While surfing around the other aquarium websites on the internet, most dealing with fish only freshwater aquariums, I noticed that a large part of keeping a fish only aquarium is trying to overcome the drawbacks of not having live plants. It also made me realize how hard it was to actually keep fish when I still had a fish only aquarium. Diseases such as Ich were commonplace, and although the medicine was available to treat the diseases, I still invariably lost a few fish along the way. This never struck me as strange until now. Instead of desperately trying to keep the fish alive, in a planted aquarium the goal shifts to keeping the plants happy. If the plants are happy, the fish thrive. This is due to the immense benefits that keeping live plants in an aquarium can bring, including:
Aeration – Fish only aquariums are often aerated with an airstone in a desperate attempt to keep oxygen levels high so fish can breathe. In a planted aquarium, as in nature, the live plants provide all the oxygen your fish will ever need through photosynthesis. An airstone and air pump (and all the noise and vibration that go along with them) are unnecessary in a planted aquarium.
Filtration – Power filters, sponge filters, and canister filters are the only means of filtration in a fish only aquarium. It’s up to these filters to remove all fish waste and waste produced by excess food. This is achieved through mechanical filtration, chemical filtration (via carbon), and biological filtration (via bacteria growing on the filter media). There are many designs of filters out there and some are better than others, but all suffer from one flaw: if not cleaned properly and regularly, their effectiveness drops. In a planted aquarium, on the other hand, only mechanical filtration is truly needed. Plants can handle chemical and biological filtration fairly well. They absorb chemicals that are harmful to fish (in fact they live off of the chemicals produced by fish waste) and provide a perfect medium for beneficial bacteria to grow on. Of course, plants have their limits of filtration as well and most planted aquariums have a back up filter providing mechanical and biological filtration. Chemical filtration in the form of carbon will remove beneficial compounds and fertilizers needed by plants, and is not advised for a planted aquarium.
Protection – In fish only aquariums, the focus is the fish themselves, and their environment can be somewhat neglected. Not having enough protection can cause fish to be stressed and more succeptable to disease. Although artifical decorations and plants can be bought and put in the aquarium to provide protection and cover for fish, they are inferior to real plants in many ways. First, they provide none of the benefits listed so far aside from a location for beneficial bacteria to colonize. Second, they are much more likely to injure fish. Live plants aren’t hard and don’t have sharp edges like plastic plants can.
Food Source – The only source of food in a fish only aquarium is the owner of the aquarium (aside from algae for algae eaters). That means the fish are entirely dependent on you and the food you give them. If you don’t make wise choices and vary their diet, they may not be as healthy and can become more succeptable to disease. Also, if you forget to feed them, they have no alternative food sources. In a planted aquarium, the fish have a choice. Although not all fish will eat plants, most will pick at the leaves and dead or dying plant matter if no other food is available. It also helps to vary their diet. Many fish are omnivorous and need to eat plant material.
Algae Prevention – Algae is often a problem in fish only aquariums, and although keeping algae eaters and scraping the glass with an algae scraper are ways of combatting some algae, other types of algae are more stubborn. Algae occurs because there are nutrients in the water and there is light (even low light). In a planted aquarium, plants can outcompete algae and use up all of the nutrients in the water. Although this can open up a whole other can of worms while you try to get your light levels and nutrient levels right, once you get your planted aquarium balanced, you will most likely never have to clean the glass or pull algae off the gravel again.
And there you have it. These are only the practical benefits I can think of, there are many many more benefits to owning a planted aquarium, and it’s easier than you may think. Even just a few floating plants can make a serious impact in the health of your fish and the tank as a whole. So what are you waiting for? Throw out that noisy air pump and dirty airstone, toss the neon pink plastic plants and cheesy castle decoration, and take the plunge into a planted aquarium. Your fish will thank you!