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