Updated November 08, 2013
For aquarium hobbyists, it all comes down to water quality. The water quality in your tank determines many things – how clean your tank water is, how healthy your fish are and how often you need to perform water changes. Even a slight dip in water quality can have devastating consequences for sensitive species of fish, though many species can handle a little fluctuation. Regardless how “hardy” a fish is, if the water quality in your tank is low for an extended period of time, your fish are going to get sick and might even die. Because water quality is so important, it is essential that you keep an eye on it. Many aquarium hobbyists recommend weekly water tests but a new option may be available – real-time monitoring and other sophisticated water quality monitoring devices.
Understanding Water Quality
Water quality can a complex subject because it is not necessarily something you can judge by just looking at the tank. Of course, if the tank is covered in algae and laden with accumulated waste, you can guess that the water quality is low. In many cases, however, your fish could be suffering without you even realizing it. Some of the factors that come into play for water quality include pH level, water hardness, ammonia, nitrites and nitrates. All of these are important individually for the health of your fish but, combined, they make up the quality of the water in your tank.
Many aquarium hobbyists check their pH and water hardness once in a while, but just as many forget to keep an eye on the chemical levels in their tank. Ammonia is poisonous for fish and nitrites are very harmful as well. Even once these substances are converted into nitrates, the least harmful of the three, high concentrations can still be damaging to fish. Prolonged exposure to these chemicals can make your fish very sick and it also has the capacity to kill them. For this reason, it is essential that you monitor all aspects of water quality in your aquarium.
For many years, the only way to test aquarium water was to use paper test strips. After taking a sample of tank water you would dip several test strips into the water and the color of the strip would tell you the level of whatever you were measuring. Another option was to use a test solution – a few drops of the test solution in a sample of tank water would change the color of the water which would then be compared to a color chart.
Though both of these methods are fairly easy to implement, they are by no means accurate. If something comes into contact with the test paper, your measurement might not be correct, not to mention how difficult it is to distinguish between different colors on the color chart. A recent trend in the aquarium hobby provides a high-tech solution for this problem: electronic aquarium water quality monitoring devices.
The benefit of one of these devices is that it remains connected to your aquarium at all times. You no longer have to test your tank water on a weekly basis because you will always have the readings in front of you – including the tank temperature. By simply dropping a monitor into your tank, you can keep track of pH levels, tank temperature, water level, ammonia levels and more – some monitors even record lighting levels, which is particularly important for reef tanks. Not only do these devices give you a real-time reading of your water quality components, but you can often view them on your computer, tablet or even your mobile phone.
Two of the most popular water quality monitoring devices on the market are manufactured by Seneye and Pentair. The Seneye monitor has three different varieties – one for the home aquarium, one for ponds and one for reef tanks. These variations allow you to customize your monitoring system to the particular needs of your tank. If you do not want to spring for the whole monitoring system, you can purchase a slide that monitors ammonia and pH levels for 30 days at a time. The YSI 5200A water quality monitoring system from Pentair measures more than just the traditional water quality compnents – it also keeps an eye on dissolved oxygen, flow rates and conductivity. Both of these programs can be set to email alerts if the water quality declines in your tank.
Some people spend a lot of money on their tank and their fish – if you do, wouldn’t you want to do everything you could to make sure they stay healthy? There is nothing more heartbreaking than losing a tank full of fish due to a faulty filter or a sudden spike in ammonia levels. By using new water quality monitoring technology you can prevent these nasty surprises and do more to keep your fish safe.