Have you ever stopped to think about how much time and effort you have invested in your aquarium? How about financially?

Before you whip out your calculator, I hope you see my point: we invest a lot in this hobby. So why is it that so many hobbyists choose not to protect their investment by owning a quarantine tank?

As well-respected author and hobbyist Bob Fenner says in his book, The Conscientious Marine Aquarist, "you need a second aquarium if you want to keep your first one healthy."

Owning a quarantine system is necessary for the long-term health of your aquarium. Many people have left the hobby because they lost heart after losing fish to some hidden parasite in a new fish or coral.

Fish wholesalers and retail stores are usually conscientious, quarantining and treating fish before selling them. However, that does not mean you do not need to quarantine the animals yourself. If you don't quarantine, you are taking a gamble: not every fish makes it through this process healthy and unscathed. No matter how trustworthy your retailer is, it does not make sense to leave the fate of your other aquarium inhabitants to them.

The truth is, owning a quarantine system is inexpensive and easy. Many hobbyists already own a lot of the equipment or keep it around as backup in case something fails. The best part is you only need to run it when you plan to add new fish or corals.

Start with your basic 10 or 20 gallon glass aquarium. This will house the fish or coral. You will not need substrate or decorations. However, you do want to provide something for the fish to hide in. For most small to midsize reef fish, a few large PVC elbows and tees work great. For larger fish, plastic flower pots are great. This will make them feel safer, thereby reducing stress.

You also need a small glass heater—something in the 50-100 watt range will work just fine. To monitor the temperature, get an inexpensive thermometer.

Next is filtration. I like a small sponge filter driven by an air pump. This covers biological filtration while oxygenating and moving water. Another school of thought is to use a small hang on power filter. This will allow you to run carbon or other media.

Whichever you choose, don't forget that a new aquarium needs to cycle. Biological filtration needs to be built up before fish can be added.

However, there is a great trick to this. If you you're planning to purchase a new fish in a few weeks, you can use the sponge from the sponge filter in your tank for a few weeks or run the little power filter. This will build up biological filtration so that you can set up the tank right before getting the fish. Use water from your display tank, if possible, when filling the quarantine tank. This will best reproduce the conditions in your display tank and help kick start the biological filtration.

Pick up a set of test kits for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate if you don't already have them. This will help you monitor the water quality until the fish is ready to transfer. I recommend having a few gallons ready for a water change just in case these levels begin to rise.

You do not need a light fixture for fish. The ambient light that shines through windows during the daytime is fine. For corals, you will want a small light so photosynthesis can occur. A two-bulb T5 light will be sufficient for the short time corals will be quarantined.

I prefer not to medicate fish in quarantine unless I notice something during the quarantine period. The fish was most likely medicated several times during shipment and doesn't need the added stress. I can say that most professional aquarists I know do not treat healthy fish in quarantine. Some hobbyists prefer the extra protection though, so read up on it and make a decision knowing there isn't necessarily one right method.

Corals are a different story. I highly recommend dipping any coral before placing them in quarantine. This will remove hitchhiking parasites and help repair damage inflicted during transit.

Equipment-wise, that's it! You should already own a fish net, a salinity meter of some sort, and the rest that goes along with keeping an aquarium.

You will want to keep fish in quarantine for a minimum of two weeks, and often for longer. You should observe the quarantined animal daily for signs of parasites, infection and/or odd behavior. If something is out of the ordinary, treat as necessary, and restart the clock on quarantine once the fish shows no abnormal signs. How to medicate is beyond the scope of this article, but I recommend the aforementioned book, The Conscientious Marine Aquarist, as an excellent resource. My copy is dog eared and well worn from use.

And that's it. Easy, isn't it?

You don't even have to run your quarantine all of the time. Hide it away in a closet or the garage until you plan on getting new fish. You might want to consider keeping it running all the time, just in case you need to convert it into a hospital tank at a moment's notice, but you don't have to.

Make the single most important choice you can to keep your system healthy over the long term and set up a quarantine tank today.

As always, the Reef Squad is here for any questions you might have. We're here to help you succeed!