Algae : Microorganisms which exist in every aquarium. They sometimes grow to extreme levels which becomes a nuisance or even a threat to the well being of the plants and the fish. Many kinds and forms of them. Among them the Green, Blue green (one of the most difficult to get rid of), brown, red, hairy etc. Elimination : Special Algaecide products, change of the duration and intensity of the lighting, algae eater fish or invertebrates, elimination of phosphates. It is worthy to note that actually algae IS a plant a very old plant adapted extremely well to almost every condition. Because of this very simple fact, most preparations claiming that they will eradicate algae will most probably harm your plants as well (to some degree). An algaecide should be used only if the other methods prove ineffective.
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Fish Disease : Diagnosis and therapy is not easy. A change in behavior is indicative of a disease problem. Closed fins, bottom resting, ataxia, nervous movements, anorexia and any kind of spots or swelling are clear marks of disease. A handy catalog of the most common diseases and their relative therapies is usually available in any pet shop (usually issued by companies like Tetra, Aquarium Pharmaceuticals etc.). A good book with photos will help you identify the possible cause of the disease. Telling people that "my fish has something like white wool next to its mouth" is not really the best thing to do. Even sending a photo is not enough. One needs to examine the fish closely in order to rule out some possibilities or identify the symptoms of some common diseases.
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Plants : You may find that certain plants can grow under the specific conditions of your aquarium while others won't. The reason is that some plants absorb big quantities of some nutrients thus depleting it from the water. Some plant species may secrete agents in the water which could inhibit the growth of other species. Some may outgrow their neighboring plants or block the light. Just keep going with the species that suit your tank. If your intention is a well planted aquarium special care should be taken when selecting fish in order to avoid plant eaters (like silver dollar, kissing gourami etc). With cichlids you need to anchor the plants, either by placing the special weights on their roots or, far better, by securing it in place with rocks.
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Water changes : The single most important factor for the well being of your aquarium. A 20% water change every week is absolutely essential. Remember to add Aqua Safe (or a similar dechlorinating product) in every change. You should also add any conditioners (Cichlid Vital, Salt, baking soda) or fertilizers (Flora Pride, Iron Supplements, bottom tablets etc.) that you need. You may have to make changes more often if you have a high fish load in your aquarium. Some species are very prone to diseases if the water quality is not optimum.
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Filter Maintenance : Check regularly to make sure that your filtration system works. I recommend cleaning your mechanical filter at least once a month. If clogged, the bacteria will die, the toxins will remain in the water column and disease (or death) is about there. If you don't have an air pump for aeration and you have CO2 injection installed, checking should be made every other week. Fish gasping for air at the surface of the water is a clear indication that surface water movement has declined, hence your filter is clogged.
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pH : Take a measurement every week. In case you have low buffering capacity (KH < 4) and CO2 injection installed, you should check your pH every day till you make sure that pH has stabilized. Once done, a weekly measurement is a must. A pH of 7 is regarded neutral, values over 7 alkaline and values below 7 acidic. Most fish will tolerate a pH around 7-7,5. Some of them require very alkaline water (Cichlids from the African Rift Lakes) and others very acidic (Betta splenders - siamese fighting fish, discus). Most species can gradually adapt to neutral pH. Use of a pH electronic monitor is highly recommended for CO2 injection systems.
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KH : Carbonate Hardness. It is an indication of the buffering capacity of your water. The higher the KH value the more CO2 or other acidifying agent your water will "hold" before any significant changes in pH happen. Of outmost importance if CO2 injection is employed. Most fish will easily tolerate KH up to 10 while some of them will even stand a KH = 30. As always, a gradual change is the best you can do.
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GH : General Hardness (magnesium and calcium carbonate). Some fish (Discus for example) require a very soft water (low GH values, 1-4) while others require a high GH (like African cichlids from the Rift Lakes; values over 12 recommended). When selecting new additions in your tank you should pay attention to the requirements of the species you plan to buy. Water values should match the ones existing or desired in your tank.
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CO2 : Carbon dioxide. Should be injected via a system that allows it to dissolve in water. Such systems are the CO2 reactor, the "bell" system or (far simpler and equally effective) inserting the CO2 outlet in your power filter's intake (in the tank). The gas is then forced to travel for a considerable time without any escape and much of it is dissolved. Very intense surface movement results in escape of the gas to the atmosphere, thus air pumps should be avoided. CO2 does not replace oxygen. Water without CO2 injection contains 2-5 ppm CO2. With an injection system installed, a good range of useful and safe (for the fish) concentrations is between 10 and 25 ppm. CO2 concentration is related to pH and KH. The formula which gives the CO2 concentration is CO2 (ppm) = KH * 3 * 10^ ( 7 - pH ). Which means that in very high pH values, CO2 is not dissolved no matter how much you add. Practically, for pH values over 9 there is no CO2 dissolved. The rate CO2 is added is estimated by special bubble counters which allow you to find the relation of CO2 added (in bubbles per minute or second) with the CO2 actually dissolved. Bear in mind that the bigger the tank the more bubbles per minute you need. My 490 liter tank, with a KH = 10, requires 1 bubble per second to have a 15-16 ppm CO2 content after 10 hours. This results in a pH between 7-7,2. As stated before, if you intend to have plants with mbuna, special care should be taken to inject as little carbon dioxide as possible in order to keep the pH high.
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