Aquaculture Systems Thrive with Excellent Water Quality: How to Create and Maintain It

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It is a bad feeling to check on your tanks and find ill or dead fish. Trying to figure out water chemistry can leave you scratching your head. Anyone who has ever had a simple goldfish probably understands this conundrum. One could put up a healthy argument over the fact that cleaning up dog poo is much easier than keeping fish poop from clouding your tank walls. 

The bottom line is fish are expensive. A Koi Pond can set you back thousands of dollars, so obsessing over your investment is more than justifiable. Not to mention the pride factor involved in maintaining a beautiful aquaculture system. A well-constructed and clean aquaculture system is noteworthy and is often a source of joy for those who pursue it as a hobby. So, let’s explore it further and make sure you have the knowledge you need to keep your system in envy-worthy condition. 

Why Is It So Hard to Keep the Water Balanced? 

Most people don’t understand that the physical elements of an aquaculture system are designed to work in harmony. In essence, one element influences the other, and so on. If one element is off-balance, the others may also be affected. 

It is also not uncommon for water chemistry to remain in constant flux. We often equate aquaculture systems as teenagers. One day mashed potatoes are the best thing on the planet, the next day they hate them. 

Hence, the same is sort of true for fish tanks or aqua systems. One day everything is OK, and the next day the tank chemistry is all of whack. Here are some common reasons for the water upset:

  • Ammonia levels might be too high.
  • Your tank might be overstocked.
  • The water temperature may be fluctuating too much. 
  • Oxygen levels are dipping too low. 
  • The pH is off. 
  • Disease or toxins may have infiltrated your system. 
  • Inadequate water filtration. 

It is through the nurturing of these elements that enables fish to thrive. The keys to success rest in testing and following recommended best practices related to the type of aquaculture set-up you have. Keep reading to find out what you can do to keep a healthy water balance.

What Aquaculture Components Should I Focus on for Optimal Fish Health? 

Water Temperature

It may sound trite, but the temperature component is a big deal and often underestimated. In warmer climates especially, the fluctuations that occur can easily wipe out your livestock. It may be a good idea to monitor your system in various areas within the tank. The ideal temperature range for most aquaculture systems is said to be between 18- 30°C. 

However, in many cases, inadequate water circulation can create hot or cold pockets within the system itself. It is something to keep an eye on because fish are cold-blooded species requiring cooler water temps to thrive. Conversely, if the water is too cold, it can inhibit the growth of good bacteria. Lastly, temperature plays a role in feeding patterns. 

In the case of setting a base temperature for a new aquaculture system, information and consistent temperature monitoring is your superpower. Determine the type of species that will be inhabiting your aqua system and research their best natural environment. Remember, the goal is to recreate or mimic a natural thriving water ecosystem. 

Invertebrates, fish, shellfish, reptiles, and amphibians will all have a unique care requirement. Your job is to do your best to figure out what will temperature range is best for your contained system. This translates to consider the unique system housing, climate, and aquaculture equipment you have onboard. 

Experts suggest selecting fish that are adaptive friendly or already acclimated to your local environment. Introducing new species is tricky especially if they are of the tropical variety. (They require warmer water temperatures.) 

Automating your tank with high-performance regulation products i.e., chillers, water heaters, temperature gauges are a great idea if the scale of your operation warrants it. We also recommend focusing your attention on the presence of toxins or excessive bacteria growth. This is an indicator of elevated temperatures.

Carbon

Carbon enters the aquaculture system via fish feed. The type of feed is important because it influences the rate of biodegradability among undigested food particles. Most experts cite the importance of regulating both carbon and nitrogen ratios together as a balancing component. Through manipulating these two levels, it becomes easier to navigate the accumulation of inorganic waste. 

One of the challenges is that many of the commercial aquaculture feeds are enhanced with protein-rich fish meal and oil. Unfortunately, inadequate bioconversion rates impact a factor referred to as mass balance. 

This forces a bit of micro-management for both small and high-scaled aquaculture operations until other alternative protein feeds become available. Examine our high-quality carbon sensors that enable you to measure humidity levels, carbon, and other trace gases are available at competitive prices.

Turbidity

Turbidity is all the “stuff” visible in the water. Hence, if the water is ultra-clear without lots of undigested waste, clay, or solids floating around, turbidity is low. Controlling turbidity is dependent upon your system type. For example, methods for clearing up the turbidity in a pond setting are going to differ from that of a lake or small fish tank. Even though natural sediment is expected to be present in most watershed environments, its aesthetics can be off-putting. 

If you don’t want to answer questions as to why your tank water is brown and icky, it is a good idea to improve the water clarity.  Coagulants are the go-to for treating turbidity. Some aquaculture specialists embrace the idea of using a filtration technique. They also tout the benefits of aeration. All these efforts combined can help sediment elimination (clearing the water so it is free of food waste, debris, clay, and other waste matter.)

Dissolved Gases

Dissolved gases are those found in your water solution – dissolved oxygen being the most common. Fish consume DO making it an element you can’t ignore. Of course, size and activity levels factor into the equation but the levels of DO are important to overall fish health as are other dissolved gases. 

Using aeration to help with turbidity has a double benefit as it also assists to maintain ample levels of dissolved oxygen. DO levels of about 6.0 is the goal and it can be hard to do if the temperature elevates past 78°. High water temperatures can drive out oxygen. 

Aquaculture systems naturally harbor other gases as well: Hydrogen, Methane, Ammonia, Nitrites, Carbonic Acid, and more. The main goal when degassing your tanks is to remove the methane nitrogen gas. The alkalinity process itself can create an uptick in DO. 

Therefore, depending on system type, degassing your aquaculture system may be necessary. Chances are if you are running high-volume farmed fish operations such as Tilapia, you already understand the value of degassing. The general rule of thumb applies to massively stocked tanks where density is high. 

Degassing tanks are normally performed in stand-alone setups and require a detailed filtration system. Read here for the skinny on how to set one up. 

pH

Don’t let this fancy chemistry term scare you. It is used to determine the measure of hydrogen ions present in a solution. In simple language, it tells you if your water is acidic, or alkaline. This variable is a tricky component. You will find yourself attempting to increase the pH or lower it at any given time. 

Unfortunately, just about every other chemical process going on within an aquaculture system trickles down in a way to eventually influences pH levels. The most significant, being the nitrification process, which tends to drive pH levels downward. 

Additionally, you don’t want the pH to dip too low. It can lead to a dangerous accumulation of ammonia which will kill any livestock.

Testing is your strongest weapon against wayward pH levels and helps keep pH levels consistent. Luckily, there are sophisticated yet easy-to-use tools to help make it a convenient process. 

Atlas Scientific offers specialized ph probes and sensors that serve as multi-tasking powerhouses and can keep valuable information at your fingertips. Taking a bit to study what things inspire pH movement in either direction is also a plus. 

What Role Do Nutrients Play in Aquaculture? 

Nutrients are the stars and celebrities of your aquaculture system. They can make your fish gleam and zoom around like animated cartoon characters or sink like fallen stars. Nutrients must be supplemented as part of your tank maintenance because it is nearly impossible for them to self-adjusting in a closed system.

The most common nutrient deficiencies are: 

Potassium

Known as a signaling ion, potassium is important to supplement and test for. It influences water movement and coordinates growth and reproduction. 

Phosphorous

Phosphorous deficiencies are important to prevent premature fish death and helps control the amount of algae growth. The key here is finding a feed that has the correct amount of phosphorous for the size of your fish. There is a well-documented connection between the cycle of fish growth to the amount of phosphorous in your feed supply.  

Calcium and Magnesium

Typically, magnesium and calcium levels are measured together, but in most cases the amount of total hardness is what you need to look for. Alkalinity levels will tell you a lot about what is happening in this area. 

Water Hardness

Water Hardness is the measure of divalent cations. This is the amount of calcium and magnesium in water and expressed in milligrams per liter (parts per million) of equivalent calcium carbonate. Major sources of hardness in freshwater aquaculture systems are dissolution of limestone and calcium silicates. Other factors like rainfall and evaporation also play a role. 

Water measurements for hardness are generally categorized as follows:

  • 0-75 mg/l – soft
  • 75-150 mg/l – moderately hard
  • 150-300 mg/l – hard
  • over 300 mg/l – very hard

Iron

Exaggerated iron levels are known to harm or kill fish. Experts cite iron concentrations above 0.1mg/l, the iron will compromise the gills of the fish. Managing iron levels is critical to fish health and can be impacted by the type and size of fish housed in your aquaculture system. For best results, test pH often and then carefully pay attention to the DO. 

Like we talked about earlier, many other elements in the water complex with the other. The amount of dissolved oxygen in the water and the pH directly impacts iron solubility. 

Aquaculture Resources and Advice

Many educational institutions have special forums dedicated to the field of aquaculture. They have expert knowledge and how-to guides. They are especially helpful when it comes to finding ways to design sophisticated systems or even hacks to set up a system on a budget. 

For novice aquaculture growers, it may also be helpful to find personal resources via social media groups or forums. It can be highly beneficial to have someone personally walk you through the process. Plus, the ability to get a good visual of how it is supposed to look is pure gold. 

These systems can be a high-dollar investment, so we understand wanting to get it dialed in the right way – the first time. Our goal is to make equipment purchases are a little easier.

Atlas Scientific has many options when it comes to monitoring devices and testing equipment. We can outfit simple operations or industrial endeavors. The key is reaching out and asking the questions to help make choices you feel 100% comfortable about. 

Many times, we hear from customers who have purchased inexpensive gadgets built for small fish tanks, and they just don’t offer the detailed readings needed to be successful in aquaculture. As you probably guessed, assessing your needs is a good first step. We look forward to answering all your questions and helping you on your journey.

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