Goldfish have always been popular, ever since the Chinese first kept them 5,000 years ago. In fact it’s been estimated that among us we own an amazing 19 million of them. However, the practice of keeping fish in tanks is a relatively modern one – developed in the 1830s to study aquatic life at close range. Since then, it has become the most popular hobby – and recently it’s increasing, with nearly 1 of every 5 households owning fish. So how can you set up the perfect home aquarium? Warren Eckstein has advice.
One impetus for aquariums is the increased popularity and mainstream belief in feng shui, a set of Chinese principles that are used to fashion a more positive living environment. Water is among the five elements that feng shui practitioners believe is crucial to physical and emotional health, and water that moves is considered even more beneficial. You’ll often find aquariums in doctors’ offices because of this calming effect.
We all remember the childhood trials of the carnival goldfish – take them home in their little plastic bags, and within hours (or days, if you were lucky), your parents unceremoniously flushed them, lifeless. Keeping fish alive, while it seems so easy, can be tricky! So here is a guide to setting up, maintaining, and keeping your fish (and aquarium) healthy and happy, and tips on how to avoid some of the most common fish-keeping mistakes.
THE EMPTY AQUARIUM
Clean the tank by rinsing with water. Don’t use any kind of detergent or soap, since these chemicals are toxic to fish, even in very small amounts. Gravel – used for the base of the tank – should be rinsed thoroughly, and placed in the tank using a plate. Gravel is available in many shapes, sizes and colors, but darker gravel will cause your fish to appear darker and brighter.
DECORATING YOUR TANK
Landscaping an aquarium with safe rocks and plants enhances the beauty of your aquarium, and helps keep your fish occupied. Most people use plastic plants, but you can use live underwater plants too. Be sure to ask which plants thrive in fresh or saltwater environments before you put them in your tank, and remember that shells and coral are only for saltwater tanks. Not only are live plants beautiful, but they also compete for available nutrients in the water, and can help keep your algae levels down.
THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE AND CHEMICALS
Cold tap water is fine for your freshwater fish tank, but you must remove the chlorine first. To do this, leave the water out for 24 hours, allowing it to adjust to room temperature and release the chlorine. For saltwater tanks, maintain 1 tablespoon Kosher or aquarium salt for each 5 gallons of water.
A healthy temperature for most fish is approximately 77 degrees Fahrenheit. While goldfish don’t require heaters, tropical fish need about 5 watts of heater per gallon of water. And remember, never have your heater plugged in unless it is properly immersed in water. Also, the warmer your water is, the fewer fish it can support – this is why crowded tanks have more problems in the warm summer months.
Frequent small partial water changes are always better for your tank than one large change. Remove 20 percent of the water – suctioned from the bottom of the tank, near the gravel – once a week for the first month, and at least monthly after that, replacing it with clean, fresh water – at the same temperature. You can significantly reduce pollution this way. If you have cloudy water the first week of an aquarium, wait three days, and only feed what will be completely eaten in one minute.
THE COMPLETED AQUARIUM
Many people assume that if you go into a pet store, you can buy any bunch of fish, and they will live happily together. That’s not true! Talk to pet store representatives, and find out which fish are compatible with each other. Betas, for example, are fighting fish, and should be alone, or they will kill other fish in their tank. Some types of schooling fish should not be alone in a tank, so make sure you do your homework. A rule of thumb is 1 inch of fish per gallon of water, so for a 15 gallon tank, you shouldn’t have more than 15 inches of fish. This means 3 fish measuring 5 inches each, or 5 fish measuring 3 inches each.
To introduce your fish to their new home, float your bag with the new fish in the tank for 15 minutes to avoid temperature shock. Then mix the water gradually, and gently put the fish into the tank.
The biggest mistake that people make is that they overfeed their fish. Why is this so bad? First of all, an overabundance of food will cause algae to form, and that can be very unhealthy for your fish. Also, fish will eat themselves to death. You should only feed what is completely eaten in one minute.