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~~~~~~ A viable shortcut? ~~~~~~
Tetra SafeStart is a product aimed at establishing your biological filter in one fell swoop; that is, it contains a bacterial suspension that when added to your aquarium is supposed to colonise your filter very quickly. This means, theoretically, that you can safely add fish much sooner since harmful waste produced by the fish (ammonia and nitrite) will be being broken down. These friendly bacteria usually take time to develop, as long as a source of food for them is provided; their food is these waste products, but it is not safe to add fish to a brand new aquarium as there are not enough of these bacteria to deal with the waste, meaning it builds up in the water effectively poisoning the inhabitants of your tank.
~~~~~~ So how DO I make my tank safe? ~~~~~~
Fishless cycling is usually the best way to prepare a tank for fish, and involves using household ammonia to feed the bacteria and encourage them to colonise your filter, with regular testing to gauge how far along your bacterial colony is. This is quite a time consuming and lengthy process when done properly, and the 'run the filter on the empty tank for 2 weeks' spiel frequently doled out by shop staff is pointless - the filter will just move clean water, this does nothing to prepare a tank for fish.
Tetra SafeStart essentially claims to abolish the need for any prior cycling completely. Now, cycling is not something I have generally worried about, as for the past almost-8 years I have always had a bacterial colony big enough to seed new filters. Plus, I keep turtles and their waste will not only have a filter naturally cycled in days, but they are much hardier animals than fish.
~~~~~~ About Tetra SafeStart ~~~~~~
The packaging of this range of products is attractive; it is a nice bright yellow plastic bottle with a label on front and back containing details such as dosage, usage, and ingredients, the usual stuff. The front label has the product name and a nice picture of a lovely clean and healthy looking aquatic environment (some newer bottles have some pretty fish on this label). The lid doubles up as a measuring cup, which is handy since you won't lose it and it is easy to clean too. I would rinse the cap in the tank itself, to get every last bit of product out. Another great feature of the bottle, is that there's a measuring scale on the side, and a strip of semi see through plastic so you can see how much you have left.
They bottles come in different sizes, I bought the 100ml size for around £6 and it lasts an average amount of time really. It's impossible to specify as it depends on what size of tank and filter you are dealing with.
~~~~~~ Time saving or silly gimmick? ~~~~~~
So I tried this when setting up a new turtle tank, as I knew how the process should go without any help. Unfortunately (but not unexpectedly, I maintained a healthy level of suspicion!), I didn't notice any real difference. Regular testing showed the biological filter was developing no faster than usual. I was disappointed, but to be honest I can't say I was expecting miracles. It is my belief that there are just some things that to do properly you can't cut corners.
Perhaps it would work better with fish, as their waste is altogether different from turtles (though not chemically). And fish is what it is aimed at after all. Although if anything, I would have expected it to be even faster as the turtle waste would encourage the natural formation of bacteria considerably faster than fish, but this suspension should have gave it a hefty kick start.
I won't use this again, as it had no noticeable effect for me. However, I would not discount it fully until I had tried it to get a small tank and filter going. And anecdotally, I have heard good things about this in regards to fish only tanks, though generally in combination with using seeded media (that is, media that has been taken from a mature filter). However, in all honesty using seeded media alone is often enough to get things moving and it will save you money!