Keeping a tank full of fish is a relatively maintenance-free way of enjoying a pet but that doesn’t mean no work at all. Plenty of planning is needed before you make your first buys.
If you thought an aquarium was someone born between January and February and a goldfish tank was something they used in World War II you might be surprised at how simple it is to create and keep your own little window to the underwater world.
Easy to take care of, clean up after and feed, fish can be the perfect companions for the more laid-back animal lover, or anyone living in a flat or apartment with limited space for any high-maintenance pets. Setting up your own aquarium is a simple and rewarding way to get close to our watery friends without the need for a snorkel and swimsuit.
The first thing to decide is which type of fish to keep. The choice is relatively easy for the first-time buyer: either coldwater (or temperate) fish or tropical fish.
The choice of coldwater fish is limited to the goldfish varieties and some other species from Europe and North America. However, these fish are relatively cheap and do not require any heater attached to their tank. The basic advantages of keeping tropical fish are that there are many more colourful species to choose from and, due to their lower oxygen intake, you can have more fish per tank.
There is the option to keep saltwater fish as opposed to the freshwater fish. However, as a beginner it is advisable to start off with the freshwater variety.
Choosing a tank
Preparation is the key to starting your own aquarium and before you can shortlist any lucky fish for your sub-aqua community, you have to make sure you have the right equipment.
In the case of aquaria, bigger is usually better. Basic biology tells us that in order to breathe, fish absorb the oxygen in the water. Therefore, it is important that the surface area of the tank should be as large as possible to allow the maximum amount of contact with the open air.
You might be tempted to go for an upright tank that swaps surface area for style. However the amount of surface area will also dictate the amount of fish that the tank will support and a horizontal tank would, therefore, be the better choice.
Your tank should not be positioned in direct sunlight or exposed to a draught or radiator as these environments can cause the temperature of the tank to fluctuate. Make sure that you take into account the weight of the tank once it has been filled before you decide to put it on the oldest table you can find.
The filter & water
The most important piece of equipment in any aquarium is the filter, which plays the vital role of sifting out waste and encourages the build-up of ‘friendly’ bacteria. These bacteria reduce the harmful effect of the ammonia produced by fish waste.
Testing the water you are going to fill the tank up with is also important and may influence the type of fish you will be able to keep. Although your ordinary tap water has been treated with a certain amount of chlorine and other substances to make it safe for human consumption, these additives will make the water unsuitable for our fishy friends.
A dechlorinator must, therefore, be added to the water before any fish are added. Find out whether your local water supply is hard or soft and if it is acidic or alkaline. Although it is safe to say that all fish prefer their water to be wet, each species of fish has its preferred levels of water hardness and acidity.
If you want to keep tropical fish, your equipment must also include a heater, which should keep the water at a temperature of between 22°C and 25°C (72-78°F).
Plants & lighting
Plants and lighting together play a valuable role in the aquarium ecosystem. Under the lights, the plants will absorb the carbon dioxide provided by the fish and give out a handy supply of oxygen. The plants can also remove harmful nitrates from the water, act as a haven for those fish seeking a spot of shelter and reduce the build-up of unsightly algae. Unfortunately when the lights are not on, the natural photosynthesis is reversed and the plants will take in oxygen and emit carbon dioxide. Fluorescent tubes fitted inside the hood of your tank should be used to provide the required light.
Choosing your fish
Researching your fish is of paramount importance. Having made the decision whether to keep coldwater or tropical fish you must now check how many fish your tank can support and which species will make the best residents for your new community.
A calculation based on the surface area of your tank will determine how many fish the tank can accommodate, taking in mind the size of each fish. With this in mind, check how big your chosen fish are likely to grow. It’s no good kidding yourself that your favourite little fish isn’t going to turn into Jaws’ younger brother if that’s the size the species normally grows to. Find out whether the fish like to be kept in pairs or in shoals. Buying a single fish isn’t worthwhile if that particular species prefers to be with a bunch of its mates.
Also, research whether it is an aggressive fish and, therefore, unable to be accommodated in a community aquarium. If one of your finned guests is the fish equivalent of Hannibal Lecter, you’ll soon be wondering where the rest of your fish have gone. It is also vital to ascertain the dietary needs of your fish. Herbivores may leave your aquarium devoid of plants, while other fish may have different feeding patterns.
Keeping up a regular maintenance schedule and seeking regular advice from your local aquarium dealer can ensure a lengthy relationship between you and your new pets. Soon you’ll be proud to admit that something fishy’s going on in