quite like the odor of wet aquarium gravel. If you can replace the aquarium quickly, you can just scoop out the wet gravel into a bucket and then pour it back into the new aquarium once it is in place. Most decorations and even freshwater plants might need just a quick rinse before placing them into the new tank. If it is going to be several days before you can replace the aquarium it will be best to tumble clean the gravel in some water for storage and use a good bacterial starter product when setting up the new tank. If you were able to keep the aquarium filters running, do not clean them for the first 2 weeks or so once they are placed on the new aquarium, this will help reestablish the biological filter. If your saltwater aquarium has a sump style system, you can keep the filter active by just recirulating the water within the sump from the outlet to the inlet in a continuous loop. In some cases you can even keep the marine fish in the sump during the emergency. One possible silver lining in this scenario is the ability to “correct” previous choices and replace the background, gravel, ornaments, etc as you like. It might also be a good time to buy a larger aquarium, though this would entail buying new aquarium supplies to match the new aquarium. If you had wished to start over with new fish you could use this crisis to trade-in your fish or give them away to friends. Once the new tank is running, start slowing adding the new fish you want.
Yes, It Can Happen to You:
While the odds of the above scenario are rather slim, it can happen. My business partner and I were waiting on customers one Saturday when suddenly there was a loud crack/whoosh and the entire bottom of one of the 40 gallon display tanks gave way. Fortunately for us it was one of the bottom display tanks and had only a few adult Oscars in it, so the fish were easy to pick up and place in other aquariums. We had a customer who kept exotic fish and had a very large Lungfish in a 40 gallon tank and for some reason the Lungfish pushed a decorative rock into one of the sides hard enough to crack it! (Fortunately this is one fish that can do fine without water for very long periods of time. This might be one of the rare cases where the fish was trying to get away! Maybe the moral of this story is to be sure all decor is stable and will not fall into the glass.) That being said, I personally was once positioning a new piece of driftwood in a 55 gallon tank and as I spun it around to get the “look” I wanted, the slate bottom smashed into the end of the tank and cracked the tank. Another time I was removing a large rock from one of my breeder tanks and after I lifted it out of the tank, the algae slime made it slip out of my hand and it fell to the floor and then bounced up into the side of the tank on the lowest level. 55 gallons of water on the floor in less than 10 seconds, small Cichlids flapping around all over the place! I did not know if I should laugh or cry. At least the rock missed my foot.