By ROBERT WOODS
Keeping fish as pets can be a really rewarding and relaxing experience. In comparison to other animals, they don’t demand as much of your time but bring many benefits, including livening up your room, and helping you to relieve stress. Fish also have fun personalities.
It’s important, if you’re thinking about starting a fish tank, that you understand exactly what you need to do.
Choose a hardy species
Before you do anything else, the most important thing is to decide which fish you want to keep and how many of them. You’ll need to do this before you go and buy a fish tank, which many people tend to do first.
Doing in this way round allows you to build the perfect tank around the fish you’ve chosen. Popular beginner fish should be easy to care for, hardy, and not need huge tanks. Some examples include Betta fish, Guppies, Mollies, Danios and Rasboras.
Select the right tank size
Once you know which fish you want to keep, you’ll know the tank size that you need. Smaller 5-gallon (19-litre) tanks are ideal for single fish such as Bettas, or small schools of fish such as a group of Guppies.
You’ll need a larger 20-gallon (75-litre) tank if you want to create a community of fish with a few different species. Most people don’t realise that the larger the tank you choose, the easier it is to maintain and keep the body of water stable.
A 20- to 30-gallon (114-litre) tank is an ideal size for most beginners who want to keep a range of fish.
Buy the right equipment
Depending on the fish you want to keep, the things you need to buy for the tank will differ.
The vast majority of fish will require a filter. There are lots of different options for filters but the most popular beginner choice is a hang-on back filter. It is easy to install and simple to maintain.
Different species require different temperatures. Tropical fish will need a heater in the tank to warm the water up to the right temperature. You also need to research which types of plants and substrate (material used on the tank bottom) are best suited to the species you’re going to keep.
Some fish like plenty of open swimming space and not many decorations, whereas others will only feel comfortable in a heavily planted tank.
Set up the tank
Once you’ve researched the fish you want to keep and bought all the necessary equipment. It’s time to set the tank up.
First, rinse any decorations and the substrate you’ll be using, to ensure no dust or other debris enters the tank. You can then lay a one- to two-inch layer of substrate on the floor of the tank.
Put all your equipment in place, but leave it switched off until the tank is full. You can then add the water, making sure you use a de-chlorinator to remove the chlorine from the water.
Once the tank is full, switch on the equipment and leave the tank for a cycle of four to six weeks.
Most people, and in fact most pet stores, will tell you that you can add fish after 24 hours, but this is not true. The tank needs to complete the nitrogen cycle, meaning that it needs to establish a bed of good bacteria to break down harmful compounds such as ammonia and nitrites which are lethal for fish.
Introduce the fish
You’ll know that your tank has completed a full cycle by using a water test kit and monitoring the levels of nitrates, nitrites and ammonia. The nitrites and ammonia will peak and then drop to 0, and the nitrates will be as close to 0 as possible.
Most fish stores sell their fish in plastic bags, which you can float in the tank for half an hour, as this ensures that the water warms up appropriately.
You’ll then need to add a cup of water to the bag every five to 10 minutes until the bag is full. Once it is full, you can use a net to remove the fish from the bag, into your tank.
Look after the water
The most important aspect of keeping healthy fish is caring for the water. If you keep the water clean and free from harmful compounds, the water will look after your fish, in most cases.
To do this, monitor the water parameters (nitrates, nitrites and ammonia) on a weekly basis, while you’re carrying out a partial water change.
Most newcomers to the aquarium hobby will change all the water in the tank in one go, but this is not necessary and is actually quite damaging – you’ll destroy that good bed of bacteria which was built up!
Instead, just change around 20% of the water every week; you can use a gravel siphon (vacuum) for this, which will also clean the gravel.
As well as looking after the water, there are a few other maintenance jobs you’ll need to undertake to ensure the well-being of your fish. Each day, when you feed them, check that the equipment is all functioning well, and that the temperature of the tank is correct.
When you carry out the weekly water change, also use an algae magnet to remove algae from the glass.
Once a month, you’ll also need to replace the media inside your filter.