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Too many times I’ve heard stories of novice fish keepers complaining to their local aquarium shop that the fish they bought 2 days ago are all dead or dying. Sadly, many times they blame the aquarium store for supplying sick or poor quality livestock. This is rarely the case. The cause of this catastrophe of lost fish and $$$ is an explosion of ammonia in the water column that will keep increasing until the nitrification cycle is complete. What I am about to explain below will help to prevent this unfortunate scenario from happening or at least give beginner aquarists a heads up as to why their new pets are not surviving.
Nitrification is a process where naturally occurring bacteria called Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter break ammonia down into less harmful nitrogenous compounds. These bacteria multiply rapidly and attach themselves to every surface in the aquarium, including the filter and its’ media. The Nitrosomonas bacteria feed on the available and constant supply of ammonia and break it down into Nitrite. This new compound is also toxic to fish and so the naturally occurring Nitrobacter bacteria increases it population and then feeds on the Nitrite turning it into much less toxic Nitrate. Although high levels of Nitrate can also be harmful to fish, it is tolerated at small amounts and is either used by live plants as fertiliser or removed from the water column during regular water changes.
A newly filled aquarium with new substrate, rocks, plants and filter is basically sterile. As fish are added, their waste, uneaten food and decaying plant matter all break down producing ammonia, which as we know is highly toxic to most fish. The natural process of nitrification begins but takes time to establish. In the mean time, the fish suffer and quite often succumb to the effects of ammonia poisoning.
Before adding livestock to the aquarium, we must allow the nitrification cycle to establish so that when your pets are added, this natural cycle is prepared to simultaneously deal with the increasing bio-load created by the fish. How do we do this?
Common methods for kick starting the nitrification cycle.
Purchase a basic water test kit from your aquarium store that tests for Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate and PH.
Seeding the aquarium with old gravel from an existing tank, or used media from your local aquarium store, will introduce the beneficial bacteria to the aquarium and with the addition of some fish food which will decay and produce ammonia, will signal the bacteria to multiply.
Store bought preparations can be used to add bacteria to a sterile aquarium also. These are an all in one liquid form and will start the process off without having to add anything else. Make sure you are buying fresh stock though as Bio-starter type preparations are full of living organisms. Old stock may not still be active.
Both of these methods are widely used to start the cycle and after the first 5 days, using the test kit, sample the water for ammonia and nitrite. Ammonia will be showing a level above zero and Nitrite may by now, begin to show as well. If not, measure the nitrite again a few days later. Keep monitoring the water with these tests until nitrite shows a level above zero. When both ammonia and nitrite are reading above zero, the cycle is well on its way to completion and becoming established in the aquarium. Only when these readings are both zero again and Nitrate has begun to show a reading above zero is it safe to add a few fish to the aquarium. This process can take up to 3 to 4 weeks to complete. The newly established cycle is fragile and will not cope well with overloading. So resist the temptation to add more than a few fish at first and feed them sparingly. This will enable the bacteria to expand their colony to cope with the added bio-load. A daily test of the ammonia and nitrite levels will tell you if the cycle is coping. Slowly add more fish over the next couple of weeks, testing the water every couple of days.
It is now important to begin regular maintenance of the aquarium to ensure the health of your fish. A weekly water change of 25% is sufficient for most setups. Although if testing shows high Nitrates then less food and more frequent smaller water changes may be necessary to keep the nitrate from attaining toxic levels.
Resisting the temptation to add fish to an aquarium that hasn’t been cycled is beneficial to both your fish health and your budget. Regular testing and water changes are essential to keeping a clean environment for healthy fish.
Written by Ian Cook
For many years,I have been interested in the variety and behaviour of plants found on the edge of waterways. A garden pond seems very formal or sterile until a bog garden is added,helping to blend the junction of water and land.Aquarists are also taking note of the 'so called' bog plants with the recent resurgence of Palludariums,popularity of 'open top' tanks and interest in emerse growing and tissue culture.
When Amano introduced his Wabi Kusas to the aquarium world,their intention was to let a tank design have a random life of its own.Balls planted with several different plants would be placed in a tank and allowed to develop with little interference as they do in nature.Many,many people rushed to experiment with this technique and met different levels of success.A quick search will find that Wabi Kusa has become a rather loose term to describe individual attempts to duplicate or develop the technique.
I am interested in the ability of plants to filter water and remove Nitrates etc.So my first reaction to Wabi Kusa was to see the method as a perfect way to package little Nitrate Pumps that could be sold by dealers as a natural,decorative filtration device that would blend seamlessly into,say,a planted tank.
This led me to seek suitable plants that could be relied on to perform under artificial light with very little care or attention.If they were to be sold in shops,they would need to have a very long shelf life.More importantly,they should perform beautifully for the hobbyist,whether experienced with plants or not.
I found various Ficus species and cultivars very co-operativeas anchors for stem plants,Cryptocorynes,Swordplants,Hairgrass etc.Here are some photos showing the plants I like to use at different stages in the production process.....
Port Jackson Figs.
This Dutch cultivar of Ficus benjamina has a beautiful horizontal/zigzag growth pattern and produces copious adventitious roots over water.
Here are emerse grown Hairgrass,Marsilea and Lilaeopsis.
A Fig is placed on Lava Rock and underplanted with mosses and stem plants.
I hope these comments and photos will encourage people to try growing plants in new ways and share their results on Aquariumwall.
Written by Anthony Rae