The 5,500 gallon living reef aquarium at Center in the Square was looking pretty good by about 5 p.m. today. So why in the world would Jeff Turner of Reef Aquaria Design dump in a gallon of smelly bacteria that instantly clouded the entire aquarium? Simple. So the dozens of fish that are introduced to the aquarium in the next few days will not poison themselves by pooping.
To be clear the fish will still poop. The difference is that the bacteria will convert it into harmless nitrate instead of deadly ammonia.
“I can’t seem to keep fish alive,” was the comment I heard over and over when we owned our aquarium shop. Or, “I’d come by and get some fish but mine always die. They start off so well and then something happens.”
Yes. Yes it does. Ammonia happens. You can’t see it, but it’s there.
Aquariums need to cycle. That means they need to grow enough beneficial or “nitrifying” bacteria that the microbes can keep up with the fish waste. Filter media including charcoal, floss and other mechanisms help — but at the end of the day, the filtration that comes from those microscopic bugs is what does the trick.
Back in the day you had to start your aquarium slowly. Sometimes it meant buying an inexpensive fish, letting it die in the tank and then letting it rot on the bottom– a process that created LOTS of bacteria. Sometimes the fish didn’t die, and if you added new livestock slowly over a period of months the bacteria kept pace with the bio-lode, and the tank was okay.
Now, thanks to science, we can buy that bacteria in a bottle — or in the case of Center — in a jug. With fish being added tomorrow, (May 3) the bacteria had to go in today. Overnight it will begin to colonize the thousands of pounds of reef rock in the aquarium. Water movement will circulate the water over the bacteria-laden rocks, and those little buggers will keep the fish from dying.
It was a bit of a bummer to cloud the water, just when we finally peeled back the protective plastic from two of the viewing windows on the aquarium. Here we could finally look in on the beginnings of our reef and the water was cloudy. And yet it’s really a short cut. Over the next few days the water will become pristine and we won’t have to wait for something to die and rot before we add a nice population of fish.