Kickstarting Your Aquarium Ecosystem

Kickstarting Your Aquarium Ecosystem

Algae, algae, algae…. We love our tanks but often we spend A LOT of time working on maintenance to keep our gorgeous aquascapes thriving and clean. This post will help give you some tips on how to deploy some of the best tactics to keep your aquarium clean! 

Both myself and Greg (Co-founders), spent several years learning in arguably one of the greatest marine bio labs in the midwest. Lucky for us we got to participate just for enrolling in the Des Moines public school system. Central Campus Marine Biology department was run by Dr. Karen Stiles and Kirk Embree, two amazing professors who went above and beyond to help educate us deprived, landlocked kids about the marvelous world that exists underwater.

Dr. Stiles would put up projector slides and quiz us on fish species and anatomy, while Mr. Embree would show us how to build a top class aquascape and filtering system. We even learned the best practices to mail fish! Our classroom laboratory had over 100 tanks, filled with colorful corals and fish of all shapes and sizes. 

Outside of the learning was a lot of maintenance though, before the new lab was constructed we had to cart around trash cans filled with sloshing, freshly mixed saltwater. It seemed that the water changes never stopped and the scrubbing magnets became our best friends. I'm sure most of you can relate, unless of course you have a state of the art setup. Dealing with a bunch of water in your home or apartment can go bad fast and I hope you haven’t had to experience spilling a bunch of water yet, definitely a great way to piss off your partner or family though! 

Our time in the lab taught us quite a bit about how to manage your aquarium ecosystem, making sure to balance your nitrates, nitrites, pH, ammonia, and bacteria. We want to share some of that with you today! Part of why we started Green Water Labs is to help make life easier, by working with nature instead of creating complex systems to try and beat it! We created Algae Control to help reduce the amount of maintenance on your tank. 

Often we hear people asking us how to solve their algae problems once there has been a significant breakout event. However, the best way to handle algae is to create a balanced ecosystem where algae plays an important role. 

How to carefully craft a full blown ecosystem in your aquarium. 

Aquariums are really cool and having one in your home or office provides a beautiful window into life under the water. However, we have to remember that an ocean, pond, or river is a complex system of symbiosis designed by mother nature herself. There are quite a few moving pieces that need to get dialed in, and remember, each aquarium is unique! Below are some of the steps we learned in Marine Biology for building a self sustaining aquarium ecosystem. 

1. Developing a thriving bacteria system in your tank. 

    • Today there are a number of products available to help kickstart your aquarium, but in our experience there is nothing better than acquiring some live rock and letting your aquarium ecosystem develop naturally. This can be a lengthy period, taking up to a month to get the bacteria necessary to support a healthy nitrogen cycle.

2. Understanding how to monitor the important biological levels in your tank. (Blog coming soon)

    • Nitrites
    • Nitrates
    • Phosphates
    • Ammonia
    • pH
    • Hardwater

3. Making sure you have all the necessary ecosystem components

    • Filtration
      • Biological
        • Beneficial bacteria, aquatic plants
      • Mechanical
        • Physical filters that clean out unwanted debris/waste
      • Chemical
        • Products like Algae Control, but more commonly activated carbon
    • Lighting
      • Natural Light
        • An ideal aquarium will get several hours of natural light during the day, this will help fish and plants keep growth cycles. Photosynthesis is one of the driving factors of a successful ecosystem. 
      • Artificial Lighting
        • If you can’t get access to natural sunlight, you will need to find a nice lighting system that matches the needs of your tank. Again we would recommend talking to the aquarist you are getting your fish and plants from! If you have any questions, you can always reach out to us 🙃 Just be careful because too much light is never a good thing for your tank!

4. Carefully selecting the components of your aquarium ecosystem. 

    • Different types of fish, plants, and crustaceans have different requirements for healthy living. Of course you wouldn’t put a tropical fish with a coldwater species because there wouldn’t be a way to keep the climate ideal for both of them. This may seem like common sense, but we’ve seen many newbies to aquascaping try to just combine what they think is cool, only to have the system fail soon after development. Our best recommendation would be to find a great local store or online marketplace that has the knowledge you need to pick the right fish and plants for your aquarium. is a great resource if you are new to freshwater aquariums! 
5. Putting it all together

Finally, the time has come to put it all together!! Once you have your tank's biological system operating to your liking, it's time to acclimate your fish and plants. We recommend adding the plants first and giving it about a week before adding your fish. This will give you a little bit more time to make sure your tank is operating how it should be! 

Now you are ready to sit back and enjoy your aquarium. Just remember to keep monitoring your tank levels, do water changes when needed, and add your fish food and plant fertilizers! 

If you want to make your life even easier! We recommend throwing a dosage of our Algae Control into your tank after every water change and when you add your fertilizers! 

We hope you found this post helpful! Stay tuned for our next post that dives deeper into the nitrogen cycle, and maintaining healthy levels in your tank!


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