Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganika are rift lakes. They formed when tectonic action produced a rift in the ground. Ocean water flowed into the rift and formed a salty lake. Over time rain and runoff diluted the lake down to the low salt content it has today. What this means is that the appropriate water conditions for a rift lake cichlid tank is effectively very very diluted sea water. Although the salt content is only a little higher than freshwater levels, I recommend adding salt because it kills freshwater parasites.

There are several ways to create friendly water conditions. Perhaps the simplest one is to use 1 tablespoon of synthetic sea salt for every 5 gallons of water. Note that this is practically fresh water; marine aquariums use approximately 1/2 cup of synthetic sea salt for every gallon of water. So while synthetic sea salts are expensive, one small box will last you through years of water changes. If you use this method I recommend using Instant Ocean salt.

You can also duplicate these water conditions with a combination of 1 tablespoon of normal aquarium salt for every 5 gallons of water combined with a cichlid water conditioner such as Tetra Cichlid Vital or Rift Lake Vital. Note that salt does not evaporate so only add salt during water changes (not with top-off water).

Both of these methods assume the use of a gravel such as crushed coral or aragonite. If you are using normal aquarium gravel, you will need to add a buffer to increase the carbonate hardness. A slightly higher carbonate hardness will help you maintain the appropriate PH: between 7.5 and 8.

Keep in mind that ammonia becomes much more toxic at high PH values. When cycling a tank, keep the PH at 7 and then slowly work it up to 7.5 over a week, or your fish will not survive the cycling process. I recommend keeping the PH at 7.5 for beginners and breeding tanks. If you plan to sell your fry, you should raise the babies in a PH of 7.2 to 7.5 so they will be accustomed to the lower pet store PH levels.

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Last modified at Sunday, April 19, 2015