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So what are the benefits and pitfalls of pH? I used to adjust ph (add buffer) to keep it in the 7.8-8.0 area every few weeks, but I haven't done so in a couple months. It's now down to 7.0, but the fish seem to be doing fine. Is it a health thing, color, activeness ???
 

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Malawi cichlids are adaptable, but a higher pH would be considered "healthier", less stressful. Most stores don't even care, a pH of 7.0 is not going to be a primary case of death. It is thought if you can you should try to make the pH more like 7.8 but having a stable pH is probably better than having big pH swings up and down.
 

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Higher pH is considered healthier for Malawian fish because it's what is native to their habitat in Lake Malawi. The pH itself is not so critical, but stability is, and that's because a lot of the chemicals that we try to keep in balance in an aquarium are in complicated ionic states that can shift at different pH values. For example, ammonia (the gas produced as waste by fish) will readily hang out in its non-toxic ionic form ammonium when the pH is neutral or acidic. But when the pH rises, the ammonium converts back into ammonia gas and that is toxic to fish. If it happens slowly, the biofilter will consume the ammonia and no harm will come. If it happens rapidly, the fish will croak, or at least suffer damage to their gills, depending on how high the ammonia concentration goes. So, stable is the main thing. If you're going to be diligent about buffering pH to keep it stable and high, then super. If you're not, then let it stay where it's drifted and be aware that you don't wanna make any quick raises to pH without planning for the ammonia spike that goes with it.
 
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