Old Tank Syndrome – What Does That Mean?

For once this is not a mistake of a beginner aquarist. This time it is the aquarist who has been ‘at it’ for a good while. A time period cannot be placed on the problem or its likely occurrence. It could appear after months or a couple of years. More likely it will be longer than that.

At the other end, ‘New Tank Syndrome’ is a beginner’s mistake. The aquarium of whatever type was set up and the novice, itching with impatience, started to stock too early. Perhaps the bio-filtration was matured reasonably, but then stocking was too rapid and problems, or even disaster struck.

If the beginner sets the aquarium up well, shows patience with stocking and stocks suitable livestock it is likely that all will be well. At this stage the aquarist is as keen as mustard, doing seawater changes, parameter tests and all the other maintenance tasks religiously. The aquarium reflects this with healthy fish displaying beautiful colours and corals well extended and growing. The months and perhaps years pass by.

Because everything is maintained well and stocking was properly done, the livestock remain healthy. No unwanted arrivals appear, such as hair algae and the like.

The aquarium is always the same. Same inhabitants. Same routine maintenance jobs. There is a danger that ‘routine’ becomes ‘boredom.’ No excitement from the purchase of a new fish. No watching corals develop, they have, and all that happens is that they are ‘fragged’ (cut) from time to time.

Very slowly during maintenance corners start to be cut. The intakes for powerheads and canister filters etc are not cleaned so regularly. The odd seawater change is missed and these ‘misses‘ increase. The protein skimmer doesn’t get cleaned – the aquarist is a ‘bit busy’, it could get cleaned tomorrow.

The outflow from tube delivered seawater reduces, there is a slow build up of calcareous deposits within the tube.

In the aquarium, corals grow larger and interfere with the seawater flow patterns causing some corals to lose flow. Similarly, the growth overshadows lower corals.

Lighting bulbs or tubes are not changed on time as they look bright enough, maybe the aquarist will do them eventually, but in the meantime the colour spectrum shifts and light output reduces because of age.

The aquarist, who is not as keen by any means as in the beginning, becomes despondent as problems are appearing in the aquarium. Smear algae here and there, corals that are not extending as before, corals lower down that do not open up, fish that are less lively and colourful than they used to be. There are two ways at this stage that the aquarist can go.

First, no longer enthusiastic as earlier, and unhappy with the aquarium which is now viewed as a chore, the aquarist could give up. Sell the system as a whole or in parts. For the sake of the livestock this is probably the best option in such a case.

Or, hopefully, the aquarist will be jerked awake! What’s going on? What’s the matter with the system, it was fine before? Then a seawater change will be done, parameters checked, corals cut, detritus and algae removed. Light bulbs or tubes will be obtained. The fight back has begun, and it will be won. All that was needed was ongoing maintenance and some discipline on occasion.

It is easy to let things slip.

So ’Old Tank Syndrome’ is, as the name implies, the opposite of the ’New’ version. It is caused by cutting corners and an increasing lack of attention by the aquarist. Easily remedied, the aquarium can be brought back to its former splendour.

  1. hey man, good post. i think we’ve all experienced this from time-to-time. been a bit since i visited simply cuz i’ve been busy but the output of good content continues! keep up the good work! by the way, would you be interested in writing any articles for us? we have a couple of articles we’d like to do, not sure if you’d be interested … one on reef chemistry and one on UV sterilization. if you’re interested, hit me back.

    jeffry r. johnstons last blog post..Biologist: Post-‘Nemo’ Demand Threatens Clownfish

  2. Hi Jeffry,

    Good to hear from you again.

    Don’t worry about now visiting for a while. Appreciate you are busy running such a huge place as Marine Depot!

    Just make sure you don’t do it again – lol

    Thanks for the comments in relation to the articles. I have to admit that personally I have been a bit lapse on articles as of late as I have been updating a lot of the back end of the site but John has been awesone and has been sending posts day after day.

    We would be interested in writing some articles for you. Which element of reef chemistry are you looking at – a certain element, all of it or a mini series. Huge subject reef chemistry as I am sure you agree and it would turn out being more of a short book than an article!

    Let me know and we will see what we can do.

    Take it easy,


  3. Hey Peter,

    It would be for the MarineDepot.com newsletter and Knowledgebase. We’re basically looking for a “How-To Guide to Reef Aquarium Chemistry” for our July 25 issue, meaning we’d need the article by the 18th of July. Subject matter would include:

    – The Salt Water Itself
    – What Chemicals Must be Supplemented
    – pH
    – What Chemicals May Detrimentally Accumulate
    – Water Changes
    – Ammonia
    – Nitrite
    – Nitrate
    – Phosphate
    – Accumulating Organics
    – Accumulating Metals
    – Hydrogen Sulfide

    You wouldn’t necessarily need to hit every subject, but it would be cool. We would want the article to link to different products on our website, such as Aquarium Additives, Supplements and Test Kits, for example. Pay rate would be $400 for a 2,000-word article. Pictures would be great, too. We’d credit you in the email and on the article’s landing page.

    jeffry r. johnstons last blog post..20" Current USA 6x18W Nova Extreme Pro T5 HO 3-10k/3-460nm Actinics

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