Old Tank Syndrome

Old Tank Syndrome

Is this a myth? Something we heard about in the deep abbesses of when the hobby started (I think it was on a Tuesday) Is this something we need to worry about. Like we don't have enough to worry about with the heartbreak of psoriasis and wondering if we will be accepted into the "Hair club for men".

I realize the vast majority of tanks crash, or for some reason fail to thrive for more than a few years. Why is that? Is it due to Old Tank Syndrome, Wikileaks, or something else?

Tanks crash for all sorts of reasons, disease (affecting the tank, or us) financing is a big one. it could be a decision to buy another nose ring or a blue legged hermit crab. It could be lack of interest, (I think that is a big one) Sometimes our spouse just doesn't want a tank, although I don't know why one would have such a spouse.

Many tanks crash due to a power failure, flood, earthquake, hair algae, cyano or my favorite RAP music.

I think I have the answer to all these problems. Noah and I used to sit on the Ark and ponder these things.

I think lack of interest is the biggest factor and probably the hardest to rectify. If you don't have any interest it is probably better if you quit and go on to other things. It is silly to keep pouring money into something that you lost your love for. Of course all of us lose interest in some parts of the hobby over time. For instance when my fish spawn for the first time, I get all excited and send out cigars. Then I sit up all night and feed and name each baby. But after that fish spawns many times, I will not get as excited, (but I will run out of names) although I will still never lose my interest as I still find it fascinating. When those things happen, I embrace other parts of the hobby like building my own rocks or spawning different fish.

Re aquascape. Don't worry about mini cycles (Whatever that is) Just remove your rock and corals and put them in a different place. It's a hobby, have fun with it. If a coral dies, better it than you. You need to keep up the interest.

Finances seems to be a big problem, but I have not found that to be a problem. Of course if you are the type of person that must have the biggest, best and most expensive new, shiny thing that comes out, you of course can go broke. My 100 gallon tank costs me $960.00 a year to keep. That is a lot of money but I spend more on pictures of Supermodels or those little plastic things on the end of my shoelaces.

I feed clams and live blackworms. The worms cost a bit but the clams are very cheap. If you live in Arizona or Utah, the clams may be a little high, I really don't know. I change water about 5 times a year. I realize a lot of people feel the need to change an ounce of water every three hours, but that is IMO not necessary unless you feed your fish a side of beef twice a day.

Rap music, I have no control of but it is not played in my house and if it was, I would wrap my tank (and my head) in bubble wrap.

Lets talk about crashing. Except for disease (which I wrote about elsewhere) the biggest cause of "Old Tank Syndrome" is caused by bacteria, or lack of them. Bacteria run our tanks and we are just here for the bacteria to make fun of, especially if we wear a Speedo near our tank. Bacteria clean the water for us for free. Changing the water can help the bacteria, but if we change it too much, it can make the bacteria mad. There is a reason new tanks with all new water are not very healthy. But, that doesn't mean we should stop changing water.

The bacteria, eventually need our help. In the sea they don't need help because someone there helps them. Mother Nature. In the sea Mother Nature provides typhoons. I also provide typhoons in my tank as much as I can. Let me explain.

The bacteria rely on surface area to do their job. They also need food in the form of nutrients and "some" but not all bacteria need oxygen. Bacteria live on all surfaces, even (unfortunately) your girlfriends nose ring. If you tried to keep fish alive in a bare tank, you would have to change the water almost daily because there is not enough room for bacteria to grow. This is also why a tank with a bare bottom can not support as many fish as a tank with gravel. It is just math. I am not too good in Math but the bacteria are great at it. The more spaces they have, the more they will multiply. They will grow on top of each other, but only up to a limit. Suppose you were to try to live like that. Think about it. Bacteria need surfaces and in our tanks, the surfaces are mostly on the substrate and the rocks. Not just on the rocks, but inside them, in the pores. The "rocks" we use in our tanks are not even real rocks. They were built by microscope creatures living on the rock. The creatures exuded this material and in the process of doing this, the "rock" was built full of pores. Inside these pores live the bacteria. The aerobic bacteria live near the surface and use the oxygen abundant there. The anaerobic bacteria live deeper in the pores and need far less, if any oxygen. I think they have larger noses to utilize the inadequate supplies of oxygen. Those are the bacteria that convert the nitrates to nitrate gas that escapes.

The problem is over time, those pores clog and those anaerobic bacteria, although can live in clogged pores, have no access to our tank water so they can't process wastes. When that happens, they can no longer do the macarana or any dance so they will die and become part of the stuff that is clogging the pores.

This is a 2" sewer pipe I removed from my house. All pores will eventually clog like this given enough time. No, Liquid Plumber will not fix this.

This is where we come in. As I said the sea has Mother Nature, but we have power filters. I use a diatom filter which is just a canister filter with a powerful pump. It also removes tiny particles much smaller than a normal canister filter but we do not need to remove particles that small. We mainly need something with a strong pump. You can use a turkey baster but that is a Sissy way to do it and most of the bacteria will just laugh at you. You may have to put your ear to the glass to hear them, but trust me, they are laughing.

I use one of these every day, mostly for target feeding but I also blow off the rocks. As I said, this is a Sissy way to do it and it won't make up for the major cleaning with the filter.

On the outflow of my power filter I install a nozzle. I make that out of one of those little green plastic things that florists put carnations in to keep them alive. You can get them from a florist for a few cents. They look like a small funnel but the hole is closed so you need to drill a hole in the small end. If there are no florists near you, move or make something else. This is not rocket science just find a way to make the end of the outflow hose smaller.

You can see those green plastic things here. I also use them to build venture valves.

This will provide a strong stream of water that you carefully aim at your exposed rock surfaces. Do not hit your corals with it unless you want to buy new corals or make soup. If your corals are moveable, lift them to get under them. Power wash all the surfaces you can and you will be amazed at how much stuff comes out of the rocks. You will also be amazed at how many things your spouse can come up for you to do instead of doing this.


In my tank I use a reverse under gravel filter (OK, stop laughing) so I can do this to my gravel, but if you have sand, be very careful. If you have a DSB, IMO your tank won't last more than ten or twelve years anyway so you are on your own, but at least do it to the rocks.

I only perform this maintenance once or twice a year and so far, after 45 years, it seems to have worked. Of course I never play Rap music especially if I am wearing my Speedo.
When you are done, you can take a video of your tank and show it to your neighbors on your projector.

About author
Paul B
I have been keeping fish since about 1952. I started with saltwater the week they were imported to New York City in 1971.

My first SCUBA dive was on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia while I was on R&R from Vietnam in 1970, and since then I have acquired almost 300 dives. About half of those were in New York where I mostly dove for lobsters, urchins or just exploring some of the 2,000 wrecks around Long Island.

I have bred blue devils, clownfish, seahorses, pipefish, bangai cardinals, watchman gobies, clown gobies and a few others. My 100 gallon reef tank was started in 1971 and is currently still running.

I have two aquarium related patents. The first patent was a seahorse and reef fish feeder and the latest one is the Majano Wand. I recently published a book called "The Avant-Garde Marine Aquarist" and have spoken four times at aquarium clubs.

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