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Old 08-19-2015, 05:18 PM   #1
Aquarium Advice Newbie
Join Date: Aug 2015
Posts: 3
Scarred but Eager to Learn

Hello everyone.

As a university student and someone who works from home, I had been considering investing in an aquarium to place within my home office for quite some time. I envisioned the sound of flowing water and fish swimming peacefully in their aquatic home to be very relaxing.

Finally, about a week ago, I finally stepped into a local aquarium store and purchased my first tank. Unfortunately, the salesman (and I call him that because it would be insulting to call him a fish enthusiast or hobbyist) convinced me that the ~3.5 gallon model that I was interested in would be more than sufficient for housing 5-6 fish. After a bitter experience (I'll get to that) and extensive reading online, I realize that the salesman was either extremely ignorant or lacked ethics altogether - or perhaps both.

Based on his advice, I purchased the aquarium (which came equipped with a fiber sponge-based filter), an air pump, air stone, undergravel filter, and an adhesive thermometer. I also selected some accessories and decorations for aesthetic purposes.

The charlatan convinced me that if I set my aquarium up with water from my reverse osmosis filter, waited a day, and then stocked the tank my fish would be happy as can be. I did. And they weren't. At all.

A day or two after setting up my tank I went to the store and bought two fancy goldfish. My family and I placed them into their new home and were delighted at their seeming excitement with the new environment. Sadly, the excitement was short-lived. Within days, they both began experiencing fin rot, swim bladder issues, and something that seemed to look like cotton mouth. Please see the "before" and "after" photos attached. Long story short, they both eventually died.

I informed the lame-excuse-for-an-aquarist and he convinced me that it was MY fault. Which, in a sense, I suppose it was. I had trusted the expertise I thought he'd have to help me set up my aquarium. I now realize that my trust was misplaced.

Lessons learned:
  • Do your own research - always. The guys at pet stores tend to be ingorant, some knowinly others unknowingly.
  • Always, always, always (did I say always?) cycle a new tank.
  • Get an aquarium that's appropriately sized for the fish you intend on stocking it with.

As you can see, my venture into this hobby wasn't the most encouraging, however, I'm eager to give it another chance. I just hope I won't be faced with another situation where my two-year-old daughter asks why her newest friends, Orange and Nemo (she picked the names), have gone on an indefinite trip "home." -_-

I have read many good things about this website online so I thought I'd register and try to benefit from the knowledge and experience of seasoned aquarists. I'd appreciate any and all help that can be provided.

A couple questions:
  • Due to finances and space limitations, it's currently not viable for me to invest in another tank and accessories at the moment. Is there anything I could do with this tank? Perhaps this can serve as a home for a sole betta fish?
  • Is it necessary to cycle this tank from scratch? I read online that there are beneficial bacteria thriving on the ornaments and substrate within the tank. I didn't want to get rid of these. I have already done a complete water change twice, attempted to remove as much fecal matter as possible, and washed the sponge filter. The water was very cloudy after the first water change, but it has become mostly clear after the second change. Again, please see attached photo.

Of course, any other insight that you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

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Old 08-19-2015, 05:47 PM   #2
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Hello and welcome! We are glad to have you here! Sadly, your experience is one of many. Good news is, you are on the right track.

ALWAYS research, research, and research, some more. The best advise is doing your own research. You called them a "salesman". It's their job to sell you stuff even if it's not meant to work the sad reality.

On the bright side, you have learned a valuable experience and are willing to learn from it.

Now on to the goldfish... We have learned this is obviously not a suitable tank for them. Cotton mouth is nearly always a sign of columnaris disease. They were likely sick at the store and the stress of moving them triggered it further. I had this same experience with my discus.

That being said, I would suggest you take the tank down and give it a good vinegar scrub. The tank itself, the decor, rocks, etc. everything but the filter. Run the filter on a bucket of treated tap water while you are doing this. This will keep the bacteria that you have sustained from the goldfish alive. The reasoning is because columnaris can still be hosted in the water for up to 32 days. By tearing everything down, changing 100% of the water, and cleaning everything, we skip that die off waiting period.

Now, we are at a crossroads. You can choose between fish less, and fish in cycling. I would suggest if you don't have one, (didn't see it mentioned) to get a liquid test kit. This kit is essential to guide you through the cycling process.

With fish less cycling, you have an empty tank and you dose ammonia to grow the bacteria. You test your water to determine how much ammonia to dose and to keep track of levels to know where you are in the cycle. No water changes till the cycle is finished. This is my preferred method.

Fish-in cycling you can have a fish, this is your ammonia source, but during the cycle daily testing and water changes will be needed to keep levels safe for your fish.

This is your choice which method you choose.

You can house a Betta in here. Some other options would be shrimp, snails, and ADF. Sadly it's not much due to tank size.

Any more questions I would be glad to help.


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Old 08-19-2015, 05:55 PM   #3
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Another thing I forgot to mention, if you have a LOCAL fish store(not a chain) they might sell you some seeded filter media. This is media that already has bacteria on it and can help your cycle progress faster.

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Old 08-19-2015, 06:12 PM   #4
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Thank you very much for taking the time to respond.

Based on the photos that I posted, does it seem that the fish had cotton mouth? I noticed that they only exhibited this condition less than a day before they died.

Unfortunately, I don't have a kit to test water quality. I'm currently studying abroad and have had difficulties finding proper maintenance equipment. They guy I bought the tank from had a testing kit that he was selling for the equivalent of about $25... but I noticed that it had expired in 2012. Lol. Terrible, I know.

Is there any way I can gauge water quality without the kit? I'm willing to be patient before placing any other fish in the tank. I know my daughter would be devastated and I'd feel terrible if we lost another due to negligent fish-keeping.

I forgot to ask, what are your thoughts on using water from a reverse osmosis filter? I have read some articles that warn against it because it lacks trace amounts of minerals needed by fish. However, the local water here has a high salinity level, among other minerals. I wouldn't want to drink it let alone use it for my fish.

I was considering getting some water treatment solutions, however, given the fact that it's RO water there's really nothing to treat.

Lastly, does the water in a tank clear up over time as the bacteria increase or do I need to make that happen through water changes?

Thanks again.
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betta fish, cycling, new aquarium, reverse osmosis, water clarity

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