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Avoiding potential disasters

Many new hobbyist who attempt to keep a nano tank will at some point experience a major (or sometimes minor) disaster. The majority of these disasters can be blamed on water quality/parameter issues. Among the most common of these issues include, but not limited to the following: Sticking thermostat on your heater (while some may enjoy the aroma of freshly cooked fish, this experience is much less pleasurable when coming from your tank rather than your kitchen), Ph crash (can happen quite quickly in a nano tank compared to a traditionally sized tank), unexpected ammonia or nitrite spike (most common when overstocking a newly setup tanks), various toxins inadvertently introduced into the tank (common household cleaners such as Windex, 409, insect killers, ect.) Other common problems may be caused by livestock compatibility issues (click the link to the right to download great compatibility chart), leaks (do I need to explain that?), general neglect (keep up with your water changes) & other miscellaneous equipment failures (lighting, filtration, ect.)

Should any of the above issues occur, DON”T PANIC! Panicking will usually make the situation worse! Believe me, I know this from experience. The intention of this article is NOT to scare you away from keeping a nano tank, but rather to provide you with a few tips on avoiding potential disasters before they happen & some steps that may be taken when a disaster actually occurs.

Below are only a few of many precautionary measures the responsible reef keeper should take:

Always keep extra supplies (food, salt, water conditioner, heater, ect.) on hand. Since you never know when a disaster may occur, supplies may not be readily available from your local fish store, especially on Sunday.

Keep to a strict maintenance schedule. Regular water changes (e.g. 25% every 3 - 4 weeks) are vital to the long term success of your nano tank, especially if your not using a protein skimmer.

Even is you do properly maintain your tank, always keep a test kit on hand (Ph, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, salinity, ect..) If a water quality problem occurs, how do you know how to correct it if you don’t know exactly what the problem is? Even when there is no apparent problem you should test your water regularly.

Do your homework! Familiarize yourself with the livestock you keep. It’s important for the hobbyist to know the difference between a healthy specimen & an unhealthy one.

When disaster strikes:

When you first realize that a major disaster has occurred, anger & disbelief will likely be your first reaction. Use as much profanity as necessary to help you through the first stage. Also, if the family cat happens to be walking through the room with a smirk on his face during this time, kicking him across the room is an appropriate action to take at this time (although the cat may disagree with this action.) Either or both of these actions will help relieve the stress of the situation (before I get angry emails from PETA, I’m only kidding).

Take a step back and calmly evaluate the situation,

Don’t over react! For example, if your desired Ph is 8.3 & your tank water reads 8.5, don’t start dumping ph buffers and other additives into your tank. This will often cause more problems than it will solve. Whatever you do, don‘t perform a huge water change (e.g. 75% of tank capacity) unless doing so is your only hope of saving your tank.

If you know there’s something wrong but have no idea how to solve it, go online & visit a reef keeping forum such as & submit a detailed description of your problem. Don’t worry if you think your asking a dumb question. Most likely, there will be other members who have experienced the same problem. Although you may get a few sarcastic replies from some arrogant hobbyists, most will gladly share their experiences & offer good advice.

There’s one more important point I‘d like to make. Even the most experienced & knowledgeable reef keeper can & often does experience a sudden mass loss of livestock due to uncontrollable circumstances. When your used to seeing a tank full of vibrant marine life & then suddenly have nothing more than a glass box full of sick coral & live rock to look at, you may be tempted to do one of two things. First, you may decide that you’ve spent enough money & it’s time to throw in the towel & relocate the tank to the garage where it will probably reside for the next 10 years (or until your next garage sale, whichever comes first). This may not necessarily be a bad decision. You don’t want to end up in the poor house trying to keep a fish tank alive. Second, you may consider restoring your tank to it’s pre-disaster state overnight. This is a horrible idea. Don‘t even try it! Correct the problem that caused the crash & go back to square one & slowly rebuild your tank. Trust me, the second time around will be much easier than the first since you’ll be much more experienced & knowledgeable. In a relatively short amount of time, you’ll be rewarded with a tank full of vibrant marine life that’s even better & stronger than it’s pre-disaster state.