Fish are hypnotic
Lots of us can spend hours staring into the blue depths of an aquarium without getting bored.
Both engaging and restful, aquariums are often lauded as one of the best stress busting tools around. It's no coincidence that decorative fish tanks can be found in offices, hotel lobbies and doctor and dental surgery reception areas almost as numerously as they can be found in the home.
If you've never kept fish before, the choices and possibilities can appear daunting. Here are some tips on choosing and setting up your first aquarium to guide you along.
Aquarium fish keeping is broadly divided into three categories; cold water (such as goldfish), tropical (freshwater warm blooded fish) and marine (saltwater warm blooded fish, corals and invertebrates).
The set up process for coldwater and tropical freshwater fish is fairly similar, with the exception of adding a heater to the water for tropical fish; marine fish and all of the associated livestock is in a whole class of it's own, and best not considered for the first time fish keeper without several months of research and preparation.
The first thing to decide is where in your home your tank will be situated. You'll probably want it to feature prominently in the room of your choice, but try not to place it too close to a window or radiator, as this may cause problems in regulating the temperature. Aquariums placed in direct sunlight can encourage the fast growth of problem algae, which can choke your fish tank and turn the glass and the water dark green.
When you have picked the perfect spot, measure all of the dimensions of the space, taking into account the need for a plug socket within reach of the tank.
Buying your aquarium and accessories
Then it's time to go shopping- larger pet stores, aquatic specialists and some garden centres all stock a comprehensive range of equipment to set up your aquarium from start to finish.
A good rule is to look for the largest tank you can afford in terms of space and money- fish need lots of room, and a larger tank is actually easier to maintain and manage, as well as more stable in terms of its ecosystem.
As well as the tank and a stand for it, you will also need the several other items at the set up stage; often they can be bought as a complete starter kit with the tank and stand. If you are buying each item individually, seek advice from knowledgeable staff to make sure the equipment you buy is the right size and type for your tank.
You will need a lid for the tank; a light and timer for it, and a water filter, often fitted into the lid; a heating element of the right size and power rating for the water; an in- water thermometer, substrate for the bottom of the tank such as fish tank gravel (not the construction kind!) water conditioner, and ornamentation such as rocks, wood or some of the more modern adornments such as castles, shipwrecks and divers.
You will also need a siphon for cleaning the tank, buckets, sponges and scrapers, a small fish net, and of course fish food specific to the types of fish you'll be keeping.
You may also want to buy a strip of decorative laminated material to stick to the outside of the back of the tank as a backdrop.
Setting up your Aquarium
Once you have everything on your shopping list and have got it all home, it's time to start setting up.
Position the tank on the stand in it's final location, make sure it is stable and secure, and that you have easy access to your plug point and any working parts of the aquarium you will need to access for maintenance.
Rinse the tank out thoroughly to remove any dust and dirt- do not use washing up liquid or any chemicals, at this stage or at any point in the future on the tank or any of the equipment.
Thoroughly wash and rinse out the substrate material you are using, before adding it to the bottom. Don't worry about flattening it out, as adding the water will disturb it. Then, fit the filter and heater, but do not turn them on.
Dechlorinate and treat the tap water with the treatments you have bought, then fill the tank to the appropriate fill level- then, smooth out the gravel.
It is recommended to have the gravel sloping slightly from the back to the front of the tank, so that any dirt and debris will rest at the front for easier removal. Rinse and add any other decoration you will be using at this stage, and fire up the filter and heater, and set up the timer for the light.
Introducing your fish and plants
Once you have had a couple of days to make sure everything is working as it should and to allow the tank to settle, it's time to think about adding some aquatic plants to your aquarium.
These can either be planted in the substrate with weights, or left in the miniature pots they can often be bought in. Real plants are a great hiding place for shy fish, and really add depth and movement to the tank. Lots of different types of plants are available for your aquarium, and most aquatic specialists and larger pet shops will stock a good range and be able to advise you of the best types to buy.
After about a week once the tank has had time to settle, comes the fun part- choosing your first few fish.
It's important not to overstock the tank, and also not to add too many fish all at once especially in the early stages, to avoid overloading the tank's developing ecosystem.
Suggesting what specific types of fish to buy for a new tank is almost impossible, due to the sheer number of species and the ranges available in different areas.
Take advice from experienced staff when buying, and they will guide you through the selection process with advice on ease of keeping, compatibility of species, and space required.
Always pick strong, active healthy looking fish- avoid fish with damaged fins, or that appear listless.
Never buy a fish, even a healthy looking one, from a tank containing dead or dying fish.
Get your new fish home from the shop as soon as possible, and then acclimatise them to your tank slowly.
Keep the tank light off while introducing the fish, and for the first couple of hours afterwards.
Float the bag the fish are in on the top of the tank water, gradually adding water from the tank into the bag over half an hour to an hour, until the temperature in the bag and the tank match.
Then, gently release your fish into their new home. Do not feed them on the first day, and feed lightly until they have fully acclimatised and you have judged the appropriate amount of food for them.
Congratulations- You've started your new aquarium! Now sit back and enjoy the view.