I was watching the Weather Channel recently and they announced that hurricane season was now underway. The pundit warned of the potential problems that arise from these treacherous storms.

The one that stuck out to me? The loss of power.

Most people would regard a couple of hours without electricity as a minor inconvenience. Missing your favorite television program or having the milk spoil might be aggravating, but hey, life goes on.

To the aquarium hobbyist, a couple of hours without electricity can be devastating. Life may, in fact, not go on for some of our tank’s inhabitants. This got me thinking: what other ways might Mother Nature wreck havoc upon our tanks to create a true aquarium emergency?

There are plenty, actually.

Earthquakes, tornadoes, thunderstorms and, of course, the aforementioned hurricanes can each potentially leave us high and dry. When you factor in system-related mishaps like disease, leaks/floods and equipment failure, it seems the only thing a responsible aquarist can do to manage these situations is to be prepared before the inevitable takes place.

Do it right the first time

Out of all the potential problems that can occur in our aquariums, many can be avoided.

First, use only high quality well-built equipment, starting with the aquarium itself. Buy from reputable tank builders who craft their aquariums with the proper glass/acrylic thickness. For marine and reef aquariums, verify that the adhesives are saltwater-safe.

Always take your time when designing and building a new aquarium system.

Make sure all your slip PVC joints are glued correctly; use Teflon tape on all threaded connections. A small leak can become a big problem if given the chance. Check the volume of your sump to ensure it will hold excess water in case the power fails and your return pumps shut off.

Whether you’re buying a prefab stand, doing a DIY job or having one custom-built, be certain it will not only support your aquarium but also withstand some movement. Whether you’re from "Earthquake Country,” live near a rail line or have a nephew who needs to boost himself up for a better view, be sure your stand is stable and capable of enduring sudden unexpected movements.

After you’ve designed and setup your aquarium to withstand the elements, protect it by performing routine maintenance. New aquarists tend to forget to clean pumps and powerheads periodically. Doing so will make them last longer, perform better and you’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing you’ve done your best to thwart any potential pump problems.

Be Prepared

Hope for the best but always prepare for the worst. That little bit of preparation may turn what could have been a full-blown crisis into a minor snafu. To enroll in our aquarium “prep school,” get up-to-speed on what areas you need to be concerned about and then heed the advice that follows.


Fact: fish need water to survive. So let’s do all we can to keep our aquarium water inside our tanks instead of all over our living room carpet.

If you notice water leaking from your system, use Mr. Sticky’s Underwater Glue to patch your aquarium or plumbing until you find a permanent solution. Although this is only a temporary fix, it should buy you a couple of days to find a replacement part. Of course, having replacement parts ready-to-go is the way to go. Ball valves, check valves, bulkheads, unions and corresponding gaskets/o-rings are inexpensive so it’s a good idea to stock up.

In addition, keep extra water on hand (fresh and salt). It can save the day!

Water Flow/Oxygenation

Water circulation is extremely important in the reef aquarium. It helps oxygenate the water and carries waste to filtration. If flow is stopped for even one hour the negative results can start to become apparent. That is why we recommend keeping extra pumps and pump parts in your “aquarium toolbox.”

But what happens if the power goes out altogether?

Invest in a quality pump like EcoTech Marine’s VorTech with battery backup and your tank’s flow will continue unaltered for up to 60 hours after the power goes out (30 hours for two pumps). Add a second battery backup to double the run time.

A more economical solution is to have a battery-powered air pump. The gentle current created by the air bubbles will help keep your tank inhabitants alive until power is restored. The downside is you will need to keep the air on in the tank all the time in case you lose power while you are away.


Illness in an aquarium can appear to come out of nowhere. When it does, there may not be time to wait for a shipment of medication to arrive and administer before your fish are dead.

Ruby Reef and SeaChem both offer a full line of aquarium medications. Experienced hobbyists have learned the hard way that keeping meds on hand is the best way to prevent illness from spiraling out of control since you’ll be able to react at the first signs of trouble.

Of course, preventing diseases from entering our aquarium in the first place is a habit all hobbyists should practice. Quarantine all new livestock for a minimum of two weeks to allow any latent disease to run its course. This period also gives your new pet an opportunity to become accustomed to captive life without harassment from other animals.

The AccliMate XL is large enough to quarantine small fish. Just add a heater to maintain temperature. When it’s time to add your new pet to your display tank, the AccliMate makes it easy to do it the right way. The versatile AccliMate XL can also be used as a hospital tank. Combine with Mr. Aqua’s UV sterilizer to kill disease and filter the water while your fish is separated from the healthy population.

What to do in an Emergency

You’ve acquired all of the necessary equipment and taken all of the proper precautions. Now what?

Wait. Something will happen.

As aquarists, the longer we practice this hobby the more likely it is Murphy’s Law will take effect. When it does, remain calm and follow these simple steps:

  1. Look for leaks and/or water spillage. Protect important electrical components from water.
  2. Reestablish water circulation within 15 minutes.
  3. If the lights are still on, turn them off to reduce stress to the animals. Your tank can survive for at least a week without lighting.
  4. Do not feed your tank while filtration and circulation are compromised. Your fish will be fine for 4-5 days without food.
  5. Do not panic. Do not make rushed decisions because they can lead to bigger problems.
  6. Never use unfiltered tap water to top-off an aquarium, even if it’s “the only thing available.” Take the time to filter with an RO unit.

It doesn’t take a natural disaster to create an aquarium emergency. Oftentimes it is a simple loss of power or a minor plumbing leak that cause major problems. It is our own unpreparedness that sustains them.

If you have an aquarium emergency and need help, don’t hesitate to contact us toll-free at 1-800-566-FISH for advice.