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FAQs on Marine Water Quality involving Ammonia, Science 

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

Ammonia/ium is the principal "waste product" of fishes, invertebrates... catabolysis of proteins... And is toxic, especially at high/er pHs... to all... Even small amounts have a debilitating influence.

Ammonia Cycling Problem  8/31/13
Dearest Crew,
 <Hey Joe (where you going w/ that fish net in your hand.... JimiH)>
Thanks again for the wonderful service that you provide!
 <A pleasure>
I'm having a problem cycling my new 155 in-wall reef tank. I have been using Dr. Tim's nitrifying bacteria and have attempted to contact them without luck.
 <Mmm, knew Tim Hovanec in college (SDSU); and seen several times since he joined the industry years back... He's usually diligent. I'd try again; but, let's see what you have here>
I've followed the manufacturers directions by adding the bacteria followed by the ammonia chloride. I've been keeping my ammonia at about 2ppm but have had my nitrites skyrocket. The test kit goes to 5ppm (API) but it seems that the color is at or above this. I have been doing 15% water changes (more challenging in the new tank then in my old 54 gallon!) but the levels do not seem to be dropping.
<I'd stop the water changes... likely this is not helping... indeed maybe sub-tending the completion of cycling.>
 I'm confused as to what steps I should take to correct the problem. Should I continue keeping ammonia at above 2ppm or continue water changes to get the nitrites down?
<I'd also stop w/ the addition of ammonium chloride... AND add "a pinch" of dried/flake food, or pellets; even a stinky shrimp (yes; cocktail type) to offer an ammonia and more source>
 The cycling started about 2 1/2 weeks ago and the manufacturer claimed that it should be completed in less then a week.
 <... sometimes takes longer>
Lastly, the tank is has about 100 lbs dry rock and about 15 lbslive rock.
I'm currently running the skimmer.
<Again; to review: Stop changing water, adding NH4Cl, add an organic source of carbon/amino acids. Got it? Oh, and the universal (and oh so challenging at times) ingredient, patience. Cheers, Bob Fenner>
 Very confused here.
Joe W.
Wichita, KS
Re: Ammonia Cycling Problem  8/31/13

Thank you Bob,
 <Welcome Joe>
Always a pleasure to chat with you. You don't know how many times I've had the Hendrix comment made to me! Luckily that's one of my favorite tunes!
 <Ahh! People think Hendrix was talented with a guitar, playing it inverted and all; they've not seen me w/ a siphon!>
I was under the impression that the high nitrites were poisoning that necessary bacteria and must be lowered. I'll go ahead and add the cocktail shrimp and halt on the water changes.
 <The high [NO2] will abate on/of its own... Think it might not serve to elaborate more here; I assure you, the simple changes, addition mentioned will "do the trick" here>
I've attached a photo of the tank before it was filled with water. The contractor really did a nice job with the exterior.
 <Ah, very nice; yes. I especially like/d the wood trim as I downloaded the pic>
Joe W.
<Again, welcome. BobF>

Fwd: WWM query mentioning you  8/31/13
Thanks Bob for the referral.
<Ah, welcome Tim>
Dear Joe:
Not sure how you tried to contact us as we have no record of a phone call or email. 
In any case you did not follow the directions we have on the website.  You are not suppose to 'keep" your ammonia at 2 ppm =- that is too much ammonia which has resulted in the high nitrite level.
You need to do a water change asap and get the nitrite down.  The faster you get the nitrite down the faster the system will cycle.
Once you get the nitrite down you need to add  ammonia and wait 24 hours before measuring.  Measure and if ammonia and nitrite below 0.1 then add some more ammonia.  Do not add more if either it above 3-2 ppm wait another 24 hours.
<Cheers, B>
Re: Fwd: WWM query mentioning you   9/1/13
Thank you so much Bob,
 <Ah, welcome Joe. It is my practice to "cc" all that are mentioned in conversations; to elicit their personal input if possible>
Very kind of you! Have a relaxing Labor day holiday!
<Ahh, very enjoyable. You as well. BobF>

Ammonia and Nitrite - 12/26/05 Hi, <<Hello>> I find your website very very interesting for beginners in saltwater aquarium hobby. <<That's great!>> I have a 66 Gallon tank. I have 2 power filters, one for the skimmer (it's a quite a big skimmer) and one to get a good water circulation.  I also have a canister filter (1100L/H) and a heater.  I have used saltwater water direct from the sea but conditioned. <<Not the best way to go.  Too much risk of introducing pollution/parasites, along with a very weak/short-lived buffer capacity.>> I have dead corals, dead rock, sea sand and a bit of crushed coral sand in the tank.  My tank looks great with the crystal clear water.  Now I want to start my cycling process. <<Mmm...the cycling process started once all was added to the tank.>> So 3 days after setting up the tank when all my equipment were running well I introduced 6 Damsel Fish (4 Domino and 2 Blue Damsels) <<Sheesh...I know this is a somewhat accepted and often used method, but I just think there are better ways to introduce nitrogenous compounds/waste to a tank for cycling purposes.  Aside from the obvious stress and distress caused to these fishes, many times aquarists find they don't want these fishes/can't keep other fishes due to the damsel's nasty dispositions (the Domino damsels will grow in to real terrors, magnified by the confines of this tank).  It is my opinion that the same result can be achieved when cycling a tank by adding a "small" amount of fish food every few days...or better yet... a couple small bits of uncured live rock.>> when I checked my Ammonia, Nitrite & pH values on the 5th day it was as follows; Ammonia (mg/l) = very close to 1.0, Nitrite (mg/l) = 0.2 -- 0.5.  My questions how can I get both the Ammonia and Nitrite readings together like this?  If I am correct I should get the Nitrite reading after the Ammonia reading is zero right? <<Not correct.  You have insufficient bacteria growth yet in this system, along with a very heavy fish load for this tank and its current stage (one damsel would have been plenty).  As such, you are going to have measurable amounts of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate in this system.  Please do some reading here and at the indices in blue at the top of the page: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/estbiofiltmar.htm  >> Is there something wrong with my tank condition? <<Nothing unexpected...you are experiencing the nitrogen cycle...please do some reading up on this, much info re on our website.>> My fish seems to be fine for the moment but I am worried please let me know your view. <<You have my view on this.  Regards, EricR>> Thanks Akila

Re: Ammonia and Nitrite - 12/25/05 Hi Eric <<Hello Akila>> Thanks for your quick and valuable response. <<You're very welcome.>> By reading your reply and also the recommended information on the cycling process I have decided that patients is virtue here. <<Indeed>> So I'll be doing the tests regularly and see what's happening. <<Very good>> Also could you please let me know what exactly buffer capacity is? How you do measure your buffer? What effect does that have on fish, water quality and bacteria? <<Buffer capacity, simply stated, is a measure of your tanks ability to neutralize acids while resisting change.  Do some more reading here for further explanation: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/calcalkmar.htm >> I have placed my tank outdoor.  But when I researched so many articles say to keep your tank out of direct sunlight.  Why is this? <<This is generally to reduce/prevent heat buildup.>> I actually don't have direct sunlight to the place where my tank is but I get somewhat more sunlight than keeping it inside the house. <<If the tank is not overheating it is likely fine.  Rodney Jonklaas did just this many years ago with his fish only tanks in Ceylon.>> Please let me know what effect sunlight has on the tank water quality, fish and bacteria.  Up to now I don't seem to have a problem. <<Then I doubt you will...no need to worry.>> Appreciate your response. Thanks Best regards, Akila <<Cheers my friend, EricR>>

Re: Ammonia and Nitrite II - 12/29/05 Dear Eric <<Hello Akila>> Thanks again for your valuable information. <<Always welcome my friend.>> I live in Ceylon too. <<Cool!  Maybe someday I'll come visit, go diving...>> I have no overheating problems because as I said although the tank is outdoors the tank is not exposed to any direct sunbeams. <<Sounds fine>> But my concern is algae. <<Likely of little "concern" if the tank does not receive direct sunlight.>> I heard when the tank is outdoors you are more likely to get algae problems in your tank. <<A lighting (sunlight) issue...doesn't seem to be the case here.>> What kind of algae are these? <<The same that occur under artificial lighting.>> And how do you remove them if a problem occurs? <<The same way you do for those that occur under artificial lighting.  Here's some more reading for ya:  http://www.wetwebmedia.com/algaeconMar.htm >> Oh, and also by keeping my marine tank outdoors, will my water turn into brown or green color like the common problem in freshwater tanks? <<If neglected, yes.>> What are hair algae that everyone talks about? <<Just that...long, stringy, filamentous algae that resembles, well...hair...usually a sign/result of overstocking/feeding, excess nutrients, insufficient export mechanisms, etc..>> Because my tank is a Fish Only tank is this something to be worried about because I read many articles say that the problem exists in Reef tanks.  Why is this? <<Mmm...this algae can be/become problematic in any system (FO/FOWLR/REEF), if not properly maintained.  But is possibly encountered more/most often in reef systems due to the higher intensity lighting associated with same.>> Also please let me know some tank cleaning animals (like scavenges in freshwater tanks) that will control the algae over growth.  Are Shrimps & Gobies good for this job?  Or are there any other kind? <<Turbo and Astrea snails are considered good algae grazers by many, though I honestly have my doubts as to their utility re.  Some blennies, some tangs, are good grazers...as are urchins of the genus Diadema.  I've also heard tell of a small (3") tropical Pacific Abalone that is supposed to be a good algae grazer, but I've not yet been able to acquire any to see for myself.  A Google search for "algae grazer" should provide some other ideas/examples as well.  But whether or not you can have some of these critters will depend on the fishes in your tank.>> Sorry to trouble you with so many questions almost everyday.  As I am new to this hobby I am still confused. <<No trouble at all.>> Thanks for your help. Appreciate your response. Happy New Year to youj)))) Best regards, Akila <<Happy New Year to you too Akila!  EricR>>

Re: Ammonia and Nitrite III - 01/01/06 Hi Eric <<Hi Akila>> Thanks again for your valuable information and also if you do come to Ceylon I'll sure help you out with your journey. <<Sounds good my friend.>> My current condition of the tank is at expected levels.  Now my ammonia level is dropping and the nitrite is sky high. <<Yes, as expected with a tank that is cycling.>> Anyways I have some more problems that I need your views on. <<Okay>> When I replace the evaporated water, is it alright to refill it with Chlorine-less tap water or should I have buy purified water   all the time? <<Depends on your tap water ultimately, but for a fish-only system this is usually fine.>> Do I have to add some saltwater to the tank when replacing the evaporated water (Ex: when replacing evaporated water should I add 75% fresh and 25% saltwater). <<Nope...maintain your salinity with frequent partial water changes.>> And what about saltwater that goes out with the protein skimmer should I replace that water with saltwater? <<Monitor salinity and adjust as explained.>> Also it is alright to use normal very clean salt (NOT MARINE SALT) that we use in our kitchen to balance the salinity of the water (at very urgent situations only)? <<I wouldn't...best to use a proprietary salt mix here.>> Monthly when maintaining how much water (Percentage) should I take out to replace with new saltwater <<Twenty percent monthly is a good starting point...can be increased if necessary.>> and does this reduce the nitrate levels in the tank? <<Yes, as well as reducing other pollutants, and replenishing trace/earth elements.>> Or are there any other ways to reduce nitrate levels? <<For your situation I think frequent partial water changes will serve well.>> Thanks for your help. Appreciate your response. Best regards, Akila <<Always welcome, EricR>>

Ammonia/Ammonium and pondus hydrog-a-something you say Hi guys! I have this nagging question in the back of my mind.   <is it all alone in there?> I heard somewhere that the same amount of ammonia is less toxic when in water of a lower pH, than that of a higher pH.  Is this a false statement that I have passed on as truth?  Or is there any fact to it?   <truth- ammonia picks up hydrogen as the pH (pondus or "weight/percent" of hydrogen) falls and becomes Ammonium which is somewhat less toxic. By the same turn... raising the pH in a tank of poor water quality (heavy organics) can kill fishes from the conversion (Ammonia spike)> Uhhh, not that I have an ammonia problem, or anything, it's just bugging me.  Thanks all!  Jen <an intelligent question, dear... thanks for asking. Anthony>

Ammonia Source for Experiment Dear Crew: As part of a school science fair project about aquariums, my 9 y/o daughter is going to be testing the sensitivity and reliability of Seachem's Ammonia Alert. What would be the best inexpensive, easily obtainable source of quantifiable ammonia to add to the water she'll be testing this product in? Of course, no fish are involved in the test--she'll be using glass containers of just saltwater (1.025) and just fresh water. Thanks, Steve Allen. <I would use simple "cleaning ammonia". that can be serially diluted (it still is a breathing irritant, so please do the dilutions for your daughter), making "stock" solution of a known concentration (look into a Hach or LaMotte... or even a Salifert test kit for ammonia to "check the checker" (the Ammonia Alert tm). Bob Fenner>

High Ammonia, No Change Hi Crew, <Tom> On July 12th I began setting up my first marine tank the humane way. I used household ammonia marked 10%. From the outset I put too much ammonia in the tank., .6. I then added "Cycle" and "Stress Zyme" according to instructions. I also put some fish food in the tank. <That's a lot of ammonia total...> I know that I am supposed to be patient, but there has been absolutely no change since July 12th. I am using "Master Saltwater Test " by Aquarium Pharmaceuticals. <Try using a different test kit to see if it agrees with your current results. Also, consider adding a very small piece of live rock or sand from a fellow hobbyist's established system to seed more aerobic bacteria. Other than that, patience...> Can you shed some light on this problem. Thanks, Tom <Best, Chris><<RMF would also do a massive water change to dilute the current toxic level of household ammonia present>>

Ammonia 2/16/04 Dear Anthony: <cheers, Connie :)> Cheri and her husband were here yesterday, and pronounced our tank in good condition, so our sandbed is safe and all is well, with perhaps adding one inch of sand gradually. <ahhh... great to hear!> Cheri brought her water tester with her and then we ran an ammonia test, and lo and behold we have .025 ammonia reading.  The conclusion was reached that our 30 gallon plastic water containers from Home Depot are the culprits, as the plastic is not for human consumption plastic (food storage).  We had no idea that it was the containers and Joe is going about finding the correct containers today.   <there are many possibilities... although you are correct that its best to use food safe containers. Still... do test your new seawater in another vessel too... its actually possible that the ammonia is in the sea salt! Impurities do get through. There is also the possibility, rather likelihood, that the ammonia is simply from recent activities in the tank. Don't throw away those plastic cans just yet ;)> Our problem is this:  I am getting a male boulardi wrasse on Friday to replace a male who died during acclimation. 1.  If we can get containers and r/o water in time to mix it, how much water in our 60 gallon tank would it be safe to replace before Friday?, <hmmm... I'm not sure I follow how the new fish relates to the tank. Will the new fish be quarantined in a separate QT tank? Hoping so. Else, it is a scary thing to do - value of the fish, risk to the other sin the tank with these notoriously bad shippers (disease), etc. To answer your question, though... one or two 50% water changes would be no trouble at all. As always, adjust temp, pH and salinity very closely> 2.  If we can't get this all assembled and mixed in time, could we use Amquel to neutralize the water?    <I really don't care for such products... and they will corrupt the readings on many ammonia test kits afterwards (Nessler's reagents). Do avoid it and rely on water changes and careful feeding instead> 3.  Is there anything else we can do that you can suggest?  This particular wrasse is fragile and I don't want him to die because of this ammonia problem.   <Ughh... yes, very fragile. And I realize now that this fish is going into the display. Please please please my friend get a QT tank set up ASAP. It is absolutely necessary. If not to avoid the risk of disease... then to handle this precious living treasure (a very limited resource) in a responsible manner. Putting any fish into the display without QT is like playing a game of Russian roulette. I do beg this of you for your own good my dear friend> Cheri's husband says it probably wouldn't bother the fish but Cheri thinks otherwise.   <I agree with Cheri... and place the odds of the fish living at a not too favorable number> We really value your opinion and will appreciate anything you can add to this dialogue to help.  I can't put off getting the fish, I have waited three months, and the seller keeps forgetting I exist. <at the risk of beating a dead horse <G>... the QT tank must be set up and conditioned before any fish is purchased. Its better to pass on it and give it a chance to live elsewhere than watch it die in your possession. Patience :)> Thanks in advance (again).  Your fan, Connie <in shared admiration, Anthony>

Ammonia, sea food, etc. Hi Robert, I have some quirky questions for you. They may seem unlikely to work, but they're on my mind, and the more I think of them the more realistic they seem, so... :-) Perhaps you'll indulge me. <Okay> 1) Is it possible to maintain a cycle on an aquarium by adding a drop of ammonia (lab grade) every couple of days? I know the standard way of doing this is to use a damsel, but I would far prefer the ammonia drip solution, as it doesn't involve trapping an animal in a very small place, and doesn't have the issue of where to put the aggressive, hard-to-catch animal while the quarantine is being used as a hospital tank. This doesn't seem like that radical an idea, and yet it doesn't seem from my surfing that anyone does this. <Yes... inorganic sources of ammonia can/have been used to establish, augment, keep going nitrifying beds... Ammonium chloride is most often employed. A bit dangerous... easy to over treat a system... best to under estimate, measure> 2) I recently noticed some kind of bivalve encrusted in a piece of live rock that I've had since October 30th. That's quite a while, so I guess I can keep it alive in this tank even without feeding it. <Yes, perhaps not expressly... getting food more indirectly from your system> It's approx. 1cm long, and in a cavity in the rock. My question this is leading to is the following: if I were to go to a fresh (live) sea food store, are there any animals in there that would have a chance of survival in my tank?! :-) Such as, for instance, a very small oyster or something? If so, that would be really fun. If I can keep this 1cm bivalve alive (this thing is obviously not photosynthetic), perhaps I could keep something more ambitious alive. <Yes, bait shops are even better... for fresher/more live material... be aware of the likelihood of these things dying (and consequent pollution) and please be sure to not allow such exotics to get into the wild> Thanks, and warm regards as always, Paul <I do like a curious mind. Be chatting. Bob Fenner>

Re: Ammonia, sea food, etc. Thanks Bob, OK. Here's what I was hoping to do... I intended to keep the quarantine empty, but with my old Hagen hob filter in there. I would have it continuously running, but at room temperature (no heater) to save electricity (it's in the cold-ish basement). <Okay> I intended to get some of this NH4Cl, dissolve it in a drop doser, and every few days shake it well and put in a single drop. That way, I could keep the cycle in the media in the Hagen. I could also of course use my ammonia test kit and make sure I wasn't overdoing it. <I would not do this... Instead I would use some filter media, substrate, water from an established system that's clean... after bringing the quarantine/hospital tank up to temperature> The advantage to this over the occasional fish food solution is the complete lack of organic detritus accumulation over time. (Remember, I don't have a protein skimmer on this baby.) <I understand... thought you/I were chatting about setting up a new/sterile main/display system... I would still not go the inorganic route> I think I understand your concern, but I wonder if it's alleviated by the fact that at this time, there are no animals (other than my Nitrobacter et. al.) in the tank. I would of course stop dosing at least a week before adding a critter, and test carefully at that time. <Only barely (alleviated)... easy to bump them off chemically as well> If your fear is that some chemical pollution could accumulate that wouldn't be measurable by my hobbyist test kit, then I understand completely and I will of course discard this approach. However, if your fear is other than that, then I don't quite understand you yet. Thanks! Paul <Do wish we were in face to face contact here. I/We lost the aforementioned Wopner case on the basis of the (my memory is lapsing here, sigh...) Nessler Reagent? Test... being overwhelmed by the too-high concentration of ammonia from the AP product... the plaintiffs got a false negative and blamed it on the test kit/store (one of ours)... and we lost the case!!! Anyhow, more of my boring anecdotes re lost Hollyweird fame. Bob Fenner>

Re: Ammonia, sea food, etc. Hi Robert, Thanks for your help. I called a local shop and they are willing to pick through a crate for a small oyster for me. I'll let you know how it works out... :-) <Sounds like a grand adventure> Just to be sure before I buy any, is the ammonia source you recommend: The Columbia Encyclopedia: Sixth Edition. 2000. ammonium chloride (m´nm klôr´d) (KEY), chemical compound, NH4Cl, a white or colorless, odorless, water-soluble, cubic crystalline salt with a biting taste, commonly known as sal ammoniac. It is prepared commercially by reacting  ammonia, NH3, with hydrogen chloride, HCl, and is used chiefly in the manufacture of electric dry-cell batteries, in soldering fluxes, in textile printing, and in making other compounds. It is also used in certain medical treatments. It occurs in nature in volcanic regions. Thanks, Paul <Yes, this is the same material... but NOT recommended... About the only time I was on television was the "People's Court" re an "out of date" test kit set of reagents and an Aquarium Pharmaceuticals "nitrogen cycle goosing" product of this make... Very easy to poison the system... and totally unnecessary. Do instead (unless this is an experiment) use some "fish food", or better still, "live rock", even old substrate, filter media... from an established "clean" tank (no parasite, infectious disease agents) to help establish such cycling... Bob Fenner>

Oyster acclimatization (Re: Ammonia, sea food, etc.) Hi Robert, Using a lot of your time today. Let me know if you mind, ok? :-) I read your article on abalones, I wonder if these are available as part of the food trade or the pet trade? <Yes... uh, both... produced (induced spawning) for the food trade, secondarily for the ornamental...> I have found two references that seem to confirm that you can keep a regular old oyster alive in an aquarium. One even mentions that if you get bored of it, you can even break out the Tabasco and do the unthinkable... Here: http://www.mdk12.org/practices/support_success/hsa/biology/oysters/natal/aquarium.htm and here: http://www.fi.edu/fellows/fellow7/dec98/oysters/aquarium.html They say not to expect awesome growth or anything, but that it should live. Neither mention temperature; I keep my tank at 77 degrees. I wonder if I should lower somewhat? All my animals should be able to tolerate 75, even 73, I think. <Some species are definitely more tropical... I'd investigate the one(s) you're considering.> They do not mention, anywhere, about acclimatization. Your abalone article says pretty much to throw them right in (did I misunderstand you? "I do not endorse any special quarantine or preventative dipping procedures with abalones[...] hold them near their new home...") <No, this is about where I stand... much more frequently there's more to be lost than gained in acclimating/quarantining mollusks (among other animal groups)... unless you have a "farm" operation where you fear introduction of pests, parasites... I would just temp./chem/physically acclimate new specimens and introduce them to the main/display systems> My concern is that of course the bivalve will be closed, and when it opens, it'll take a huge drink of the new water, and go into shock. Is there a known way to get around this problem with bivalves? Thanks, Paul <You can, should drip acclimate a local specimen... like with a piece of airline tubing... it will/should open... and flush whatever out... don't introduce the mixed water. Bob Fenner>

Re: Ammonia, sea food, etc. Robert, 10-4. Thanks for your help; I guess I won't be doing this! :-) <A relief to me> Look on the bright side: with Judge Judy you would have lost anyway, but she would have called you names and made a fool of you in the process. <Felt very foolish just the same... Did "the greatest story ever told" in the way of nitrogen cycling for Judge.W on the wipe off board (got cut for showing), tried to explain that using the kit for measuring such high concentrations (the fish were killed within a minute) was like "weighing an elephant on a gram scale...", he even took a recess, called some of the local fish shops in L.A.... (supposedly), still lost out... Oh well, perhaps grist to the pet fish mill> I did find a source for human-consumption grade NH4Cl. I don't know who eats this stuff! haha. Anyway, does the fact that it's food grade alleviate poisoning concerns? <No, just less impurities...> I really am OK with abandoning this option, but I want to know as much as possible about why I'm abandoning it...; Cheers, Paul <Take a look at the CRC manual, Index Medicus... You're headed in the right direction... or at least I'm okay company. Bob Fenner>

A quick update and.....Thanks Bob Just thought it was fair for you to know everything is going well now. Ammonia disappeared.... Nitrite is at .1 and falling.... <Ah, good> Nitrate fell from some ungodly number to 10..... So my cycling tank is settling down. So now I am preparing for my first water change next week. After that I'm going to add some hermits and snails in hopes of cleaning up some of the algae that has appeared. After they settle in for a couple of weeks, I think I'm going for a tank raised clown or two. Anyway, thanks for all the help. It's really starting to come together now.... Paul <Very good to hear/read my friend. Bob Fenner>

Real tank problems (ammonia poisoning) Robert, I'm asking for your help once again. I obviously did a really bad thing.  I purchased 20 pounds of live rock last week and put it in my 75 gal. reef tank. Since it was sold as "fully cured" live rock and said to be safe to put directly in your tank, that's what I did. I wasn't aware of the need to check for increased ammonia levels. The day before yesterday I got a shipment of 55 pounds of live rock. This rock has a slight odor to it. <Ohhh, not a good idea to mix sources, so much material in such a short period of space and time...> I put it in the tank. After talking to a couple of people I was told to double check my ammonia levels, so I did. Ouch! The ammonia level was at 3.0.  <Yikes.... and don't feed... leave the lights on some extra hours... if you have/had another system, with the ammonia this high, I would have moved the livestock.> My local pet store suggested doing a 50% water change so I did. That was yesterday afternoon. The ammonia is still at 1.5 if not a little higher.  <Yes, diluted by... half with the water change> I'm wondering what is the best way of dealing with this problem. A couple of things I'm contemplating are: 1. Keep doing drastic water changes until the level are down. But I don't know at what point ammonia and Nitrites are deadly to coral and inverts. <Deadly? Depends on a few other factors, but NH3/NH4OH over 1.0ppm, nitrates quickly escalating into the tens of ppm...> For how many days can the levels be up before it effects them or kills them? <A little each moment... a matter of hours to a few days for LD-50's generally> 2. Taking some or all of the live rock and start cycling it in a big trash container. <Probably a bit late here... do you have friends who can lend you assistance? Like old filter media, bioballs, maybe a going fluidized bed filter...> 3. Leave the live rock in the 75 gal. tank, let it cycle. Take my most prized corals out and put it in my 20 gal tank (that I use for a quarantine tank, it's not cycled) and hope that the rest of the corals and inverts live. I have an octopus coral that spreads out about 2 feet that I'd be crushed if it died. <Maybe some of the more sensitive SPS... at this point "the damage" is likely done... > What would you suggest? I've had my tank for 8 years and obviously have a lot invested in corals, inverts and fish and I don't want to loose them. Are there any products out there that will absorb ammonia and Nitrites that would help? <I would go the "goosing the nitrifiers" route... You could try to secure the "overnight" version of Fritzyme (it actually works... as opposed to the shelf-stored products), or Hagen's Cycle or such... in addition to the water change/serial dilutions, non-feeding, leaving the lights on a few more hours, adding used filter media/substrate/fluidized bed filter... I would avail myself of all. Bob Fenner> Thank you for all your help. Jami Spitz

Questions about Cycling with Ammonia Hi Bob, <<Bob is out of town until 12/7, JasonC here answering the WetWebMedia Mail.>> Any news about your books (I need 2 of them) ?? The tank cycling is progressing and I need some first class info.. <<don't know if your order was processed before Bob and Di left town. Do check back after 12/7.>> To update you (and ask a question... you expected that, didn't you ?). I have been using the fishless cycling and (after 10 days) the regular ammonia quantity I add is turned to nitrites in 1 day, while nitrates are over the 50 mark. <<with regular ammonia from a bottle, interesting. How much ammonia did you add?>> When I started (after 3 days) I had NH3 = 4, NO2 = 0, NO3 = 0. Now (day 10) I have NH3=0 (or very close), NO2 = 8 ppm, NO3 = >50 ppm. In this environment I can't add a fish. <<no, you can't>> I was thinking of adding the macroalgae now. There is some sort of brown algae growing already.. The question is : will the brown algae consume the nitrates ? <<no, it won't. A little more time should pop the NO2 down to zero at which point you should probably do a water change [perhaps 25%] and then add the macro algae.>> Don't you think 10 days is a bit short ?? <<have heard of, witnessed 24 hour cycles in tanks with lots of prepared & cured live rock and sand. So who knows, certainly cycling with fish takes the longest. Very curious to know more about the direct ammonia method, if for any other reason than to get it on record for the WetWebMedia readers, but certainly to fix my own > (You see, if I had your book here, I would probably ask far less questions, if any !!) <<yes, is an excellent title, but somehow I think this same question would have come up, even with the book. Is a very interesting question.>> George J. Reclos Ph.D. <<Cheers, J -- >>

Cycling a Tank with Ammonia Editor's Note: this gentleman is a Pharmacist & Immunologist and as such is a professional with regards to the procedures he describes. If you don't have the foggiest idea what he is talking about, then don't try it at home! I started with a solution which was supposed to be 20%. The solution was found to be 18% after volumetric titration. After making the calculation to see how many ppm correspond to that 18% I added enough micro liters (1 micro liter = 1 millionth of a liter) of this solution in a liter of double distilled sterile water and used the kit I have to see when I would get a reading of about 4 (with those colorimetric kits it is quite difficult to say). Again the kit proved to be almost 30% off the calculated value but it was used as a basis for the calculations since this would be used with my tank water. Once this was achieved, I adjusted my calculations for a level of 6 ppm and added the necessary quantity in my tank (I first add the ammonia in 100 ml of water and then drop it in the tank). I repeated this every two days. After the NH3 dropped to almost 0, I add the same quantity every day. Of course, this would be far more accurate if one was to know what is the anticipated amount of ammonia a fish will produce per day. I think that 6 ppm in a 140 liter tank is a bit too much for one fish. This means that the biological filter will be calibrated for higher ammonia levels that the ones the fish will produce therefore part of the colony will die - polluting my water. That is why a fish cycling should be preferred but one has to work with what is available to him !! Thanks for your information about the algae !! I was under the impression that the algae being a plant would use the nitrates found in the water column... <<and they will to a small extent, but not to the level I think you were hoping for. Like any algae, they prefer the various phosphors, but will gladly take it any way they can get it as I'm sure you know.>> I was really surprised to learn that it won't !! Will the macroalgae have a problem to compete with the brown algae already installed in my tank (another very quick presence !!) <<Usually, macro algaes get preferential treatment from the people keeping watch, so it has a competitive advantage. You can also help that along by vacuuming out the brown algae once the cycle is complete.>> Note: You have to keep the concentrated ammonia solution in a tightly closed bottle in the refrigerator. The colder the water the more ammonia it can hold !! <<Thank you very much for the detailed explanation of this whole thing. You are a gentleman and a scholar. Cheers, J -- >>

Follow-up on Cycling a Tank with Ammonia Hi Jason, <<Hi>> Thanks for your kind words. I am preparing a "diary" which will appear in our site at the end of the month. If you like you can copy and paste it in your site or link to it. I send a notification to Bob at this address so you will know !! It will be a small reward for letting me use the information in WetWebMedia. George <<No really, thank you for sharing - this is what helps glue this site all together. Thanks again. Cheers, J -- >>

Ammonia emergency Hi Bob, <Anthony Calfo in your service while Bob travels Australia taking more fantastic pictures for WWM. Although, he did get some funny looks in the Public Aquarium with his tripod setup while shouting at a porcupine puffer through the glass to "vogue" and "give me pouty...now give me a pouty look!"> I was wondering if you could help me.  <I assure you... it is I that need help... hehe> I have looked through the FAQ's and can't find a similar situation (although I sure have learned a lot about other things!). This is a long story, but I think you need to know the background to help. My husband and I have a 90 gallon fish only tank. We have a wet-dry filter, a protein skimmer, and a canister filter. (all rated for 90 gallons or more) The first week that we set up the tank we added the sand, fake corals, and water and let it sit for about a week. The second week we added 20 lbs of live sand and 6 damselfish. 3 weeks into it we had not had any readings for ammonia, nitrates, or nitrites. The people at the aquarium store said that sometimes when you use live sand, you don't see any ammonia spike.  <ehhh...not exactly true. A lot of live sand can temper a spike, but cured live rock is better and neither are likely to great in a tank in one week (the time from week 2 addition to the statement at week 3)> So that week we traded in 2 damselfish for a Sailfin tang. A couple of days later, we brought back the other damselfish because they were picking on the tang. We traded those in for a pink-tailed trigger. The next week we added a flame Hawkfish and a powder brown tang. So 5 weeks into this we had 4 fish and still no readings for ammonia, nitrites, or nitrates.  <wow...even in a fully cycled tank...this is a lot of fish to add so fast. I understand your eagerness... I certainly have been there too. I just wish that you hadn't got the same bad advice that I did from salespeople all to eager to make a sale> About 4 days ago (week 6), we had a big ammonia spike, it was off the charts for our test kit. We did a 50% water change this day) My husband added something called ammo-lock, which is supposed to neutralize the ammonia. big mistake, I think because then we didn't know what the readings were).  <yes... a mistake indeed. Be sure to use dry tab ammonia test kits now for accuracy with this in the water> Yesterday we came home and the fish all looked dark and stressed. We tested the ammonia, it's still off the charts. We did a 15% water change yesterday, and then a 50% water change today. I waited a couple of hours and tested again, still off the charts for ammonia with absolutely no reading for nitrites or nitrates.  <which indicated that you are still early in the break in period> What is going on with our tank? If it is just now cycling after 6 weeks, why don't we have any nitrites or nitrates?  <because they haven't been converted yet from ammonia> Sorry this is so long, but I sure hope that you can help us. Thanks in Advance! Amy <with the fish life being out primary concern we have to way the stress of moving them again so soon with the stress of them staying. For now, let me suggest that you get some fully cured live rock (you must trust the retailer big-time here... clear water, no odor and no ammonia in the rock tank). The live rock can bring in some established bacteria to quickly and eagerly reduce the ammonia. You will of course be doing some series water changes too. If this tempers the spike in three to five days... ride it out. It may be very fine within 2 weeks. Else, reduce the fish load and build it back up slowly. Do archive this site to set-up articles and ammonia FAQ's for more info. Kindly, Anthony Calfo> 

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