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How to set up an aquarium

By Nanditta Chibber
August 16, 2005 17:12 IST
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If you thought fish weren't the most exciting pets in the world -- they're not great to cuddle and they don't do much but gawp at you as though either very bewildered or very offended -- you could be wrong. 

True, they still aren't very affectionate and building a really solid relationship with one may be an uphill struggle, but they don't just wander around bowls anymore. Or they shouldn't, at least not with the kind of new aquariums going around. 

These aquariums may look fancy, but setting one up can be simple. The first step is obviously to buy and clean the glass fish tank. This is usually a rectangular box, but you can have them built in exciting shapes to fit various spaces like pillars, tabletops and spaces below the staircase. Fish are sensitive to excessive sound, light and temperature, so choose an appropriate location. A water-filtering system is also a must. 

Set gravel in the tank, and try to maintain a ratio of a pound of gravel per gallon of water. Anchor the plants in the gravel. While filling the tank with water (which should be soft and de-chlorinated), leave an inch at the top and start the filtering system. 

Add a heater and a thermometer to check that the temperature stays between 24-26 degrees Celsius. Before you put the fish in, the whole system should be run for at least 24 hours so that the temperature stabilises and the water starts to circulate. 

If you want exotic fish, some suggest the Malaysian Flower Horn, which has beautiful natural tattoos all over it body and Arowanas, which are rare and expensive. Oscars -- black, snakeskin, red pigeon and albino -- can add a riot of colours to your new aquarium.

If you want a truly exotic aquarium though, try a marine one. Marine aquariums are virgin territory in India and, though expensive, are fast catching the fancy of keen aquarists. They are far more complicated to set up and maintain than freshwater ones but, once functional, you'll soon realise why they're worth all the effort.

As a marine tank replicates the biotope (that is, it has the same environmental conditions and general distributions of plant and animal life) of the seas and oceans, it requires comparatively elaborate equipment -- a trickle filter system, a protein skimmer to remove organic waste before it decays, a de-nitrifying filter, metal halide lighting with 10,000 Kelvin colour temperature as a substitute for sunlight, the right salinity content through reverse osmosis, a calcium reactor for corals and invertebrates and test-kits to monitor the environs at regular intervals.

Like the freshwater aquarium, before adding the fish, let the whole system stabilise. In a marine aquarium, you can introduce corals and invertebrates like sea anemones that add fluorescent hues to the tank and, though anchored, move in a slow, wave-like motion.

If you loved Finding Nemo and have decided to keep Clown fish, you'll see them hovering over the sea anemones, with whom they have a symbiotic relationship -- the clown fish keeps the sea anemone groomed and the latter protects it from would-be predators.

You could also add a Yellow Tang (the yellow is probably the brightest you'll ever see) or a Tiger fish, which will steal the show with its flamboyance.

If you're planning to add a Starfish, be ready to tolerate its laziness (it will almost always be stationary), and if you want a helping hand in keeping your tank clean, just add a Cleaner Wrasse. 

However, passive as they seem, even exotic fish can have animosities, so remember to check the compatibility of various fishes before you introduce them to the aquarium. 

Since you'll usually get your fish in a polybag of water, dip the polybag in the aquarium for a while till the temperature of the water in the bag and the tank match, and then let the fish slip into the tank. 

Please do not overfeed your fish -- it's in their best interest, because they can die if overfed.

An amount of packaged food pellets or shredded prawns that can be consumed by them in 10-15 minutes is enough.

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Nanditta Chibber
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