Thursday, June 13, 2013

How to Choose Aquarium Equipment

Fishkeeping is really more of an art than a science. As a true aquarist, you'll develop an appreciation for the beauty of the hobby and a certain respect for the creatures in your tank.
You'll come to view your aquarium not as a pastime or as an attractive addition to your living room, but as a delicate, vibrant system that takes shape and comes to life through your efforts, skill, and vision.
Like all arts, though, fishkeeping does have its technical side. To succeed, you have to create a suitable habitat for your fish, and to do that, you must use the proper tools. Knowing how your aquarium equipment works and why you need it will greatly increase your chances of success.
When planning your aquarium, keep in mind that you probably won't need all of the items that
appear in the following pages. Consult with your dealer to determine which pieces of equipment are necessary to create the kind of aquarium you want.
As soon as fish are added to an aquarium, the normal processes of respiration and digestion produce waste products that pollute the water. There are also other sources of pollution, such as decaying uneaten food.
The biggest challenge in keeping an aquarium is controlling the level of these pollutants so that your fish have a healthy environment. One of the things you need to meet that challenge is an effective aquarium filtration system.
In many ways, aquarium filtration is the most complicated and difficult aspect of fishkeeping. A visit to any well-stocked aquarium or pet store will reveal an astonishing array of filters that vary widely in design and price.
In addition, the beginning aquarist faces a lot of new terms that are used to describe filters. Understanding how filters work and what they accomplish can make it much easier to sort through everything.
You may assume that the basic goal of filtration is to remove debris floating in the water so that it doesn't cause pollution. While this is correct, it's only part of the story.
This process is mechanical filtration. If mechanical filtration is sufficient, very little solid matter will be left floating in the water. However, just because the water looks clean doesn't mean it is safe for fish.
Most of the pollution that causes the water quality to deteriorate can't be seen. In order to remove it, two other types of filtration are needed: chemical filtration and biological filtration.
Only when mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration are available can a truly healthy environment be maintained for the fish. Aquarists often use two different filters together in order to provide these three types of filtration. This is because filter designs that are very good at providing one or possibly two types of filtration tend to be less effective at providing the remaining types.
Mechanical aquarium filtration is accomplished by moving water through some kind of material that acts like a sieve, catching the solids and removing them from the water. Ideally, the most effective mechanical filter removes particles down to very small sizes, but there is a trade-off here.

The smaller the particles are that the filter removes, the faster the filter material will clog. Because clogged filter material severely reduces the rate of water flow through it, the material must be cleaned or changed. The more effective the filter material is at trapping small particles, the more often you will have to clean the filter.
For this reason, most filter material is designed to catch only the larger, more visible solids. Of course, as the filter material catches large particles, the openings in the material through which the water flows become increasingly smaller and thus trap increasingly smaller particles. The material does clog eventually, but it takes much longer.
Chemical aquarium filtration is needed because a number of dissolved, invisible compounds accumulate in aquarium water and they can't be removed by mechanical filtration.
These compounds are not toxic to the fish but can inhibit their growth and cause chronic, low-level stress that eventually leads to disease. Most of these compounds are dissolved organic substances produced by natural biological decay.
The dissolved organic substances eventually reach concentrations high enough to become visible as a yellowish tinge in the water. You can see this when a sheet of white paper is held behind the tank so that half of it is viewed through the water.
If the water is healthy for the fish, the paper viewed through the water will be as white as the other half; if not, the paper will have a yellowish cast to it.
Chemical filtration removes many, but not all, of these compounds. However, some substances that affect the growth of the fish can only be removed by making partial water changes on a regular basis.
If this isn't done, the fish will never grow to normal adult size. This stunted growth will result in fish that never achieve the beauty of mature fish, and it can cause other related health problems.
There are many ways to accomplish chemical filtration, but for all practical purposes, the only method that is both effective and relatively economical is to pass the aquarium water over granular activated carbon.
Granular activated carbon is usually made from an organic material, such as coconut shells, that is ground into small pieces and then heated to 2,000° Fahrenheit to drive off gases in the material. This "activation" produces carbon that can adsorb the molecules of compounds in the water and hold on to them. Adsorption is the adhesion of a thin layer of molecules to a solid (in this case, the activated carbon).
The carbon eventually becomes saturated with molecules and must be replaced. It cannot be reactivated by hobbyists because of the special ovens needed for the process.
Granular activated carbon should not be confused with charcoal, which is sold in some stores at a much lower price but does not provide effective chemical filtration.
There are a few things to keep in mind when using granular activated carbon. The smaller the granules of carbon, the greater the total surface area available to adsorb molecules for any given amount of carbon. The total surface area of the carbon determines how long you can wait before it is necessary to replace it.
A good rule of thumb is to use one ounce of carbon for every four gallons of water. If the tank is not overstocked with fish, the carbon should last at least a month and probably twice that.
See the next section to learn about biological aquarium filtration.

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