When it comes to stocking a saltwater aquarium, there is one irrefutable truth every hobbyist must learn and take to heart—introducing livestock to a display tank without quarantining it first is a surefire recipe for failure. Trust your friends here at Saltwater Smarts when we say that if you habitually skip quarantine, it’s not a question of if disaster will strike, but when!
What is quarantine and why do it?
Quarantine is simply a period of isolation in a separate aquarium system. Its purpose is fourfold:
- It provides an opportunity to observe specimens for signs and symptoms of disease or parasites. (You don’t want to discover these after a sick specimen has been introduced to your display tank and infected all your other fish!)
- The quarantine tank can be converted quickly to a hospital tank for administering treatments and therapies to sick fish.
- It’s a good opportunity for new specimens to recuperate fully after the rigorous journey from the ocean to your home and before they have to compete with tankmates.
- It’s the perfect environment for getting fish accustomed to a captive diet and enticing finicky or hunger-striking specimens to start eating.
What should be included in the quarantine tank?
Okay, you’re in the process of setting up a brand new saltwater system, and now we’re asking you to throw an additional setup into the mix? How costly and complicated is this going to get? Fear not! A quarantine tank does not have to be especially large, expensive, or equipment-intensive.
All you need is a tank, heater, filter (e.g., a sponge filter or hang-on-tank power filter), possibly a powerhead for circulation, and some sort of cover so the fish can hide. Sections of PVC pipe work very well for this purpose and are very easy to clean. Lighting is optional—but definitely helpful for observing symptoms. Inexpensive, normal-output fluorescents will do just fine. If a cover is needed to keep a skittish fish from jumping, inexpensive egg crate light-diffusing material (available at any home-improvement store) can be cut to fit the top of the tank.
Biological filtration can be provided in a variety of ways. For instance, you can use a sponge filter or other biofiltration medium that is kept in a mature system between uses (and hence is already inoculated with nitrifying bacteria). Or, you can borrow a few chunks of fully cured live rock from another system and place them in the quarantine tank.
How big should the system be?
Oftentimes, new hobbyists are told that a quarantine tank doesn’t have to be any larger than 10 gallons. While a tank this size will suffice for very small specimens, it simply won’t be adequate for medium-sized to large specimens and all the waste products they generate. We’ve found that something in the range of a standard 29-gallon tank is just about the right minimum size for most specimens available on the market.