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Table of Contents

  1. How do I ... ?
  2. Where can I find ... ?
  3. Why doesn't ... ?
  4. Who is ... ?
  5. What is ... ?
  6. When is ... ?

How do I ... ?

Q:  How do I know when to add new specimens?

A:  When the current aquarium specimens are healthy, there have been no deaths for the past month or more,  the water chemistry is stable, and the tank is not yet at maximum fish capacity, it may be a safe time to add some specimens.  There is never a guarantee of survival when moving fish, unfortunately.  Although, some fish outlets and pet stores do offer limited time guarantee, and will replace the specimen if death occurs.  

Q:  How do I add new specimens correctly

A:  When you introduce new fish or coral, it is best to let the tank water and transport water mix.  I usually float the plastic bags in the water for 15 min. to 1/2 hour to let the temperature acclimate.  Then open the bag and mix in some tank water (continue to let float).  This allows the pH and other water chemistry to mix from the aquarium to the bag.  This is a crucial moment when putting in a new fish, so do this carefully, and slowly.  Fill the bag slowly until it is full of tank water and transport water.  Finally, after 15-20 minutes, I empty the bag into a net and discarding the mixed water, and immediately add the specimen.  Do not introduce the mixed water in the bag into the aquarium.  Many times the fish or coral will excrete, and release slime coat during the move.  This often puts toxins into the water that could be harmful to aquarium life, so avoid using this water.

Q:  How do I setup an aquarium?

A:  Please refer to the Aquarium Setup page on this site for some answers

Q:  How do I maintain an aquarium?

A:  Please refer to the How To Maintain Your Aquarium Section.

Q:  How do I calculate the size of my aquarium?

A:  For the size in gallons for a rectangular aquarium, the formula is: (Length x Width x Height) divided by 231.

Q:  How do I keep my water from getting cloudy?

A:  Many new aquarists are experts at overfeeding and this usually is the most common error in clouding up the water.  A good general rule of thumb is to feed less food more often than more food less often.  Feed enough that everyone in the tank has eaten, and that all of the food is gone in 5 to 10 min.  Any uneaten food should probably be removed (depending on what your feeding.)  Other common reasons for cloudy water are:  Changing too much water too often,  using poor quality water when replacing,  overcrowding the aquarium, adding too many specimens at once, allowing foreign chemicals to get into the water (i.e. cleaning around the tank), large temperature fluctuations, lack of water flow, no chemical filtration, low dissolved oxygen levels, or any condition that would be highly stressful to the inhabitants might cause this effect as well.  Fine mechanical filtration also aids in removing fine particles from aquarium water.

Q:  How do I keep my tank from cycling at all?

A:  A simple way would be to add water from an aquarium that has been set up for awhile and is established/stable.  Old/dirty water is usually the most rich in these nitrifying bacteria (Nitrosommonas sp. and Nitrobacter sp.)  The more the better.   Start filtration, let the water settle for a few hours, and then experiment with adding fish.  Usually with this established water, too, the all around water chemistry is a lot more stable and "livable" than starting from scratch.   Many new aquarists are surprised to find out this minimizes death, and the water stays clear.  Usually, the addition of  livestock can be over a shorter time frame, too. Most people who start up a reef aquarium will add live rock immediately to "shock" the system and instanly add millions of bacteria.  If you want to keep your tank with minimum cycle time, I would add the live rock first and then add the fish, as the rock will carry your nitrifying bacteria.   Live sand will also aid in the breakdown of nitrates, if the sand is properly cared for, and a thick bed is used.

Q:  How do I medicate my fish when they get sick?

A:  The first thing you need to do is to define the symptoms of the illness.   i.e. spots, blotches on body, frayed fins, cloudy eyes, body slime, holes in head, etc.  The next thing is to shop for the proper medication for your illness.  I have always promoted the understanding of the biology of our hobby, and I think its a good practice to know what environment your specimens thrive best in.  With most types of medication it's best to remove the chemical filter.  Treat under the manufacturer's product instructions accordingly.  More serious aquarist who maintain several tanks understand the importance of "hospital tanks."  These are tanks that are continually medicated and used in treating and recovering sick specimens.  Please visit the Tropical Fish Disease section to help you determine what disease you may be dealing with.

Q:  How do I know when the lights need to be changed?

A:  The first question you need to ask here is 'What environment is my aquarium, and how important is lighting in my tank?'  Obviously, different aquarium environments require different lighting needs.  Sometimes people let their lights run until they burn out, others keep their reef or plant tanks on routine bulb replacement and maintenance schedules.  To answer the initial question though, I recommend a lux meter to get an exact measurement on light intensity.

Q:  How do I know what fish are compatible?

A:  The best tools for an aquarist are knowledge and experience.  The thing to do if you're new is to get a hold of some good literature.  Get involved with the many books and magazines available in our hobby.  It's also a plus if you know an expert you can trust who can give you good advice on what goes well with what.  Plan ahead before you start adding new specimens, and this will pay off in the long term livelihood of your aquarium.  If your an experienced aquarist, and not already practicing this, shame on you.

Q:  How do I know how often the filters should be cleaned?

A:  It depends on what your definition of "filter" is.  Your biological filter (undergravel filter, bio chamber) should not ever be cleaned, or cleaned very carefully with a gravel vacuum.  Your mechanical filters should be cleaned weakly, or bi-weekly at worst depending on what your keeping.  Your chemical filter should be changed every month to six months depending on what your using, and how efficient it is.  If you have a saltwater system and a protein skimmer, this should be checked every day or so.  Other filters and equipment need to be regulated by the manufacturer's recommendation.

Q:  How do I get rid of "salt creep?"

A:  Salt creep is a very common, and messy problem that marine aquarists deal with on a regular basis.  Usually a good plastic tipped scrub brush and some hot water will do the trick.   However, long term salt creep might leave deposits that are very difficult to remove, sometimes impossible.  I definitely do not recommend anything toxic near the tank, lights,  or filters for simple reasons.  If you use a manufacturer's product, check to see if it's aquarium safe.   If there is excess salt creep, sometimes it's good to remove some of the tank water, and using a "catch" to avoid the salt from falling into the water, or electrical connections.

Q:  How do I know if residual ozone is getting into my tank?

A:  Usually, if a good grade porous/acid washed carbon is used to run over/through after protein skimming, this will do the trick.  I recommend using a carbon canister filter because the water has to run through the filter rather than over it, allowing for more effective ion exchange, over a larger surface area.  Signs of residual ozone in the specimen tank look similar to light burns on the corals.  The fish usually swim ate surface and grasp for air as if their suffocating.  You'll also be able to smell it on the surface of the aquarium.  Trust me, you'll know when you have an ozone problem.  It's very important to put the carbon on a replacement schedule, especially when you are using an oxidant as powerful as ozone.

Q:  How do I keep my fish from eating my newborn babies?

A:  There are lots of good breeding nets and foliage available to keep the baby fry safe from the other inhabitants in the tank.  Another option is to remove the fry with a brine shrimp net completely and put them in their own tank.  The later is usually not a successful because most people do not have another aquarium sitting around which is cycled and empty of predators, so I'd recommend keeping them in the same tank.   If they are not hidden though, especially with livebearers, they will be eaten.   This way you don't have to deal with changes in pH, temp, and other key water parameters.

Q:  How do I move my aquarium and fish?

A:  Ahh, the infamous aquarium question.  Here are 10 easy steps:

1.  Prepare enough water to do a 20% water change on the tank(s) to be moved
2.  Vacuum gravel and perform a 20% water change on the tank(s) to be moved.  Discard waste water.
3.  Find and sterilize enough containers to hold all of the aquarium and filtration water (Preferably plastic based.)
4.  Take out decorative rock, wood, or coral and place in a container (this is not the gravel or crushed coral)
5.  Remove living specimens and place in an oxygenated environment with more of the tank water. 
6.  Siphon out the rest of the water down to the gravel/crushed coral/sand/dirt.
7.  Disconnect all filtration devices and plumbing.
8.  Move water, tank(s), filter(s), light(s).  This may take more than one trip!
9.  Reconnect tanks(s), filter(s), light(s), etc.
10.  Put water back into tank.  Treat with Stress Coat, or similar water conditioner.   Float fish, or begin to acclimate.  Release in 20 min.
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Where can I find ... ?

Q:  Where can I find specific information about the specimens in my tank?

A:  You would probably have the best luck on this site by browsing through Brian's alphabetized links, or drop us an email so that we may consult you.

Q:  Where can I find quality livestock to order online?

A:  You definitely want to visit Brian's Links.

Q:  Where can I find information on how to start up an aquarium?

A:  Visit the Aquarium Setup page.

Q:  Where can I find a library of information about the aquarium industry?

A:  Again, Brian's Links.

Q:  Where can I find information on how to maintain an aquarium?

A:  Please visit the How To Maintain Your Aquarium.

Q:  Where can I find info about disease and diagnosis for aquarium fish?

A:  See the Tropical Fish Disease section.

Q:  Where can I find information about marine reef aquariums?

A:  Look at the Reef Aquaria page of our site.

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Why doesn't ... ?

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Q:  Why doesn't the medication I'm using seem to be working?

A:  Depending on the medication you're using, and the disease that you are treating, you will want to make sure that your chemical filtrants are removed (i.e. carbon, zeolite.)   Don't expect results right away all of the time.  Also, shut down any filtration device that would also remove the treatments (i.e. protein skimmer)  Most medications take days, even weeks to be effective, so be patient, and  it's best to use the recommended treatment on the product instructions.  Perform necessary water changes, and re-medicate as the manufacturer recommends.

Q:  Why does my protein skimmer seem to need constant adjustment?

A:  Some skimmers are very sensitive to changes in air pressure, and the amount of  toxins in your aquarium will differ during feeding cycles, lighting cycles, and ammonia/nitrite spikes, etc.  A skimmer is a device that frequently needs to be cleaned and checked anyway because it, in my opinion, is the most important filtration device (especially on a reef aquarium.)  See the Reef Aquaria Section for more info. on this topic.

Q:  Why doesn't the water ever want to clear up?

A:  You may have a dead specimen or rotting organism present in the aquarium.  It could be that the bio load of specimens (number of fish)   in the aquarium exceeds the capability of the bio filter, and you have a toxicity problem (i.e. ammonia.)   The aquarium may be new and still in the "cycling" process.   Specimens or filters may frequently stir up gravel or sand, and move it at will.   There may be inadequate chemical filtration.  Keep an eye on your tanks and use common sense to figure out this common problem.  The key is to be patient, and observant.

Q:  Why doesn't the algae stop growing even though I keep the lights off?

A:  Occasionally, I've seen a tank in an area that is very well lit and/or it receives direct sunlight.  This can spawn excess growth of photosynthetic (zoozanthellae) cells in organisms like plants and algae.  Certain algae strains can deplete oxygen levels, and clog up filters, amongst other problems.   If your tank is in this type of environment I might suggest moving it, or darkening the room.  Other problems could include: lack of water flow, high phosphate levels, nitrate rich water, lack of sufficient filtration, excessive temperature fluctuations, and of course, long lighting hours.  There are also may different types of specimens and products to keep your algae under control. 

Q:  Why doesn't the salinity in my marine tank stay constant?

A:  Usually this is a noticeable problem for folks who let the water in their aquariums evaporate excessively, or replace evaporated water with saltwater.    Remember that the salt does not evaporate with the water, so evaporation for prolonged periods of time can wipe out a once-thriving aquarium, by itself.  Replace evaporated water with freshwater, and replace water in routine water changes with the correct salinity of water (preferably pre-mixed for a few days).  This should avoid specific gravity changes.

Q:  Why doesn't my biological filter need cleaning?

A:  First of all, it can be cleaned (most often by vacuuming), but never take the biological medium (i.e. gravel, crushed coral, sand, shells, rock) out and clean it in chlorinated water, or a medium that would kill the necessary "nitrifying bacteria" that breaks down toxic wastes (ammonia.) If this filter is so much as partially killed, it can lead to an entire tank die-off in an amazingly short period of time.  Because this filter is so important to the inhabitants of the tank, it should be cleaned with extreme care, if ever at all.  Also, beware of how sensitive a bio filter is in the first year of the life of the aquarium.  Never use cleaning products that are ammonia based anywhere near the tank or even in well ventilated rooms.

Q:  Why do my fish keep dying?

A: You may want to look through some of the other questions, as this answer is very broad and may require several solutions.  Education is your most valuable asset in this hobby, and patience does pay off.   Good luck.

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Who is ... ?

Q:  Who has the best literature about aquariums and fish?

A:  I would recommend viewing the Aquatic Bookshop

Q:  Who are your favorite authors of aquarium literature?

A:  I'm partial to the marine side of the hobby, so I often recommend Martin Moe, Albert Thiel, Julian Sprung, and Dr. Herbert Axelrod's works.

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What is ... ?

Q:  What is the best way to do a water change?

A:  The best way is (still) using a gravel vacuum to perform partial water changes.  Use the vacuum to suck the debris from the gravel via siphon action, and put the dirty water into a container the same size as the new water you are about to put back in, or just fill with new water until the tank is about full (and the filters are all able to run correctly.)  A secret to keeping successful aquaria is to use good quality replacement water that is preferably the same temperature, pH, salinity, etc. as the tank water.

Q:  What is a good gauge for the amount of live rock that I should put in my reef aquarium?

A:  As a general rule, I have about 1 lb. of live rock per gallon of tank water.

Q:  What is the best way to control pH?

A:  This answer is unique, like many here, to your particular type of aquarium.  There are many popular ways to control pH.  Many plant and reef enthusiasts, like with dosing, consider pH regulation of vital importance.   Many companies make buffers (such as tablets, liquid, or powder form) to keep the buffering system of the aquarium in tact.  Carbon dioxide injection has also become very popular over the past few years, probably due to the availability of controlling systems auxiliary filtration.  PH regulation becomes increasingly important with the amount of animals living in the aquarium and what size the aquarium is.

Q:  What is the problem with my undergravel filter since my water seems dirty and cloudy?

A:  A lot of people don't realize that an undergravel filter serves as a biological filter, and not as a chemical or mechanical filter.  In other words, there's no physical removal of debris from the aquarium water.  Sometimes too, the tank is presented with a large bio load ( lots of fish)  before the filter is ready to handle it, or even while the tank is still being cycled.  Take your time adding fish.  If you feel that you must clean the gravel, do so when you perform partial water changes, and the best way is to use a gravel vacuum (this will not damage the essential bacteria that you grow in the gravel for breaking down fish waste.)  Please beware of over-feeding, over-crowding, and over-cleaning.

Q:  What is the most common sized aquarium that you set up?

A:  55 gallons is the average size that we set up, mainly because it's cost effective, allows a sufficient amount of water volume for some diversity (depending of course on what you're adding), easily filtered/maintained, and not too big or small for the average beginner, and we'll set them up freshwater, brackish, marine, or even terrariums.   However, we also set up many larger and smaller tanks as well.

Q:  What is the most amount of fish that I can put in my tank?

A:  Specifically, not an easy question to answer because it really depends on the species and the environment you are putting them in.  But as a general rule, for the average filtration system to date, I recommend 1 inch of fish per 1 gallon of tank water for freshwater tanks, and 3 inches of fish per 1 gallon of tank water for saltwater aquariums.  Again, as a general rule of thumb.  Consult us or your local fish shop for what's recommended for your tank.

Q:  What is the concept behind a protein skimmer and why is it important?

A:  A protein skimmer is a device that is used in both marine and freshwater aquaria.  There are many types and designs of skimmers, some of which include: co-current , counter-current, venturi, and downdraft skimmers. Regardless of the design, the concept stays true.  Protein skimmers are designed to do just that--skim off excess protein/toxic elements from the aquarium, and to aid in the dissolved oxygen levels of the aquarium water.   In most designs, oxygen or ozone is introduced into a cylindrical tube and contacts the water.  During this contact time, chemical reactions are taking place.   Oxygen (O2) is an unstable molecule and wants to complete its valence shells by engaging in chemical reactions with other molecules.  Even more unstable is ozone (O3), and is used by certain reef enthusiasts who have strict redox potential parameters, and require high water quality.  In the process of this contact time and chemical reactions, many complex organic molecules are torn apart to form a foamy protein "scum" which overflows into a collection cup and ultimately discarded.  Three important factors that dictate the effectiveness of the protein skimmer are air bubble/water contact time, water flow, and air bubble size.  Most protein skimmers, because of the way they are designed, require regular maintenance, or drastically lose effectiveness.  However, many believe that a properly working protein skimmer can be the most effective means of removing toxins from the aquarium.

Q:  What is the best way to keep my fishes from dying?

A:  Perform regular water changes, do not overcrowd, overfeed, or overmedicate,   add compatible fish only, use good water (RO),  and maintenance the filters regularly, leads most people to have great luck but still could lose a fish every once in awhile.  Realize that certain species of fish/invertebrates have short life spans (sometimes a few years, or even months) and death sometimes is inevitable.  If you wish that this is not a regular occurrence, take care of your aquarium and add specimens with longer life spans.

Q:  What is the thing to add to clean up my algae problem?

A:  Shorter lighting times, better water quality, and adding snails, fish, and/or other maintenance type creatures is the most natural way.  If you want to go the artificial route, there are different algae control treatments available.  Frequent small water changes, and/or the addition of nitrifying bacteria also has been known to help.

Q:  What is the benefit of using a calcium reactor over dosing calcium?

A:  It's not always the best way to go actually.  Some benefits, though are: that no precipitate is put off in regulating calcium this way, they help regulate pH and calcium levels precisely, they can be used in different applications, they are cheaper than peristaltic dosing pumps, and they don't clog like many Kalkwasser dosing systems do.  Many calcium reactors do require the use of carbon dioxide, and need to be regulated closely, or controlled.

Q:  What is the best way to chemically filtrate my aquarium?

A:  I like canister filters because they are so thorough in passing the water through the chemical medium, but many types of aquariums may not need this effective of a filter.  Some experts use power filters, some believe in trickle sumps,  some people use carbon bags below the gravel,  heck, I even know some people who swear by chemically treating their sponge filters.  My point is that this is definitely an area of broad opinion, and there's lots of equipment available to the aquarist.  Read up on what's best for your tank.

Q:  What is redox potential, and why is it important in my aquarium?

A:  To make a long story short, this is a measure of the livability of the water in your aquarium.  Redox potential broken apart means the potential of the water molecule to oxidize or reduce.  In other words, the affinity for the water molecule to engage in chemical reactions with other molecules, or how social the water is.  This parameter is measured in millivolts (mV) and is a culprit for many of the things that happen in an enclosed aquatic environment. This is an area that has been misunderstood by many, and ignored way too long for those who are are sticklers about aquarium water chemistry.  Redox potential can be regulated and has become popular to the aquarist over the past decade.  Protein skimming, ultraviolet sterilization, oxygen, or ozone injection are popular ways of artificial redox potential control.

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When is ... ?

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Q:  When is the best time to clean my aquarium?

A:  The best time is a regular schedule (usually either weekly, biweekly, monthly, bi-monthly) depending on how crowded your tank is with specimens, and what kind of specimens you have.  Be careful about over-cleaning, as this is a common pitfall to many new aquarists.  We recommend our guests become familiar with using water test kits, so they have an idea what's going on with their water chemistry parameters.  Filters need to be maintained regularly as well.

Q:  When is the best time to test my water?

A:  On a regular basis is the best time.  Know what tests are best to perform most often for your type of aquarium.  Testing the aquarium water is a very important practice that many novices either  neglect, or only do for awhile then quit.  This practice gives the aquarist vital information for things such as temp, pH, salinity, hardness, etc.  For more thorough details on this, see our Testing The Water section.

Q: When is this site going to be finished?!

A:  Actually, the site will probably never be finished, as it will continually be updated.  Our intent is to keep this website fresh and new.

Q:  When is the best time of year to purchase live Corals:

A:  This is actually a very easy yet difficult question to answer.  Corals are becoming more and more unpredictable in certain areas of the world because of the sanctions put against collections in tropical reef areas.  Laws now enable collections for certain times of the year as well.  This problem may worsen before getting better until the science of artificial reproduction can catch up, and marine biologists can enable the natural reefs to thrive once again in the areas that are now damaged.  It would help to have a couple of aquarists in govenment, too.  Like any other product though, different livestock collectors and suppliers offer specials different times of the year, so it's best to shop around.  Know what your looking for and know what a competitive price is.

Q:  When is a good time to use a doser?

A:  Dosers can be used in many different types of aquaria, and can dose many different types of vitamins, elements, and fertilizers.  Although they have recently become popular with the reef aquarists who's water parameters are very sensitive and nutrient rich. They often dose elements such as vitamins, food, calcium, strontium, molybdenum, iodide, and other trace elements that naturally exist in reefs in different parts of the world.  These vitamins and trace elements are metabolized and utilized by the inhabitants of the reef, both vertebrate, invertebrate, and even microorganisms.  These are artificially added (via the doser) in an enclosed, artificial environment such as an aquarium.  The doser can drip into the filter or even directly into the tank.

Q:  When do you know when the lighting bulbs are no good anymore

A:  If you are using fluorescent lighting, the lifespan ranges from 12 to 16 months, depending on the wattage and Kelvin temperature of the bulb.  Most metal halides really need to be replaced every year or some brands will drastically drop off in intensity, and the Kelvin heat efficacy diminishes.  Replacing these bulbs with regularity is key.  I've seen super compact bulbs last up to two years with no major drop in lumen production, which leads me to suggest that these bulbs are very efficient.   If you have an aquarium that has strict lighting requirements, you may want to consider purchasing a lumen meter to give you more accurate readings.  A trained eye can tell by the intensity and light color changes.

Q:  When do I know when to change the UV sterilizer bulb?

A:  Again, these are to be changed about every 12 months to be safe.  Better safe than sorry.  These bulbs usually last quite a lot longer if are able to run your UV lamp on a timer.  Check the recommended running hours by the bulb's product specs.   Then approximate how many hours a day you run the sterilizer.  Then simply calculate days, weeks, and months of lamp usage to give you a fairly accurate gauge of when you should replace the bulb.  This schedule needs to be adhered to for this calculation to be accurate.

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