Routine Maintenance

Change part of the water in your saltwater aquarium regularly. I recommend changing 10-15 percent per week, but you can do it biweekly or monthly, so long as you change roughly half the water every month. This simple procedure will do more to enhance the appearance of the tank and the health of the fish and invertebrates than anything else you do as an aquarist.

Changing Water

Aquarium shops sell various types of siphons for removing water from the tank. Purchase one with a long enough hose to reach from the bottom of the tank, over the top edge, and down to the floor. You will also need a couple of plastic five-gallon buckets. Use them only for aquarium maintenance. Don't mix garden fertilizer or paint in a bucket and then later carry water in it. You may inadvertently poison the aquarium.

Before removing water from the tank, make certain to turn off all equipment, especially the heater, which should be unplugged.

Fill the buckets and discard the used water until you have removed the correct amount. Refill the aquarium with previously prepared synthetic seawater.

Caring for an Aquarium 33

Caring for an Aquarium 33

Carefully pour the replacement water into the tank. If the tank is a large one, you may find hoisting heavy buckets to its rim too much of a chore. In this case, purchase a small submersible pump and a suitable length of hose to take care of the work. A five-gallon bucket full of water weighs over forty pounds. Please don't hurt your back trying to lift this much weight in a controlled manner; do it only if you are physically up to the task.

The fish, of course, will freak out over the disturbance, but it is doubtful any will suffer long-term harm. Since you have to remove the light fixture to get at the tank, the darkness will help some in this regard. Once the tank is full again, switch the pumps and heater back on and check for normal operation. I suggest leaving the lights off until the next day to allow the fish to calm down. Don't feed them, either, on water-change day.

For a large built-in aquarium, the plumbing system should be designed to permit draining and filling the tank via the filter sump, as will be discussed in chapter 5, "Nuts and Bolts."

You may want to do some housecleaning as part of your water-change routine. This is a good time to clean algae from the front and sides of the tank, and to siphon out any noticeable accumulations of debris. It is likely that you will stir up fine debris in the course of maintenance. It will be removed once the filter is restarted. This is the ideal time to check and replace filter media, which may become clogged with particulate matter. I save the major work for once a month, but you may want to clean the inside of the glass weekly. Use a plain plastic scouring pad (such as Scotch-Brite) from the supermarket for this purpose if you have a glass tank. Acrylic tanks require the use of a cleaning pad made especially for them. In either case, always be careful not to get a piece of gravel or a grain of sand between the pad and the tank wall, or you will scratch it.

Before replacing the cover, clean it thoroughly on both sides with plain water and the scouring pad you use for algae removal. Water spots, dust, and algae on the cover glass can seriously reduce light penetration. If you maintain corals or other photosynthetic invertebrates, they will need all the light the fixture can provide. Also, wipe off the fluorescent lamp itself. You will be surprised how it picks up household grime due to the electrical charge it bears when in operation. Make a note when the tank is first set up, and on the anniversary date each year replace all the lamps in your fluorescent fixture. Light output decreases as the lamps age, even though you may not notice this visually. If using metal halide lighting, follow the manufacturer's directions regarding an appropriate lamp replacement schedule.

Now and then you will need to replace worn parts such as the impeller in your filter pump. Plan to do this, too, while the equipment is shut down for a water change.

Once you complete the water change and other routine maintenance, you will be amazed at how the tank sparkles. The benefits of a short time spent on maintenance will be clearly apparent.

WARNING If you expose the heater to the air, it will get hot enough to blister you if it should switch on. Subsequent contact with water is likely to cause the heater to crack, which may create a dangerous electrical hazard, and will certainly ruin the heater.

34 Saltwater Aquarium Models

34 Saltwater Aquarium Models c-\

Mixing Synthetic Seawater

If stored covered in a cool, dark place such as a garage, basement, or closet, natural or synthetic seawater keeps indefinitely. You can mix up a large batch to have available as needed. Slightly more than two cups of dry mix will make five gallons of seawater. Buy your salt mix in large quantities to save on its cost. It keeps indefinitely if stored in a tightly sealed container away from moisture. Dampness promotes caking, which makes the mix hard to measure and causes it to dissolve more slowly. Too much moisture can also cause chemical changes in the mixture, in which case it should not be used at all.

Salt mix dissolves more quickly if you add the mix to a pail of water, rather than put the mix in the bottom of the bucket and add water. Agitating the mixture also speeds solution. If you use only a five-gallon bucket for mixing, you can drop in a small air diffuser and bubble air into the bucket overnight. For larger amounts, consider making a mixing tank. You can find plans for one in hobby magazines or on the Internet. \__/

Water Tests

One important aspect of maintaining your saltwater aquarium is keeping water conditions within rather narrow limits. It's easier to do than it sounds. Make regular tests, then make adjustments. For example, evaporation causes a gradual increase in salinity. This happens because only water leaves the tank, and the same quantity of salt thus becomes concentrated in a diminishing volume of water. Your job is to keep the change to a minimum, which you accomplish through maintenance. Checking the salinity weekly and adding fresh water to compensate for the loss is the appropriate response to evaporation. Similarly, for other important parameters, such as pH, alkalinity, and nitrate, test the water regularly and make appropriate adjustments when conditions begin to deviate from their target values. I like to say, "test and tweak."

Neglecting maintenance to the point that you can only bring the water conditions back in line by doing a massive water change virtually guarantees problems. This, nevertheless, is a common mistake. Regular testing and small corrections are the way to go. Buy good test kits, use them on a regular basis, and keep a written record of the results. Keeping a record lets you compare your results with previous tests, in order to refine your technique. You may learn, for example, that your aquarium evaporates about ten ounces of water every week, consistently. Knowing that, you can just add ten ounces of fresh water every Friday and dispense with testing until the next water change.

How to Test

Always follow the manufacturer's instructions when using test kits or instruments. Rinse out vials thoroughly with fresh water after each use, and store them upside down to drain. Rinse the vial with the water to be tested prior to each use. Use a cup or medicine dropper to remove water from the tank for testing. Do not dip the test vials into the water. Take care never to spill test chemicals into the aquarium. Do not store test chemicals for more than a year, and keep them out of children's reach.

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Caring for an Aquarium 35

If the tank has been set up properly and maintenance carried out on schedule—and if you don't overstock or fail to feed the fish with restraint—it is unlikely that ammonia or nitrite, the two major pollutants that pose an immediate threat to fish health, will accumulate. If you do regular water changes, excess nitrate accumulation is unlikely, also.

With that in mind, it still pays to be prepared to take quick action in case the fish show signs of distress. It is always worthwhile to have a basic water chemistry lab available for troubleshooting purposes. For that I suggest purchasing test kits for the following:

Aquarium water should never have any detectable ammonia or nitrite. The presence of either one indicates that biofiltration is not proceeding as it should. Immediate action should be taken to reduce the concentration of either of these compounds should you discover them. Change enough water to substantially reduce the level. Keep testing on a daily basis, changing water as needed, until the system returns to normal. Stop feeding during this time. The fish will not starve, and more food will only exacerbate the problem.

Nitrate

Nitrate is another matter. If you check nitrate just before doing a water change, you will note that it increases by about the same amount every month. Immediately after the water change, it will be reduced in proportion to the amount changed, that is, a 50-percent water change will reduce nitrate by 50 percent. By the next water change, more nitrate will have accumulated. The difference between the nitrate level immediately after a water change and the level immediately before next month's (or next week's) change represents the normal amount of nitrate production for your particular situation. A deviation from that norm means that something has upset the equilibrium established between ammonia production, biological filtration, and nitrate removal. Several factors can produce this deviation. Adding a fish produces a noticeable change, for example. Similarly, rotting food or a dead snail decomposing behind a rock adds ammonia, and this will eventually result in nitrate accumulation. Thus, it is important to keep a record of each nitrate test. Should an anomaly appear, try to identify an obvious explanation, e.g., new fish were added. Otherwise, you need to track down the culprit.

Ask yourself the following questions:

Did I carry out the test correctly? (It is always worth doing a confirming test before looking for other explanations.)

Have water changes been skipped?

Have fish been added?

Have I fed more than I normally do?

Is everyone present and accounted for? (Small fish or invertebrates sometimes die unnoticed.)

Have I added anything out of the ordinary? (Medications, especially, may disrupt bacterial activity and thus change the nitrogen equilibrium.)

Nitrate may be removed by natural processes, such as conversion to nitrogen gas by specialized bacteria. This process, denitrification, takes place in the absence of oxygen. Live rock (see page 64) harbors denitrifying bacteria beneath its surface, where oxygen cannot readily diffuse. Your partial water changes may constitute the primary way nitrate leaves the aquarium, particularly if it is a fish-only tank. Measuring nitrate accumulation allows you to spot anomalies that may be a sign of trouble.

The amount of nitrate produced per unit of time remains constant as long as conditions do not change. Conversely, changes in aquarium conditions will be reflected in changes in the nitrate concentration of the water. Each partial water change lowers the total amount of nitrate in the aquarium, creating a new point from which accumulation begins again. Note that the trend in nitrate concentration will always be upward unless 100 percent of the water was changed each month. At some point—I suggest every six months—you will need to do an extralarge water change to return the tank to a reasonable base line position with regard to nitrate. When fish are added a new, higher base line for nitrate is established, owing to the additional waste output. Adding more live rock, which increases the rate of denitrification, results in the removal of nitrate from the water. This changes the base line in the opposite direction. Invisible nitrate, therefore, can be an indicator of the overall biological activity in your aquarium. Thus, it is worth carrying out this one test on a regular basis.

How to Tweak Nitrogen Compounds

Finding ammonia or nitrite during a routine test is always cause for concern. Determine the source of the problem immediately. Common possibilities are:

• The aquarium contains too many fish.

• Uneaten food or a dead animal is decaying in the aquarium.

• An antibiotic has been added to the aquarium, killing the nitrifying bacteria.

• There is a shortage of oxygen. Responses to these problems are:

• Find whatever is decaying and siphon it out.

• Remove the antibiotic with activated carbon filtration or by doing a large water change.

• Repair the pump or add additional powerheads to increase the water movement.

• Lower the temperature by installing a chiller.

The Nitrate Base Line

The best way to keep tabs on the balance between food going in and bacterial activity is by measuring nitrate accumulation weekly. Any increase in nitrate from the base line level indicates changes in the utilization of food. As fish grow, their food requirements increase. This results in a change in the nitrate budget of the whole system. Similarly, adding or removing specimens alter the slope of the accumulation line. As you add or remove specimens, regular nitrate measurements must be taken to determine the new base line. A stable system will show stable nitrate accumulation, and any sudden deviation should be taken as a warning sign. A system in nitrogen equilibrium has a nitrate base line of zero, because denitrification exactly balances nitrate production. V_/

Not all nitrate tests are created equal. Some test total nitrate and some test nitrate nitrogen. Without going into the details, suffice it to say that you must always record the same parameter if your test results are to be of any value for comparison purposes. Don't switch brands of test kits, unless you are sure that the new kit is measuring the same thing your old one did. (Different brands that test the same parameter may give different results with the same water sample, but the difference will be slight.) If you simply cannot find, for example, a total nitrate test and are forced to rely on one for nitrate nitrogen, multiply the result by 4.4. Similarly, to convert total nitrate to nitrate nitrogen, divide by 4.4.

If the pH is low because too much carbon dioxide accumulates in the water, increased water movement may be all that is needed to alleviate the problem. Keeping the aquarium at the correct pH can also be accomplished by adding a buffering agent to increase and stabilize the pH. A host of products are offered in aquarium shops for this purpose. Products that help both to buffer pH and to maintain alkalinity may be the most useful. Seawater mix brands vary in the degree to which they maintain the correct pH when mixed. Always check each new batch of seawater before using it. If you find consistent problems, try a different brand. The use of aragonite sand as part of the substrate can also aid in pH stabilization. As the sand slowly dissolves, ions are released, helping to maintain alkalinity and calcium levels. When the alkalinity of the aquarium is at natural seawater level or above, the pH tends to remain within a suitably narrow range. Test pH weekly and use one of the buffering additives if you need it. Make sure to follow the directions on the package.

Calcium and Alkalinity

You need to monitor and adjust the calcium concentration of the aquarium if you have a minireef. Corals, soft corals, clams, snails, scallops, shrimps, crabs, starfish, sea urchins, and even some algae all need calcium for their skeletons. Several techniques exist for keeping the calcium content of the aquarium close to that of natural seawater, 400 mg/L. A simple approach is to add limewater. Limewater is a saturated solution of lime in water. It is prepared by adding dry calcium oxide to distilled water, allowing the mixture to settle, and decanting. Use about two teaspoons of lime per gallon of water. Some undissolved powder should always remain at the bottom of the container. Calcium oxide is sold in supermarkets for making lime pickles, or you can

38 Saltwater Aquarium Models

38 Saltwater Aquarium Models purchase it at an aquarium shop. Use limewater to replace all evaporated water. Limewater is alkaline. Take care that additions do not drive the pH above 8.6 for more than a few hours at a time. An hour after adding a dose, check the pH. You can quickly determine how much to add on a routine basis after a few weeks of testing and keeping records. After that, just add the correct amount on a regular basis, and only check the calcium concentration once a month. Make up only enough limewater for a week's supply. Over time, atmospheric carbon dioxide will cause much of the lime to precipitate out of solution as insoluble calcium carbonate.

In aquariums with a thick substrate layer of aragonite sand, the pH will be very low in the anoxic regions deep in the substrate. The low pH causes aragonite to dissolve and return both calcium and carbonate ions to the water. Depending upon the makeup of the community of organisms in the aquarium, pH/alkalinity/calcium balance may be maintained through this process alone, and no limewater or other additives will be required. Other aquariums may need additional help in the form of limewater additions, as described above, or through enhancement of the aragonite dissolution process by means of a calcium reactor. This is simply a device that allows acidified distilled water to be passed over a layer of aragonite, which results in the enrichment of the water with calcium and carbonate ions. This water is then added to the aquarium to replenish evaporation. This technique avoids the drawbacks inherent in the use of limewater, but requires more work. You can purchase a calcium reactor, or make one yourself. It is basically a plastic pipe with screen at one end to keep the aragonite from falling out. Water is added at the top of the reactor, flows through the aragonite, and is collected below. Using distilled water to which a small amount of vinegar (about a tablespoon per gallon) has been added is most effective in dissolving the aragonite.

As acids are produced by the biological activity in the aquarium, alkalinity decreases. Restoring the alkalinity to normal levels is part of routine maintenance. Using a chemical additive such as limewater, adding aragonite sand to the substrate, or adding calcified water from a calcium reactor will all increase the alkalinity. The relationship between alkalinity and calcium concentration is reciprocal. Increase one, and the other decreases. In the early days in the life of your aquarium, you may have to experiment with repeated testing to determine the best way to keep pH, alkalinity, and calcium all within their proper ranges. Of greatest importance to the inhabitants of the aquarium is the pH, influencing as it does not only the respiration of fish, but the deposition of calcium carbonate by invertebrates. If the pH is correct, the specimens can get along with less than the natural amount of dissolved calcium. Therefore, focus on maintaining the correct pH. The higher the alkalinity, the easier this will be. If you do not use limewater or some other means of calcium supplementation because you have no invertebrates, there are plenty of commercial additives for maintaining the alkalinity.

Record Keeping

Because each aquarium is unique, there is no good substitute for a complete, conscientiously maintained record book. Buy a calendar, notebook, or three-ring binder and make notes regarding water changes, lamp replacement, and other routine maintenance. You can also jot down your observations on the behavior or growth of the fish and other inhabitants. Not only will having such a record help you remember things like when to change the filter pads, but also with time the notebook will become a history of the tank that you will enjoy looking back upon. If you find yourself wondering how old that clownfish is, you can check your records and find the date you placed it in the tank. This, for me, is part of the fun, and is also a good way to spot trends.

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Caring for an Aquarium 39

I like to use a loose-leaf binder to hold both aquarium records and documents like equipment manuals or instructions for test kits. I drop the binder in a large plastic bag and store it under the aquarium. The bag keeps out water damage, and the binder is there whenever I need it. Keeping everything organized and handy makes it easier to stay on top of maintenance and testing. If you have to scour the house for your notes and equipment, you are less likely to do what's required at the proper time.

Record the following information about your aquarium in the record book:

• Test(s) performed and results

• Anything added and amount

• Temperature

• Specific gravity and calculated salinity

• Amount of water changed

• Species and size of fish or invertebrates added

• Incidents of death or disease, treatments, and results

• Any comments or observations you think pertinent

Your aquarium record can be as detailed as you like. The more information you retain, the better. For example, why not use a digital camera to record the appearance of the aquarium at various times. You might want to have step-by-step pictures showing the aquarium in various stages of construction. Each time you add a new fish or invertebrate you create another photo opportunity. Don't overlook using the camera to record problems. You can even e-mail a picture of a sick fish to someone helping you with diagnosis.

Digital technology makes possible continuous monitoring and recording of some important aquarium parameters, not to mention automated control of lighting and other equipment. Temperature, salinity, and pH are relatively easy and inexpensive to monitor in this way. Some tests, such as those for ammonia and nitrite, are difficult to automate, but having other routine tests automated saves time for carrying out manual testing. Aquarium monitoring and control devices usually interface with a PC to permit display of information in various forms, such as a graph of pH versus time. You can find sources for such equipment on the Internet or in hobby magazines.

Equipment Maintenance

Everything wears out, of course, but you can prolong the life of your aquarium equipment by properly maintaining it. Doing equipment maintenance at the same time as your monthly water change makes sense.

1. Turn off the tank lights and unplug the fixture. If you use metal halide lighting, the lamps will need to cool down before you can move the fixture, or you risk damaging them. Besides, a dark tank makes the whole operation less stressful for the fish. Check the light fixture for any signs of salt accumulation or corrosion. Remove any that you find with a cloth dampened in fresh water. If corrosion is developing, try to determine why, and take steps to prevent further damage. Aquarium lighting is designed to resist corrosion and to protect electrical connections from saltwater, so corrosion is a sign of improper installation or a break in the water barrier. Any damage you discover to the electrical parts of the lighting system should be repaired immediately by a skilled person. Such damage may pose an electrical or fire hazard. Problems such as this are rare with good-quality lighting equipment.

2. With a damp cloth, carefully clean dust and salt spray from the lamps themselves, as any accumulation will reduce the light output. You may need to remove the lamps from the fixture in order to do this effectively, depending upon the fixture design. Many fixtures also have a plastic sheet that protects the lamps. The side of the plastic nearest the water surface invariably becomes spotted from droplets of sea-water. Again, carefully clean the plastic with a damp cloth, ensuring that the maximum light output reaches the aquarium.

3. Shut down the filter pump and protein skimmer.

4. Wipe clean the outer surfaces of all the plumbing fittings and hoses. You'll be surprised at how much dust they can accumulate. Also clean dust from any portion of the pump intended to ventilate the pump housing. Dust clogging the vents reduces the cooling effect, and makes the pump wear out faster. Pump designs differ from brand to brand. Follow the manufacturer's directions for cleaning and maintenance of the pump. If it's time to replace the impeller, do so now.

5. Disassemble the protein skimmer and clean it in the sink, in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations. Usually, the skimmer collection cup and the tube through which foam rises toward the cup accumulate scum on their inner surfaces that interferes with efficient skimming. After a good cleaning to remove the scum, you'll find that foam "climbs" up the tube more readily, and you may need to adjust the skimmer to prevent overflow. Only a process of trial and error will permit you to set a schedule for skimmer maintenance, since every tank is different. Your skimmer may get thoroughly dirty in a week's time, while mine may take two weeks to lose efficiency because of accumulated gook. Try to develop a schedule that results in a relatively constant amount of foam being collected per unit of time. If you keep track of the volume each time you empty the collection cup, you will note that a sparkling clean skimmer produces mostly thick, dark green foam, while a yucky skimmer collects a lot of diluted foam and water. You want to strive for a happy medium between these two extremes during the course of a month. Because skimmer designs vary, and because the amount of organic matter in the water also varies from one aquarium to another, it is impossible to give exact guidelines for properly adjusting the skimmer. You'll get the hang of it after a month or two. Skimmers that use air diffusers may need these replaced every month or so, as they will become clogged with mineral deposits. Similarly, air-supply lines can develop mineral deposits where air and water come into contact. These deposits will eventually close off the line. They can be easily removed by soaking in a weak solution of vinegar and water, scraping with a toothpick, and rinsing in fresh water before reconnecting.

6. Always remember to unplug the heater before removing any water from the tank. Submersible heaters are usually trouble free, but it doesn't hurt to check for any damage as a regular part of your maintenance routine.

Caring for an Aquarium 41

Caring for an Aquarium 41

The "Hurricane Effect"

Every now and then a hurricane or typhoon strikes near a reef. Wind-driven wave surges break off tons of coral fragments. The hurricane also stirs up debris, making the water turbid. Despite the apparent devastation, a hurricane actually benefits the reef ecosystem by flushing out accumulated sediments and pruning the coral. Coral fragments that happen to land in a suitable spot often resume growth as if nothing happened, creating a potential site for a new patch reef to develop.

You probably won't want to be breaking off coral fragments in the process, but creating a "hurricane" in your saltwater aquarium now and then is not a bad idea. Sediment tends to accumulate on any horizontal surface in the aquarium, just like dust gathers on your furniture. Periodically removing it not only helps keep the aquarium looking tidy, but also exposes the area under the sediment to light, providing algae and sessile invertebrates a clean spot on which to grow.

Start by gently manipulating the top inch or two of the substrate layer with your fingers. This will stir up a lot of debris. If there are algae mats growing on the surface of the substrate, break them up with your fingers. Much of the sediment and algae will settle on the rocks and corals, but don't worry about that at this point.

Disconnect one of your powerheads. Holding it in your hand underwater, direct the outflow from the power-head toward your live rock while someone else plugs the cord back in. Play the water jet over the surfaces of the rocks and corals, blasting debris into suspension where it can be picked up by the filter system. While the "hurricane" rages, you can also temporarily run a canister filter to "polish" the water by trapping most of the suspended sediment inside the filter. Try to sweep as much sediment as possible toward the front of the tank. With only a little practice, you will learn to operate the powerhead like a leaf blower to move piles of debris. When this step is completed to your satisfaction, turn off all pumps and allow suspended debris to settle out. Wait an hour or more. Overnight is fine. Then, use a length of hose to siphon as much of the sediment as possible off the bottom of the tank. Collect it in a bucket and discard. Top off the aquarium with freshly prepared seawater. Voila! Hurricane complete, minireef freshly scrubbed. Doing this once or twice a year works wonders for keeping the aquarium looking healthy and sparkling.

Using a Maintenance Service

While I assume the owner of the aquarium will be the one taking care of it, the possibility does of course exist for a hands-off approach. An aquarium maintenance service makes a lot of sense if you lack the time required to give the aquarium the weekly attention it needs. Nevertheless, feeding and checking key conditions on a daily basis, especially for a reef tank, can occupy more than a few minutes. On a weekly basis, an hour or so is required to carry out testing and record keeping, and part of the water should be removed and replaced with previously prepared synthetic seawater. Seaweeds, and even some invertebrates, may require pruning, algae may grow in places where you don't want it, and equipment will need servicing. Depending upon the size of the tank, maintenance may thus involve more time than you can spare. Because conditions in even the best-designed system tend to deteriorate quickly without regular maintenance, if you don't have the time for upkeep, you will need to hire someone to carry out these chores to avoid disaster.

Saltwater Aquarium Models

If you decide to go this route, choose the service with care. Make sure responsibilities, yours and theirs, are clearly understood. Confirm that the price quoted covers both labor and materials, such as synthetic seawa-ter, that will be replaced in the course of normal care. If supplies cost extra, you should have the option of shopping for them yourself, rather than purchasing only from the maintenance company. Everything should be spelled out in a written agreement. The cost for professional maintenance can be considerable, and most companies charge a monthly minimum. However, proper care is the key to long-term enjoyment from any aquarium, but especially so in the case of saltwater. Failing to appreciate this fully has resulted in many a would-be aquarium owner's disappointment.

SUMMARY

You don't need a scientific background, or a lot of experience, to have a successful saltwater aquarium with thriving fish and invertebrates. All you need to do is use common sense and stick with my basic rules. In summary, they are as follows:

• Set up the largest aquarium that your resources can accommodate.

• Know the optimal conditions for saltwater chemistry, and maintain those conditions in your tank.

• Choose a lighting system adequate for corals and other photosynthetic organisms, if you choose to include them in your tank. There is no substitute for light. Otherwise, use plastic reproductions.

• Understand the critical process of biofiltration.

• Add fish gradually. Start with no more than 10 percent of the total number you eventually will keep in the tank. This allows biofiltration to keep pace with the fish population.

• Add hardy fish first. Save delicate species for later, when the tank is more stable.

• Always choose fish and invertebrates with care. Even if you follow a recipe from this book precisely, bringing home a sick fish will create problems.

• Understand why nitrate is an indicator of the overall condition of the aquarium.

• Feed a varied diet in small amounts.

• Carry out partial water changes on a regular schedule without fail.

• Keep a notebook of observations, such as water test results, to refer to when making changes or diagnosing a problem.

Most importantly, sit quietly near the tank for a short while each day and watch what's going on. Not only will you learn a lot about the coral reef environment, your stress level will decrease, you'll learn to relax, and, hopefully, you will live longer. Not a bad trade-off, in my view.

Caring for an Aquarium 43

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