I’ve been hearing directly from aquarists a lot lately. This isn’t because I’ve been receiving more e-mail or have been attending a lot of aquarium shows.
Rather, I’ve been hearing from my coworkers who are having minor problems with their in-office desktop aquariums. The features of these systems are nearly universal. They contain a small volume of water, are simple in design, and don’t incorporate much in the way of filtration.
I see a lot of aquariums like this at work. None are larger than 10 gallons. Most are basic, bare-bones freshwater setups with a few fishes, some gravel, plastic plants and basic décor. Almost all of them use air pumps for water movement. Only three of my coworkers use power filters, and one of them introduced the power filter on my suggestion.
None of this is bad at all, in my opinion. I’m very happy so many people are interested in keeping fishes. These simple systems are great, and I frequently encourage my coworkers to start such systems or expand their current systems.
However, as I mentioned above, I’ve been hearing from my coworkers regarding their fishes a lot lately. In each case, they’ve asked about small problems they were experiencing in their desktop setups.
In every case, I found that the problem originated because of shoddy husbandry. The main culprit, in my opinion, is overfeeding fishes. With rudimentary filtration, nutrient levels must be tightly controlled or organic waste will build up.
Luckily, it’s easy to fix this problem, especially in such small tanks. Generally, I recommend a water change and a stepped-up maintenance schedule, and the problem disappears.
I’ve also seen a couple cases where planaria have established themselves in small systems. These aren’t harmful to fishes by themselves, but they suggest an underlying husbandry issue.
A few cases involve fishes with diseases. Even in these cases, however, the fix involved nothing more than water changes and a renewed commitment to good husbandry.
Aquarists’ Number One Hurdle
I think the biggest problem new and inexperienced fishkeepers face is maintaining their husbandry standards and tank maintenance routines.
Nearly every aquarist starts out in the hobby with the best intentions. Often, problems develop either because new fishkeepers don’t know what they need to do to maintain a system, or because they become lazy. Sometimes, it’s a combination of both.
Some new aquarists don’t fully understand the dynamics of the system they’ve set up. Often, new hobbyists rely on filters in place of water changes to maintain their fishes. Generally, I think water changes are far more important than filtration in maintaining fishes in captivity. Many expect technology to replace the need for good husbandry – a myth sometimes propagated by elements within the hobby always trying to sell the “quick fix.”
The quick fix mentality is antithetical to the spirit and purpose of the hobby, if you ask me. For me, aquarium keeping is a meditative endeavor where I come to commune with my small piece of nature on a certain level. I expect to do things in a slow, deliberate manner when it comes to my aquaria.
This is true even when I deal with problems. I know that when I first notice the symptoms of a problem in my tanks, what I’ve observed is just the first visible proof of an underlying condition or imbalance.
By making slow, deliberate changes and not letting the anxiety of possible failure force me to rash action, I’m able to control most of the problems that arise in my own tanks.
Slowing Down to Speed Up
This might sound counter-intuitive, and on some level it is. However, I feel that the technique of slowing ourselves down and doing things in our aquaria deliberately really works.
What I mean when I say, “slow down to speed up” is this: take your time, plan your next move and don’t rush what you’re doing. Replace the anxiety and the perceived need to move rapidly with the calm assurance that simple, patient, deliberate action will fix your tank’s problems.
This course of action is so simple, it’s hard to understand for many new aquarists. I think new fishkeepers subconsciously ask “If it’s really so easy, why do so many fail as aquarists?” I think the misconceptions we have about our aquaria is what leads us to problems with our husbandry. We expect technology to fix our problems, but while these methods undoubtedly help, they will not replace traditional, basic husbandry practices.
Basic husbandry, such as performing regular weekly water changes, vacuuming gravel, monitoring feeding practices and assuring adequate oxygenation, accounts for roughly 90 percent of what is needed for success in aquaria. The rest is taken care of with technological fixes.
By learning the simple truism that calm, consistent, deliberate action will fix most of an aquarium’s problems, even the most casual of aquarists can have stellar setups with limited energy input and a low demand on their time.