GUPPY GOODNESS // how fish can make you happier

This post is sponsored by BabbleBoxx.com, on behalf of Mars Fishcare & the API brand 

I remember the first time I caught some fish.

I was about 7 or 8 years old and was exploring the creek behind our house when my friends and I spotted hundreds of cute baby fish squirming in the water.

We grabbed a glass jar and scooped a bunch of them up, then I ran home, excited to show off my new friends. ‘Look at all the baby fish I caught!’ I shouted to Mum, proudly holding up the jar.

I can still recall the look of horror on her face. ‘Take them outside and tip them out NOW!’ she squealed. ‘But… my baby fish…’ I trailed off.

Turns out they weren’t baby fish – they were mosquito larvae.

A few years later I got some bog standard goldfish, which were pretty much compulsory in the 80’s – you know, the round plastic fishbowls with the coloured pebbles and the pirate’s treasure chest.

When the fish passed on to the big aquarium in the sky, I filled it with tadpoles that we’d caught in my cousin’s pond, and watched them transform into teeny frogs.

But I hadn’t been a fish mum for over 30 years when I was invited to set up a home aquarium using API products from Mars Fishcare. API is the go-to brand for all things aquatic – from water conditioners to fish food – and have been helping people create their own underwater worlds for nearly 60 years.

I’ll be honest, I’d never have considered getting fish if the girls hadn’t been harassing me for a puppy. I figured that, out of the two, fish were the easier option.

Except for cleaning the tank; that was the job I absolutely dreaded as a kid: transferring the fish, emptying the water, cleaning out the tank, filling it again, conditioning the water, letting the fish acclimatise, tipping them back in… such a rigmarole!

But the girls were getting older and I thought it would be good for them to have responsibility for something. Plus, I’d read that keeping fish was actually beneficial to your mental health (and who couldn’t do with a mood boost at the moment, right?).

IMPROVING MENTAL HEALTH WITH AN AQUARIUM

A 2015 study carried out by researchers from the National Marine Aquarium, and the Universities of Plymouth and Exeter, found that when participants were set the task of simply watching aquariums filled with fish, they all recorded a drop in their blood pressure and heart rate, and increase in their feeling of wellbeing.

Even more interestingly, the greater the number of fish in the tank, the more dramatically their mood improved (it’s no coincidence doctors’ surgeries and dental clinics have tanks in their waiting rooms!).

So encouraging were the results, psychologists now believe aquariums can provide an oasis of calm, and could be a fun and affordable way to reduce stress and increase general wellbeing, particularly for people living in cities who don’t have easy access to nature.

Not seeing any downsides yet…

A few days later a very large box arrived. Opening it up, the girls and I were excited it packed full of fishy goodies. Inside was an Aquael Leddy 60 litre aquarium with a built-in day/night light, Aquael ASAP 300 water filter and an Aquael Platinum water heater. Also included were all the preparation products needed to set up our own underwater oasis.

Now I officially had all the gear but no idea… and that’s where Gary Jones stepped in. Gary is the Research and Development Manager for Mars Fishcare, and a self-titled ‘fish nerd’.

Luckily for me, Gary offered to pass on some of his endless knowledge and held a Zoom tutorial for me and a handful of other lucky bloggers, to explain how to set up the aquarium, including how to add the API products and why each one was necessary, such as:

• API STRESS COAT® – a conditioner that removes the damaging chemicals from tap water, making it safe and soothing for your fishy friends.

• API QUICK START® – this clever additive introduces bacteria to your tank that convert damaging ammonia into harmless nitrates.

• API STRESS ZYME® – one teaspoon of this contains 300 MILLION live bacteria which just love to gobble up sludge, and help keep your aquarium clean and your water quality high. Which means happier fish and less cleaning – woo hoo!

• API ACCU CLEAR® – this clarifier cleans up cloudy water, so you can enjoy a crystal-clear view of your fish.

• API AQUARIUM SALT® – it may seem weird to add salt to a freshwater tank, but this replenishes fishy electrolytes (just like a Powerade after the gym!) and improves their gill function, so they can breathe more easily.

Improving Mental Health with an Aquarium - main shot

Gary was a veritable font of fish knowledge, explaining that children who grow up with fish tanks don’t just benefit from the calming effects and the extra responsibility, then often see benefits at school too.

This is because they’re using science (learning about biology, nitrifying bacteria, etc) and maths (measuring water levels, working out how much food to give and how much water conditioner to add), in a fun way, and picking up informations as they go.

He told us how certain fish cohabit well together, and others, not so much. So it’s important to pick your breeds carefully.

Personally, I was thrilled to learn the days of emptying and cleaning out the entire fish tank have long gone! Instead, Gary recommended using a siphon hose every two weeks to clean the gravel and remove just 15-20 percent of the water. Once you’ve finished ‘vaccuming’ you simply replace the water, then top up the additives accordingly.

By cleaning regularly (every two weeks or so), not overfeeding and using additives like ACCU CLEAN® when necessary, your tank should stay clean and your water crystal clear.

Armed with all my new knowledge, I filled the fish tank the next day, using a mix of tap water and deionised water I’d ordered from Amazon. The reason for this is I live in a hard water area, and when I tested the water chemistry (the levels of mineral and chemicals) of the plain tap water, some were too high. Deionised water has the minerals removed, so mixing it into the tap water helps to soften it and make it healthier for the fish.

Next, I added all the products Gary had mentioned (the amounts are all listed on the back of the packets) to create the perfect watery environment for the fish.

Also on his advice, I ordered some black aquarium gravel and some live aquatic plants to decorate the tank (some Java ferns and Anubias Barteri, if you’re wondering). Not only did it add some colour and interest to the tank, the foliage would give the fish somewhere to hide away when they weren’t feeling sociable.

The tank was primed and looking fine, we were just missing one thing – the fish.

We decided we would go for either guppies or mollies, as Gary said both do well in hard water. But when we got there it was an easy decision, as we all fell in love with the male guppies, with their bright colours and fan-shaped tails.

Gary had told us that fish are more likely to swim around and socialise when they’re surrounded by friends, so we ended up taking home 16 guppies.

After letting the acclimatise by sitting the plastic bag in the tank for 15 minutes, we released them into their new home.

The girls have loved our new additions. The other day I caught my eldest lying in front of it, just starting into the tank. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked. ‘It’s soooooo relaxing, watching the fish swimming around,’ she replied. ‘I can’t stop looking at them.’

By the way, remember me saying I agreed to the fish to distract the girls from getting a dog? Well, we got the fish sorted, and then THIS happened…

Meet Frankie, the miniature dachshund.

So, somehow, we’ve gone from a no-pet household to a 17-pet household (16 separate pet fish – yes, they all count!) in just over a week, and you know what?

We couldn’t be happier.

• thank you to Gary and API Fishcare for our aquarium and products, and all the advice on setting up our freshwater tank.

If you enjoyed ‘Improving Mental Health with an Aquarium’, next read: ‘To Bee or Not to Bee – creating a safe space for our buzzy friends

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