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Aiming to share information and experience in fish keeping.





An Example of a Planned Community Tank

Avoiding New Tank Syndrome

A newly established 30" shallow tank(76 cm x 45 cm x 35 cm deep) with gravel substrate, rocks and an open planting of Vallisneria spiralis, Crassula helmsii and Java Fern. It is unheated and temperatures range from 15o - 21oC. Filtration is by two, internal box filters using air-lift; aeration is by a buried bubbler. The lighting is low, given by 1 x 20 watt 24" T8" 18000K Power-Glo" Fluorescent tube. It is stocked with 20 small Rosy Barbs.





PLANTS add a great deal of interest and beauty to the tank- and also increase the biological demand on the water and filter. I suggest using plants from the Amazon Basin, Africa, Australia and Asia that have been cultivated for aquarium use. Fish do better if kept in planted aquaria and plants also suppress the growth of algae.

  • Amazon Swords (Echinodorus species) require strong light and are excellent choices planted directly into the deep substrate.
  • Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus) needs to be attached to the rocks or wood and not planted in the substrate. It enjoys low light levels.
  • African Water fern (Bolbitus Heudelotii) also grows in dim light and requires no substrate other than a root or rock upon which it can attach.
  • Dwarf Anubias (Anubias barteri nana) can also be tied to rocks with nylon fishing line. It does well in low light.
  • Thin Vallisneria (Vallisneria spiralis) will colonise a sandy substrate, if given enough light (about 3 watts per litre of water).
  • Cryps (Cryptocoryne species) are also useful . Plant Cryps in the foreground of the tank. They are deep-rooted plants.
  • Species of Bacopa, Cabomba, Hemianthus, Ceratophylum, Hygrophyla and Ludwigia are also recommended for well lit tanks (if not banned in your State).
  • Please note that some species of Cabomba and Ludwigia are banned in NSW and/or Queensland.


    Use only plants that are NOT prohibited

    Some plants are banned from use in Australian States and Territories because they pose a threat to our waterways as potential pest species.

    Check here for a list of prohibited plants and please obey the rules conscientiously. Never put aquatic plants into our waterways. Freeze any unwanted plants or trimmings, by placing them inside a plastic bag in your freezer compartment of the refrigerator, and then dispose of them in a compost heap or vegetable-waste recycle bin.

    Plants, Algae and New Aquaria: a link to another page in this site, giving some facts about algae growth and plants.


    Once the plants are in, fill the tank to the top (or 2-3 cm from the top) to complete the aquarium setting up process. Be careful not to dislodge and plants. Turn on the filter, aerator and heater (if used) and let them run to clear or settle any suspended particles AND to check to see if all is working correctly.  Allow the new aquarium to run for a few days BEFORE any fish are added.  This allows for adjustments to be made to filtration flow and aeration flow if needed and begins the process of "ageing the water" and "cycling" the aquarium.




    Aquarium lighting is essential for good plant and fish growth. Fish need about 6 hours of lighting a day; plants need up to 10 hours per day of adequate light. Please be careful with electric lights near water. Most are not submersible and safety is the first consideration with electrical fittings when working near water. Use a properly fitting reflector or light fitting.


    What lights are best to use?

    A wide range of aquarium lights are available, including incandescent, fluorescent, compact fluorescent, metal-halide and solid-state lights. Select according to your needs and budget and buy the best lights that you can afford to purchase and operate. I recommend using "Life-Glo" 24w 55cm T5 HO 6700K fluorescent tubes as a first option for beginners. Read what I have written here and then follow the link to the next page for more detailed information about lights and lighting.

    As a general rule, allow about 1 watt of light power per 3 litres of water for some plants to grow (for example, Vallisneria spiralis) and others require significantly more light. A few, suitable plants grow in low light conditions and Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus), Dwarf Anubias (Anubias barteri nana) and Cryps (Cryptocoryne species) are good examples.

    A primary concern when growing plants is to provide enough light for them to flourish. Direct sunlight may bee too warm for an aquarium and cause too much green algae to grow so aquarium are sited in well lit places but away from direct sunlight. Additional lighting is provided by artificial lights that are especially designed for aquarium use.  Allow between 8 to 10 hours of continuous lighting a day. Never turn lights on and off haphazardly, as the fish require a regular day-night cycle for healthy living. If the lights are turned on during your time at home (so you have optimum viewing of your fish) then set the lighting period using a time clock to suit your needs. Ensure that the dark period of the artificial day-night cycle is actually dark- using drapes and blinds in a room may be necessary to darken the room when you are not home and your lighting time cycle is dark.  Always have the time clock set so that your aquarium light go off AFTER you retire for the night, to allow an uninterrupted "night" period for the fish.  They will not experience "night" if the room lights are on when their tank lights are off. 


    A suggested artificial day is for the lights to come on at 3.00 pm and go off at Midnight, giving 10 hours of light. Such a plan assumes a darkened or near dark room and little household noise or movement from Midnight until 3.00 pm.

    In the example of the 55 litre, tropical tank, a GLO linear fluorescent light is recommended as adequate for beginners, provided by one 24w 55cm fluorescent, "Life Glo" T5 HO 6700K. That statement assumes that growing plants is not the first consideration. With that level of lighting, Vallisneria spiralis, Ceratophylum and Cryptocoryne species will grow and Java Fern (Microsorum pteropus) and Dwarf Anubias (Anubias barteri nana) will grow in their shade, to good effect. Choice of 24 w 55cm "Power Glo" T5 HO 18000K tubes would be better for a rock pile biotype and cichlids or for a well planted tank. Using a double GLO linear fluorescent lighting unit would give strong light, as pictured below. This is the same tank as shown above but more heavily planted and illuminated by 48 w of light given by2 x 24 w 55cm "Power Glo" T5 HO 18000K tubes suspended 10 cms above the tank. It gives a natural looking "daylight". "Life-Glo" 24 w 55cm T5 HO 6700K tubes would have also been suitable, giving a natural looking "daylight" but with a different spectrum (less blue).

    See HERE for additional comments on Aquarium Lighting. [Links to my pruning from this page which got too long.]



    This is a matter of choice and interest, of course, but too avoid losses and disappointments, here are a few considerations.


    Plan your aquarium community

    Don't go out and buy the first fish that attract your attention. Plan the community. Ask the supplier about any fishes that interests you, as not all are compatible in community tanks. It is not a good idea to keep live-bearing fishes such as Guppies, Swordtails, Platies and Mollies in the same tank as egg-laying fishes- unless you are happy for the fry from the livebearers to be eaten!  A community tank of just live-bearers is one way to begin. 


    Make sure that the fishes that you select are compatible with each other.

    Ensure that the fishes that you keep require the same water conditions. Cichlids from Lake Malawi or Lake Tanganyika require hard, alkaline water while cichlids from the Amazon Basin require soft, acidic water- don't mix the two.


    Generally, group large fish in a separate tank from small fishes. Keeping Angels with Neons is asking for trouble- adult Angels will eat them.


    Keeping only one species in a tank, e.g. Fancy Goldfish or a breeding pair of Kribensis, is rewarding.

    An Example of a Planned Community Tank:

    1. Start with a 55 litre tank, cleaned, set up with washed sand or gravel, plants, heater, aerator, filtration, ornamentation plants and water.

    2. Dechloraminate the water using special additives.

    3. Put the cover plates on and install the lighting.

    4. Turn it all on and let it run for a few days with NO fish in it!  This allows the heater to adjust and the plants to settle.

    5. Check for any problems. Adjust air-stone flow rates and any minor adjustments to filters.

    6. After the tank has been running for a few days (3-5 days optimum), add a pair of Dwarf Gouramis (Colisa lalia). Apart from being your first fish, they will provide wastes that will "feed" the biological system in the tank. Dwarf Gouramis make a fascinating first species and are tolerant of new water.

    7. After another week, add ten to twenty Cardinal Tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi) or ten Lemon Tetras (Hyphessobrycon pulchripinnis) to further increase the biological loading of the tank.  Do not add no more than 10 to 20 small fish at this stage.

    8. After another week or so, a pair of Panda Catfish or any other Corydorus sp. could be added. That's about it!  The tank is stocked.

    9. After 6 months, if the tank is supplied with an air-stone, then perhaps a couple of extra, small fish could be added.

    Alternatively, Mollies and Platies make good fish for beginners, but remember to add them in small numbers to start. A pair of Sailfin Mollies could be substituted for the pair of Dwarf Gouramies, in a tank for live-bearers. After a week, add eight Platies or Swords or Guppies. Later add a small Catfish (Corydorus sp.) or two. A couple of extra fish can be added when the tank has run successfully for six months but by then livebearers may have added enough fry to stock the aquarium fully.

    Remember that as a good rule, allow a stocking rate of 1 cm of combined fish length for every 2 litres of water in the tank. That means that the correct stock levels for a 55 litre tank add up to 27 cms of fully grown fish. That is about 25 Neon Tetras or 10 Hockey Stick Tetras; or 4 or 5 Blue Gouramies; or four goldfish, to a 55 litre tank.


    A 55 litre tank is adequate for one pair of breeding Angelfish.


    It cannot be stressed too much, that successful fish culture requires very clean and well conditioned water and filters.

    Frequent partial water changes are essential practice.  Changing 20% to 25% of the water each fortnight is recommended.  Avoid complete changes in water, unless you are prepared to start over again as with a new tank.  Always use dechloraminated water adjusted to the correct temperature, pH and hardness of the tank water at each water change.


    The tank pictured above is 92 cms long, 35 cms wide and 50 cms deep and is a true community tank. All of its inhabitants share a common factor in that they are fish that require soft or moderately hard, slightly acidic water and tolerate a pH between 6.8 - 7.4. The temperature is set at 25oC; pH maintained around 7.0 using an acid buffer. The water is straight from the tap and is moderately hard and the fish are acclimatised to it. The substrate is fine gravel and sand to 5 cms deep at the back. Only five plants are rooted in the substrate, 2 Amazon Swords, a small clump of Crassula helmsii, one root of a Vallisneria sp. and a small Lily. The other plants are African Dwarf Anubias, Asian Java Moss (a few strands remain around an air tube) and Java Fern (2 forms) growing on wood or rocks. The fish are: from the Amazon Basin: 9 Neons, 8 Glo-lights, 8 Head & Tail Light Tetras, 2 Peppered Corydoras Catfish, 2 Otoclinclus sp.; 2 Bolivian Butterfly Cichlids; from Australia: 2 Macculloch's Dwarf Rainbowfish; from New Guinea, 2 Neon Rainbows. The filtration is by a 170 Marineland Bio-wheel Filter and a small box-filter with zeolite. There is one air-stone on at all times. Lighting is by two x 20 watt 59 cm (24") T8 "Power-Glo" 18000K fluorescent tubes on for 10 hours a day, from 8.00 am. Feeding is by Flake Foods, Micro-pellets and, occasionally, Black worms and live mosquito larvae. I drop 2 sinking food wafers in each night for the Corys and Otos (who never seem to sleep!). The picture shows 75% of the tank. 

    The tank has been running for over eight years and was recently stripped of much of its plant growth (Java Fern) and given a trim up. And, yes, I did paint the outside of the back of the tank blue four years ago!  The end walls are never cleaned and have very little algal growth. Water changes are 20% every 10 days, with new water adjusted to the correct pH using an acid buffer. The critical water conditions in the tank are: pH 6.8-7.0; ammonia/ammonium level = zero; nitrite level = zero; nitrate level is 20 ppm.


    Never over-feed your fish and kill them with kindness. As a general rule, feed twice a day giving only as much food as the fish will completely consume in two or three minutes. Never allow uneaten food to accumulate- remove it with a turkey baster or siphon it out.

    Suitable foods include flake foods (formulated for tropical fish or goldfish), Spirulina flakes (for vegetarian fishes), pellets and live foods. The latter includes insect larvae, brine shrimp, black worms, daphnia and other fish. Fish love live foods and an occasional feeding of brine shrimp or black worms (not tubifex worms) is good for them. Live foods are also available in frozen packs. Freeze to store: thaw to feed. Sometimes you can make your own.

    Learn what types of food your fish require- ask the stockist or research the web! Some fishes are carnivorous and do not eat plants, others relish them. Most flake foods and pellets are formulated for general with a range of fishes but some are specifically made for cichlids, goldfish, Bettas, vegetarians, for example, so giving your fish the correct diet is a matter of buying the right food stuffs.

    If you go away over the week-end and can't feed the fish, do not double feed before you go but just allow a break in the feeding routine,  Fish can go a day or so without feeding, as they do in nature, so one or two days without food is not a problem.  Don't double feed when you return but continue the usual feeding routine.  For breaks of more than two days, have a trusted friend feed them for you. Give proper instructions and leave enough food- and a box of chocolates for your friend! 

    Automatic feeding gadgets are available and may work well- they all need to be checked, however, so don't rely on them.

    REGULAR MAINTENANCE will help keep the aquarium functioning well.

    1. Check all equipment each day to ensure proper running order.
    2. Top up any loss of water due to evaporation. Use rainwater or demineralised water for this task if possible. If tap water is used, dechloraminate it first.
    3. Wipe the inside of the aquarium glass to remove any algae that grows. Use a soap and chemical free cloth.
    4. Change 20% of the water each fortnight, to remove excess nitrates that develop and to siphon out any uneaten foods. Always dechloraminate tap water first, before putting it in the tank.
    5. Regularly maintain the filters. The action taken will depend on the type of filter but usually it involves cleaning water up-take tubing, washing filter wool or sponges and replacing any disposable filter pads or charcoal, filter medium. Always wash filter pads, sponges and wool in the water that you remove from the tank at a water change- thus water changes and filter washing are done at the same time. Never wash filter medium in tap water- it kills off the beneficial bacteria.

    It takes several weeks, even months in some cases, for a new aquarium to be "cycled" or "balanced" so do not be in too much of a hurry to wash filters too soon.

    This term applies to the fact that any new tank with a new filter does not have an efficient biological filtration system until long after the filter have been running.  A properly functioning biological filter takes from two to six months to be functioning at its optimum level.  For the first four to five weeks of running a new tank, the levels of ammonia and nitrite are high and the tank is toxic to fish. Care must be taken with stocking levels to see that the toxins do not kill the fish (hence the name 'new tank" syndrome).

    For this reason, new tanks are stocked gradually, adding a few fish at a time over a period of several weeks. Taking that amount of care allows the development of the correct biodegrading (nitrogen cycle) to handle the waste products.

    Controlling ammonia/ammonium and nitrites is assisted by not over-feeding the fish and seeing that NO uneaten foods (or dead fish) remain in the tank to rot.

    The nitrogen cycle is also dependent on the available oxygen levels. Therefore some aeration is essential to keep the oxygen levels high enough.  Oxygenation can be improved by either having a large surface area for your tank (as with a pond) or by aerating it with fine bubbles produced by an air-pump and air-stone, or by have surface movement in the tank (creating little waves).  Air-stones and bubblers work best, as each bubble presents a tiny surface area that adds up to a big surface area at which gaseous exchanges can occur.

    "AGEING" THE AQUARIUM WATER is good practice, as it allows for cleaner water and less introduced problems.  Set the tank in place, with its substrata, wood and plants installed.  Run the heater, filter and lighting as normal. Add some bio-starting preparations to get the biological filter working if you want to "kick start"  the nitrification processes (not really necessary, as the right bacteria are present in the environment where you live, e.g. in the air, in the water). I use "BIO SUPER CONCENTRATE" (made by Biotec), Hagen's "Cycle" & "Waste Control" or Rudduck's "Pura-Water" to add the right aerobic bacteria and enzymes to establish the biodegrading functions in the tank. This is safer than inoculating the tank from an established one, as it reduces the risk of introducing pathogens, but, at a pinch, a new tank can have water and gravel from a well running tank added to kick-start the biological processes. It is necessary to wait a month for a new tank to "age" as the development of ammonia and nitrites begins immediately the tank is filled, planted and stocked (that is, as soon as a "biological load" is added to the water) and levels of ammonia/ammonium peak at about the second week and nitrite levels peak at about two weeks from start up (the times vary according to local conditions). Nitrate levels increase after the nitrite levels have peaked. Monitor the ammonia/ammonium, nitrite, pH and hardness levels.  Increase the biological load gradually by introducing the fish in small numbers- no more than one or two hardy fish to begin.

    Testing the water for nitrite (NO2) levels is essential practice. Excessive ammonia levels may be controlled by using Biotec's "Amrite Down" solutions or Aqua Master's "AMMO-EX" granules in the filtration medium (in box, canister of trickle filters only).  Purchase a simple nitrite testing kit and test daily until the nitrite levels stabilise at undetectable amounts.  I test for pH and nitrite levels daily when setting up a new tank.  After a month, weekly testing is adequate for maintenance. The nitrates (notice 'nitrates' NO3, not 'nitrites' NO2) that are produced as the end product of an efficient, biological filtration system will be absorbed by plants to some degree, but frequent, partial water changes are necessary to control the nitrate levels in most cases. 

    Using Peat as a water conditioner is beneficial.  Add clean German peat to the canister or external filter system, to provide the dyed, tea-coloured water that approximates the tannin and humus stained waters of the natural habitat of the Amazon riverine system.  Ensure that the peat does not enter the aquarium water itself but is kept in a fine-mesh, filter bag. Filtration through peat also reduces the pH (makes the water more acidic).  Alternatively, conditioning with Tetra "Blackwater Extract" is also helpful if an Amazon biotype is planned.  Filtration through activated carbon will remove the tannin and other dyes, so peat filtration is not used with carbon filters.


    To many fish keepers in the past have have turned their interest from a hobby to environmental vandalism- simply by releasing their fish into the wild or allowing them to escape. The result has been devastating to endemic fish populations and ecologies. For example, the introduction of the European Carp in to the River Murray system saw that species grow in number to plague proportions that ruined riverine and lagoon ecologies, saw native fishes greatly suppressed in numbers (some became extinct in the river) and contributed to a decrease in water quality. When additionally impacted by excessive use of river water in irrigation, droughts and climate change, the River Murray lands fell into a state of ecological, economic and human crisis. Another example is explained in the article, Put a Leopard in your tank?

    Please be responsible in the manner in which you dispose of unwanted fish. Give them back to the shops that sold them to you or dispose of them humanely by putting the fish and aquarium water into a plastic bag and into the fridge. When the fish stops moving, put the bag into the freezer overnight. Bury or dispose of the fish in proper thoughtfully. (endorsed by RSPCA WA Inc).

    Aquarium Lighting Plants, Algae and New Aquaria: some facts about algae growth and plants Put a Leopard in your tank?
    Setting up for Discus Setting up for keeping Siamese Fighters (Bettas) Setting up for keeping Lemon Cichlids


    Watershed Aquaculture is now closed due to high costs of electricity in Sth Australia.

    Xena & Millie say, "Ooroo.
    Thanks for calling in."

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