Aquarium Care

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Posts Tagged ‘Water Parameters’

Sticky: Aquarium Care: What is a pH?

by Ruby Bayan

I was first introduced to the concept of pH back in high school chemistry when we dipped little blue and pink strips of paper that changed color depending on the acidity or alkalinity of the solution. Of course, all I had to do was remember the acronym B-R-A, meaning “blue to red – acidic” to pass the subject. I didn’t foresee that I’d have to deal with the pH phenomenon for the rest of my life. Now that you’re hooked on the hobby, you will have to deal with it, too.

Let’s start with what exactly pH is and then we’ll elaborate on its role in the aquarium and why you need to know how to manage it.

Basic Concepts

pH is short for “pondus hydrogenii” meaning “potential hydrogen,” “power of hydrogen,” “weight of hydrogen,” and “predominance of hydrogen ions (H+)” as a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a particular solution.

The pH scale is expressed as the negative logarithm of the hydrogen ion concentration ranging from 0 [high concentration of hydronium ions (H+) = acidic] to 14 [high concentration of hydroxide ions (OH-) = alkaline/basic]. The pH concept was introduced by a Danish chemist, Soren Sorensen, in 1909 (if logarithmic formulas and chemical equations will help you better understand how the pH scale was devised, and how it is applied, the site on Sorensen would be an excellent resource).

Factors That Affect pH

Pure water has a pH value of 7 which is considered neutral (neither acidic nor basic), and generally the ideal condition for freshwater aquaria. However, various factors can cause the water parameters to swing several notches towards acidic or alkaline, which, although almost negligible, could be fatal to the fishes. Here are some examples:

  1. Water Source — normally, tap water would be within the neutral pH range but some water sources are naturally “soft” or “hard,” or chemically treated such that the pH level diverts from neutral.
  2. Substrate and Decor — your choice of substrate and decorative items will influence your tank’s pH reading over an extended period of time. At first, a substrate spiked with corals, shells, or limestone deposits will show high pH levels (influenced by the hardness or mineral content of the water), which could later on diminish as the minerals are used up. On the other hand, the presence of peat, or driftwood that leach tannins, can swing the scales towards the acidic side.
  3. Maturity of the Tank — the natural tendency for well-established tanks is to dip towards acidic. Fishes eventually adjust to this trend, but not if it falls into ranges that are already toxic to them.
  4. Plants — taking an active role in the nitrification process, plants help to maintain a relatively neutral pH by absorbing dissolved salts and waste products.
  5. Water Circulation and Aeration — without adequate aeration, carbon dioxide can remain trapped in the water and lower the pH (make the environment acidic).
  6. Overstocking, Overfeeding, Excess Medication, Poor Filtration — in short, inefficient tank maintenance can wreak havoc on your pH levels.

pH and You

Every well-meaning aquarist needs to have a pH test kit handy. Various types of kits are commercially available — they’re mostly inexpensive but will be a valuable tool in your efforts to maintain the ideal home for your pets.

Test your tap water to make sure it’s safe for the types of fishes you’ve chosen to keep. Remember to pre-check the parameters of the new water you bring in when you make water changes.
Test your aquarium water regularly (daily when setting up a new tank; once or twice a week for established tanks).

Consult your local fish store for the availability of buffer solutions in case you need to make drastic adjustments in your pH levels.

Add an EcoBio-Block to your tank. Its resident beneficial bacteria help control the conditions that can cause unhealthy changes to your pH level.

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Sticky: Aquarium Care: Daily, Weekly, Monthly

Healthy tank with EcoBio-Stone

Healthy tank with EcoBio-Stone

An aquarium is an ongoing responsibility and requires daily attention, though if you keep up with the regular maintenance it is quite easy and doesn’t take much time. There are additional maintenance procedures required with various conditions, but here are a few things that must be done in every aquarium regardless of other factors.

Daily Maintenance

While fish do not necessarily need to be fed daily to be healthy due to their opportunistic eating habits and specialized metabolism, they do need to be checked daily and this is best done during feeding. Feed at a time that you have a few minutes to observe your fish and watch carefully for any abnormal behavior or signs of illness. What are you looking for? A healthy fish should be free of any marks, especially red or white marks that can suggest infection or parasites, should not struggle to swim in any way and should not have fins clamped down.

Watch the fish eat to ensure all are active, move easily in the water, and their fins are up. If you notice ragged edges on any fins there may be fish in the aquarium getting picked on, or the fish may be getting their fins caught on rough edges on decorations or artificial plants. If the aquarium is fairly new or new fish have recently been added, watch closely for redness or puffiness around the gills that may indicate ammonia in the water. If any abnormalities are observed, test your water parameters first and if they are within acceptable limits research other possible causes.

If desired, wipe down the outside of the aquarium with a damp cloth every day to remove fingerprints and dust. Never use any chemicals such as Windex near the aquarium as even the slightest trace of such products will kill the fish.

Weekly Maintenance

Depending on your stocking levels, you will need to do a partial water change every week or every other week. This is to keep nitrate levels down and keep essential dissolved minerals at a healthy level for the fish. These water changes generally need to be between 30-50% of the total water volume. In a newer tank that is still cycling or if new fish have just been added, water changes may also be needed to control ammonia and nitrites, though it will likely be more often than once a week for that purpose. For a healthier tank and a significantly reduced risk of ammonia spikes, you can use a time-released water maintenance product such as EcoBio-Block. These blocks last up to two years apiece and keep the water in the aquarium perfectly balanced by breaking down the toxic ammonia and nitrites from fish waste and uneaten food, as well as re-supplying essential minerals in the water as they’re used up by the fish which dramatically reduces the need for water changes.

Algae grow regularly in aquariums and, if visible on underwater surfaces, should be manually scraped off with a scraper sponge that is approved specifically for aquariums. A sponge that is not specifically for an aquarium may scratch glass and acrylic and may have been manufactured with chemicals that are harmful to fish. Filter pads should be rinsed out in a dish of aquarium water to remove excess organic material and then placed back in the filter. Tap water should never be used as the filter pad contains a lot of beneficial bacteria that will die if exposed to chlorine or chloramines, which are removed in tank water with a de-chlorinating water treatment. Top off the water to replace any that has evaporated and the amount used to rinse out the filter pad.

Monthly Maintenance

Every month the aquarium needs a thorough gravel vacuum to remove organic material such as uneaten food and fish waste from the substrate, as well as remove potentially harmful pockets of gasses that can build up in the substrate over time if it is not stirred. If you use EcoBio-Block in the aquarium then you need only stir the substrate manually once or twice a month to help excess organic material get into the filter where it can easily be removed from the system through rinsing filter pads, which can save a lot of time, effort and mess over a traditional gravel vacuum.

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