Fish tanks: How Houston-area aquarium hobbyists can recover their tanks after brutal winter storm

A male Crowntail Betta swims peacefully inside a 20 gallon aquarium tank
A male Crowntail Betta swims peacefully inside a 20 gallon aquarium tank (KPRC)

HOUSTON – Many Houstonian aquarists are finding themselves rebuilding and recovering their aquariums after the historic Texas winter storm that brought widespread power and water outages.

While many tanks have survived the freeze, others have been unlucky, which brings discouragement to aquarists who brought great care for their fish for months, if not years.

KPRC 2 spoke to Prosper DeBee, owner of Aqua Zoo on El Dorado Boulevard in Webster, where the shop had to deal with power and water issues for two days during the freeze. Thankfully, they suffered minimal losses, but the shop was unable to provide aquarium water due to a burst pipe, per its Facebook page.

“We’ve been mostly lucky, but I know many other stores around Texas have lost a lot of their livestock,” DeBee told KPRC 2.

DeBee’s customers reached out to him regarding multiple tank losses, ranging from minimal to catastrophic, as water temperatures went way below the recommended threshold of 75-80 degrees for most tropical and marine fish tanks, adding stress to fish.

What needs to be done after the storm?

Several factors go into play as many aquarists recover, such as previous water changes, the amount of fish and the home temperature during the outages.

DeBee recommends aquarists check for boil water notices if they are still in effect and perform a water change as soon as possible. If you are still under a boil water notice, hold off on the water change or purchase filtered water at a nearby aquatic store.

Your water system must be flushed before performing the change to eliminate harmful elements that can harm fish.

He also recommends to get your water tested to make sure it is optimized. Aqua Zoo, among other Houston-area aquarium and pet shops can test your water for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, chloramine and water hardness for free.

If you have been out of power for a couple days or more, DeBee recommends adding new beneficial bacteria. “Most of your bacteria will pass away, just like your fish,” he said.

How to restart your aquarium after a loss?

When it’s time to start over after a full tank loss, DeBee told KPRC 2 it’s not too late to go back but also recommends patience when re-establishing your tanks again.

Discard dead fish and plants properly. According to Fish Tank Advisor, they can be unsafe for the environment.

After cleaning out all aquarium ornaments and plants with clean water, and vacuuming out substrate (sand and rocks) with a siphon, clean out fish tank to minimize disease. DeBee recommends a 75 percent water change to keep the bacteria intact.

Before adding new fish, restart the nitrogen cycle to minimize ammonia and nitrite levels.

What can aquarists prepare for the next disaster?

DeBee recommends investing in a generator before the next power outage. However, there are a few ways to keep your fish tank stable when the power goes out.

Several members of the Greater Houston Aquarium Club on Facebook recommended a battery-powered air pump to keep your tanks oxygenated as a temporary fix.

“One way people can do is to grab a cup, dip some water and put it back in the tank. It brings some oxygen to the fish.” DeBee said.

When it comes to the cold weather, DeBee said putting a blanket over your fish tank can also keep the water warm. “Depending on how long you’ve been out of power, it is better to leave your fish alone.”


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