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FAQs on Marine Water Quality involving Ammonia, Measure 

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, Control, Chemical Filtrants, Troubleshooting, Nitrates, NitritesPhosphate, Silicates, Test Kits for Marine Systems, Chemical Filtrants

The common aquarium assays for ammonia/ammonium are relatively accurate and precise. Do pay attention to the expiry dates of reagents... And aware of the potential for false negatives and positives. When/where in doubt, "check your checker"

Re: Sick Dog face Puffer; Now ammonia testing...        2/6/14
Hi again.  Thank you for your <advice> lol
Anyhow, I was thinking and I thought that it was worth mentioning that when I started the tank, I used tap water and dechlorinated it with Prime. I have since used RODI water ONLY for the water changes that I have done.
(I did 3 at 10 - 15 gallons each before I consulted you all)  I say all of that to say that I have been reading up on Prime, and I see that it will convert NH3 to NH4 but will still read the presence of NH3 when tests are done .  Could this be the reason that I am registering 0.25 in my NH3 tests?
<Could be artifactual>
Lastly, you suggested that I stop feeding period till the tank fully cycles... how will I know what an accurate reading of NH3 is in order to tell me when the tank is cycled and how long can I go without feeding my fishes?
Thank you for your ADVICE :-)
<Search WWM re the above... When there's not NH3, NO2... and you find NO3 accumulating. B>
p.s. I have had the lights off in the tank since yesterday and the puffer has been coming out and playing like he used to almost all day today but his color still fluctuates.
Re: Sick Dog face Puffer       2/6/14

how long can i go without feeding my fishes?
... search
Water quality.       2/7/14

Hey again everyone. Okay so here's what I'm thinking. I started my 80 gallon tank with tap water and dechlorinated it with prime.  But now that Im reading about Prime I see that it will change NH3 to NH4 but that that will still register in my water quality tests.  So since I added Dr. Tim's nitrifying bacteria, will the NH4 be converted through the nitrogen cycle as well or will that remain in the water thereby forever giving me a false reading of ammonia?
<Very common to experience such false positives in this scenario. All will pass (in days)>

Note that I have used RODI water for all 3 water changes I have performed up to this point....
<So noted... B>

Re: Disease identification – 07/26/12
<Hi Tom>
Thank you again for you expeditious response.  I hear you on the length of the Formalin baths and agree that the duration I have been using might be on the high side, especially for some of the more sensitive wrasses but for years this has been my SOP and I have yet to experience what has taken place over the last several weeks.
<Mmm, well... I have done such dips... many thousands of times commercially... Can be highly detrimental... depending on the species, size, condition of the fish specimens>
 After reading your replies, this whole thing really got me started on reading up and surfing for hours on what I may be overlooking. I think I have stumbled onto something that in the next day or two will rear its ugly head.  These symptoms demonstrated by the fish were classic telltale signs of high ammonia.
<Ah yes... and coupled w/ the jump from low to higher pH, going from shipping to dipping water, deadly>
 Given the fact I was doing weekly or sometimes daily 20% - 25% water changes, each of the HOB filters have bio wheels and the sponge filters were fully seeded and rated for triple the water volume of each tank, I never really gave ammonia a consideration figuring it has to be some type of parasite or disease
<Not likely here; no>
With these acclimation/qt tanks I have always relied on the SeaChem ammonia alert badges to give me a quick visual on ammonia readings. 
<I really like the SeaChem company, the owner, his expired father, the present staff I've had the opportunity to interact w/ these past several years... and MOST all their products... but I discontinued their "Alerts" as a/the buyer for Petco in the early nineties. NOT reliable unfortunately>
The badges in these top two tanks are about 6 months old give or take. (SeaChem claims that they can last up to a year) as a result, I very rarely used a test kit except for an old API kit I purchased a couple of years ago.  Having said that, I went out and purchased a new ammonia kit made by Elos and tested each of the tanks.  All four tanks had readings between .25 and .50 so now I can only assume that the SeaChem badges didn't indicate the levels being as high as they were was probably due to their age and the API kit had long expired but now I had to figure out why my ammonia levels are so high in continuously running, cycled tanks and I think the answer was right there in front of me the whole time.   CATS LITTER BOX!!!!  Moved it into the room just before the 4th of July weekend

It sits on the floor approximately 3-feet away from the 4 tanks which are on a dual level stand. Although the litter box is cleaned every couple of days, cat urine has a very concentrated level of ammonia.  The tanks have glass canopies over them for wrasse protection and air pumps and air stones running in each along with the HOB filters and these two things combined are probably piping in ammonia.
<Could well be>
  Last night I filled a small bucket with RO/DI water and tested it for ammonia, it had a reading of zero.  I placed it next to the tanks and have an air stone inside the bucket running off one of  the current air pumps used on the tanks.  I am going to take a reading tonight and again tomorrow night to see if there is such a thing as airborne cat ammonia contaminating a tank.
<Please do write back re your observation/s>
 I know you have to be very careful with
Windex if you spray it too close to a fish tank so I'm thinking this could also be a possibility.
<Ah yes. Thank you, BobF>

ammonia testing using Hanna 83203 aquaculture photometer 5/22/11
I am using Hanna's 83203 aquameter to test Koi pond water. I would like to know of a dechlorinator that is compatible with this meter.
<Just dechlorinator... not dechloraminator... sodium thiosulfate/hyposulfite... can >
I am using Cloram -X at this time and it is not compatible with their reagents. The reason I am using this meter is I am colorblind. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks, Steve
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>
Ammonia Testing Using Hanna 83203 Aquaculture Photometer/Test Kits/Photometers 5/23/2011
<Hello Steve>
I am using Hanna's 83203 aquameter to test Koi pond water. I would like to know of a dechlorinator that is compatible with this meter. I am using Cloram -X at this time and it is not compatible with their reagents. The reason I am using this meter is I am colorblind. Any help would be appreciated.
<Steve, it would be best to contact Hanna Instruments directly with this question at tech@hannainst.com>
<You're welcome. James (Salty Dog)>
ammonia testing, test gear/measure SW    5/23/11

Thanks for the info. Am I understanding that the sodium thiosulfate will remove chlorine and chloramines ,but not ammonia?
<Mmm, not ammonia>
Also is there a meter that is compatible with today's modern products?
Thanks again, Steve
<Likely James' comment is best here... to have you check w/ the various meter manufacturer's... otherwise, it dawns on me that one could test for an index of non-transmission w/ cuvette/s w/ pure water, the dechloraminator to get an idea if they are indeed a contributor/changer of readings. I don't think this is likely, or even measurable at the photometric, or colorimetric bandwidth you're using. BobF>
testing... for color blind folk... Not colorimetric assays

ok, checked with some suppliers, looks like us colorblind people are outta luck. There are some test kits are a little more color friendly but won't give a numeric value. but I am still researching some other possibilities. thanks for the help. Tested pure water with Cloram-x only and got same high results.
<Steve, you sound like a candidate for electronic read out testing tools...
Do look into these. Bob Fenner>
testing... for color blind folk... Not colorimetric assays    5/23/11
This is not a problem commonly in the sight of most. If I may, do contact Mike at info@glass-holes.com. He too is colorblind and has some tips and tricks for work arounds here. I realize not all are the same with this, but it is worth contacting him before investing in fairly pricey equipment here.
Scott V.

Brian, re a query, statements on WWM... Quinine interference w/ Ammonia tests
Would you please point me to the stoichiometry, other indication of co-reaction in water quality/Ammonia tests producing false negatives with Quinine? Please see the corr. below re.
Bob Fenner, WetWebMedia
Subject: RE: Quinine Treatment HELP!! Fish stress
The woman I spoke with was Pat. She said that she or Dr. Brian Aukes can answer any and all questions re the false readings though Dr. Brian Aukes would be better at answering your questions. I don't know if ALL tests will
be effected however she did specifically say ammonia tests.
<Thank you for this follow up>
I will be picking up a new QT, even if its just a 10$ Wal-mart aquarium, in the next day or two. I don't believe keeping the snails and crabs in a bucket for close to two weeks would be the best way to go here.
I am very interested in the science behind the reagents as well and would very much like to know more. If you could reply letting me know what you find I would greatly appreciate it. If you cant or don't remember (yall are
very busy over there) I will just check back re Quinine.
<I will do so>
I would very much like to know if I should do the water change or not. I am torn between the possibility of altering the treatments to an ineffective state and lowering the ammonia because though they aren't looking stressed it's just not a healthy way for them to live.
<Mmm, the "bio-assay" of livestock behavior is most useful/indicative here, but, when in doubt, I would change some water out>
Thank you again
Sabrina Roschbach
<And you, BobF>
Re: Again: Brian, re a query, statements on WWM 2/21/10
Many medications and water treatments will throw off water testing.
Especially these low dollar reagent test kits. Many times these reagents are expired and you are getting false test results right out of the box.
You must use common sense when keeping tropical fish. Note behavior, feeding habits etc. You cannot rely on a low dollar test kit for accurate results.
If the fish are hanging at the top of the tank and gasping for air... I would say that you have high ammonia or nitrites and that a water change should be done immediately.
If your test kit is giving you a false reading (which can happen frequently), and it shows high ammonia levels: Look at the fish. Are they swimming around just fine? This is where the common sense part kicks in.
Best regards,
Dr. Brian G. Aukes; PhD
c/o National Fish Pharmaceuticals
<Okay... not the specifics to the question I was looking for, but sound advice in general. Thank you, Bob Fenner>

Re: Again: Brian, re a query, statements on WWM, Quinine/s + NH3 tests  -- 02/22/10
Hi Bob,
If I were to explain it in stoichiometry as you requested... nobody would understand it.
<Most, no>
You must explain things as a hobbyist would understand it and not get so technical. Being that Quinine is an Alkaloid, this would get very confusing.
Again: Most medications and water treatments will throw your tests off.
Best regards,
Dr. Brian G. Aukes; PhDc/o National Fish Pharmaceuticals
<Am familiar w/ some interactions with Nessler's and PVP... but not Quinines; again thank you for your efforts. BobF>

Re: statements on WWM, Quinine/s + NH3 tests -- 02/22/10  2/24/10
Just to add my personal experience with ammonia (salicylate) & nitrite tests and Chloroquine Phosphate. I have been using the API tests for both with this medication for some time now (on several occasions) and have found no
unusual results.
<Ahh, I have/had found no such notes by others either...>
Indeed, results have been as I would expect in a QT tank with no med, i.e. a modest increase seen in both as the tank matures, along with increases in ammonia after feeding, and decreases in both with water changes, and as the filter matures.
<Thank you for this. BobF>

Ammonia levels showing toxic, but fish happy as can be.....what gives?
Hang in the tank ammonia monitors - Not to be trusted. 3/14/2009

<Hi Jim>
OK, I am hoping you all can shed some light for me here.
<Will give it a shot.>
I have been reading and reading stuff on your site and all over the web, and I can't seem to find an answer to this. I am using a Martel Live NH3 in tank meter to monitor my ammonia levels in the tank. (I am gone during the week and this helps my wife keep track of things for me till I get home on Thursdays.) I have been battling this ammonia issue now for about 4 weeks.
<I think I see the problem already.>
Here are the details on my tank setup:
115 Gallon Tank
Community Fish (Angels, Mollies, Platys, Guppies, Tetras, Danios, Cory Cats, Plecos)
No live plants
47 Fish Total
Vortex Diatom XL filter
<I wouldn't run this all the time.>
Penn Plax Cascade 1200 Canister Filter
Now according to the meter, my fish are exposed to toxic levels of ammonia, but you sure could not tell it by looking at them in the tank! They all are happy and healthy as far as I can tell. They are active, even playful. So I am at a loss as to why my ammonia levels are so high. I even changed the meter thinking that maybe the meter was faulty. The new meter took a couple of days, but it too is showing toxic levels of ammonia.
<I am NOT a fan of these devices. Too many incidents of false readings.
Do you have a regular test kit? A simple API kit for ammonia runs about $10.00 (US). MUCH more accurate than these monitors, Better yet, the Fresh Water master test kit, will test for all of the necessary water parameters, usually for less than $30.00 US. Also, when you do water changes, where is your source water coming from and how does it test?>
As for overfeeding, I am balancing between flake crisps, pellet, and then algae tabs (Plecos). I don't think I am overfeeding. Since I am balancing their food. I provide less than what each food specifies for the amount of fish I have in the tank. And with the exception of two fish who never seem to stop eating, J their belly's do not show signs of overfeeding and they are all excited when it comes time to feed. I feed once a day. So I don't think I am overfeeding.
<Water tests would confirm, but based upon what you are telling me, I would agree.>
On to filtering. I know there are three categories of filtering, mechanical, chemical, and biological. I use my vortex diatom XL continuously, so it is
providing both "water polishing" and mechanical filtering. And my Penn Plax Cascade 1200 is providing all three.
<Diatom filters should only be used a few hours at a time for polishing the water, then removed and cleaned completely. Really unnecessary for day to day use Also, how often and how are you cleaning out your canister filter?>
On to water changes, per some info I found on the web about severe ammonia problems, I did 50% water changes every day last week. What a chore and still no affect on the ammonia levels showing on the meter. But my planned schedule is to do 25% weekly and 50% every 6 months (opportunity to clean UGF).
<10% - 20% weekly is fine.>
I have a theory that I am hoping you all can help me confirm, but I think it is a matter of math at this point. By that I mean, ammonia control falls
into the realm of biological filtering and water changes. I have both going on, but in terms of biological filtering, I think that I don't have enough biological filtering going on. What are your thoughts on that?
<It is possible, again, without a definitive test, it is impossible to tell. You likely have more biological filtration than you think. The surfaces of the gravel and any decorations have a coating of bacteria as well.>
To that point I am going to install an under gravel filter (UGF) this weekend. I ran one in my 55 gallon tank for years, but when I purchased this new tank the sales people talked me out of a UGF stating it was "old school" and not needed
<They still have their uses, but yes, they are pretty much 'old school" You would likely do more damage adding one at this point.>
Well finding an article on your site "5 Pros & 5 Cons of Under gravel Filters" I have decided that they are not as "old school" as the salesman would have me believe. I am going to install one in this tank to increase the volume of biological filtering going on in my tank. I would like to know your thoughts on that.
<Again, I would NOT add one at this point.>
And one other question that I would like to pose to you about filtering for comment is this, one of my buddies is a hobbyist as well, and he is always saying, "you cannot have too much filtering going on". Do you agree with that statement?
<You cannot have too much filtration within reason, given the size of the tank.>
I was also thinking of adding another canister filter to increase the filtering levels for my tank. Thoughts? Comments?
<This is what I would do. It would add additional filtration AND water movement. Rena makes a good canister filter, and you absolutely cannot beat an Eheim.>
<Please do get a 'real' test kit and really see what is going on in your tank.>
<You are very welcome, please do let me know what you find.>

Green Chromis and QT ammonia 04/28/2008 Hello again crew! <<Hello, Andrew here this afternoon>> After reading your Chromis FAQ, I was unable to determine what course of action I should take. So I hope you can give me some direction, as I've read different opinions from the crew regarding my situation. <<Lets see what we can do then>> I bought (1 week ago) in QT (30 gal) 17 green Chromis, and 2 purple Firefish. These fish are all in QT now. The largest Chromis is 1", and the Firefish are maybe 1.5". These fish will be the first additions to my 210. <<WOW>> My QT parameters are... Ammonia (free ammonia)- 0, Nitrites - 0, nitrates - 2-5ppm, PH - 8.0, Salinity 1.025. I have several PVC fittings for the fish to hide, and am feeding Spectrum pellets, and Mysis Shrimp, and blood worms. All soaked in Selcon. I feed a pinch of pellets in the morning, and half a cube of mysis or blood worms at night. I've only done one 50% water change as my ammonia and nitrite levels remain steady. I did the water change just after the 2nd fish died. My ammonia test kit (Seachem) still works great as the reference sample confirmed. <<Ok....Feeding once per day is ample here>> After 4 days, I found a chromis dead with what looked like bruising behind its right gills. 2 days later another Chromis developed bruising on the top of its head, and died within 4 hrs. This morning, I found another dead Chromis. This one looked fine, and didn't show any signs of bruising or damage. <<This will be due to over crowding in the QT tank>> I did net these fish. Several different opinions from the crew were mentioned on your Chromis faq page...one said that netting could cause the bruising and ultimate death, another said the QT was too small and to quickly move them into the display tank, while another suggested to start medicating for "hemorrhagic septicemia". I'm not really sure what to do. Can you help shed some light on this? <<Cut the level of stock in the QT tank. This is far too many for such a small aquarium I'm afraid>> Also, the Seachem test kit says I only need to test for Free ammonia because Free ammonia is the toxic form of ammonia. The only other test kit I've used is from API. From my past experience, I'm sure this test would come back with ammonia of 1.0 or higher. From what the Seachem kit says, the API kit is testing "Total ammonia" which isn't toxic to fish, and therefore doesn't require a water change. <<In my opinion, both ways of testing ammonia are acceptable. Testing for Free-Ammonia id just -another- way / method. Personally, i use the API kits and find them acceptable>> Am I doing the right thing by only testing and responding to "Free Ammonia" readings? <<Yes. The only thing i see wrong is the stocking levels of the QT tank, and this does need to be resolved before more untimely deaths occur.>> Thanks for all your help! Wayne <<Thanks for the questions Wayne, hope this helps. A Nixon>>

Copper Worries 7/13/07 Hi. I have been treating with copper since yesterday and have read everything I could find in your site about it. The one thing I don't see is right after I treat the water with CopperSafe I see a big jump in ammonia?? <... the Copper kills nitrifying bacteria... this is stated several times... but very likely here the chelating agent is an alkanoamine... It's the source (likely a false positive) of the ammonia here>> Im taking the water out of my other tank that has no ammonia or nitrite whatsoever. My worry is will the ammonia kill my fish? I lost a lot of fish in my early days from ammonia then anything else. Im changing out the treated water twice a day but the ammonia jumps to 1.00 ppm as soon as I added the copper to fresh established water. This is more of a worry then a question as I feel Im following everything to the letter I've learned from your site. Please don't ask me to read as I get lost in all different things in there and haven't found one that addresses these concerns. Im sure others have these concerns also. Thanks So Much Rick <The reading is spurious. B>

Nessler Rgt. concern   4/21/07 Hello Crew, <Howdy> I work at a LFS and regularly recommend Amquel and Wardley products. The warning labels on these products and many others warns against use with Nessler reactor test kits. <As they should...> I know many of my customers use the test kits and have received odd readings when testing their tank parameters. It also becomes very annoying when customers have no idea what chemicals or kits they are using. My question is how likely is that additives effect test kits. <Very...> What is the likelihood of a reaction happening when someone is using too many additives. <?... Am not following you here... The Nessler's Reagent will/can give false readings in a test vial... for ammonia... with water that has been treated with certain water conditioners (containing PVP...)... but this/these false readings are not "in the tank"... the test water should be discarded... not poured back in...> ( I have a customer who insists on adding 6 different additives to his freshwater tank every week.) Thank you for your time and patience.            Ann <Mmm, please refer them here... Not a good idea... we are in agreement here. Bob Fenner> Re: Ammonia!!! Study...  4/14/07 Hi WWM, The water I use gets delivered to my home and is stored in a 2000 litre tank at the back of my house. <Nice to have> I have used it about ten times and never had a problem. I had a dying coral and yesterday I took it out of the tank and then did a 50-55%(350 litres) water change and now the tests are showing no ammonia. <Can be transient...> For the next few days I am going to feed my fish lightly and see what happens. I am going to test the water for ammonia everyday until the problem resides. The Aquarium Pharmaceuticals ammonia test is also hard to read. Thank you, Maison <... I would get a better test kit... Read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/mtestbrands.htm and the linked files above... It occurs to me to suggest that for what you have invested monetarily, you don't appear to have concomitant knowledge/awareness... Perhaps a good reference book, some time spent with it... Bob Fenner>

Strange Things & Ammonia Too... water cond. artifact of testing... or is it there?   3/28/07 Hi all, <Rochelle>     First of all, LOVE your site! I've done a ton of research on it. <Ah, good> Second let's get to my inquiry. I apologize if it gets lengthy; I feel the need to give you as much info as possible. <There is time> OK, now, I had a 30gal saltwater tank, never any problems, except of course that pesky brown algae. I then acquired a 55gal tank, which I converted to saltwater. I added things from the 30gal to the 55 to make it cycle faster, water, live sand, a few LR, and filter media. I added one of blue my Chromis a few days later. Parameters were perfect. 2 days after that I added my emerald crab, still things are great. No ammonia, nitrates or nitrites. I then added 5 pounds of "new/fresh" live rock. <Ding!> Ammonia went to 1.0!  Water change done and still the ammonia was 1.0. <Takes a while...> I then removed the new live rock 2 days after putting it in and cleaned it up more, removing anything dead that I didn't see before, I even went after it with my handy dandy tooth brush. It's now alone in a 10gal tank with air, heat and filtration until it can learn to behave itself. (Thanks to Bob on that advice) confused because the rest of the 50 pounds of that rock from that same shipment is in my friends tank, which is having no problems with ammonia. After things were going well again in the tank and I had no ammonia, I acclimated in the rest of my critters over the course of 2 days. current critters in my 55 are... 3 Blue Chromis, 1 Yellow Damsel, 1 Purple Basslet, 1 Yellow Clown Goby, 1 green Clown Goby, 1 Hermit Crab, 1 Emerald Crab, 1 yellow cucumber, 1 7" red sea star, <Yikes... king of big> 1 Pincushion Urchin, 1 Pencil Urchin, 1 Pink Tip Haitian Anemone, 1 snail and numerous baby brittle stars that hitchhiked on the rock. (See that need for a bigger home?) I understand the tank had to catch up biologically but how high will the ammonia go? <Hopefully not much at all... any is problematical> Now..... Mich has identified that my sea star is sick; he has a small hole on his body, (bought him with a white spot, it just didn't turn into a hole until recently) still eats and moves about the tank. <Mmm... keep your eye on it...> My Green Goby watches over him and cleans around his wound and I'm pleased to say, it looks to be healing. Now let's get to the other problems shall we? Now keep in mind, all my critters lived together in my 30gal with no problems or water issues. (Except for the hole in the sea star). I have been battling ammonia since I took that problem live rock out! (Yes there is ammonia in the 10gal tank where that rock is now housed by itself, so I know this was part of the problem) I have done water changes up to 60% 3 times, with smaller water changes in between 10-15% over the last 7 days. I use Instant Ocean salt and store bought distilled water by the gallon, I mix my water right in the gallon jug I buy my water in. here are my water parameters, salinity 1.024, alkalinity 300, PH 8.4, nitrates are less than 5, nitrites 0, temp is 80 (heater isn't coming on due to my upstairs apartment & warm air temp up here) ammonia is .25, I'm sure it would be higher if I wasn't so obsessed with water changes. I have 40 pounds crushed coral with 25 pounds live sand. I don't know what is causing my ammonia problem. I've used 'Prime' and 'bio-safe' to try to bring it down. <Mmm... do hold off on these... they may well be giving you a false positive on the ammonia test... Perhaps a small experiment with adding a bit of these products to some fresh water... and testing for ammonia...> I thought maybe I've done so many water changes I've flushed all the beneficial bacteria, so I used some 'Cycle' <Not a generally dependable source of nitrifiers...> . I can't pinpoint the cause of the ammonia nor can I bring it down. Even after a water change (or 3) it only dilutes and rises again. I can't get it to 0 but I can get it below .25 with water changes. The only thing I haven't tried is that cheap stuff Wal-mart sells made by jungle, even though it says "safe for saltwater" I'm skeptical of the effectiveness and the health of my critters after use. Do you have any ideas? <Yes... the experiment alluded to above. I do think this is "it"> The tank was never cleaned with any chemicals and I don't use Windex or ammonia containing chemicals around it. I'm at a loss. The previous owner of the tank said she never had any problem with parameters. (Wondering if it was the tank itself, even though things were fine for a while)     I don't know if this helps but I have cut down on the feeding, and I've noticed that my urchins and my Anemone kind of hanging around amongst and under the LR, which concerns me, usually the urchins are on the glass or feeding off the rock. On my last trip by the tank, I did notice the Anemone has shriveled and the pincushion is missing a lot of his spines and what he does have on him for spines appear droopy, Due to the Ammonia? <Mmm, or perhaps just the move, lack of biota to eat...> Does the water temp have anything to do with anything? <Can, yes> I did change my light source 4 days ago from standard 40 watt fluorescent to an 18,000K power glow fluorescent. With a 12 hour on 12 off cycle. I have just he basic hang on double filter for an up to 75 gal tank, (saving for a better filter.) I've also increased the amount of carbon in the filter hoping that would help. so far no luck with anything. Please give me any info you can think of that will save my critters and lower my ammonia. I wish I could crawl under a rock and shrivel up like the Anemone about now. You know, my fish seem happy as can be, swimming, active, even the yellow Damsel continues to fan holes in the sand. Crabs are crawling around; the cucumber is trying to filter feed. I don't understand.   Confusion has set in here. Thanks in advance. Rochelle <Do take a read here as well: http://wetwebmedia.com/ammmarmeas.htm Patience, that test... Bob Fenner> Ammonia sensing & water management   1/30/06 Hello Dr. Fenner: <Mmm, no doctorate... Just Bob, please> I am writing to ask, hopefully, if you might help us by giving a little guidance with respect to ammonia in aquaria, as a water-quality issue; specifically regarding the need for continuous monitoring of ammonia, as well as pH.  From searching the web, I am impressed by what you have done, your credentials in the field, and interest in promoting the safe, successful maintenance of fish in a healthy environment. As I am looking for professional advice from one who knows the need and can sort out the reality from the hype for us, I hope that you might have a moment to address our inquiry. <Okay> My company develops optical sensors, primarily for biomedical R&D.  We made one for visually determining the ppm ammonia (not ammonium) in water, useful in the range of  0.05 to 1 ppm, even up to 5 ppm .  It is suitable for continuous monitoring of tank water, has a reversible color-response to NH3, and is long lasting.  We have been encouraged that this would be a useful product - for the freshwater pet industry - but for the marine environment, we were told that a more sensitive sensor is needed in order to measure lower ammonia levels. <Mmm, no... the stated range is efficacious> So we made another sensor rendition that can be used for visual monitoring in the 0.005 to 0.1 ppm range. Thus, with the two sensors, we can cover the complete NH3 range that we think should be needed for aquarists. We are interested in the business opportunity that exists for ammonia testing.  Current thinking is that we provide two products: one for freshwater and one for marine.  The plan is to include a visual pH sensor (range 6-9) along with each ammonia sensor, so that both parameters can be monitored continuously and provide more value. However, a question of interest is if there is really a need for two separate ammonia sensors?  If no ammonia is the goal of a well-maintained system, and any detectable ammonia indicates that a problem exists that needs attention, then will the 0.005 to 0.1 ppm higher sensitivity sensor be all that is needed to cover all aquarists' concerns? <The "higher" scale is all that is of interest, saleable> With respect to the 'business opportunity' we are most interested in getting sound advise to help define and bring into focus who has the most interest, what and where is the greatest need, and the scope or size of the potential market(s). For instance, does visual monitoring present more value to the fresh or saltwater hobbyist, the retail store, pond operators, breeders, or the shippers and the distribution process? <Mmm, actually to all... the presence of ammonia/ammonium is a critical parameter determining health of aquatic livestock... for everyone. Likely your product, depending on price, would be attractive to all levels> Do the preponderance of conventional manual tests (strips or liquid-sample based ammonium test kits) cover the need? <Mmm, yes. The vast majority of tests/kits in the ornamental aquatics hobby interest are simple colorimetric assays... some repackaging of dry reagents by Hach, some sales by LaMotte and others, but many cheapy repackaged liquid reagent types on the low/freshwater end. There are some sales of colorimeters, spectrophotometric/titrametric means in our hobby/business, but these are few> Through various lines of inquiry, we have gotten confounding feedback. It ranges from encouragement that there is considerable need, to not so much interest because testing is only important during the aquarium setup phase while it is stabilizing? <Mainly, but this (and other aspects of nitrogen accumulation) are principal concerns when "something" is apparently wrong... and actually very real ongoing concerns in captive aquatic systems period> One store will say that NH3 is more important than pH, and another just the opposite. <Mmm, these two phenomena and resulting toxicity are intimately related... as you will know. Toxicity of ammonia increases abruptly with increasing pH...> We are well familiar with the literature and the science of ammonia measurement, ammonia and water quality maintenance, and the theory of proper management.  But we do not have a good real-world perspective of the practicing of ammonia testing in the field. <Mmm, ask away and I will try to relate my impressions, level of confidence, underlying rationale/referents> What I simply would like to know is if you think that we have something worthwhile and we should pursue it?  And if so, would you be interested in helping us gain guidance how best to introduce it to the industry, or be able to recommend someone else that could do so? <Is worthwhile... mainly depending on ultimate retail pricing... there are issues of distribution, how many levels there... parallels in other test gear, controller technology, sales that you might investigate (Hanna, Milwaukee, YSI... others have tried to make inroads to "pet-fish" markets with variable success...> I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to talk with you by phone, even briefly, in regards to this inquiry. Even better, if convenient for you, I will be in the LA area (Irvine) all next week and would be most pleased to have a chance to personally meet you. <... At this juncture, emailing will likely suffice. Am glad to help you> Thank you very much for your attention. I will be looking forward to your response. My contact information is given below including my cell phone. If amenable to me calling you, your number and a best time to reach you would be appreciated. Best regards, David Putnam <Had some parallel conversations (though largely unrelated), this weekend, giving a pitch here in Dallas... with a young fellow/aquaculturist who has a facility in Baltimore producing seahorses... re how to approach the presumed market, consumer... best... and avoid proverbially "shooting oneself in the foot". The ornamental, scientific, industry field might well be receptive to your product. Please do reply re your guess as to probable retail... as this will determine largely the scope of the present, likely future market. Bob Fenner> Ammonia (testing, understanding) problems   2/10/06 Hi All, <Jeri> Sorry this is so long, but I am trying to include all info for you. We are having constant ammonia problems (2weeks now) and I need help finding the source. We have a 200-gallon FOWLR and several inverts. We have a Tunze filtration system, which is built in a rail system that hangs in the tank. It uses foam filters, Granovit (biological), and we have carbon. We also have a Tunze Protein skimmer on the rail system. The pump for the system moves 900GPH not sure about the pump on protein skimmer. We have several powerheads in the tank moving another 700GPH. We are looking to upgrade to the Tunze stream kits real soon. Tank has been up and running since October 2005. I contacted Roger at Tunze USA to make sure our filtration was sufficient and he feels it is for what we have. <Is and nice gear... just pricey> That was after telling him we would be willing to upgrade if necessary.($$$) We have a DSB 4 - 5" Oolite Aragamax. Total of 180lbs of rock only about 75lbs being good live rock. The other was live rock but had been sitting outside for 6 months after the previous owner tore down his tank. We have VHO lighting about 600watts. The fish we have are Bluethroat trigger (6in), niger trigger (2in), Tennent Tang (4in), Flag Fin Angel (2.5in), Flame Angel (2in), 2 clowns(1.5in). We have a cleaner shrimp, 4 peppermint shrimps, 70 hermit crabs, 25 super Nassarius snails, 10 pacific conch, 7 zebra turbo snails, 4 tiger tail sea cucumbers, 2 sand sifting stars, 4 Burgundy stars, and 5 large brittle stars. Ammonia this morning .50ppm (aquarium pHarm & jungle), <Get better test kits...> nitrite 0 , nitrate 15ppm, salinity 1.025, temp 76, ph 8. We normally keep ph 8.3 - 8.4 but I know that ammonia is more toxic at higher ph levels, so I haven't been aggressively buffering the tank. The SeaChem ammonia  test is interesting. it says no free ammonia but .35 total ammonia. I will be doing at least a 40gal water change today. <Oh! Not to worry... much here... the "total" measure here is largely artifactual... not of real concern> Even when I perform water changes I am not getting a good reduction in ammonia numbers. <Mmm, no... how to convey what you are seeing here? The "bound up" ammonia (the non-free) is "other materials" in suspension, solution...> I have used 3 tests (aquarium pHarm, SeaChem, & jungle), and taken it to a fish store. Always running at a minimum of .25ppm. I have tried adding bio Spira, which normally does the trick, but it is not working this time. I am doing 20 - 25% water changes daily or at least every other day with no luck. We use RO water. I did use Amquel+ <This material will give you a false positive for the test kits you list...> Sunday when the kits were saying .75ppm ammonia and I was out of salt at 8:30pm. (Salt normally Coralife, but using Kent marine since Monday ) <Get rid of these inferior brands as well... look to Instant Ocean, SeaChem, Tropic Marin...> So I couldn't do a water change. I did a 40 gal water change Monday, added bio Spira Tuesday (protein skimmer off), did 40 gal Wed, Thurs. ammonia still at .5 the fish seem good. Healthy appetites. We have cut down the feeding, <Good> in hopes that the ammonia was from overfeeding. Problem with that is our large trigger (Chloe) took a chunk out of a burgundy starfish. A leg actually. I found the leg this morning and got it out of the tank. I am on the look out for dead animals but we have a lot of hiding places. We have had a couple of losses. We had 3 sand sifters start to turn white very rapidly and removed them from the tank before death. We had a cucumber turn itself inside out and removed it. Any limbs I find I am removing. We had a small Xenia but it is shriveled right now and I think I will remove it today. <These losses, and the stress of the water changes is likely the root cause here... dying bits of live rock...> This is our first time with sand substrate, is there anyway to deep clean sand? What can I do to check for dead animals under the sand? <Best not to fool with this here/now> Can the sustained ammonia reading be caused from a sick or dying animal? <Yes> Should we expect a nitrite spike? <No, not likely> Should I pull rock out to see if anything is dying or dead in places I cannot see from the outside? <I would not> Just not sure what to do other than daily water changes. I will be turning the protein skimmer back on today so hopefully that will help. <Yes, I would run this flat out> Can you help me understand the difference between Free & Total ammonia and how to remove both of them from my tank? <Only be concerned with the free ammonia...> Two more questions. How long does it take for rock to become live rock? <?... in the wild? Weeks to years... in aquariums... longer> How long does it take a DSB to begin to help removing nitrates? <A few to several weeks> As always thank you so much for any help. Jeri <When in doubt, do nothing... switch the test kits (Hach, LaMotte...) to match your expensivo filter gear, and the salt mix, stop using the Amquel... instead make-up and store new water for a week or more... and you'll be fine. Bob Fenner> Free Vs Total Ammonia - 10/2/06 Hi <Hello Glenn> I could not find a good explanation anywhere of what Free vs. Total Ammonia means. I have a SeaChem test that tests both my free ammonia comes in at .0, but my total ammonia usually comes in at .05-.1 is this a  reason for worry? what is the difference between free and total? Which is the biggest concern <Hello Glenn.... Free ammonia is NH3. When this accepts a further hydrogen ion it becomes ammonium, NH4+ which is much less toxic. Therefore, since the ratio of NH3 to NH4 is affected by the number of hydrogen ions in solution, the ratio is affected dynamically by the pH. At lower pHs, NH4 dominates. "Total ammonia" refers to NH3 + NH4+. In normal situations, detection of any ammonia is a sign that the biological filter is not working optimally. However, If your source water contains chloramine (chlorine-ammonia), the water conditioner you are using is likely breaking the chlorine-ammonia bond, and sequestering the ammonia (or even worse - not - if your conditioner is not rated for chloramines). This will still show up on a Nessler-based ammonia test. Another confusion is whether the test kit measures the amount of "ammonia ion" or amount of "ammonia-nitrogen". suffice to say it should tell you in the instructions and provide a conversion factor to allow you to convert between these different measures.> thank you <You're welcome! Best regards from Shanghai, John> Glenn A. Baker Ich and ammonia   3/16/06 Dear Crew, <Scott> I have been hanging out and fighting the good fight against the ich since Feb 6th, although I am now down to 2 fish, a tomato clown and my emperor angel.  The emperor has its adult coloration and is about 6" or so.   The angel eats, but I haven't seen the clown eat.  Either it's eating behind my back or I'll have one fish before too long.  I had inquired earlier in the month about my fighting against both the ich and the ammonia.  I had panicked and put my emperor back into the display tank about three weeks ago and he immediately was reinfested at that time.  Fortunately I was able to catch him again within about an hour and put him back in the hospital tank.  Because of that move however, I still have evidence of ich on my two fish in the hospital tank and have been treating with copper the past three weeks. <With testing... daily>   Hopefully with another week or so of Cu treatment that will be taken care of, and I was hoping to put the fish back into my display by the end of this month. I really am not rushed to put them back and would rather be safe than sorry all except for one thing.  I cannot for the life of me control the ammonia levels in my hospital tank.  It is a 20 gallon tank down to only two fish with limited feedings every couple of days with immediate siphoning of uneaten debris.  I am using CopperSafe as my copper treatment.  I have an airstone and vigorous circulation with a hang on the back filter system (approx turnover of 5x the tank volume/10 minutes) with massive amounts of filter sponge material, some of which had been removed from my main system originally.  Even if the tank was "overstocked," one would think that the ammonia levels would build up slowly over a couple of days, but this literally only takes 12-24 hours after 80-100% water changes to get to toxic levels again. <Numbers please> My only defense is AmmoLock <May complex the copper... and is very likely giving you a "False positive" on your ammonia reading here> and massive, frequent water changes daily) which goes through massive amounts of salt, AmmoLock and copper.  This has become unmanageable!   Am I missing something?? <Perhaps a larger treatment tank, even more limited feeding, pre-made and stored new water... Is the ammonia more than one ppm?>   Even if I put those sponges in new without any initial bacteria it should have cycled naturally by now.  I am using CopperSafe which says it shouldn't kill off the biological filter, but I am suspicious that this is the culprit.  Copper levels have consistently been therapeutic.  I can't imagine this 20 gallon tank is THAT overstocked with 2 barely fed fish.  My spec. gravity is about 1.012 <... this is killing your beneficial microbes...> to help with the ich.  Also, every 3-4 days or so it seems like I have bacterial blooms which require that I wipe off the glass and rinse out the sponges during a 100% water change).  I am careful to rinse out the sponges in the tank's own water and not freshwater.     Even if I do make it through this ich fighting extravaganza, I am very nervous about the future of my hobby.  I will NEVER fight this ich again if I can help it, which means strict quarantines and I'm undecided but maybe prophylactic copper treatments before introduction in the future of all future residents. <A hard lesson learned>   But I must not be doing something right because I can't fight off this ammonia.  Even if I had a 40 gallon quarantine, that would only mean that I would have 4 ppm of ammonia and not 8, which is not any less toxic, just more difficult to dilute.  Heck, I have a spare 120 gallon tank in the next room.  This is where I have been mixing my water.  I could easily (and have considered) putting the fish in there-in fact, the water is pretreated with Cu, but I am very afraid about the ammonia levels in there because I wouldn't be able to do 80-100% water changes or neutralize such massive amounts of water with AmmoLock.   Any advice you have is greatly appreciated.  I need an in-home consultation!   I would have paid well for it and still come out way ahead! Thanks, Scott <Do raise the spg back up... and test the AmmoLock with your ammonia test kit to see if it is giving you a/the false positive... and hang in there. Bob Fenner>

Re: ich and ammonia    3/17/06 Dear Crew, Thanks for your reply as always.  Just an update and to clear a few things up: <Good> 1.  I tested my "AmmoLock" and it tests negative on my ammonia kit, so it doesn't appear to be the culprit for a false reading. <Thank you for this testing, results> 2.  My impression was that the biological media would be okay as long as the spec gravity was altered slowly, and especially if it was stable for weeks, even at 1.010. <Mmm, no... not generally... the single-celled organisms involved here are quite sensitive to osmotic changes... if not killed outright, almost always go into metabolic check...> Is it your experience that this environment is inhospitable for the bacteria? <Yes> I can raise the spec gravity back up to about 1.023, and I have enough extra sponge material in my established main system which I can put in the hospital tank to try to get the ammonia levels under control.  As I mentioned, I changed the water-100% yesterday- and today there is 8+ppm in the tank (that is as high has my test kit goes) <Yikes!> 3.  I know that my copper level was consistent because I had it all premixed in my spare 120 gallon tank and every time that I did test it it was 1.5-2.0 total copper level with CopperSafe.  I am still having problems with the ich as I just observed my fish with multiple lesions after weeks of copper treatment!! <... maybe this isn't Cryptocaryon...> Do you really think that the AmmoLock is complexing the copper and making it ineffective?  If that is the case, I am in quite a pickle.   <Not if you're able to measure it (the copper) post mixing> 4.  I'll run my strategy by you.  I'll raise the SG in my hospital up to about the same range as my main tank over the next couple of days.  Then I'll transfer the filter media that I have from my main tank to the hospital.  Hopefully that will get the ammonia under control. If that happens, then I won't have to use AmmoLock and can begin an effective copper treatment.  Do you have any additional thought or suggestions? <I do... I might (seriously) consider another approach... dipping/bathing the affected fishes and moving to a new (all clean) setting. The dip? A formalin bath... if this doesn't almost immediately render discernible positive result, I would switch to a non-chelated copper product (SeaCure is one) or mix my own copper sulfate pentahydrate solution...> YOUR HELP IS SO APPRECIATED.  I don't know where else to turn with these intricate questions.  Certainly not the LFS. -Scott       <Perhaps you will help them to learn more. Bob Fenner>

Ammonia Fight! More Info, Doesn't Change the Story, Though.. >Ok more info. >>Cool, thanks. >The tank is a 36 gallon with a 20 gal. sump. We use live rock in the sump as well as the main tank. We have done 5 water changes in two months. We have 30 crabs and 20 snails. 3 fish and one feather duster. Also 9 coral frags. The Nitrite is 0 and the nitrate is 0. The ammonia is now 0.25 after the water change. The question again is how to get the ammonia levels down to 0. Thanks >>Ok, first, you should know that certain dechlorinators actually give false POSITIVE ammonia readings! What a pain, huh? Second, at this point, I'm questioning the accuracy of your test kit, this just isn't right, as chronic ammonia readings, if true, *should* have killed off your inverts, or at least trimmed their numbers. I'm going to suggest testing with another kit, I happen to like SeaChem and Salifert test kits (and remember, these things do get old/expire, check the dates on the reagents), good combination of relative accuracy/dependability and price. The better kits are from Hach and LaMotte - more money, but OH so much more accurate. Beyond that, Bio-Spira is the STUFF. If you decide to dose with that and still have trouble with ammonia readings I'd be very surprised. However, also know that cycling marine systems can take a surprisingly long time. Also, if the live rock isn't fully cured it may take a little while longer for the bacteria that oxidize/consume ammonia to grow to sufficient populations - but this is where the Bio-Spira comes in. There you have my final opinion, I do hope it helps. Marina >>P.S. Good on you for having such a large sump, too! 

Saltwater ammonia test I am new to the saltwater scene. I recently bought a 24 gallon nano-cube. It is now in the 4 week of cycling. The LFS tested our water and said the ammonia was a little on the high side, but said it would not be harmful to add one fish at this time. We have 14 pounds of live rock that is doing well, also. I bought a Saltwater Master Liquid Test Kit today and everything checked out great.. I think. When I added drops of ammonia testing chemical into the test tube of water and checked it five minutes later, the water was still milky. It did not change in color, so therefore, I could not compare it to the color chart for a result. What does this milky appearance mean?  <It's just the reagent doing this>  Is this what is called a "0" result?  <Yes>  Thank you so much.  <You're welcome. James (Salty Dog) >

Trouble in FOWLRville 8/18/05 WWM Crew!  Always my first stop for advice.... and I'm badly in need of some sound advice... I've read through the Ammonia FAQ's, but I can't seem to find anything that exactly matches my problem. I have an established 45G FOWLR/w DSB which has been operating now for over 2 years. I have an extensive maintenance routine, and I keep a detailed log book. On June 18th of this year, (Exactly two months ago) I began to record elevated ammonia levels in my tank. <Yikes...> I use FasTest ammonia test kits, which I read with a handheld colorimeter. Most of the last two years my ammonia readings have been 0.0ppm for Total Ammonia-Nitrogen. Since 6/18 my TAN readings are averaging 0.16. I can find no significant events in my log which would cause an ammonia spike. <It's your substrate mon!> You're probably going to tell me that something has died or is dying, but all of my creatures are present, accounted for, and seemingly healthy. Here are some of the actions that I've taken to mitigate the problem. (To no avail). With the exception of #1, All of these actions are performed as part of a rigid maintenance routine. 1. Bought a different test kit, which only confirmed the FasTest results which show elevated ammonia. <Good, bad... well, you know what I mean> 2. Thoroughly cleaned the LR and substrate to remove detritus. <Good...> 3. Cleaned filters, hoses, intake and exhaust strainers, skimmer, and powerheads. 4. Restricted feeding to twice daily, the portion is equivalent in size to a Tylenol Gelcap. 5. Replaced activated carbon. 6. Performed 20% water change, using Distilled water and Reef Crystals. (Or sometimes "Real Ocean" packaged NSW). <Mmm, be certain here... these are two different products... the first a good, very consistent one, the second... junk> 7. My top off water is RO/DI. 8. My only additives are: 7.5 ml Marine Trace elements added once weekly. 5ml Iodide twice weekly for Invertebrate molting. 1/2 TSP Reef Builder (to maintain carbonate alkalinity). These additives have been used since the tank has been setup. I have 5 small 1-1 1/2 inch fish and one small Coral Banded Shrimp. There have been no deaths. My Current tank parameters and equipment are as follows: (read with a colorimeter). PH: 8.12  Temp:77.6 SG: 1.025  Alk: 4.25 Meq/l NH3/NH4: 0.18ppm NO2: 0.03ppm NO3: 0.0ppm D.O.:7.1ppm SiO2: 0.0ppm PO4: 0.0ppm 45G FOWLR, 30+ LBS LR,  6"DSB for NNR,  2 Magnum 350 Canisters.  One for Mechanical filtration, the other for Chemical. (1/2 cup GAC, and Phosphate/Silicate Magnate in a media bag) 2 Hagen 301 Powerheads for water flow around the LR.      The WWM crew: CSI detectives for your fishtank.... Please help me.... <My first guess (there are subsequent ones... as usual), is that the easily-soluble, useful parts of your substrate have been lost... I would replace a good part of the "gravel"... per the writings re here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/deepsandbeds.htm and the linked files above... And see if this eliminates the mystery ammonia in a week or two. Bob Fenner> Inexpensive Ammonia test kit, Nessler's Rgt formula  11/11/05 Hi, Good Fish Folks I have been using your website from India for 6 months now, and it has helped me a lot. I have come across a very simple & inexpensive test for ammonia and I am giving it below for folks like me living in places where regular test kits are hard/ every expensive to obtain.   Ammonia in water can be tested by buying a solution called "Nessler's reagent. It is a cheap reagent and is available at all shops selling laboratory chemicals. The procedure is simple. Take about 5ml or one teaspoon of aquarium water in a glass test-tube; put 3, 4 drops of reagent. Observe for 5 minutes if water remains clear it means no ammonia. If water turns any shade of yellow, ammonia is there. I have link to a website which has a color chart, in case anybody is interested.  A small bottle costs Rs. 80/- only, has no expiry date and can be used for a long time.  I have been using this for last four months and the results are satisfactory.  I am looking for similar tests for nitrite & nitrate. Hope this helps Sandeep R India <Thank you for this. Bob Fenner>

Ammonia test question Hello Bob, et al I have been reading the info on your site for the past few months and have just set up a marine tank a couple days ago.  <congratulations!!! Please continue to learn and do enjoy the journey> It is a 29 gallon with 25 lbs live rock and 3 inch deep live sand bed.  <very fine> I have a test kit that test for both free ammonia (NH3) and total ammonia (NH4+). Which should I be testing for at this point? So far, after 48 hours, all my readings, free ammonia, nitrite and nitrate are still all 0.  <ammonia spikes often do not occur for a week or more. All should be settled within 4 weeks. Quite frankly, with cured live rock, you might not notice much or any ammonia or nitrite... still, please wait one month before stocking more> I turned off my protein skimmer at this point to see if I will start getting some ammonia readings. Is this okay? or should I keep the skimmer running? <PLEASE keep the skimmer running... it will improve the cycle and protect the live rock... it might even prevent serious spikes if anything goes sour (like a hard live rock cure)> Thanks for sharing your vast knowledge with all of us that are learning! Kevin <have patience my friend. You have a nice set up... all will be fine in time. Anthony>

Salifert ammonia tests Hi Guys,     All of my test kits are Salifert, but my question concerns the Ammonia kit.  I've posted this question on the board, but got no response so I'll try here. My ammonia kit at this time comes up with cloudy water without the yellow tinge which would seem to me to indicate NH4.  While I was cycling my tank, the test was cloudy, but with a definite yellow hue.  Is it normal for this test water to be cloudy with a zero reading, or am I not doing it right.  This is my second kit in six months so I think it is fresh.  My NO2 and NO3 values are each 0.00.  Just hard for me to believe that there is always ammonia in the tank, but I never see any nitrite or nitrate no matter when I test.  I test pretty often, several times a week, as I have a small tank. Thanks a lot, Mike <Hi Mike, I don't use the Salifert test, but this is similar to the other ammonia tests on the market using this method. Your nitrite test would also be a good guide, no nitrite, unlikely there is ammonia.  I would prefer a clear result that is easier to compare but the Nessler and salicylate tests are all we have! Hope this helps!  Craig>

New tank not cycling? I will stop feeding immediately.  It will be hard, that porcupine puffer loves his shrimp in the morning. <It might well kill it... and the rest of your livestock, to keep feeding> Would live sand work instead of the live rock?  And if so how much?  Would 20 lbs be enough? <Yes, LS would be fine. Five pounds will likely do as much good as twenty here> If the cloudiness isn't a bacteria bloom, what is it.  It didn't get cloudy until I put the Bacter-Vital in the tank. <... this material is likely the cause of the cloudiness... could be microbial or simply chemical.> Also, I have two freshwater aquariums set up.  I tested the water in both of them.  The ammonia was about 0.25 with very very low nitrate almost zero.  Is there something that can be done about the ammonia. These tanks have been set up for about four months now and the ammonia has never gone below 0.25.  Once, again thank you for you suggestions. <You have measurable ammonia in your other systems? I'd have your test gear checked... Ammonia should be zero. Bob Fenner>

A bad night - ammonia, bubbles, noise Hi again Anthony Thanks for the reply about the mushrooms.  I will proceed with feeding them once the current crises have abated, <understood and agreed> if any are left.  And thank you for telling me I can save my star polyps.  I now seem to be having several minor crises at once pertaining to setting up this new (used) 115 gal tank and need some advice about how to proceed.  Please forgive this very long painful email, I am nearly drowned in saltwater, my house has a huge noise and the smell of rotting marine life permeating it, and it's two in the morning.  This is on par with a night on call in neonatal intensive care.  (Only I had better luck with babies on ventilators.) <my goodness... the yeoman's chore!> The setup: 1.  The tank itself has been in my living room for 48 hours with water (~60gal), substrate (original, used, live), heater, large powerhead.  I was waiting for it to settle out enough, and for me to generate enough RO water, that I could fill it up, move the live rock back in, and start running the skimmer. <Hmmm... get that skimmer running ASAP anywhere the curing matter is. It should have been improvised from GO and will save a lot of lives and work for you> 2.  The live rock, several snails, crabs, and 1 sand-sifting starfish have been in a big tub with heater and powerhead in the bathroom, waiting for the tank to become habitable. 3.  I have those little ammo-alert ammonia indicators with suction cups in both places, but I discovered tonight that my actual test kit is empty, because I never need to use it. <indicator discs and test strips are unreliable in the worst ways. They can predict the next president as easily as they can read water chemistry with accuracy> 4.  I didn't bring any of the original water, but have either generated or purchased all of it since Saturday, heated, aerated, salted to 1.024. Tonight I decided to proceed - substrate was settled and I finally had enough water.  So I added the water, the overflow overflowed, and I started the pump and skimmer (that was all running just lovely and fine at this other guy's house for 4 years).   <he says? <G>> I was getting worried about the tub in the bathroom - starting to smell bad though the ammonia alert read zero, <understood... I do believe there was ammonia indeed> so I moved in the live rock as well. Problems: This took a while. So now it's 2am and I have suddenly an "alert" level of ammonia in the tank - this is level 2 of 4 levels of badness on the little indicator (sorry-test kit empty), and I have about ten zillion little air bubbles in the tank, and a huge noise in one overflow box. <the pump has been cleaned or was oversized from go... it is out pumping the overflow (hence the noise). Also, something is introducing bubbles into the sump and/or not blocking the inevitable ones from the overflow crash... these bubbles are getting aspirated through the pump. The other possibility is a pin-hole leak on the outflow side of the return pump plumbing causing a venturi> 1. What is the most likely thing I did wrong that allowed this ammonia spike?  I really didn't expect this tank to cycle given the large amount of healthy substrate and LR. <his/your handling of the rock in transport... poor live rock and coral (mushroom) health to begin with... lack of aggressive water flow in the holding tank at home> 2. I know this will go away in time, but in the meantime what in the world should I do with the snails and crabs and starfish? <for peace of mind... they can be put in a bucket that sits in the sump (lip out of water) to stay heated but the running tank water bathing around it but not contaminating it with ammonia. Then you can just do a quick and painless daily water change on this little bucket until the tank calms down. You may not even need an airstone if you change enough water> (I'll tell you what I did- I put 3 of them in my clean, occupied quarantine tank with SG 1.019, and put the rest in the sump of the big toxic tank, and I'm hoping some will survive until morning. I just couldn't violate my rule and put them in my nice healthy little reef, even though I know I might be killing them with either NH3 or hyposalinity.) >3. I realized that what I thought was stirred-up substrate in the tank is actually my entire system filled with air bubbles.  I have been messing with things for about an hour but haven't managed to stem the flow of tiny air bubbles from the sump with skimmer into the tank.   <a course foam block on the intake of the pump will work as a quick fix. The air bubbles are likely coming from the skimmer having too much water flow through it. Or a poor skimmer design.  Do tell what kind of skimmer you have and perhaps we can help improve the situation> I can't seem to alter it by playing with skimmer, position of pumps, or valves on the flow tubes.  There is no vortex/whirlpool around the pump intake, that's the only thing I really know to look for.  Please name some common causes I can look for, I'm new to this overflow thing, but I swear I set it up just like the other guy had it. <no worries... likely a response to a good cleaning and better flows all around> 4. Also, my entire house is filled with this tremendous gurgling sound from one of the two overflow boxes.   <another common problem with commercial reefs... undersized overflows> I can't figure out what is different between that one and the one that is quiet.   <simple resistance... level, run of pipe, a bend, extra elbow, etc downstream. Perhaps the gurgling one has its outlet to the drain releasing under water while the other one is slightly above (release air and is quieter)> Please name some common causes of this. <easily corrected as per above> I don't know what you need to know to advise me on this or I would give you more detail.  The pipes are rigid 2" PVC, not hoses. I really appreciate the time you guys spend slogging through lists of stupid problems!  (This is when I wish I wasn't the only reef person I know - I need a reef support group for stuff like this.) Tracy :) <no worries at all, dear. We will get this worked out and you can relax in front of this tank as a release from your tough job very soon :) Kind regards, Anthony>

Ammonia rising Hello. <Hi, Don here this afternoon> I have a 90g with 90 lbs Kaelini rock. 1.5 inch fine sand. This was setup on 1/10/03. I have 2 actinics and 2 MH 175 10000k that were turned on 2/8 and are now on 8hrs/day. I have an AMiracle sump, g-2 skimmer, UV sterilizer, heater/chiller, and a 350 mag filter with carbon changing every 3wks. With my powerhead I figure 1100-1200 gph flow rate. I have 1 coral beauty in on 2/8 and 1 percula clown in on 2/15. Today's values-temp- 75, sg-1.023, nitrates- <10 but not 0, nitrites <.3(this is lowest value for TetraTest kit), ph- 8.5, dh- 12, phos- 1.0 ppm. I have a SeaChem constant read ammonia alert reading safe and a SeaChem free/total ammonia reading zero. My TetraTest ammonia is reading .25. Not since the first few weeks have I registered any ammonia. There are no dead fish or inverts (have not bought any yet). I do have a brown diatom algae problem that has existed about 2 wks but seems to be slowly clearing and for 1 week I am getting a green algae mostly on the glass. It is getting longer but does not seem to be hair algae. I have been scrapping this off the glass but not all of it. Can this ammonia rise have anything to do with either the brown/green algae? <Nope. Nitrates and Phosphate do though> I do 2 10 gal h20 changes weekly although this am I did a 15 gal change to try and bring down ammonia. will this level harm anything and what should I do to fix it? thanks <Yes, any ammonia or nitrite will stress eventfully kill the fish. I would say this is an anomaly or a test kit problem. I guess if you are feeding heavily that could be causing the ammonia (Decaying food). Adding scavengers would help. Do you have an LFS around that can check these values for you? I would test the test here. Don>

Ammonia!  Could It Have Been Any More Tersely Worded? >55 gallon, 55 lbs of living rock.  Live sand canister filter and protein skimmer, tank's been set-up for 6 months started with 6 damsels, only 1 death, not bad, nitrate and nitrite are both zero.  Why is my ammonia always 1-1.5ppm, do 10 percent water changes 1x a week.  Any idea?  Thank you crew >>Uuuhh.. heh.. sorry, your brevity of speech has gassed me here.  My first inclination is to question the test kit and your water change practices.  Some dechlorinators are known to cause false positive readings with ammonia tests that use Nessler's reagent.  My second inclination is to tell you that if your fish and all are healthy, that it's another indication that there is less wrong with the tank than the test.  Marina

Nessler's Reagent Strikes Again! Greetings!  Want to say thanks again for your web site and all the great information you have there.  <If you loved the planet, the hobby as we do... you would/will do the same>  Here is my problem. I have a 55gal marine setup and up to this past week, I was using bottled water from the store because my tap had unacceptable levels of copper in it (planning to build a mini-reef eventually). Since I was worried about chlorine & chloramines, I was adding Amquel+ by Kordon. Now when I tested my water at home, I was using a test kit by Tetra and I was coming up with 0 nitrites, 0 nitrites and 0 ammonia. When I bring a water sample into my LFS (local fish store.....I'm still learning the abbrev of your site) they always got readings of ammonia between 0.25 and 0.5 ppm even though I tested the water not even an hour earlier and got 0 ammonia. Everything else they tested always came up optimal (0 nitrate, 0 nitrite, SG 1.023, pH 8.3).  Water change after water change, still was getting the same results (my recycle guy must hate me because of all the empty water jugs in the bin). The whole time I was using the Amquel+ on the new water. I took a closer reading of the Amquel+ label and it says that you should not use an ammonia kit based on Nessler reagents. I found out that they are using the test kit Dry-Tab by Aquarium Pharmaceuticals.  Having a minor in Chemistry (it was a while ago though) I have an idea of what a Nessler reagent is. I am wondering if that is what Dry-Tab is using and Tetra is not (neither says anything about what they use on the box). Could this explain why they always get high ammonia readings while I am getting none?  <Yes... the conditioner is rendering the false negative result>  If that is the problem, it will be solved soon because I am now using RO/DI water so I no longer have to lug gallon after gallon home from the store.  <Good move>  My RO/DI water is also testing at less than 5 TDS so I do not see a need to continue the Amquel+ any more....unless you think I should continue to use it.  Thanks again!  - Ray  <I would discontinue its use. Bob Fenner>

Ammonia Level?? Hi Bob,  I hope you can help me with a very disconcerting problem of mine. About 3 months ago, I had to copper (Sea Cure) my 90 gal fish only tank due to a slight outbreak of ick. Ever since I treated the tank with copper, I think I am having a problem with ammonia. I used 3 different test kits (Red Sea Fish Pharm LTD. = 0.25 ppm, Tetra = < 0 ppm but > 0.25 ppm, and Aquarium Pharmaceuticals = 0 ppm), but it provided me with different readings. I also added a sponge filter and a Fluval 204 canister a couple of weeks ago as additional biological filtration. I am at a lost right now regarding the true ammonia level from the test kits. *All tests were performed concurrently and a day prior to writing this email.  However, all of my fishes have been in the tank for over 6 months, and they are eating well and behaving normally. Below are the specs for my tank conditions:  Water Parameters:  Ammonia = ?  Nitrite = 0 ppm  Nitrate = 15 ppm  pH = 8.0 â'¬' 8.2  SG = 1.020  <The spg could be a little higher. I would raise it to at least 1.023 about a thousandth per day or so> Filtration Equipment:  Amiracle wet-dry  Fluval 204 canister  Sponge filter  60 pounds of Fiji live rock  ETS protein skimmer  Custom Sea Life UV light  Livestock:  Yellow Tang (4â'¬Â)  Cuban Hog (3.5â'¬Â)  Flame Angel (3.5â'¬Â)  African Flameback angel (2â'¬Â)  Cleaner shrimp x2  Feeding:  Moderate feeding twice a day.  Water Change:  Approximately 15% every two weeks with RO water.  My assumption is I have a slight trace of ammonia in my tank (an unscientific approach using the mean of the 3 test results). If this is the case, what do you think is causing the ammonia to rise (i.e., live rock releasing nutrient, poisoned biological filter, etc.)? Why do you think my biological capacity is not sufficient and efficient enough to break down the ammonia (although I think the biological capacity is more than enough to handle the biological load)? What method(s) do you recommend to bring the ammonia level down to 0? Also, what is an accurate ammonia test kit?  Any information will be greatly appreciated.  Thanks. Dan <Hmm, could be that the copper product is somehow yielding a false positive reading via your kits, but do doubt that there is really any free cupric ion in your system (at least not from the medicine administration a half year back). At any length, what I would do (besides raising the spg. which I've mentioned above... which will aid in stabilizing nitrification processes...) is add a pad of PolyFilter (no, I don't own the company but do wish I did!), and/or a bag/unit of activated carbon... this should remove whatever residual copper and/or the compound that is giving you the false positive... and aid in restoring nitrification... consider adding a bit more live rock, macroalgae... perhaps in a lighted sump... and do keep your spg at near natural seawater levels. Ammonia! Hi Bob, <Steven pro in this morning.> I heard a lot of good things about you and I really need your help. My new tank is 125 gallons. I set up my tank 3 days ago and I added the salt mix 2 days ago (Instant Ocean). Last night, I tested for ammonia, ph, and nitrite. The ph was 8.3, nitrite was 0, but the ammonia was 0.3 ppm. How come? I just add the salt mix and I did not add any ammonia source. <No liverock or livesand either?> So I test my tap water but no ammonia was present. Can you help me to explain what's going on. I hope you could help. <It is probably from chloramine in your tap water. Most municipalities have moved from chlorine to chloramine. Chloramine is a combination of chlorine and ammonia. It is stronger and lasts longer than just chlorine. Your water conditioner may have just neutralized the chlorine and released the ammonia. -Steven Pro> Re: Ammonia! HI, Thanks for your reply. I am testing my tap water now and the ammonia is 0 ppm. <As it should be, because it is chloramine.> Could it be the salt mix? <Highly doubtful.> I don't know perhaps it was not in a dry place (it happens). <Then it would clump, not generate ammonia.> Any way, is it OK? <Should be fine.> Once I add a salt mix in my tank and the ammonia raise to 0.6 am sure it is the salt mix but it didn't harm the animals. So is it OK? (WHEN THE NITROGEN CYCLE STARTS THE AMMONIA SHOULD BE 0) <When the nitrogen cycle is COMPLETED, your ammonia and nitrite will be zero. -Steven Pro>

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