Once again, I've come across a fellow cichlid keeper who lost power and was ill-prepared for it, resulting in fish loss. Every cichlidophile will eventually face some type of crisis with respect to their livestock - a power outage, a bad heater, a dead filter, a leaking tank. The question is, how prepared are you for any or all of the above? These are all scenarios that pose risks to your fish. Do you have mitigation strategies in place for each of them?
Let's start with the power outage. What's the biggest danger resulting from a sustained power outage? Lack of filtration? No. Inability to maintain tank temperature? No. It's the lack of water movement produced by your filter, powerhead, or airstone that promotes the gas exchange required to oxygenize the water and clear it of carbon dioxide build up. Your cichlids will succumb the most quickly to a lack of oxygen, especially if you keep large species. However, this problem is easily addressed. You can either manually agitate the water for a few minutes periodically, or you can purchase a battery powered air pump and then attach an airstone. The latter will require an investment of less than $15.
Remember that oxygen is needed by more than your fish. It's essential to the biological filtration process, so the bacteria that populates your bio-media will continue to consume oxygen when the filter stops, though at a slower rate. Also, as water temperature rises, so does the rate of oxygen depletion.
What about a bad heater? All you need is a digital thermometer with an audible temperature alarm. If the temperature exceeds a preset high or low threshold, an alarm will sound. Keep a back-up heater on hand to mitigate this risk. You can always install a controller that will shut off the heater if the temperature rises too high and you're not around to address it. The controller is also a good investment if you travel a lot because it can shut the heater off if it fails while in the on position.
How about a dead filter? As long as you can maintain some water movement, perhaps via a powerhead or airstone, you should have time to replace the filter by purchasing a new one or replacing it with a back-up or spare you already have on hand.
A leaking tank? This one presents a big problem that extends well beyond loss of livestock, especially if you're away and the leak is at the bottom of the tank. You can install a low water sensor that will sound an audible alarm, but that won't help you if you're not there to hear it. Even if you install an advanced sensor that can notify you via cell phone text or e-mail, it won't help if you or a friend/family member can't get there quickly enough to address it. If you are home when a bottom leak occurs, you'll need to move your fish - either to another tank, a plastic tub, a kiddie pool, or even your bathtub.
If you've followed my blog for a long time, you probably remember my post about Just in Time versus Just in Case (JIT vs. JIC). I have a spare everything, not necessarily for emergencies, but more for convenience. I don't want to have to make a trip to my LFS each time I need something trivial - some additional bio-media, an extra sponge, etc. I strongly believe in redundancy, and you should too if you want to mitigate risk. Just have a look at this previous post showing my "fish closet" of supplies.
The investment you make in the safety and care of your fish is directly proportional to both how much you care about them and your financial position.
The Cichlid Room Companion
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American Cichlid Assoc.
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