New Aquarium Setup: Complete Step-By-Step Guide


A Guide on How to Set Up Your New Aquarium From Head to Tail

Consider living in a little room for the rest of your life. You eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. You live in lovely surroundings. The temperature is ideal. Your friends and relatives have surrounded you. You’d be fantastic if your room was taken care of and maintained tidy, with a healthy atmosphere. What if you couldn’t get rid of your waste? You’d be living in your own crap! How long do you think you’d live?

Fish are more dependent on their surroundings than humans are. At least half of a fish’s exposed surface is permeable to tiny particles. Because fish are reliant on their local surroundings, they are impacted by practically every change in the surrounding water, which prompts us to classify them as an open water system. Perhaps we can now understand why changes in the surrounding water have such a tremendous impact on fish.

To properly comprehend fish, we must first learn more about water. As we all know, oxygen is essential to life. Based on normal summer temperatures, air contains 21% oxygen, while water has just 8% or 9% oxygen. Oxygen dissolves slowly in water, and in certain cases, dangerously low dissolved oxygen levels may develop. Water is 800 times denser (heavier) than air, so can you understand why oxygen-breathing aquatic life finds it so difficult to survive?

Fish are practically the same as other creatures, with the exception of being ectothermic and living in the water. The difference is that fish have 4% less oxygen available to them and must utilize it wisely. They must then contend with the effects of osmosis and diffusion. This takes a lot of their precious energy. Energy requires the coexistence of oxygen and food. The availability of both impacts how much energy an animal can have. Fish cannot keep a constant body temperature without using a lot of energy. Fish, as we all know, breathe via their gills. Their gills enable them to absorb up to 80% of the oxygen available. Is it obvious that anything flowing through the gills would have a significant impact on their health?

Biological Filtration Process

Because there are dangerous compounds that might damage the residents, the nitrogen cycle (or cycling) is required in all captive aquariums. Ammonia (NH3) is transformed into nitrites (NO2-) and then into nitrates throughout the nitrogen cycle (NO3-). This is a critical phase in establishing a new aquarium since the inhabitants are often considerably smaller than in nature and will need regular care (gravel cleaning, water changes, etc.). Water changes are required all the time since we cannot give the fish with steady water flow.

Nitrifier Bacteria
Nitrifier Bacteria are important to provide a mimicked ecosystem.
Nitrosomonas: remove ammonia
Nitrobacter: reduce nitrites

Cycling a New Aquarium
Good Biological Filtration: 6-8 week period BEFORE any fish are added

Step 1

Ammonia is produced by fish and other animals as part of their natural metabolism. Fish, unlike humans, do not convert it to a less dangerous chemical (urine). Special cells in their gills discharge metabolic ammonia straight into the surrounding water. It would be instantly diluted to safe levels in natural ecosystems (rivers, lakes, seas, etc.). Ammonia poisoning is the major cause of fish mortality, and it is most likely to occur in freshly set up tanks without biological filtration, or in an old tank that has grown alkaline or over-crowded. Ammonia kills a fish’s mucous membranes.

How can ammonia build up? Fish waste (feces and straight through the gills), uneaten food, and plant derivatives all create ammonia. If not cared for, it will become harmful to ALL fish species. During a fresh tank setup, ammonia is ALWAYS present. This is why nitrosomonas are so vital. The nitrosomonas will provide a healthy atmosphere for your fish. “Fish will begin to exhibit indications of stress when extremely little quantities of ammonia are present in your aquarium water, less than one part per million,” writes Brian Warner for the Andre’s Aquarium Club (ppm). At larger concentrations, the ammonia begins to inflame the fish’s gills, causing breathing issues and making them much more vulnerable to various illnesses that they might typically resist.” Toxic levels in fish might cause lethargy, lack of appetite, laying on the bottom of the tank with clamped fins, or gasping at the surface.

What happens if my tank has a low ammonia concentration (0.1 mg/L NH3)? At low concentrations, it is an irritant, particularly to the gills. Prolonged sub-lethal exposure may result in skin and gill hyperplasia, which inhibits water passage through the gill filaments. This may cause breathing issues and stress, as well as foster the growth of germs and parasites.

What happens if the ammonia levels in the tank are too high (>0.1 mg/L NH3)? Even brief exposures may cause skin, eye, and gill damage. Ammonia poisoning inhibits normal ammonia evacuation from the gills, which may cause internal organ damage.

If you already have an aquarium and are wondering why your fish perished, it might be because you did not allow the 6-8 week BIOLOGICAL FILTRATION period, during which the natural nitrosomonas bacteria proliferate and break down the ammonia to the less hazardous nitrites. Nitrosomonas bacteria may be found in nature and in the air, therefore they will make their way into your aquarium. Once there, they need certain conditions for growth, including oxygen-rich water and ammonia as food. They need a surface to cling to in order to develop sufficient numbers to manage the ammonia levels created in an aquarium. Nitrosomonas do not instantly attach to your aquarium and will make it a milky white hue while settling in due to the enormous volume of bacteria free floating in the water consuming the surplus ammonia. If you have plants in your freshly set up aquarium, you may have a second issue. The plants can absorb ammonia and utilize it as food straight from the water. This is a horrible habitat for your fish, but it is ideal for algae. The water will become a light green tint. Partially changing the water and being patient are your buddies. You must wait until the nitrosomonas have established themselves enough to keep the ammonia levels low. Once this occurs, you will begin to see a difference… you will finally have clean water with no algae. To finally have a healthy atmosphere, you must go through TWO more phases.

Step 2

You must now replenish the nitrites and nitrobacter bacteria in your aquarium. The nitrobacter will not be active in the new aquarium until the nitrosomonas bacteria population has grown large enough to eliminate all ammonia. Until this happens, the nitrite in the aquarium will just increase in concentration while the ammonia remains.

Nitrites can only be produced by the breakdown of ammonia. As a result, you must complete step one before proceeding. The good news is that nitrites are less hazardous than ammonia to your fish. Nitrite is then further broken down (step three) to nitrate, which is eliminated during your bi-weekly 25% water changes. You may encounter additional ammonia-related issues, such as hazy or algae-infested water, which can be resolved in the same manner. It is ESSENTIAL that you DO NOT ADD ANY FISH AT THIS POINT IN THE CYCLING PROCESS since a new fish will introduce new ammonia levels. New ammonia levels indicate that the nitrosomonas bacteria are responding to the increased ammonia level. Furthermore, the rise in ammonia stunts the nitrobacter bacteria, making it take even longer to develop the healthy aquarium you want. Finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for has arrived.

Step 3

The last and simplest approach is to increase your nitrate levels. Both ammonia and nitrite levels will begin to drop to zero or minimal levels. You now have just enough nitrifying bacteria to manage your current fish load. It takes some time for the biological filter to adapt to changing circumstances as you add additional fish or as your fish develop. Most of the time, it will do so without issue. Just don’t add twice as many fish as you had before, and you should be OK. After the first month or two after installing your biological filter, your aquarium water will be vulnerable to rapid changes in fish load. You’ll need to keep an eye on your biological filter now that it’s up and running, just as you do with your fish and plants. You’ve put in a lot of effort, and your fish appreciate it more than you realize.

Recommended Equipment

  • Thermometer
  • Net(s) – one for every size fish you have
  • Sponge
  • Water testing kit
  • Water Treatment (removes Chlorine)
  • Emergency Medicine – if you wait until your fish is showing signs of illness it may be too late.

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