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Acclimating Tropical Fish

Posted on Tuesday, September 1st, 2009 at 7:44 pm by


Every reef noob has questions about the “right” way to acclimate fish. Let’s first say that just like most aspects of reefkeeping, there isn’t one “right” way to do things. Whether you bought a fish from a local fish store, or ordered it online, you can be pretty certain that the water conditions of it’s current environment, will not perfectly match your tank’s. Several key variables come into play here, temperature, pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrates and salinity to name a few. Whether you plan to place the new fish in a quarantine tank (another topic), or directly into your display tank, the goal of any acclimation method is to create a gradual transition between two different environments.

We will discuss two basic fish acclimation methods.

The Floating Bad Fish Acclimation Method
This is a very common fish acclimation method which is very simple to follow and works quite well. You first want to open the bag and pour out about 20-25% of the water from the bag. Fold the opening of the bag over itself, so that you can put the bag in the tank without it tipping over. We sometimes use a magfloat to hold it in place. Pour a cup of your tank’s water into the bag and let it sit for 5 minutes. Repeat this step every 5-10 minutes until you achieve the original water level in the bag. Pour 25% of the water out again, and continue adding a cup every 5 – 10 minutes. After about an hour, you can pour most of the water out, take the fish out of the bag, and place it in the tank. DO NOT pour the water from the bad into your tank, or you will risk contaminating your tank with parasites or diseases from the original tank.

The Drip Fish Acclimation Method
Many local fish store owners, as well as online saltwater fish vendors, recommend the drip acclimation method. This method is so popular because of how gradual the transition is. The drip acclimation method requires a bucket or styrofoam container, a vegetable clip with a suction cup, and 1/8″ flexible tubing (long enough to reach from your tank to the bucket). Place one end of the tubing in the tank and use the suction cup to hold it in place (some hobbyists use a small piece of live rock and a rubber band to weigh the tubing down instead). Tie a knot in the other end of the tubing and start a siphon. You can control the flow of the water by tightening and loosening the knot (alternatively, you can use a small valve). Your goal should be a drip of tank water every one to two seconds. Continue this process until the water volume doubles. Remove half the water and repeat. The process may take two hours or even longer, but it involves very little stress on your new livestock. Again, do not dump any of the water back into your tank; only add the fish or invertebrates.

Proper acclimation of newly acquired livestock is an essential part of responsible reefkeeping. Remember that acclimating your new fish and invertebrates will contribute to a long and happy life for your little critters.

Here are several videos that will demonstrate recommended acclimation methods:

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