Aquariums are wonderful additions to any home, but problems can arise from the fact that essential life functions within the aquarium are facilitated by electricity - namely, oxygen and temperature regulation. Strong winds, lightning, falling tree branches and floods can all cause unexpected power outages, and in small towns or rural areas even automobile accidents that involve power poles can plunge households into darkness as the only means of electricity has to be shut down. Here are a few tips on how to safeguard your beloved aquarium in the event of a power outage.
The most important thing to keep going in the aquarium is the oxygen exchange. Beneficial bacteria in the tank require a lot of oxygen, so once a filter and aerator stop working the dissolved oxygen depletes very quickly. Once oxygen is depleted the bacteria colonies begin dying off or becoming inactive, allowing ammonia levels to rise. Hardy strains of bacteria such as the bacillus subtilis natto strain used in EcoBio-Block will mostly become inactive, but return to actively breaking down ammonia as soon as proper oxygen levels are restored. This can happen within an hour or two of losing power, depending on stocking levels. Additionally, a lot of beneficial bacteria lives in filter media so if you have a canister filter or HOB filter that keeps the media out of the main body of water a large portion of the aquarium's bacteria may be unavailable instantly.
This is where planning ahead can be a real lifesaver...and back saver! If your power goes out and you don't have a generator, having all your aquarium equipment plugged into an uninterrupted power supply is possibly one of the best ways to keep going for short-term outages. Battery-powered aerators are available online and in many pet stores as well and can be a great asset during outages or when traveling with fish. If none of these are available, you can manually facilitate oxygen exchange by filling a pitcher from the tank (here's where the back comes in) and dumping the water back in, then repeating at regular intervals until power comes back.
Now for temperature control; in cold weather, a watertight container filled with boiling water (provided you have a gas range or access to a wood-burning stove) makes a great heater that will keep fish near it warm. In hot weather, a water-tight container or two or three ziplock baggies inside each other (to prevent leaks) with ice cubes in it will keep water near it cool enough for the fish.
If the power is out for extended periods of time you may have to watch the water parameters closely when the aquarium is functioning again as a lot of beneficial bacteria can die from oxygen deprivation, causing ammonia spikes. To control these you'll either need to do water changes every day to keep ammonia levels down until the bacteria catches up again, or you can add some new bacteria from products such as EcoBio-Stone or BioSpira. BioSpira is a bottled bacteria culture that works well, but has to be refrigerated and has a limited shelf life so it may not be the best for emergency preparation. EcoBio-Block is a water maintenance product that lasts about 1 1/2-2 years in the aquarium; this product introduces and promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria as well as keeps the water parameters healthy, which can reduce fish stress in an emergency. EcoBio-Block is a very valuable maintenance product that will keep the aquarium water healthy every day in addition to emergency uses, but it can take up to a couple of weeks to start working initially so it should already be in place to be effective in an emergency.
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