Cycling Your Aquarium


The primary concern of a hobbyist is to manage the biological wastes produced by the aquarium’s inhabitants. The fishes, invertebrates, fungi and bacteria present in the tank excrete nitrogen waste in the form of ammonia which is eventually makes the water acidic at high concentration. Also, ammonia is produced when a plant, animal or fecal matter start decomposition. To regulate the ammonia content of in the water in the tank, it needs to be properly cycled. With the saltwater tank, cycling is crucial to maintaining a stable environment.

The cycling of the aquarium is actually a biological process. It continues through the entire life of a saltwater aquarium. The cycle starts once ammonia is produced. While the substance has the capacity to kill the fishes, it is essential to the nitrification cycle. For one, ammonia actually serves as the food of the beneficial bacteria, the ones that convert nitrites into nitrates. The bacteria help maintain balance to the environment in which your saltwater fishes thrive.

The cycling process of the water inside the tank refers to the nitrogen cycle. Nitrogen cycle is the process of converting the ammonia produced from fish waste into nitrite (NO2) and into its nitrate form (NO3). Ammonia is what commonly causes fishes and other organisms inside a saltwater aquarium to die. The conversion of nitrite to nitrate is important in managing the toxicity of saltwater. While nitrates are much less toxic than ammonia, they still tend to build up, which emphasize the importance of regularly changing the water in the tank.

Nitrates are great for aquarium plants. Most of seawater plants thrive on nitrates. However, when not properly maintained or regularly cleaned, this set up may lead to excess or undesirable growth of algae. However, this seldom happens in any reef aquarium or reef tank since the levels of nitrate are strictly maintained in this type of aquarium.

In a saltwater aquarium, the cycling process is ideally done with a live rock. A live rock refers to rocks that come from the ocean, either aquacultured or sourced from reef rubble zones. Cycling with a live rock allows dying animals and plants to produce less toxic compounds when they start decomposing. Their decaying matter or tissues are further processed to produce relatively harmless compounds. However, as the bacteria processes the dead organism, the ammonia level in the water is expected to rapidly increase. The great thing about cycling with live rock is that it allows the bacteria responsible in regulating ammonia levels to quickly build up to sufficient numbers and effectively process ammonia until it goes down to undetectable levels. Not only does a live rock help maintain balance in the saltwater tank environment, colorful live rocks are welcome additions that effectively increase visual appeal.

If you happen to be just starting to set up or prepare your new saltwater tank, you will need to cycle it first before putting in the lives fishes and other marine organisms. Let all your maintenance equipment such as filters to run for a few days first, just to make sure that it is properly cycled. Aquarium maintenance will be easy when you ensure that nitrogen cycle is going on inside the tank. So how would you know is the tank is properly cycled? Simple! Monitor the water quality. Invest on a simple test kit so you can regularly keep track of the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels of the water in the aquarium. Getting spikes on ammonia and nitrite levels is not a good sign. Wait until your test results fall zero before starting to add livestock.