Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hurricane Matthew

When I wrote my blog last week on how to care for fish during a power outage, I had no idea that Hurricane Matthew would wreak havoc on the town in which I live and that my fish survival skills would be put to the test.

Hurricane Matthew, as you undoubtedly know by now, tracked further inland than originally forecasted. I live in Lumberton, North Carolina. Once the storm was passed, townspeople discovered downed power lines, fallen trees, damage to homes, cars and property. Little did we know our ordeal was just beginning. As the Lumber River swelled over the levee in the southern section of this small town, literally half of Lumberton faced massive flooding which, as of this writing, has yet to recede. The Lumber River crested at almost 25 feet above flood stage.

Power was knocked out on Saturday, October 8. We lost running water on October 9.


My immediate concern with regard to my fish was the temperature. Fortunately, the skies cleared and outside temperatures remained in the 70's during the day. However, as we entered Tuesday, the water in the community tanks had dropped a full ten degrees, from the normal temperature of 78 to only 68 degrees. I placed a heavy blanket over half the tank, keeping the other half open to sunlight pouring through the windows and allowing oxygen from the air to reach the surface of the tank.


The water was no longer oxygenated with the loss of power. I used battery backups for filtration. I simply unplugged the air hose from the electric pump and plugged it into the battery backup. Not knowing how long the power would be off and how long the batteries would last (each took two D batteries), I ran them for fifteen minutes every four hours. I observed the fish to see if they gathered around the air wands in the tanks, and as the bubbled penetrated more deeply into the tank, I knew the water was being sufficiently oxygenated.


To help with the filtration issue, I stopped feeding the fish. Oddly, they did not seem hungry, and I attribute this to several factors: the lights on the tank didn't come on, and that always signals them that food is coming; their body temperature was dropping with the temperature of the water, as they are cold-blooded creatures.

On the third day, I lightly fed them but noticed only a few coming to the surface to feed.


I lost one fish, a neon tetra, on the third day. Another fish, a glowlight tetra, has been hanging near the surface of the water. My four angelfish that I was most concerned about showed no signs of stress - hanging at the surface of the water, gathering in one corner of the tank, etc. All other fish - plecos, corydoras, tetras, banjo catfish - have remained well.

Power Returned - But Not Out of the Woods Yet!

Power was restored on Tuesday evening, October 11. However, we're not out of the woods quite yet. The power could still flicker or go out, as the infrastructure has been weakened and repairs are on-going throughout the region.

And over the coming weeks, I will have another issue to contend with: the water supply. Right now, our running water remains out. I have a 10-gallon bucket filled with water that I filled prior to the storm. However, once our water is turned back on, we've been told to boil it before using it - for weeks or possibly months. The floodwaters have been such that tens of thousands of hogs and chickens from North Carolina farms have perished, and that could have a devastating impact on water sanitation.

This means that I will be boiling out the nutrients that the fish require for life as well as those organisms that could kill them. It's a catch-22. I plan to boil the water, treat it with Prime, and then add nutrients back in with Amazon Extract or Blackwater Extract.

We were very fortunate during Hurricane Matthew and in its aftermath. Water rose to within a few yards of my house but did not enter it, unlike tens of thousands across the state. My dogs were safe the entire time. And while we lost power and still do not have running water, we have a roof over our heads and the house is livable - unlike many throughout the state - multiple states - who are living in shelters are facing an uncertain future. Please keep all of the hurricane's victims in your thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Power Outages and Pet Fish

With Hurricane Matthew heading toward the USA, it's time to talk about what to do with your aquarium fish in the event of a power outage.

I have several aquariums in my home and some of the species, like the angelfish, are very sensitive to changes in their environment - from temperature to water quality to oxygen levels.

So what happens when the power goes out?

There are three critical issues to address:

Temperature Fluctuations

Oxygen Levels


1. Temperature Fluctuations

If your power goes out during warm days and nights, you may need to make your water cooler to keep it at an ideal temperature. For my tropical fish, the ideal temperature is around 78 degrees. Fortunately, water temperatures shouldn't rise rapidly unless you are in the midst of a severe heat wave. In that case, you'll want to keep cool water flowing into the tank. This can be done by taking a gallon of water in a plastic jug, poking small holes in the bottom and propping it across the top of the tank. The small holes allow the water to flow in steadily but not too quickly. This is assuming the water flowing in is cooler than the tank water.

If your power goes out during cold days and nights, the most important thing to do is keep your fish from freezing. Take some heavy blankets and drape them over the tank. This will do two things: keep the temperature from dropping quickly and also keep your fish from being too active. The more active your fish are, the more likely you are to have more waste in your tank, so you want to keep it dark and keep them more still.

2. Oxygen

There are at least two ways you can keep the water moving and aerated, which increases the oxygen in your tank.

I live in an area where hurricanes and tornadoes can occur. So I've purchased battery operated aerators in the event that my power goes out. They work the same way as a normal electric aerator - they just run on batteries. This keeps the water moving and oxygen going to your fish.

If you don't have battery powered aerators, any movement will create air bubbles, oxygenating the water. Above, I mentioned poking small holes in a gallon water jug and allowing the water to drip into the tank. This will also have the effect of oxygenating the water. If temperature is not fluctuating, you can use a gallon of water out of the tank itself; getting the jug filled up creates air movement in the water. Then the steady drip on the surface of the water will keep the water oxygenated.

3. Filtration
One of the issues facing any aquarium owner is how to keep fish waste to a minimum. This is particularly true during a power outage because the filters you've depended on to keep the water clear and clean are not operating.

Step 1: Stop Feeding Your Fish

Humans often overfeed their fish. In reality, humans need a lot more food than cold-blooded creatures because we generate our own heat. Fish do not. Their bodies become the same temperature as their water.

When fish are being shipped, especially across great distances, breeders will often stop feeding them for 2-3 days prior to their departure. This keeps fish waste to a minimum when they are in small bags.

Your fish can actually go without food for as long as a week if they are in good health. So during a power outage, stop feeding them. If the power comes back on in a day or two, they'll be no worse for the wear - and your water will be cleaner.

If you have an extended power failure and you must feed your fish eventually, feed them half as much as you normally would. If you're accustomed to feeding them twice a day, feed them only once a day.

Step 2: Depend on Chemical Filtration

When your filter isn't working, you can substitute a chemical substance to keep your water clean. One option is to use Prime, which eliminates chlorine, nitrates and nitrites. With angelfish, you must use this sparingly - if they begin to hover near the surface and gasp for air, they are being deprived of oxygen - and that can mean too many chemicals in their water. Replace the water with fresh water, and you've eliminated some of the chemicals.

Step 3: Water Changes

If you have ready access to water, the best way to keep the tanks clean and the water aerated is frequent water changes. With angelfish, try not to replace more than 33% of their water at any one time because they are much more sensitive to water fluctuations (temperature, Ph, and water quality) than many other types of fish.

p.m.terrell is the internationally acclaimed author of more than 20 books in multiple genres. Her award-winning Black Swamp Mysteries series features CIA agents who use an angelfish breeding business as a front to cover their covert activities. For details on how they raise angelfish, check out Vicki's Key.