March 24, 2008

Go Fish: Aquariums Can Teach Children Responsibility

By Karen Shade, Tulsa World, Okla.

Mar. 24--She doesn't know it yet, but Alaina Molinar is about to learn a hard lesson. With the recent passing of Bubbles, her pet goldfish, she wants to set up a new aquarium.

But there's a trade-off.

"When she starts cleaning her room a little bit," her father, John Molinar, will think about getting his 9-year-old daughter a larger fish tank to keep on her own.

Dropping into one of his favorite local fish stores, Molinar was with Alaina and 4-year-old Aven to buy supplies for the family's larger saltwater aquarium. He's been into the hobby "since I was their age," he said.

"I've done it forever. I've always enjoyed it, and I think it's important to get them to understand a lot about responsibility ... and learn the importance of taking care of an animal," he said.

The children, wide-eyed at all of the eye-level creatures in the store's well-maintained displays, can't get enough.

"It's just really about developing responsibility, like cleaning your fish tank out," Molinar said. "It also helps them understand the value in life of caring for a living creature."

When it comes to setting up a tank for

a child, there are many factors to consider, said Scott Kosciolek, owner of Premier Aquatics, 6125-K S. Sheridan Road.

In addition to making sure the child is old enough to handle the responsibility of caring for a mini-ecosystem and genuinely interested in the hobby, it takes patience, Kosciolek said.

"It's not a hobby for the impatient. If you don't have patience, you will fail," he said.


The kind of fish you keep will determine the kind of tank you need to establish.

Fish generally are classified into three groups. Community fish easily cohabit and consist of live-bearers such as platies, mollies and guppies. Tetras, which come in a wide variety, are also a good choice, said Melissa Corn, general manager of Pet Stop pet store, 12701 E. 86th Place North in Owasso.

Semi-aggressive fish include feisty tiger barbs and angelfish and iridescent sharks (a type of catfish), which can g row large enough to eat smaller fish.

Aggressive fish include vividly colored African cichlids, but they require live bait.

Aquatic frogs and varieties of shellfish such as shrimp and crabs also have special considerations when it comes to stocking the tank. Crayfish could end up eating smaller fish or be swallowed up by a hungry catfish.

The general rule is that you should have one inch of fish per one gallon of water, Kosciolek said, and people should consider that some fish will grow much larger than they expect. More than a few new hobbyists have been surprised by the algae-eating plecostomus' growth spurt.

While 10-gallon tanks are widely available, Corn said, she commonly sees newcomers to the hobby opt for 20 to 55 gallon tanks.


After deciding on the kinds of fish to keep, the tank environment must be prepared. Chlorine added to tap water to keep humans safe can kill fish. Pet and fish stores sell chemicals to remove the chlorine from tap water as well as adjust pH levels, Kosciolek said.

Because Tulsa's tap water is hard, it has a higher pH. He suggests beginners keep fish better adapted to hard water.

Beneficial bacteria, also sold at stores, should be added to create an environment that will break down toxic chemicals released from fish waste and any unconsumed food.

Filtration is essential to providing oxygen for the fish, and there are many options -- from the easy "hang-on-the back" filters to more advanced canister filters that can be immersed in the tank. Replaceable filter media is also a cost consideration.

Tanks generally require a layer of gravel (or with saltwater tanks, sand) at the bottom of the tank, and decorations can do more than make the set-up look pretty. Some fish, such as small Cory catfish, like a little cover from the lights.

Lighting comes in two forms --standard fluorescent and incandescent lighting. Kosciolek recommends the fluorescent because incandescent bulbs get hot and change the water temperature, stressing fish out and leaving them susceptible to diseases, such as ick.

Heaters are necessary in most tanks to maintain a consistent temperature of about 78 degrees for most fish. It can take several days to a week to properly cycle a tank before fish should be added.


With proper filtration, lighting and biological breakdown processes in place, it's a good idea to bring water samples to a fish store to have them tested for improper levels of toxins, such as ammonia, Kosciolek said.

Periodic partial water changes are a must, and a gravel vacuum can make it easier. Algae must be kept clean of the glass, and when feeding fish, hobbyists should take care never to overfeed.

Generally, you should not feed your fish more than they can consume in about 30 seconds.

Kosciolek said you can do this several times a day.

When done right, a tank shouldn't take too much time every week to maintain, but it does take patience and responsibility, both qualities that children can learn, he said.

"I enjoy what this hobby can teach . . . it's interactive with family, educational, and it teaches kids responsibility," Kosciolek said.


Karen Shade 581-8334 [email protected]


For more

Premier Aquatics 497-1212

Pet Stop 274-7387


To see more of the Tulsa World, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to

Copyright (c) 2008, Tulsa World, Okla.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.