In 1997 the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory studied the energy consumption of aquariums. A small, 10 gallon (38 L) freshwater tank used between 90 and 120 kilowatt hours a year to operate its lights, filters, and aerators—the equivalent of a typical coffeemaker. A bigger, 55 gallon (200 L) freshwater tank uses between 280 and 400 kilowatt hours—or a freezer chest’s worth of energy.

That’s just for fish. Add plants, and energy use increases up to 50 percent because plants require more lighting.

Lighting makes up only part of the energy cost. Aquariums, particularly saltwater ones, require extra equipment such as pumps, heaters, chillers, and power heads that can double their energy usage.

Tips for selecting equipment

  • Think small when it comes to aquarium size. Choose a tank size that fits the number of full-grown fish you want, but don’t go overboard.
  • Use fluorescent, LED, T5, and plasma lamps to reduce energy consumption by about 25 percent.
  • Buy energy-efficient equipment and keep it in good condition. Poorly maintained equipment and clogged filters use more energy.

Tips for buying fish

  • Choose varieties of fish that are compatible and that also match your type of aquarium. Don’t overstock.
  • Don’t buy threatened and endangered species. Check the Reef Protection International’s Reef Fish Guide (ReefProtect.org) for information on species’ survivability, abundance, and availability.
  • Learn the natural colours of tropical fish to avoid buying unnatural dyed or painted ones.
  • Use only reputable sources and buy species that have been captured using hand nets and humanely transported. Many fish die during transportation because of long flights, poor handling, stale water, and improper packing methods.
  • Shop at stores that acclimatize fish to their new habitat before selling them. Skipping this step increases mortality rates.
  • Contact local hobby groups to see if anyone has home-bred fish to buy or trade.

Coral alternatives

Coral, also called live rock, is increasingly used in saltwater tanks because it cleans the water, provides a habitat for some species, and looks beautiful. Unfortunately, worldwide demand by aquarists may be destroying the dwindling coral reefs. Several countries, including the United States and Japan, have banned coral harvesting from their waters, putting more pressure on other reefs.

Conservationists want to ban trade in coral because it destroys marine life habitats and undermines the reef structure. Since as much as 60 percent of harvested coral is rejected by buyers, it also creates huge amounts of waste.

Instead of buying live coral:

  • Buy farmed coral that is grown in tanks.
  • Buy cultivated rock, which is produced by suspending pumice pellets over existing reefs until the pellets are covered with algae, like real coral.

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