Learn How to Plan, Set Up and Manage an Aquarium

of Any Size or Complexity

Having an aquarium may be a very rewarding experience as they bring the feeling of the wonderful underwater world to your eyes. You may choose to build an aquarium for various purposes, whether it’s as a hobbyist for recreational reasons, for commercial or breeding purposes, for exhibitions and shows.

While an aquarium can be used for a number of different purposes, the most important aspect is the division of aquarium types as each has specific requirements in terms of water quality, salinity, temperature, hardware, filtration, lighting, decoration fish selection and other species.  Many new to aquaria may start out with small and very basic systems with minimal equipment, and easy to care for species, while developing the skill and knowledge to manage more complex aquatic systems. 

The three main categories of aquariums are:

  • Fresh water
  • Brackish water (mixture of fresh and sea water)
  • Marine or seawater

These can be further divided into:

  • Cold water aquariums and
  • Tropical or warm water aquariums (i.e. reef aquariums)

Within the above categories, aquariums for fish can be divided by types:

  • Peaceful community aquariums
  • Aggressive or semi aggressive fish species
  • Single species or `specimen’ tanks

The complete ecosystem of the aquarium may fall into further divisions such as:

  • Fish only aquaria
  • Aquatic plants only aquaria
  • Fish and aquatic plants
  • Fish and other living organisms (i.e. saltwater corals, living rock, anemones)
  • Aquatic organisms without fish (i.e. living reefs, other invertebrates)

Furthermore, division of aquarium categories has progressed to include the `Biotope’ aquaria which aim to recreate a natural ecosystem using fish, plants, water conditions and materials native to a particular region.  Examples of biotope aquaria include:

  • Tropical Amazon `rain forest’ tank
  • Southeast Asia tank
  • African rocky lake tank
  • Brackish mangrove tank
  • Hawaiian coral reef tank

Aquaria Size and Complexity
An aquarium can be as basic as a small, desktop tank or fishbowl of a few litres capacity with a cold water species such goldfish and no other equipment or decoration to a large public aquarium holding millions of gallons of water holding a vast amount of large species.

Many children’s first experience with aquarium management comes in the form of such a very basic system.  Unfortunately such simple systems are prone to problems with fish overheating in summer, lack of oxygenation and filtration, water going green with algae and the requirement for a high number of water changes to keep the system in balance and the fish alive.

The next step up in complexity are fresh water aquariums, either cold water or tropical.  Cold water aquaria may seem simple as they generally don’t require a thermostat heater when kept indoors, however, in warm climates, cold water systems may need a chiller to prevent the fish overheating in summer. Tropical fresh water tanks require heating to maintain a consistent temperature, typically in the range 22-26oC, although some species can survive conditions outside of this range. 

Basic tropical and cold water aquariums do still require some form of water quality control – in very small systems frequent, regular, partial replacements of water can be used, but are not a reliable way of maintaining water quality for fish.  Filtration systems are a much more efficient way of ensuring water quality is suitable for fish health, although partial water replacement still needs to occur.  Along with filtration, of which there are a number of different methods (covered in future lessons), establishment of the biological filter is essential to the health of any aquarium ecosystem.  This consists of beneficial bacteria which live in the tank (often in the substrate on the base of the aquarium) that convert toxic compounds produced from fish waste (ammonia and nitrite) into harmless nitrate. So whether an aquarium is a small, basic desktop tank or a thousand litre commercial display the same principal of establishment of the bacteria that carry out the biological filtration is vital to the success of the system.

Do you love fish? Study our Aquarium Management Course -click for details