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Safe Plants and Decorations for Your Aquarium and Aquatic Friends


A well planned and maintained aquarium can be beautiful with either real or artificial plants. ... Well, where do all these bacteria 'live' ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Safe Plants and Decorations for Your Aquarium and Aquatic Friends

Safe Plants and Decorations for Your Aquarium and
Aquatic Friends
  • Researched and Formatted by Juanita Hoffman

  • Before adding any decoration to your aquarium you
    must take several things into consideration.
    First and foremost is the question, Is the plant
    or item that I want to add to this tank safe for
    my fish? Next thing to consider is how adding
    the decorations will affect your aquatic friends.

Live Plants vs. Artificial
  • Making the decision to use live plants has
    benefits as well as some negative things to take
    into consideration.
  • In the next section you will find pros and cons
    for both live and artificial plants.
  • As you will see there are plenty pros and cons
    for each option. A well planned and maintained
    aquarium can be beautiful with either real or
    artificial plants.

Deciding Live
  • Pros
  • Absorbs CO2 (in daylight)
  • Gives off O2 (in daylight)
  • Absorbs toxins
  • Harbors beneficial bacteria
  • Serves as food source
  • Inhibits algae growth
  • Cons
  • Can cause O2 deficiency at night
  • Creates waste when decayed
  • Can cause parasites
  • Not easy to clean
  • Requires good lighting

Deciding Artificial
  • Pros
  • Does not affect O2 levels
  • Does not create waste
  • Does not carry parasites
  • Easily removed and cleaned
  • Does not need special lighting
  • Cons
  • Does not absorb CO2
  • Does not give off O2
  • Does not absorb toxins
  • Does not carry bacteria
  • Cannot be used as food source
  • Does not inhibit algae growth

  • After deciding if you want to have live or
    artificial plants you will need to decide on the
    type of substrate that you want to use.
  • There are many forms of substrate available,
    including gravel, sand and more.
  • While the choice is almost entirely up to the
    consumer fish safety and plant needs (if live
    plants will be used) must be taken into

Choosing your substrate
  • Aquarium substrates or gravel fulfills a few
    functions for us as aquarists. Gravel/sand
    provides living space for beneficial microbes,
    perhaps alkaline reserve and other chemicals for
    a system. There may be behavioral benefits for
    your livestock, anchoring for plants... and, it
    looks good too. The majority of aquarists use
    some form of substrate in their tanks, though
    strictly speaking they could leave the bottom
    bare in most cases. Here is our discussion of the
    Uses, Properties, Varieties, and
    Application/Maintenance of substrates for
    freshwater aquariums.

Choosing your substrateUses Biological,
Buffering, Biomineral, Psychological, Looks
  • Bacteria Homes 
  • First and foremost, gravels, sands and other
    solid décor in aquariums function to support
    populations of beneficial bacteria. There is a
    definitive relationship between the microbes and
    macrobes (livestock) in your aquarium. The most
    celebrated of these 'bio-geo-chemical cycles' is
    the element Nitrogen. ltrefer folks to that
    chapter on cyclinggt
  • Well, where do all these bacteria 'live'? Mainly
    in and around the substrate, though they are
    found on the tank walls, decor, even on the
    inhabitants... You do need them to provide means
    to limit or remove the poisoning waste products
    and by-products of your livestock.
  • Many/most aquarists opt for the 'gravel route' in
    their tanks or filters as the least expensive,
    most secure method of getting rid of metabolites
    and providing a safety-margin for the eventuality
    of over-feeding, unnoticed death, or rapid
    increase in stocking load of their system. By
    having lots of space for beneficial microbe
    growth/metabolism bottlenecking of vital chemical
    and physical reactions is eliminated balance (in
    your favor) is preserved.

Buffers pH and Alkalinity of Water
  • Metabolism and purposeful feeding results in a
    decrease in the system's capacity to resist a
    drop in pH, the water "becoming acid". The fancy
    description for this property is alkaline
    reserve it is the system's sum-total ability to
    keep its pH at a certain point. All sources of
    freshwater have a varying alkalinity/alkaline
    reserve. That is, there are chemical species
    dissolved, and precipitated (like sand, gravel,
    rock) that make up the buffering capacity
    (alkaline and acidic) of your water. What you
    want is to keep the pH stable and somewhere
    within the tolerance of your particular
    livestock. Some animals and plants do best in
    more acidic water (below 7.0 in pH) like Discus
    and South American Tetras, other types of
    livestock appreciate harder, more alkaline water
    (with a pH higher than 7.0) like the life from
    the Great Lakes of East Africa. The particular
    range of these values by species can be found in
    books like this one and online sources like
  • There are several ways to provide for sufficient
    alkaline reserve. Good particulate filtration,
    chemical filtrants that remove organics, frequent
    partial water changes which add more reserve and
    reduce metabolites, adding alkaline
    solids/solutions,... all can and do their part in
    stabilizing, optimizing water quality, including
    preserving alkaline (and other) reserves.
  • By utilizing an appropriate substrate you vastly
    add to the homeostasis and steady-state capacity
    of your system. This happens substantially on two
    fronts Biologically, you have so much 'life' in
    the system that other outside force-effects are
    ameliorated and chemically, the gravel/sand/rock
    substrate dissolves, releasing chemical species
    that counter-act falling pH et alia res.. Is this
    a good deal? Yes.

Psychological Benefits
  • Remember the joke, "Do fish feel"? The answer,
    "Sure, they feel slimy". How much stock do you
    place in the emotional awareness of 'simple
    creatures'? There is plenty of scientific and
    anecdotal evidence that aquatic organisms
    (including invertebrates) are sentient of
    physical elements of their captive worlds. For my
    Senior Report in Ecology at San Diego State U.,
    RMF did a series of experiments on "Substrate
    Size Preference" by the crayfish Procambarus
    clarkii, the incredible/edible crawdad from
    Louisiana. Basically, I set up three ten-gallon
    tanks, each with three sizes of gravel,
    alternating first, second, or third in placement.
    I placed a Procambarus, allowed it to adjust for
    a while and periodically looked in, recording
    what grade it seemed to stay over. Varying light,
    water depth, the size and sex of the individuals
    tested showed the same result. This species of
    crayfish displayed a statistical preference for
    finer gravel.
  • The point is hopefully made your livestock can
    tell if there is gravel in their tanks or not.
    Many of the species of catfishes, spiny eels,
    cichlids and more that live "in" or above the
    bottom in the wild fare poorly without substrate
    in aquaria. Would you like to continually live
    over a shiny, reflective "floor"?

Looks The Aesthetics of Substrates
  • Several types of freshwater substrates are great
    appearing. There is a wide range of size,
    shininess, and color to choose from. Basic
    choices are natural or not, the latter often
    being artificially colored then epoxy coated, and
    therefore chemically inert. Natural gravels
    encompass flints, silicates, dolomites/coral
    sand/shell materials, and carbonaceous rock of
    various types, even crushed (and hopefully
    tumbled) glass. Other than consideration as to
    appearances, natural gravels can be useful
    adjuncts to maintaining good water quality,
    slowly dissolving over time.

Properties Cost, Size, Shape, Grading, Surface
Area, Quantity, Flow Rate, CompositionCost of
  • "What, another expense?" "Okay, how much?" "Are
    you joking, for rocks/gravel/sand?" You've come a
    long way from the sand-box, distance, time and
    money-wise. Substrates can cost a pretty penny.
    Be a conscientious consumer here and check
    around. There is a wide array of what's available
    at different price points. Often, large
    quantities (even hundred pound bags) will be your
    best buy and there are other than fish store
    sources for gravels Often "sand and concrete"
    supply sources carry substrates of use for
  • Buy the best of what you want in the function and
    looks departments, and be satisfied. This is a
    one-time purchase (for a couple of years) and can
    be used beyond its aquarium life for other
    interesting projects. Read through this section
    thoroughly re issues as to color, size, shape,
    and composition of the material youll be using
    for the types of livestock you intend. One
    size/type does not "fit all".

Size of Substrate  
  • Size of the individual particles is important for
    two main reasons maximizing filter bed action
    and for natural gravels, solubility sites. You
    don't want something too large or small if too
    little there will be compaction and too little
    circulation between the pieces, way big and all
    the stuff you want to trap just goes through.
  • For the function of solubility's sake, the
    smaller the size, the better. Imagine dissolving
    an Alka-Seltzer (tm) in one piece ("Plop") or
    crushing it up first which one would fizz
    faster? More surface area allows faster
  • For these practical reasons a grade of _at_ 1.5mm
    (approximately 1/16") on the smallest size, to _at_
    5mm (3/16") diameter for the largest is what you
    want. For most systems, practical uses substrates
    of about 1/8 " diameter are "just right" ones
    that are larger call for more volume to produce
    the same effects, smaller diameters, less volume.

  • The more broadly spherical the pieces of the
    substrate, the more consistent the flow, and
    therefore less channeling and packing-down. The
    complete reverse is found in more flat offerings
    (like silica sand) that lay-down amongst each
    other, effectively clogging-off water
    circulation. Our favorite mental demonstration of
    this principle is the comparison of a bed of
    poker chips versus one of marbles. Get it? Go
    with the marble-shapes. Sharp edged substrates
    can cause other troubles with freshwater
    livestock, cutting into the skin of burrowing
    fishes, even snipping off the barbels of
    scavenging catfishes.

Consistent Grade
  • The mesh or 'number' of the granules is an
    average number of pieces to make up a linear
    inch so the larger the number/mesh the greater
    the size. As per the comments in size above you
    want a particular size in the tank/filter, and
    for the size to be uniform. Either buy the
    product pre-screened or make and screen it
    yourself. At most, the pieces should be no more
    than twice/half the sizes of the largest/smallest
    in the part of the system for the
    channeling/packing reasons.

Surface Area  
  • Within realistic limits ought to be maximized to
    increase solubility and space for bacteria
    culture. What you want to remember is that you
    want something that's more porous than smooth.
    One indication of a trade-off of solubility and
    surface area is that the material is duller vs.
    shinier choose the less reflective.

  • How much is enough? Is there such a thing as too
    much? Depending on the size, shape of the
    substrate, consideration of the volume of
    circulation, bio-load of the system, esthetics...
    some writers suggest from a pittance to a few
    inches. Most folks go with somewhere between one
    and two inches above whatever filter plate or a
    bare bottom. This works out to something like ten
    pounds of substrate per square foot of bottom.
    Some writers encourage sloping the gravel bed
    from front to back/ lower to higher without
    employing submerged wood, rocks, other décor for
    this terracing, youll find "it all comes out
    level" in a while.
  • If youre using undergravel filtration it is
    imminently important to cover all the surface of
    the plates about equally to ensure some
    circulation through all the filter bed. Periodic
    moving of decor, stirring or vacuuming through
    all areas cuts down on the mal-effects of
    anaerobiosis. Well mention much more about this
    under maintenance.

Flow-Rate if Using Sub-Gravel Filtration 
  • As a rule of thumb about two gallons a minute per
    square foot of filter/tank surface area (2 gsfm)
    is about right in terms of flow through the
    filter bed. There is no practical upside limit,
    i.e. three gallons per square foot per minute
    would be even better. For smaller systems you can
    get this flow rate with large airlifts outfitted
    with (1 mm bubble) uniform (air)stones, or
    powerheads. For big to humongous tanks you'll
    want to employ a fluid-moving pump system,
    possibly in conjunction with an outside power
    filter rig. The preference here is to run the
    circulation "reverse-flow", up through the filter
    plates after the water has passed through the
    particulate and chemical filtrants of the outside
    filter. Reverse flow set-ups provide much better
    for removal of sediment that otherwise collects
    under filter plates.

Buffering  For Those Who Need/Want It
  • Your source water may be slightly to greatly
    alkaline to acidic. The substrate could provide a
    needed or excess of carbonate ions to neutralize
    the organic acids of the livestock. You will want
    to test your water and perhaps pre-prepare it
    outside of the system in some cases storing it
    for future use in a convenient container. If
    youre fortunate to have tapwater that is "just
    about right" straight out, it might be reasonable
    to use a substrate that will aid your efforts in
    sustaining pH one that is suitably alkaline and
  • Of the most likely substrates/gravels you're
    likely to find, there is a direct and positive
    correlation with suitability, cost and carbonate
    solubility. Once again, you need to investigate
    1) Your water source pH and alkalinity, 2) The
    needs, desired range of these qualities for your
    intended livestock, and 3) Formulate a plan for
    providing a stable means of supplying water
    quality within these values. For people with
    either overly soft/acidic water or ones who need
    more alkalinity and higher pH there are gravels
    that can help elevate both of these.

  • As you can see there are many things to take into
    consideration when deciding on decorating your
    tank and this presentation has only touched the
    very basics of it. There is so much more that
    could and should be said, but I hope to be able
    to provide more information at a later date.

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