Ok, I'm just gonna come right out and say it....
If you aren't quarantining all of your new fish purchases, and some kind of disinfectant protocol for your plants, you should also consider buying a lottery ticket, or financing that crazy online edible balloon bouquet business that your 18-year-old niece is concocting...You might want to bet on the 100-1 underdog in the Super Bowl this year, Dance across Grand Central Parkway in rush hour traffic, or attempt to climb K-2 in the late Fall.
Yeah, you'd be classified as a risk taker, for sure!
Why is that?
Well, let's put it this way- if you aren't utilizing some type of quarantine protocol, you're rolling the dice and betting that you'll avoid introducing disease into your tank. It's kind of a risk...
Before we touch on the ridiculously simple quarantine procedures you could employ, let's de-bunk some of the common excuses I always hear for not quarantining newly-received fishes :
1) "My LFS/online vendor quarantines all his fish for two weeks before selling them!" Yeah, just before he releases them into his system with fishes from all over the world, with common filtration, equipment, nets, etc. C'mon, it's great that the vendor takes the extra time to do this, and believe me- it speaks volumes about their dedication and level of care- but you cannot rely on a third party to quarantine your animals. In a store or holding facility, there is just too much activity- incoming fish, "accidental" releases of non-quarantined animals into the sales tanks on a busy week, mixing of nets, siphon hoses, filter media, etc. for their not to be some risk of exposure. Sure, you're way better off than if the dealer didn't quarantine, and you should support businesses that employ the practice- but how do you KNOW that the fish were properly quarantined? You can't be too sure...Trust NO ONE...Everyone needs to take some responsibility for their tanks, despite the best efforts of others.
2) "I know the guy I get my plants from. He never has any pests in his tanks. No need to inspect or dip.” Really? Surely you're not believing yourself here...Have you spent hours inspecting every single plant from your buddy's tank with a mesoscope? Hydra, planarians, yuck. I mean, all good intentions aside, there's still a lot of potential for disaster here. You're not at the person's tank 24/7. You don't know when the last time something might have been accidentally introduced, you can't be sure if one of the plants in the tank had some resident pests that escaped detection, and are simply waiting for a fresh start in a new environment...You just don't know..
3) "It's too expensive to set up a quarantine tank." Or, "I don't have the room." Man, I'm gonna have to hit you upside the head with a 100-micron filter sock, aren't I? Don't MAKE me get nasty...Let's dispatch these two classic excuses with a swift blow: IT'S NOT COMPLICATED, EXPENSIVE, OR SPACE-EATING TO SET UP A SMALL, TEMPORARY QUARANTINE SYSTEM!!! It's just NOT! I'll wager that you spent more on the last batch of trendy Mbuna from you favorite importer than it does to set up such a system! (And no, I'm not lowering my aquatic botanical prices so that you can afford a quarantine tank...LOL. You're being a real smart Alec, aren't you? Good try...LOL)
Ok, seriously, all wisecracking and characteristic smart-ass tone aside, there is really no excuse for not practicing some form of quarantine. It's about personal aquatic responsibility...Just like you're hesitant to leave your beloved tanks in the care of someone else when you go out of town, why leave it to the store, online vendor, or your buddy to be the one responsible for quarantining your fish and plants before you purchase them? It's just not worth the potential problems..Once you've battled an outbreak of Ich or Velvet in your tank, or an episode or two of pests in your plants, you'll understand what I'm getting at. Why wait until disaster strikes before taking action? A proactive aquarist is a successful aquarist!
"So, Fellman- what do I need to do this?"
Glad you asked...Here we go.
Okay, you need an aquarium or other water-holding vessel of suitable size to hold the animals that you want to quarantine. For sake of argument, most small fishes can be quarantined in a small aquarium from 5 -20 gallons in size. If you've priced inexpensive "loss leader" tanks at the LFS, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that they don't cost all that much. In fact, I've seen 10 gallon tanks for under $15.00 at many pet shops and LFS's.
Next, you'll need a filter of some sort...Not to worry. For a QT (quarantine tank), you don't need a custom, state of the art sump or over-the-top canister filter. Get a cheap, air-powered sponge filter. Get two or three, in fact. Place the sponges in the sump of your main display aquarium, and let them just "marinate" for a few weeks.In the sump, they are colonizing beneficial bacteria that will help brake down nitrogenous wastes. By having one or two sponge filters ready to go at all times, you're "impulse-buy impervious", meaning that you can easily rationalize the next purchase from Tannin or someone else, because you'll be ready to quarantine!
When the time comes to pull the trigger on your next purchase, you take the empty aquarium, fill it with water from your display aquarium (easily obtained from your regular weekly water change...Wait a second. You are doing a weekly water change, right? C'mon, don't make me write another article on the topic...I will...), hook up the sponge filter, throw in an appropriately-sized aquarium heater, and voila, you've got a ready-to-go QT! And no, you don’t leave it running all the time, you don't need sand, or resident fish...A QT is a temporary feature. You set it up when you need it and break it down when you're done. Think about this: The "eyesore" will only last a few weeks (I recommend at least a two to three week quarantine period...30 days is better), and the fish are already getting a chance to acclimate to your display system's water parameters, etc. This will make adding them to the display at the end of the quarantine period a snap!
I would recommend a brief dip for your fishes before placing them in quarantine.
You can compensate for the accumulation of waste products in the QT by performing weekly water changes with water from your display..What a great excuse for a water change, right?
During the quarantine period, observe your fishes daily for signs of problems. Diseases and pests will manifest themselves during a 21-30 day quarantine period, and you'll be able to take more aggressive treatment methods in a QT than you ever could in your display, right? And you'll have the added ability to get those fishes accustomed to your foods, maintenance practices, and environmental conditions before they ever make it into your display!
Once you engage in a quarantine protocol- ANY quarantine protocol- you'll enjoy a higher level of control, observation, and general "reefer-awareness" than ever before. In short- you'll become a better reefer. Seriously. You will. You'll be joining the many thousands of successful hobbyists, professional industry types, and public aquariums worldwide that employ such procedures to assure success. This little rant is by no means the last word- or even the first word- on the subject. There is a lot more information out there, and I encourage you to research this practice. And, in the tradition of my "open source" attitude on the stuff on this form, please, PLEASE pass on your suggestions, experiences, etc with quarantine, so that everyone here can benefit! The tank you might save could be your own!
So, please, PLEASE think twice- or even three times- before dismissing the idea of a quarantine protocol. It's easy, relatively inexpensive, and undeniably valuable.
Ok, I'm going to jump off my soapbox now. Time for me to find another thing to push you to do.
Until next time,