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Related FAQs: Brackish System Maintenance, Brackish Aquariums In General,

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/The Conscientious Brackish Aquarist Series

Brackish Aquarium Maintenance 




    Keeping a brackish water system going is similar to any given freshwater or marine aquatic life support. With good initial set-up, sufficient countervailing strategies and back-up, all that is required is some daily inspection (best done along with feeding), and regular regimen of checks, testing, trimming/cleaning and minor parts replacement. 

    Also, as with all of your other important affairs, a checklist, or better, a permanent logbook or computerized equivalent to keep track of what needs to be done at what time, and was done, at what time, is prudent. Not so much daily activity, but the longer term inception dates of gear, switch-out of lamps, records of water tests...


    A few minutes of your time a day, observing your system, enjoying its beauty, your work making it are what aquarium enjoyment is all about. Feeding, small amounts, frequently... while watching, accounting for all the tanks inhabitants is the single best way to assess whether "all is okay" with your system and its occupants. Are they all there?. Feeding? 

    Take a quick look about the tank. Water level about where it should be? Pumps, air outlets appear to be operating? This is really about all that needs to be done on a regular basis, given that the lights are on timers (a good idea here as with all other types of captive aquatic systems). 


    Depending on your local/prevailing water conditions (tapwaters vary immensely place to place, sometimes day to day), you'll want to do water checks for pH, temperature, possibly dH, possibly more (like alkalinity) to assure that your system water is about where you want it to be Most systems will want to have their pH above 7.5, a dH of at least 10, and something steady (mid seventies to low eighties F.) in temperature. Record your measurements. Invaluable information should "something" go wrong.  

    Water changes are best done weekly in my opinion and experience. Brackish water fishes tend on the large, active, and "dirty" side. Regularly changing ten to twenty percent of the systems water out while vacuuming the substrate is the single best way to preserve water quality and livestock health. 

    For these change outs there is no better technique than pre-making (like the week before when you empty out the container for that week's use) new brackish water of about the same specific gravity and temperature in a designated container for the purpose. Ideally you can situate this "pre-mixed water" can near the tank itself, and provide electricity, a cover, pump (for mixing and moving the water), heater for the purpose. 


    Things to do once a month include plant trimming (if you have them), checking and cleaning electrics, looking elsewhere for rust, mineral and salt creep/encrustations, and filter media change-out. 

    Different species of plants have their own pruning techniques and schedules, but it's a good idea to not trim them too often (hence a monthly check-up) or too much at one time. Do look about in the hobby magazines, on the Internet, and in gardening outlets for all-plastic and all-wood implements for this job; or barring this, arm-length rubber/latex gloves to keep your actual hands out of the water and vice versa.

    For marine system, looping electrical wires assures that water droplets and salt don't intrude electrical outlets. This is a good idea with brackish systems as well, as is a monthly swipe with a damp sponge or towel to keep them clean. A month's interval is also long enough to go between checking and cleaning lighting and other mechanicals for damage. Of course, you want to have the electric power off to these devices while daubing them clean, having them apart for inspection. 

    Many, probably the vast majority of filter gear can/should have its media checked, cleaned, "renewed" (replaced) on a monthly basis. Canister filters and outside power units, turned off, their lines secured, rinsed out... carbon replaced. 


    A few important tasks can generally be relegated to four times a year category: checking/replacing lighting lamps, and checking and cleaning of pumps and plumbing.

    I like to write on the actual lamp (with a grease pen, Sharpie (tm) marker) as well as record "incept. dates" and when to replace fluorescents (which you will likely employ). Some folks utilize meters for measuring "lumen depreciation" (intensity loss), and "spectral shift" (change in the make up of wavelengths) in their lamps. I simply toss my old ones at a pre-determined (by manufacturer advice and calculated effective life span) times and replace them. 

    Perhaps you're one of the few folk who read and keep all the instructions that come with your fish gear. If so, take a read through re periodic checks and maintenance; particularly re pumps and related plumbing. Most all pumping mechanisms call for periodic dismantling, inspection and cleaning of critical elements. Impellers to be checked, volutes to be wiped clean, possibly through-ports for cooling to be blown clear. If your external pumps have them, it's a good practice to vacuum their cooling ports and vanes as well.

    Check your plumbing connections thoroughly. It's a good idea to at least annually cut and re-fit flexible to barb connections, loosen and re-tighten clamps.


    Here's the "hodge-podge" area of "what's left" to do from time to time. Let's just go over moving and acclimating livestock.

Acclimation of new livestock involves the same choices as fresh and marine systems. Floating, dripping water into a container, a myriad of choices in adding water intermittently to the shipping/transit container. But wait! What about differences in specific gravity between your main/display system and the where the livestock in question has just been shipped from? Disparate opinions, techniques can be found in searching pertinent literature or asking folks re their experiences. Some state, "if the water's are close enough (a few thousandths), just dump 'em in", others warn, "take your time, one thousandth change per oh-so many minutes, hours, days...". Who's right? Likely all of these... There is enormous tolerance, by species, individual in making salinity, osmotic, pH and water hardness accommodation. However, as an added "stressor" I suggest using the tried and true quarantine tank approach, and over a good two weeks time, while allowing the new animals, plants, live rock... to adjust to your principal systems salinity et al., changing the incoming ones to match it.

    You might be very surprised in checking with wholesalers and LFS (retailers, aka Livestock Fish Stores), just how many maintain which of their brackish specimens in either all fresh or all marine settings. Regardless of where they've been, it's up to you to test where they are now, and slowly match them up to their new surroundings. 

Moving livestock, use of jars, u/w bags. Just a few notes here re the increased dangers, likelihood of injury to brackish water organisms (as opposed to most freshwater) by the practice of lifting them in a net into the air, placing them into specimen containers. It's a much better idea to direct would-be catches underwater into a jar or plastic bags than to risk injuring them by exposing them to rough netting and the air. Puffers can be killed easily by their in-taking air, and many brackish fishes have stout spines, and in the case of "Freshwater Lionfish", are outright venomous. Take your time when moving this livestock, and do so underwater. 


    In querying non-aquarists about their perception of the least desirable aspects of aquarium keeping, "maintenance" is the perennial least favorite activity listed. But depending on how you define it, the actual upkeep of our systems is a great deal of the fun and learning part of the captive aquatic experience. 

    Do keep an eye on your livestock. Their behavior is bar-none the best indication that something may be amiss with your set-ups. The best time for observation and daily checking on gear is during feedings. Do make a checklist or e-checklist up of what activities you involve yourself in regularly with your tanks. Record those water quality measurements, inception dates of gear, and add a calendar, notes to when it's time to perform maintenance checks, cleaning and parts replacements.

    With some thinking, planning, aquarium maintenance needn't be time-consuming or drudge-ridden. For me it's actually fun. I have all my gear, tools, materials laid out, I know the work, order of operation I'm going to perform, and simply enjoy doing it, realizing how this maintenance preserves the life of my gear and livestock. 

Bibliography/Further Reading:


Anon. 1975. Tanks with brackish or mixed water. Aquarium Digest Intl. 3:4, 75.

Anon. 1981. Where water worlds mingle. Aquariums Australia 2:1, 89.

Burgstaller, B.J. 1978. The brackish system. FAMA 8/78.

Castro, Alfred D. 1996. Fishes for the brackish aquarium. AFM 6/96.

Dawes, John. 1989. Bolstering sales of brackish water fish. Brackish water fish are undersold in most pet stores, even though some of the commoner aquarium specimens are brackish species. Pets Supplies Marketing. 7/89.

Gibbs, Max. 1995. The brackish aquarium. FAMA 4/95.

Gos, Michael W. 1977. The brackish aquarium. TFH 10/77.

Gos, Michael W. 1980. The brackish system, part 1: Setting up. FAMA 11/80, part 2: Inhabitants 12/80.

Monks, Neale. 2001. Giving into temptation. A personal top ten of brackish-water fish. TFH 9/01.

Taylor, Edward C. 1982. Keeping a brackish aquarium. TFH 5/82, part 2: livestock. 6/82

Taylor, Edward C. 1996. Creating a brackish-water biotope. Pet Business 11/96.

Volkart, Bill. 1989. The brackish aquarium: Part 1, setting up. TFH 6/89.

Volkart, Bill. 1989. The brackish aquarium: Part 2, plants. TFH 7/89.

Volkart, Bill. 1989. The brackish aquarium: Part 3, the fishes. TFH 8/89.

Wickham, Mike. 2001. A pinch of salt. Brackish aquariums offer a new wrinkle to fishkeeping. AFM 10/01

Wolf, Jim 1998. Fish on the brink. Odyssey, bulletin of MASLA. www.masla.com


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