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Teacher Resources

How do I set up and maintain an aquarium?

How to Set Up an Aquarium

  • Locate the tank on a strong, level surface or aquarium stand. A thin layer of Styrofoam® under the tank will correct for any surface irregularities. To avoid excessive algal growth do not place it in direct sunlight. Be aware of any possible sources of heat or cold and try to avoid them.
  • Install the undergravel filter (if using one) and gravel. Follow instructions for assembly and placement of the filter, its air lines, and filter cartridges. Whether or not it is seal-coated, gravel should be thoroughly rinsed in clean water. Count on a minimum of one pound of gravel per gallon of water. Gravel depth should be approximately 11/2 to 2".
  • Water is next. Tap water that has been aged at least two or three days will be fine. We strongly recommend treatment with a water detoxifier (to remove residual chlorine or chloramine) and a water conditioner. Follow these guidelines also when doing regular water exchanges. To avoid disturbing the gravel, pour the water into a shallow bowl placed on the gravel surface. Fill the tank up to the bottom of the top plastic molding.
  • Set up and connect the pump, other filters, aerators, heaters, etc. Allow this equipment to operate for several days to equilibrate water chemistry and temperature. Check and adjust pH to proper level. Check water temperature at different times of the day and make any necessary adjustments to the heater setting.
  • Introduce the fish! Build the population gradually and monitor water conditions closely at first as you gradually settle into a regular schedule for monitoring and maintenance.

How to Maintain a Healthy Aquarium

  • Keep tank temperature relatively constant and in the recommended range. The number one promoter of fish diseases is temperature stress. By selecting a good quality heater, appropriately sized for your tank, you will take a big step in the right direction. Submersible heaters-due to better circulation around the element-are the best choice. They also tend to exhibit smaller fluctuations between on and off cycles-another important factor. Avoid placing your tank near sources of heat or cold and keep it out of direct sunlight.
  • Maintain a regular schedule of water changes. Do a partial water change (roughly one-third of the total volume) every two weeks. When gravel cleaning you should also remove one-third to one-half of the total volume.
  • Keep filters maintained and working well. This includes everything from gravel cleaning, to checking and replacing airstones, to renewing filter cartridges and media (carbon, filter floss, etc.). Biological, chemical, and mechanical filtration must be present to ensure against buildup of toxins, maintain water clarity and remove particulates.
  • Keep an eye on chemical balance. Water pH may be second only to temperature in importance to the health of your fish. Know the proper pH range for your fish and stay within it. With pH test paper or probe, and chemicals to adjust pH, this is an easy goal to achieve. Check tank pH once a week and any time water is added or exchanged. The vital physiological processes going on in your fish-including respiration-are depending on you.
  • Avoid aggressive varieties of fish, slow-water fish (such as angelfish), and fancy fish (like goldfish and guppies). Consult your fish/pet store owner regarding compatible community varieties.
  • Keep a few scavengers in the tank such as snails, crabs, algae eaters, and catfish. They will make your tank virtually self-cleaning. And remember, vary the shapes and colors to keep fish watching interesting!
  • Feed standard fish food according to package directions.
  • Remove dying or dead plants and fish promptly.

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