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Individual Aquariums Vs. Full Systems

Posted: November 11, 2013, 1:15 p.m. EDT


By Patrick Donston

When it comes to housing sellable livestock, I am often asked about when it’s appropriate to use individual aquariums as opposed to full systems. Generally, there is no correct answer. It depends on whether you’re displaying marine, reef or freshwater animals. In addition, certain fish types will benefit from either strategy.

Let me start by explaining that full systems consist of a series of holding tanks plumbed together with one common sump/filter. All of the water in one system is of the same quality; the advantage of having larger water volumes is the ability to maintain better stability and dispersion of pollutants, thus keeping them lower. Therefore, where 50 fish may be in 30 gallons of water, they actually could be in 1,500 or so gallons separated by 30-gallon tanks.

Individual aquariums consist of numerous displays where each tank has its own filter. A rack of 50 30-gallon aquariums would take 50 separate filters, heaters, etc. Obviously, this setup could demand more labor and energy.

Tropical Aquarium
It is recommended that you rotate your crops from aquarium to aquarium. iStock/Thinkstock

Full systems are best used in marine fish, coral and other invertebrate applications. Larger water volumes are more consistent as far as water parameters are concerned.  Marine animals come from the ocean, which is the most stable environment on earth. Freshwater systems for cichlids or plants are advantageous to disperse waste at lower levels over larger volumes of water. The real controversy is if these systems are even appropriate for goldfish or freshwater community tropicals.

I am not a fan of large systems in these situations because infectious pathogens can enter them and become extremely contagious. I prefer separated tanks so water quality can be controlled, emulating the animals’ natural parameters. Unlike marine organisms, freshwater tropical fish vary world-wide in regard to ph, gh and kh. I also believe in rotating your crops from aquarium to aquarium. For example, live bearers tend to carry and emit amoebic gill infections. I would rather contain and quarantine the disease rather than risk all of my livebearers. Because of the infectious, incubating nature of such pathogens, controlling eradication and adding new stock can be a frustrating and lengthy process. Through rotation of crops, you can control specific fish  diseases by changing your inhabitants to a different fish of another type (and vice-versa). Agricultural farmers have used this strategy for centuries. Quarantine along with treatment and containment are far more easily achieved in single aquarium racks.

I am interested in your experiences; please comment below. Thank you for reading.

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