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FAQs on Marine Water Quality involving Ammonia, Troubleshooting 

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

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

Ways to suspend nitrification... Many. Sudden changes in water chemistry, physics... physical disruption of media/substrate... Poisoning... with treatments, supplements...

Ammonia help... SW, moved tank...     3/19/13
Hi I am new here I have been searching this sight <site, but ok> learned a lot but I have not found the answer to my questions! Ok I have a 55 us gallon saltwater aquarium I purchased this tank used from my good friend the tank has been set up for over a year! Well to start I drained about half of the water into a huge cooler to transport all the live rock I drained another 10 gallons out to make the tank itself Easier to move. We moved it to my house we set the tank up we put the water out of the cooler in the tank and then I put the live rock back in the tank and put the filter on the back and a power head inside the tank.
<So far, so good>
Now I used tap water to fill it the tank the rest of the way.
<Mmm, well... would have been better w/ pre-mixed/stored seawater... I take it you didn't use freshwater>
I got everything right ( well at least I thought I did). Well everything was in shock is what I assumed. Then we had the water tested they said the nitrite was way to high so we did a 20 gallon water change. The nitrite went down then I noticed stuff I the tank was turning brown. Went to my local fish store they said check for ammonia so I bought the drop tester thing and it tested at 2.0 so we did a 10 gallon water change and everything checked out except the ammonia again but  it went down to .50. So I went back to my local fish store they said do a 30 gallon water change so I did. ( all water changes have been done with r/o water). Now tank is coming alive a lot more like sum <some> coral is popping back out sum have changed back to its original color but some of the rocks still look brown (They look dead)
<Patience here; these "things" take time>
( I am doing research to find out exactly what kind of coral I have sorry like I said I am new to all of this stuff) but I just did another test on the ammonia and its still at.50. I don't have a clue what to do now please.
hope someone can help me out sorry if it is not in good enough detail but I did my best to go into details
I also forgot to say I have 2 blue cromes, a copper band butterfly fish and a Clown fish (Nemo) there are also hermit crabs(5 of them) these all came with the tank except the clown fish
<Best to not feed at all till the ammonia is zero... this will happen, likely w/in a few days; you can/could add a bacteria product (Dr. Tim's, SeaChem...)... Again, patience. Bob Fenner>

Trace of Ammonia Won't Go Away     7/17/12
Hi WWM Crew! Love the site and glad to see so many people looking for quality information on how to take the best care of their aquatic pets/investments. My apologies in advance if this exact question has been answered previously, but I did have a good poke around, ran a few searches, and still couldn't quite find the help I'm looking for. So here is my predicament (and a frustrating one at that). I have a 185 gal. acrylic tank, a 36"L x ~12"W x ~16"H wet dry filter/sump,
<I might modify this... Please see here re:
 and a Turbo Twist UV sterilizer. I have a 2-3" live sand bed
<Should be deeper or more shallow. See here re:

and about 50 lbs of rock that was purchased live, then dried out when I tore down my reef tank, and then put in this tank several years ago along with some fake coral decor.
<I'd add a few (ten or so) pounds of good, new LR to inoculate the rest>

 The tank currently houses a porcupine puffer (~3.5"), a dogface puffer (~4"), a male blue throat trigger (~4"), and an emperor angel (~5-5.5"). The tank has been up and running in it's current location for 6 years. The tank did not start off out of the ordinary in any way. It cycled normally and the water quality has been good for nearly all of the 11 years it's been running in various locations, however, in the last year I've had a slight ammonia reading (between 0 and 0.25) constantly, no matter what I do.
<Yes... much protein food input and insufficient nitrification... denitrification... Read the above citations>

 The nitrite is always 0, the nitrate stays around 40 ppm
<Twice as high as it should be allowed>
 (I know...a skimmer has been purchased and is en route),
and the pH stays at 8.4. I don't think I overfeed, but I've cut back my feeding anyway in an attempt to help the situation and even fasted the fish to see if it helped. I keep trying to search for what would be causing this ammonia reading.
<Simple. As above>
There are no dead bodies, I haven't used copper or any medications that would trash the biological filter in years, I don't use Windex or other cleaners around the tank area, I aggressively dechlorinate my change water and have tested it many many times to see if it's coming from my container/water/mix/what have you. I am not concerned about the test kit, as I get a 0 reading from my other tank all the time. After a year of searching for a cause I've kind of given up on finding the problem, and moved on to looking for permanent ways I can try to fix it, but before I go for broke and invest even more money (the tank's been a money trap since day one), I'd like your opinion on the best possible remedies.
<You have them>
I have already purchased a skimmer, so hopefully that will help with the overall cleanliness. I would also be open to purchasing a larger wet dry filter/sump or more live rock or even hiring a maintenance service to board the fish while they tear down the tank and start it over if you think any of these might help the situation. Any help or advice you can provide is much appreciated.
<Be reading and then we'll chat. Bob Fenner>

Ammonia and pH Instabilities  9/30/11
Hello Crew,
I come to you on bended knee as I've been struggling for about a week attempting to control a number of sudden instabilities in our FOWLR tank; I'm getting pretty stressed out that nothing seems to be helping and decided to write for help! I've scoured the WWM archives for information as well (and will continue to do so). Here's what's up: last week I noticed the clarity of the tank water change from clear to cloudy and several of the invertebrates were behaving strangely. I tested the water and found the pH had taken a dump (7.6) and there were detectable levels of ammonia (0.25-0.5) and nitrite (0.5).
<Yeeikes... reads like something died... undiscovered, and is decomposing,
is anyone/thing "missing?"... Or the sort of equivalent of too much food added...>
Nitrates have been steady at about 10-20, alkalinity is 12 dKH, salinity is 1.024 and calcium is 480.
<And Mg... about three times in ratio?>
When I first detected the ammonia, I immediately did a 25% water change and added Seachem
marine buffer. I make my own RO/DI water but also add Amquel Plus (for peace of mind I guess. safety's sake . necessary?)
<Not necessary... the salts complex the small amount of (chloramine) sanitizer and will only neutralize the present ammonia, not ongoing>
Things seemed to immediately improve, the pH came up to 8.0 and the ammonia and nitrites disappeared. However, that didn't last long and everything took a dump again by the next day. I've been chasing my tail every day since, doing water changes, adding buffer and Amquel and the improvements seem short lived. I'm staring at my tank right now prepared to do yet another water change because ammonia and nitrites are detectable and the pH is 7.88.
What the heck is going on?
<Again... an undiscovered source of protein in the system... something (food, dead/dying organism) driving nitrification, using up buffering capacity>
I have two units of Chemi-Pure in the filter and a PolyFilter in place as well. Nothing has died recently and I've searched the tank for food or debris that could be contributing to nutrient build-up.
<... good>
This tank has been up and running for almost 15 years. However, there have been a number of recent changes that could be contributing to the problem:
(1) Three weeks ago I added ~60 pounds of live rock.
<Ahh! VERY likely the source of trouble here>
A week after that, I added the remaining 60 pounds of live rock. In addition, I have been slowly changing out the gravel substrate for sand / live sand (Tropic Eden aragonite) over the past month. The sand bed swap has been completed and is currently 4-5" deep. I purchased the live rock from Drs Foster and meticulously cured it for four weeks (you would have been proud!) Shortly after putting it in the display tank, there was a minor spike in nitrite but it was gone with a couple of days. I did eventually remove the bio-bale from the wet-dry filter and placed live rock there. Despite feeling like I did this really slowing and incrementally, could I have killed my biological filter? If so, what do you recommend I do now?
<Could have and for now to feed VERY little... there are a few things that can almost assuredly, safely speed on re-establishment, but... I'd just be patient>
(2) Last week I added a dose of Dr. Tim's Re-Fresh product which is supposed to reduce organics, clear the water, etc. The label says that it contains beneficial bacteria but overdosing it can cause an ammonia spike.
<Yes; is a good product in my estimation>
I was very careful to under-dose this in the tank. Could this product have contributed to some kind of imbalance somewhere?
<Along w/ the new rock and substrate, possibly>
Do the bacteria in this product compete with the existing bacterial inhabitants somehow?
<Assuredly yes>
Needless to say, I won't be adding ANYTHING more to the tank until things get back to normal.
(3) I just started using an electronic Hanna pH monitor to test the pH in the tank. Despite calibrating it before every use, I seem to consistently get low pH readings compared to the API pH test kit I've used for years that always reads "normal." I don't know what to believe. I'm going to take a sample to a LFS tomorrow to have it tested for confirmation. However, in the meantime with the pH sitting at 7.8, do you recommend I add more buffer
to the tank. I just purchased some Kent Superbuffer-dKH. Should I use it?
<I would ONLY w/ new water used in partial change outs... pH's in the upper 7's are not necessarily problematical, can even be of great use/relief in situations like yours of nitrogenous poisoning>
At this point, I've got the protein skimmer cranking and also added an air stone to the refugium (who knows why . hey, I'm a paramedic . when someone is sick, you ventilate! J) Anyway, here are the remaining details about the tank:
125 gallon FOWLR
30 gallon sump/refugium/wet-dry with protein skimmer, live sand and live rock - no more bio-bale or bio-balls
Reef Octopus Hydroblaster Pump pushing 1200 GPH-ish
(2) Tunze circulation pumps in tank (211 and 528 GPH)
57 watt Aqua UV Sterilizer
The current renters are:
French Angelfish (6")
Blue Hippo Tang (5")
Yellow Longnose Butterflyfish (3")
Flame Angelfish (1")
Diamond Watchman Goby (4")
Algae Blenny (3")
Yellow Damselfish
Yellowtail Damselfish
(2) Scarlet Skunk Cleaner Shrimp
Banded Coral Shrimp Peppermint Shrimp
Emerald Crab
Electric Blue Hermit Crab
(6) Dwarf Red Tip Hermit Crabs
Fighting Conch
(3) Turbo Snails
(6) Bumble Bee Snails
(4) Nassarius Snails
Spider Decorator Crab
Chocolate Chip Sea Star - not happy right now!
Is it weird that the pH is so low and the alkalinity is so high, especially with the calcium level so high?
<It is... I'd have your shop check these levels as well>
Sorry for the long blurb. I hope you can help. Even a little assurance right now would be helpful. THANK YOU!
<Well... the most likely scenario is that some aspects/organisms of your new LR suffered a further die-off/back and along w/ other changes (the new substrate mostly) a re-cycle of your new rock. IF you have an ozonizer or UV (for its ozone production), I'd add them to the system... otherwise as I've stated, be patient, chary of feeding much... Test/check for Magnesium concentration/ratio... perhaps test your salt mix (there are/have been some bad batches...) for the high [C]... Bob Fenner>
Re: Ammonia and pH Instabilities    9/30/11

Thanks Bob. I sincerely appreciate it. Your input and suggestions make me feel much better.
<Ah good>
I was about ready to start sharing some of the Tums I've been taking with my fish!
<A possibility>>
Then again, that might not hurt my acid/base problem. Anyway, I CAN be patient and will most certainly follow your suggestions. I tested again today and ammonia is still 0.5, nitrites 0.25 and nitrates 10. I purchased a Magnesium test kit today and it's reading 1350.
<Close enough>
I also confirmed the pH reading at 7.8.
<Mmm, not really a problem; much more a blessing in the face/reality of the NH3 and NO2 readings>
All of the other parameters remain the same. On the topic of calcium, yes, we did determine that the Oceanic salt mix we were using was contributing to a really high Ca++ concentration in the tank.
We switched to a different salt mix a few weeks back and I think it's going to take a while for the levels to come down again given our inhabitants.
But I wanted to ask about doing partial water changes during this "period of patience" and wonder how often they can be done.
<Daily really... even slow... continuously>
Can water changes be done too often?
<Mmm, yes... if some aspects of water quality (e.g. pH) are changed too much too soon... can stall nitrification et al.; cause microbes to go into a physiological check or population decline>
I'm inclined to think that as long as I'm measuring ammonia, I should be changing out perhaps 20% every other day? What do you recommend?
<I don't think this is excessive. A poinfreshly in fact is that we are changing out several hundred litres of seawater per day in a new facility I'm help putting up (a collection station) here in N. Fiji... as the system was rushed, the bio-filtration stocked w/ several hundred pounds of freshly collected live rock, plastic media placed don top... and after two weeks, still has daily reg. of 0.25-0.5 ppm free ammonia. We too are allowing the pH to drift downward; as nitrogenous wastes are FAR less toxic in such conditions>
Thanks again. Big time.
<Welcome as much. BobF>

Make-Up Water 11/17/09
I made up 10 gallons of makeup water on Sunday for a water change I was planning on doing later on in the week. There was still maybe a gallon left in my tote from the last water change. I tested the salt level on Monday and also decided to check for ammonia and I actually found some.
Its somewhere on the color card between .25 and .5.
<I'm assuming the ammonia level was found in the gallon of water you had left. If so, I would test the R/O water for ammonia before adding the salt, just a process of elimination. Was Windex or similar products used in the area of the make-up water?>
I am using R/O water from the Culligan man and reef crystals. Is this water safe to use for a water change?
<Should be, but if in doubt, test before mixing the salt. James (Salty Dog)>

Re Make-Up Water 11/17/09
I found the ammonia after I added that 10 gallons of r/o and salt to it and let it sit for a day. No chemicals are used in the area I have my totes.
<I would check the make-up water before mixing the salt. I'm leaning toward an erroneous reading of the test kit. Have you compared the reading with one taken of your display tank water?>
I noticed that I have salt gathering and sticking to my heater I have in the tote is this a problem?
<No, is likely calcium build up, easily cleaned by soaking overnight in a vinegar solution. James (Salty Dog)>

Re Make-Up Water 11/18/09
I did compare it to my tank water and the tub water has a slightly more of a green tint to it. I did a 4 gallon water change its a 38 gallon tank, and tested the ammonia level in the tank about 4 hours later and no ammonia is present. I tested all my other parameters and everything is perfect.
<A possibility this tub/container was used for storing another product that may have contained traces of ammonia.>
Thanks for all your help.
<You're welcome. James (Salty Dog)>

Water changes to rectify ammonia spike.  10/22/09
Hello all,
<Hello, Josh here.>
I just upgraded from a 55Gal to A 75Gal tank (I know not much of a upgrade, but, the 75 is set up for a sump.)
<Very exciting.>
The 55 Gal was doing real well and did the transfer in one day do to the 75 Gall tank has to be in the same spot that the 55 Gal was any way. I'm getting a tremendous amount of ammonia (8.0)
<Wow, that is very high.>
in just 2 days and did a water change last night.
My question is how often can I do a water change. Last night I did a 50% water change. I'm not big on adding chemicals to my tank. I'm a believer of oh natural.
<Good move, keep doing the water changes as often as possible, make sure the water is well mixed, and aerated before using it. Otherwise just keep doing them often until we get the ammonia levels down.>
But I do want to save my tank at all cost. So should I or need to add any chemicals to help slow this ammonia problem. Again the tank is a 75 Gallon with a Oceanic model 75 trickle filter and a Oceanic model 4 protein skimmer. The tank has 100 pounds of live rock and has 7 fish and several coral. Please help the coral are looking desperate. And on a different note I purchased a exposed red Brain coral and he always looks upset he has never turned red
he's always a light brown color and has little pokie bumps all the time.
<We will worry about that after we fix the ammonia problem, they are likely the same problem.>
He's setting high in the tank with little water flow and I'm using T-5 Lighting till next month then I will be going to Metal halide.
Again Thanks all for doing a great job so we can enjoy our hobby...
<You are welcome,
Josh Solomon.>

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.>

Scarlet Skunk Cleaner Shrimp/ Ammonia levels 03/28/2008 Hey guys, <<G'Morning, Andrew here>> OK here we go. I have a question within a question. First my tank info: 20 gal (salt water) tank is 3 months old Whisper 20 power filter (Activated Charcoal) Generic small skimmer rated for a 30 gal tank Temp: 79F Salt: 1.025 Nitrate: 2.0 (yes I know) Ammonia: .23 (again I know) 1 x Brown Saddle Back Clown 1/2"-3/4" 1 x Lawnmower Blenny 3"-3 1/2" 1 x Fire Fish 1 1/2"-2" 1 x Coral Beauty 3" 1 x Butterfly Fish 3" 3 x Turbo snails 1 x Scarlet Skunk Cleaner Shrimp 4 x small assorted hermit crabs 30-35 lbs live rock 3"-3 1/2" Crushed coral/shell live substrate All was well till 2 days ago. The snails were doing their grazing, the Blenny eating everything in sight, the Coral Beauty being the Diva she is, getting cleaned every 10-20 minutes. All in all everything was going well, then everything went to hell in a hand basket. All levels started to sharply rise to dangerous proportions. I did a 70% water change last night. The ammonia is now slightly higher than it was yesterday. I think i may be over feeding the fish so I cut back. What can I do besides another 70% water change or starting the tank from scratch. <<Yikes...In all honesty, that is far far too much livestock for a 20 gallon tank. The Coral Beauty and the Butterfly do need a lot bigger homes than their current habitat. Suggest around the 50 gallon mark. The stocking levels of your tank are not helping water parameters. It could well of been, as you mention below, over feeding and this is causing the bio-load to be raised higher in the tank>> This I do not want to do. The fish have been very stressed. Also I am noticing my cleaner shrimp has tiny hairs and "fuzz" like stuff growing on her since the water change. She is my favorite in the tank cause she has such personality. She runs around seeking out the fish and cleans them nonstop, and my hand as well if offered. I would hate to loose her. Any ideas? <<As above, i think if you removed the Butterfly and the coral beauty, the bio-load levels on the tank will drop considerably as i feel its too much for the filtration of the system.>> <<Thanks for the comments, hope this helps. A Nixon>>

Ammonia poisoning? Read at your own risk...   3/9/08 Hi there. Please help... I have a new 30 gallon tank which, until just recently, I thought was completely cycled. I started with a complete marine set up which I was given as a gift (purchased at PetCo). I read all about how to set it up and this is what I did- I started with 2 inches of half live sand and half of the store bought kind (both from PetCo). I purchased about twenty lbs. of live rock from my LPS along with 4 small pieces of decorative rock (the kind with holes for the fish to swim through) and a decorative "Atlantis ruin". I used the instant ocean sea salt with filtered tap water and let it sit for a week. I added an air pump (tetra whisper for 40 gallons) and a protein skimmer (Lee's aquarium brand- this was the only one the LPS sold!) and let it sit for another week. I didn't want to cycle using fish. I checked all my water levels weekly. At the end of the third week I had a light layer of brown algae growing on everything. I found a new LPS (with a lot better quality products and an helpful, knowledgeable staff) who told me about your site and also that the algae was caused from leaving my light on too long. They recommended we purchase a lawnmower blenny for the algae <Mmm, no... wrong "type" of algae...> and also a yellow-tail blue damsel to finish the cycling of my tank. After adding the fish to the tank (after acclimation, etc.) the damsel looked great (good swimming, bright eyes, and active) the blenny sat at the bottom and would not move. He died three days later. <... had you but read on WWM re Salarias, Atrosalarias... or read before writing us> I checked all my levels again and my ammonia was at 0.25 mg/l and so I did a 25% water change. <... for what reason/s?> Since introducing the damsel and blenny the ammonia would dip from zero (after the weekly 25% water changes) and 1.5 mg/l (hard to know exactly as it is a color test). After talking to the LPS they recommended we use a product by the name of prime that removes ammonia from the tank, <... only temporarily... Actually a bad idea... as its use will forestall the establishment of cycling> and also recommended cleaner fish for the detritus and decaying food <...> which they said was most likely causing my ammonia problems. And so I added four Nassarius (sp?) snails, an emerald crab, and a sand sifting star fish for those cleaning purposes (I have since removed the star after I read that my tank is too small). <...> After about two months I added a dwarf fuzzy lion fish <This volume is too small...> and a week later added two more fish, both of which I have now lost (a Banggai cardinal and a bicolor angel). <... much too small....> I checked my levels after losing my angel and my levels are: ammonia- 0-0.25mg/l, nitrite-<0.3- 0.3mg/l, ph- 7.0. <... You're... not... joking?> My roommate added 6 sea snails she found at the beach about two weeks ago which all hide behind the filter on the glass. Should I remove these? Could these be the problem? After reading up on them I couldn't find anything that says they should be taken out, but thought I'd ask. She also added a small rock and shell she found at the beach. I am now checking my levels every other day and about every four days or so the ammonia will get dangerous again. I don't want to lose any of my fish and am lost as to what to do. Please Help! Sincerely, R. Robles <Stop killing animals... start reading... A good general book on marine aquarium keeping along with the time to go over it... is your best investment. Bob Fenner>

Help! Ammonia Disaster 2/19/08 Hi Crew! <Hello> I love your site, and don't think my first year in this hobby would have been so successful without it! With that said I am having a problem with ammonia. My tank is a one year 90g reef with 130lbs. of LR. My sg. is 1.25, ammonia 0.05, Nitrites 0.00, Nitrates 0.05. I perform weekly 15g water changes. Livestock I have left a yellow tang small, two false percula clowns, two green chromis, a kole tang small, 25 hermits, 25 snails, a sally lightfoot, a red brittle star, a sand sifting star, and a few soft corals. <Ok> I lost a chromis, and watchman goby due to ammonia. The problem started when my skimmer broke, our LFS is not to good so I ordered a new one online. Then my Kole Tang developed a case of flukes. I know I should have a QT/Hospital Tank, and will in the future. <Lesson learned.> I instead treated the entire tank with a reef safe treatment from Fish Vet called Aqua Clear that contained Formalin. <Not so much reef safe.><<Toxic as H E double you know whats. RMF>> My LFS recommended this, but I think it killed my bio filter because the first time in a year I have ammonia. <I would agree.> Instantly stopped using medication. I have done repetitive large 30% water changes daily for five days now, and can't change the ammonia level below 0.05. I have tested the batch water which is ro/di and it is clear. I am trying to avoid all chemical additives, because I read your negatives on those. <Mostly, although a little ammonia neutralizer may be of value here as a temporary stop-gap.> I let my water mix in a 50g Rubbermaid for a full 24 hrs. before changes. I have reduced feeding, but to no avail. Any suggestions, or should I keep up with these big water changes? <Keep it up.> Are the water changes hurting anything? <Doubtful.> Any help would be appreciated! Thanks, Scott <If you can find some Bio-Spira Marine this would be a big help. Otherwise add some media if you can to any filters you have running, to encourage the bacteria to multiply. Otherwise you may just be seeing the formalin still effecting the bacteria and only time will give it a chance to recolonize the tank.> <Chris>

High Ammonia/Nitrite Levels, No Water Changes For One Year!! 1/27/08 Hi guys, thanks for a very informative site! <Thank you Richard.> I've got a tank which had been stable for a year. I'd never done water changes because I thought as it was stable I didn't need to. <Ah, mistake number one.> I now realise the error of my ways! Anyway, I put in a sand sifting starfish to turn over the sand bed (about 1.5inches deep) and I think it released quite a lot of nutrients into the water (not been turned over for best part of a year and was quite black below the surface). The corals became very unhappy, snails plus one shrimp have died - I've removed all those I can find. Ammonia went to 0.25 and nitrite to 0.05. I took the star back to the LFS after reading a bit more about them. put in an extra power head (now approx 30*tank volume per hour - it's a 400L tank with about 70kg live rock, no filter other than skimmer and I use RO water) and did 10-15% water changes every other day for about a week - so changing roughly 50% of the water. I then read that I may have started a mini-cycle and that water changes can slow down the cycle, so I'm now doing 10-15% every week instead! I've also bought some Seachem Stability to boost bacterial filtration. The problem is, the ammonia and nitrite just will not come down!! I'm also feeding the fish less as well. The levels aren't massively high (only the second level on my test kits) but just sit there and have been like that for several weeks, not going up or down. The nitrate is stable at zero. I'm getting massive algal growth so presumably they're absorbing the nitrate and the ammonia/nitrite is being converted. but why won't ammonia/nitrite come down? Any other suggestions or just keep going as I am?? The levels of all nitrogen compounds were stable at zero before I messed about with the tank.:-( Fish seem ok, it's the corals and inverts I'm worried about. <Fish probably are not too happy either.> Any help much appreciated!! <Richard, you more than likely have a hydrogen sulphide/excess nutrient problem here. One way to tell is to siphon out a small amount and see if it smells like rotten eggs. I would suggest to use a gravel cleaner type siphon when doing water changes. It will take a little time getting efficient at this as you will have to control the siphon output with your fingers so as not to siphon out too much sand. Another method would be to completely siphon out the sand and replace, but do not remove more than a 25% area per week. When this is completed, let the sand bed age a month or so and do re-introduce a Sand Sifting Starfish to help keep the sand bed churned up.> Thanks <You're welcome. James (Salty Dog)> Richard Re: Ammonia?  8/20/07 >Hi WWM, >I think i have a slight ammonia problem. I feed my fish and 30 - 60 minutes >later my fish start breathing for air at the surface. ><Yikes> > I test the water and >it shows 0ppm on my test kit. ><Might be low dissolved oxygen> > The next day the fish are fine and no more >breathing. It has been happening for about 2 weeks and it happens everyday >after i feed my fish. But yesterday my Chromis' started to breathe at the >surface and about 3 days ago one of my yellow tangs disappeared ><!> > and i have a >feeling he is causing the ammonia spike in my tank the last 2 days. Before >he died the Ammonia was kind of like an on and off thing. But now most of >my >fish are gasping for air. Is it unusual to constantly have ammonia going up >and down? ><Yes... insufficient biofiltration...> >I have these pouches in my tank called 'Maifan Stones' by 'SUN SUN'. Have you heard of them? ><Have now: >http://www.google.com/search?q='Maifan+Stones'+by+'SUN+SUN'&rls=com.microsoft:en-us:IE-Address&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&sourceid=ie7&rlz=1I7PCTA> >They are meant to lower ammonia and nitrite ><I would remove this material> >and i think this might be what is lowering the ammonia every time. If you have any idea what is happening i would really like to know urgently. >Thanks, Maison ><... what re the set-up, size, history of this system? BobF> Hi Bob, My tank is 6 x 2 x 2 foot, Multi SL protein Skimmer, UV Sterilizer, Reef Octopus Nitrate Reductor, 12,000l/h return pump, Tunze Pump in a Rock(9000 l/h of movement), <5 Nitrate, 0 Nitrite, 0 Ammonia on my test kit (Aquarium Pharmaceuticals), pH 8.2. My fish are: Convict Tang Blue Tang 2 Yellow Tangs(1 now) Desjardin Sailfin Tang Lawnmower Blenny Mandarin Dragonet 10 Chromis Flame Angelfish Longnose Hawkfish 1 Black Ocellaris Clownfish 1 Ocellaris Clown Haven't had any filtration problems before, it only started 2-3 weeks ago. Yesterday i noticed these grey blotchy patches on my black clownfish. His middle white stripe has a transparent looking blotch on it. Would you have any idea what it is? <I suspect something amiss with your Nitrate Reductor... I would take this off-line. Likely either the feeder stock is poisoning your system or some co-factor here.> I've been searching for it on the Internet and can't seem to find it. All my other fish look perfectly fine. I just bought a new rotating powerhead yesterday and i am going to put it in the tank today to see if it helps the oxygen level. What would be the best and most accurate Ammonia test on the market? Because i don't like the Aquarium Pharmaceuticals Ammonia test kit. Thanks, Maison <Look to Hach, LaMotte brands/manufacturers... BobF>

High Ammonia Level - Marine Tank 8/10/07 Hi WWM Crew, <Howdy> I have a 4 month old 75 gal FOWLR setup and am having a problem with high ammonia levels @ 2 to 4ppm, <Yikes!> and this had been going on for at least 3 days. My nitrates spiked last week from 10ppm to over 160ppm, <Yeeikes!!! What was/are the causes here?> but now are back to below 20ppm, nitrite is 0, pH is 8.2, SG 1.025. My setup is: 75 gal tank, 55 lbs live rock, 2" aragonite substrate, 75 gal Pro Clear Aquatics wet dry filter (w/bio balls) and I use a PURA Filtration Pad as media, Mag 5 pump, 2 Hydor Koralia powerheads (600gpm each), Aquarium Systems 100 protein skimmer w/ Maxi Jet 1200. Livestock: 2 med clarkii clowns, 3 small damsels, 1 small bicolor blenny, 1 med lunare wrasse, 1 small sailfin tang, 1 med Foxface, 1 small snowflake eel (7 to 8"), 1 med coral banded shrimp, 1 turbo snail, 2 Astrea snails and 2 small red-legged hermit crabs. I switched from a refugium to the wet dry about 3 weeks ago, and at the same time added the eel. <Oh, here they are> I do 15-20% water changes weekly, except that I left the tank in the care of my husband for 10 days, and I believe he overfed all, especially the eel, because that is when the nitrates spiked to over 160ppm. He did a 12 gal water change, after the fact, (without vacuuming substrate) which brought them down slightly to 100ppm. 2 days after his water change is when the ammonia spiked. The only fish loss so far due to the ammonia is a scooter blenny, and I removed him immediately, so I don't have decaying livestock. I have recently been dosing my top-off water with Kalkwasser which has helped bring down my alkalinity. My purple coralline algae was flourishing, but now I have detritus, which looks like silt, laying on my live rock and my coralline is not as prominent. 2 days ago I did a 20gal water change, with no change in the ammonia, and yesterday I took down my live rock "wall" to vacuum behind it, and I placed a 3ft pvc spray bar (flowed by a MaxiJet 1200 powerhead) across the back of the tank so as to keep all the accumulating waste forward in the tank, <Good move, addn.> and another 12 gal water change. I also dosed the tank with stress zyme and ammo-lock. The water cleared and my fish, who have not been eating and are not active, starting moving about the tank, but still are not eating well, some not at all. Today I "washed" my bio-balls in 3 gals of tank water, <Mmm, I wouldn't do this at this time> did a 5 gal water change, and placed a media bag of Zeolite in the media area of the wet dry. Can you please explain a reason for my ammonia spike? <The loss of biofiltration with the filtration change, the loss of the refugium> Is it that my biological filter is not established? <Yes> Or did I somehow dump my biological filter? <This also, yes> Could it be the eel (solid waste)? The wet dry filter? <Yes and yes> Can the silicone caulk on the inside of the tank be toxic (it has turned green)? <No, even if it has turned green> How do you tell if live rock is dying? <Look, smell... function> I did have a diatom infestation about 2 weeks ago, but all the brown algae is now gone. I hate to see my fish being poisoned and not knowing how to fix the problem. This is my very first aquarium experience. I do have the Conscientious Marine Aquarist (and have even read it!) and I spend about 6 hours a day reading WetWebMedia for information, but this is something I need specific advice about. Thank you so much for being such a great resource. Kelly. <Bring back the refugium. Can run along with the wet-dry. Bob Fenner>

Re: High Ammonia Level - Marine Tank  8/14/07 Mr. Fenner, <Ms. Bell-Tate> Thank you for your reply. I have a neighbor who is a marine biologist, so I had him over to help me figure out the problem to my high ammonia. We determined the source was that my husband left the lights off for the 10 days while I was away, thus causing my algae to starve and die off. <Likely> My neighbor suggested I kill off my live rock <? I would NOT do this> and place it back in my tank and use it as ornament and shelter for my fish. I didn't like this idea, so I soaked it in freshwater <Nor this> for 48 hours, scrubbed the dead algae off of it and placed it back in the tank after I did a substrate cleanse and a 100% water change. I scraped the inside walls of my tank and cleaned everything in, on and around my tank to remove all traces of dead algae before filling the tank back up with saltwater (I use Oceanic Natural Sea Salt Mix). <And, pardon my interjecting, don't care for this brand> The new water and live rock has been cycling for about 36 hours with my protein skimmer on. A test of the water still shows my ammonia @ 1.5ppm. My questions to you are: 1) Will my live rock recover and host microorganisms again (have noticed many dead bristleworms)? <Something will live there... faster and more if "re-seeded", inoculated with some new/er, fresh LR> 2) if not, do I throw it out and start over or add more live rock? <I would NOT. I would add some new> 3) What do you recommend for water changes to cycle through the ammonia? I have ceased all methods of chemical treatments. <... Bio-Spira and/or time going by... as posted on WWM> My livestock has suffered during this bio crash. I have lost my scooter blenny, coral banded shrimp (I think pH problem, I couldn't keep the pH up even with buffering), sailfin tang and Foxface (they were a BFF pair). My bicolor blenny and female Clarkii Clown each came back from the dead twice. I have my remaining fish in a 10 gal hospital tank, water quality is good (no ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, pH is 8.3, SG is 1.023, temp 80.3) and I am doing a 1 gal water change daily on this tank. My remaining fish are the Blenny, Snowflake Eel, 2 Clarkii Clowns, 1 Lunare Wrasse, and 3 Damsels. <Yikes... very crowded... I would use the Bio-Spira... stat!> They still aren't eating and my Wrasse does not come out of his hiding spot. Can you please tell me when you think I will be able to get them back into my aquarium? <When it's cycled... no ammonia nor nitrite> I know they are still very stressed being in that small area and out of their natural environment. Thank you for all of your help. I can honestly tell you several times during this week I just wanted to give up, drain the tank and be done with it forever! It was truly the worst week ever. But, I believe I am over the hill and back on track. I am sure, still being the novice that I am, that I will encounter many more problems; hopefully they are not quite as detrimental to my fish (and my own mental and emotional health) as this has been. I have learned a valuable lesson this week - consistency is the primary key to maintaining marine aquariums! <Do leave the lights on a good ten-twelve hours per day... this will speed the cycling process establishment as well> BTW, I am not going to bring back my 10 gallon refugium, due to space limitations in my stand; I am, however, going to place an in tank refugium for Caulerpa. Would this suffice? <Will greatly help> Thank you again. I really appreciate your individual attention, as I know you probably get thousands of emails daily from us greenhorns. The WWM crew is the best! Kelly. <Just a few dozen... Cheers, BobF>

Re: High Ammonia Level - Marine Tank 8/16/07 Hi again, Mr. Fenner, <Kelly> Just to give you an update on what I have done with my tank and my progress; I added 16 lbs of cured live rock to my existing, and added bio Spira, but I don't think I used enough (1 3oz.bag) because it didn't get rid of the ammonia overnight (added on Monday 13th), but the ammonia this morning is at 0 (Thursday 16th) (woo hoo!). <Yay!> But. now my nitrite is reading @ 1.0ppm, so what is your recommendation to get the nitrite down. <Mmm, time/patience... careful, very low feeding...> I have considered doing a 20% water change and adding Prime, but I would like your professional advice before I do anything. Also, the bio balls in my wet dry have particulate accumulation on them, should I remove and wash them in a bucket of tank water? <No... not right now... or for a week or two...> My pH is 8.2, SG is 1.023 and nitrates are below 10ppm, and I am leaving the lights on (Coralife 48in Aqualight w/2 65w 10,000k and 2 65w True Actinic 03 Blue) 12 hrs/day. I have also placed an in-tank refugium directly below my lights and added some Caulerpa. I am using what is left of my Red Sea Coral Pro Salt for make-up water and plan to switch to Tropic Marin thereafter. I would really like to get my fish back into the tank. I have noticed one of my damsels has scales missing on both sides of his body and his breathing is labored. <Yikes...> I very much appreciate your guidance; it's really helping me get through this - the right way! Kelly. <A pleasure to assist your efforts. BobF>

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>

Ammonia in Quarantine Tank...What To Do? - 05/26/07 I took part of my filtration out of quarantine and my ammonia is over 1.0 and I'm running my 55 fallow from ich.  Do I put my only fish which is a Tomato Clown back in and hope or just cycle the 20 gallon with him cause now he is scratching like crazy? <<I would not put this fish in the quarantine tank with an Ammonia reading of 1.0 (ppm?)>> I'm afraid I have sent him to his death bed.  Even after all the reading on your website I can't figure out where I failed.  I did the huge water changes to help and now it's worse.  So do I keep him in 20 and hope or the 55 which hasn't had fish since a week ago? <<It's not clear here what you did/did not do...but I recommend you put the fish back in the 55g tank...restart/stabilize your quarantine tank...freshwater-dip and move the fish back to quarantine for treatment (if necessary) and restart the fallow period on the display.  EricR>>

Oops. Protein skimmer waste back into the system!   5/22/07 Hi crew, <Elizabeth> While in the process of cleaning out my protein skimmer, all of the waste in the collection bin spilled over into the tank.  Of course my ammonia level shot up through the roof. <Yikes!> I treated the water as soon as I noticed the problem (unfortunately 4 hours later since someone else cleaned it for me).  One of my damsel fish acts like nothing happened, while the other (the shy blue) was lying on his side on the bottom of the tank gasping for air.  The ammonia is fine now, and the fish is trying to swim, but not really succeeding.  Is there any hope of saving this poor fish.  Thanks! Elizabeth <Well, there is always hope... I would try another dose of an anti-ammonia product here (my choice? Amquel)... and try to stay light on feeding for a week or two. Bob Fenner>

Ammonia spike in established  tank   6/2/06 I have been reading the FAQs trying to establish why the ammonia reading in my 2 year old tank is 1.0 HOPE YOU CAN HELP ME as there is conflicting info in the FAQs I have read. (One said to do nothing until it gets back to normal, another suggested water changes?) <I would not allow this level to be get any higher...> The only thing that happened recently is my thermometer went down and in the AM the temp was 72 (normally 78) The next day my cleaner shrimp (1 yr old) died. I figured the change in water temp killed the shrimp but decided to test the water before replacing him and to my horror found the ammonia spike. Could the drop in temp have affected the biological filter? <Mmm, not likely. The death of the shrimp could easily raise it though> I immediately fed the fish less and did 10% water changes every other day but a week has gone by and the level remains up. I Have a wet-dry trickle filter running for 2 years (125 gal) There is an Emperor Angel, Purple Tang and 2 clowns and some (not a lot) of live rock. Don't know what can be causing the problem. Does live rock go 'bad'? <Not usually> I have it in there since the beginning. If I add more live rock, do I have to quarantine it first if it is 'cured'? <Perhaps... depends on the degree of "curedness"> Any advice is GREATLY appreciated. The fish do not appear to be in distress. Thanks much, Carol <... Please read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/nh3marfaqs.htm and the linked files above. I would cease feeding while the ammonia is this high... Bob Fenner>

Re: Ammonia spike in established  tank  6/5/06 Thank you Mr Fenner for your reply. I am fish obsessed (3 tanks now, as my fish grow they graduate to larger quarters :> <Heee!> and I have names for each and every one. I wrote months ago about my Emperor Angel (Gabriel) who was breathing out of one gill. I was ready to 'operate' but you assured me all was well and this was not unusual. How many people would know that??? <More and more...>   (are you part fish?) <Bloop! We all are> The advice on your web site is invaluable. One last question. I ceased feeding (though it broke my heart) and the ammonia went down to .50 (from 1.0) after 2 days. I am still doing 10% water changes every other day but it has been over a week. I am afraid I am missing something or does it take this long for the system to get back to normal ?? Thanks so much ! Carol <Can take a good long while to establish, re-establish complete nitrogen cycling... depending on set-up, cause/s, mitigating circumstances... Please do keep reading: http://wetwebmedia.com/estbiofiltmar.htm "and the linked files above". Bob Fenner>

Ammonia levels high 4/1/04 Hi,  I am a little confused. We have a 90 gallon tank with 75 pounds of uncured live rock.  We have it in our tank curing right now for about 2-1/2 weeks.  We have a Mag 1200, a venturi protein skimmer, and a 802 powerhead.  We have done 2 partial water changes, 18 gallons and 25 gallons.  The problem I am having is that I can't get the ammonia level to drop.  The nitrite is 0.3 and the nitrate is 10., but the ammonia is staying at 3.7 and ph is 7.9.  We have 2 blue damsels and one hermit crab living in the water.  We were told that the nitrite and the ammonia should come down together.  Are we doing something wrong.   <There is still likely die off occurring on/in the live rock creating the ammonia.  You could also be over feeding.  Although your pH is a bit low, I would not treat it until the ammonia is gone.  Higher pH causes ammonia to be much more toxic.  In the mean time, keep up with weekly water changes of 20 gallons or so.  I would also suggest testing your water with a different test kit to verify the results you are getting.> Also there is a slimy whitish growth on the new rocks. Is this normal and should we turkey baste this off. If so should we be changing the pre filters. <I am not sure what this is, but I would suggest siphoning it out when you do water changes so that it gets removed from the system.  If you turkey baste it from the rocks it will simply end up elsewhere in the system (some may be caught by your mechanical filters, but not much).  Especially during cycling, mechanical filters should be cleaned or replaced every other day or even every day.> Should we be adding ph plus or something to bring down the ammonia.  We also recently bought a bottle of Chemi- pure and put the bag of carbon in the sump.  Thanks, Cindy <pH plus will not lower the ammonia, but as mentioned above, it will make it more toxic.  When the ammonia is gone, you should treat alkalinity and pH with buffers designed for marine aquaria.  I am not a fan of chemical "quick fixes" and recommend that you avoid their use.  Natural processes take time, and the patience to allow them to work will be rewarded soon enough!  Best Regards.  Adam>

- High Ammonia or Something Else? - Hi, is it normal to have ammonia levels at around .50?  I have been cycling my tank for over a month w/ live rock and sand.  I am not using live stock to cycle but rather I used dead squid as well as uncured live rock.  I also have a canister filter running (Fluval 404).  All my other levels are down but my ammonia levels never seem to go lower than .50 - .25.  I checked my established tank and the ammonia levels .25 - .50 as well.  Even after water changes (well a few days after water changes).  Is this normal? <Well, sort of... I think you have a bad test kit. I would take a water sample down to the local fish store and get a second opinion on those test results.> I know it's not high enough to be toxic to the fish but will this be a problem in a reef situation? <Yes... Cheers, J -- > Help! Ammonia spike! Hi Bob! <Michael here today, glad to be off work...>  I have an emergency that only you or any of your colleagues can answer! <Shall try>    have had a fully cycled 46 gallon tank for about 4 months. I have 2 clowns and a royal Gramma with around 30-40 snails, 20-30 hermits, 2 brittle stars, a cleaner shrimp, and 2 coral banded shrimp. There are 40 lbs. of live sand and about 10 lbs. of live rock in the system up until last Saturday. I had gotten a shipment of around 100 lbs. of Walt Smith LR and did the unthinkable of not curing it myself first. I hosed it off and tried to pick off as much dead or dying organisms on it before adding it to my tank. As I expected, there was a major ammonia spike. I added 3 ounces of Bio-Spira a couple of days ago and turned off my protein skimmer (the instructions said to turn off for 48 hours). I have only my Emperor 280 and 2 powerheads running. <Definitely turn the skimmer back on - it will remove enough waste to run the risk of removing some bacteria from the bio Spira>  The clowns don't look too good right now and I am getting ammonia & nitrite readings that are off the chart. <Definitely dose with Amquel+ and throw in a Poly-Filter or two - you need to lower that ammonia quickly!>  I don't have another tank available to house the fish and I added about ½ a teaspoon each of prime and Stress-guard (after reading some of the FAQs, I guess I shouldn't have. But I was getting really scared for the lives of my fish. I should've thought of that first before adding that much LR to the system all at once). <Yes, you are adding a massive bio-load to the system, and your tanks' bacteria colonies will have to multiply to compensate, which could take weeks>  What should I do? The instructions for the bio-Spira said not to change water for 2 weeks. <This is an unusual circumstance, however, not an ordinary tank cycling. I would do 25% water changes daily, at least until the ammonia and nitrites are lowered> I usually do weekly 10% water changes with water that is pre-treated for a week (like the instructions on your website). Have I pretty much sealed the fate for everything in my tank? <Possibly, but not if you can lower the ammonia fast enough>  I read somewhere that LR can quickly turn into dead rock. Is this true as well? <Yes, but as your tank is established, you shouldn't have as much of a problem>  I feed my fish prepared seafood that I freeze. Should I stop feeding altogether? And if so, for how long? <I would hold off on feeding for a few days>  Should I perform a water change? <See above>  Or would it throw off the cycling time of the tank? <You're going to need to lower the ammonia & nitrite levels if you want your fish to survive> Thank you in advance for all of your help! <No problem, good luck>

Ammonia Spikes (4/13/04)  Hi Michael, <That's me, and this is some good pizza!>  Thanks for the response. <Anytime> Before I had gotten your response, the 48 hour waiting period ended and I turned back on the skimmer. <Keep it on! It will help greatly with DOC removal> I have been feeding less than normal, but did not totally stop. <I would stop for 2 or 3 days if I were you> The next day after I had sent the email, the ammonia level dropped down to .25, but has been there since. However, the nitrites are still at around 1.0. <You'll probably have ammonia\nitrite problems for at least a week> I had planned on doing my first water change tomorrow, which is the normal routine, but instead will do a water change tonight. I only have a 5 gallon bucket that I have prepared salt water in and the size of my condo pretty much limits having a bigger bucket lying around the living room (wife not too happy with the 5 gallon already!) <I know how that is - I want a billion dollars and my own planet: tons of room!> Since the ammonia has dropped from over 1.0 to .25, should I still continue doing my 10% weekly, or should I do the 25% (again, this is hard to have prepared water in this volume. <Stay with your normal routine, .25 is stressful, but not directly lethal. Find some saltwater bio-Spira from Marineland if you can, it will help get your nitrifying bacteria levels up to par> is it ok to have water that is mixed same day?) daily until everything reads 0? <Water that is mixed the same day should be fine as long as it reaches the appropriate temperature before adding it to the tank> Luckily nothing perished, but my black brittle star somehow detached all of its arms from itself and I am guessing that it is growing a new set. Are the tank inhabitants still in danger because of the nitrite level being still at 1.0? <Any detectable level of ammonia\nitrites will be stressful to all inhabitants...try adding the bio Spira, and just wait> Do I still need to dose with Amquel + and get poly filters? Thanks for all of your help! <With ammonia and nitrites at their current level, you would probably only delay the time it would take for the bacteria to compensate. Unless it gets any higher; hold off on the Amquel, but I would throw in the poly filter>  Jeff  <M. Maddox>

Overstocked + Under-Filtered = Poor, Poor Fish - 11-07-05 Hi guys! I have a 45 gallon with one of those filters that hang on the side of the tank with the three medias. <<Hopefully cleaned weekly and NOT your only source of biological filtration.>> It's cycled for a month and has had fish for another month. I have a Lion, Picasso, and Niger. <<You are overstocked my friend.>> I have two questions. - My Niger is sick Very pale, sits at the bottom of the tank. <<Not surprised>> Fins look like they are rotting started with the rear fin and has spread to the rest, he does come out to eat though. LFS says parasites. <<I disagree>> And sold me Cupramine which I have used for the last few days according to their instructions and no major change. Niger still looks really bad. <<Stop dosing the tank and perform a couple large water changes.>> - My tank gets dirty very quick including ornaments just days after scrubbing walls and ornaments. LFS says not enough biological filtration and suggested to add an under gravel filter. <<Mmm...I would go for some live rock instead, and/or a fluidized-bed filter.>> That would keep my tank cleaner and allow me to add more fish  <<NO!>>  and stabilize Ammonia levels which at the moment constantly fluctuate because feeding my fish daily makes it rise, therefore I must feed every other day. <<No again, having your tank grossly overstocked with insufficient biological filtration is causing your ammonia problem. Find another home for the triggers and have a good read here and at the indices in blue at the top of the page: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/fishinvsetup.htm>>  Any advice is greatly appreciated. <<Regards, EricR>> Ammonia Hi I have a 90 gallon tank. <<Hello, JasonC here...>> I'm pretty new to saltwater aquariums so bare with me. I have 90#s of live rock and about a 1.5' deep sand bed. The inhabitants include: 2 damsels, a tank raised clown, a yellow tang, and an assortment of snails. Ammonia, nitrites were all 0, nitrates were about 5. About 2 weeks ago I added a white sand sifting star fish. Also 4 days ago I added a regal tang. This was going to finish up my stocking, so of course this little problem came up. I would usually see the starfish at least once a day on top of the sand. I haven't seen him in 3 days. I wouldn't be worried but yesterday I had a rise in ammonia somewhere between 0 and .25 (ppm I think it is). On your site it said the starfish was quite hardy. My question is do you think the starfish died in the sand and is causing the rise in ammonia? <<It could, but if your tank were well-cycled, and certainly with this amount of live rock, really shouldn't have shown up on the radar. On the other hand, your biological filter could still be settling in and this is just a small shift - look to see how long it takes to go away, this ammonia.>> How long can the starfish stay under the sand? <<Depends on where the food is, personally I wouldn't keep this animal as your sand bed is unlikely to be productive enough in the long term.>> He was moving around fine and seemed very healthy'¦ Or maybe just because of the new addition of the regal tang caused a rise in ammonia? <<Also possible - new biological filters need to adjust - and it does take a little time, I never add more than one thing in a 30 day period just to be safe.>> IS there a way to bring the starfish out easily to see if he is still alive? <<You mean easy way to lure it out? Not sure... if you are really concerned, break down the live rock and find it.>> I did a 15% water change that brought the ammonia down but not back to 0. All the fish and other critters all seem to be doing fine so far, but I am worried'¦'¦. <<If the ammonia persists, you will need to do a couple of larger changes.>> Thanks, Matt <<Cheers, J -- >>

Re: Ammonia Bob, <<Not Bob, JasonC here...>> I believe I may have found the source of my ammonia problem. <<ok>> I vacuum the substrate surface ever time I do a water change every week (approx.. 13% removal) and my ammonia was still traceable. The tank has been running for 2 years, I have never had this problem before. I clean all of my filters every week. What the problem was is that I was not vacuuming deep enough, the tank has a 1-1/2" s deep sand bed and I realize that the fish waste and other junk was not just on the surface, but deeper in the sand bed. How often should you move around LR? <<Whenever the mood strikes. If I were you, I'd look into perhaps some more or larger powerheads in the tank so that some of this detritus makes its way into your filters and not into the sandbed. Constant vacuuming of the sand bed will disrupt the ability to produce/harbor beneficial organisms like copepods and the like that would normally deal with the detritus for you.>> Thanks <<Cheers, J -- >>

Ammonia Spike Hi guys, I've recently added a small coral beauty to my 30gal tank that has been up and running for about 2-1/2 months with no problems. Its a 30gal with 15lbs of live rock and 20lbs of live sand. I have had a feather duster a percula clown, a Dottyback and a cleaner shrimp in there for the duration with no problems. I removed the cleaner shrimp and the Dottyback and added the angel and then whammo. Ammo up to 0.25ppm. <Yikes! Ammonia spikes call for immediate, drastic action, like massive water changes.> My qt is not cycled fully so I cant move them to the qt. I wanted to add more live sand in hopes to add more nitro-bac to the system as soon as possible and will do water changes. <Good steps, IMO!> Right now I just have the clown and angel in there and the clown seems stressed. Swimming back and forth all day and all night and not eating like he use to. <Ammonia will do that!> Angel surprisingly seems ok and feeding off the rocks. Thanks for your input, Rob <Well, Rob- the actions you have taken will probably save those fishes' lives! Most important, let's try to figure out what could have caused the ammonia spike to begin with. Was there any kind of disruption to the biological filter (i.e.; disturbance of, or replacement of filter media, medication or other chemicals added that could have wiped out beneficial bacteria? Perhaps the interval between the removal of the shrimp and the Dottyback and the addition of the angel did not give the bacteria population time to adjust to the bioload (just another theory- probably not valid)? Maybe some massive die off from the live rock that was previously unnoticed? Look beyond the obvious, be diligent in husbandry (i.e.; water changes, feeding, and water parameters) techniques, and don't make any animal additions until the ammonia disappears. Hang in there! Regards, Scott F.>

Ammonia Spike! Hope you're around Bob, <Scott F. in today> My 90-gallon tank has developed a huge ammonia spike.  The tank has been set-up a year.  There was no problem with the water yesterday, tonight the fish are gasping for air.  I am getting a 2.0 ppm reading for the ammonia. <Yikes!> This tank is well established with live rock.  I have a gold puffer, golden eel, and a 3 1/2" titan triggerfish in that tank.  The only thing I did different is move the titan from the larger tank to the 90 gallon about a week ago.   <okay...> I just did a large water change.  Unfortunately, the water is still showing an ammonia level of 2.0 ppm.  This is very troublesome.  Any advice is greatly appreciated. Thanks,  Kelly <Well, Kelly- first, we need to see what may have precipitated the ammonia spike. Review recent history in the tank...Were any medications used recently that could have damaged the biofiltration? Any power failures? Were regular water changes conducted, etc.? As far as reducing the ammonia now- I'd keep up some regular small water changes (like 10% to or three times a week until things get under control). Utilize chemical filtration media, such as activated carbon and PolyFilter, and change them regularly and frequently. Add more circulation to the tank if it's sluggish. Review your husbandry procedures (i.e.; feeding, water changes, etc) and crank the protein skimmer! with quick, decisive action and detailed review of your methods, you can reduce the ammonia and keep this from happening again! Good luck! Regards, Scott F>

Ammonia Spike (cont'd.) Well, I managed to get the ammonia down to .50.  I did this by doing another large water change last night, and suspending feeding. I also increased the water flow which has reduced the fish from breathing heavy considerably. <Good to hear!> I am going to hold off on doing any water changes until I notice a Nitrite spike.  I anticipate a Nitrite spike soon, maybe tomorrow.  The water test shows the Nitrites are slightly going up which explains why the ammonia is going down.  I am also going to hold off on feeding for another couple of days.  This won't hurt them.   <Okay> I have been faithfully having my tank cleaned every two weeks. Something disturbed the biofiltration.  This really bothers me.  I am going to purchase more live rock.  I could use another 30 lbs in my tank. <A good idea...make sure that you purchase fully cured live rock-no sense contributing further to the ammonia...Steady as she goes...Hang in there! Regards, Scott F> Kelly

Fish Story! Hey WetWebMedia Consortium!! <Scott F your consort(?) tonight!> It is I again. you know..."Oh crap, not this guy again" (that guy) <Whew! And I thought that you were thinking that about ME!> Long and the short of it is this: 55 gallon all glass aquarium FOWLR setup with power heads, two sumps, 1" thickness fine aragonite sand bed (I didn't want to have a DSB, as I felt the refugium would be good enuf as a nutrient export-denitrator on it's own), about 30 lbs live rock, protein skimmer, Mag Drive return pumps, Durso standpipe & overflow. and a 10 gallon hand made refugium with 1 1/2" miracle mud substrate and Caulerpa algae/live rock set on a 24/7 daylight schedule. Fish had major outbreak of Brooklynella and marine velvet a few weeks ago, so all were quarantined in two sick tanks and were given 8 min fresh water baths 2x/day as well as quick cure.  Long story short, out of the 10 juvenile percula's I had, 6 survived the treatment.  My angel and tang both succumbed to the sickness.  That's the nutshell version. <Sorry to hear that. Sometimes, no matter what we do, it just can't help...Good effort, though> I reduced salinity in .000 increments down to 1.017 and raised water temp to 85 degrees or so. and did daily 30% water changes to keep ammonia levels out of the picture (QT tanks weren't cycled, nor do I think it would matter if I had a cycled QT tank when using formalin based meds...your thoughts?. Wouldn't formalin-malachite green kill beneficial bacteria and cause ammonia spike?) <It can> Ok. trying to make this short, but so many things occurred over this two week period of time.  I broke the main tank down, saving 50% of the cycled water and some of the old live rock in a bucket with air stone and power head.  Left live rock in there for a few days while I built a new setup. ditched the acrylic tank for an all glass, and had to construct Durso standpipe and all the plumbing, etc etc..yadda yadda yadda...fired the new system up two days later while fish were in QT.  I put new aragonite sand in (finest sand. like baby powder) and bought about 20 lbs of cured live rock from LFS.  I adjusted water parameters to as close as the water where the LR came from and added it to the tank, sans fish.  I left the rock in the tank for 2 weeks while fish were in QT.  About 12 days into this, I re-arranged the live rock a billion different ways to get the effect I wanted, and in the process the rocks were chipped and beaten up quite a bit. <Happens to the best of 'em> Unbeknownst to me, this caused a MONSTER ammonia spike. <The die off from the live rock, maybe...> Unfortunately, I added the fish about 3 days later to this system without testing for ammonia. Nitrites were zero and pH - KH were 8.3 and 11 respectively.  I honestly thought that with this much LR, the tank would have been cycled by now, as I had tested for ammonia days prior to moving the LR and readings were indeed ZERO.  My mistake for not realizing that LR is indeed "live" and bruising it would cause die off and ammonia spike. <Well, "smashing" life forms on the rock can cause it to die....> Nonetheless....MONSTER ammonia spike. I couldn't re-catch the fish and my QT tanks were already broken down, so I dosed the tank with Ammo-Lock  (feel free to bash) <Bonk!> because after doing two 30% water changes, the ammonia levels refused to drop below 8ppm (that's correct... 8 <Holy...!> ...I'm not joking, as 3 different test kits verified this number of death).  Nitrites were zero at this point.  I didn't understand how these clownfish could survive in this "pee water", for in essence that's what it had become.  So now the NH3 was converted to NH4 I suppose and was to be considered "less toxic" , but still DEATH LEVELS. <Um, yeah!> This all occurred about 5 days ago.  6 water changes later, the ammonia levels are still at 8ppm (possibly due to Ammo lock, locking up the ammonia and the bacteria cannot break it down to nitrite at this point. I dunno. < A thought...I know things are bad...but hold off on the massive water changes for now...let the cycle complete...> I added max doses of Fritzyme every two days so far, in hopes of rebuilding the bacteria colony. <Not a bad idea...but the bacteria will colonize and multiply on their own soon enough> Also, 15 out of the 30 snails I had died, adding to ammonia spike, so I removed them promptly and did another water change. and added more Fritzyme. <How about running that protein skimmer full-on, and utilizing some chemical filtration media, such as Poly Filter and activated carbon...> The fish are doing just fine and have been swimming all around like nothing is wrong.  This I fail to understand completely.  They should be gasping for air and near death after nearly a week of exposure to ammonia. <Tough, these saltwater fishes, huh?> The ammonia still reads 8ppm and the nitrites are at 5 now.  What I think is happening is that the Ammo-Lock treatment, froze the ammonia, and I bet my ammonia reading will continue to read 8ppm for another month of Sundays until most of the water has been changed out completely.  My nitrites (which have read zero for several days, are now reading 5 which is maximum on my test kit).  So I'm guessing that the "inaccurate ammonia reading" (due to ammo-lock treatment) is incorrect, and has already peaked and now my nitrite levels are at maximum and should also be dropping daily from here on out, as I continue to add Fritzyme every few days.  Your thoughts? <Well, I'm a simple guy, so I'll give you a simple answer...I'd slow things down a bit. Horrible as the ammonia reading is (and the nitrite), the nitrogen cycle can only establish itself without interference. Water changes are a good idea to reduce ammonia in emergencies in an established tank, but in a new tank; one that is cycling- you need to keep a "hands-off" approach...Let nature "do her thing". Keep measuring and monitoring all parameters, and you will see these readings begin to subside...It's not good for your animals to go through this- but the process must occur...without interference! you're making some good observations, and your intentions are great...but just slow down, relax, and things will be okay!> Also...get this: In my refugium (which is also about 3 weeks old), the Caulerpa is growing well and just today I noticed about 1,000 or so white bugs crawling all over the front glass (am assuming copepods). <Yep!> I went and google a pic of a copepod and it matched these critters to a T.  Also there are about 200 or so micro plants stuck to the front and rear glass of the refugium.  I magnified them and they appear to be Caulerpa like in nature.  Is this possible?   <Sure...certainly can, and does-happen. They might also be Bryopsis, which is regarded as a nuisance algae...keep an eye on them> They are everywhere, as if something spored out and the plants stuck the mselves like glue to the glass.  The copepods are a good thing no? <It's always beneficial to have a thriving population of amphipods and copepods in a system...provide natural food sources and scavenging...> I mean, I'm thinking that the high organics in the system water created a field day environment for these critters, and the fertilizer needed to grow Caulerpa and now these new tiny plants. <Yep- another good observation on your part...nutrients and other appropriate conditions lead to algae growth> For the very first time, I am seeing brown diatoms on the sand bed and glass of both the main tank and refugium.......somehow life is developing in this water, and prospering.  The fish are swimming all over the place in normal fashion, and have ravenous appetites, trying to eat anything that floats by. Every day or so I give each fish one piece of flake food, as I don't want to raise ammonia levels. <Well- even in these circumstances, you should feed the fishes more...they need the nutrition and energy to cope with this stressful situation> I feed them independently and there isn't any waste, other then what they excrete themselves. <A good habit to have> Please try to explain to me what is happening here? How are my fish alive?  I feel as if DIVINE INTERVENTION from God himself has occurred. <Get down on your knees and offer thanks! Ain't nature amazing?> Also, after the water change last night, I put in a Poly filter and a fresh bag of Black Diamond Activated carbon, as well as changing out all filter floss with new. <Good move, as suggested above> My bio balls I have been removing a little at a time, as they came from my old system which was up and running for years.  And no, this isn't what caused the ammonia spike.  All water parameters were within normal limits up until the night I bashed the Live rock around and added snails (which were NOT properly acclimated into the tank, btw...another lesson learned the hard way). <Live and learn...the learning part is good! You're doing fine...> Well, I do hope that others learn "what not to do" when re-setting up your aquarium, and that is partially the reason this email is so long.  I hope others benefit from my experience. <That's what WetWebMedia is all about, my friend!> Please try to explain the "why's and how's" of my occurrence. <Steve- it's not easily explained...I think this is one that we just have to accept...Be patient, observe those fishes carefully, and watch as those ammonia and nitrite levels continue to fall> Thanks again crew...yer a blessing. Steve <Thanks for sharing, Steve! Regards, Scott F>

Ammonia spike! - 02/23/03 Any advice would be greatly appreciated. <Ananda here to give it a shot...> I upgraded my aquarium from a 55 gal. to a 105 gal. I used all the water, sand and rock from the 55 and added some ocean water to make up the difference. I also took all my old filters and media and swapped it over to the new filter as well as some new carbon and more bio cork things. <Sounds okay so far, but I'd be a bit concerned about using ocean water if you live near a city.> The LFS said that this should work and at first it was ok but last week the ammonia spiked and I have had a lot of trouble keeping the pH up although the alkalinity is a tiny bit high. I have since been able to correct that though. The SG is 1.024, the nitrite is 0 but the ammonia is 8!!!!  I added Amquel and a bottle of cycle, air stone, another power head and have a skimmer running. I have a panther grouper, an snowflake eel and a dog faced puffer in there that are all doing really well believe it or not but the lion which was fine and eating earlier today is laying upside-down on the bottom now. Should I do a large water change or will this just complicate matters by removing too much bacteria hence causing another spike? need help quick <I would move these fish into the quarantine tank IMMEDIATELY. Do not use water from your main tank. If you have water mixing for a water change, use that; if not, I would use freshly-mixed water -- I don't normally recommend that, but this is an extreme case! Your tank is cycling -- you need to get those fish out of that ammonia first and then worry about how to deal with the tank's cycle. --Ananda>

Sky High Ammonia  2/19/03 Hi there.<Hey!  Phil answering some questions bright and early!> 3 weeks ago I filled water in my new aquarium. It's 175GL or 650LTRs. After a week or so I checked the levels. Ammonia is sky high (about 1.0 instead of 0.0 !) now its been more than 3 weeks and still the same levels. As I won't go for a reef system I used tap water (which worked great in my old marine aquarium) I have a big sump (100ltrs) a huge compartment for Bioballs and about 150 KG of live rocks. A week ago I put an air emitting powerhead (for more oxygen) There is a sea bad (finely chopped coral stone) 4 - 5 CM high.   Water temperature is low as no heating is present for now. No aquarium light yet - only light from outside (not direct sun) What's going on ???<One thing sticks out to me.  You do not list if you have a protein skimmer.  A skimmer will in part help bring down the ammonia.  It sound like the live rock you bought may not have been cured and is "curing" in your tank!  A skimmer will help remove dissolved organics in the water.  Remember to keep doing weekly 10-15% water changes!  Hope this helps!  Phil>

Dealing With An Ammonia Spike... Dear Crew: <Scott F. with you today> Sorry to bug you, but I have a perplexing and potentially dangerous problem for my fish. My 80G FOWLR with 2-stage refugium (10+18G) has suddenly had an ammonia spike to 0.5. Nitrates & Nitrites both 0. pH=8.2 I've been monitoring parameters weekly and have had no detectable ammonia, nitrite or nitrate for more than 2 months. Filtration is AquaC Remora Pro, Emperor 400, Fluval 404. I have DSB in display & refugia plus total 100#LR. Additional circulation Hagen 802 powerhead. I also have an Aquazone 100 ozonizer. Stock: Yellow-headed Jawfish,  royal Gramma, false percula, Cuban hogfish, copperband butterfly, yellow tang, neon goby, 3 cleaner shrimp and 7 brittle/serpent stars.  All are acting normally and feeding well (once per day), but I haven't seen a couple of the brittle stars for several days. Additional info: I pulled a blue Linckia out Friday night after a week in the tank when it became clear that it was dying. I also had a Pentacta cucumber in the bigger refugium that seemed to be weakened/dying (after 2 months), so I pulled it after I detected the ammonia last night. <Possibly the source, as we thought?> Actions so far:  Added Amquel on discovery of ammonia night before last. Tested zero an hour later (Hagen test). The Redox promptly dropped from 330 to 210 after this. Yesterday AM ammonia still testing zero. Back up to 0.5 last night. Added Amquel again. Back down. Started aerating water for a modest (10G) change tonight. Back up to 0.5 tonight. Will add Amquel first and then execute water change. Because the ammonia is still going back up, I cannot believe that it was being given off by the Linckia & Pentacta that I have already removed--should not re-accumulate. I am concerned that the largest (black) brittle star (span about 8") may be dead somewhere and rotting. <That could seriously be the culprit...I'm not certain why the ammonia seems to go up in the evening...strange...> There's one smaller (5") one I haven't seen for a while either. I have searched everywhere that I can (including in dark with a flashlight). Is there a reliable way to bait them out at night that would enable me to feel reasonably certain that they're dead if they don't respond? <It's really a matter of getting some meaty food in there (perhaps clam or squid, tied to a small rock...should do the trick> Any further searching will require "brief" removal of almost all LR to a Rubbermaid tub. I really would not like to have to rebuild--I like the stability & functionality of the current structure. Should go ahead and do this? Or can I wait this out with Amquel and aggressive water changes in the hope that it is a rot problem that will solve itself in a week or two? Also, should I cut way back on the feeding? I already try to be conservative by feeding only one frozen cube per day. <Well, I'd try the "bait method" first, then I'd keep up those water changes...monitor the ammonia and nitrite often...hopefully, it will trend down quite soon...Be prepared to move your fishes if the ammonia level puts them in distress. I'd hold off on ripping up the rock structure unless all other approaches outlined above fail...> Your advice will be greatly appreciated. Steve Allen. <Hang in there, Steve...Regards, Scott F>

Dealing With An Ammonia Spike.... Dear Crew: <Scott F. with you today> Sorry to bug you, but I have a perplexing and potentially dangerous problem for my fish. My 80G FOWLR with 2-stage refugium (10+18G) has suddenly had an ammonia spike to 0.5. Nitrates & Nitrites both 0. pH=8.2 I've been monitoring parameters weekly and have had no detectable ammonia, nitrite or nitrate for more than 2 months. Filtration is AquaC Remora Pro, Emperor 400, Fluval 404. I have DSB in display & refugia plus total 100#LR. Additional circulation Hagen 802 powerhead. I also have an Aquazone 100 ozonizer. <Any idea what could have caused this? Finding the root cause is paramount to preventing this from happening again...> Stock: Yellow-headed Jawfish,  royal Gramma, false percula, Cuban hogfish, copperband butterfly, yellow tang, neon goby, 3 cleaner shrimp and 7 brittle/serpent stars.  All are acting normally and feeding well (once per day), but I haven't seen a couple of the brittle stars for several days. <Hmm...a clue> Additional info: I pulled a blue Linckia out Friday night after a week in the tank when it became clear that it was dying. I also had a Pentacta cucumber in the bigger refugium that seemed to be weakened/dying (after 2 months), so I pulled it after I detected the ammonia last night. <Good move...A large enough specimen, dying and decomposing undetected, could cause a measurable increase in ammonia...Seems like it would be unlikely, but it is really possible> Actions so far:  Added Amquel on discovery of ammonia last night. Tested zero an hour later (Hagen test). The Redox promptly dropped from 330 to 210 after this. This AM ammonia still testing zero. Back up to 0.5 tonight. Added Amquel again. Am aerating water for a modest change tomorrow after work. May add Amquel in AM if testing positive again to buy time. <Water changes will help here> Because the ammonia has gone up again after the Amquel last night, I cannot believe that it was being given off by the Linckia & Pentacta that I have already removed--should not re-accumulate. I am concerned that the largest (black) brittle star (span about 8") may be dead somewhere and rotting. There's one smaller (5") one I haven't seen for a while either. I have searched everywhere that I can (including in dark with a flashlight). Is there a reliable way to bait them out at night that would enable me to feel reasonably certain that they're dead if they don't respond? <Well- it's really hit-or-miss, but you could try some meaty marine foods to bait him out....However, a lack of response by the starfish is not absolutely a certain indication that the animal is dead...> Any further searching will require "brief" removal of almost all LR to a Rubbermaid tub. I really would not like to have to rebuild--I like the stability & functionality of the current structure. Should go ahead and do this? Or can I wait this out with Amquel and aggressive water changes in the hope that it is a rot problem that will solve itself in a week or two? Also, should I cut way back on the feeding? I already try to be conservative by feeding only one frozen cube per day. Your advice will be greatly appreciated. Steve Allen. <Steve, I'd try a schedule of increased water changes, aggressive protein skimming, use of Poly Filter and activated carbon, and spare your having to disassemble the entire reef structure! Hope this does the trick...I think it will. Regards, Scott F>

Ammonia question Good morning! <Good evening> Sorry to bother you w/ such a beginner question. <That's why we're here, and it's not bother> I was reading through some info on your web site on ammonia spikes/rises and just wanted some clarification on my current problem. I have a 75 gallon reef tank (up for about 5 months): coral beauty, clown fish (both small), cleaner (1), pep shrimp (3), about 15 hermits and some snails. A few basic low-light corals and shrooms. 45lbs live rock, 2" crushed coral substrate <crushed coral (aka CC) tends to become a nitrate factory as small particles get trapped and decay in it. A better alternative is aragonite sand. Either a DSB or just 1" would be better than the 2" of CC you have right now. It's a problem in the works.>, and an emperor carbon filter w/ 2 power heads on sides of tank. I know I need a skimmer. <Thanks for sparing me the lecture. ; )  > I do two 5-gallon water changes weekly <Nice regimen>, pre-mixed for 4 days. I did a 5 gallon change last night, cleaned some algae and goop on the part of my filter that hangs in the water and removed one of the BioWheels (will remove the other one soon). <The BioWheels do produce nitrates, but they also remove ammonia. I would get the skimmer first and then remove them, 1 at a time over 2 weeks. See above about substrate too.> I checked my parameters about an hour later. Nitrites 0, nitrates 5-10, salinity 1.023, temp 78, pH 8.2, ammonia was 0.2. this was the first time I've gotten an ammonia reading since cycling. I feed my fish 2x's a day at 5 and 9pm. no excess food hits the floor. could the spike be from cleaning the extra areas?  <I wouldn't think so. My suspicion is that removing the BioWheel cut down on your biological filtration, but I don't think it would affect it that much. I'm leaning towards a hidden loss in your system, something that maybe lived in your LR has gone to that great tank in the sky.? I'll check again tonight. thanks, and like I said, sorry about the elementary question. <No problem, we all have to start somewhere. No one here was born an expert.> Mike <Have a good evening Mike, PF (a fellow Mike) >

Ammonia Problems Hi, I have a new tank (36ltr) and after a week I added 2 clown fish,<you should let your tank cycle for 3-4 weeks before any livestock are added.>  3 live rocks and a mushroom that I put in the tank last night. Ph is good, ammonia is 0.3,<ammonia should not even be detectable, has your tank cycled yet?> temperature is 78,and salt level is good. The fish were fine this morning but this evening they are behind a rock, breathing quickly, moving very little and are staying just above the bottom of the tank.<The ammonia is the problem, you need to do water changes to reduce the ammonia levels. You should not have bought these two clownfish until you tested your water first.> The mushroom has fully closed up and is inactive.<Again because of the ammonia> I added bacteria this morning, changed 1/8th of the water just now, and reduced the temperature 1 degree Celsius but the ammonia is still 0.3.<That small 1/8th water change will not "change" anything. You need to do 40-50% water changes before your clownfish die. Ammonia is VERY VERY VERY toxic to fish.> Is the problem likely to be the ammonia?<YES> Is there anything else I can do?<water changes and hope that your fish and other life LIVES.> Please Help<Do look over the WWM site for info on how to set-up marine systems, etc> Pete<good luck, IanB>

Ammonia Nightmare! WWM Crew. <Scott F. here today> Before I get into my question I wanted to say your web site was been a tremendous help for me and my salt water tank.  Thanks to this site I eel I'm becoming much smarter about how I do things (outside of the mistakes I've already made) for my fish and tank. <Awesome! Good to hear that!> So, on to my rookie mistake (I'm new to saltwater but did have quite a few freshwater tanks).  I've setup a 60gal salt FO tank with no live rock but I do have live sand (as my local FS suggested although it seems I should have done LR).  I have good filtration with a wet/dry rated up to 200 gallons (with a mag 7 that turns the tank 6-7 time an hour), protein skimmer and a UV (not running as the moment).  I cycled the tank 2 months ago with 4 damsels for 5 weeks and then traded them in (after the cycle was complete) for a Blond Naso tang (another mistake, from reading the FAQ's it seems they like bigger tanks but my LFS said it would work great) <Grr...> and 2 green Chromis.  All was well, the water tested good with ammonia 0, nitrite 0, nitrate .2ppm, and pH 8.2.  I have had these fish in the tank for 4 weeks (tank up time 3 months) and decided to add another.  I went down to the LFS and got a Blue Faced Angel around 3-4" in size (LFS said the size was ok but now I think he might be a little big for my tank and also they told me no need for a quarantine tank as the fish are in the stores tanks for 2-3 weeks, another mistake). <Yikes, and yikes! A Blue Face Angel does not have one of the strongest survival records in captivity...and to not quarantine ANY fish is just gambling! Like, during those 2-3 weeks at the fish store, NO other fishes came into contact with this guy- and no water from other tanks entered the "quarantine"...Nope- doesn't cut it for me. <Glad you're skeptical, too!> Now I've got big problems, the biological filter is not keeping up with the added fish waste (ammonia) load.  My ammonia is a .4ppm and my nitrite is .2ppm with everything else looking ok (nitrates .2ppm).  I've done 3 water changes (2 33% changes, and Tuesday did a 50%) and still can't get the ammonia level down below .2ppm before it starts to climb back up to around .4ppm.  I can tell my fish are starting to get stressed, the blue face is not happy, and I don't quite know what to do now.  It seems like the water changes are slowing down the biological but at the same time it helps reduce the ammonia and nitrites.  I could setup a quarantine tank but would have the same problem with ammonia because I don't have any filters running with any good bacteria I could move over (I will setup one so I do have an option for the future). <Good idea...plan for the future with a good quarantine setup.> What would you do in my shoes...Thanks, Brent <#1) Don't take advice from that LFS...2) I'd purchase some commercial bacterial product, like "Cycle" or "Fritz Zyme", and add or adjust a protein skimmer to get to work on this tank. I'd avoid huge water changes until things settle down a bit. If it's absolutely necessary, I'd find someone with an established quarantine tank to help house these guys. Be patient, monitor water chemistry carefully, and stay on top of things...> Also, another question... My LFS said I should run Copper in my main tank (again this seems to be a mistake after reading the FAQ's). <It is...Chronic copper levels can do more harm than good, IMO> I've decided I don't want to do this so I added some activated carbon to help remove it.  It's testing 0 now but does it stay in the live sand even after I've removed it from the water? <Potentially. I'd use PolyFilter to help remove more of it...I'd also give it time to dissipate> Does this mean no live rock possibilities for the future or can I remove the live sand and get new sand and have live rock also. <Well, at least for the present time, I'd put those plans on hold. Even after a couple of moths, I'd recommend continuous testing for detectible copper, and you may need to experiment with some snails or hermits (I hate to recommend this, but it may be the only way)> Thanks again for your help with all of my mistakes!!! <Hey- we all make them...It's a part of the learning curve. Don't be discouraged- keep a good attitude and hang in there! Regards, Scott F>

High Ammonia >>Hello Brent, Marina here. >I apologize for asking a question that I'm sure has been asked a 1000 times.  I have a FO 60 gal saltwater (wet/dry, protein skimmer, canister for carbon and a UV) that is about 3 months old.  Last week I added a new fish (Blue Face Angel) and the ammonia started to climb.  Current levels are (Ammonia .4ppm, Nitrite .2ppm, pH 8.2, nitrates below .10ppm).  It's been a week and the levels are not dropping.  Do I do a water change (which I do every week 10%) to help lower the ammonia?  Do I wait and see if it will cycle through?  I'm starting to see some frayed fins (front fins) that I believe is possible ammonia burn? >>If you're seeing this (also, problematic for an animal very possibly collected with cyanide) then yes, I would do a large water change, on the order of 50% or better (do leave them a bit of water in which to swim).  Both the ammonia and the nitrites are troublesome and stressful for the animal, so, while some would say that you need to let the bacterial cultures build up, I think you may lose the fish to disease if you don't do something now.  Do this large change today, do not vacuum the substrate or anything like that, and take readings.  Do be sure that the test kit is a quality kit, and be sure that there are no interaction issues with your dechlorinator and the test reagent, too.  If you still get ammonia/nitrite readings, do another large change tomorrow, and test again.  Best of luck!  Marina

Ammonia in Change Water 07/27/03 <Hi there, PF with you today> Hey there Crew, I'm having a problem with Ammonia in my Change water.  I looked for about two hours searching for "ammonia in make up water", "ammonia in change water", and "ammonia in stored water".  I know I've read FAQs re: this same thing, but couldn't find it.  Here's the problem: I have a 2" yellow tang and a 2.5" Sebae clown in a 20 gallon QT, this after a rather nasty outbreak of Ich in the main system. They've been in there for the past two and a half months, while I redo the main tank.  They've been clean of any Ich since then, BTW.  I decided to add a Neon Goby (Gobiosoma oceanops ), for some help just in case.  Well, when he entered the tank he automatically hid.  No big surprise there!  A couple of hours later, he came out and was swimming in a jerking manner, and periodically acting like he had a hard time swimming upright.  He would sort of swim upside down or on his side, although he would right himself and perch on the side of the glass.  I didn't QT him, partly because I read from one of Bob's responses that they are generally clean and should be OK to go right in.  Also, the LFS I bought him from does QT all new arrivals for several weeks, and I didn't see any signs of Ich/velvet on any of their fish.  Maybe I made a mistake, I don't know.  Anyway, his swimming prompted me to test the water in the QT.  I've been doing 25 -50 percent water changes twice a week since the fishes have been there.  My ammonia showed at about .5 mg/L.  BTW, I used three different test kits, and all showed the same. I decided to test the change water and it showed .25 mg/L.  I use RO water from a nearby water store.  I usually make up about 20 gallons at a time in a Rubbermaid 31 gallon storage container.  I have a Rio 90 power head with air pump attached and a 150 Watt heater in the container.  I add the water, turn the powerhead and heater on.  After 24 hours, I add the buffer.  Wait another 24 hours, then add salt.  It then usually mixes for at least 36 hours, the whole time being aerated.  The water sometimes lasts me 2 weeks, but usually only one.  Am I doing something wrong?  I don't add any dechlorAMinator, as I've read on your site that it should be superfluous with the storing/aerating.  I've never tested the water from the store, but I will be asking them for their test results.  Any suggestions would be great. <Well, the store would be the first place I check. They could be using old membranes on their equipment. Your makeup routine sounds good. Personally, I use dechlorinator (use one that smells like vinyl), and then buffer the water back up to the appropriate pH. You might want to invest in your own RO/DI unit. Hope that helps, PF>

System Under Siege?  Hello  <Hi there! Scott F. with you today!>  I've been flippin' through TCMA like crazy and I thought I would just ask the question to you guys.  <Sure>  Well, I started up my 55g again bout a year after moving.  Had 50 pounds of what used to be LR then I ordered a 45lb. box from the Drs. It was pretty decent rock. I had the major die off then the tank cycled super fast. I skimmed a little while cycling. After checking water specs everyday finally all systems go. It took maybe 2 1/2 weeks to cycle. Couple days after I added a coral beauty (lots of green algae survived the rock and tank glass or wouldn't have gotten him). He was great- loving the 4-5 inch sandbed and all the rock work. Oh, I also run the Prizm skimmer and it works pretty good in IMO, but it's the only one I've had, so I'm no expert. But I took out the clogged filters (activated carbon) to replace when I realized I was out, so I left one in and replaced with filter floss. Problems began. The water is cloudy- looks like smoke rolling around.  <yuck!>  I do a water change 1 week. My CB has the beginning signs of stress and maybe I'm paranoid, but I thought I spotted a little ich on his fins, and I can't seem to keep the ammonia away around 10ppm.  <Yikes! HAS this tank fully cycled? Detectable ammonia in any system at any stage is indicative of either an immature biofilter, or serious problems in the husbandry department! You must get a handle on what's causing the ammonia immediately!>  SIGH. He eats all day long from the rocks and the glass and he eats all that I feed him.  <Well, at least he's eating at 10ppm ammonia!>  So you see the bottom of my tank looks like it is being taken over by black worms. I siphon his waste out as much as I can get, but that is a lot of rock and I can't get behind it. Anyway, I thought that amount of rock and skimmer would be enough filtration. So what is the problem, and how can I fix it? Hope you can sort through my panicked scribblings and help me.  thx Mike  <Well, Mike, it sounds like there is something seriously wrong with the biological filtration in this tank! Ammonia will be undetectable in a system in which the tank has fully cycled, and will generally not manifest itself unless some major disruption has occurred. My advice is to utilize aggressive chemical filtration (activated carbon/Poly Filter), work the skimmer hard, and possibly utilize one of the commercially-available "bacteria in a bottle" products to help "kick start" things again. This is a very serious situation, and you need to get a handle on things right away. Keep testing the water as you go. You may also need to modify your system a bit, providing more circulation (fish waste should never accumulate like you're describing), and serious review of your husbandry habits (like feeding, etc.). React quickly, don't panic- but mind the basics, and all should work out! Good luck! Regards, Scott F>

Fish question I have a 44 gallon saltwater tank that has been cycled with damsels. I returned the 3 damsels and got a yellow tang & two clowns. Over the next couple days, the clowns started getting "cloudy spots" on them. I tested the water and the ammonia had gone up to .5. I am going to do a 25% water change and was told that the clowns were experiencing "ammonia burn" on their skin, and this should take care of it. What do you think is going on?, and is this a correct technique to try? >> Yikes... system NOT cycled... hopefully your Clowns will recover... take care not to feed period till the ammonia drops to zero... Do you have any live rock? Plans for same? I would place some, pronto... cured, and hope for the best. Bob Fenner  

Re: fish question I will stop feeding until ammonia goes to zero. I don't have any live rock to add but will look into it. Thanks for the advice! >> >> Ah good. Bob Fenner

Blue Damsel question Dear Mr. Fenner, I've read your FAQ on damsels and have searched endlessly on the web about blue damsels. It's hard to really find a good search engine.  <Hmm, likely you mean sites... Who knows when this will improve...> =) Anyways, I'm really concerted about my blue damsel. I just recently started a ten gallon "reef" tank about a week ago. I have 7.5 lbs of rock that was cured in the store for aprox. 1 1/2 months. I use aragonite sand at the bottom, and a Eclipse Twin Lamp filtration system. The chemical readings are as follows: Ph: 8.4 Ammonia:1.5ppm <This is definitely not good... Stop feeding period until your ammonia drops to zero!> Nitrate:0 Nitrite:0 Salidity-1.023 Temp:76-74 deg. I have 2 blue damsels for the cycling period. The 2nd day I tried to feed them freeze dried blood worms, the blood worms would stay on the top of the water and the blue damsels wouldn't eat them.  <Yikes....> I saw them start pecking at the rocks and searching the aragonite for food. <Good> I wasn't sure what to do so I took 2 goldfish pellets from my 50 gallon freshwater tank and crushed them up. I fed it to them and them ate it, I didn't give them anymore. Ever since the bigger blue damsel(1 1/2 inches long) would swim back constantly in the near right corner of the tank as if there was food in the water. I'm concerned that the fish food may have blended into the water causing the food scent so the damsel would get confused. I now feed the damsels live brine shrimp. It has now, for 4 days, been digging a hole in the sand. It goes up to the glass in the near right corner, put it's head to the glass and swishes it's tail to make the sand go up. By doing this it makes a crater in the sand about 5 in in dia. in the near right corner of the tank. I didn't know if this was normal because the little damsel just swims in and out of the rocks. The bigger blue damsel seems as if it's trying to eat food because it's darts towards small bubbles that the filter creates. Thanks for listening. Anything I missed that would be helpful please feel free to ask.  <Your live rock/system is not cycled... and you may "kill your damsels with kindness" by supplying them more ammonia through feeding... Hold off on all such feeding... They won't starve (due to the live rock organisms), and your system will stabilize/cycle soon... as evidenced by an absence of ammonia, increase in nitrate, growth of micro-algae...> I'm planning on purchasing your "The Conscientious Marine Aquarist" tomorrow. I don't have any books, rather have many pages of printed information from the internet. <Do read, and read... take a long read through the postings on Ammonia, Set-Up... of marine systems posted on the site: www.wetwebmedia.com> ALSO, one quick question. in all the information I have and that I've tried to search for it doesn't say if I should turn the light off in the tank. I do so in the 50 freshwater but I have gold fish in there. they're pretty much bullet proof ;-). Do I need to turn the fluorescent lights off before I go to bed of leave it on? thanks, your website has offered valuable information. I thank you greatly Ryan <Do indeed keep a regular light/dark regimen going in your aquatic systems... if you can with some "outside" lighting on at the on/off times... and best with timers (lest you forget) Bob Fenner> 

Re: Blue Damsel question Dear Mr. Fenner, Ammonia:1.5ppm ><This is definitely not good... Stop feeding period until your ammonia drops to zero!> I thought the ammonia level was suppose to peek and drop during the cycling period? thanks. Ryan <You are correct... but not with fishes, invertebrate livestock present... and it's usually fatal above about 1.0ppm coupled with anything in the way of elevated/normal pH... Do keep reading/studying... and not feeding the tank! Be chatting. Bob Fenner>

Re: High Ammonia, your book Dear Mr. Fenner, Where can I purchase your "The Conscientious Marine Aquarist"? Amazon.com is back ordered for 3-5 weeks both hard bound and soft. Your site doesn't seem to offer it. I've check the Super Crown Books and they do not have it either. Is my only alternative Amazon.com and wait 3-5 weeks. Thanks Ryan P.S. Your were right about the "fatal" ammonia readings. <Arggghhh, very sorry to hear about both situations... But thank you for the input. Re CMA, this work is up for another reprint in January/01... by Microcosm/TFH... about the only source I know that has any extant copies is Suk Kim of CPR (Creative Plastics Research, yep, same folks that make skimmers et al.) in Arcata, CA... they're link can be found on the Links Page of the www.wetwebmedia.com site. Be chatting. Bob Fenner>

Re: Ich Treatment Mr. Fenner, I have been treating with CopperSafe for 3-days now and my nitrite has gone way up, my ammonia is at 0. Should I do a water change to get the nitrite down?  <How high is "way up"? If more than 1.0 ppm I would be changing... Please read: http://wetwebmedia.com/no2probfaqs.htm> What does not make sense to me is that the nitrite is very high and ammonia at 0.  <Perhaps different organisms being impugned differentially. Maybe your test kit... I'd "check the checker" here> During copper treatment, is it good to test for PH, Nitrite, Nitrate and Ammonia? Thanks again for your help! <Definitely for all the above but nitrate... and including free copper of course! Bob Fenner> Ron

Ammonia Levels I've been having problems lately with my ammonia levels. I do regular water changes -- once every 3 weeks (I have 100 gallon). I feed my fish every day -- could I be overfeeding? <A possibility, others being inadequate biological filtration or incomplete cycling.> If so, should I go to feeding them every other day? <No, best to feed the proper amounts instead. Feed as much as can be consumed before the food hits the bottom of the tank or gets sucked up into the filters.> Should I still feed the algae to the tangs every day and just cut back on the frozen foods/flakes to every other day? Should I put vitamin drops in every day or just when they are fed? <I prefer to soak the food in vitamins rather than dose directly to the tank. -Steven Pro> Thanks so much. . . . . you are a great help!

Ammonia Levels II In your opinion should I try increasing the flow rate?  <lets first confirm that you have enough biological filtration and that overfeeding is not an issue. Indeed, several small daily feedings are better than one huge feeding per day. Food should never fall more than half way down the tank or hit the bottom before the fish can eat it... else it is a sign of feeding too much or too fast for most fishes> How do you know when it's enough? Also, how do you know when your skimmer is skimming at the right rate too?  <when you can produce a cup of very dark (like coffee not tea) skimmate every single day and not weekly> Can you have too much filtration and skimming?  <theoretically impossible for most systems> Many thanks! :) <best regards, Anthony>

Ammonia Problem Hello everyone! Once again, thank you all so much for all of the help! <You are welcome.> So- The current problem... I've had a 75 gallon fish only tank cycling with 6 Chromis for about 6 weeks. About a week ago the nitrites were still in the 4-5 ppm range. So, I added about 25 pounds of Fiji live rock (which had been cured in the LFS for about a month). Today the Nitrites have hit zero. My problem, though is that my ammonia level has been at 0.25 ppm for about a month. So, my current parameters are: pH 8.2 spg 1.0225 temp 78 degrees ammonia 0.25 nitrites 0 nitrates 0 To combat this problem, I have tried several things. First, I increased water flow. Originally, I just had a 700 gph Mag-Drive return pump from my sump to provide circulation. I've added two 200 gph powerheads. Then I increased the time that my lights were on from 7 hours a day to about 12 (by the way, I just have the metal halides that came with my AGA tank). <The powerheads were good. The lighting will not help. You should light for what you photosynthetic animals require.> I took a look at my feeding practices, but I don't think they're excessive. Twice a day I feed the Chromis what they can eat in about 2.5 minutes. I turn off the return line for this period so that none of the food gets into the filters. And, none of it has a chance to hit the bottom of the tank (or anywhere close). <All sounds good.> So, I finally suspected my test kit. I was using the "Saltwater Master Test Kit" from Aquarium Pharmaceuticals. I tried the Salifert ammonia test kit. Although they're not very specific with their range (they jump from 0 to 0.5), I estimate the result to be about the same, 0.25 ppm. <I like both kits. The AP ammonia kit can be a little hard to read.> Do you have any suggestions? <You may just need a little more time.> I'm contemplating adding more live rock, but I think that my biological filter should be adequate (I have a Amiracle wet/dry trickle that's rated for up to 200 gallons). <Liverock can never hurt.> My other thought is turning on my protein skimmer, but I don't want to interfere with the cycling process (if that's the problem). <It probably won't help, but I would fire it up anyhow. I would like to see you remove a lot of the nutrients accumulating now to avoid future algae problems.> Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated! I'm very excited to add some more fish, but of course I'll wait until this problem has been solved. <Good to hear you are willing to be patient because my advise for now is to wait it out.> Thanks! -Jes <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>

Re: Ammonia, pH anomaly  Mr. Fenner: Thank you for your reply. This is my first major tank event in 4 years and nothing quite like this has happened before. I would be grateful if you would agree to survive another round of questioning! <Glad to try help> The tap water we use has perfect KH, pH, NH3 and O2 levels, is pre-treated with chlorine, chloramine and ammonia removers, and is aerated. The events I have no answer for: 1. Literally overnight, a 100 gallon water change lowered pH and KH and raised NH3.  <Re the six lines above... be aware that w/o notice or regard the water districts will/do pulse chloramine (have recorded 32 ppm...)... and other anomalies (here in San Diego, occasionally a good deal of alum (aluminum sulfate) is sent through the lines (pipes) for a couple of stated reasons... Both of these materials would result in what you observed> I wrote that water changes are supposed to help, and they do, but in this instance, it really messed up our readings! (The tank water was perfectly buffered before this water change!) Could it be we stirred up some material that was settled and this caused the above readings? <Yes... but the tank/s would have had to possess a tremendous amount of "mulm"... and/or re-release some materials into the water that seem unlikely> 2. I can't reason through the chemistry behind the simultaneous high NH3 and low pH readings. Exactly how does NH3 cause low pH? <Most commonly through a co-reaction... the higher ammonia (ionized or not) resulting in loss of life (macro and otherwise), the resulting reductive events of decomposition dropping the pH... Or alternatively whatever triggers a drop in pH causing a loss of life, its breaking down producing/releasing ammonia by decomposition...> 3. I have been consulting with a microbiologist about the metabolism of P. aeruginosa. Have you heard of any instances where an infection has profoundly altered the water chemistry?  <Only speculations> I would tend to think that for this to happen the infection would have to be pretty heavy, <Very much so... unrealistic scenario> but my fish are showing no signs of stress. He has also mentioned that a heavy infection would compete with nitrifying bacteria (this is happening too), but again if the infection was that heavy, wouldn't the fish be suffering? <Yes... of a certainty. Bob Fenner> Kristen Schmid Senior Animal Keeper The Newark Museum Mini-Zoo 49 Washington St. Newark, NJ 07102

Ammonia Woes Dear Bob, I live in the UK, just south of London, and although I have a very "clean" & established stockist locally, I tend to find that I'm only informed of my mistakes after I have made them.  <A universal feature my friend> In short, I'm new to this, and sometimes feel like I'm stumbling around in the dark. <Let us share with you> Having read countless FAQs on your website, I'm convinced that you are indeed the Aqua Mecca, and would appreciate some advice/support on my latest "sin"! <Ha!> Having set up a 70 (UK) gallon system, left it for approx. 6 weeks to mature, adding bacteria cycle etc., I purchased a lipstick tang, 3 ins, that seemed to settle in right away. About 10 days later, added a small bicolor blenny, and also purchased an ammonia test kit, already having done nitrate tests with satisfying results. The ammonia level seems to have been slowly rising from 0.2 - 1.0 gradually, and then today committed what my stockist has called the worst sin of them all; I rinsed the white sponge-type material from the filter medium under a tap for a couple of minutes.  <Yikes! Why?> Apparently this has put me back to start-up stage, and my fish will probably suffer/perish for it.  <Not necessarily... be very careful about feeding...> I haven't performed any other bacteria-removing cleaning other than that, changed my water last week (10%), and am preparing some more for tomorrow: I have a Turboflotor protein skimmer, a Quicksand sand-filter, a Tropical Marine UV sterilizer in a sump system, together with the sponge and carbon, and the tank has no live rock, only ocean rock. Is it true? Am I/they in for a rough time? <Not necessarily. Do monitor your ammonia, cease feeding if the reading approaches 0.5 ppm, and consider adding a bit more bacteria product, some live rock if possible> I look forward to your advice with a grimace! Yours, Hamish Allan. <The worry is likely worse than actual problems here... remember, cleanliness is not sterility. Don't clean anything, change any water till you ammonia reading is zero. Bob Fenner>

High Ammonia Dear Bob, Thought I'd just briefly update you: Last week I emailed you from England explaining my beginner's mistake (rinsing the filter media under a tap - I cringe now I realize what I did!). <Yikes... "and away go all the beneficial microbes down the drain"> Almost a week on, the fish are still showing no signs of stress (a lipstick & bicolor blenny), and my ammonia level is slowly going down (1.2 - 0.8 now, Nutrafin test), but I'm feeding them every other day; the lipstick is, shall we say, slim (and 3 1/2 ins), I've never over-fed her. In your email advising me what to do, you said I should cease feeding if the reading was 0.5 or above. You also advised not to clean anything or change any water till the reading is zero.  Questions!: 1, should I stop feeding altogether or, if anything, brine shrimp, dried seaweed, lettuce? <Go to the oriental food section of your food market and purchase "Nori" sheet algae... cut in strips and hang at edge of the tank, twixt the tank lip and top to hold in place. Not much pollution from this food type and generally eagerly taken by Nasos> 2, would a 10% water change help or not at this stage, <Would hurt at this stage... only ten percent dilution of noxious compounds, but would/will set back the re-establishment of nitrification> and 3, something altogether different, I've noticed small ruddy-brown patches appearing on my rocks/decor; is this algae, and is it good? <Is algae, is a good sign> (My tank's been up and running for nearly 10 weeks). I look forward to your reply, Hamish. <Do give a read over the WetWebMedia.com site re any questions (there's a search tool there) and if you'd like others input, try our chatforum: http://wetwebfotos.com/talk/ In the meanwhile, remember the virtuousness of patience. Bob Fenner>

Re: High ammonia levels. Hi Bob, Just want to confirm I've bought the right stuff - amazed to find it stocked in my local supermarket!- the only "Nori" I could find was a Japanese roasted seaweed, packed dried in sheets. Is that right? Cheers, Hamish. <Yummmm, wish we were at the sushi bar right now. This is it. Bob Fenner>

Ammonia is 0 Dear Bob / Steven, My 70 UK gallon system is almost fully established, thanks to your advice and support. Nevertheless, the questions never end! Don't expect you to remember the details, but I set the whole thing back a few weeks ago by rinsing some of the filter media under a tap (no more cringing please!), destroying the precious few microbes & bringing on the ammonia! Already had my little Lipstick Tang & Bicolor Blenny in there, but they are alive and happy as I write three weeks on - again thanks to your advice: Patience! - and now the ammonia is 0, although the nitrite/nitrate stage has yet to settle completely, I'm planning on adding my third fish, a young Scopas Tang, in the next few days. <Please wait until at least two weeks after both ammonia and nitrite have reached zero before adding any new fish.> I've read and heard mixed opinions about the adding order of these fish; some say the Lipstick should have gone in last, but my stockist suggested it should be first. <Truthfully, I would have never recommended a Naso for a 70 gallon tank.> Of course it's there now, and the only other fish I'm planning to add to this fish-only system is a Blue Trigger. The Blenny has rocks for safety, but do you foresee any problems between these three larger fish? <Minimal fighting between the two Tangs, but nothing extraordinary.> The Lipstick is around 3 1/2", and has considered herself alone for about five weeks now. My stockist has acquired the other two, both a little larger than her. And just to remind you, I'm asking you good people because my shop doesn't tend to come up with crucial answers in time! The other question is: Now that I have algae, microbes and zero ammonia, is it ok to replace the white sponge in my filter, as it's looking pretty yuck! <If this is a prefilter, yes.> I've also resumed 10% water changes weekly. Thanks, Hamish, UK. <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>

Re: Ammonia is 0! Dear Bob, Brief update: After making the mistake of rinsing some filter foam under a tap, and as a result of you and your team's invaluable advice, I waited patiently and less than 2 weeks later my ammonia level is 0! However, I have a new problem, hopefully not as serious. According to Nutrafin testing, my ph is around 7.8, and my KH is around 160 mg/l. <Your alkalinity is approximately 9 dKH. A little on the low side.> Too low & too high. <Actually both low.> I purchased Salifert's KH & ph buffer, but I'm not a pro yet, and I'm not sure if this is the right thing to do right now. Also, is meq/l the same as mg/l, <No> as this is the measurement given on the bottle re: how much to use? <My advise remains the same. Do water changes, as adding chemicals does nothing to lower the amount of dissolved organics that are lowering your pH and consuming your alkalinity.> I have a couple of fish in there (being a 70 UK gallon fish only tank), the system's nearly three months old. Suggestions? <See above and previous emails.> Thanks again, Hamish. <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>

Nitrogen Cycle Fails to Start - 9 Mar 2005 I found your e-mail on Wet Web Media, and was trying to find an answer on early cycling of my marine tank (I also have your book).  <Okay> My set up is 210 litre tank (60 x 60 x 60 cm), with synthetic salt mix (tab water pre-treated with conditioner to neutralize chlorine and chloramines). <I see> 3 cm of crushed marble substrate (no buffering there, looks nice), 2 Via Aqua Canister filters, 6.5 litre capacity each, 1000 litres/hour circulation. One has only bioballs, the other filter wool, ceramic noodles, and outflow inline with a Merlin fluidized bed filter.  Tunze Turbelle internal circulation pump (6000 litres an hour), Deltec MCE 600 Protein Skimmer (rated for 450 - 700 litres), Jager 200 watt heater. <So far...> I have made some rock from white cement + crushed marble and coral sand (22 kg) and that will need to soak in water for at least 6 weeks to remove the pH lime effect. <Good> Later when it is safe to put them in the tank, I wanted to get a small live rock to sit on the cement rocks to make it live over time. Macroalgae does not fall from the sky (micro does). The tank set up would then have redundancies in filtration (but that may not be a bad thing). <Well stated> For now I wanted to cycle without fish. The Fluidized Bed Filter came with a packet of ammonia crystals, and I also added three cocktail shrimp (2 cm long). The water smelled bad in 48 hours, and removed the shrimp bits. I have added two "bottles," of StressZyme over the last three weeks, water temperature 25 degrees C. <Okay> My present external system for now should be a real nitrite >> nitrate farm. <Perhaps... in a while> Testing after three weeks, I have nothing to show for it. Ammonia levels are 8 ppm, nitrite zero, nitrate zero, pH 8.2 I have a sterile tank, which is lethal to all marine life. <Yes... and the ammonia... is actually way too high... principally at fault here for forestalling cycling> I have read the bacteria will grow quicker with a higher temp, so I have set it to 30 degrees today (can turn in it down later).  Bacteria are supposed to just fall from the sky anyway (in time). <Yes> Is this just a mater of more time, and wait, or is the high ammonia level acting as a disinfectant? <Ahhh! Bingo! As they say in the States> Do you have any suggestions? All the Best from New Zealand. Mike Lomb <Yes my friend. Do execute a good sized water change (perhaps 3/4) or add a bit of mitigating filter media, conditioner to render the ammonia concentration less than 2.0 ppm... and try to keep it there... or lower... Otherwise... it is "a matter of time"... or something that can be sped up... Have you read this? http://www.wetwebmedia.com/estbiofiltmar.htm re Establishment of nitrification in marine systems? It might give you solace to review others (the linked Related FAQs above) experiences... It reads as if you "Know what you're doing" and have a nice set-up here... all that is really needed is a bit more time... and possibly diluting the ammonia. Bob Fenner> 

Tank Cycling: Maximum ammonium levels Hi, I am cycling a tank using live rock and sand (with lots of life in it).  I was told I should do water changes to keep the ammonia level below the "high" level indicated by my ammonia test kit.  My ammonia test kit reads ppm.  What ppm is "high" such that I should perform a water change to reduce it until the "cycle" kicks in and reduces it? Thank you very much, -Shawn <Hello Shawn, I would not worry too much about this, it will eventually balance out.  If your ammonia levels start getting close to 1.0ppm, I would do a water change.  There is a good article about cycling at the link below. Best of luck, Gage http://wetwebmedia.com/estbiofiltmar.htm>  

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