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FAQs on Marine Water Quality involving Ammonia, 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, Chemical Filtrants, Troubleshooting, & Nitrates, NitritesPhosphate, Silicates, Test Kits for Marine Systems, Chemical Filtrants

A balance to be struck... System large-enough, cycled, sufficiently stable, (water changes, filtration...) provided with habitat for beneficial microbes... a dearth of negative influences... Best, an over-abundance of nitrifiers and denitrifying capacity

Re: Ammonia help; alg. contr.      3/20/13
Does heavy algae mean anything? I cleaned just the front of the tank and in a few hours it is covered with algae again!
<Indicates there's plenty of all necessary nutrients, and a lack of competition. BobF>
Re: Ammonia help     3/21/13

What do you mean by lack of competition?
<Ahh, read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/nutrientcontrol.htm
and the linked files above. B>

Seachem Alpha.    7/2/12
Hi, I was wondering how effective Seachem Alpha is?
<Mmm, "does" what it's labeled to do... a greater concentration of their "Prime" product>
My ammonia is zero but I want to add a relatively large fish and I am worried about an ammonia spike. Are there any adverse effects with this product? Regards, Adam.
<Mmm... these sorts of nitrogenous metabolite counters can't be relied upon to continuously neutralize ammonia, nitrite, nitrate... at any dose concentration. See WWM re. Bob Fenner> 

Ammonia... Hi Crew, <Mario> I have had my new system running since Jan. 16, 2005. <Just a few weeks back> I have been testing the water for the past week and the ammonia is at .25 to .50, the nitrite is at zero and the nitrate at 0 to 5.  Because the ammonia is above zero I would do a 25% water change each time. <Mmmm, I would wait on water changes... till the ammonia, nitrite are past 1.0 ppm... hopefully you don't have livestock present> My question is should I continue to change the water at these levels or let the cycle process continue? <Uhh, please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/estbiofiltmar.htm and the linked files above> If I do not continue to change the water will the ammonia over time go down to zero and then the nitrite will begin to rise? <See the above> If this will be the case (ammonia = 0 & nitrite > 0), only then should I start doing the 25% water changes again, until the nitrite drops to zero?  <See the above> Is siphoning the waste from the bottom during each water change a good idea, will it slow down the cycle proceed? <See the...> Do you recommend I only siphon the waste when the tank is cycled or during each water change? <See...> Your insight on what I should do next is greatly appreciated.  Thanks, Mario D. <Your diligence in studying is likewise thanked. Bob Fenner>

How to deal with Ammonia in a Quarantine Tank (1-12-05) Hi guys, <Hi Ted, Leslie here this morning standing in for the guys.> I have a serious problem.  Over the last two months I have lost two dwarf lions and a clownfish (in three separate cases) during quarantine, apparently to ammonia poisoning.  My quarantine tank is ten gallons, filled half with water from the main tank and half with synthetic water (made with oceanic salt).  The tank has a piece of PVC pipe for shelter, and a sponge filter attached to a Rio 50 powerhead for filtering.  I perform 2-3 gallon water changes on the quarantine tank every 2-3 days, using water from the main tank.  I also test for ammonia and nitrites every day.  The tank is also dosed with copper.  Here is what happened.  The fish were all visibly healthy when introduced to the quarantine tank (after a freshwater bath), actively swam around, and readily accepted food. <Copper is a pretty harsh medication and should be reserved for sick fish. I am not a believer in medicating prophylactically. Hyposalinity is a good option for quarantine. > Ammonia and nitrite levels showed about zero for the first few four or five days.  Then, after the second feeding of both lionfish (the fifth day), and after about ten days for the clown, ammonia levels spiked to .25.  In each case, I performed a 3 gallon water change to try to lower these levels.  But to my dismay the ammonia increased to .5 when I tested the next day.  I performed emergency 5 gallon water changes from the main tank, and switched my power filter (with the carbon taken out) from the main tank to the quarantine to try to provide more biological filtration and lower the ammonia.  The next mornings when I tested, the ammonia levels were back down to .25, but had again increased to .5 by those nights.  All three fish died soon after.  None of them showed any signs of disease.  What can I do to help lower ammonia levels in the quarantine tank?  Is there any other quarantine procedure that I should take? <Yes, live rock works very well and also provides the fish with a more natural environment as well as places to seek cover. > I cannot afford to lose any more livestock, and money.  Thank you very much for your assistance. Ted <You're most welcome and best of luck with your tank, Leslie> (Oh, I thought you might want this information.  The main tank is 40 or 50 gallons, 36x16x18, with an emperor 280 with carbon and an aqua c skimmer for filtration.  Ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels have been zero for over six months, the ph is 8.2, and the salinity is 1.023.  Due to logistics, I have no sump.) Ammonia Hello, <Hello Julie> Thank you in advance for your help.  My set up is a 90 gallon reef tank which previously had CC and about 50 lbs of LR.  A couple of days ago I changed over the CC to LS and added another 45 lbs of LR.  In the mean time I put all live stock in a QT with water from the old tank.  I added back about 60 gallons of my old water and 30 gallons of new water to the main tank.  After one day the room smelled like a rotten old shoe, even with the windows in the room wide open.  I checked the ammonia level and it was through the roof.  The highest my chart reads is 8 ppm and it looked darker than that.  I didn't even bother with dilution to further check the ammonia but did a 25% water change because I just couldn't stand the smell.  My nitrites were about .25.  My question is if it is normal for the ammonia to go so high?  Is it doing this because the tank was already previously established (approximately 6 months with the prior set up) and so the bacteria is already there to work on the cycling? <Julie, I'm fairly certain the additional 45 lbs of live rock you added was not fully cured. The symptoms you give sure relate to that.>   I've read through the FAQs and the numbers I'm seeing are in the .5-2 range.  Is it ok for me to be doing water changes?  Will this hurt the cycling?  I'm assuming since I kept the majority of my old water that I still have a fair amount of the beneficial bacteria present. <The bacteria would be on your live rock and sand more than anywhere else.> I scrubbed dead stuff off the LR before placing in the tank.  I have a Nautilus skimmer running.  Can I continue to do water changes if the ammonia continues to run this high?  Thanks so much for your help. <I would probably do a 30% change weekly until the beneficial bacteria adjust to the excess nutrients.  This could take three weeks before it clears up.  In the meantime do not light the aquarium as the excess waste will certainly lead to an algae bloom.  James (Salty Dog)>

Re: Ammonia Ok, thanks.  My question is actually, can I do a water change more often than weekly.<Yes> I seriously can't stand the smell and it's in a home office where I need to work.  I  know the 45 lbs of live rock wasn't cured which is why I moved all the livestock to the QT as I mentioned prior to introducing the new LR and live sand.  The purpose was to cure it in the aquarium.  My LFS said to cure it in the aquarium as long as I had a place for my livestock so I could have the benefit of the skimmer.    I asked if the ammonia level of >8ppm was significantly abnormal.<Not abnormal, all depends on the amount of die off on the rock.> My prior ammonia levels during the previous curing were measurable and these are not.  It is way off the charts and the smell is really unbearable.  In multiple tests it turns dark blue on a chart that has shades of green for measurements. I did a 30% water change today and still unable to measure it's so high.  Will changing the water more often delay the curing for some reason? <No, the curing process will be the same regardless of how many water changes you do. During water changes you should siphon off any debris from the live rock. James (Salty Dog)> Thanks

Quarantine Tank with Ammonia problem    8/16/05 I have a 20 gal (Cycled) QT and have added a Coral Beauty Angelfish to it. We are now showing signs of Ammonia.<<A problem. Did you medicate the QT tank?>> Salinity 1.021 Temp 78 degrees Ph 8.3 Ammonia between .25 - .50ppm Nitrite 0 Nitrate 10ppm Penguin bio filter 200 Penguin powerhead 550 small airstone I have been cleaning out all food he is not eating and only have him and a PVC pipe in there. We did a 10% water change last night and a 25% water change today. Is there anything else I can do? No change to ammonia levels. (Using RO water for changes).<<Good>> At what point will the ammonia become toxic or harmful to the Coral Beauty Angel?<<How old is the test kit? Test the ammonia in your main tank and see what the values are. Unless you did something to disturb the beneficial bacteria in the QT tank (like adding an anti-biotic), I would wonder why a cycled tank has measurable ammonia. The level at which ammonia is toxic depends on the individual specimen. Keep cleaning up the excess food and doing the water changes while monitoring the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate. The goal is to keep the ammonia (values below .25) while the fish is in quarantine and the nitrifying cycle is reestablished.>> If I added the BioWheel & filters from my main tank would that help?<<Potentially but do not do anything that would disturb the nitrification capacity of the main tank. Add a sponge filter to the main tank and use that in the quarantine tank in the future.>> My main tank is in excellent shape and worst case scenario I transfer him early. He has been at our LFS for 3 weeks and eating fine there with no signs of problems. Our LFS quarantine fish when they get them so I am not too worried if I need to transfer him. <<I would add the Coral beauty to the main tank only as a last resort (meaning you are unable to do daily water changes to keep the ammonia level down). Keep monitoring the ammonia, change the water daily and keep the feedings light. If the fish is healthy, he will pull through this.>> Any advice is appreciated. <<Good luck - Ted>>

Play Sand & Ammonia Hello WWM crew, Last Sunday I installed a sump for my 180 gallon tank and added 70 lbs of play sand into the sump, everything looked fine therefore last night I added 2 cleaner shrimps into the tank. Well this morning I saw one of the cleaner shrimps looking like he was about to die, therefore I checked ammonia and discovered that I had .50 PPM of ammonia and .10 of nitrate, I quickly did a 30 gallon water change and the ammonia had dropped to below .20 PPM but now 8 hours later my ammonia is back up to .50 PPM and one of the cleaner shrimps has died. Is the Play Sand creating this ammonia or is this because I disconnected the wet/dry for about an hour while I installed the sump. <I would strongly suspect it is your wet/dry producing ammonia. The sand itself is inert and can't produce ammonia on it's own. Also, I am not familiar with Sea Lab replenisher but if it contains copper it not only could kill your shrimp but do a number on your bio-filtration.....killing your wet/dry and any other bio-filter capacity...producing ammonia to start the cycle over again.> I can't figure out why the cleaner shrimp died I thought they could take more then .50 PPM of ammonia, I'm starting to wonder if he died because of the Sea Lab #28 replenisher I added that contains .003 of copper but I only put 2 blocks and you are supposed to put 4 for a tank that size. Thanks and hope to hear from you soon. <I would suspect you are cycling your tank over again now after killing off your bio-capacity. Test often and make water changes to keep wastes under control until your re-cycling is complete. I would test for nitrites now too.  Best wishes, Craig>

Trigger and ammonia Hi there, <Howdy> A couple of weeks ago you were able to help me with some problems I was having plumbing the overflow for a new tank (thank you).  Now I have an entirely different problem that I can use some help with. The new tank (a 180 gal salt water fish only) was going to replace a 45 gal SWFO tank that I have had for the past several years.  That tank has two angel fish (aprox 2-3" each) a blue tang about 4" long and a clown trigger about 7". <! All this in a 45 gallon system?>   The tang (who is 6 years old) and one of the angels have what appears to be HLLE, and they have looked this way for a couple of years.  I have tried everything, especially adding a lot of seaweed, formula 2 and other vegetable based products to their diet, but nothing seemed to help. <Please see here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/hllefaqs.htm> About a week and a half ago, my brother suggested "Paragon", which I added as directed on the box, including removing the carbon filter.  After the second treatment (the third day) the fish started looking really lethargic. <This product is toxic... contains an anti-protozoal... but almost all instances of HLLE are nutritionally, environmentally determined... not parasitic in origin> I did a partial water change (~10%) and put the carbon filter back in the tank.  I had to go out of town for a day, which turned into 3 days (b/c I got snowed in in Washington).  When I got back the water had cleared up (the Paragon turned it yellow), but the fish still looked lethargic, especially the trigger who was breathing very heavily.  I did a 20% water change.  As it turns out the ammonia level was very high, off the scale for both my test kit ant he test kit at the LFS.  After discussing the problem in detail with the person at the LFS we decided to add Amquel to the water in the old tank, and leave the two angles and the tang (who seemed to be less affected) there, while moving the trigger into the new tank. <Okay... and increase aeration, circulation whatever ways you can, and cut back on feeding... if ammonia is more than 1.0 ppm, cut it out entirely>     The new tank had been set up and running to stabilize the temperature and ph, for about 1 week.  It also had nothing living in it (I was going to get a few damsels this weekend).  Since the trigger seemed the most effected by the ammonia, we were afraid it would not make it in the old tank, and removing it to an ammonia free environment seemed like the way to go.  I slowly acclimated him and moved him late last night. <Good move>   By this morning he was looking much better. His breathing and colors are normal and he is swimming around and eating (I am feeding him very sparingly).  But all this creates the obvious problem of putting the trigger in an environment which will again have ammonia, and then nitrites, present as the tank cycles. <Mmm, maybe not... there are means to speed the process of establishing nitrification along. Please see: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/estbiofiltmar.htm>   I am wondering if the fact that the 7" trigger is the only fish in a 180 gal tank will reduce the quantity of ammonia and nitrogen that will be present as the tank cycles? <Yes> Do you have an advice on steps I can take to lessen the stress and risk to the trigger during the break in phase? <Please see the article and the associated/related FAQs files linked on WWM> It may be possible to move him back to the old tank in a week or so, assuming the ammonia level is down to near 0, but I don't want to put him through the stress of moving again if it can be avoided.   <I would not move this animal back to the smaller system. I would look into moving some of the current substrate, filter media to the new system, possibly avail yourself of some live rock, culture product (like Marineland's BioSpira), continue to monitor ammonia, nitrite, watch feeding... Bob Fenner> Thanks for all your help. rob stein.

Trigger and ammonia Bob, Thanks for all the help. <Happy to offer it> Given that the ammonia in the old tank is still higher then 1ppm <Don't feed the fishes anything till it is below this... perhaps a massive water change?> (and the fact that the tank had Paragon in it recently), I don't think it would be a good idea to take the substrate or filter media from that tank and put it in to the new one, unless you think otherwise. <Not an ideal situation... oh, I see you have a better plan below> I will go to the LFS and purchase a few pieces of live rock to add to the new tank. <Good idea> One other question.  In a few months, when the new tank is able to accommodate more livestock, I would like to add some cleaning critters (the bottom has about 3" of crushed coral).  I not done so in the past b/c I know most of them are basically an hors d'oeuvre for the trigger. Is there any critter that you can recommend that will help clean the gravel without being trigger food? <Unfortunately, not many. I would try a small species, individual of the Goatfishes (family Mullidae) see here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/Goatfshart.htm but most all hermits, snails, seastars, urchins... will be meals.> Thanks again & happy holidays. <You're welcome and thank you. Bob Fenner> rob stein.

Lingering Ammonia Readings Dear Bob: <Scott F with you this morning, Keith> My name is Keith McBride, I've had this problem with my tank for 2 years, my ammonia stays at .25 or .50 I've tried different test kits but have the same outcome. <Does your source water have ammonia in it? Do test...just a thought> My system now (for the last five months) is a 125 gal  tank with a 150 gal. refugium, in basement. I have 2 clowns,1 tang,12 peppermint shrimp,1 1 sponge brittlestar,sarcophyton,1 trachyphyllia,1 maxima clam, 1 L.T. anemone, 1 Lobophyllia, 50lbs. live rock, SeaClone skimmer . Lights: over main tank champion 4 tubes,640 watt, refugium 1-175-10,000k+blueline, and 2-55watt pc's. Sand: about 3 inches in 125, and about 2 inches in refugium (premium grade Seaflor aragonite) Circulation: about 6 times in 125, and about 1-1.5 in refugium Temperature: 74-75 steady Refugium: Impressive amount of grape Caulerpa, Lights on reverse cycle, Caulerpa has not been trimmed in 2 months, still all underwater. I found that when it reached the top of the water in refugium, the ph was always dropping  that I had to add baking soda daily, since it was clipped and placed in the sand no more buffers and ph at 8.2 and steady day or night. <Hmm-just a small theory- You may or may not have read a lot recently about the down side of using Caulerpa in aquariums and refugiums. In short, Caulerpa has a tendency to grow "Wild", possibly releasing compounds that inhibit the growth of other algae and plants, and possibly releasing other noxious compounds into the water, which can degrade water quality. These algae also tend to "go sexual" on a regular basis, releasing a huge load of nutrients and contaminants into the water. All this points up to the possibility that these tendencies to release products can cause huge degradations in water quality, often overwhelming biofiltration systems. Do consider this...> Water: just started using RO/di last week trying to eradicate hair algae in main tank, started using Amquel to eliminate ammonia? <No need if you're using R/O DI, IMO.> , Ph 8.2 no additives, phosphate .2, no nitrates, nitrites, calcium 400+, iodine .04. Water changes vary, mostly top off. <Try to go on a regular, small (twice weekly 5% would be great) water change schedule. Variable top-offs and changes can account for lots of nutrient swings and inconsistencies in chemical parameters, all of which can stress and possibly kill the animals in your system, degrading water quality on the way> Filtration: protein skimmer, refugium, Caulerpa, no media of any kind. <If it were me, I'd get rid of the Caulerpa and use a less "noxious" macroalgae, such as Chaetomorpha. At least, you should regularly harvest the Caulerpa from the system.> Additives: 30ml calcium, 30ml iodine, 30ml strontium, each week. <Have you tried backing off of the strontium and iodine dosing? You might want to try and see what, if any effect the reduced dosages have on your animal growth and microalgae growth> Maintenance: dump cup on skimmer every 3 days, only 1/3 full, clean glass every 6-7 days. <Good that you're getting regular production of skimmate. Keep cleaning the skimmer during water changes> I don't know of any more information that may be needed but this same amount of rock, and about the same depth of sand, was also used in my previous system 29gal main, 20gal refugium, with filtration, and even then my ammonia stayed at .25 for 1-1/2 years. Thank you for looking for an answer to my problem. Sincerely, Keith McBride <Hmm...tough call here. Unusual that this rock seems to have a "history" of ammonia accumulations.. Really sounds like there is some kind of die off or accumulation of dying materials, which are leading to the lingering ammonia readings. What I would do is to go on a more "regular" water change schedule, as pointed out above, get rid of the Caulerpa, stop using additives (unless testing indicates a specific need for the additives that you're dosing), and keep working the skimmer.  Don't add any new animals until this ammonia is eliminated. Monitor water quality relentlessly. Employ some chemical media, such as PolyFilter and/or activated carbon and replace them on a regular basis. Act on some of the "ideas" I am presenting here. With diligent care and patience, you should be able to get that ammonia down. Good luck! Regards, Scott F>                 

Lingering Ammonia Readings (PT2) One item I forgot to mention was feeding the tank, New Life Spectrum about 15 pellets that are about 1/16 of an inch in diameter once a day. Also, have slowed feeding to once every 3 days with no change. Thanks, Keith McBride <Seems fine to me. In fact- make sure that the fish are getting enough food!>

Lingering Ammonia (Follow-up) Scott, thanks for the information about my ammonia problem, I removed the Caulerpa that had been in the tank since day one, and two days later it's down to almost 0ppm. <Really glad to hear that!> I put the stuff in a 5gal bucket  and it has set for two days and it smells like dog food. <Hmm- finally a good use for Caulerpa! Talk about "nutrient export"! Woof!  Keep up the good work! Regards, Scott F>

Mass Quarantine and Ammonia Levels After cycling a 90 gallon tank, I noticed one of my starter damsels had developed ich.  I immediately removed him but he soon died.  This is where my big problem lies:  my roommate purchased three fish (two dogface puffers, one about 2" and the other about 4", and a 1.5" Niger trigger) and put them in the main tank (no quarantine or any pretreatment).  I know I know...disaster struck. <Quarantine roommate from tank. Do not him/her get near it again or you may have another outbreak of shortsightedness/lack of information!> The trigger has developed ich, and I'm suspect about the little puffer.  I want to set up one quarantine tank for all three fish and run my main tank fallow for a month (specific gravity 1.017 and temp at 82, correct?). <Not necessary, run normal SG and 83 temp to push process/life cycle of ick along. You may find 2 months is better, a month is pushing it.> How big of a quarantine tank should I employ to house these three fish (cash and space is an issue) for joint treatment? <Get a Rubbermaid container the same size as the main, low cost, low light, plenty of room.> Also, how will I be able to keep the ammonia levels in check?  Will 10-20% water changes everyday be enough? <Perhaps, test daily to determine need.  Same for copper.> Will I really need to buy a filtration device, and if so, what do you recommend (specific products would be very helpful in guiding me along)? <Any filter to provide mechanical filtration (removal of actual waste/particulate matter). Aqua-clear, Marineland, etc. are fine.> My main concern is the ammonia since I'm dealing with the three fish.  I don't have a spare sponge for the bio media unless I use the only one in the main tank which is the prefilter over the wet/dry.  I don't want to use this b/c I don't want to introduce any amt of copper into the main tank when I return the sponge (I'm not an expert so I took my LFS' advice about copper being harmful to eels, inverts, and corals if I ever want to convert to a reef).  Hence, my concern about swapping sponges b/w the main tank and quarantine. <I would use the sponge and replace it when ready to run main. LFS is right about copper, do be careful to not cross-contaminate.  Sponges are inexpensive.> I've been reading through the vast info about quarantine procedure on the website, but I was hoping for an alternative to having a spare filter constantly running in the main tank just so I can run the quarantine tank when need be.  Any advice would be helpful.  Thanks. Sandy <Running a separate filter isn't necessary, the media can be in the wet/dry or hung tank-side at surface to provide bio-activity. Hope this helps.  Craig>

Ammonia (7-11-03) Hi again I was wondering if I could get around the ammonia rapid rise before it happens so my fish are ok and my tank stays healthy I have a 35 gallon saltwater tank with 4 small fish in It and I was wondering if you could instruct me on how to stop the ammonia rise before it happens? <Change your water and add cured live rock. Cody> THANK YOU SO MUCH YOU ALL ARE A GREAT HELP TO ME  RICH. H.

Mysterious Ammonia Spikes (12/25/2003) I keep getting ammonia spikes every third week.  After I change 10-20% water, it goes from 0 to 20+.  Nitrites are 0 Nitrates are 10~15.... this is expected due to my set-up - 85 Gal FOWLR tank. 9 Damsels (8 yellow/blue, 1 domino), approx: 60lbs LR (getting more) with approx: 10 mushrooms (which are increasing in size and new ones growing like no-ones business). Filtration: Hagen AquaClear 500 (BioStars and Sponge) Modified UGF SeaClone Skimmer (what a mistake buying that was) <there are certainly many better ones.> Any thoughts on the spikes....?  Jess <It sounds like this is associated with your water changes. I suggest you test the ammonia level in your source water. If that tests negative, mix in the salt, let it stabilize and test again. I had problems with the brand I used to use adding ammonia to my water. Hope this helps, Steve Allen.>

- Ammonia Spike, Help! - Good Morning - thanks in advance for your help.  History of tank: been up for 5 months 45 gals 75lbs live rock 20 lbs live sand 2 powerheads 201 & 301 Amiracle SL-5 Hippo Tang Six Line Wrasse 15 - 20 % water changes every 2 weeks using a water tap purifier. Test water- no ammonia.  While I was away last week , some of the snails in the tank starting dying - When I got home all snails dead - 2 hammer corals dead - star polyp, spaghetti coral looking real bad. Ammonia levels super high as high as 70. <Egads!> Did a 15 gallon water change immediately. Later in the day cleaner shrimp died, still ammonia level high. Did another 5 gallon water change that night. Next morning all corals dead - ammonia level still high. Removed all dead coral, moved live rock around found some more dead snails and removed them. Did another 15 gallon water change, and last night a 5 gallon change All that is left in the tank is the Hippo Tang, six line Wrasse, Sally light foot crab, and about 5 red & blue crabs. Ammonia - 60 Nitrates- 40 Nitrites - 0 Salinity - 1.025 Temp - 77 pH - 8.0 What can I do to save what is left in the tank? <Larger water changes - if your ammonia level is 70 and you change half of the water, that's only going to reduce the ammonia by half... need to do several of these in a row.> And also what should I do to prevent this in the future - my daughter and I want to make sure we do not endanger the livestock again. <Don't load up on the snails... only two or three in a tank of this size - no doubt that problem triggered the next into a domino-type reaction. Likely the ammonia is the result of the die-off. Large [more than 50%] water changes are your friend.> RT <Cheers, J -- >

Can't Get Ammonia to Zero in Salt System. >Hi Crew, >>Hi Rick.  Marina here. >Have searched the site for some help and haven't found the answer, yet, but hopeful.   >>While working on your answer, I got cut off, here's a good place to start -- http://www.wetwebmedia.com/marine/maintenance/index.htm >I have a 45 gal setup with a CPR protein skimmer, an Emperor 280 filter (BioWheel removed), 4 inch sand bed, 37 lbs of live rock and a PC 50/50 light.  The system has been running since January.  Currently I have 1- peppermint shrimp, 1- hermit crab, and 1- Royal Gramma occupying the tank.  The LR is covered with Coralline algae, Grape Caulerpa (growing very actively, remove handfuls bi-monthly), have several anemones, a mushroom coral and some Xenia.  Have a good amount of Coralline algae on glass and pumps as well.   >>While coralline algal growth is a good thing, it's not as important as the health of the invertebrates you're housing right now. >SG = 1.025, Temp = 79 degrees, pH = 8.2, Alk = normal, Nitrite = 0, Nitrate = 0 and Ammonia < .25.  The ammonia has been less than or equal to .25 for ever.  My trusted Reef store will not sell me any more fish until I get it down to zero.   >>Then try another test.  This is actually MORE suspect than anything else, especially if your fish and inverts are healthy.  I prefer Seachem, Salifert, and LaMotte. >I have been doing 15% water changes at least twice a month to help the ammonia and rid my tank of some Red Slime.   >>Aha!  You definitely have a nutrient export problem.  Do tweak your skimmer to ensure you're getting the nastiest, stinkiest skimmate possible from it.  Also, 15% isn't much at all.  Make it 25%/week while you've got the Cyanobacteria bloom.  Also, test for phosphates as this could be a source of nutrients for the Cyanobacteria.  See this link: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/bluegralgae.htm >Was at the local pet store yesterday and was talking with a couple of hobbyists.  One suggested that I treat the tank with PRIME to reduce the ammonia content.   >>??  No, best not to. >Another suggested that because I have only a single fish in the tank that the bacteria is dying off for lack of sufficient levels of ammonia to feed off of.   >>This is a non sequitur.  There are exactly enough bacteria being cultured to convert the ammonia to nitrite and nitrate.  If nitrification *weren't* occurring, you would have many dead invertebrates, and one unhealthy fish. >In the past, I've introduced CYCLE into the tank, thinking that there weren't enough bacteria available to handle the load (said thought with only one fish in a 45 gal tank!!). >>Eek, no.  Please don't, this only ADDS nutrients to the system (as evidenced by the Cyanobacteria). >Please help!  Do you have any ideas?  Is the tank safe with a level hovering around .25 for the introduction of more fish??  Will more fish help the balance?  Should I reintroduce the BioWheel (suggested to be removed by my reef store guy - Nitrate Engine)?   >>AHA!!  Another non sequitur!  If you think about it, there will ONLY be end result nitrate because of initial ammonia production (nitrifying bacteria--the two species--oxidize ammonia into nitrite and then nitrate.  This SHOULD occur no matter WHAT).  The ways to control nitrate are nutrient export via foam fractionation, DSB (deep sand bed), which is natural nitrate reduction, utilization of refugia (growth of macroalgae which are then harvested thus nutrients are removed). >Will PRIME save the day? >>No. >Thanks for your time and advice, Rick >>Try getting a different test kit, and check the reagents used for ammonia readings.  Nessler's reagent is known to give false readings when other chemicals (dechlorinator) are used.  Also, it could simply be a cheap or old test kit.  Your best indicator of system health are its residents, and if THEY'RE healthy, chances are that you don't really have this ammonia problem.  Search the site for "ammonia marine", "Cyanobacteria", and "marine test kits/marine water quality".  Best of luck, and how do I get my own personal submarine?  Marina

Ich problem I have a 60 gal tank that is 1 1/2 months old. I have it stocked with 2 common clowns and 1 red sea Basslet. The clowns have developed ich. The local store suggested that I use a cleaner shrimp to treat this. Is this a viable alternative to medication. Also, I have a problem with ammonia .25 almost like clockwork every 3-4 days. I believe that I am not overfeeding the tank. I have a skimmer setup. I have 20lb. of live rock and also live sand. Will adding additional live rock help with my ammonia problem. I am having to do partial water changes way to often. >> The ammonia is a bad sign... either some component of the life in your system is doing poorly (dying), and/or your tank really has not cycled... I would take the advice of your dealer re the cleaner shrimp, lower your system specific gravity to 1.018, raise the tank temperature to 82 F.... and of course, hold off a good month before adding any livestock or live rock... after the ich problem is cured AND the ammonia has gone to zero... which will happen. You don't need, or want to add more live rock at this point. Bob Fenner

I put 90 Pounds of pre cured live rock in to cycle my tank last week. The ammonia levels were high and gradually going down. Wednesday I added 45 more  pounds pre cured and the ammonia now reads 0. I have tested four times in a  matter of 25 minutes. The Nitrite levels are 1+. Is this normal? I thought  the ammonia levels would stay high much longer. > Felix I don't doubt your testing is accurate. This is typical/normal... and no worries. Wait a few days to a couple of weeks and your nitrites will likewise suddenly drop to zero. With live rock use ammonia is generally transient. Bob Fenner

Ammonia I have the 5 gal. hospital tank with the tang in it. It has been since Monday that I put copper in the water and he seems to be clear of the ick...the problem is that even when I do a 1 gal. water change everyday, the ammonia stays at 1.0. Another person told me that the ammonia is locked up and I need to get ammo lock. Since I have started this salt water aquarium...it seems that everyone I talk to has a different opinion. I like your website the best and it seems to have "correct information", what do you think about the ammonia and getting the level down.. After the tang is ok, how can I get it back to the original tank when the ammonia reading is so different. Cheryl < Don't worry about the return to an Ammonia-free environment, the Tang will be quite relieved. Sounds to me like you're doing a great job. If you're aging that change-water before it goes into the 5 gallon quarantine, it's perfectly acceptable to do 3 gallons at once, to really get a good drop in the ammonia. You've actually struck a balance - the 1-gallon daily change is just enough to keep the ammonia from rising above the 1.0 reading you're reporting. You'll need to do more to actually bring it down. Without a nitrogen cycle (impossible in a coppered tank) Ammonia will ALWAYS build up without water changes. Always remember to treat the change water, and do be patient with a full 2-week treatment, and even 1-week post-copper quarantine of that Tang. Ick lives and dies in copper-resistant cycles, and two weeks is absolutely necessary to get it all with the copper. -Lorenzo >

Ammonia problem Dear Robert: I need your help again. I have a 20 Gallon aquarium with 1 Lionfish 2 Porcupine Puffers 1 Linckia sea star 1 Blue spine Urchin 2 Banded Coral Shrimps 1 Scarlet Shrimp 1 Very tiny lobster 2 Harlequin Shrimps 1 tiny panther Grouper Live Rock 25 pounds Live Aragonite sand <Come on, you're pulling my fins! All of this in a twenty!?> The fish are doing really well, despite the overcrowding (I think), but I still keep getting a 0.25 ammonia  reading. Nitrite is clear and Nitrate is very low, almost unreadable. <Trouble my friend... this system is a disaster not waiting to happen... it is WAY too crowded, and not cycled, perhaps not cyclable... due to the bioload, feeding.> I can't get the ammonia to go down. How much and how often should I change the water? Should I transfer some of my fish to a 10 Gallon aquarium I have with a red sea star and two clams? <Transfer some or all... but do get a MUCH larger system... like a hundred something... oh! Thank goodness, I see you have one on the way> I didn't want to overcrowd the 20 Gallon aquarium, but I ordered a 180 Gallon Berlin System aquarium from Tenecor and it hasn't arrived yet. The fish I have in the 20 Gallon have been there for 3 weeks, and no problems so far. <Oh, it's you Marcela (I pronounce it "Mar-chella"...). Please let me know what your ideas are. Look forward to hearing from you. Marcela <The most important bit of advice, feed SPARINGLY... to not at all... and give the folks in AZ, Tenecor a call and tell them to hustle! Bob Fenner>

Re: Ammonia problem Hi Robert: Thanks so much for the quick reply. It's always great hearing from you. Sorry about the overcrowding. I know it's a big No No, but it was my fault ordering the fish so quickly, thinking I wouldn't be able to find them anymore. Here's what I'm planning to do tomorrow: I'll transfer the Lionfish, the two Harlequin, the sea star and the urchin to a 10 Gallon cycled aquarium which I keep only live sand. That's the aquarium I had for the water changes only, and I'll make sure I'll add a few false corals as hiding places for the shrimps. Sounds OK? <Well, better> The other 2 banded corals shrimp I'll transfer to the other 10 Gallon with the sea star, 2 clams, 4 snails and another sea urchin. How's that? <I hope this will help.> I'll live the two porcupine puffers, the panther grouper, the scarlet shrimp and the tiny lobster in the 20 gallon. Does it sound better? Just to let you know, I knew there was going to be overcrowding, so all my small tanks have huge and powerful protein skimmers, mechanical and biological extra large filters and good water pumps, plus I change about 20% of the water every other day. I believe that's why the fish are doing so well. Also, all my fish and invertebrate are tiny and still babies. Let me know if that sounds better or if you have another suggestion on how to separate them. By the way, you always answer everyone's questions so sincerely and so patiently. How do you manage? I'm sure you have people who don't thank you back. <I am satisfied I am myself> Regards, Marcela (and you right, you can pronounce it Marchella, I'm half Brazilian and half Italian) <Fabulous. Be chatting my friend. Bob Fenner>

Ammonia Problems Hello, I am having a problem with ammonia levels staying between 0.15 and 0.25. I had a penguin 330 filter and just changed it on 03/26/02 with a magnum 350. <The little BioWheel on your Penguin was being overwhelmed by your rather large fish load. The Magnum will probably be even less effective, a decent mechanical and chemical filter, but not great for biological.> I also have a Prizm protein skimmer. My tank is 38 gal. and I have a Lion fish, <The common lionfish P. volitans grows up to 15".> a Foxface, <Depending on species will grow anywhere from 7-16".> a Bicolor Angel, <6"> a Naso Tang <18"> and 2 small Damsels <Lionfish food.> what can I do to correct this problem if I go bigger with my tank what size should I get? thank you <You need something long enough for your fish to get some exercise and wide enough to be able to turn around. A standard 180 (2'x2'x6') is the smallest I can recommend. -Steven Pro>

Re: High ammonia levels. Dear Bob, Was talking to my stockist about using "Nori", and they asked me if I was sure that it didn't contain oil. Bought it from a super-market in a sealed pack, made by a company called Sanchi, and it simply reads: ingredients: Nori (Porphyra tenera). Green light? <Yes... nothing else added here> You suggested I used this stuff whilst I was waiting for my ammonia level to go down, now at about 0.6 (much better!). And is this the same type of low pollutant stuff as purple seaweed (Porphyra umbilicalis), which I was already using? <Bingo> Also, the patches of brown/red algae have really started coming up on pretty much everything, which the blenny loves (bicolor, & my other fish is a little lipstick tang), and while I recognize this as a sign of "life establishment", <Yes, well put> & bearing in mind that you advised me not to clean anything till the ammonia was 0, can you give me any tips about controlling it?  <Yes sir. Please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/algaeasfriend.htm> Should it turn green? My system is now nearly 11 wks old. Your advice as always will be much appreciated. Hamish, UK. <You're on a/the right track. Bob Fenner>

Ammonia spike (8-22-03) Howdy!  <Hey!  Cody here today.> For the past couple of weeks, I have been battling an ammonia problem. First, a snail died - no biggie. Then another, and another. I ran a test, and found ammonia somewhere between the 0 and .25. Started doing water changes (30 gallons on a 140) every day. No change. Added Amquel, tried Kent another day, Seachem another day  <No more chemicals please.>  - all with no change, and still doing the 30 gallons every day. In fact, it is now WORSE. The level is .5 (that test is sooo green!) and I can't find the reason why the level is going UP and not down. I'm in a panic! I've cleaned all the filters three times a week, the skimmer - everything. My corals are all gone, most of the snails, and even a starfish isn't looking so hot. Luckily, no loss of fish yet. Parameters are: Ammonia .5, PH 7.9 (down from 8.4), Trate and Trite are 0, phos is almost nil. Calc is between 450 and 500, Alk is "high". What do you make of this, and do I do? I'm tempted to dump out ALL of the water and start over - bad as that is!  <My first thought is either something is dead or dying.  Check all creatures and make sure you get the ones that are dead out of there ASAP.  There is not much I can think of right know but keep up with the water changes and let me know what is still in there for fish and such.  Cody>  Help! Please? -Cathy <>< Fort Worth, TX

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