Waterlife - Science serving aquatics

Tropical Freshwater Guide ....tropical delights

Getting started
Do I need a filter?
Setting up
Native water conditions
What is water pH & hardness?
Stocking capacity & number of fish?
Introducing fish to the aquarium
Fish waste & water testing

Maintenance schedules
Fish disease
Shopping list


Waterlife Research, as the name suggests, has spent over 39 years tirelessly researching and developing products to make fishkeeping easier for you and more enjoyable for your fish! Waterlife has a complete range of water management products, including test kits and products for adjusting water chemistry to help keep your fish disease free. Also, in the unlikely event of a fish becoming ill, Waterlife will almost certainly have a cure. -- Alex Cox
Getting started  

The first place to start is your local aquatic outlet. Take time to wander around and look at the species available. Talk with your dealer and discuss the fishes you would like to keep. Some species should be kept on their own where others are peaceful and ideal for a community aquarium.
As with all animals, their individual requirements differ and you should make sure your choices are compatible. Before making a final commitment, it is advisable to buy a good book and read about the fish’s needs

    The Ramerizi (Ram) Cichlid is found in S. America - Colombia, Venezuela, in water with a pH around neutral to slightly acidic.
It can reach up to 7.5 cm, but is often smaller and is considered to be a good community fish but prefers an established aquarium.
Do I need a filter?  

It is important to understand that your aquarium is a self contained eco-system, with no external influences other than the food you add and the water you take out or put in. The filter plays a very important role in keeping the water healthy. It purifies the water using natural bacteria to break down harmful toxic fish waste and makes it safe. As you may be aware, there are many aquaria and types of filter available to you. Be guided by your local shop as to the most suitable but always try to buy the largest and best you can afford as you will find it easier to keep the aquarium healthy.
Setting up  

First of all make sure the aquarium is sited away from draughts, radiators and direct sunlight. If you are going to place the tank upstairs make sure the floor is strong enough to take the weight. A litre of water weighs 1 kilo. so a 90 litre aquarium will weigh approx. 90 Kilos.
NB. Allow for the weight of tank, hood, stand, gravel rocks etc.
Place your tank on a strong flat surface, preferably a proprietary aquarium stand, recommended by the tank manufacturer. If your tank is of the all glass, flat bottom design, make sure you interspace a sheet of polystyrene between tank and stand to absorb any unevenness. If this is not done your tank may crack when you fill it. Check with your aquatic shop for your specific requirements. Wash your gravel thoroughly, making sure you use lime free gravel if you want to keep soft water species (see, Native water conditions). Put the gravel / decorations in the tank. Place your filter and heater in position. Fill the aquarium with temperate water.

Add Waterlife Haloex (dechlorinator and water conditioner) and a double dose of BacterLife, supplement, required to help start the filter.

Turn heater and filter on.

It is advisable to leave the aquarium running for a couple of days before adding fish so you can establish everything is working and the water has stabilized at the right temperature.
Plants may be added before the fish, (see Plants).




Native Water Conditions  

Although the varieties of fish and plants on offer in the shop will be from various parts of the world, there are in essence 2 groups of freshwater fish available to you:

  1. Soft, acid water loving species which typically come from regions of South East Asia and South America
  2. Alkaline loving water species from river estuaries, African lakes for example.

The water pH and hardness are the predominant differences between these groups.

What is water pH & Hardness?  

pH is the measure of acidity or alkalinty. pH 7 is neutral, below 7 is acid and above 7 is alkaline.
Hardness is the measure of dissolved solids in the water. Hardness is usually measured as GH - General Hardness (= calcium and magnesium content) & KH - Carbonate Hardness or buffering capacity (= carbonates, bicarbonates or artificial buffer content).
Artificial buffers are substances which are used to maintain a particular pH. An example of this is Waterlife 7.2 Buffer which increases buffering capacity (measured as KH) and stabilises pH to 7.2.

Why check these differences you might say? Fish have adapted (over thousands of years) to thrive in certain water conditions.
A failure to reproduce these conditions may result in stress, poor colouration, a failure to breed etc.
However a more likely outcome is that the fish will become sick.
Some examples of fishes requirements can be seen in the table on the right.

Group 1.

Soft, acid water
Temp: 24 - 26:
Tetras, Rasboras, most catfish, Angels, Discus etc.


Group 2.

Hard, Alkaline water
Temp: 24 - 26
Mollies, chromides, Malawis, Monos, Scats etc.

NB. Whilst the species mentioned are water compatible, they may not all be temperament compatible.
Consult your shop for further advice on specific species.

Malawis - Zebra Pseudotropheus. Originally from Africa, these fish are best kept in large numbers in a "species only" aquarium. Plenty of rock work in the tank is advised to define territories. Malawis prefer hard alkaline water and can reach around 12cm in length.


Acidity / alkalinity can be easily measured with Waterlife's Broad Range pH test kit.
Humaquat and Waterlife's 6.5 Buffer can be used to establish soft, acid water conditions.
Our 7.2 Buffer can be added to create a neutral to slightly alkaline environment. Finally, Waterlife's 8.3 Buffer and Aquarium Salt (where appropriate) will re-produce hard, alkaline, salty water. Using pH products will alter the pH and hardness in the tank, creating a healthy and stable environment.


Having made the decision about the type of fish you wish to keep and adjusted the pH accordingly, you can now choose your plants . You have a choice between live aquatic plants or the plastic synthetic varieties. If you decide to grow live real plants, here again, as with fish, you should try to buy the correct species for your tank. Some plants prefer cooler deeper water while others prefer bright conditions. Remember, to grow plants successfully you need at least 7 to 10 cm ( 3 - 4 inches) of substrate (gravel). Most plants do not like fast moving water, so do not use them to hide the filter. Plants do not like extreme heat either so never place your plants near your heater. Bog wood or rock / slate may be used to hide equipment but be careful not to block water flow.
Choose your rocks carefully, as some types affect pH and are toxic.

It is always best to plant up in strands of 3, certainly no more than 6.
Grouping more than this together may result in the plants rotting at the stems. Larger plants should be planted individually.
Use Waterlife’s TropiFlora liquid plant food to give them the minerals and micro nutrients that they need to grow and flourish.
TropiFlora has been specially formulated for aquaria and does not contain any nitrate (No3). However it is rich in nutrients such as iron, magnesium, potassium etc., which are essential for plant life.
Encouraging higher plant growth is one of the best ways to keep nitrate levels within the aquarium low and suppress algae growth.


Cobalt Blue Discus - A South American Cichlid that is regarded as one of the most beautiful freshwater species avaiable. This gentle and graceful fish can reach up to 15 cms and prefers soft acid water. Care should be taken over what other fish are kept alongside Discus as they can become distressed with boisterous species.

Some people may tell you that snails in your tank are a good thing. This is not the case! Snails will eat algae and are scavengers, but they will eat plants and are also disease carriers for many parasites and pathogens. Snails are most commonly introduced into the aquarium with plants.
Their numbers are best controlled by removing them when seen.

Stocking capacity & number of fish?  

It is advisable to gradually introduce your fish to the tank over a number of weeks so as not to over-load the filter. It may take several months before you reach maximum stocking density.
To calculate the aquarium volume in litres, multiply the [L x W x D] in cms. and divide by 1000.
For Imp. Galls., Multiply the [L x W x D] in inches and divide by 276.
Please note: Allow for water displaced by gravel, rocks etc.
Your maximum stocking ratio can be worked out as follows:
2.5cm (1 inch) of fish (from tip of nose to tail) per 5 litres (approx. 1 gall.) of filtered aquarium water.

Introducing fish to the aquarium  

Once you have got your new fish home you need to acclimatise them properly as the shops water is likely to be slightly different to your own.
You should take your time to get your new pets used to the temperature initially and then the water itself as follows:

  • Turn the aquarium lights off.
  • Float the bag on top of the aquarium water for 10 mins.
  • Undo the bag, roll the sides down, pour some water out of the bag and add some of your tank water.
  • Repeat the above, twice more over a 20 min. period until you are satisfied that the temperatures have balanced and the fish are swimming freely.
  • Tilt the bag and allow the fish to swim out in their own time.
  • Turn the aquarium lights back on after approximately 2 hours.
  • Now add a dose of Waterlife Myxazin to reduce the likelihood of disease which may be caused by the stress of transportation.

Do not feed any of the tank's inhabitants for 24 hour.
For certain more aggressive species of fish it may be advisable to re-arrange rock work in the aquarium prior to adding the fish, to break up any existing territories which might have been made.

Fish waste & water testing  

Maintaining good water conditions are the key to keeping your fish healthy. Water parameters - temperature, pH, ammonia/ammonium, nitrite, nitrate, GH & KH are perhaps some of the most important things to test. The following paragraph explains the fish waste / nitrogen cycle.


Ammonia is the raw waste product from fish. It is excreted as a soluble gas across the gills and is very toxic at high enough levels.
Fortunately naturally occuring bacteria (Nitrosomonus) feed on ammonia and convert it to slightly less toxic nitrite.
Another set of bacteria (Nitrobacter) feed on the nitrite to convert it to relatively harmless nitrate, which is partially absorbed by plants as food. This can best be explained by the diagram.



Acceptable Levels

Ammonia (NH3/NH4+) 0
Nitrite (NO2) 0
Nitrate (NO3) 0 - 50ppm (mg/l)
Keeping these levels under control has never been easier with the aid of Waterlife's BacterLife, (an essential blend of beneficial bacteria which naturally aids the break down of ammonia and nitrite) and Waterlife AmmoClear (a naturally occurring rock which absorbs ammonia).

Waterlife's BacterLife and AmmoClear
Green water / Cloudy water?  

Common water quality problems in aquaria are green /cloudy water or algae formation (green or brown deposits on gravel, ornaments or aquarium glass). Some of the more likely causes and their remedies are listed below:

"White-ish" cloudy water Filter is not bacterially mature
Use Waterlife's BacterLife (bio-culture) to boost filter bacteria.
Cloudy water The aquarium is overstocked Reduce stocking. Add Waterlife's BacterLife. Consider larger filter & tank.
Green / Cloudy water
Overfeeding Perhaps one of the major causes of green water. If you buy a premium brand food and use Waterlife's Vitazin (multi-vtamin supplement) it is unnecessary to feed large quantities. Overfeeding can cause pollution and algae growth. A small quantity once or twice a day is normally adequate - dependant on the age of fish.
"Brown-ish" cloudy water
The filter is not large enough and/or is not working efficiently Regular maintenance of filtration is required. However filters should not be cleaned too thoroughly and should be rinsed out using old aquarium water. When buying an aquarium filter and pump always buy the largest you can afford. Waterlife's StayClear A will assist.
Algae growth

Lack of natural plants & high nitrate (NO3) levels Algae is a basic form of plant life. Higher plants compete with Algae for the same nutrients in the water.
Use Waterlife's TropiFlora, to encourage plant growth.
A well-planted aquarium will help restrict algae growth as will chemical absorbers such as nitrate absorbing filter resins.
Sadly tap water can contain nitrate.
Algae growth Lighting Again, plants will help but always bear in mind when placing an aquarium, not to position in an area where it will receive full sunlight. Artificial aquarium lighting may be the wrong spectrum, too old, or left on for too long or too short a period of time. An average of 8 hours light per day is usually sufficient.
Maintenance schedules  

Weekly checks

  1. It is vital to test for ammonia and nitrite levels weekly using your Waterlife test kits. Use BacterLife regularly to help keep levels safe.
  2. It is equally important to use the Waterlife Nitrate Test Kit at least once a week. Use Waterlife TropiFlora to encourage plant growth.
  3. pH testing will highlight falling pH, correct with 6.5 Buffer, Humaquat, 7.2 Buffer or 8.3 Buffer depending on the fish you are keeping.
  4. Check daily that the temperature is in optimum level for the fishes requirements.

Monthly checks

  1. Top up evaporation losses with Haloex treated tap water.
    Remember to adjust pH with the appropriate Buffer according to the species of fish kept
  2. Partial water change between 10 - 30% of the water in your system. Even in an emergency, try not to change more than 50% as the resulting pH shift will endanger the health of the entire aquarium. Small regular water changes are best.
  3. Check filter is working efficiently and flow rate is not impaired. If necessary clean filter sponges (if present) remembering to use aquarium water, not tap water. The chlorine in tap water will destroy the filter bacteria. Use Waterlife BacterLife to maintain good bacteria.
  4. Remove excess waste from gravel with an aquarium vacuum / gravel cleaner.

NB. If you are using an undergravel filter do not remove all the waste as this is what the filter bacteria thrive on.

Fish disease    

Fishes, like other creatures, are prone to 5 main causes of illness, these are:

1. Fins appear eroded / ragged and possibly bloody
Fin - Rot
Bacteria Myxazin
2. Cotton wool type growths on fins or body Fungus Fungi Protozin

3. Tiny white specks
covering fins and body.
+/- respiration & irritation
Fish may stop feeding

Whitespot Protozoa parasite Protozin
4. Fish flicking / rubbing. Spots or cloudy patches on body/fins may be seen. Fish continue to feed until
late stages. Gulping near surface or lethargy may be witnessed.
Flukes Metazoa parasite Sterazin
5. A "T" or "Y" shaped object with a forked tail attached to body of fish. Anchor worm Crustacean parasite
6. Flattened, oval parasite attached to body surface.

Fish louse Crustacean parasite


As you can see, most pathogens and parasites
are easily treated with Waterlife products:

Myxazin, Protozin, Sterazin and Octozin

Shopping list    


    Broad Range pH Test
    GH Test
Sacem Neptune Filter or Marathon Cannister filter
    KH Test
Air pump
    Humaquat - blackwater tonic
Airline / non return valve
    6.5 Buffer - softens and acidifies water
    Aquarium Salt
Sacem NSH Heater
    8.3 Buffer - increase pH and hardness
    StayClear A - clears cloudy water
Rocks / ornaments
    Nitraway - removes nitrate
    AmmoClear - absorbs ammonia
TropiFlora - plant food
    Carbon Excel - “polishes” aquarium water
Fish food
    Vitazin - multi-vitamins
Haloex - dechlorinator
    Paragon - tonic
BacterLife - beneficial bacteria
    Protozin - for whitespot and fungus
Ammonia Test
    Sterazin - for flukes & internal worms
Nitrite Test
    Myxazin - for fin rot, ulcers, wounds etc.
Nitrate Test
    Octozin - for internal parasites  
- -   Parazin - for crustacean parasites -


Waterlife Research Ind. Ltd.
Bath Road, Longford, Middlesex UB7 OED
Tel: 01753 685696 Fax: 01753 685437

Click here for your free fish keeping guides

All the above information is given to the best of our abiliites and knowledge. However we cannot be held responsible for any losses
or damages caused by misinterpretation or misunderstanding or caused by misdiagnosis or misuse of Waterlife products.
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