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Substrate for the Aquarium Fish Tank

The importance of the right substrate is often overlooked when setting up an aquarium. There are many different types and sizes available but which should you go for? Here are a few of the options available and things to consider when deciding upon this.

The colour of the substrate is quite a key element both to how the aquarium looks and how your fish will react to it. Tropical fish are very conscious of their environment and as such will react accordingly when their environment isn’t how they would expect or be comfortable in. For rift valley cichlids as an example, they will generally colour up more and therefore be more aesthetically pleasing if they have a natural lighter coloured substrate and gravel. I don’t believe any fish would like to be in a tank with multi-coloured fluorescent gravel so this is quite unfair on the fish I my opinion.

Unnatural Gravel
Unnatural Gravel

Size of the gravel used is extremely key to maintaining a healthy living environment for your fish in the long term. If the gravel you use is too fine then it will end up clumping up and forming a layer which harmful chemicals cannot penetrate. Waste and therefore harmful nitrates and nitrites, not to mention ammonia will build up under the gravel if it is too fine leading to very unhealthy environment for your fish. You will know if this is the case when you run your fingers though the gravel and bubbles come up from it. It is therefore recommended that if you must use plays and or another fine gravel then you thoroughly agitate it on a weekly basis to ensure chemical build up is kept to a minimum. From experience I would avoid this though and spend a little more on something which isn’t play sand as this will save you time and money in the future should the play sand cause you problems.

There are a huge range of substrate types available in the market today including fertiliser for planted tanks, standard aquarium gravel in many sizes and colours and even eco complete type of cichlid sand which is ready washed and chemically balanced so it can be poured straight in to the tank.

This brings me on to my next point, except for the eco complete gravel types, it is always recommended that you thoroughly wash any sort of sand or gravel before putting it in to the aquarium. The best method I have found of doing this is to half fill a bucket with the sand and run the shower on it whilst running your fingers through it. This way you don’t get sand down the plug hole and any impurities or harmful chemicals can be washed off before it enters your tanks eco system.

It is possible to use multiple types of substrate in your fish tank aquarium however it is worth bearing in mind that some fish, primarily cichlids, will dig in the substrate thereby mixing up the layers or areas of gravel you have laid out.

Although, often overlooked, when you consider the gravel is something which takes up the whole area of your aquarium, it can have a massive impact on the overall look of the tank so some serious consideration and thought should be taken when deciding on which substrate you are going to use.