Setting up an aquarium

Setting up an aquarium requires some basic knowledge of the equipment needed, tanks and accessories, water quality, light, water temperature and aquarium fish species.

Which tank is best?

fish.1There are a number of different sized rectangular glass tanks available on the market, ranging from 10ℓ to over 600ℓ. The shape of the tank is less important than the volume, but deeper tanks hold fewer fish than shallow, longer tanks due to the increased surface area offered in the case of longer tanks.

Be sure to place the aquarium on a polystyrene sheet on a smooth, solid surface. Position the tank where it will be visible for viewing, but out of drafts and direct sunlight. Small to medium sized aquaria should not be placed in heavy traffic areas such as passages, as this can be stressful to the fish.

  • Large tanks are easier to maintain.
  • Place your tank on a strong base.
  • Avoid drafts and direct sunlight on the tank.

Water quality

Aquarium fish are fed small amounts of feed several times daily and they excrete the waste as solid faeces and dissolved ammonia. The faeces also leech ammonia into the water, and as ammonia is highly toxic to fish, we need to have a plan to get rid of the faeces and ammonia.

Various types of filters are used in aquaria to perform this function through the services of bacteria that live on the filter media. Water passes across the filter media providing oxygen and food to the bacteria. The water flowing out of the filter then contains nitrates, which are far less toxic to fish and are utilised by the aquarium plants as a food source. Solid waste matter is trapped in the filter and removed when the filter is rinsed.


The purpose of aquarium lighting is twofold: firstly to illuminate the inside of the aquarium making it attractive to view, and secondly to provide light for the plants to grow. Aquarium lighting is normally situated inside the hood of the aquarium, but sometimes the lighting may be suspended above the tank.


fish zebraThe floor of the aquarium should be covered with fine gravel and the gravel depth at the rear of the tank needs to be deeper than in the front to provide a pleasing visual effect. Be sure to use smooth gravel that will not damage the whiskers of catfish and other species that nudge their way along the bottom. It is also imperative to use gravel that will not leech chemicals into the water. Rinse the gravel thoroughly under flowing water prior to use to remove all dust particles.

  • A filter is essential to maintain water quality.
  • Study the requirements of fish and plants prior to purchase to ensure compatibility.
  • Quarantine fish and plants after purchase before adding them to your tank.


Heating is required for tropical fish species to maintain the temperature at 24 to 26ºC. Aquarium heaters have built-in thermostats that can easily be set to the desired temperature.


Fish and plants are added to the aquarium for their aesthetic appeal; they are what really bring an aquarium to life. Be sure to study the needs and compatibility of your fish and plants prior to purchasing. It is also visually appealing to include fish that swim at different levels: on the bottom, near the bottom, mid-water and at the surface.

When purchasing any livestock it is essential that they are quarantined for a period of three weeks prior to being added to the main aquarium. This provides an opportunity for parasites and pathogens associated with the fish or plants to be identified and treated away from the main tank. A second tank is required for this purpose.


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