Is Aquarium Filtration really that important?
There is no mincing of words, your aquarium’s filtration is “the heart of the whole system”. We recently were called in to evaluate a failing large 250-gallon custom aquarium installed in a beautiful home. The owner was upset that his aquarium could not support more than a maximum of six fish. We very quickly realized that there wasn’t any active filtration in this system and that the company that installed and maintained the tank were mostly relying on the tanks natural filtration via the live rock inside the aquarium display to do the job. That was a mistake! The natural processes that are ongoing inside the typical aquarium display are inadequate when it comes to supporting the heavy Bio-Load of even a moderately stocked aquatic system. So yes, the filtration is arguably THE most important part of your aquarium system.
I’d rather spend my money on the fish and décor….
Unfortunately, we’ve seen too many situations where the aquarium failed because the owner spent all his money on the tank, fish and décor and skimped on the filtration. Just like a home is only as good as the foundation upon which it is standing, an aquarium is only as good as its water processing ability achieved through its filtration components.
Can my aquarium thrive without filtration?
If you have sufficient biological processing surfaces in the display tank itself and you have a very small number of livestock and you do copious amounts of water changes, then ‘yes’ it can. This is not realistic for the bulk of us and will only work for an expert level aquarist who is dedicated to monitoring his water parameters to make sure that they stay within acceptable levels.
What are my aquatic filtration options?
Wow! That is subject for an article by itself but I will attempt a summary.
- HOB Filter – Hang on back external filter. Best when used for smaller aquariums or as supplemental filtration combined with additional filtration.
- Cannister filter – A great choice for mid to larger freshwater aquarium systems.
- Sponge style Internal Filter – Commonly used in breeding or quarantine holding tanks. They are cheap, safe and provide for the short-term filtration needs necessary for rearing newborn fry and isolating newly purchased livestock.
- Wet-Dry filter – Usually used for larger sized freshwater aquariums or marine aquariums that do not have bacteria processing rock in the main display. They consist of an open sump with a drip tray, dropping water over a multitude of surface rich plastic bio-balls.
- Open Sump Filter – This is the king of the crop in filtration. It is primarily used in marine aquatic systems. It consists of an open sump with the water initially passing through a mechanical layer of fine micron filtering material and then passing through a chamber with further filtering components consisting of a protein skimmer, media reactor, ultraviolet sterilizer etc.….
There are more filter types but they are outdated or used so infrequently as to not be worth a mention in the scope of this article.
How do I size the aquarium filter to the tank?
Bigger is better. Do not worry about oversizing the filter. As long as the water is not flowing through and around the tank in a way that is stressing the fish the extra filtration is a great thing. You can never have to much beneficial bacteria or too much mechanical filtration. Start with the manufacturer’s recommendation times two.
Clean and change the filter media on a regular basis. Change all filter media (padding, carbon, GFO etc…) at recommended times. Be consistent in the filter maintenance. Slipping and skipping the filter maintenance can have disastrous results.