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So Your Setting Up Your First Aquarium

Ok as promised a while back I’ll do an article on setting up a tank for beginners, so here it goes i will admit i have gotten some of the more technical info from other sites but majority of this is me.

When setting up a tank for the first time I feel it is necessary to put in a little background work first, by this i mean what fish are you going to keep, what is their natural environment like, is it a general community tank or something more specific e.g.: Malawi / Tanganyika, Amazonian etc. this WILL have an impact on your substrate, and decor to provide a long term happy environment for you fish.

Let’s start with tank size, personally I always advise going for the biggest tank you can afford, the more water volume the more stable your aquarium parameters will be, this is very important with regards to ph, nitrate, nitrite and ammonia, these at a wrong level WILL MOST DEFINATELY CAUSE FISH LOSSES. One thing i strongly recommend is you invest in a master test kit to help you monitor you water levels as your tank matures allowing you to know when it’s safe to add fish.

Ok let’s say you have bought your aquarium, it now home and you’re dying to get it up and running there’s a few things to consider first. Where are you going to situate the aquarium, keep it out of direct sunlight unless you enjoy cleaning algae off the glass every couple of days, keep it out of draughts as temperature fluctuations can have an adverse affect on fish health, and try to have it in a quiet spot in the room as kids running madly about or heavy traffic can stress some fish.

Now you’ve found that ideal spot what are you putting the aquarium on, is it a piece of furniture or did you acquire an aquarium stand with your purchase. If you are putting it on a piece of existing furniture remember 1 litre of water weighs approx 1kg so this will need to be strong enough to take the weight, if you purchased an aquarium stand all the better as it was designed to take the weight of your specific tank.  Needless to say the stand needs to be level and on a surface that can support the weight of the tank, stand and water, also the surface the aquarium is put on needs to be smooth and have no rough edges that may weaken the base of the tank and cause leaks, i personally use polystyrene or rubber mats under my tanks to allow for this and so far no leaks.

Now for the fun part setting up the tank.
Firstly choose your substrate, in my rift valley tanks i use coral sand of different grades, for Amazon setups i use generic aquarium sand / play sand over a plant medium or even over peat depending on the ph I’m looking to achieve. Make sure to rinse, rinse, and rinse again the gravel / sand before you add it to your tank do it until the substrate runs 100% clear then add carefully to your tank. If you are using rock work now is the time to place it in the aquarium i use slim Styrofoam tiles under the rocks to prevent pressure fractures on the glass and then brush my substrate around it this also prevents fish under mining the rocks which can lead to rockwork collapses causing broken aquariums, if your building rockwork high in the tank please for safety’s sake either use and aquarium epoxy or silicon to keep them together, this will prevent collapses in the future.

Once your substrate is in you can now add water,

i generally pour mine in over a plate to stop substrate being blown over the aquarium fill the tank ¼ full and if you are adding live plants do it now, its easier than doing it in a full tank, plus the time waiting for your tank to mature will allow the plants to root themselves properly and thus thrive in your tank.

Once you have your decor in add your heater and filter to the set up, do not turn them on yet, now fill up your tank to its full level.

For safety wait about 15 minutes before turning on any equipment especially the heater as it may crack if the water is too cold, this is why this 15 minute waiting period is what i suggest it allows the heater to acclimatise to the water temperature. Now that we’re all set turn on your heater and filter, add your water conditioners to take out harmful heavy metals and chlorine etc from the water i myself swear by easylife to do this job but you may prefer to use a different product,  it may take a few hours to get the tank up to the desired temp.  Do not under any circumstances add fish yet you have to cycle your tank, there is a little cheat here i use regularly which is to always run a spare filter in one of my established tanks which allows me to introduce mature media to the tank after the desired temperature is reached, if you cannot do this cycling the tank is slow but essential if your fish are to survive and be happy.

Cycling the Aquarium, here i will borrow information which will better explain it than i can taken from

Some call it the biological cycle, the nitrification process, new tank syndrome or even the start-up cycle. They all are referring to the same cycle - The Nitrogen Cycle. This very important cycle is the establishment of beneficial bacteria in the aquarium and in the filter media that will help in the conversion of ammonia to nitrite and then the conversion of nitrite to nitrates. Check out the aquarium water chemistry page (on the left) for more information on these terms.
This process can take from 2 weeks to 2 months or longer to complete. It is vital for anyone planning on keeping aquarium fish to understand this process. Learning about this process will help you to be successful in keeping fish and it should definitely improve your chances when keeping tropical fish. The best way to monitor the nitrogen cycle is to purchase an aquarium test kit that will test for ammonia, nitrites, nitrates and ph.
Test your aquarium water every other day and write down your readings. You will first see ammonia levels rising. A few weeks or so later you should see the nitrite levels rising and the ammonia levels dropping. Finally, after a few more weeks you should see the nitrate levels rising and the nitrite levels dropping. When you no longer detect ammonia or nitrites but you can detect nitrates you can assume that it is safe to add your tropical fish.

Nitrogen cycle stages
Ammonia is introduced into the aquarium via tropical fish waste and uneaten food. The tropical fish waste and excess food will break down into either ionized ammonium (NH4) or un-ionized ammonia (NH3). Ammonium is not harmful to tropical fish but ammonia is. Whether the material turns into ammonium or ammonia depends on the ph level of the water. If the ph is under 7, you will have ammonium. If the ph is 7 or higher you will have ammonia.
Soon, bacteria called nitrosomonas will develop and they will oxidize the ammonia in the tank, essentially eliminating it. The byproduct of ammonia oxidation is Nitrites. So we no longer have ammonia in the tank, but we now have another toxin to deal with - Nitrites. Nitrites are just as toxic to tropical fish as ammonia. If you have a test kit, you should be able to see the nitrite levels rise around the end of the first or second week.
Bacteria called nitrobacter will develop and they will convert the nitrites into nitrates. Nitrates are not as harmful to tropical fish as ammonia or nitrites, but nitrate is still harmful in large amounts. The quickest way to rid your aquarium of nitrates is to perform partial water changes. Once your tank is established you will need to monitor your tank water for high nitrate levels and perform partial water changes as necessary. There are other methods to control nitrates in aquariums besides water changes. For freshwater fish tanks, live aquarium plants will use up some of the nitrates. In tanks, rock and deep sand beds can have anaerobic areas where denitrifying bacteria can breakdown nitrates into harmless nitrogen gas that escapes through the water surface of the aquarium.
There are two ways to get the aquarium cycle started, either with fish or without fish.
Starting the Nirtogen cycle with fish
This is not the preferred way to get the nitrogen cycle started because the fish are being exposed to ammonia and nitrites during this process. Many fish cannot and will not make it through the cycling process. Often times the fish become stressed and fish disease starts to break out. I wonder what percentage of disease is caused by the cycling of new aquariums?
Certain species are hardier than others and seem to tolerate the start-up cycle better than others. the zebra danio is a very hardy fish that many use to get the nitrogen cycle started. Again, using fish to cycle is not a good idea and you may be throwing your money (on dead fish) out the window. There is a better way. Read on, young grasshopper.
Starting The Nitrogen Cycle Fishless
There are a few different ways to get this process started. To easily get an ammonia reading from your tank water try the Seachem Ammonia Alert. It sticks inside the tank and has a circle that changes color depending on the ammonia levels in the tank.

Using Fish Food
Drop in a few flakes every 12 hours. As the food decomposes it will release ammonia. You will have to continue to "feed" the tank throughout the process to keep it going.

Use a small piece of raw fish or a raw shrimp.Drop a 2 inch by 1 inch chunk of raw fish or a raw shrimp into the tank. As it decomposes it will release ammonia into the tank.

Use 100% pure ammonia.
Using a dropper, add 5 drops of ammonia per 10 gallons of aquarium water. If you don't get an ammonia reading with your test kit, add some more drops until you start to see an ammonia reading. Keep track of how many drops you've used so you can repeat this process daily. Continue to dose the tank with ammonia until you start to get nitrite readings with your test kit. Once you can detect nitrites you should only add 3 drops of ammonia per 10 gallons of aquarium water, or if you added more drops originally to get an ammonia reading cut the amount of drops used in half. Continue this process daily until you get nitrate readings with your test kit. Do a 30% water change and your tank is ready.

Option 4:
Use gravel and/or filter media from an established and cycled tank
This is the best and fastest way to go. This will seed the tank with all of the necessary bacteria for the nitrogen cycle. "Feed" the tank daily with flake food until you are getting nitrate readings. Depending on how fast you were able to get the gravel and filter media into your tank, you may be getting nitrate readings in only a day or two. There are some drawbacks to this method. Ask your source if they have recently used any copper medications in the tank. If they have and you are planning to have invertebrates in the tank you should probably not use this method. Invertebrates will not tolerate copper. Get a copper test kit to determine if it's safe to use.

Option 5:
Use filter start - claims to colonize your water with the necessary bacteria needed to get the cycle going along with detoxifying ammonia so it doesn't harm the fish. To be used at the start of the tank setup and whenever you add new fish to your tank.
Another bacteria culture product is Tetra SafeStart . Once the cycle has started only add one or two fish at a time. Wait a couple of weeks before adding more fish. This will give your tank the time it needs to catch up with the increased bio-load.

Speeding Up the Cycling Process
There are things you can do to speed along the process of cycling your aquarium.
Increase the temperature of your aquarium water to 80°F-82°F (27°C-28°C)
Get some beneficial bacteria colonies. Borrow some gravel from an established and cycled aquarium. If you have another tank with an extra filter you can use it. If you have a really nice friend with an established and cycled aquarium, ask if you can have one of their used filter media. It will be loaded with the good bacteria that we are looking for.
There are products on the market that claim to introduce the beneficial bacteria. For more information, check out products like Tetra SafeStart in option 5 above. There are many more products entering the market that contain the beneficial bacteria necessary to seed your tank. Between live rock (for saltwater aquariums) and the bottled bacteria being readily available, there really is no excuse to make fish suffer through a cycle.

Now that thats explained when the cycle has completed you may now add fish, i would add no more than 6 at a time to allow your filter to increase its beneficial bacteria to the increase bio-load, after your levels balance again (usually a week or two) add another 6 fish and continue this process till you have a healthy level of fish in your tank.  For stocking levels heres a link to a good article

Acclimatising your fish,The most commmon tropical fish acclimation methods are:
The Floating Bag Method , The Bucket Method, The Drip Method

The Floating Bag Method
This is probably the most common acclimation method and it works well. You just need to be careful when floating a bag full of unknown water in your tank. Ideally, you're floating the bag in a previously setup quarantine tank but, sadly, many new hobbyists don't use a quarantine tank. After you've been in the hobby for awhile and experience any sort of fish disease outbreak you'll soon come to realize the importance of a simple quarantine tank.
After you leave the fish store you will want to go straight home to avoid ammonia accumulating in the bag (in the form of fish waste). Once you get home, open the top of the bag and remove about 25% of the water from the bag. Replace this water with the same amount of water from your tank. Float the bag in your tank and bring down the hood opening on the open end of the bag to help keep the bag secure. Every 10 minutes add about 1 measuring cup (use less if the bag is smaller) of your tank water to the bag. Repeat this process for about an hour. After an hour has passed use a small net to get the fish out of the bag and gently place the fish into your tank. The main idea here is to slowly get the fish used to your tank water (acclimated). Do not dump the bag water into your tank! If you do, you risk exposing your tank to any parasites or diseases that were in the dealer's tanks.
Some fish may be difficult to net while in the bag and you don't want to damage the fish while trying to net them. If you're having difficulty netting the fish, get a large bowl (large salad bowl works well) and carefully pour the bag water into the net, allowing the bowl to catch the water. You could bypass the bowl altogether and do it over a sink but make sure that the drain plug is in place just in case you miss the fish with the net.
By slowly adding small amounts of water from the tank we are slowly acclimating the fish.

The Bucket Method
This method is basically the same as the floating bag method, but instead of floating the bag in the tank you're putting the bag inside a clean bucket instead. The bucket method is better than the floating bag method because you don't have to worry about any of the bag water entering your tank.
Open the top of the bag and remove about 25% of the water from the bag. Replace this water with the same amount of water from your tank. Every 10 minutes add about 1 measuring cup of water to the bag. Repeat this process for about an hour. After an hour has passed use a small net to get the fish out of the bag and gently place the fish into your tank.

The Drip Method
The drip method is recommended for most sensitive fish and invertebrates because they can be more sensitive to pH, specific gravity and other water chemistry changes.
To do the drip method your going to need a bucket, a vegetable clip with a suction cup for holding the tube in the tank and a length of air pump tubing that is long enough to extend from your tank to the bucket. Place one end of the tube into the veggie clip and then place the veggie clip into your tank. Tie a knot in the tubing to regulate the amount of water flow coming out of your tank. Get the siphon going and place the other end of the tubing into the bag in the bucket. You'll want a slow drip, drip, drip going. Aim for drips every one to two seconds. If you're having troubles using the knot to regulate the drip rate, any type of strong clip should work. Vice-grips (locking pliers) or c-clamps would work as well.
How long you do the drip method depends on what your acclimating. If your doing this method for most freshwater species you should be ok doing it for an hour or so before introducing the fish to your tank. If you're doing this method on a saltwater invertebrate you may want to take 2 or 3 hours for this acclimation procedure. If you have a good pet shop and you trust their advice, ask for and follow their recommendations on the amount of time needed for acclimation.
Acclimating new fish to your aquarium is a critical step and should not be taken lightly. Getting into the habit of using proper acclimation methods is a good way to ensure your long-term success in this wonderful hobby!

Ok i hope this helps all newbies to fish keeping, and given a chance i will do another basic help guide soon
Thanks for reading;)