A Beginning Aquarium for the Novice Aquarist

For over 30 years I have professionally been giving aquarium advice to novice aquarists interested in learning how to keep their tropical fish alive in their beginning aquarium.  Keeping a fish tank, in the long term, is not all that difficult, but the first couple of months are possibly the toughest to get through. Most of the problems you will face during the break-in time really result in overcoming ingrained habits and beliefs that are not really compatible with proper tank maintenance.  

Approach keeping your new tank with a sense of the wonder that this small slice of underwater life will offer to you.  Be patient and careful in doing any changes, either to fish population or water conditions.  Actually the old carpenter’s rule: measure twice before you cut once really applies: Be absolutely sure of the consequences of any action you perform on the new aquarium before you change the living environent of your fish.

The very first thing to understand is that the novice aquarist is completely responsible for the environment that his/her aquatic pets must live in.  You are the one to provide all the nutrition and must ensure the water is in proper balance to support life within the closed confined of the glass (or acrylic) box.  The water needs to be monitored in the first few weeks, but once the aquarium filtration systems have matured and the biological filtration has been allowed to optimize, the new aquarium becomes a thing of beauty and a pleasure to watch.  Sometimes for hours on end…..

When I started my first aquarium, I had few resources to rely on.  That was way back in the era of stainless steel framed aquariums caulked to seal with slate bottoms.  Leaks were a common problem.  One of the greatest innovations in the Aquarium Hobby was the introduction of silicone sealant by GE.  Standard aquarium filtration in the early (19)60′s consisted of a small vibrator air pump supplying a small inside box filter and, in advanced cases, a few airstones to keep oxygen levels adequate in the aquarium.  Soon, the undergravel filter showed up to “revolutionize” modern filtration.  I still remember the most powerful air pump, the Silent Giant, which was pushed to its limits to provide as much air as possible down the riser stems.  The relesed bubbles created a chimney effect to draw water through the gravel to feed and oxygenate the benefical bacteria growing in the substrate.  About the same time came the motor driven filters, the original DynaFlo and AquaKing. Then the Biozonic 3 Stage and powered filtration began its upward spiral to acceptance.

In those days, The only place to solve illnesses was at the local pet store.  I was lucky, the Live Fish Stores (LFS) in my area had dedicated owners who were devoted to keeping fish alive.  They spent the time needed to educate a young boy who was captivated with the hobby of keeping and growing tropical fish.  But the other main resource I needed was a good reference book.  Between the helpful pet store staff and the right book, we went through all the problems possible, and you are the beneficiaries of that old-time expertise to help you miss all the problems associated with a new glass aquarium and its multiple inhabitants. I look forward to that challenge, it will teach me just as much about this hobby as it will help you!  

You have the advantage of a huge data warehouse of information, the Internet.  But, just like the young boy who started so long ago, plan to rely on one of the most valuable resources in this hobby, the staff of your local pet store.  Hopefully yours is staffed with at least one aquatic expert to help advise the solution of any problems that may arise.  If the nearby store does not have such a resource, find one that does.  Frank discussion of propblems, face to face, is often the easiest way to overcome a particular problem.  

This blog will also provide answers to commonly asked questions, in my career, both personal and professional, I have seen them all.  Maybe even the information and troubleshootng tips will help to educate the store employees as well.  My mission is simple, I am dedicated to helping you avoid the most common problems that plaque the novice aquarist. It will involve some education, some troublshooting and probably some work on your part to eliminate dangerous activites that are deadly to your new pets.

Many problems are obvious when one understands what is happening in the aquarium as the system matures.  Filtration is much more pervasive than simply passing water over a screen to remove dirt.  If you are unaware what is going on in the invisible world at the most basic life levels and do not optimze the system to promote beneficial bacteria, trouble and continuous fish death is a common result.  UIn the long run, biological filtration is actually more important to the fish than the temperature and cleanliness of the tank.  Do not get me wrong, level and even heating and adequate particulate debris removal is also vital. The work needed to ensure sucess is not extensive, the more you know, the easier it gets.  

I have found that often the people who fail often do way too much to the tank, and that can be the greatest single problem with sucessful fish keeping.

As time goes by, this blog will look into the many aspects of fish and fishkeeping.  The things you need to know will be carefully explained, as well as the actual technology you are using to keep this living picture healthy and thriving.


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