Most of us invest a lot into our aquarium systems. Some of us invest a whole lot. The best
means of protecting your growing livestock collection (i.e. investment) is a rigorously maintained
and monitored system of quarantine. But we all already know that, right?
A quarantine (QT) tank is that one thing we should have. And easily could have… Yet we
somehow never find the time or space. We could definitely think of things that would be more
fun to do with our money…
Yes, a properly set up quarantine tank will cost plenty of time, space and money. And it will not
be particularly exciting to operate it. In fact, most of the time, it might not even have anything of
note in it. Yet, it can pay for itself in a single instance.
Imagine the first time you bring home that little wrasse for your reef aquarium. It looked so
healthy, had been at the shop for a while, was eating so well… and it’s a such a great store.
You hardly ever see sick fish there.
But, a few days after bringing your new acquisition home and putting it in quarantine, you notice
a few small dots on the fins. Marine ich! Shouldn’t be a surprise, since so many aquarium fish
are exposed to it as they move along the supply chain.
The first thing you’ll do is high-five yourself for having the wisdom of using a quarantine system
instead of just dumping the animal straight into your large and mature reef tank. You might not
have even seen the parasite so soon if the fish had not been in QT where it was so much easier
to look at closely. Now you can jump on treatment immediately!
Because this requires a medication that is not safe with corals, you are lucky enough just to
have a QT tank ready and on hand to use. But you can breathe an extra big sigh of relief
because you won’t have to somehow net that two-inch wrasse from a huge tank full of live rock.
By putting your new fish straight into QT, you avoided an enormous amount of stress for both
yourself and the animal. Oh, and let’s remember also that because you did not expose the sick
specimen to healthy specimens, you only need to treat this fish instead of all the fish in that
tank. Lastly, being as the quarantine tank is a tenth of the volume of the main tank, you do not
need to purchase nearly as much medication.
Your quarantine system doesn’t seem so much like an “extra” or a frivolous luxury right now,
Making quarantine work
The first question one might ask is, when is the best time to set up a quarantine system? The
answer is simple: Right away! It will need to be ready and cycled sooner than the main tank
(everything is going into QT first, right?). Your quarantine might be up and running–and holding
livestock–before you even haul the main tank home! We know what you’re thinking: Nobody, as
in nobody ever, buys a quarantine set-up before buying their first display tank. Just doesn’t
happen in the real world.
Fair enough. But just consider this before embarking on your next aquarium project, even if it’s
just a modest one. It is a plain fact that there are lots of aquarium diseases out there. There is
always one just lurking around the corner. Some of these are quite devastating. These
pathogens do not care how much you spent on that fish. They couldn’t care less about how long
you’ve been patiently growing that mother colony.
For sure, the best way to deal with these maladies is to avoid them altogether. Here, the old
saying that “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure” holds so very true. It is never
too soon to build and establish a quarantine system!
In fact, the best thing to do is set up two systems, particularly if you plan to build a large, well-
stocked reef aquarium. In this way you can evaluate (and treat, if necessary) your fish and
The quarantine tank does not have to be massive. It does, however, need to be big enough to
comfortably house each animal physically as well as remain stable chemically. It could definitely
be said that QT tanks are frequently undersized. But the real issue is usually with quality. The QT
is a place to rest and heal. If it is dirty, weakly aerated and of poor water quality, then what’s the
point? Yes, the QT tank should be roomy, but even more importantly, it should have excellent
water quality always.
On the other hand, a quarantine system should be sparsely “decorated.” This often means no
sand or rock. Simple, inert, easily removed/easily cleaned objects like PVC pipe or flower pots
are instead provided as hiding places. An egg crate rack works best for situating sessile
creatures such as corals or tube worms. This ensures that the system is always easy to
maintain and the inhabitants are always easy to observe.
One other consideration is proximity to the main system. The further the QT is from your display
tank, the less likely it is that a drip or splash will result in contamination. While it may indeed be
most convenient to keep all the tanks together (in a dedicated fish room, for example), keeping
your QT in the same general area just increases the risk of salt spray reaching the other tank, a
fish net going into the wrong tank, etc.
When a quarantine system is properly set up and maintained, there is never a rush to move
animals into the main system. The QT has excellent filtration, lighting, circulation, etc. and can
house the specimens indefinitely.
Think of the entire quarantine process as peace of mind rather than a pain in the butt. Caring for
your quarantine tank might not be the most fun part of aquarium keeping. But the first time you
discover a disease in QT–rather than in the display tank–you’ll be quite glad you went through