Another boredom-beating Covid hobby idea: your own freshwater aquarium

  • Tropical fish are an easy first pet, plus watching their movements can help you deal with stress
  • Being surrounded by nature is good for your mental health; this microcosm of a river or lake is a way to feel zen whenever you’re at home
Esther Cheung |

Latest Articles

Hong Kong’s rural cleaners struggle to find suitable protection against extreme heat

Top 10: How would you encourage someone to try a plant-based diet?

‘The Little Mermaid’ review: Disney’s live-action remake filled with awkward CGI

Even a glimpse of a watery wonderland can help you unwind.

If you’ve got the hang of plant parenting and banana bread thanks to pandemic lockdowns, and are looking for a new hobby, how about setting up your own aquarium? Watching lively tropical fish playing hide-and-seek around water plants is pretty relaxing, and the set-up is rewarding.

Here’s our guide to building and maintaining a beautiful, healthy tank.

You will need:

A glass tank (it should hold least 35 litres of water or more)

Aquarium soil

Driftwood and rocks (optional)

Filter (preferably one that hangs on the back of the tank)

Heating tube

LED lamp


Oxygen pump

Water dechlorinator

Long tweezers (optional)

Water grass (such as dwarf pearl grass)

Aquatic moss (such as peacock moss and weaping moss)

Thin string

Beginner fish (such as angelfish, molly fish, or neon tetra)

Fish food (we recommend brine shrimp)

Cleaner fish (such as cory catfish, dwarf suckers, or snails)

Aquarium water test kit

These are all available from pet shops, or online shops such as Taobao or HKTV Mall. The tank will be the biggest expense; everything else is generally affordable.

Step 1: Set up the tank and the soil

Set up the tank on a stable surface away from direct sunlight, and within easy reach of several power points.

Not sure about fish? How about funds, stocks and shares, like this 12-year-old South Korean?

Cover the bottom of the aquarium with a layer of soil, about 5cm thick. You can decorate the soil with driftwood and rocks.

Attach the filter, heating tube, LED lamp, thermometer, and oxygen pump according to the manufacturers’ instructions. Fill the tank with room temperature water, and add the dechlorinator. Wait 30 minutes before turning on the equipment. Wait 24 hours to ensure everything is working.

Step 2: Let your plants grow

Using tweezers, push the roots of the grass plants into the soil, leaving equal space between each plant. Ultimately they will grow to cover the entire floor of your tank.

5 tips to help you sleep better during the coronavirus

Peacock moss grows upwards, so place it on the soil or on the rocks, and use weeping moss on driftwood since it stretches downwards. Tie it to the driftwood using string, so it doesn’t slip off.

Once the plants show new growth, your aquarium is ready for inhabitants.

Step 3: Time to add the fish

Once your tank is thriving, you can add your beginner fish. Start with just one to three fish to make sure your aquarium can handle it.

Feed the fish once or twice a day with brine shrimp, or another food of your choice. Do not feed them more than they can finish in two minutes or less.

Why the gecko lizard is the perfect variety for newbie pet owners

When algae starts to appear on the walls of your tank, it’s time to introduce the cleaner fish. However, if algae reproduces too quickly for these fish, you can use an algae scraper or toothbrush to remove it from the tank walls.

Wait at least a week between fish additions. Use an aquarium water test kit to make sure the ammonia and nitrite levels are at zero before adding more beginner fish.

After 15 days, replace about 25 per cent of the water, using the dechlorinator on the new water before adding it to your tank. Repeat this process every one to two weeks.

Congratulations! Enjoy your personal view of the natural world and its beauty in the comfort of your own home.

Sign up for the YP Teachers Newsletter
Get updates for teachers sent directly to your inbox
By registering, you agree to our T&C and Privacy Policy