Quick! What were your aquarium’s water parameters in the fourth week of January? When was the last time you performed a water change and exactly how much did you change? Can you recall precisely when you last swapped out your old light bulbs/tubes for a new set? How about your chemical-filter medium? When is it due to be replaced or replenished?
If, like Sheldon Cooper, you happen to have an eidetic memory, this type of information may be right there on the tip of your tongue, but for those with average powers of recollection (or, in my case, a lone functioning brain cell), such data isn’t always so easy to recall. That’s why keeping a marine aquarium journal can be so advantageous.
What you record in your aquarium journal (or logbook or diary or whatever you prefer to call it) is entirely up to you, but the more information you keep track of, the better. Here are some examples of potentially noteworthy data:
- Water parameter test results
- Timing and scope of water changes and other maintenance chores
- Livestock additions/losses
- The addition or upgrade of equipment
- Unusual livestock behavior
- Your feeding regimen or any changes to same
- Dosing of supplements/additives
- The quarantine protocols used for new specimens
- Medications/treatments you’ve administered
What good might recording all this data do for you? Here are five potential benefits:
1) Catching drifting water parameters early
If you consistently record your water parameter test results in your journal and compare them to the previous set, you should be able to detect any shifts away from the desired ranges while they’re still relatively small, easy to rectify, and of minimal consequence to your livestock.
2) Staying on schedule with maintenance
If your mind works anything like mine does, you only think your last water change was two weeks ago and that you have another two months before you need to replace those metal halide bulbs. In actuality, you may be off by a long shot on both counts if you rely on memory alone. Drift too far off schedule with these basic chores, and it won’t be long before your livestock pays a price.
3) Getting to the root of problems
Many of the “unexpected” problems marine aquarists experience (algae outbreaks, livestock deaths, etc.) are actually more predictable than we’d like to believe—though more so in retrospect. It may just take a little sleuthing.
For example, if you “suddenly” develop an algae problem and look back through your aquarium journal, you may note a correlation between the outbreak and a rise in the nitrate and/or phosphate levels in your tank, or that the problem began shortly after the death of a herbivorous species that had been keeping the algae in check.
Or, if you observe that a fish specimen has begun to look thin and emaciated, a glance at your journal may reveal a correlation between the fish’s condition and a recent change in the foods you’ve been offering.
4) Having data to share with expert problem solvers
If you can’t get to the root of the problem on your own and it becomes necessary to query an expert (e.g., at your local fish store or online), he or she is certain to ask about your water parameters, what you’re feeding, any medications you’ve tried, all the livestock sharing the tank, the behavior of the livestock, what (if anything) you’ve changed recently, whether any new specimens were recently introduced, whether all new specimens are quarantined, and so on. The more detailed information you can provide, the easier it will be for the expert to help you identify the problem and advise you on the right solution.
5) Avoiding making the same mistakes twice
As they say, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” By learning to correlate aquarium problems with preceding trends or events (which should be evident if you carefully examine the data recorded in your journal), you should be able to avoid repeating those same mistakes in the future.