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When it comes to saltwater fish quarantine, aquarists must decide between fish disease eradication vs the more realistic practice of managing fish disease. For the vast majority of us, proper disease management is the goal because complete eradication is just not realistic.

The good news is that proper disease management is attainable and you can achieve 80% of the results with only 20% of the effort by using the proper protocols.

80/20 Quarantine - 3 Phase Approach

In collaboration with Marine Collectors, we have come up with a 3 phase quarantine process that will cover a vast majority of common saltwater fish health problems - Ich, Marine Velvet, Uronema, Brooklynella (Brook), and Flukes. We created the quarantine process specifically with hobbyists in mind because we understand that quarantining fish at home must be attainable, effective, and focused on not only new additions but also on protecting the fish you already have.

Important Considerations

  • While there are many ways to quarantine fish effectively, it is important to follow these protocols exactly as described to achieve the results.  Attempting to mix and match techniques can wind up exposing your fish to diseases that would have otherwise not been a problem.
  • Understand that not all fish will make it through quarantine which is a hard fact no matter how you decide to quarantine them. This is because individual fish have individual experiences and not all fish arrive in the same condition. 
  • The process is not 100% safe for ALL saltwater aquarium fish. Do the appropriate research (Google) to verify medications are safe for the fish you are keeping. Some fish are more sensitive to medications or simply cannot tolerate particular types of medications. 

Each of the 3 phases builds upon each other to create a comprehensive 80/20 quarantine. This is phase 1 and the foundation of a successful medication and quarantine process to treat Marine Velvet and Ich.  Phase 2 will discuss how to appropriately integrate treatment for Uronema and Brooklynella into the process, and the final phase 3 will discuss how to treat Flukes. 

Quarantine Tank

Quarantine and Treatment for Ich and Marine Velvet

1. Build a QT Tank & Gather Essential Supplies

Your QT tank should be appropriately sized for the size and quantity of fish you plan to QT. For most of us, this is anywhere from a simple 10 - 40 gallon glass aquarium. The tank does not need to be fancy or expensive, traditional plastic frame tanks work great. If you are buying larger show-size fish, 55-gallon tanks are a better choice. The effort required for maintenance does increase respectively with the tank size so keep the tank as small as you possibly can without stressing out the fish.

Building your QT should be quick and it is best to gather all of the supplies you need before your fish arrive so you are ready to go. It should be noted that you're going to perform 100% water changes on the aquarium very frequently so having plenty of mixed saltwater on hand is critical. Be sure your mixing container is large enough and that your RO/DI system is in working order. 

Why 100% Water Changes? - 100% water changes improve the effectiveness of your QT process because you will not only be removing ammonia, but you're also removing stress hormones, harmful bacteria, pathogens, and parasites. 

Instant Ocean Sea Salt Mix is the preferred salt mix because of the lower levels of calcium, carbonates, and magnesium plus it's affordable which is an added bonus. Elevated levels of major elements like you find in reef salt mix can be problematic during the QT process and is not necessary for fish quarantine.

Quarantine Tank

Additional Equipment

*This QT process is based on frequent water changes so biological filter media and traditional filtration are not required. If you wish to add biologically active media to process fish waste and prevent ammonia build-up, just be sure the media of choice will not absorb the medications. Plastic bio-balls are the best choice; just throw them into your display for 2-4 weeks to become established before placing them into your QT tank. The QT tank does not need to be cycled and can be set up and ready for the addition of fish within an hour. 

2. Mix Saltwater

It is important that all of the water used in your QT tank is mixed using the same salt mix, to the same exact salinity, and heated to the same temperature to avoid stress during the frequent water changes.

  • Target Salinity: 35 ppt or 1.025 S.G.*
  • Target Temperature: 78° F

*Always mix the water to 35 ppt to avoid stress and maintain the correct concentration of copper. Lowering salinity levels will increase the toxicity of copper.  

3. Add Copper

Hanna Instruments Copper Checker Colorimeter is the best tool for accurately measuring copper. It is easy to use and accurate which is critical for the proper application of copper. Testing the copper levels 3 times before using the medicated water is recommended to be absolutely certain the copper concentration is correct. Copper Power is the ONLY copper medication we recommend because it is stable and it can safely be maintained at higher concentrations 

Copper Power Dosage:

  • 1.475 mL per gallon of saltwater = 2.5 ppm

Add Copper Power directly to your saltwater mixing bin to achieve a concentration of 2.5 ppm. Once you have achieved the suitable concentration of copper in your saltwater mixing bin, you can fill your QT tank with the medicated water. 

4. Freshwater Fluke Bath

Before adding new fish into your medicated QT tank, you want to give them a freshwater bath to identify possible flukes.  Most fish have flukes and this step will verify that and help you determine whether or not you should treat for flukes directly later in the QT process. 

  1. Using a large specimen container, place fish in 1-2 gallons of fresh RO/DI water for 3 minutes.
  2. Look for Flukes and blow them off the fish with a bulb syringe during the bath.
  3. To re-acclimate fish into saltwater, move the fish into a hypo-salinity bath for another 3-5 minutes - 50% saltwater and 50% freshwater.
  4. If flukes were present in your initial freshwater bath, you should treat for flukes directly before placing fish into your display.

5. Add Nitrofurazone to QT Tank

Before adding fish into the QT tank, add Nitrofurazone directly into the QT tank which helps eliminate bacterial infections. That means your QT tank will have both Copper and Nitrofurazone. It is also important to remember to add Nitrofurazone every 3 days after each 100% water change. Once you have added the Nitrofurazone it is safe to move the fish into your QT tank. 

Nitrofurazone Dosage:

  • 200mg per 10 gallon of saltwater

6. Add Fish

Move fish out of the Fluke bath and into the medicated QT tank containing Copper Power and Nitrofurazone. Use a net and place them directly into the QT; no acclimation process is required. The fish will remain in quarantine for 3 days before doing your first water change.  During this time, observe the fish closely and do not feed them.

Mark the date on a calendar or write it down, this will be the first day of your 15-day QT process.

7. 100% Water Changes

During quarantine, you will perform 100% water changes every three days. 

  1. Net the fish and place them into a specimen container of water from the QT tank
  2. Remove 100% of the water 
  3. Rinse the tank with RO/DI water
  4. Wipe the inside of the tank clean using a paper towel
  5. Refill the tank with copper-medicated saltwater and add Nitrofurazone
  6. Move the fish back into the QT tank using a net

8. 15 Day Quarantine

Repeat this water change process every three days. So long as no signs of disease or illness are observed for 15 consecutive days, the fish will then be ready for introduction into your display.  

If you notice white spots or some other signs of illness during the QT process, the 15-day clock starts over from the very last day you witnessed the signs of disease in your QT tank. Just keep doing water changes every three days and you want to achieve 14 consecutive days with no signs of illness before introducing fish into your display.  

Write things down, specifically, the date you added the fish and anytime you notice signs of illness. 

9. Rinsing Fish and Introduction Into the Display

After you have successfully quarantined your fish with no signs of illness, it is a good idea to place them into a clean saltwater bath before introducing them to your display. This will rinse off medications and any pathogens that may be lingering.

You should use water that matches your display tank in terms of salinity, temperature, and pH to help acclimate the fish to your tank's conditions. Let the fish soak in the clean saltwater bath for 3-5 minutes and then add them to your display tank. 

Acclimating Sensitive Fish to Medications

Sensitive fish such as Wrasses should be slowly acclimated into the full-strength copper. This is done by slowly ramping up the concentration of copper in your QT tank. Follow the same process as above but instead of 2.5ppm of Copper Power in your saltwater, start with a much smaller dose. 

  1. Start with 25% dose of Copper Power and test the water.  
  2. Observe the fish's reaction for 24-48 hours. You can extend this time if you think the fish is stressed. 
  3. Increase the concentration of Copper Power daily by 25% until your reach 2.5 ppm of Copper Power and proceed with the 15-day quarantine.