BY TIM MCCARTHY
It’s every tropical fish hobbyist’s worst nightmare: The power is off, the heat is off, and the water is off too!! Learning to prepare and react in a utility emergency is crucial to keeping your tropical fish alive.
If you’re in an area that is prone to utility outages, your best bet is a back-up generator, though generators are generally not cost-effective. For some aquarium setups, especially saltwater systems, the cost is warranted, but if your tank inhabitants are freshwater, there are steps you can take to keep your fish alive until the power is restored.
There are a few items every aquarist can get ahead of time in the event or a power outage. The first are battery operated air pumps. I used 3 air pumps for my 125 gallon tank. They can be purchased at pet stores or online, and will cost $10 to $15 for basic models. The pumps I have use 2-D batteries, and in addition to the pump you will get air tubing and an air stone. It’s a good idea to keep some extra air tubing on hand for deeper tanks, as the tubing provided with the air pump only gives you about a foot of tubing. Keep some small aquarium rocks on hand too. The airstones will want to float, so rubberband the rock near the airstone, so it will sink. It is crucial to try to aerate the water to provide much needed oxygen.
The second are some heavy blankets. Your tank will start cooling off depending on house temperature. Cover the top, then wrap all sides of the tank with blankets. Use duct tape to keep the blankets on. Make sure to keep the blankets away from hang-on power filters, (which I use), in case the power comes back on when you’re not home, sending water on to the floor and draining a portion of your tank.
The third item is a backup heater. You want to regain temperature loss as soon as possible. I have the same wattage heater, as a backup, that I use in my tank. It is very important to let your backup heater acclimate to the tank temperature, about 1/2 hour, before you plug it in, otherwise it may shatter due to cooler water temperature.
The fourth are test kits. Ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. Liquid kits are best, but dip strips will do. Find these test kits at your local pet store as well. If readings are high for ammonia or nitrites, you can do a partial water change of 20-30 percent, keeping in mind water temperature of your tank. Don’t change the tank temperature more than one to two degrees. Your fish are stressed as it is!
Another note. Do not feed your fish. The cooler temperatures will slow the fishes’ metabolism. There is no sense having the fish creating ammonia with their waste, when the filtration system is not working, therefore burdening your fish.
I invested in battery operated air pumps in 2009, and I didn’t have to use them until January 2013 when a fire at our next-door neighbor’s home prompted the fire company to shut off all of our utilities.
Our electric was off for 20 hours and my tank temperature was stable at 45 degrees. Needless to say my fish were not happy. I survived the outage with the loss of one fish, but without preparation it could have been much worse!