Many of us love to keep fishes and aquatic creatures in an aquarium as pets as they are easy to maintain, cost-efficient, and add that extra edge to any corner of your house or office. We want to do everything in our power to keep our aquarium well maintained.
As we have already mentioned earlier, that an aquarium does not need too much maintenance but few factors should be kept in mind like temperature, salinity, water hardness, pH. The most significant factor that we need to keep in mind while maintaining the wellbeing of our aquatic creatures is the pH of the water in the aquarium.
Novice fish keepers find it challenging to maintain a proper pH level in their aquarium. We need to first understand the concept of pH and why it is so important to maintain a stable pH level.
What is pH?
pH is a figure to measure the acidity or alkalinity of a solution on a scale from 0 to 14. A pH of 7 is considered neutral, any measurement below 7 is acidic and values above 7 are alkaline. Usually, water has a neutral value but one thing must be noted that a small change in pH might not affect humans but could have a considerable impact on aquatic creatures.
Factors Responsible for Variation in the pH Level of Water
There are many factors such as chemical concentration, the presence of trace minerals and, the type of substrate, which are responsible for the variation of the pH level of water. Due to this, various species of fish are accustomed to various pH levels, the level of pH suitable for one fish might not be suitable for another species of fish.
Importance of pH in Aquarium Water
It is of utmost importance to do some research before adding any fish to a tank.
We must be well informed about the pH apt for each species of fish, and ensure the optimum level of pH such that all the fishes are compatible with it.
If a stable pH level is not maintained, the level of ammonia in the tank will fluctuate.
The fish may become stressed if we do not provide them with the right pH. The nitrification bacteria that keep ammonia and nitrites ( which are toxic to fish) at zero ppm will die if the pH drops below 6. This in turn will cause the tank to recycle and in the process kill the fish.
Measure the pH of an Aquarium
The most effective way to measure the pH of an aquarium:
A pH meter consists of two electrodes, one is a reference electrode and the other is sensitive to hydrogen ions. The difference between the measurements of each electrode is used by the meters and converted into pH units.
We will need to calibrate it first before putting it in the aquarium.
pH strips are paper strips that show a different colour based on the acidity or alkalinity of the water. They are much affordable and can be easily used but they are not as accurate as a pH meter.
The Effect of pH on Fish
The physiological mechanisms in fish help them to adapt to any alteration of pH within a small range. A new fish in an aquarium needs to undergo the acclimatization process where they adjust to the change in its environment so that they stay healthy over a range of environmental conditions.
In fish, an enzyme named carbonic anhydrase is released to regulate the pH inside it. When there is an excess of CO2 in an aquarium, the blood of a fish becomes too acidic. Thus, to compensate for the pH imbalance in their blood the plasma bicarbonate ion rate increases.
Then, the pH of the blood is lowered by eliminating the bicarbonate.
This self-regulatory capacity is much more developed only in species that live in extreme pH levels. However, some tropical marine fish have adapted to greater pH stability because of the reefs which mean a small change in pH ( up to 0.1) could cause acidosis or alkalosis
Cause: Due to sudden drop in pH.
- Loses mobility
- Loses appetite
- Increase in mucous secretion
- Gills may change colour which affects the hemoglobin thus causing breathing difficulty and disorientation.
- Tendency to jump out of the water.
- The fish may die in extreme cases.
Cause: Fish are transported from one place to the other. The bags carrying the fish for hours turn alkaline.
- Respiratory symptoms
- Inconsistent swimming
- Pale colour.
Methods to increase the pH
- Change the water regularly – The pH level in the tank drops after long use of the same water. In this case, the regular change of the tank water will again increase the pH. Cleaning the tank of all the uneaten food and waste will also help in regulating the pH of the tank.
- Adding rocks or substrate – Adding substrates such as crushed corals, limestones and, petrified coral will also help in increasing the pH. However, one should be very careful while using this method as it can raise the pH beyond the appropriate level.
- Increase the aeration – When one increases the oxygen concentration in the water, the carbon dioxide concentration automatically decreases. As already discussed, less CO2 results in a higher pH. Therefore, an aerator can be used to increase the pH.
- Adding Baking Soda – Baking soda added constantly can increase the pH level. One should never add too much as once as this may kill the fishes. Generally, one teaspoon of baking soda per 5 gallons of water should be added gradually. Also, remember to dissolve the baking soda in some water before adding.
Methods to decrease the pH
- Adding Wood – Adding Driftwoods to the tank lowers the pH.
- Adding Chemicals – There are many chemicals available in the market which help to lower the pH but the only drawback with these chemicals is they do not maintain a stable pH.
- Peat Moss – One can use peat moss for filtration, this will be highly effective in lowering the pH.
Aquarium fish may prefer a particular pH like their native environment but it is always advised to maintain a stable pH rather than having a specific pH value. The pH value of the tank should be measured regularly as a small change of pH (0.3 units) can be dangerous for some fish.