Setting Up A Fish Tank

Provide a comfortable environment for these captivating low-maintenance pets

Setting up a fish tank,

Design an aquarium full of colour to liven up your living room

They’re easy to keep and an attractive tank full of colourful fish doubles as an eye-catching design feature in a room.

According to Anthony Ramsey, manager of Auburn Aquarium and Pet Centre,  looking after fish is relatively straightforward, even for beginners. 

‘It’s important to know the requirements of your fish. Also don’t add too many at once and don’t overfeed them,’ says Anthony.

To make things even easier, all-in-one tank systems are now available that combine filtration, temperature and lighting requirements.

TIP Change a quarter of the tank’s water once a fortnight to keep it fresh.

Getting started

Create a safe and comfortable environment for fish to live in and they’ll stay happy and healthy.

Position the tank on an aquarium stand with polystyrene under it to absorb unevenness and vibrations. Find a spot away from direct sunlight to prevent excessive algae growth.

THE QUANTITY OF FISH should be based on the size of each specimen as well as the size of the tank. The total length of all the fish shouldn’t exceed the tank’s length. For a 1000mm aquarium, eight 125mm fish are ideal.

Anthony advises filling the tank with different types of fish at various layers, with a combination of bottom dwellers and surface fish. Use plants and rocks to create a natural setting.

TANK LIGHTING is not essential, but a well-lit aquarium can make brightly coloured fish look their best. Special lights are required if plants or corals are growing in the tank.

THE WATER TEMPERATURE depends on the type of fish. Cold water species, such as goldfish, flourish in 12-20°C water.

Tropical freshwater species thrive in water from 23-28°C, while tropical marine fish prefer water from 24-29°C. The temperature should not exceed 30°C.

WATER ADDITIVES may be required, and can include water agers, chlorine neutralisers and other conditioners to make tap water safe for your fish. Controlling the pH level is also important for the health of fish.

AQUARIUM FILTERS remove solid visible matter such as leftover food and waste, absorb toxins and encourage good bacteria. 

The type of filter depends on the tank size, with basic sponge filters suitable for small tanks and external filters offering useful flexibility for larger tanks.

Types of filters

Filters can be mechanical, chemical, biological or a combination of all three. Without a filter, the water in your fish tank will quickly become toxic and can kill the fish.  

SPONGE FILTERS use an external air pump connected to a sponge inside the tank with tubing. They cost from $10, and are ideal for tanks with tiny fish, as they won’t be sucked into the filter.

UNDER-GRAVEL filters, from $12, consist of slotted plates covering the tank floor, each with inbuilt uplift tubes connected via air tubing to an external pump. Gravel should be vacuumed weekly to clean out waste.

INTERNAL POWER filters, from $20, are quiet, fully submersible devices comprising a sponge filter and pump that fits inside the tank.
They are often used with an external filter in larger tanks.

HANG-ON FILTERS, from $20, sit outside the tank and are usually carbon-filled for chemical filtration.

They’re ideal for tanks under 200L.

EXTERNAL CANISTER FILTERS, from $150, provide mechanical, chemical and biological filtration. 

These filters require frequent maintenance and are recommended for large aquariums. 

Adding fish to an aquariam 

Fish should be gradually introduced to a tank over at least a month, with the largest or most aggressive added last. Float the bag in the water for 15 minutes to equalise the temperature. Slowly let in tank water, then transfer the fish with a net.


Often kept in backyard ponds and indoor tanks, these common fish are easy to care for. They will need a large tank, as they produce a lot of waste.

Goldfish, Setting Up A Fishtank, Handyman Magazine,
Goldfish are a very popular fish, featuring in fish tanks around the globe. Image: Thinkstock 


Commonly called Siamese fighting fish, bettas are colourful and easy to look after. They prefer smaller tanks, and males shouldn’t be kept together.

Siamese fighting fish, Setting Up A Fish Tank, Handyman Magazine
Do not house two males in the same tank as they will attack each other. Image: Thinkstock

Zebra Danios

Also known as zebrafish, these small tropical schooling fish are best kept in groups of five or more. They may nip at long-finned species

Zebra fish, Handyman Magazine, Setting Up A Fish Tank,
Zebra fish are best kept in groups of five or more. Image: Shutterstock 

Neon Tetras

These small tropical fish with bright stripes are very hardy and can live up to 10 years. They are active in groups but lone fish will be shy.

Neon tetras, Handyman Magazine, How to set up a fish tank,
Neon Tetras very hardy and can live up to 10 years. Image: Shutterstock 


Male guppies are brightly coloured while females are duller. These tropical fish breed quickly, so keep only male ones together to avoid overcrowding.

Guppies, Handyman Magazine, How to set up a fish tank,
Guppies breed quickly so keep only male ones together to avoid overcrowding. Image: Shutterstock


These fish vary in colour, shape and temperament, with angelfish being the most common. Some aggressive species aren’t ideal for beginners. 

Cichlids, Handyman Magazine, How to set up a fishtank
Angelfish are the most common type of Cichlid fish. Image: Thinkstock 

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