Photographing Your Fish


Fishkeepers often decide that they would like to take photographs of their fish. This could be for any number of reasons – to show their friends, to send to fellow hobbyists, to display on their web site, and so on. A lot has been written on the subject. I would just like to record the techniques and knowledge that I have found useful.
Choice of camera

For most people, there is probably not much of a decision to make here. You will be limited to whatever camera one actually possesses. Nonetheless, it is worth pointing out the pros and cons of some of the different types of camera.
Compact film camera

Probably the most common camera these days is the 35mm or APS compact. Typically, these have either a moderately wide-angle fixed focal length lens or a zoom lens with a modest (but quite usable) range of focal lengths. Also, most functions are automated, such as exposure control, whether or not to use flash, focus. These characteristics combine to make the camera very easy to use for general shooting, but provide limited control and flexibility for specialised applications.

As far as photographing fish is concerned, these cameras are probably most useful for taking general shots of an aquarium. They are also capable of producing pleasing shots of individual fish, especially if they have a zoom lens that extends to, say, 100mm. However, consistency is quite difficult to achieve, mainly as a result of limitations of the lens and absence of a close focus (macro) mode for taking close up shots. Even if the camera has a macro mode, the absence of a “through the lens” viewfinder means that “parallax error” can cause shots to be off-target.

I would avoid using cameras using smaller format films such as 110 or disk film for anything other than the most casual snaps, as these are unlikely to do your subject justice!
SLR film camera

When equipped with a lens of reasonably long focal length and macro facility, these cameras address all of the potential inadequacies of compact cameras. The fact that the lenses are interchangeable means that most owners of this type of camera are likely to possess such a lens. A good length would be about 200mm. Longer focal lengths could be useful, but a tripod or other support might be necessary in order to prevent “camera shake” blurring the picture. These longer lenses enable you to home in on individual fishes or groups of fishes to take their image.

Exposure can normally be controlled manually. Therefore, it is possible to set a sufficiently small aperture to obtain a reasonable depth of field (i.e. more of the photo is in focus), which will compensate for focusing errors. Also, a fast enough shutter speed can be set to freeze motion. Both of these points are especially true if a fast film and/or flash is used, and are relevant in photographing moving objects such as fish.
Digital cameras

Digital versions of both of the above types of cameras are now available, which store the images electronically instead of using traditional film. Other than that difference, the same points hold true with respect to their respective virtues. The pros and cons of the two systems are well documented elsewhere. Suffice to say that, in my opinion, image quality from modern digital cameras has now reached the point where they rival film cameras in most applications.
Taking the photographs

Having chosen the camera best suited to the sort of photographs you are aiming for, there are a number of fundamental considerations that, when taken into account, will help you obtain some pictures you will be pleased with:-

If you are taking a shot of the aquarium as opposed to specific fish, then using the tank’s own lighting is probably the best option. Owing to the fact that this lighting will be relatively dim, leading to longer shutter speeds being required, the use of a tripod or some other support for the camera will help avoid the picture being ruined by camera shake.

For taking shots of the fish themselves, then the use of flash is highly recommended, as this will permit the use of a short shutter speed, effectively freezing the motion of the fish. Many authorities say that the flash should not be mounted on the camera in order to achieve the most flattering light. This might be necessary for top quality shots being published in magazines etc. However, I have had very satisfactory results from having the flash on-camera.

One concern you might have is the effect of the flash on your fish. All I can say is that I have never noticed any effect whatsoever – the fish just carry on after the flash, without dashing for cover etc. Having said that, I refrain from taking photos of a tank that contains recently added fish, as these are likely to be very skittish anyway.
Avoiding reflections

When taking a shot using natural lighting, do so when the room is in total darkness, other than the lights in the tank itself, otherwise you will end up with reflections of you, the camera, or your sofa showing up in the photograph!

When using flash, there are three rules to follow to avoid getting a bright reflection in the shot:-

1. Do not shoot the photo at right angles to the aquarium glass. I.e. set the camera up slightly to one side of where you expect the subject to be so that the photo is taken at an acute angle to the glass;
2. Do not get the rear corner of the tank in the shot;
3. Keep the aim of the camera level or slightly downwards, not up towards the surface of the water.

Framing the shot
When preparing a shot, take careful note of where unwanted items might be so that you can avoid including them in the background. E.g. you probably want to avoid the tank heater poking out from behind your prized Oscar.

Also, if you are taking a shot of a specific fish, take time to observe its behaviour and the area in which it moves, so that you can predict the best spot to get your photo without getting unwanted objects or other fish in the way.
Taking the shot

Having thought about all of the above, it is now a matter of mustering your patience. Settle down comfortably in the position that lets you frame the shot you have planned, keep the camera to your eye, and wait for your subject to come into view. Better still, to avoid getting cramp, set your camera up on a tripod focused on the target area, and then take the shot with a cable release when the subject moves into position.

Don’t be in too much of a rush – take a few shots to help ensure that at least one of them has the fish in just the right position, with fins nice and erect, and without another fish getting in the way. (Note that a digital camera with LCD preview screen is a boon to help you know when you have got the shot you are after).
My kit

In case you were wondering, the photographs on Steve’s Fishy Website have been taken using either a Nikon F301 SLR with 80-210 Tamron zoom lens and Hanimex flash, or with an Olympus Camedia CZ-900 digital camera (which has the equivalent of a 35-105mm lens if it were a 35mm film camera). The earlier shots were taken with the Nikon, but I have used the digital camera exclusively since I have had it, as it is so convenient. The gallery has examples of photos taken with both setups, including the wallpapers. I defy you to be able to tell the difference!

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Aquarium Ornament

Aquarium ornaments aren’t there to add any benefits to the fish, they are just for you to add some decoration in the tank. You can have all sorts of ornaments, big or small, traditional or caricature, simple or even complicated. There are thousands of different ornaments that you can buy in stores or you can even make your own. However ornaments are not for all fish, some fish don’t like them, I know for a fact Oscars don’t take well to any type of ornament or even plant. Some fish do need them though, basically to hide or live in and keep away from bigger fish.

Traditional ornaments are ornaments like castles and ships, they provide security for smaller fish from the bigger ones, they also provide a place to stay and play, yes fish do play! Fish ornaments are available in pet and fish stores. They tend to range from very low to very high prices. You can of course get more detailed ornaments that aren’t shaped to be anything except for like branches with weeds on them. Some fish need their ornaments to resemble their natural home, for example lots of plants and branches in the tank.

If you have amphibians in your

tank they often like a waterfall ornament with a bathing pool at the bottom of it so that they can bath in it. Amphibians need a lot of greenery in their tank as this resembles their home and therefore you should try to make sure that you fill you tank full of it! Aquarium ornaments are easy to come across and they don’t take much effort to put in the tank.

You should always try to keep the ornaments like the animals natural habitat unless it is a fish that couldn’t care less, like goldfish for example. Goldfish are very easy to keep and you can decorate their tank with all sorts of funny ornaments. With smaller fish you can try to decorate their tanks with funky ornaments but I always feel that the traditional ones are better!

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The Difference Between Freshwater And Saltwater Aquariums

Should you buy a fresh or saltwater aquarium? Ask most aquarists, and you will hear a persuasive argument on their tanks’ merits and the other’s shortcomings. Yet, there are many enthusiasts who find both tanks to be praiseworthy. There is no litmus test for choosing between the two. Your preference for what goes into the aquarium and your budget is what will make the decision easier.

Aquarium Life
Fresh water fish originate from lakes, rivers and streams. Naturally occurring fluctuations in their environment make these creatures remarkably adaptable. As such, they are more likely to adjust to variances in the aquarium. Pet stores carry an abundance of plant life of the freshwater variety. The same cannot be said for invertebrates, which fare better in salt water.

Saltwater/Marine fish and invertebrates propose a challenge, as they are sensitive to environmental changes. The temperature, salinity, ammonia, nitrate, nitrate, and most importantly – the pH – must be kept at appropriate levels. Despite the care required, the vast array of colorful saltwater fish more than compensates for the extra effort required and their higher price tag. They can have a lot of company in the tank. Salt water offers a host of invertebrates such as eels, clams, crabs, corals, and starfish. Marine plants, conversely, are difficult to harvest and are also pricier than their freshwater equivalent.

The Necessities
The differences between freshwater and saltwater systems aren’t limited to tank’s inhabitants. The equipment needed for their survival varies as well. Marine aquariums are generally more expensive than freshwater tanks, but your costs drop slightly if you opt for a fish-only system.

Substrate lies on the bottom of the aquarium, and it must be near the top of your list of considerations. Gravel typically lines the bed of freshwater aquariums. It is inexpensive and comes in a variety of vibrant colors. Marine aquarists, on the other hand, swear by live rock. Most attest that saltwater fish and invertebrates thrive in a reef environment with live rock. It costs considerably more than gravel, but it lends to the aquarium’s natural beauty.

Lighting is a necessity to illuminate the beauty and preserve the health of aquatic life in fresh and saltwater aquariums. Lighting for marine tanks comes at a higher price. Fish-only tanks usually require a single full spectrum tube. If your heart is set on saltwater invertebrates, be mindful that they require very intense full spectrum lighting, augmented with actinic blue.

Keeping water at the appropriate temperature and having proper filtration is a must in all aquariums. Full reef systems require additional filtration through protein skimming. This process strips any organic particles that form in the water before they can be converted to nitrates. It is important to keep the water in either tank moving, especially saltwater aquariums.

You will also need a testing kit for your aquarium. There are more levels to monitor in a marine environment, but there is not a stark difference in price between the freshwater kits. Since salinity is a factor in saltwater tanks, an inexpensive hydrometer is necessary to ensure a proper balance.

Either system you choose will require an investment of your time. While the freshwater versus saltwater debate will undoubtedly persist, no one can dispute the joy of putting your patience and creativity into an aquarium.

Copyright 2006
Reef Saltwateraquarium

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Picking The Right Aquarium Type

Aquariums have evolved into a very popular hobby, with about millions of aquarium and tropical fish enthusiasts worldwide.

Starting in the 1850s (when the predecessor of the modern aquarium were first being developed as a novel curiosity) the ranks of aquarium keeping has grown as more sophisticated systems including lighting and filtration systems were developed to keep aquarium fish healthy.

However before you can get started in the hobby you must first buy an aquarium. When you get to the pet store or specialized aquarium store you will have lots of aquarium tanks to choose from:

Metal Framework:

Most of the old style aquariums are made with sheets of glass, which are held in a metal framework. This is usually constructed of pieces of angle iron or stainless steel, which are welded together at the corners. Leakage between the glass and metal is prevented by putty aquarium cement, acrylic or silicon sealant.

Battery Jars:

Fish Globes or Bowls: This type of aquarium is useful for emergency purpose, but is not to be recommended as a permanent features. The glasses are cast in one piece and a crack, however small, may suddenly expand and cause a flood. This not only results in a loss of fishes but also necessitates the buying of a new tank, as it is impossible to repair the old one.

Also, when looking through the walls of this type of aquarium, there is distortion, which adversely affects one’s view of the fishes. Similar disadvantages apply in fish globes or bowls.


With the ever-expanding applications of plastics, it is not surprising that these synthetic that these synthetic products have been used to replace glass for aquarium. Plastics have advantage of being unbreakable, but are soft enough for the surface to become scratched. This is in time will mar transparency.


This glass-like material is available in many different colours and some very pleasing effects can be obtained by applying it to the sides to back up the aquarium. Moreover, being opaque Vitorlite will hide the wall and any unsightly wires or other apparatus behind the aquarium.


Aquarium frameworks with wood are desirable mainly for aesthetic reasons. The wooden framework however will have to be constructed from plywood to prevent warping.

The advantage of the wood lies in the fact that it can be polished, covered with upholstered rug, stained or coated with colours to harmonize with the furnishing of the room.

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Tips for buying livestock online

Over the last few years more and more websites are popping up to sell fish, plants and corals online. These websites can often very luring to the consumer because items are often much cheaper than can be purchased from the local fish shops. The reason the prices are often cheaper is that unlike your pet shop these places can buy in much greater quantities. Sometimes they will find other ways to turn a profit. This article is being written to give you, the consumer, a slight edge when looking and comparing online stores to your local pet shop.

Before you buy look very closely at the shipping policy.

There can be a very wide range of shipping charges depending on what websites you visit. Some websites will charge something they call a BOX CHARGE. This box charge is usually a $5-$10 item that gets added to each and every order. As best I can figure out this fee is supposed to pay for the Styrofoam and cardboard packaging that your livestock is shipped in. Other things to look at are the specific shipping fees. These can vary significantly from site to site. Some sites might charge a flat shipping fee based upon the total amount of the order. Others will charge based upon the number of items ordered.

Lets supply you with an example. Lets say you can get a Yellow tang at your pet store for $20.00. Now lets say you find a place on the web that sells them for $8.99. Then you look at the shipping policy and you see they have a flat shipping rate of $20.00 for anything under $100.00 and they also have a box charge of $10. In the end that $8.99 fish is now going to cost you $38.99 vs the local price of $20.00

Its not always cheaper to buy local. For example if we continue with the above example but instead we purchase 3 fish of and they are all $8.99 online and they are all $20 at your local store it will be cheaper to purchase online. This is because with this store the shipping charge does not change until your order is above $100.00. This is not always the case so make sure you fully understand the shipping policies.

Does the online store offer have a �arrive alive� policy?

Some online stores offer what can sometimes be referred to as an arrive alive policy. This policy is a great way to attract those who may be unsure about purchasing online as you may be concerned if its really safe for the items to be shipped like this. For those who think shipping is to stressful I have to ask you this question. How do you think the fish and other livestock get to your local fish shops?

These policies will list a specified amount of time after you have received your order. Should any livestock die during this time frame the company may replace the item for you. Some companies will request you freeze and then mail via priority mail back the dead item. Some may just ask for the tail fin. Sometimes you will be responsible for the shipping costs of the replacement so be fully aware as to the constraints of the particular websites arrive alive policy. Also note: Not all livestock sold on a site with this type of policy will be covered. Often times a small percentage of livestock is considered to fragile and they will be marked as being exempt from such a policy.

Know who the shipper is and what is the method of shipping is

All of these websites will use UPS, FedEx, DHL, or some other worldwide shipper. The standard method of shipping is usually overnight. What�s important to know is that there are different levels of overnight shipping. Some shippers offer to ship items overnight by 8am, or they might offer overnight by 10am. The cheapest of the overnight shipping methods is usually an overnight by 4pm or some other time frame after noon.

Find out what carrier the website uses and then contact that carrier and ask them what kinds of overnight service they offer to your area. Some shippers have �brown� areas that they do not offer full-scale overnight delivery. Sometimes their policy for overnight in your location might not guarantee a specific time of delivery. If this is the case then don�t spend the extra money to have something shipped overnight by 8am when the shipper cant get it to you before overnight by 4pm or maybe even later on in the day.

Also make sure you or someone else can be at your location when the order arrives. Most of the time livestock requires a customer signature upon delivery. If this is the case then the shipper will not be able to simply leave the package.

Follow the acclamation procedures from the online retailer as best as possible.

Many of the online stores will include with their shipment an acclamation guide. If they don�t include one they might have a recommended acclamation procedure listed on their website. If they have one listed or give you one make sure you follow it as best you can. Shipping livestock is somewhat stressful and not following the acclamation procedure can void any arrive alive policy the website might have.

Plan your order and shipment around the weather.

Online retailers will often include or even charge extra for hot/cold packs. These packs are intended to make up for the summer heat or the winters cold. In my view these packs are good for moderate temperature changes. If there is going to be a period of extreme cold or extreme heat it might be best for your livestock to not be shipped in such conditions.

Good luck with your next livestock order.

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Feng Shui – Fishing Around For Wealth

In Feng Shui, water symbolizes wealth. The word “fish” in Mandarin is pronounced the same way as “excess”. That’s the reason why rearing fish is one of the most effective ways to bring you wealth so that you can enjoy a life of excess.

To be able to activate the wealth energies in your home, shop or office, you’ll need to learn how to set up an aquarium in the right way.

“…rearing fish is one of the most effective ways to bring you wealth…”

When I’m talking about setting up your aquarium in the right way, I’m neither talking about water temperature nor am I talking about ammonia and nitrite levels. I’m talking about how to set up the aquarium based on the principles of Feng Shui to attract wealth.

Where do you place your aquarium?
The location of your aquarium is very important since you want to place it where it’s most ideal to accumulate wealth energies.

Of the four sectors of your house, the front and the back have the biggest impact on your wealth. It’s not advisable, however, to set up your aquarium at the back of your house.

The back of the house, where the bedrooms are usually at, is a sector that should be kept peaceful and quiet. Since there’s too much activities and movement generated by the aquarium with the fishes swimming and the filter pumping away, it’s recommended that you place the aquarium in the front sector near the front door.

What’s the shape of your fish tank?
The wrong shape may actually adversely affect the health
You may not know this, but the shape of your fish tank is an important factor that you need to pay attention to when setting up the aquarium.

Buying a fish tank of the wrong shape may actually adversely affect the health of the people living in the house (or working in the office) instead of attracting wealth.

The best fish tank (strictly from a Feng Shui perspective) is a circular fish tank.

Why are circular fish tanks the best?

First, circular fish tanks do not have sharp corners (or “poison arrows”) which can be detrimental to your health.

Second, a circle belongs to the Metal element. And according to the Cycle of Birth of the Five Elements, Metal melts into a liquid state when subjected to intense heat. Hence, Metal is said to give birth to Water (Wealth).

The conventional rectangular tank (with 90-degree corners) is considered neither good nor bad so if you can’t find a circular tank, go for the rectangular ones.

How many fish should I keep?
The number of fish you should rear will depend on your element.
If you belong to the Water element, you should have either 1 or 6 fish.
If you belong to the Fire element, you should have either 2 or 7 fish.
If you belong to the Wood element, you should have either 3 or 8 fish.
If you belong to the Metal element, you should have either 4 or 9 fish.
If you belong to the Earth element, you should have either 5 or 10 fish.
It doesn’t mean that the more fish you have, the more wealth you’ll attract. The number of fish you keep should depend on the size of your fish tank. Afterall what you want is a thriving aquarium.

What types of fish should you keep?
In general you can keep any kind of fish although the arowana, flower horn fish (Luo Han) and goldfish are good for attracting wealth.

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Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre

Lovers of aquatic life and its inhabitants would love to see the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center. Not only you would find a huge variety of aquatic flora and fauna here, but also it would a fun and educational experience for you and your kids. This center is located in the beautiful and serene surroundings of Vancouver, British Columbia and draws huge crowds of adults and kids round the year.

The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre focuses on conservation and saving different species of aquatic animals and plants all over the world. For example, the center works to protect sea turtles that live on the Pacific Coast. The British Columbia coast is home to the species of sea turtle known as the Leatherback turtle, a phenomenal species of reptile that is in need of protecting from boats and fishermen.

The salmon conservation program is another important activity of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, which tracks salmon and schools of salmon to ensure the fish are able to make their famous trek upstream to spawn. It also protects different species of salmon from over fishing by educating the public on these great fish and their epic journey.

For the kids, the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center offers great opportunities for learning all about marine mammals like whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals and many more. The center also maintains a rescue program that rescues wayward and injured mammals, allows them to recuperate before returning them to their natural habitat. Visitors can also enjoy various exhibits of these marine mammals, including the new entrant to the center- a dolphin.

Also for kids, the center offers several hands on and interactive programs to teach the next generation about plants and animals who live under the sea. Visit a tide pool and get a chance to gently handle wildlife, including sea urchins and sand dollars. The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center is a great destination for the entire family, as it seamlessly combines education with entertainment.

At the center kids and adults can go behind the scenes and get close and personal to their favorite marine animals. The Beluga whale tour, for instance, allows visitors to touch the gentle giants, train the whales, and make them cook their dinner! Other trainer tours allow visitors to see what goes on behind the scenes at the center. You can literally sleep with the fishes if you have the time to spend the night in the aquarium!

The great exhibits at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center show all the animals that call the British Columbia coast their home, from salmon to those unique fish, crustaceans, and plants that live under the waters adjacent to British Columbia.

Lovers of the Amazon who are willing to travel deep into South America’s tropical rainforests do not have to travel that far- they can see the exhibit of the same at the center, complete with the creatures that call this Amazon Rainforest home.

Adults and children alike are sure to enjoy a visit to the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center, so plan your trip today! The center is located in the lovely Stanley Park a mere five minutes from downtown Vancouver.

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Water Chemistry

As fish keepers, we are told that it is important to measure the pH, kH and gH of our aquariums and source water. Fish suitability is commonly defined in terms of the pH and gH of their natural habitat. Many aquarists, even though they measure these parameters, don’t;t completely understand them, know how they can interact, or the affect they may have on fish. The purpose of this article is to try and provide some definition and clarity to the terms, determine how they interact as well as their affects upon tropical fish.

Defines how acidic or alkaline the water is. pH comes from the French word hydrogène, and means “hydrogen power”. It equates to the amount of hydrogen (H+) and hydroxide (OH-) ions are dissolved in a solution. The more hydrogen ions there are, the more acidic the water is and the lower the pH is. A solution that has equal concentrations of hydroxide and hydrogen is termed neutral with a pH value of 7. A higher concentration of hydroxide ions would return a value above 7 or alkaline. A higher concentration of hydrogen ions would return a value below 7 or acidic. The pH scale is logarithmic, in other words, each step up or down is 10 times that of the previous one. A pH of 6 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 7. A pH of 5 is a 100 times more acidic than 7 and so on.

Most freshwater fish live within a pH range of 5.5 to 7.5 (African chiclids can go up to 8.4). Since the scale is logarithmic, this range represents a variation of over a 1000 times. Even an apparently small change in pH can affect fish, causing stress or death.
The consequences for fish are many and varied. It affects their breathing ability. High acidity or alkalinity can cause direct physical damage to skin, gills and eyes. Prolonged exposure to sub-lethal pH levels can cause stress, increase mucus production and encourage epithelial hyperplasia (thickening of the skin or gill epithelia) with sometimes-fatal consequences.
There are indirect consequences that can also affect fish. Changes in pH will affect the toxicity of many dissolved compounds. For example, ammonia becomes more toxic as pH increases. Fluctuations in pH, even though they may still be within the preferred range, can be stressful and damaging to fish health. Nitrifying bacteria, essential in the conversion of ammonia to nitrate also have a pH range preference, which is between 7.5 and 8.6. Variations in pH will also have an effect on some disease treatments. Chloramine-T is more toxic at low pH, while potassium permanganate is more dangerous at high pH.
Monitoring the pH in an established aquarium can often indicate water change and substrate vacuuming needs, or a clogged UGF. Excess waste product produces carbonic acid, which acidifies the water and lowers the pH./h2>
While selecting fish that are compatible to the pH of the water used to fill the aquarium is the best method and avoids the need to change the pH, many aquarists want keep a species of fish that may require pH alteration. Many fish can accept a limited pH range, however breeding may be more difficult if not impossible. There are methods of altering the pH in your aquarium.
Ways to lower pH
· Filtering water over peat
· Add bogwood to the tank
· Inject carbon dioxide CO2
· Use a commercial acid buffer
· Water changes with softened water or RO (Reverse Osmosis) water

Ways to raise the pH
· Aerate the water, driving off the carbon dioxide (CO2)
· Filter over coral or limestone
· Add rocks containing limestone to the tank or use a coral sand substrate
· Use a commercial alkaline buffer

Any changes to pH should be done gradually!!!

Water that is poorly buffered (low kH or temporary hardness) will be subject to higher pH fluctuations than well-buffered water. As a general rule, hard water is usually alkaline (above 7) and well buffered, whereas soft water (below 7) is usually slightly acidic and poorly buffered. Permanent hardness also has an affect on the pH therefore in order to completely understand pH, we must also understand water hardness.

Water hardness
Water accumulates many dissolved substances before it reaches our taps. Hardness is a measurement of the concentration of metal ions such as calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. Most of these concentrations are acquired as rain water passes over rocks. In most water it consist mainly of calcium and magnesium salts, with trace amounts of other metals.

There are two types of hardness that we need to consider. Permanent hardness and alkalinity (often referred to as carbonate or temporary hardness) (kH). The sum of both types of hardness is called general hardness (gH)

Alkalinity or temporary (carbonate) hardness (kH) refers to the hardness derived mainly from carbonate and bicarbonate ions and directly reflects the buffering capacity of the water. It can be precipitated and removed by boiling the water. This is why lime-scale forms in kettles and shower heads.

Permanent hardness measures ions such as nitrates, sulphates, and chlorides etc, and cannot be removed by boiling.

While there is a connection between water hardness and buffering, hardness is a product of mainly calcium and magnesium ions and buffering is produced by bicarbonate and carbonate ions. As mentioned earlier, hard water is usually well buffered and soft water is usually less buffered. It is possible though, based on different water compositions, to have hard water that is poorly buffered or soft water that is well buffered. The way to establish the makeup of your local water is by using a test kit and test for both gH (general hardness) and kH (temporary hardness).

Carbonate hardness or temporary hardness. Measures the buffering capacity or the ability to absorb and neutralize added acid without major changes to pH. Think of buffering capacity as a big sponge, the higher the buffering, the bigger the sponge. How much buffering does your tank need? The higher the kH (the bigger the sponge), the more resistant to pH changes your water will be. A tank’s kH should be high enough to prevent large pH swings over time. If your kH is below roughly 4.5 OdH, you should pay special attention to your tank’s pH (e.g., testing periodically) until you get a feel for how stable the pH is.

Buffering is both good and bad. On the good side, the nitrogen cycle in our tanks produces nitric acid (nitrate). If we don’t have buffering (kH), the pH will drop over time. Sufficient buffering will keep the Ph stable. On the bad side, hard water almost always has a large buffering capacity and if the pH is to high for your fish, this large buffering capacity will make it more difficult to lower the pH.
Buffering is sometimes referred to as “alkalinity” but should not be confused with “alkaline”. Alkalinity refers to buffering and alkaline refers to a solution that is base rather than acid (pH).

Aquariums with a low kH will require more attention to water changes to control the nitrate level reducing the tendency for the pH to drop.
As with pH, there are ways to increase and decrease the buffering capacity of your water.

Ways to increase kH:
· Adding sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). One teaspoon of baking soda added to 50 liters of water can raise the kH of the water by approx 4 OdH without a major affect on pH.
· Adding an air stone to increase surface turbulence driving off carbon dioxide (CO2)
· Adding commercially available products to increase buffering capacity

Ways to lower kH
· Injecting carbon dioxide (CO2)
· Use reverse osmosis (RO) water. You can mix tap water with reverse osmosis water to achieve the desired kH.
· Adding commercially available products to decrease the buffering capacity.

It is not a good idea to use distilled water in your tank. By definition, distilled water has essentially no kH. That means that adding even a little bit of acid will change the pH significantly (stressing fish). Because of its instability, distilled (or any essentially pure water) is never used directly. Tap water or other salts must first be added in order to increase its gH and kH.

General hardness (GH) refers to the dissolved concentration primarily of magnesium and calcium ions. Other ions can contribute to water hardness but are usually insignificant and difficult to measure. When fish are said to prefer “soft” or “hard” water, it is gH, not kH that is being referred to. gH will not directly affect pH although “hard” water is generally alkaline due to some interaction of gH and kH.

Incorrect gH will affect the transfer of nutrients and waste products through cell membranes and can affect egg fertility, proper functioning of internal organs such as kidneys and growth. Within reason, most fish and plants can successfully adapt to local gH conditions, although breeding may be impaired.

Most test kits measure gH or general hardness in German degrees hardness or OdH, which is equal to 17.9 mg/L. Since mg/L is equal to ppm (parts per million) simply multiply the degrees OdH times 17.9 if you prefer to work with ppm. The following table will give an idea of how hard your water may be after reading the test results.

General Hardness Table
0 to 4 dH 0 to 70 ppm Very Soft
4 to 8 dH 70 to 140 ppm Soft
8 to 12 dH 140 to 210 ppm Medium Hard
12 to 18 dH 210 to 320 ppm Fairly Hard
18 to 30 dH 320 to 530 ppm Hard
Higher Very Hard

Ways to increase gH
· Adding limestone to the aquarium (this will also increase kH which in turn will increase pH)
· Adding calcium carbonate will raise gH and kH

Ways to reduce gH
· Adding peat moss to your filter
· Use commercially available water softening pillows or a water softener (this removes calcium and magnesium ions and replaces them with sodium ions. Many people feels that this is an unacceptable method of softening water as many fish that prefer soft water don’t like sodium either.
· Mixing tap water with reverse osmosis (RO) water.

It is more difficult to change gH without affecting kH than it is to change kH without affect gH as you can see.

· While distinct, pH, kH and gH interact and affect each other. If you change one parameter, be sure and monitor the others to see the affect.
· It is easiest and best to raise fish that are compatible with the water parameters you are dealt.
· Make changes gradually.
· When making changes it is usually best to do it in containers outside the aquarium, then add the treated water to the aquarium.
· If you have a low kH, increase water changes accordingly and monitor pH more frequently.
· Understand that decorations such as driftwood, bogwood, limestone, filtering with peat, etc. will affect the kH and pH of the aquarium.

Good luck and happy fish keeping.

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Aquarium Decorations

There are many decorations available to increase the beauty of your Aquarium. Some can also be very useful for other functions.

There are many types of rock available from aquarium stores including slate, granite, etc. that are inert. Inert meaning that they will not discolor or change the composition of your water. I would not recommend collecting your own unless you know what you are collecting. Adding rocks with Limestone, as an example can alter the water chemistry by having the calcium leach out, hardening your water. One way to check and see if your rock is safe is to drop a little vinegar on it. If the vinegar bubbles then the rock is not safe to use in the aquarium.

Be sure to scrub and rinse the rock before using them.

For versatility, wood is hard to beat in the aquarium. It can be used to anchor plants such as Java Fern and for some fish such as the Bristle Nose Catfish it forms a basic part of their diet.

Driftwood Wood that can be found floating or supported in water. Drift wood can be found in saltwater or freshwater and over time becomes water logged. Freshwater drift wood (depending on the type of wood) can alter pH (normally lowering it) by releasing tannic acids. Beach drift wood can release salts, etc. Drift wood should be boiled if possible prior to introduction to the aquarium.

Bog wood
Bogs are areas of wet mucky soil and dark tannin stained lakes. The vegetation in a bog is particularly fragile and hard to restore. Soils are mucky or have an accumulation of peat. A true bog, by definition, is not connected to the ground water table; it receives water only through precipitation. Because of this isolation from the ground water, bogs are nutrient and oxygen poor. In addition, the soils and water of a bog have a low pH, or in other words, are highly acidic. Trees are generally found around the edges of the bog and were drowned as the bog expanded out of its basin onto the surrounding mineral soil. The lack of oxygen in water logged peat prevents the natural process of decay and ensures the tree trunks and stumps are preserved for years in the accumulating peat. These trees and stumps are bog wood. Bog wood has very high levels of tannic acid and can lower pH dramatically even more than drift wood. Many tropical fish come from areas where the water is rich in tannic acid and the use of bog wood could be beneficial for them. Bog wood should be boiled for a long period of time to leach out these tannic acids to avoid major alterations in the pH.

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Colour changing fish:

Have you ever noticed that your fish change colour? Some more than others though, but have you ever stopped to wonder why they do this? I don’t have a degree in fish keeping, but would like to share my thoughts on the matter with you.

Colour is a very important aspect of life, everything is colourful especially fish. You could never convince me that fish can not see colour because of the wide variety of colours of fish.

In nature colour is used to attract attention, the male in certain bird species is more brightly coloured than the female, and when it is time to court certain species become even more colourful. The same might be true with fish. Have you noticed how most male fish are more brightly coloured than the females of that species?

Besides being able to attract a mate, colour is used to repel. Certain South American frogs are black and yellow, meaning danger to whoever tries to eat them. There are poisonous fish as well, but I don’t want to focus on them right now. Have you noticed that fish sometimes loose their colour and look rather bland? Especially when they have just been caught and released in your tank? I have a theory concerning this, now I may be wrong on this – but you can judge it.

When a fish is happy, it shows. Their colours are bright and beautiful. When they are being chased they loose their colour (temporarily) to confuse the potential predator. Have you ever tried to catch a certain cichlid and noticed how all the fish in the tank suddenly look the same? A minute ago you had all the colours of the rainbow in the tank and now you only have white fish? (I’m referring to a tank at the LFS). Yes, being able to change colour may just give you the edge you needed to escape a dangerous predator.

I am a catfish lover, especially Corydoras. I have Aneus (Bronze), Palateus (Pepper) and Albino’s at the moment. In the morning, at feeding time the fish are a lighter colour than at other times of the day. When they start foraging for food they become slightly darker in colour. When I get home from work I find that they are a much darker colour that at any other time of the day. Normally they are resting at this time. After their evening feeding the Pepper Cories shine with a blue-green tint. It is beautiful. Does their colour show what mood they are in? I definitely think so.

Even my pleco changes colour! I don’t know the exact type of pleco that I have (looks like the standard pleco if there was such a thing). Before eating he is a lighter shade of brown, which forms a kind of pattern on his body. After eating he goes back to darker brown and black. When he is very happy he even has a row of white dots that run down his left and right sides from his stomach to his tail.

Fish use colour for a variety of reasons, I believe that they use it to communicate with each other as well. A silent language for those who cannot use words to speak. We need to take note of their colours, so that we can notice when a fish is sick or becoming ill. Take a few minutes every day (at different times of the day) to observe your fish and what colour they are.

Have you noticed that your fish change colour?

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