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Quality Management Article ·August2012 CITATIONS 0 1author: SubhenduDatta CentralInstituteofFisheriesEducation 135





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Dr. Subhendu Datta

Sr. Scientist Salt Lake City, Kolkata e-mail:subhdatta@gmail.com


Fish obtain their basic necessities from the water in which they live. The most characteristic feature of any aquarium system is therefore the quality of the water it contains. This water must be obtained from some source, pre-treated to make it suitable for the fish, delivered to the fish in sufficient quantities and maintained in good condition. Finally, it must be disposed of. The water supplied to an aquarium is not pure, but contains dissolved and particulate materials, some are necessary for the well-being of the fish and others are harmful. Contamination may occur not only at source or form the animals, but often takes place within the aquarium form the materials used in its construction. The volume of water supplied to an aquarium may at first sight, seem to restrict the number of fish that can be maintained within it. However, it is rarely the quantity of water per unit which limits the carrying capacity. The capacity is usually set by the consumption of dissolved oxygen and the accumulation of toxic metabolic products.

Nitrogenous waste products:

Perhaps the most pronounced and damaging changes to water quality originate with the aquarium inhabitants themselves. In particular, water quality is impaired by the end products of nitrogen metabolism. These include ammonia (either as the gas NH 3 or ammonium ion, NH 4 ), urea, uric acid and other nitrogenous substances including proteins and amino acids. Ammonia, especially, is one of the most harmful substances. Higher percent of un-ionized NH 3 prevails at higher pH and higher temperature. In ammonia poisoning, Gill becomes red, fish become darker in colour and grasping at the surface layer. Acute toxicity levels = 0.4 ppm NH 3 . Chronic toxicity levels = 0.05 ppm. This is common in new aquarium when immediately stoked to full capacity. Ammonia can damage the gills at a level as small as 0.25 mg/lt. For immediate removal of ammonia, use ammonia detoxifier such as Kordon's Amquel. However, it is best left alone until the bacterial load is sufficient. Note that the bacterial phases will not take place unless the tank is initially stocked with feeder fish which can be removed after treatment. Test the water until the ammonia drops to nearly zero. At this time, we should notice an increase in the nitrite level. When the nitrites are gone, it will be safe to add fish. The conversion of the more toxic nitrogenous compounds to less toxic compounds is achieved through organisms residing in water treatment units such as filters. In some aquaria, algae are also used in nitrogen recycling. The process of combating the effects of nitrogenous waste products is facilitated by low stock density, a high water turn over, aeration or oxygenation of the water, frequent cleaning, removal of faeces and waste food and by the provision of special water treatment facilities.

Dissolved oxygen:

The majority of aquatic organisms need oxygen and must obtain it from the surrounding water. The oxygenation or aeration of the water is therefore, of fundamental importance in any aquarium, especially as the oxygen supply is one of the factors which may ultimately limit the capacity of a particular volume of water for carrying fish. The oxygen dissolved in water comes from two main sources: the atmosphere and green plants. The actual content is a function of temperature, salinity and atmospheric pressure. Low temperature, low salinity and higher atmospheric pressure favours more gas content (thereby more oxygen) in the solution (water medium). Aeration: Continuous aeration is very good husbandry since it mixes the water, supplies the oxygen for the fish, removes carbon dioxide and maintains a constant temperature throughout the tank. Many cheap air pumps are available in the hobby trade, though they are often noisy,

are of limited power and many frequently fail. If only one or two tanks are required, such vibratory diaphragm pumps are acceptable, but a spare pump and several replacement diaphragms should be stocked. The pump should be mounted above the tank level or the air- line fitted with non-return valve to prevent back-siphoning when the pump is stopped or fails.

A loop in the air-line 8 cm (3 inch) vertically above the tank’s water level will also prevent

back-siphoning by absorbing the oscillations when the airflows stops. The air tubes from the pump are connected to air stones for providing minute air bubbles that diffuses the oxygen in water. Besides that it is also connected to various types of toys and also for airlift pumping under for under gravel filtration. For diffusion of more oxygen in water a micro pore air stone gets priority during selection of air stones.

Water Temperature:

Temperature is perhaps the most potent of all the environmental factors controlling and governing the metabolism of animals. Water has a high thermal capacity compared to air; that is, it can absorb a large amount of heat energy for a small rise in temperature. It, therefore, provides a thermally stable environment. In aquarium, fish are largely denied the use of any behavioural regulation, and the aquarium design and management must compensate for this loss. Sudden change of temperature in the aquarium should be avoided. Such as thermal shocks are most likely to occur when fish are transferred from tank to tank or when they first arrive in the aquarium complex. A simple rule is to float transfer containers plus fish in their new tanks until the temperature has equilibrated or alternatively to slowly mix the water in the container with

that in the tank over half an hour or more. Increases in temperatures have the most distressing effect since respiration rate and excitability increase while the oxygen-carrying capacity of the water decreases. Such temperature increase in established tanks may result from refrigeration breakdown or thermostat malfunction. The damage cause by faulty thermostat

in a heated system can be minimized by employing the minimum wattage heaters required

for the temperature control or by including a high temperature cutout in the circuit. This could simply be a second thermostat in series with the first, but set to a slightly higher temperature so that it is on all the time during normal operations. Such a thermostat should, however, be serviced regularly to ensure it does not stick on. During winter months necessary heating arrangements may be made for tropical aquarium fish. A water heater of 5-6 watts capacity is required per gallon of water. Heating equipment of the aquarium is basically an electric heating coil complete with thermostat to control it both contained in glass tube. This submerged in the aquarium, connected to the electricity supply and the built-in neon indicator. A thermometer is always kept in side the

aquarium to monitor the temperature. It is placed at the front where it can be easily seen. It is best arranged heater and thermostat at opposite corners of the tank to get correct temperature readings of the aquarium water.

Sound and Vibration:

It is often forgotten that many fishes are acutely sensitive to sound and other mechanical disturbances of the water. Though the hearing of most species is restricted to low frequencies (below 3 kHz for nearly all fish, and below 1 kHz for most), at these low frequency and amplitude many species produce sounds especially during courtship. The aquarium is often a very noisy place, with underwater noise levels in aquarium tanks often very much higher than those in the sea or in freshwater. Much of the noise comes from the machinery; pumps and compressors associated with the aquarium, and characteristically contain strong single frequencies in its spectrum. Human footfalls, doors opening and closing etc. can also be troublesome, and their strongly impulsive nature may evoke startling response from the aquarium inhabitants. Vibration is transmitted to the water mainly through the floor and tank supports but also through the water pipes. Therefore, machinery; pumps and compressors, which are producing unnatural sound, must be replaced at the earliest.

Routine cleaning:

Routine partial changes of the water are most important. The changes are necessary to dilute the build-up of soluble materials (due to accumulation of fecal and unfed materials). The ideal is to replace 20% of the tank volume weekly. Evaporation losses should be replaced by suitable water (artificially prepared or natural). The cleaning can be done by hand; the hands should be washed with shop, after the job and not before because of the danger of introducing soap into the water. Use scraper for algae on glasses. The toys, air stones and other equipments, which have the algae and other sediment attachment, should also be cleaned. Plants should be trimmed and decaying leaves should be removed regularly at the time of water exchange.

Some important aspects of water quality:

Aquarium should be filled with clear portable water. The quality requirement of water in the aquarium depends on the types of the fishes being kept there. The tap water is probably the safest source of aquarium water for majority of tropical fish and plants (see below the requirement for breeding). But it contains chlorine, which is toxic to fish even at low concentration. To remove the chlorine naturally, it is better to allow maturing the water for few days or aerating overnight before its addition. During emergency conditions dechlorination can be done with the commercially available chemical (sodium thiosulphate) purchased from the pet shop. The degrees of hardness have several biological effects upon aquatic life. Bicarbonates tend to prevent a solution from changing in acidity. Soft water, lacking this protection, may become particularly acidic when much carbon dioxide is present; such a change creates stress for organisms. For soft water species excessive hardness causes an organism problem in absorbing substances through its delicate membranes. This is most true of the sensitive naked cells of eggs and milt, so that soft water has been found to play a vital role in the successful reproduction of many species of freshwater fishes. Thus, at least for the purposes such as fish breeding, a soft solution is desirable. Water hardness typically follows the following guideline:

Hardness scale

Water hardness level (as CaCO 3 )

Hardness level

0-4 dH

0-70 ppm

Very soft Soft Medium hard Fairly hard Hard Desirable hardness


70-140 ppm

8-12 dH

140-210 ppm

12-18 dH

210-320 ppm

18-30 dH

320-530 ppm

50-200 ppm

To maintain soft water, all sources of calcium carbonate such as calcareous rocks, gravels, coral, broken shell and algae must be kept out of the aquarium system whilst using only soft water initially and during exchange. Conversely, presence of such sources will preserve the water hardness. Some of the important water quality parameters and their optimum ranges for maintaining the fish in aquarium are presented in the table below:

Temperature pH CO 2 Alkalinity Hardness Dissolved oxygen Free ammonia Ionised ammonia

Temperature pH CO 2 Alkalinity Hardness Dissolved oxygen Free ammonia Ionised ammonia
Temperature pH CO 2 Alkalinity Hardness Dissolved oxygen Free ammonia Ionised ammonia

17-38 0 C


< 5 ppm 75-120 ppm as Ca CO 3 60-100 ppm as Ca CO 3 6.0-8.0 ppm <0.05 ppm <0.1-0.4 ppm

Parameters Ideal for breeding


Name of the fish

Water Temperature



Water hardness



o C)


(mg/L CaCO 3 )


Egg layers







- 20










- 22

7- 7.5


- 200






22 – 32 (breeding) 28 – 30 (larval rearing)


– 8.5


- 200







- 30


– 7.0


- 100



Live bearers



Sowrd tail (-do-)



– 7.5


- 250


Platy (-do-)




– 7.5


- 250


Guppy (-do-)




– 7.5


- 250


Molly (-do-)




– 7.5


- 250

For culture in Pond





18 - 37°C


6.5 - 7.5








< 50 ppm





- 150 ppm







- 200 ppm


There are three basic types of aquarium filtration system.

Biological Filtration

Biological filtration is the term used to describe beneficial bacteria, which is established during the initial cycling of the aquarium. These bacteria break down ammonia and nitrite and convert them into the less toxic compound nitrate. It is widely acknowledged throughout the aquatic community that these bacteria require a surface to attach and oxygen rich water. Biological filtration is essential and needs to be adequately established in every aquarium. It is recommended to medicate fish in a separate tank (hospital tank) when using antibiotics (anti bacteria), as extensive use of these medications will kill the bacteria. Live rock and sand are by all means biological filtration as well. In theory you could maintain an aquarium with these alone, however the tanks fish population would be restricted to small numbers. Always keep in mind, that biological filtration requires oxygen. An inadequate or interrupted supply will result in the failing of your biological filtration system Saltwater tanks can be successfully maintained using only a protein skimmer and biological filtration.

using only a protein skimmer and biological filtration. Chemical Filtration Chemical filtration removes dissolved

Chemical Filtration

Chemical filtration removes dissolved wastes. The most common type of chemical filtration is activated carbon. Others, such as Algone absorb ammonia, silicate, phosphates and so on.

Carbon has established itself as “a must have” in the aquarium. Still, be aware that some carbons leach phosphates. Another media for chemical filtration consists of zeolite, which will delay or disrupt biological filtration, especially during the cycle.

Mechanical Filtration

Mechanical aquarium filtration removes solid particles from the water via the aquarium filter. It does not remove or convert ammonia, nitrite or nitrate. This filter type actually provides a means to remove free-floating waste before it decays. Mechanical filtration will only be beneficial if the filter material is replaced every 2- 4 weeks because the waste will still decay while trapped in the filter material. To save money on replacements, you can also rinse the filters in use or use an alternative filter such as filter floss, which costs only a fraction of replacement cartridges. Common types of filter media are paper cartridges, sponges, and floss. Mechanical filtration will be ineffective on matter that settled in the gravel. Use a siphon to remove these particles. Kill two birds with one stone – siphon during water changes! Be aware, that beneficial bacteria will settle on the filter media. Take this under consideration, and replace part of the media at a time if it’s possible. Sponges will clog quickly and paper even faster. Filter floss is very efficient due to small and large openings, which will not clog as easily. Another benefit of floss is that you can easily do a partial change, reducing the amount of bacterial settlements that are removed.


Corner Filter

settlements that are removed. AQUARIUM FILTERS Corner Filter Water is forced through it. On the inside

Water is forced through it. On the inside you would find filter floss or other media. It is mainly a physical/mechanical filter. Beneficial bacteria settle on the medium and provided biological filtration. This very inexpensive filter is an excellent way to set up a hospital tank. Buy one for pennies on the dollar and use some gravel from your established tank. You will immediately have a working biological and mechanical filter for your hospital tank.

Canister Filter Basically an enhanced corner filter. A closed box where water is forced through filtration media (mechanical and/or chemical). It can be placed inside the aquarium, or outside (underneath the aquarium or as hang on type). The canister filter has the most powerful mechanical filtration system, and can be used with messy eaters. The down side is that it requires frequent cleaning. Bacteria will also settle in this filter type. Biological filtration can be improved, by placing wet dry wheels at the outflow of the canister filter.

wet dry wheels at the outflow of the canister filter. Fluidized Bed Filter This filter is

Fluidized Bed Filter This filter is a recent development, using sand as a bacteria settlement media. In a tubular design, sand is fully submerged in water. The water is pumped upwards through the sand, allowing bacteria to settle within. Additional tubes can be used as

water. The water is pumped upwards through the sand, allowing bacteria to settle within. Additional tubes

pre-filters (mechanical) and also for chemical filters using activated carbon. This filter provides a large surface for bacteria colonies, but sometimes lacks in providing enough oxygen for their performance.

Power Filter The very easy to maintain power filter hangs on the back of the aquarium (easy access). Water is pulled through a mechanical filtration, using floss and insert cartridges. They also provide enough space for chemical filtration media. Within the last few years a wet dry wheel (biowheel) was developed, to provide an even larger area for bacteria to settle. Wash it once in a week. Cost: Rs. 400-1000/-

to settle. Wash it once in a week. Cost: Rs. 400-1000/- Protein Skimmer The protein skimmer

Protein Skimmer The protein skimmer is a chemical filtration method. It takes out dissolved biological waste before it can decompose. This is achieved by a tubular design with air bubbles inside. The waste is attracted to the surface of air bubbles, which then rises to the water surface. There, a skimmer removes the biological waste. This filtration type has revolutionized reef tanks. It only works with high pH and salinity. This filter is for salt-water use only.

pH and salinity. This filter is for salt-water use only. Sponge Filter A sponge filter looks

Sponge Filter

A sponge filter looks like a tube with a sponge like material inside. As water flows

through, bacteria will colonize the porous foam and establish a biological filtration. These sponges also serve as a mechanical filter, removing larger

particles from the water. The advanced versions use two sponges, making it easier

to preserve bacteria colonies by replacing the sponges at different times. Using a

sponge from an established aquarium can also jump-start a new tank or quarantine/hospital tank.

can also jump-start a new tank or quarantine/hospital tank. Undergravel Filter The undergravel filter (UGF) is

Undergravel Filter The undergravel filter (UGF) is basically a perforated plate below the gravel. Water is pumped upward through the gravel by air bubbles, water stream, or a combination of both. This slow flow of water and oxygen allows the bacteria to colonize the gravel. The UGF is an aid for biological filtration. It does not remove larger waste particles. It has to be well maintained, especially through vacuuming of the gravel. UGF’s are inexpensive, but have a tendency to clog up. It is recommended to replace this filter as they age. Of course, they can be combined with a power head as a pre-filter for larger particles.

with a power head as a pre-filter for larger particles. Wet–Dry Filter Also known as trickle

Wet–Dry Filter Also known as trickle filter. This kind of filter was designed with consideration of the oxygen demand of beneficial bacteria. It consists of a plastic tube with unsubmerged media (floss, bioballs etc.) over which water trickles – hence “Trickle Filter”. The wet dry filter provides a large air to water surface. The larger the surface structure of the media gets the better it works. This filter provides no mechanical filtration and works on the principle of the wet dry wheels.Wet–Dry Filter