5 Important Things for Beginner Aquarists to Know

Today I wanted to write about what I wish I had known when I wanted to become an aquarium hobbyist. This applies to both saltwater and freshwater aquariums.

1. Take your entrance into the hobby as slowly as possible. Don’t be scared to dive in, but do as much research as you possibly can by using books, the internet, and other hobbyists with good reputations. Take extra care to only take advice to heart from people other people trust, that also aligns with literature or websites that others agree with. You must also decide what direction you want to take the tank, but make sure it is before you begin purchasing equipment. Do you want a reef tank? A predator tank? A freshwater cichlid tank? There are tons of options to bring joy to your home. Once you have done your research, you can set up an aquarium!

2. Learn about the nitrifying bacteria cycle. People who completely take all the water out of fish tanks and clean filters with tap water are doing the exact opposite of what they are supposed to. This applies to not only saltwater, but also freshwater as well. As waste is added to an aquarium, this is called ammonia. It can be added through the use of fish food, but it is also excreted through fish themselves. As ammonia builds up, without good bacteria to convert this ammonia to nitrites, it quickly becomes toxic and is the number one killer of fish. Once the aquarium’s beneficial bacteria forms naturally, it then turns the nitrites into nitrates. While nitrites are less toxic, they remove oxygen from the water. This is why they also need to be converted naturally to nitrates. Nitrates are the least harmful and can only be bad for fish in very large quantities. By only taking out 25% of the aquarium water and replacing it with clean water that has been dechlorinated, you do not shock the fish or beneficial bacteria. This bacteria can take 4-6 weeks to form if it is not seeded from another tank and this ‘nitrifying cycle’ can be very hard on your fish. Delicate fish will not survive. The bacteria lives all over your aquarium. This can be in the gravel, sand, filter, and water column.

3. Test your water. Test strips are cheap and easy to use, to look for elevated levels in ammonia, nitrite, or nitrate. The remedy or these situations is simply feeding less, removing some fish if the tank is over a couple months old and levels are still high, or doing partial water changes. I recommend to all my customers that they change 25-35% of their water every 2 weeks. This will dilute nitrates down in the water by removing them. It is not a necessity, but it is a major preventative in keeping fish healthy. If bad water does not outright kill a fish, it weakens their immune systems and this is where sickness can kill the fish.

4. Control your feedings. Most people I have come in contact with in the aquarium maintenance industry follow the instructions on fish food containers and majorly overfeed their fish leading to deadly water and tank crashes. Feed a small pinch of food daily except for one day of the week with no food. Let the fish eat all this food in 30 seconds without it going into the filter, and if the fish appears skinny slowly ramp up the food amounts. This way the beneficial bacteria can multiply to compensate.

5. Research everything before you buy it. I cannot count the number of tank crashes and large humpbacked fish because the buyer did not do any research. Find out if your tank can create an ethical and healthy environment for your fish or coral, such as having enough room for them to grow to their specified healthy size. You and your livestock will be much happier and less stressed with ample space and filtration.

Thank you for taking the time to ready my article. I have been in the aquarium industry for over 6 years and it is currently my primary profession and hobby. I believe with these five things, you are on the path to succeed!