When you receive a new saltwater animal you don’t want to just dump it into its new home. You want to give it time to get used to any water parameters that may be different from the water in the bag and the water in the tank.The basic idea of acclimation is that you slowly adjust the water in the shipping bag of the animal until it matches the water chemistry of your tank giving the new animal time to adapt to the new water chemistry before release into its new home. Makes complete sense, however, some ‘old aquarists tales’ have entrenched themselves in the e literature and subconscious of aquarists and I think that these ideas are at best a waste of time and at worse detrimental to the health of the animal. Below, I hope to outline reasonable acclimation procedures and present reasons why some of the ‘acclimation myths’ should be abandoned.There are many ways to go about acclimating new animals to your aquarium. Here is my rundown on the basics for a new animal that looks healthy in a bag of relatively clear water.
- Float the shipping bag in the new aquarium or sump to get the water in the bag to match the temperature of the tank (if the new animal is a fish or coral please use a quaranteen system to avoid introducing parasites to the show tank, but for cephs and other inverts this seems not to be an issue). . This should take no more than 10 or 15 minutes.
- Remove the bag from the tank and either decant the animal into a bucket (making sure to put something under one side of the bucket to tilt the bucket so the water is deep enough to keep the animal comfortable) or open the bag and clip it to the side of the inside of the bucket. If decanting you will be doing the acclimation in the bucket, if clipping you will be doing the acclimation in the bag. Either way, the goal is to make sure none of the bag water makes it into your tank because it could be ‘infected’ with parasites, but more probably its nasty from having an animal sit in it for 24+ hours.
- Begin adding tank water to the bag or bucket. This can be accomplished with a cup, or you can siphon water from the tank with an airline hose equipped with a valve or tied in a couple of knots to control the speed at which water is added. General rates of tank water addition are 1/2 cup every 3-5 minutes, or if dripping, 1-3 drops per second. If using a clipped bag you are looking to have extra water overflow into the bucket over time. This process should take 30 minutes to an hour, then move the animal to its new tank.
It should be glaringly obvious that there was no water testing mentioned in the above procedure. This is because, really, once you receive the animal you’ll have to do something with it regardless of the availability of water testing and the above procedure is pretty comprehensive. That doesn’t mean they can’t be useful. Mostly, we are concerned with salinity, pH and temperature so testing those parameters to determine when the tank water and the water the animal is in match can reduce the acclimation time. You don’t want to adjust any of these paramaters too quickly, but you also don’t want to dawdle. It seems that there isn’t much to be done about most other parameters, so testing doesn’t seem necessary except for the ones mentioned above if possible.The other parameter we care a lot about is ammonia, and it is important to note that it is linked with pH. Ammonia can be lethal to the animals, but its toxicity can be depressed by low pH. Over time in a closed shipping bag the pH of the water lowers which is great because the ammonia generated by the biological processes going on in the bag is rendered less toxic than it otherwise might be. However, once you open the bag and let fresh air in, the pH begins to rise and the ammonia becomes more toxic. This is why I suggest temperature acclimating while the bag is still sealed.If the water is nasty when the shipment arrives, if you test and find that ammonia is high, I would ignore most if not all of the acclimation procedure and get the animal out of the toxic soup immediately. Sure the other parameters may be off, but you have to get the animal out of the toxic water. Its a risk, but I feel its one worth talking because you know the bad water in the bag is killing the animal.All of the above can, of course, be modified based on your saltwater common sense and experience. You have to trust you, and no recipe can replace your developed saltwater thumb.The mythsThe biggest persistent myth I see is ‘the longer the acclimation the better’ which has resulted in people going through the procedure for 2-8 hours (in at least once case – over night!). The idea that the animals we are dealing with are fragile is true to some extent, but they are also pretty robust within reason and can deal with reasonable changes in environment. A super long acclimation just isn’t necessary and can be detrimental – ammonia levels can rise, temperature in the acclimating vessel can drop, and the animal can be stressed. Longer is not necessarily better, so either test to make decisions or be reasonable.The other myth I see happening with some frequency is bubbling air into the shipping bag. Sure it seems to make sense – the animal has been in a bag for a long time and the oxygen must be depleted so give it some. However, as we have seen above, this is the exact opposite of what you want to do because the fresh air will increase the pH of the water and will raise the toxicity of any ammonia that surely is in the water.I hope this is helpful, and as always, please let me know if anything is missing or if there are any questions.Finally, here is a link to one of my favorite online vendors acclimation instructions.http://www.liveaquaria.com/PIC/article.cfm?aid=157