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The Nitrogen Cycle for Starting a Fish Tank

Category Fertility & Pregnancy

Anyone who has had, is in the process of setting up, or planning to set up an aquarium will have met the nitrogen cycle head on. This cycle is unavoidable in our hopes of creating an entertaining, educational and beautiful tank that fits within our budget and desired goal. This nitrogen cycle can be a double edged sword to both novice and expert aquarist alike. The nitrogen cycle is a great tool for determining water quality, in that it allows you to determine, and monitor toxic waste, which is colorless and invisible, within your tank. Metabolically, it allows you to measure what is going on inside your tanks water parameters regarding amino acids.

Molecular building blocks also known as amino acids(proteins) are a mixture of carbons, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen and possibly sulfur linked together to form proteins. The nitrogen cycle is the ability of various bacteria to convert atmospheric nitrogen(N2) into compounds that can be readily used by animals and plants for their survival and success, eventually "cycling" full circle back again.

For all intent and purposes, nitrogen enters tank water from food stuff and livestock that has died and is converted to ammonia(NH3) and to a less toxic form ammonium(NH4+). Various types of bacteria are responsible for the conversion of ammonia(NH3) to nitrites(NO2) and then from nitrites(NO3) to nitrates. This is the end result of the cycling process in its simplest form.

When we set start up a fish tank, we need to start the cycling process by one or more ways. Either by incorporating live sand or rock, dead shrimp or a hardy fish such as a Damsel for saltwater or a couple more hardy fish in a freshwater fish. This helps to start the "nitrogen cycle"! Once this process starts, it is very important that you DO NOT add any other types of livestock to the tank population or else chances are the fish will die(tank wipe out syndrome). This is due in part to the elevated toxic conditions of the water and the inability of the fish to cope and adjust to these unfavorable water conditions. The best thing that can be done is to just leave things alone and wait for the cycling process to run its course naturally.

One very important thing to take note of is that a cycle can take place more than once and happens anytime something dies or a new addition is added to a tank for the most part. Because of this it is very important that the introduction of too many fish at once or to quickly after the introduction of the previous fish does not happen. The microbes(bacteria) has to have the time to grow and develop to the increased bioload. It is inevitable that the cycling process will happen just as it is for the growth of beneficial bacteria. This is a good thing! We, as dedicated and conscientious aquarists, just need to find the happy medium between to many living animals and too little bacterial growth to handle the load.

Their are a number of testing kits available to enable us to monitor and manage the water parameters of our tanks. The periodic checking of water parameters, will prove be a very key component in creating the successful tank we all desire. By being able to see how our tank is progressing in the cycling process will enable us to limit the chances of us adding new livestock prematurely. It will also afford us the ability to check other key variables that affect our water and ultimately our livestock. PH, alkalinity, iodine, calcium, salinity, phosphates and dissolved oxygen are some of these more relevant components that, if kept in check, will help us substantially in creating the most favorable conditions for our prized living animals.

By establishing a log book and religiously jotting down water parameter levels as well as equipment purchases and other valuable facts, you will be able to again monitor and manage your tank more thoroughly to help to reduce the chances of error that would otherwise prove detrimental to your delicate livestock.

One last thing that I feel I should mention to help fellow aquarist, based on experience, is that because of the myriad of test products and companies producing them, they all don't perform the same way. By this I mean that the way you would test for a particular compound maybe be very different from that of another companies test kit for the same compound. Also, you will need to be careful as test kits DO expire, possibly causing false readings. Moreover, testing a water parameter with one brand and then doing the same test using a different brand may give you totally different results.

Water changes are the number one thing you can do to better your water quality hands down! I can't stress this enough! SMALL weekly water changes will afford you the optimal chance of keeping your water parameters in check and equally as important is the idea of doing a water change as soon as your tank cycles completely, to remove and dilute contaminants, turbidity and other unfavorable variables that will make your water less than satisfactory, ultimately affecting your livestock!

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