Anaerobic Spots
Animal Scene|December 2017

A Silent Killer You Could Accidentally Create

Angel L. Ampil

Ask average fishkeepers what they know about anaerobic spots, and chances are, they will say “What?” and won’t have the slightest idea what it is. After all, the chances are slim that they will be affected by anaerobic spots.

What are they? Anaerobic spots are areas in the aquarium that are deprived of oxygen; thus, they promote the culture of anaerobic bacteria. As we all know, anaerobic bacteria are harmful bacteria that thrive in oxygen-poor water. Once these bacteria are released in your tank, they can do a lot of damage to your water quality, thereby killing your fishes.

How are they made? Nowadays aquariums are usually set up bare and devoid of any substrate or decorations. This allows for good water current to circulate around the tank, thereby ensuring the proper oxygenation of the entire tank. With these bare tanks, it would be almost impossible to create anaerobic spots in the aquarium. With water current freely flowing in the tank, no anaerobic spots in the tank are created.

However, put a flat rock or a tile at the bottom of the tank and this becomes a different ballgame. Between the tile and bottom of the tank is a small crevice that should be filled up by tank water. Despite having a strong current in the tank and the water generally being highly oxygenated, the water in this crevice becomes poorly oxygenated since it is trapped by the tile. Since there isn’t water flowing through the tight space, it is devoid of oxygen.

Once oxygen in the water is absent, anaerobic bacteria sets in. This is a classic example of an anaerobic spot in the aquarium. This area becomes conducive for anaerobic bacteria to thrive in. In no time, a healthy population of anaerobic bacteria will be created in this area. If for some reason, you lift out the tile, you will release the anaerobic bacteria trapped by the tile into the tank. This will be very harmful for the fishes and they could possibly die.

Strictly speaking, any décor in the aquarium can result in anaerobic spots. Once you put an object in a tank, the probability is high that anaerobic spots will be created. How detrimental the anaerobic spot is to your aquarium depends on the size of the anaerobic spot. If you put in a small rock, then it is expected that the anaerobic spot created will also be small, such that if anaerobic bacteria are released, the effects should also be minimal or may not even matter.

If you have a pile of rocks, big enough to prevent the water current from flowing though the crevices, then a huge anaerobic spot is created. Once the rocks are rearranged and the anaerobic bacteria are released, expect the anaerobic bacteria to destroy your water quality and put the lives of your fishes in danger.

How can you control anaerobic spots? Granted that fishkeepers will surely create anaerobic spots in an aquarium, what should they remember to do in order to minimize the effects of the deadly anaerobic bacteria?

First and foremost is the size of the decorations. If your tank is sparsely decorated, then the danger is less; the denser or larger the decorations, the bigger the anaerobic spot created. The concern really is for those instances when big anaerobic spots are created. Very quickly I can enumerate the following instances where huge anaerobic sports are commonly created without the fishkeeper even knowing it:

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