Beginners Guide - Freshwater Tropicals
By Chris Jewell

Start at the Beginning

Right, so you have decided to get a tank, and stumped for Tropical Freshwater (If you havent decided, there are also marine and coldwater forums to give you some ideas on this site). There are over 4000 species of tropical freshwater fish imported, from the americas, africa, asia and the australian subcontinent. These raise from the tiny to the colosal, timid to dangerous, plain to colourful, common to super rare, and everything in between. This obviously can pose some difficulties in trying to understand and provide the best conditions. The hobby can be as complicated, involving and expensive as you want to make it, from za single small tank in the corner of the living room to hundreds of tanks as part of a small business.

Plus it can be quite fun along the way!

Choosing a Tank and Stand

OK, so your choosing your first tank. As with everything else in the hobby, there are lots of choices! Before commiting, some things to consider
A) Are there any specific fish you want to keep that may require a tank of a certain size
B) How much space do you have in the proposed location of the tank
C) Do you want the tank to form a piece of furniture
D)What are you looking to spend
E) What shape of tank do you like (generally rectangle, bow front, corner, cube)

Its generally best to get the biggest tank you can afford and sensibly accomodate, as these give more stable conditions, and allow for more fish. With increasing tank size, there are things to consider
A) Bigger tanks cost more to set-up and run
B) They can take more time to maintain
C) Can you physically reach all parts of the tank
D) They are harder to move and transport
E) They weigh more! A Litre of water weighs 1kg, and considering the tank and stand etc, every litre of tank volume probably accounts for 1.3-1.5kg of weight. Tanks are heavy, and need a very stable floor surface. With tanks over 250 litres its worth considering the strength of the floor

Right, so you have chosen the tank type and size you want. There are basically two choices, glass or acrylic. Acrylic is lighter, easier to handle, stronger, and can have better optical qualities. It does scratch easier, is harder to repair, and in common sized tanks its more expensive. In common sized tanks 99% of people go for glass.

You will need something to sit the tank on. For small tanks (<100L) a sturdy piece of furniture may do it, but it must be strong and level. The other alternative is a stand or cabinet. A stand is just that, a simple frame made of wood or metal to support the tank, and are sold in common sizes (or can be DIY). Cabinets are more pieces of furniture, often incorperating handy cupboards to hide things in below. Cabinets can be very expenisve, far outstripping the cost of the tank (although DIY is a possibility gain). Its just a case of weighing up what you want against the cost

What ever you choose to stand the tank on, a layer of polystyrene or specialist matting is essential between the tank and what its stood on, to even out any unevenness in the surface.

Its always worth shopping round, seeing what different places offer (especially for cabinets), and comparing prices. Some bargains can be found on second hand tanks, buts a case of buyer beware, if in doubt dont risk it!

Hoods and Tank Tops

In addition to something to site the tank on, your probably going to need something to go over the top of it. Hoods and cover glasses keep fish in, air bourne chemicals out, provide somewhere to put lights (see later sections), stop water and heat loss, and improve the aesthetics of the tank.

Its generally reccomended to have a cover over the top of the tank itself (such as sliding cover glasses or a drip tray) and a hood. The first the tank may come with, the second it almost certainly wont unless you buy a package. For hoods its worth considering looks, tank access, and the suitability for any special future lighting plans.

Locating the Tank

Once you have your tank, its time to check the location before setting it up. Some points to consider are:
A) Is it near suitable power outlets? Tanks have a habit of using a lot of these, and you always need more
B) Is it out of direct sunlight? Direct sunlight can cause problems with algea, viewing and over heating.
C) Weight - is the floor strong enough and level? Checking with a spirit level might be a good idea, as stands can be levelled up before the tanks filled with water
D) Is it in a good viewing position?
E) Is it away from things like washing machines, or other equipment that may cause vibration, noise or airbourne pollution
F)Is it sited where it wont be knocked or brushed past all the time? This can cause a risk to the tank, and annoy the fish
G) Is it in a area of stable temperature? Fluctuating temperatures can cause problems with tanks, and tanks in very cold areas will cost a fortune to heat
H) Whats its proximity like to sinks and drains for maintenance - trying to limit bucket carrying, as this also minimises wet shouty moments!

Once the tank is set-up, its best to take 5 minutes to think it over befoe getting water in it, as it can be quite difficult to change!

Choosing Equipment

OK, so far we have a box to keep water in, and something to stand it on. In theory fish could live in this, but not for very long! As we are going to be maintaining a mini bit of aquatic biotope in our houses, some equipment will be needed to keep our fishy friends alive.

This falls into three main catagories:- heating, filtration, lighting (more for us and plants and the fish), and "other". There are two main choices, either select individual bolt on items from different manufacturers to fullfil your needs, or buy systemised tank (such as the common Juwel brand). The second is easier, but may prove more expensive, and cut flexability. Its always worth shopping around for equipment, including on line stores as these often have big selections at good prices.

When choosing equipment, it helps if you have an idea about any specialist equirements fish you want may have. If you just going for community fish and a standard set-up, then this shouldnt be too difficult.

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