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Can Fish Live Without Oxygen Pump?

Like humans, fish need oxygen to survive. Therefore, you’d see oxygen pumps installed in almost every aquarium out there.

But are oxygen pumps absolutely necessary to produce the required level of oxygen for your fish?

Can your fish survive without an oxygen pump?

This guide will provide valuable insights to help answer those queries.

Can Fish Live Without an Oxygen Pump?

As pointed out by Duke University, oxygen pumps are not a requirement for fish tanks. The survival of fish is not directly related to the presence of an oxygen pump in the aquarium.

In fact, oxygen pumps don’t even directly add oxygen to the fish tank. They simply regulate water circulation to maximize water-air contact.

They increase surface agitation, so your fish have plenty of oxygen to breathe.

Since it’s practically very difficult to generate the required amount of oxygen in the tank without an oxygen tank, you should certainly get one.

Hence, your fish can live without an oxygen tank, but you will need to put in a lot of effort to maintain the oxygen levels.

Now, let’s find out why air circulation is important to establish the perfect living conditions for your fish.

Why Water Circulation is Necessary for Your Aquarium?

Water movement is one of the most critical aspects to consider when setting up an aquarium.

This is because if the tank water remains stagnant, problems such as algae growth, low oxygen levels, and poor filtration may result.

Fish don’t just breathe oxygen but also generate carbon dioxide. Water circulation ensures that the oxygen-rich water at the top of the aquarium moves to the lower parts of the tank.

This way, all the living organisms in your aquarium get the oxygen they need. On the other hand, stagnant water leads to the build-up of carbon dioxide, causing your fish to suffocate.

Moreover, the majority of tropical fish can only survive in warm temperatures. Proper water circulation helps distribute the heat generated by the heater throughout the tank.

Water that’s allowed to remain stagnant becomes subject to serious temperature fluctuations.

Fish are highly sensitive to sudden temperature changes and can easily die in a tank that’s too warm in some spots and too cold in others.

Water movement in the tank allows for leftover food, fish waste, and other organic debris to be transported to the open areas of the aquarium. This makes it easy for the mechanical filter to pick them, ensuring effective water filtration.

Without this movement, this debris can settle into small corners at the bottom of the aquarium, resulting in high algae growth.

Also, when leftover food at the bottom of the tank breaks down, it releases ammonia, which is dangerous for fish.

Apart from fish, the beneficial bacteria in your tank also require oxygen to thrive. Your aquarium needs beneficial bacteria because they break down toxins that are harmful to your fish.

Stagnant water means the aquarium is low in oxygen, causing the bacteria to die. When that happens, the tank water may become highly toxic.

In the case of saltwater aquariums, invertebrates and corals require current around them to fetch food and oxygen since they can’t swim or move around in the aquarium.

Stagnant water with low oxygen deprives them of both oxygen and nutrients, causing them to die.

Besides, the currents produced by water circulation also allows for a regular fish workout.

Since your fish is confined to the boundaries, they don’t get to swim a lot. Swimming against the currents provides your fish with the exercise they need in the relative confines of a fish tank.

Hence, you really need to focus on ensuring the correct flow rate in your aquarium. The amount of water in the aquarium helps determine the ideal flow rate.

Take the gallons of water in the tank and multiply it by four. For instance, for a 40-gallon tank, 160 gallons of water needs to be turned every hour. This means that the tank requires a flow rate of 160 gallons per hour (gph).

The flow rate in your tank should also suit the type of fish you’re keeping. Carry out research on the ideal flow rate for the fish you have.

If you can find other ways to aerate or manually produce oxygen in the tank, you won’t need an oxygen tank at all.

We’ll discuss how to manually add oxygen to your aquarium, but let’s first learn why your fish may need extra oxygen and how oxygen pumps ensure that.

Signs that Your Fish Need More Oxygen

When your fish needs more oxygen, you’ll notice them gasping for air at the surface, even the ones that tend to stay in deep water.

However, insufficient oxygen is not the only reason for fish rising to the surface to breathe.

The fish will behave in a similar manner if the tank’s ammonia levels reach too high. To determine the correct reason, conduct an ammonia test.

If the results indicate high ammonia levels, immediately change 40% to 50% of the tank water. If ammonia levels aren’t a problem, your tank lacks oxygen.

Other indications that your fish needs more oxygen include your fish resting for longer periods than usual. It implies that your fish aren’t getting the amount of oxygen required to stay active.

Also, keep a close eye on their gills. If they appear to be moving faster than usual, your fish need more oxygen.

How Do Oxygen Pumps Work?

An oxygen pump is a device that adds air to fish tanks to create water movement, just as you see in rivers streams. It uses an electromagnet that vibrates a rubber diaphragm to move air.

This mechanical process pumps outside air into the tank outlets in the aquarium. The outlets might be hidden in air stone devices or ornamental items that open up to let bubbles out.

The bubbles generated by the outlets not only aerate the aquarium but also create water movements in the tank. More surface movement means that the tank water has more contact with the outside air, allowing more oxygen to enter the aquarium.

However, the water movement also produces an unsettling, purring sound. Yet, it creates a perfect environment for fish that love flowing water, and the bubbles create an elegant aquarium ambiance.

It’s not that you have to endure that annoying sound produced by the oxygen pumps’ operating mechanisms. High-quality oxygen pumps offered by top companies won’t produce any sound at all.

If you only afford the noisy one, you should still be able to dampen the sound by placing a sponge under the oxygen pump.

However, the sound will be audible again once the sponge hardens. For the best performance, you’ll need to replace the pump every 6 months.

Another important consideration pertaining to oxygen pumps is its size.

Note that the tank-size rating that you see on an oxygen pump only holds valid if you want to use it for operating an under-gravel filter in a standard size tank. The rating becomes irrelevant if you don’t wish to use it to run a submersible filter.

What you should ideally do to determine the pump size is to anticipate the level of resistance from items your pump will push the air through.

The greater the resistance, the bigger the pump should be. For an aquarium that’s more than 20 inches deep, a simple oxygen pump won’t do. You’ll need a special deep-water oxygen pump in this case.

To stay on the safe side, consider getting an oxygen pump that’s a little larger than what you estimated.

This should not only help in case you underestimated your tank needs but also leave some room for expansion should you plan to switch to a larger aquarium.

How to Oxygenate Your Tank Manually

If you don’t wish to invest in an oxygen pump, you may want to oxygenate your aquarium manually. You can do this by simply pouring water into it from some height.

While it is in the air, the water will pick up oxygen and drive it into the tank.

The amount of oxygen this procedure will add to the tank will depend on how many times you do this and how high above the tank you pour the water from.

Dip a pitcher, cup, or any other container in the aquarium water so that it’s full and scoop it out. Then, lift it to a certain height above the container and pour the water back into the aquarium. Perform the same practice multiple times.

How often you should oxygenate the tank this way depends on your aquarium needs.

Each aquarium is different, and you’ll need to decide for yourself how many times you should do this and at what intervals. When you see your fish gasping for air at the surface, go ahead and aerate the tank.

Even though you can oxygenate your tank manually, you’ll always be filled with doubts about whether the fish gets enough oxygen or not.

Plus, it’s extremely difficult to commit oneself to consistently perform the manual process at specified intervals. You may be working from home, but what happens when you feel like going on a weekend trip?

The best solution is to automate the process by installing an oxygen pump in the aquarium.

Closing Thoughts

You may have come to read this article to see if you can proceed with your aquarium hobby without an oxygen pump, but your perception should have changed by now.

Your fish won’t immediately die without an oxygen pump, but proper water circulation is crucial for the well-being of your wish.

And water circulation can best be achieved with an oxygen pump!

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