SIOUX CITY | Aquariums conjure up images of exotic fish and plant life. However, as some aquarium owners quickly find out, if proper maintenance is neglected, that tank can become a cloudy, algae-filled nightmare. Greg Newell of Sioux City, has seen it all firsthand.

Newell has been in business for more than 30 years, taking care of large aquariums for local businesses or people who don’t have the time. He tends between 15 and 18 tanks per month, and his clients include daycares, doctors' offices and restaurants.

Newell also has two freshwater tanks of his own, a 36-gallon that houses primarily cory catfish and a 75-gallon containing different species of bottom feeders and algae eaters. Between his two tanks, he estimates that he has approximately 120 fish.

Having so many fish in his care, Newell has learned the methods of prevention and solutions to the most common aquarium problems from start-up to maintenance.

A common mistake that new aquarium owners make is purchasing expensive fish right away.

“Even though you might want some exotic kind of fish, start with some cheap fish to put bacteria in the water. As they die off, replace them with more expensive fish.”

According to Newell, an aquarium should be fully set up and running for at least three to five days prior to adding any fish in order for beneficial bacteria to establish. Adding a bit of water from an already established tank can help speed the process.

Shopping for aquarium décor is an exciting part of starting a new tank. Newell cautions against unnatural decorations.

“Fish like natural décor because that’s how it is in the wild. Treasure chests with the bubbles coming through them look nice at first, but then they get covered in algae and don’t look so good anymore.”

His recommendation?

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“Driftwood is great for tanks. Mopani is the best because it doesn’t rot and it’s heavy and solid.”

Algae, the “a-word” for fish tank enthusiasts, can quickly turn a beautiful tank into a black-and-green mess.

“Light and water make algae,” said Newell. “People think that because they have a light on their tank they need to use it. I only keep my light on for about three to four hours a day. Fish don’t need all that light.”

If a tank is full of algae, the worst thing a person can do, according to Newell, is completely drain the tank and clean the gravel and ornaments.

“People will say to me, ‘My water was dirty so I emptied my tank and cleaned everything, then all my fish died.’ You can’t take all the water out of a tank. There are necessary bacteria in the water and in the gravel. You don’t drain a lake.”

Chemicals are also often unnecessary and sometimes damaging to the aquarium ecosystem.

“You don’t need a bunch of chemicals. It’s not natural. Let Mother Nature take care of it.”

According to Newell, basic freshwater maintenance can be as simple as emptying the one-third of the tank once per month and refilling it with fresh water, wiping algae off the sides and occasionally adding some non-iodized salt to help keep fish healthy.

Newell stressed the importance of truly wanting an aquarium and all the work that goes with it as opposed to getting an aquarium because it is visually appealing.

“You have to invest a lot of money, and it takes a lot of time. If you aren’t prepared for that, then I don’t recommend getting one.”

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