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Author Topic: Road Trip-2. An important stop. Keepers of water--not fish.  (Read 8766 times)
Sully
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« on: February 19, 2009, 12:03:54 AM »

As you travel the winding road inside the aquarium there are so many places to stop and learn.  I was thinking of a line that has been forever etched into my mind.  I almost thought that was the first stop along the road.  Then I realized you only stop for Skittles if you take a wrong turn.  Or people don't point you in the right direction.

Skittles.  Understanding why you don't want them in your aquarium is something most people don't get to very quickly-but there is someplace far more important.  It is that spot in your mind where you think of yourself as a fishkeeper.  It seems to me that the most important stop after the Nitrogen Cycle is understanding the journey that you are setting out upon.  Most people think it is all about the fish.  Geting lots of them.  All sorts of species.  All sizes.  All sorts of colors.  That sums up skittles.  Something to avoid at nearly all costs.

The nitrogen cycle is the first step in fishkeeping.  You spend a lot of time, often times bewildered with a throbbing headache, trying to figure out where you went wrong and hoping you don't kill all your fish.  You discover that the first and most important thing about being a fishkeeper is that you are really responsible for keeping water.  Your job becomes one of getting the tank into a position where your water is safe enough to support the fish you usually already bought.  You discover that the real hobby is all the water.  The fish are just a side benefit that give public justification for the time you have spent.

You are a keeper of water.  The fish are just along for the ride.  It is odd that this point is lost on most people as soon as they are through with the Nitrogen Cycle.  You have usually just spent 4-6 weeks getting the primary ingredient of the tank ready--and then the beginner gets all wrapped up into fish.  Big mistake.  Don't fall into it.  You have just learned that unless the ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates are under control you won't be able to keep fish at all.  You have just learned that the most important part of this pursuit is water.  Don't lose sight of the fact that the most important part of the glass box is the water--not the fish.  It is tough to realize you just spent all that money to do something and become something you had never planned.  You learned as the first step that you are a keeper of water.  Do that and the fish will take care of themselves (within reason).

Every person new to the hobby is introduced to the concept of water changes at the place you bought the fish.  And when you read the labels on the bottles of this or that utilized to condition tap water for the tank.  Even in the books written by purported "experts" in the world of fishkeeping.  They mention in a very glib fashion that all you need to do is change 25% of the water every month.  Unmitigated bs (for most tanks).  They are trying to make the hobby something easy to for people.  They are not taking a fish centric position with those statements at all.  A bit of a disconnect for me since the point of spending your time and money is so that you have healthy, active, colorful fish.  Why that outdated axion of fishkeeping is still utilized is beyond me.  Maybe it is so that the industry so many of the people that write the beginners books represent is the one that profits from hobbyists buying fish. 

You learned about Nitrogen and the harmful forms as the tank cycled, or got broken in.  That is only part of it.  Now that the tank is capable of supporting life the fun begins.  You have fish, they are constantly giving off proteins, lipids, amino acids, hormones, pheromones.........."Organic Compounds".  These pollute the tank.  They break down into "Dissolved Organic Compounds" (DOC's).  They compromise the health of your fish--directly and indirectly. 

Organics in the water column feed populations of ecto parasites (the ones that attack the outside of the fish).  Every tank has a population of external (ecto) parasites.  Many are not harmful as long as the populations are kept in check.  As a friend once used to so frequently say onthis board: "they are the fleas and ticks of the aquatic world".  And that is all they are when a tank is properly maintained--yep, when the water is changed.  If the water is changed at low volumes and infrequently these populations grow to the point that they can overwhelm the fish causing disease and death.

At the same time a lot of organic material is deposited into the substrate by feeding and the normal digestive process of fish--fish poop.  As the fish feed on the food you provide so too does bacteria.  As organic materials build up in the substrate (in the process of becoming dissolved organic compounds) Good and bad bacteria feed on the material.  The bad ones (columnaris is the obvious example--cotton mouth disease, fuzzy cottony looking patches on the scales and fins) multiply just like the good ones.  As the populations grow they become more than a fish can contend with in a normal course of events.  The bacteria achieves such a large population that they overwhelm the immune response of the fish you keep.  As you become the keeper of sick, dying, and dead fish the people that so aggressively promote 25% water changes every 2-4 weeks thrive.  Their companies sell you medicines, special foods, salt, and even more fish.  Quite a good thing for the people that profit from your endeavors.

At the same time the build up of materials have an influence on the kH and pH of your water. The parts of water chemistry that are more difficult to test for are also influenced.  The water chemistry slowly changes.  You don't know that and the fish slowly adapt. Nothing is happening that will cause an immediate health problem.  The issues happen when you change water a month after the last PWC.  The difference in the water chemisty from the tap to the tank is sometimes significant to cause death--in other instances just enough stress is created that the opportunistic bacteria and parasites in your tank are able to take advantage of a weakened fish and cause othe health problems.

Keeping healthy fish rarely requires an extensive--or even cursory--knowledge of diseases and fish maladies.  In most instances all it requires is that you maintain clean water.  IT IS THAT SIMPLE.  Stocking and decor obviously comes into play.  But, if you take care of the water well most problems mysteriously vanish.

Remember that in spite of your original goal of becoming a fishkeeper you must first become a keep of water.

Freshwater fish love freshwater.  Do that for your fish and it becomes much easier to enjoy the hobby. 

YEs, it is dumbed down.  Folks like Russ and RTR can do a great job of giving you an excedrin headache with all the details and discussion of water chemistry.  As can a few others of us when the urge strikes.  But it isn't essential you understand it at the detail level to enjoy the hobby. I have to admit though that having that knowledge can be fun.

Good luck.  Fishkeeping is a road trip with a lot of stops.  The nitrogen cycle is essential to get started.  Understanding fishkeeping from the reference point of something as easy as "fresh water" makes it possible to achieve and enjoy long term success.
 
 
« Last Edit: March 31, 2009, 04:44:18 PM by Sully » Logged
Sweet Pea
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« Reply #1 on: February 19, 2009, 12:14:15 AM »

Very interesting read.  It is very easy to say to yourself that you're too busy to test the water and that everything will be okay.  Good reminder not to get into that rut.
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Sully
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« Reply #2 on: February 21, 2009, 10:41:55 AM »

just a bump
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curious
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smile your happy


« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2011, 05:10:36 AM »

Very interesting read.  It is very easy to say to yourself that you're too busy to test the water and that everything will be okay.  Good reminder not to get into that rut.
fell into that rut myself with disasturous consequences never doing that again
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it is harder to forgive and forget than to remember and regret.
holistic liz
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« Reply #4 on: June 25, 2011, 01:18:24 PM »

VERY interesting!! Must get more into this!
As an holistic therapist, I'm all for natural remedies that prevent dis-ease and am also keen to keep my fish naturally healthy - as you say the remedies are only there to "fire fight" the symptoms, not necessarily getting to the root cause.
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