Should I add sand for my Rams?

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Would a mix of gravel and sand work in a tank that houses rams? Fish expert Max advises...

Q) I read in the June 2021 issue of PFK about how Ram cichlids require sand as a substrate. I was considering them as a centrepiece fish for my recently set up tank, but I’ve already added gravel and plants. Would a mix of gravel and sand work? Would it be possible to add the sand if there is already water and fish in the tank? Any suggestions on the best way of adding it to this set-up would be appreciated.

ANDREW, VIA EMAIL

A) Max responds: Regarding keeping Rams on gravel, of course you can keep them this way, but as I am sure you’ll agree, it is better for fish to thrive rather than just survive. So I’m glad that you are looking for solutions to keep your fish as well as possible.

Yes, you can mix sand and gravel but what you may find is that the substrates stratify over time, one sitting on the other. So unless you have just a sprinkling of gravel, opting for one or the other would be best.

It is perfectly possible to remove gravel in an established aquarium, but before undertaking the task there are a few points to consider. Gravel harbours beneficial (and not-so beneficial) bacteria as well as mulm and detritus. Therefore, we need to think about carrying out a large gravel clean before any extraction begins, so as to not stir up too much dirt. In addition, removing too much established gravel in one go may affect your aquarium’s nitrogen cycle, as you will also be removing a large amount of beneficial bacteria along with it.

It would probably be best to remove a small amount of gravel per day, replacing it with sand as and when you can. To do this, invest in a sturdy net with holes large enough to allow sand to pass through but not gravel.

This will make the task easier without affecting the water quality.