Five Mistakes of a Saltwater Tank Owner

Presented below is what I view as the five cardinal mistakes of a marine aquarist. It is very unfair if aquarists take marine organisms from their natural place of breeding (in the seas and oceans) and place them in a confined place, only to neglect them. The five major mistakes committed by marine aquarists are described below.

Feeding Your Aquarium Life Too Much

This is very common with beginner aquarists who tend to think they are being kind when they feed fish the fish that are swimming close to the front of the aquarium’s glass. It is the nature of fish to look hungry, but this does not mean that they are hungry. Like flies which always seem to be wandering in search of food, fish will always look hungry no matter how much you feed them.

The effect of overfeeding is the vehement growth of algae in your tank. This is promoted by the accumulation of food leftovers in the tank which begin to rot and emit phosphates and nitrites. Too many phosphates and nitrites will reduce the quality of the water, introduce pH problems, and cause great stress to your fish. High stress levels in fish can lead, in time, to their death. So be wary of kindness in the form of cruelty: by giving the fish more than they can consume. The rule of thumb is never to give the fish more food than they can consume in 3 to 5 minutes.

As a serious aquarist, one must research the food requirements of their fish. They must be acquainted with how much food the fish need, and how often to feed them. Too much of anything can lead to serious problems.

Not Testing Seawater

It has been said that an aquarium must mimic the fish’s natural environment as close as possible. Therefore the water in the tank must be tested periodically and on a consistent basis to ensure that the water’s pH, phosphate, nitrite, temperature, and oxygen levels are normal. Levels that are too high or too low risk the life of your marine organisms.

Whilst it is true that the secret of a healthy fish lies in their water, a more accurate statement is that a healthy fish comes from healthy water. The seawater in the aquarium is everything to the inhabitants; they are submersed in it constantly and rely on it for oxygen and all of their essentials. It is not enough to simply strive to give your fish quality food when the water in the tank is of inferior quality. Quality of the seawater in the aquarium will begin to deteriorate once it is filled with marine flora and fauna. The use of a quality protein skimmer to reduce the rate of deterioration of the water quality can be beneficial.

The quality of the water is greatly affected by the daily activities within the aquarium. Feeding itself will promote the growth of phosphates and nitrites. Dead fish can decompose to produce harmful ammonia. The weather can change and it can become too warm or too cold in the aquarium. The pH of the water will eventually be affected too, and the fish will not tolerate it well. Thus the water must be constantly tested for these incidents, and proper corrective measures must be taken promptly.

Making use of reverse osmosis and routine water changes should be done to ensure that the water quality is not affected much. Initially about 10% of the aquarium water must be changed. One must continue to test the water as they perform the changes. The frequency of routine water changes can be decreased over time with experience. This can be achieved by reducing the percentage of water to be changed, or by reducing the frequency of changes. A change in the stock levels in your tank may also prompt you to alter the water changes accordingly. Keeping the right stock levels in your aquarium will help maintain a better water quality. This means that you may not need to perform frequent water changes.

Not Renewing the Light Bulbs

By light bulbs I am referring to metal halide bulbs or fluorescent tubes. Lighting effects are more appealing and necessary to reef aquarists. Aside from water quality, lighting is the most vital issue. A large number of corals need lighting of the correct intensity and spectrum to flourish. The efficiency of a light bulb reduces over time. This efficiency loss is because of the light intensity reduction and spectrum shift. The aquarist pays a significant amount for bulbs, so they should ensure that the bulb performs as intended by changing the bulbs at regular intervals. Fluorescent tubes should be changed between six months to one year. Halides should be changed within one to two years. Refer to the manufacturer statement and consider what other aquarists say, which use the same make and type of bulb.

If corals that require light are not flourishing, and seawater quality and movement is known to be fault free, then consider the lighting. Is there a problem? Do the bulbs need changing?

Incompatible Stocking Your Aquarium

The aquarist may have very high seawater quality and lighting may be fault free, but some of the fish, for example, may be sickly, feeding poorly and obviously unhappy. When in the wild, reef fish have few objectives in their lives, but the ones they have are:

1. Breeding
2. Avoiding confrontation
3. Finding enough food
4. Avoiding becoming food

So if a small fish has gone missing, check whether a predator like Lionfish Pterois volitions has been introduced. Don’t smile! You’d be surprised at how this fish can sometimes feed on impulse. Does a fish show ragged fins, poor colours, hover in a corner, or hide in rockwork, hardly coming out even to feed? Is it being harassed by bold and aggressive fish? It is not only inter-fish problems that must be avoided. There are fish that would love to eat your shrimp, just as there are shrimp that would love to eat your starfish.

Research everything that you place in your aquarium to ensure full compatibility. It is cruel to fail to do so. Nowadays there are many quality books available and there is the Internet where information is freely available.

Overstocking Your Aquarium

Large or small, every aquarium system has its limit in the amount of livestock that can be kept. Keeping too much livestock, fish in particular, increases the bio-load that has to be dealt with. The biological support of the aquarium will increase over time as the bio-load increases – up to a point. Then it will be unable to deal with the wastes and resulting disaster. In such cases, the aquarium inhabitants face death by poisoning. The need for large seawater changes is going to increase. Even then, disaster is likely. The aquarist will put all his/her efforts in jeopardy, including seawater quality and even all aquarium life.

Quite apart from the dangers of reduced seawater quality and failing biological support, there is the need of space required for the inhabitants themselves. Fish need to feel secure in order to prosper and be healthy, which means they need to be able to find a hole to hide in during the dark hours, and a hole to disappear into during daylight hours. If the aquarium is overstocked, holes are going to be at a premium and aggression and fights could ensue. On the wild reef, it is a natural part of life to have a secure hole, and this instinctive need does not disappear in an aquarium.

Many aquarists, particularly those with reef aquariums, don’t stock to the theoretical capacity. They under stock knowing that seawater quality will be better and the corals and fish will be better for it. Avoid the temptation of ‘just one more fish’.