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Setting Up a Tropical Fish Tank



A tropical fish tank is a great addition to your home. It is a relaxing and refreshing sight and it adds a focal point to whatever space it is placed in. An aquarium can also serve as entertainment for the whole family and can even be a source of education about aquatic life and the environment.

If you’re used to keeping cold water fish, it is quite simple to convert to tropical. Even if you’ve kept fish before, you will need to know the basics to ensure everything is setup correctly. Many aquatic hobbyists start out with cold water or tropical fish as they are widely recommended for beginners as the setup is affordable and the fish are hardier than marine fish.

Here’s what you need to know when setting up:

  • You’ve decided to go ahead with your aquarium and now you’ve purchased it. Clean it and check for any leaks – maybe obvious but important!
  • Wash the gravel you’ll be using, simply by running it under the tap, and do the same for anything you’ll use for decoration, including rocks and ornaments. This will remove any dust, loose parts or pollutants.
  • Put the gravel or sand in the tank, using enough so your plants can take root properly. It is a good idea to arrange your substrate so that it has a slight slant, being thicker at the back and thinner at the front. The substrate you use should be based on the type of fish you will be adding. Sand is always a good idea if you’re keeping bottom feeders such as Cory cats as large or sharp gravel pieces can damage their mouths and make it difficult for them to feed. Gravel is ok to use if you’re keeping middle or top feeders, or setting up a shrimp only tank.
  • Now add in any ornaments. You should check that there aren’t any rough edges as these can damage the fins and tails of delicate fish. A good test is to place a pair of tights over your hand and run it over the ornament, if the tights don’t snag, the ornament is good to use.
  • When adding the water, be careful not to disturb the gravel. You can use a small plate to pour the water on to so that the flow isn’t too strong.The tank should be half full before adding any plants.
  • Time to install your filter. Install in such a way that there are no rocks or plants getting in its way. Adjust the flow output to low to begin with, you can adjust this later. Remember that smaller fish will struggle against a high flow output which can cause stress or injury so you should set this to cater for the fish you’re adding to the tank.
  • Next add the aquarium heater. The heater is usually best positioned near to the filter as this will help to distribute the heat. Some heaters have a pre-set temperature, others will be adjustable. Double check the ideal temperature for the fish you’re purchasing as some will require slightly lower or higher temperatures, although the general safe zone is 74 and 80 degrees (23 to 27 Celsius). You can buy internal or external thermometers that show the safe zone, these should be positioned at the opposite end to the heater for the best reading.
  • It is now time to put in the rest of the water. Be careful not to fill it up to the brim though, you should leave a couple of centimetres at the top of the tank for the fish to come up for air if required.
  • Remove chlorine from the water by conditioning it, as this can be harmful to most fish. Tap water conditioners are readily available so this shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Turn on the filter and heater, and let the run for 7 days before adding any fish. This this will give the tank the opportunity to settle. If it is a brand new setup, you may want to add a bacteria booster after a couple of days, this will help to start a healthy cycle which can help to control ammonia and nitrate build up once the fish have been added.
  • Check if the temperature is correct and complete a quick water check to ensure everything is at the optimum level. As it is a new fish tank, you shouldn’t have any problems but it is best to be safe and check.
  • It’s finally time to add the fish. There are several things you should consider before you rush out to buy them though. Firstly, speak with your aquatics store and get their advice on the maximum number of fish you can add, this will be based on the size of your tank and the size of the fish you want to add. The smaller the fish the more you will be able to add (make sure you pay attention to the size they will be when they’re fully grown though as some can get pretty big!). When you have decided on the main fish you want to add, you should also consider compatibility, for example, a popular tropical fish is the male Beta (fighter fish). Although they are pretty and you will want lots of them, you can only have one of them and they will limit the other fish you can put in your tank as they may see anything that looks similar as competition and fight to the death!
  • You should only add a couple of fish to start, this will help you to avoid an ammonia/nitrate spike which can be harmful to the fish. After a few weeks you can start to add in more fish.
  • Fish need acclimatising before being released in the aquarium to avoid any sudden water changes which may be harmful. You should float the fish for around half an hour, adding small amounts of tank water to the bag at regular intervals.


These tips for setting up your own fresh water aquarium are brought to you by Aquacadabra, the UK’s leading online aquatic retailer. We have good quality aquarium supplies like aquarium air pumps, fish tank spares, nutrafin test kits and more.