This Article is Sponsored by @uniquecoralsI spoke with a fairly advanced reefer the other day, who had a terrible tragedy in his reef that could have been avoided with a very simple practice; one which he should have developed during his hobby "infancy."
But he didn't. And he paid the price with lots of expensive dead fish.
I've heard this so many times before that it's not even funny.
It seems that the longer I've been in this hobby, the more often the same issues keep coming up. We seem to collectively go through periods of time where we as a whole show this incredible hobby "maturity", creating incredible technique for practices such as fish breeding, systems design, etc. I think we're in one of these 'Reefing Rennaisance" periods, with all kinds of good stuff happening. However, during these good times, it seems as though we often forget some of the most basic stuff...things that will only help us- but stuff so fundamental that it seems to be a given..but it's not.
As hardcore reefers, we spend tons of time, effort, and money creating the best-possible environment for the animals that we keep. Yet, sadly, one of the biggest single things we can do to assure the continued health and prosperity of our fishes and invertebrates is simply overlooked by the majority of us: Quarantine of newly-received fishes.
In my many discussions with hundreds of hobbyists over the years, I am pretty much blown away to hear that virtually none of them execute any quarantine procedures whatsoever with their new animals. Seriously- I'm talking like a handful out of hundreds. Craziness! Many of them are not beginners; some of them are super "advanced" hobbyists with extremely complex systems. Many have thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars invested in equipment and livestock, yet they continually play "Russian roulette" with their animals' lives by simply adding newly purchased animals directly to their tanks. I have seen numerous postings on Internet discussion boards from hobbyists describing "anomalous" fish losses after introducing newly acquired animals without quarantine. I mean, seriously?
Why do we, as a group, tend to neglect the quarantine process? I've heard every excuse in the book. Some of my favorites: "Quarantine is too time consuming." (from a reefer who has every electronic gadget known to man, programmed to do everything but wipe the algae off the front glass), "It's too difficult" (again, from a reefer with a super-complex $30,000 system), "My LFS has had this fish for 2 weeks," (don't even start me on this one...), etc. While I won't attempt to "debunk" all of the excuses that us hobbyists give for not quarantining animals, I will address some of the most common ones, and outline the ridiculously simple process of quarantine, and how it can ensure your greater success with fishes.
"Dude, I'm SO worth it..." - Gramma dejongi (hybrid)
One of the most common excuses that I hear for not quarantining newly-received fishes is that the animal was at the LFS or vendor for a period of time before it was purchased and looked healthy. Since the fish was at the store, for say, two weeks, and shows no outward signs of disease, many hobbyists assume that the fish is "quarantined" and healthy. Yikes! This is definitely not the case! Think about it: Do you really believe that no other fish could have come in contact with the fish that you are purchasing in two weeks? Is it truly possible that no one at the dealer's shop put his or her hands into another tank before working in the tank containing your potential purchase? Do you really believe that there have been no introductions of new fish, or potential cross-contamination of this tank by other, possibly sick fish? I don't think so.
Even at Unique Corals, I have customers assume that, because we hold a fish for long periods of time, all is okay. It's not. Shared systems invite disease, much like one of those airport playrooms does for kids. Eww, get the wet wipes..! Ohh, and there's the fact that some diseases do not manifest themselves with visible symptoms until it's too late, giving you the false impression that the fish is healthy. Despite the best intentions of well-meaning livestock vendors, with all of the livestock coming and going regularly, the potential for infection in our systems is quite high. It's a reality of what we do. However, by executing prophylactic acclimation and quarantine, it is possible to virtually eliminate the possibility of disease entering your own system. Yep.
Many other hobbyists who don't routinely quarantine their newly-received fishes state that the fish was wild caught, and therefore was not exposed to pathogens present in a dealer's system. This assumption overlooks an important fact. Virtually all-marine organisms for aquariums are wild-caught, and they are all potential and real carriers of infectious and parasitic diseases. There are numerous opportunities for a fish to become stressed, exposed to disease, or infected during the long journey from the reef to your tank. Stress during transit, along with lack of food, is probably the number one cause of fish diseases in the hobby. Don't turn a blind eye to this!
Another common excuse I hear for not quarantining new arrivals is that the equipment involved is too complex or expensive, the process too tedious and the stress to the animals is too great. I especially love the "too expensive" argument from a reefers who spent $1,000 on a system to monitor their reef. I mean, really? Once again, this is not the case. It's super-easy...and cheap! The tools for quarantine are nothing more complex than a small aquarium, simple filter, and heater. The process of quarantine is simple and often stress free for the fish. And can save untold thousands in the long run...
Proper acclimation and quarantine procedures involve the dipping of fish in freshwater/prophylactic baths, and a nice, comfortable 21-day stay in a private aquarium before being introduced to your display. Few things that a hobbyist can do are as simple and effective as quarantine to guard against potential spread of disease and loss. "It's so easy, a caveman could do it." Wait, I borrowed that line from somewhere, huh?
Still not convinced? You might be nuts, but there is still hope. Well, let me rant here for a few more minutes and you'll realize how easy the process really is. Then you can go back to worshipping your Monti Caps, okay?
The equipment involved for quarantine is ridiculously simple. I mean, you have half of this stuff in your closet or garage right now if you're a self-respecting aquarium geek. You'll need a small glass/acrylic tank with cover (from 10 - 40 gallons, depending upon the size/number of fishes that you're going to quarantine), outside power, canister, or sponge filter, and a reliable aquarium heater of sufficient wattage for the tank that you're using. Other items include an accurate thermometer, a dedicated net (that will not be used in any other aquarium), siphon for water changes, and test kits for any therapeutic agents that you will be using, such as copper.
If you don't have it in your closet, they have it at the LFS. Cheap.
That's about all you need! No rocks, gravel, or other substrate is used, and no chemical filtration media, as these materials can potentially bind with or absorb any medications you may be using. Inert materials such as PVC pipe sections may be used to create hiding places for your fishes.
Setting up is a very simple process, even easier than programming your new lighting system, trust me. You just fill the aquarium with water from your main system. Introduce the filter, plug in the heater, and you're ready to go. Oh, here's a tip: If you keep your filter sponge or other quarantine tank filter media in your main system's sump when the quarantine tank is not running, you will always have a filter that is fully colonized by beneficial bacteria at all times. Great for impulsive purchases, right?
I mean, that's really complex, huh?
Following a proper drip acclimation procedure(See here: Acclimation), introduce your fishes to the quarantine aquarium. If you really want to be thorough, before you place your fishes into the QT, consider using a three minute dip in freshwater with methylene blue to potentially kill any external parasites on the fish. It's scary to watch, but I've never lost a fish in this process. Once the fishes are in the tank, I highly recommend that you don't run the lights, for at least the first 24 hours to give the new fishes a chance to settle in after a rough journey. In fact, ambient room light is usually fine.
It's a good idea to wait overnight before attempting to feed your new arrivals, as they are usually not inclined to eat right off the bat. I mean, would YOU want to eat after all of that? Besides, cleanliness in the quarantine tank is of utmost importance. Any uneaten food should be promptly siphoned from the tank to avoid pollution.
The quarantine tank's water chemical parameters (pH, etc.) and temperature should approximate these found in your main system. Some hobbyists like to run their quarantine tank at a lower specific gravity (as low as 1.010) to assist in eliminating parasites, but I like to keep the quarantine tank at a "normal" specific gravity (1.022 - 1.026). Since you are working with a smaller volume of water in most cases, it's important to follow a diligent schedule of small water changes. Assuming that your main system is healthy, you can utilize water from the main tank to replace the water in your quarantine tank. Since it is the water that your new charges will eventually be living in, I can't think of a better use for wastewater from your main system's routine water changes (you are doing regular water changes, aren't you?). The fishes will be immediately adapted to the chemistry of the display they will ultimately be residing in.
Here's the toughest part for you: The quarantine period should last 21 days. I mean, that's three episodes of that wretched "Tanked" (hey, it's my opinion), or like 6 episodes of "American Idol." Can you handle it? Yeah, if you can stomach that kind of TV, you can.
Three weeks of "inspiration" while you're waiting it out...you can do it!
During the quarantine period, observe your fishes daily and be sure to keep an eye out for any potential infection. Obvious signs of illness, such as rapid respiration, open sores, fungus, etc. require recognition and quick action on the part of the aquarist. As you will find, the quarantine tank presents a perfect environment to treat fish diseases before they can spread to your main system.
What do you do if your fishes do become ill during the quarantine period? Two things: First, take the appropriate actions to treat your fishes, and second, pat yourself on the back for having the foresight to utilize quarantine procedures with your fishes! Unfortunate though it may be, you will receive the best possible lesson on why quarantine is so important, and you'll be blabbing to all of your fellow hobbyists just like I do on the merits of quarantine.
Catch it early- save lives. Totally worth it.
Keep in mind that, should disease rear its ugly head during quarantine, you'll need to reset the clock for another 21 days after you have successfully eradicated the ailment. There would be absolutely no point in rushing to add your newly cured fishes to your main system at that stage of the game. Like all aspects of reef keeping, patience is truly a virtue with quarantine, and it will, reward you and your fishes, trust me.
Should you acquire more new fishes while you are in the middle of the quarantine period (this never happens, right?), you have two options: either add the new fishes to the quarantine tank (after appropriate prophylactic dips/baths) and reset the calendar for 21 MORE days, OR you can set up a new quarantine tank! Either way, you have to stick to the 21-day rule. It's that important. It gives time for any potential diseases to manifest themselves.
In addition to being an invaluable aid in the prevention of disease in your main system, the quarantine tank provides a perfect environment for newly-received fishes to "toughen up" and rest after the long ordeal of capture, shipping, and handling. Your fish will be refreshed, well fed, and most important of all, healthy after a stay in your quarantine tank. This can't be overlooked. I can't tell you how many times I was able to get that "hard-to-feed" Butterfly, Anthias, or Wrasse to eat in the QT tank before placing it in the display.
When the 21 days are up, and your new fishes have been introduced to their new home, you can break down and thoroughly clean the quarantine system. Be sure that none of the equipment from your quarantine tank comes in contact with your main system before it has been cleaned, particularly if you were utilizing copper or other therapeutic agents in the tank. Your sponge filter or other filter media may then be sterilized and placed back in the sump of your main system to re-colonize beneficial, ready for your next new arrivals. Easy.
Hopefully, you are at least a bit more convinced of the value of the quarantine tank, and the piece of mind and other benefits it provides.
Such a simple concept, yet an important part of our "maturity" in the hobby. You have a "big boy/girl tank", now practice "big boy/girl reef keeping". A quarantine tank is used at all public aquariums as a first line of defense against the introduction of disease. Aquarists at public aquariums cannot afford the risk of infecting their entire population of fishes, neither should you. Just do it.
So, until next time, quarantine those fishes, because I'm getting tired of telling people to do it all the time!
And above all,
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