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FAQs on Marine Water Quality involving Ammonia, Chemical & Physical Control

Related Articles: Ammonia, Nitrates, Nitrites, Establishing Cycling, BioFiltrationPhosphate, Silicates, Phosphate

Related FAQs: Marine Systems, Ammonia 1Marine Systems Ammonia 2Marine Systems Ammonia 3, Ammonia 4,  & FAQs on Ammonia: Importance, Science, Measure, Sources, Control, Troubleshooting, & Nitrates, NitritesPhosphate, Silicates, Test Kits for Marine Systems, Chemical Filtrants

Most such "controls" don't work... outright. Some "mask" the presence of ammonia (have test kits give a false negative)... some are toxic themselves... If used: READ and FOLLOW Directions. At best, such products are stop-gap measures. Need active, useful microbes, circulation about...

Question for Bob about using some Ammonia absorbing media      5/13/15
Hi Bob!
I was thinking about using some Ammonia absorbing media, on my 210 mixed reef/fish tank, in a little fishs 550 reactor in the sump, to remove total ammonia, that is available for conversion into Nitrate.
<? Why this proposed use? >
Thus, lower overall Nitrate....so my question is, would that actually work?
<Can; but there are dangers; some serious>
<Removal of ammonia may result in a sudden die off of nitrogenous microbes... and the exhaustion of such media may result in a dangerous NH3/NH4OH spike.... I wouldn't do this>
Nish (guy with serpent starts that did the spawning thing..met you at GIRS spring fest)
<Cheers! Bob Fenner>
Re: Question for Bob

Thanks Bob. By the way, what do you think of some of these Nitrate reducers such as AZ-NO3.
<This is a worthy product. IS real, does work; safely and effectively>
Ok to use on mixed reef; corals, inverts, anemones, fish?
<Yes; this and Nualgi are faves
Thanks, Nish
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>
Re: Question for Bob


Ammonia Level Through The Roof 1/23/07 I started my fish hobby with a 24 gallon Nano Cube in 2005. In June of 2006, I upgraded to a 90 gallon tank with a sump below. Inside the sump, I have a filter bag, a small refugium and a protein skimmer. My tank was doing great and my corals were growing out of control. Approx. 4-5 weeks ago, I noticed that my Xenia looked like crap so I test my Calcium levels. I quickly realized that my Calcium was at an all time low and I began add some Calcium daily to raise the level. After testing my calcium, I also tested for  Ammonia, Nitrates and Nitrites. To my surprise, my ammonia level was off the chart. I immediately began doing water changes and started using PRIME which I was told (from the fish store) that it would detoxify the ammonia and not kill my fish. The guy at the fish store also told me that I probably had something die in my tank and I needed to remove it or it would cause more problems. When I returned home, I removed some of my rock from my tank and began searching for something that died but I couldn't find a thing. I replaced my rock, continued adding PRIME and was doing water changes every 3-4 days until my ammonia finally got around 0. Now, my Nitrates are around 20 ppm and I can't get them down any lower. I've been doing water changes and using several different types of nitrate remover but none are helping. <In my opinion, most of these products are worthless.  A quality, efficient protein skimmer will do more for your nitrate problem than the money wasted on such products.> As of today, most of my corals have died. I have a few mushrooms and polyps left (and all my fish) but nothing else. Any suggestions you have would be appreciated. My family is devastated because our once beautiful tank now looks bare. <I'm assuming that you have sufficient lighting for the corals in question.  On another note, have you been dosing other needed trace elements necessary for coral growth?  You do not mention you pH, dKH parameters.  These need to be at a proper level also.  Do read the links below along with related files in these links for nutrient control and keeping corals. http://www.wetwebmedia.com/nutrientcontrol.htm http://www.wetwebmedia.com/growingcorals.htm James (Salty Dog)>
Re:  Ammonia Level Through The Roof 1/24/07
Thank you for replying to my email. <You're welcome.> To answer your question, I am using VHO lighting and calculated that I have just shy of 5 watts per gallon. I believe that should be plenty for my tank plus my corals were growing out of control until a month ago. <Is not going to be enough lighting for SPS and some LPS corals.> Also, my protein skimmer fills about 1/4 cup per day. <Great.> I forgot to mention my PH in my original email but I do test that on a regular basis. I tested my water again today and listed the results below. Any other advice you have would be greatly appreciated. <Just my advice in the original correspondence.  Concentrate on nutrient control and do clean (weekly) the neck of the skimmer where the waste is being pushed into the collection cup.  Not cleaning the muck reduces the efficiency of the skimmer.> Tests from 01/23/2007 Temp: 78 degrees PH: 8.0-8.2 Ammonia: 0 ppm Nitrites: 0 ppm Nitrates: 20 ppm KH: 240 ppm  <What method is this, Grains per gallon CaCO3? James (Salty Dog)>

Seachem Prime  1/16/07 What is "Prime" for ammonia detox? < http://www.seachem.com/products/product_pages/Prime.html  ~PP> Linda

- Ammonia Levels - I recently setup my 90 gallon fish only tank with a wet/dry filter, protein skimmer and UV sterilizer. I filled the tank with tap water and treated it with Kent Ammonia Detox to remove the ammonia, chlorine and chloramine. The pH, temp and salinity all stabilized and I added 8 damsels after a few days. They have been in the tank for 8 days now and my test kit registers 0 ammonia and 0 nitrites. All the fish are eating and show no effects of bad water quality. Some brown algae has started to form on the glass, which I have read is a good sign. I read that the Ammonia Detox "neutralizes" the ammonia but does not remove it. <Safer to say that it is bound up into a non-toxic form.>  Does this mean that it also will not show up on my test kit? <Depends on the test kit, some do, some don't.>  Some things I have read say that these types of products actually cause your test kit to show falsely high readings. <Yes... again, depends on the reagents in the test.>  Will it be impossible to know the status of my cycling? <No... I'd suggest you stop using the Detox for now until you've cycled the tank.>  What is going on in my tank? There MUST be some ammonia in the water after 8 days right? <Yes, although the Detox is clouding the results. I'd stop using it for now.> Thanks, Shawn <Cheers, J -- >
- Ammonia Levels, Follow-up -
Thanks for the reply. Just to clarify, I have not used the Detox at all since the initial filling of the tank. It has now been 17 days since I added the fish. All fish are alive and well and there is no ammonia or nitrite in my tank. Any clue what is going on in my tank? <I would just wait - don't run the skimmer or the UV until you've seen the tank cycle. These things take time. Cheers, J -- >

Ammo lock for FOWLR? 6/15/04 Hey, I was at my LFS yesterday picking up some more turbo snails and I saw ammo lock. Is it okay to use in a FOWLR tank? I had a very very slight ammonia level, and I like to keep it at zero so this was a bummer. Assistance please? Jeffery <there is no need to use this product here my friend... first confirm the accuracy of your test kit. Lingering ammonia after the break in period is uncommon and indicates a more serious problem than a little bit of ammo lock can/should cure. Address the problem, not the symptom. If the ammonia is there (as determined by testing your water on another brand or type test kit than what you are using - see your LFS or a friend in the local aquarium club), then look at your feeding practices and the efficiency of your filtration. Best of luck! Anthony>

Now I REALLY Need Help! - 06/17/05 Thanks for the help, but my situation has gone from bad to extreme! <<Uh oh!>> The one clown that was struggling has died, and I couldn't find the body for a couple of days.  Later, I did find part of its corpse stuck to the sponge element on the hang-on overflow. But, during this time the ammonia level went from 0.25 to 8.0+ (the color test card doesn't go higher)! <<Mmm...am suspicious of your test kit, that little clown shouldn't have caused this kind of spike.>> I did a partial water change, added two bottles of Ammo Lock, and 17oz of AquaScience Ultimate (the LFS said this worked the best for ammonia). <<Not saying some of these products don't have a purpose...but depend more on large water changes (dilution) and good husbandry practices to reduce pollutants rather than on "magic in a bottle.">> All of this only reduced the ammonia level to 4.0. <<Try another and/or different brand test kit.>> I don't have a quarantine tank (I know I should though). <<Yes>> So, I have the remaining clown floating in a plastic bag with freshly made saltwater, and an air pump blowing air into it. I'm trying everything that I can think of to save its life. I'll change the water everyday in the bag, until the tank becomes safe again. <<Do this fish a favor and give it to someone or take it back to the store.>> The owner at the LFS said he's never heard of ammonia levels that high. <<Me either.>> Again, he said to add $500 worth of live rock, but I don't have that kind of money right now. <<You don't need to add ANYTHING to this tank until you determine what is going on and correct this problem.>> Then he suggested turning my sump into a wet/dry system, and that this would also solve the problem. Do wet/dry systems work that well? <<For FO/FOWLR systems a wet-dry can be quite useful...not recommended for reef systems.>> Also, how could the ammonia level go so high, so quickly? <<That's the $64,000 question.  Do try a different test kit to confirm.>> Sorry for the extra questions, but I'm feeling quite disillusioned marine tanks at the moment, and desperately need some guidance to keep my favorite hobby going. <<If new tests determine your previous measurements were correct, Then maybe changing out the rock is the best thing.  But I find it hard to believe that after three months the rock would suddenly cause this kind of problem.  Get another test kit (I like Seachem) and see what it tells you.  The we can go from there.>> Like I said before, you guys are the only people a trust with my fish. Thanks again! Derek. <<Will try to live up to that trust <G>.  Regards, Eric R.>>

Ammonia  12/20/2005 I have another question for you regarding ammonia in my aquarium its currently at 0.25 I was going to get some carbon to remove it but I heard that the carbon removes and strips the water of good bacteria and trace elements. Could you please tell me if this is true and what I can do  about it. <Carbon isn't going to do much for removing ammonia.  If 10% water changes are made on a weekly basis to replenish lost trace elements then no need to worry.  Personally I don't think anyone has proven just how and how much of any trace elements are removed by the use of carbon.  An experiment like this would require high tech lab equipment along with a high tech person to do it.  Much too costly for a zero return investment.  So, do your required 10% weekly water changes and all will be fine.  James (Salty Dog)>

-Detoxifying ammonia = pH drop?- Hello Crew: <Hellooo, Kevin here> I am eagerly anticipating getting my copy of the new book soon. (Am also looking forward to Michael Paletta's new on advertised in AFM this month.) <Me too!> There was a post today about uncured LR & ammonia. The person also asked about the effect of this on pH. I noticed that he has been using Amquel. Unless he is using the new buffered Amquel Plus--which I haven't seen in any store yet--the Amquel may be driving the pH down too. <A common way to detoxify ammonia> From the bitter experience of using it without reading the fine print, I learned that even the dose recommended will instantly drop the pH several tenths. AmmoLock 2 does not lower pH. Anyone using old Amquel in a marine tank needs to counteract this effect with buffer. <Anyone using ANY type of ammonia detoxifier should sit back and think about what they're doing. Water changes and protein skimming are all that are needed to cure live rock. In an ammonia spike emergency there should be newly mixed seawater on hand for a massive change.> The instructions state that the dose can be freely repeated. During a severe ammonia crisis, I did two consecutive doses. In 10 minutes the pH went from 8.2 to 7.5! <Yeah, there's nothing fun about that! This is the same thing that happens naturally when fish are shipped, which ends up keeping them alive. Unfortunately, this isn't so great in an established aquarium. This will hit the FAQ's for everyone to take note of. -Kevin> -- Steve Allen

Ammonia Crew, Is Purigen a more effective means of removing ammonia than Zeolite. <Yes, per weight and application> My application is for keeping shad and herring in a 35 gallon bait tank. What are some things I can do to have cleaner water and better bait. Should I use Purigen? <It's worth trying... but I want to remind you that I would continue to monitor ammonia and pH to keep them in check, and still be doing regular water changes. Bob Fenner> Sincerely, Jason

QT Crowd and Ammonia (1/13/2004) Hi Crew, I currently have my new fish in a 10 gallon QT have been there for 3 days. <I take it these are new fish you are quarantining, not ill fish you are trying to treat.> Coral Beauty 2-3" Blennies Salarias fasciatus x2 Yellow-Tailed Blue Tang 2-3" I used water from my display and a small rock from the display for my biofilter and a place for them to hide. <not enough biofilter> Because of the crowd I have been executing 3 gallon daily water changes with new salt mix. However I am battling ammonia (keeps jumping to .5). <Argh> Should I do larger water changes? <Not more than 50%.> I was planning a 3 week stint in the tank, I know this is a must for the Coral and the Tang, but could I remove the Blennies earlier to the display to reduce the bio load? <Better not to.> Any other Ideas, how about a chemical ammonia reducer <If your fish seem mal-affected, it would not be bad to use one dose of Amquel Plus as a last resort.> or adding some bacteria like "Cycle"? <You do need to increase your biofilter in there right away. A sponge filter would be good. Seed with Bio-Spira Marine if you can get it--provides almost instant cycling. Costs $20 per little pouch and is kept refrigerated at the store. You could put the extra in your main tank. "Cycle" takes weeks. In my QT I use a combination heater/sponge filter I bought at PetSmart. Quite a handy gadget actually.> Also, is there any way I can put the rock back in the display after the cycle, or should I just let it die and use it for a little house for future QT use? <We generally recommend PVC fittings rather than LR for shelter in QT. There is always some small risk that these fish might leave some parasites behind on that piece of LR. If you can leave it in the QT with no fish for 6 weeks, then you can be rather confident that there are no cysts on it.> Thank you for your time and this forum. KR  <A pleasure.>
QT Crowd and Ammonia - Sorting it Out
>Marina, I'm sorry, you misunderstand me the fish for the new QT are the fish already in my display. >>Ah, alright! >i.e.: Maculosus Angel tank bred (3-4") 1 Yellow Tang (3") 4 Clownfish Amphiprion ocellaris tank bred (1-1.5 ") 1 Starcki damsel (3") 2 Neon Gobies I've purchased this second QT (30 gallon long, with skimmer, filter and heater) to remove them from the display, treat and run the display fallow for 6 weeks. I am not buying more fish, that's all I need right now. I purchased the 4 fish "currently" in regular QT before I knew of the outbreak. I also have purchase a larger tank for these fish as well, since this is gonna take awhile. >>Ok.. WHEW!  I was trying to sort everything out there, and it sounded for all the world as though you had all these fish in the q/t.  Gotcha. >By the way my display is a 210 gallon, should be enough room for these guys once they are squared away right? >>Absolutely.  If I understand you then, the Hippo tang will be being established before the yellow?  They should mix alright (the angels should be good, too), do watch the Starckii damsel  for aggression, too (glad it's only one!).  You can add a few more neon gobies, I love these little fish for their low bioload demands AND propensity to act as cleaners. >Thank you for your time and advise. I will follow the quarantine plan to the letter.  Kurt >>I think you have also been answered by Adam, I haven't read the full outline, but I believe we may pretty much jive.  Good luck!  Marina

Re: Whitish Hairy rock growth...? Hi Bob, Re: High Ammonia levels... Would you recommend a water additive like "Ammo-Lock2" to bring down the ammonia in my tank, or is that stuff just "hot air"? <More hot air than help in all but disastrously high situations where other strategies can't be employed... Need to find, solve root causes... adapt the livestock back down more slowly to lower concentrations... for their sake and the systems establishment of nitrification. Bob Fenner> Thanks, Tyler

Use of Ammo-lock and other Ammonia detoxifiers Hello Mr. Fenner! <Howdy> It's been a while since I've emailed you, but that is attributable to the fact that I use your book, "The Conscientious Marine Aquarist" as my marine tank bible. It answers the vast majority of my questions! However, I'm in the midst of a debate that I'm having a hard time settling. <Perhaps there is no such settlement to be had> Today I've got a question on someone else's behalf regarding the use of Ammonia detoxifiers, such as Ammo-lock. This person setup their 75 gallon aquarium and added fish prior to cycling (I've had great success with fishless cycling on my tanks). They were told by their LFS that the live rock and live sand would not be sufficient to cycle the tank, and that they needed to add fish.  <Mmm, I do disagree... the LR, LS are fine on their own> Well, they did, the ammonia spiked, the fish began dying, and the LFS person told them to use Ammo-lock. They did this and, now, after seeing a spike in Nitrites and a gradual rise in Nitrates, they're experiencing a second, HEAVY ammonia spike. <To be expected... the product by Aquarium Pharmaceuticals is fine for what it is intended for... but this does NOT include forestalling the establishment of biological cycling> Now, I understand that Ammo-lock is supposed to convert NH3 to NH4, which is less toxic to fish, but that it should not prevent the accumulation of  Ammonia in the tank. <Actually... this product does not do this> I also understand that it will skew test results. <Can, yes, some types of tests> Personally, I've always been of the opinion that, chemically speaking, less is more, and that water changes should be used instead of chemicals, but I understand that others feel differently. My advice to this person was to bring the remaining live fish back to the LFS (no hospital tank setup) and continue cycling the tank in a fishless manner. They told me that Ammo-Lock does NOTHING to inhibit the cycling process. <Not so... the ammonia present is chemically bound-up, hence the group of nitrifying bacteria populations that "consume" such die off... and must need "re-grow" to convert newly formed/forming ammonia to nitrite, supplying this to other microorganisms that convert this in turn to nitrate... A simplistic model, but if "A" is necessary for "X" to make "B", and "A" is made unavailable then "Y" that relies on "X" dies off along with "X"...> So, my question is -- do Ammonia detoxifiers inhibit the cycling of a tank? <Most, by numbers of products, popularity... actually do forestall the establishment of biological cycling> What EXACTLY is their purpose and should they be used in situations such as these?  <Purpose? Let's see... mainly useful in dire "emergency" situations (too much bio-load being added too quickly, loss of biological filtration integrity in a compromised setting (e.g. treatment, quarantine tanks)... NOT in systems that have yet to fully cycle> I've always been under the impressions that nothing like this should be used while a tank has been cycling (I prefer never to use these things, no matter what the situation, but that's me). Any advice that you could give on this topic would be greatly appreciated! <We are of the same impression, belief set here.> Grateful as always! Deb Colella (A humble aquarist who strives to be as adept at this hobby as you!) <You humble me my friend. Bob Fenner, who apologizes for the delayed response. Have been out of the country> Deborah Colella

Ammonia Problem "Treated" with Stress-Zyme Bob, I have used on occasion when the ammonia was around 0.50 ppm, this product called Stress Zyme. The product works well and in about a week or less the ammonia goes to 0. They recommend to add 5 ml per 20 gallons once a week. Only weird thing it affects the protein skimmer, does not damage it just does not let work to full capacity. I have stop using it because I don't have an ammonia problem anymore. Have you ever heard of this? <Have heard of this... many things strongly affect skimmers/skimming, even foods. If you experience ammonia in half a ppm of concentration, you need to be looking for the root cause/s (lack of filtration, too much livestock...) and fixing them, not adding something as a stop-gap measure. Bob Fenner>
Ammonia Problem "Treated" with Stress-Zyme II
I agree and I realize it was when I added a new specimen the ammonia went up. Of course this is normal. <Actually, no, not normal... there should be enough inherent capacity to make up for adding new livestock. You should see no ammonia at all. Bob Fenner>
Ammonia Problem "Treated" with Stress-Zyme III Oh, maybe it has to do with my Eco System 40. I only had it for a year. My live stock in this is 45 lbs LR,(1) med yellow tang, (1) sm clownfish, (2) turbo snails (1) peppermint shrimp, (1) xenia sm patch, and (1) large bubble coral. All in a 45 gal bow front tank. <I would have to agree with Bob, who is off in Sacramento. This is a very light bioload with a healthy amount of liverock. You should never see an ammonia spike, particularly after one year of setup. You should examine other causes. -Steven Pro>

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