All about Power Outage in Shrimp and Fish Tanks

Power Outage in Shrimp and Fish Tanks

Fish and shrimp keeping comes with a lot of challenges and one of these is running a tank during a power outage. Not many have experienced this unpleasant situation, but it may occur someday and you need to be prepared to handle it properly.

In short, during a power outage, you need to think about oxygen, filtration, and temperature. Therefore, if you have at least a battery-powered air pump and blankets, it will allow you to safely survive a tank power outrage in most cases.

In this article, I will discuss the effects of the power outage to a fish or shrimp tank and how you can keep your animals safe until electricity returns. You will know what you can do to minimize the damage even if you do not have an emergency kit

Without further ado let’s start.

Power Outage Emergency Kit (cheap) fish and shrimp tanksPower Outage Emergency Kit (cheap) – links to Amazon:

Power Outage Emergency Kit (expensive) – links to Amazon:

1. What Happens During A Power Outage?

A power outage can happen at any time and it lasts from a few seconds/minutes to hours or even days.

Common causes of power outages include a damaged circuit, faulty transformer or power line, and natural disasters such as storms, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, cyclones, etc.

Anyway, whether you live in areas where natural disasters are prevalent or not, you should be duly prepared to safeguard the lives of your precious aquarium fish in the event of a power outage.

There are so many things that could go wrong during a power outage, and the best measure towards keeping your aquarium pets unharmed is to have an emergency power outage gear close by.

Without further ado let’s take a look at the possible dangers that a power outage can expose the fish and shrimp tank to.

1.1. Oxygen Depletion

Oxygen depletion is the number one concern for any tank.

When electricity is temporarily unavailable, it means that the equipment you have in your tank will cease to function until power is restored.

Aquarium equipment that is capable of increasing the level of dissolved oxygen in the aquarium water includes a pump/powerhead, air bubblers, wavemaker, and aquarium filter.

Now, this is a huge problem that can cost the lives of your tank inhabitants. Your aquarium fish and invertebrates need oxygen to survive, and what a power outage does is to put a halt to the supply of oxygen by several electrical aquarium equipments.

Thus, creating a situation where all animals will have to struggle to make do with the limited oxygen content in the aquarium water.

A period without a steady and significant increase in the oxygen levels puts your fish at risk of severe stress and suffocation — especially when your aquarium is overstocked.

The dormant state of the filtration unit and aeration devices means that gas exchange will be drastically reduced; excess CO2 won’t leave the aquarium water, there will be constant pH swings and your fish will suffer.

Keep in mind that in planted tanks with animals it can be even worse. Even though plants producing oxygen, when the lights are on, they also absorb oxygen during night time.

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1.2. Ammonia Spike

As we all know, any aquarium lacking a working filtration system is bound to have water quality/chemistry problems.

Fish, shrimp, snails, crayfish, and all other animals produce waste. Their poop, uneaten food, decomposing animal and plant materials are known sources of ammonia and they tend to ruin the aquarium water.

When the power goes out, ammonia may rise to high levels because the beneficial bacteria will find it difficult to breakdown ammonia further without the flow of oxygenated water.

Note: These bacteria require at least 4.5 milligrams (or 4.5 ppm) of dissolved oxygen for every milligram of nitrogen transformed.

During this period, harmful toxins accumulate in the filter, and these will be deposited into the aquarium when the power comes back on.

Long-term power outage makes it easier for ammonia to build-up in the tank, in addition to colonies of harmful bacteria and parasites which are more likely to surface later — leading to various fish infections and shrimp diseases.

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1.3. Changes in Temperature

It gets even worse as power outage also halts the operation of various electrical equipment that are responsible for controlling the temperature of the aquarium.

Such equipment includes aquarium heaters, aquarium chillers, and cooling fans.

The present weather/season, whether hot or cold, will greatly affect the temperature of the aquarium during this time.

Hence, if a power outage occurs in summer — the temperature of your tank will elevate, and on the other hand, it will drop during the winter months due to the condition of the immediate environment.

The tank’s temperature will drop/rise markedly in response to the room temperature, causing drastic fluctuations in temperature that may lead to the ill health/ demise of your aquarium fish.

As for the shrimp, sudden changes in water temperature can stress them and lead to unprepared molt, therefore, causing molting problems.

2. Solutions: Emergency Power Outage Gear

Having an emergency power outage gear will help keep your aquarium animals safe from intending harm during a power loss.

With proper planning and essential equipment at your disposal, it will be easier to handle the ill situation. Therefore, make sure to have the following necessary pieces of equipment available.

2.1. Solutions to Oxygen Depletion

Battery-powered Air Pump and USB Air Pump

Battery-powered air pump is an easy way to provide some aeration in the aquarium during a power outage.

This uses two D-cell batteries and it is ideal for aerating the tank water for up to 48 hours depending on the age and quality of your batteries.

The beauty of this device is that despite how portable and cheap it is, it can help to circumvent mishaps like stress or suffocation in aquarium fish and shrimp. Also, depleted batteries can easily be replaced with new batteries, and of course — these are cheap too.

The modern solution to this problem is to use a USB Air Pump. Instead of buying batteries, we can use Solar Power Bank with USB Port.

DIY – a siphoning method

What should you do if you do not have a battery-powered air pump or USB Air Pump?

Do not panic. It is still possible to create water movement by using a simple bucket and air tube.

  1. Fill the bucket with tank water.
  2. Put the bucket above the level of the tank.
  3. Start siphoning water from that bucket back into the tank.
  4. Water from the bucket will splash the water in the tank and create additional surface agitation. 
  5. Repeat the process once the bucket empties.

Alternative: Another way to create ample water movements is by scooping the tank water in a clean bowl and pouring it back, you can repeat this activity 5 – 6 times every hour.

DIY – a battery-powered drill method

  1. Attach something to the tip of the drill (For example, cable tie wrap, airline tube, etc.).
  2. Put the drill on top of your aquarium so that only the tip of the drill is above the water. Secure the drill, make sure it will not fall into the tank.
  3. Use the slowest speed and turn it on.
  4. The drill starts spinning, therefore, agitating the surface of your tank.

2.2. Solutions to Ammonia Spikes

Ammonia Removals

Zeolite is used to remove toxic ammonia from the tank. Whenever there is a long-term blackout or ammonia spike is definitely a good time to put the product to work.

These little crystals can be spread on the substrate or placed in a mesh bag, and in turn, it will eliminate ammonia gradually from your aquarium till there is no single trace left.

Water conditioner or pollutant binder

If you do not have Zeolite you can still use pollutant binders that can neutralize ammonia for a day or two.

During this period such products bind ammonia and convert it into a safe, non-toxic form that is readily removed by the tank’s biofilter.
Remember: this is a temporary solution! In 24-48 hours ammonia will become toxic again. Of course, you can re-dose every 48 hours as necessary but be careful with overdosing. 

For example, a standard dose of Seachem Prime (link to check the price on Amazon) neutralizes 1 ppm of ammonia for 24-48 hours.

The trick with Battery-powered Air Pump and USB Air Pump

  1. Take filter media from your canister or hang on the back filter and put it into the tank.
  2. Place airline tube beneath it.           

By doing so we will keep beneficial bacteria alive and even filter our water to some degree!

With sponge filters, it is even better as we can connect them to the battery air pumps.

2.3. Solutions to Temperature Fluctuations

Heat Packs

Your aquarium will start losing heat when there is a power outage, thereby causing a significant drop in temperature. Anyway, you can increase the temperature of your aquarium during this period by taping heat packs on the sides of your aquarium.

Simply take a heat pack, shake to activate it, then tape it to your tank. This will transfer heat to your tank — keeping it warm enough to preserve the lives of your animals.

One is enough for a 20 or 30 gallon (80 – 120 liters) aquarium, add two more for larger aquariums. Pair these with thermal blankets and a large percentage of the heat produced will be retained, hence minimizing heat loss.

Blankets and Thermal Blankets

The function of the blankets is to retain heat for extended periods.

Thermal blankets are made from Mylar. Just wrap it around your aquarium to retain the present warmth until power is restored, then you can return to running your aquarium heater.

Make sure to wrap all corners, in addition to the top of your aquarium.

Important: While at it, DO NOT cover the top of the tank, allow a little opening for air flow. Otherwise, you can suffocate all animals in the tank.

Water Bottles

If you do not have thermals blankets or heat packs, you can still use hot or cold tap water (frozen water or ice cubes). Fill bottles with hot or cold water and put them in the aquarium. It will reduce or elevate temperature in the aquarium.

Of course, it is not a perfect solution and may cause some problems, but in emergency situations, it is better than nothing.

Therefore, always keep an eye on your temperature because you don’t want the tank temperature to drop too fast.

Important: NEVER pure hot or cold water directly into the tank. This can kill your fish and shrimp.

2.4. Energy Sources

Uninterruptible Power Supply

Uninterruptible power supply (UPS) offers an immediate fix to short-term, recurring power outages.

A UPS can power your aquarium equipment for a short period of time — usually for an hour or slightly more. And if the power outage lingers on, you can switch to a generator or inverter to enjoy longer power durations.

This device works in a special way. It automatically powers the connected equipment when there is a power cut, trips off once the backup power is exhausted, and starts to recharge once the power comes back on.

If you want to power a variety of aquarium equipment within that short period, then go for a UPS with a large size/ rating.

Note: Turn off heaters and lighting to increase the work of UPS. Keep in mind that anything that produces heat requires a large amount of energy because it takes a lot of power to convert that energy into heat. As for the lighting, your fish and, especially, shrimp will be absolutely fine without it.

Generators

This is one of the best and most effective ways of powering the aquarium equipment when power is cut off.

Essentially, this is a unit that runs on gas, and what it does is convert mechanical energy into electrical energy. A generator allows you to run your aquarium equipment as long as there is enough gas in its tank, hence the best option for a long-term power cut.

The equipment is meant to be mounted outside the house due to the loud noise it produces, so you may need to opt for brands with very low noise.

Another demerit of using a generator is the carbon it emits, yet again, this emphasizes the importance of keeping it outside the house, preferably in a small sheltered area with enough ventilation.

The main downside of this solution is that generators are very expensive for an average enthusiast with one or two tanks.

Inverters

This device enables the generation of alternative power.

An inverter converts Direct current to Alternating current, therefore, you can make use of a deep cycle battery to generate power for your aquarium equipment.

An inverter is highly beneficial just like the generator, and it can support connection for multiple aquarium equipment, although this depends on the size of the battery.

3. How to Prepare Your Aquarium for a Power Outage

If you are anticipating a scheduled power outage, instead of panicking — acquire and keep your emergency gear nearby. Afterward, take these necessary actions before the blackout occurs.

3.1 Test the Emergency Power Outage Gear

Testing the gear before an actual blackout is crucial. The test will help you spot defects in the equipment (if any) and you will equally learn how to use the gear to save your tank from crashing during a power outage.

Simply test the gear’s efficiency while replicating a power outage scenario, and if you discover any faulty or broken equipment, ensure to get it replaced right away. Once you are sure everything works great, get your aquarium ready.

3.2. Feeding Your Animals

In fish tanks, this is practically their last meal until power is restored. Feed them hours away from the scheduled power cut so they will have enough time to consume the food and there will be adequate time to remove any uneaten food in the tank.

If you do not have time to feed them (hours before the scheduled power cut), in this case, DO NOT feed your fish at all. The less waste is released into the water, the lower the risk of poisoning.

Most aquarium fish can go a few days without food, so it’s no biggy. If the power outage lasts for more than 3 – 4 days, then you have to feed them again but ensure to do this sparingly and lightly to reduce fish poop and prevent rapid oxygen depletion.

In shrimp tanks, Luckily, it is way easier with shrimp.

Shrimp are natural scavengers. In a matured tank with algae and biofilm, they will not starve even if you do not feed them for a week. They will find food on their own even during power outage.

3.3. Change the Tank Water

In fish tanks, before the scheduled power outage happens, make sure to replace about 30% of your fish tank water. This helps remove excess nitrates and particulate matter in the aquarium water, thus limiting the wastes in your tank just before the power outage.

Moreover, be sure to vacuum the gravel to get rid of mulm, in order to avert water quality issues during the blackout period.

In shrimp tanks, incoming power outages should not change much in your routine.

4. Important Things to Do When There Is A Power Outage

4.1. Unplug Aquarium Equipment:

On the verge of a power outage, if don’t plan to run the aquarium equipment with backup power supplied by a generator, UPS or inverter; then you should unplug and store them away pending when electricity returns.

Keep in mind that leaving the filtration unit idle for a day (or even less!) will allow the accumulated gunk in the filter media to rotten, thus making it possible for harmful toxins to flow back into the aquarium once power is restored.

Important: In addition, for some reason, many models of the hang on back filters do not restart automatically. So, if the power comes back on in the middle of the night, while you are sleeping, you can actually fry your motor.

So the best course of action is to take out the media from the filter compartment, submerge it in the tank and aerate it using a battery-powered air pump. The aim of doing this is to preserve the beneficial bacteria on the filter media.

Important: If you do not have battery-powered air pumps, and the power outage lasts for more than 10 hours, I’d recommend cleaning the filter to remove dead and rotting organic to prevent ammonia spikes before turning it on.

Also, if it is possible, DO NOT feed your fish for another day. Give your biofilter time to recover.

4.2. Oxygenate the Tank:

At this point, maintaining the level of dissolved oxygen in the aquarium water should be a priority.

The mechanical filter and aeration devices not functioning implies that there will be no water movement and consequently, less oxygen for your aquarium pets.

Ensure to create water movements using a battery-powered air pump. Connect an airstone to the pump, then place it into the aquarium to create bubbles that will agitate the water surface. Also, remember to stock new batteries for easy replacement.

Do this and your animals won’t die of suffocation during the blackout period.

4.3. Maintain Stable Temperature:

When there is a power cut, the heater will go off and as a result, the aquarium temperature will begin to drop. Now, it is also your duty to insulate the tank to avoid losing all the heat generated before the power outage.

Heat retention is possible by covering your tank with thermal blankets, towels, or old newspapers. Wrap any of these materials around the tank and leave a bit of opening at the top.

Also, keep the water temperature within the ideal range, if the water is getting cold — tape heat packs to the wall of the tank and remove them when the needed temperature range is attained.

On the contrary, float ice cubes (sealed in a zip-lock) in the water surface to drop the temperature. Test the water temperature regularly to ensure that it is within safe levels.

Don’t gamble on the lives of your aquarium pets by allowing large variations in temperature within a short period.

4.4. Perform Water Changes:

In fish tanks, if power outrage lasts more than a few days, you can start replacing about 10% of the aquarium water every two days will help to get rid of nitrates in the tank water.

In shrimp tanks, do not change anything. Shrimp do not produce a lot of bioload and the accumulation of toxins (like nitrates) should be lower compared to fish tanks.

Nonetheless, test your water parameters more frequently, just to be sure.

Apart from that, the introduction of cooler water in the aquarium creates surface agitation and boosts the oxygen level. Additionally, extend the feeding window and feed your fish sparingly to help prevent the build-up of ammonia which is lethal to their health.

In Conclusion

Ultimately, your level of preparedness will determine the fate of your aquarium during a power outage, whether scheduled or not.

While power outage is dreaded by many aquarium owners.

The situation and risks involved can be managed successfully when you have the appropriate equipment and materials on standby — all you need to do is to turn on your backup power, take the necessary actions and save the day!

Treat the situation with a sense of care and urgency; the objective is simple and straightforward — ensure the survival of your animals and keep the tank from crashing or/and cycling all over again.

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