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FAQs on Marine Water Quality involving Ammonia, Sources

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

Some Likely Suspects: Too much Livestock/insufficient biofiltration... Livestock wastes, Livestock stressed... Suspended nitrification from chemical, physical changes, medications... Decaying/decomposing food, stock losses, LR, LS biota... Poor circulation, aeration, filtration, skimming... Exogenous sources: cleaners, cat-litter boxes... Sometimes tap/source water, salt mix...

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

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

Coral Beauty Assumed Dead (Decomposition Rate) -- 01/15/09 Hi Bob and Crew, <<Greetings Greg'¦Eric here>> This past Sunday I noticed my 2.5" to 3" Coral Beauty wasn't swimming around the tank as usual with the other fish. After carefully looking around every nook and cranny in the rock work, it was nowhere to be seen. I looked around the tank also to see if it might have jumped out but didn't find it. My conclusion is that it wedged itself in the rocks and died somewhere I cannot see it. <<Mmm, yes'¦ I don't know how long you've had this fish, and though the reasons for its demise may be many, this species of Centropyge often suffers badly from poor collection/handling'¦but if eating and well acclimated can prove quite hardy>> Not wanting to tear my reef tank down to find it, I decided to leave it, estimating that I have enough filtration to handle the excess nutrient load from the decomposing fish. <<Likely so>> I have a 75 gallon tank, with 60-70 lbs. of live rock, a Deltec skimmer which is very efficient and produces a very good amount of skimmate. I also run 2 canister filters, employing Chemi-Pure, Seachem Purigen, and Poly Bio Marine Poly-Filters which I empty of trapped debris weekly; so I felt somewhat confident I had enough waste removal, chemical and bio-filtration available to handle this situation. <<Indeed>> In addition to the above I have a 5 gallon hang on the back refugium filled with Chaetomorpha. I have been testing the water daily (sometimes twice daily) and ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate have all remained at 0. <<Okay>> It has been about 4 days now since the fish "disappeared". Assuming it is in the tank decomposing, how long it your estimation should I remain diligent in looking for ammonia to begin to show up? <<You can relax'¦ Any 'spike' in Ammonia would have shown by now. The fish would have begun decomposing very quickly>> I have no idea how long it would take a fish of this size to completely decompose. <<It happens quickly, as stated. And aside from the very efficient microbial decomposers in your system, detritivores like your bristle worms will also have been at work. I doubt by now there is much left of this fish at all>> Thanks in advance for your advice, Greg <<Happy to share. EricR>>

Ammonia in an established marine system What Caused An Ammonia Spike?   2/3/08 Hello, <Hey there! Scott F. in today!> I have a 55 gallon reef tank with a 30 gallon sump. The tank has been set up for about three years, but I moved it about 7 months ago, with no losses. About two weeks ago I noticed that my corals were looking a little down. I did a full water chemistry and found that my ammonia levels were outrageous (4.0 ppm with AP test). Luckily I had just cycled another tank with live rock, and I moved all of my livestock to that tank with no losses! I still have never found what caused the ammonia surge. All of the livestock was present and accounted for, yet this shouldn't occur in a well established system. <It shouldn't, unless there was some serious disruption of the biological filtration in the aquarium. It is entirely possible that something had killed off or overwhelmed the population of beneficial bacteria formerly present in the system.> The tank has about 40 lbs of live sand, 60 lbs of live rock, the sump has a wet/dry filter media basket, a large in-sump protein skimmer and two Penguin filters, (BioWheel 330 (in the sump) and 170). I did about a 70% water change and added some TLC biological filtration booster. Within about 5 days the water parameters tested normal: 0 ammonia, 0 nitrite, 10 nitrate, 1.025 salinity, and pH 8.3. I figured the that the tank had stabilized since it was initially established. Yesterday, I added a beautiful Bubbletip anemone with a Tomato Clown, a Bar Goby, Scissortail Goby, and a Blue Gudgeon Goby. <Wow! That's a LOT of life forms to add to an aquarium all at the same time! This is particularly problematic in a 55 gallon system that has recently experienced a possible disruption to its nitrogen cycle. Far better to add life forms gradually and allow the bacteria population to adjust to the new bioload.> The tank also contains a Fox Coral, two Hammer Corals, Mushrooms, a Colt Coral and a Frogspawn (I put these back in a few days ago, except for the mushrooms, which weathered the ammonia spike). Today, my ammonia is reading .25 and the pH has dropped to 7.8. I was wondering if you could help me figure out why I keep having ammonia problems. I am preparing to do a water change today to try to bring down the ammonia. Thank you for your time and help! Brolin Evans <Well, Brolin- I think that there are a couple of factors involved in this ammonia spike. The first is that there was some sort of disruption to the biological filtration, which triggered the initial ammonia spike. This disruption could have been caused by anything from an over-ambitious cleaning of the biological media within the tank to the accidental discharge of some sort of contaminant (ie; a household cleaner, medication, etc.). The other factor was the rapid addition of several fishes and animals at one time to a modest-sized system that already experienced a recent ammonia event. Fishes and other animals should be added gradually, to allow the bacterial population time to adjust to the increased bioload. Yes, you could help the situation along by conducting a sizeable water change to help reduce some of the ammonia, and then add a "bacteria in a bottle" product, and allow time for the bacteria to do their job. I would be inclined NOT to conduct water changes at this point to avoid further disruption to the nitrogen cycle. That may seem a bit unorthodox, but I believe this to be the best course of action at this point. What about the livestock, you say? I'd get them out if they are showing distress. In the future, continued good husbandry practices (regular small water changes, aggressive protein skimming, use of chemical filtration media like carbon, etc.) will help avoid such problems. Also, refrain from the addition of further animals into this system! You're done! Hopefully, with some initial aggressive actions and continued good husbandry (not to mention- restraint!), you'll be able to keep this problem from happening again. Use it as a learning experience! Best of luck! Regards, Scott F.>

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>

New tank-nothing but water, sand and ammonia??? Dear All! Thanks for being such an inclusive resource for me in my year of planning and saving and stressing about my first saltwater tank! It's been a terrific resource, however, I didn't find any info about the issue I am currently having. I am in the process of converting a 42 gallon hex freshwater  tank into a marine set up (ideally a reef set up once I am out of my apartment).   <Heeee!> This is a plan that has been in the making for over a year and I'm finally in the final stages, <Very exciting> however, my water quality seems to have gotten ahead of me somehow.  I don't have an RO/DI system yet, so after cleaning the tank  (just water) I filled it up and let it sit for two weeks before adding  sand.  The sand was added another week and a half ago. I just added the  salt last night (expecting to get my live rock shipment) but that's not going to  be shipped at least for another week now. <Good...> I tested the water this morning just  to get a baseline so I could track the cycling process and was shocked at the  results. The temperature of the water is at 79 degrees Fahrenheit, my pH is  at 8.2, my specific gravity is at 1.024-1.025 and my alkalinity is at  3.5,  however,  my ammonia is at 3.5 ppm, my nitrites are at 0.15  ppm, and my nitrates are at 3.5 ppm. <Good that you have a mix/spectrum of all stages of nitrification> Why did this happen? How did this happen?  Could it be residue from the previous freshwater set up or the result of some  stray cat hair? <Heeeee! Not the last... very likely this material came in/about from either the salt mix and/or the sand... and not to worry... Should actually assist you in establishing cycling and curing your rock> Has it begun the process of cycling with on it's own? <Ah, yes> Do I need  to start from scratch and bleach the tank? <No... I would not> My tapwater does not flag any of  these things when tested, and I haven't had any of these issues with my  freshwater tank. Do I need to pick up some pieces of live rock from my LFS while  waiting for my Tampa bay rock to come in so that the TBS rock doesn't get an  ammonia dip? <No... not likely to be an issue... some further decomposition from the new LR will likely contribute more ammonia... see WWM re curing LR... Water Quality FAQs for the same> Or am I worried for no reason and everything will be ok. <Very likely the latter> This  is my first saltwater tank (I've been lusting after them ever since I was six  and lived in Monterey Bay) and I really want it to go well. I've also had two  Aquaclear 20 powerheads running, I have an Excalibur hang on skimmer (rated at  100 gallons and purchased used) running just so I can figure out water movement,  and I am also planning to set up a 12 gallon nano as a refugium for the hex. The  sand is 2 1/2 to 3 inches deep (forty pounds of aragonite) <Mmm... oh, I see this below> and I am also  getting in another 30 pounds of live sand for cycling and to flesh out a proper  DSB. <Ah, good> I have two CoraLife 96 watt quad fixtures set up (I couldn't  go HQI because of a 15 pound cat who has been known to go fishing in this  particular tank) and have been testing the water with red sea test kits (yes, I  know I need something more precise- I'm not happy with their saltwater  ranges at all).   As I mentioned, I am also waiting for live  rock to come in (85 pounds- one piece for my hex (tall, skinny and about 70  pounds) and the rest for my planned refugium. Sorry about my long winded e-mail,  I just want to make sure that all the system specs are provided.  Thanks  for the help and I am eagerly awaiting instruction.   Lee <Nothing really to be overly-concerned about here... Enjoy the process! BobF>

Re: New tank-nothing but water, sand and ammonia???  2/12/07 Dear Bob, <Lee> Thank you for your really fast reply. I thought I was over reacting a bit, but I wasn't entirely certain. I retested this morning and I think I'm losing  that mix of stages for the process. My nitrites dropped to 0.1,ppm my nitrates are down to 2.5 ppm and my ammonia is at 3.0 ppm. Since the process has begun,  what is the best way to keep it going until I get my rock? <Just leave all be> Or should it just  keep on trucking without me? <Ah, yes> I'm really not a neurotic fishkeeper, I just have  been obsessing over this process for so long- a major stage is finally coming to  a close and I think that part of me doesn't want the anticipation and excitement  of this first step (the planning) to go away.  Would it help to toss some  beneficial bacteria in the tank? <Wouldn't hurt... but likely would produce no discernible difference> Or should I just be patient and wait for my  rock? <This is what I would do, yes> As an aside, I am planning on setting up (ideally and in a perfect world) a refugium that looks good/nice and am thinking that plumbing a nano would work very well. It's going to sit on a shelf under the tank and be as visible as the  tank itself. I can't think of anything unreasonable about that, can you? <Nope> Or is  there any reason this would not work as I intend it to? <...> And thank you again! Your book and your site have been so helpful to me and to be able to ask a question like this and to get a response is awesome.  I feel like I am very much on the right track with this tank! Lee <Real good... BobF> Ammonia problem, stopped canister filters  02-05-06 Hello to all.  Well  have one big problem and I am in need of some advice on what to do.  Might have happened to you guys before but this is the first time it has happened to me.  I have a 29g TruVu with 40lbs of LR and 3in sandbed of LS.  I currently have pair of true perculas, had citron clown goby, and LPS live coral.   This mourning when I woke up and turned my tank lights on I noticed that my clown goby was nowhere to be found.  I looked and looked for him but he disappeared.  I then thought to myself that he must have died because of lack of oxygen because yesterday my xp1 Rena had got clogged with some macro algae that was in my tank but got sucked up in my filter.  Yesterday the clown goby was breathing very rapidly so that why I had checked the filter.  I thought by cleaning it and unclogging that would fix the problem but it didn't because this morning the goby was nowhere to be found. <Uhh, unclogging the canister filter... you did rinse it out thoroughly before returning it to service I hope/trust> So then I began to look for him.  I couldn't find him so my next step was removing the LR piece by piece...And that got me pissed because once I moved all the rock I still didn't find him.  Has this ever happened to anyone?  If so what did you do?   <...?> I tested for ammonia and it had gone up to .25mg/l.  Now I for sure know he is dead but can't find it.  I do have bristleworms in the tank and also spaghetti worms.  Could they have already ate him up?   <Yes> Could they have buried his body in the sand to eat?  Please help me.  I did a water change and it did seem to help but I still have a feeling the ammonia will continue to go up again?  Any advice in what I can do to fix this problem? <Time going by at this point> ...I have had my tank for over a year now so I know I am past the cycling stage.  Never have had this problem with ammonia ever.  I moved my clown fish to my QT but am scared to lose my corals!  Help me please.  Any advice is better than nothing. <The ammonia anomaly was almost certainly caused by the plugged then unplugged canister filter... causing the demise of the goby... perhaps the worms eating it. Bob Fenner> Live rock going white/Ammonia up  - 02/16/2006 Crew, the last 2 days my tank is turning south I added a DSB 6 weeks ago and doing normal water changes and such. Parameters were all good. Now in the last 2 days ammonia has come up to .4 and today the Live rock is dying turning white, <Something awry here... a die-off> the skimmer is getting nothing but watery foam since 3 days ago and the collection cup fills up in an hour with water. All other readings are good Calcium is a little low at 350 but I dosed it with 3 tsp yesterday. Is it crashing? <A downward slide at least one could say> What can I do? <When, where in doubt... a water change... and do check your alkalinity... I suspect it's shot here> I can't seem to skim nothing. <Anything> I have a 100 gallon stock tank to take action with. Should I start making tons of water (RO) up and prep a 10 gallon for all creatures with their own water. <I would at least try a couple of consecutive/daily water changes of 20-25%> I have the supplies to do this if needed. This tank is 4 years old and most rock is 2-4 years old. I've been more conscientious than ever with it the last year. I'm puzzled Thanks Jeff <Mmm, and I'd add a bit of new live rock here once all is settled down. Bob Fenner> Re: UPDATE!!! Live rock going white/Ammonia up  - 02/16/2006 I've figured it out!!!! After more reading I think it was the Maracyn I put in treating my Regal Tang!! I could not catch her so LFS said it was safe no problem for a FOWLR. What is my best coarse of action I'm thinking massive RO water change? 20% every other day for about 10 days? Thoughts can I save the inverts and rock? Jeff <Ahh, this antibiotic, Erythromycin will "do it"... Thanks for the follow-up. Bob Fenner> Ammonia spike from live rock rearrangement?   2/14/06 Dear WWM Crew, <Jill> I am most grateful for your web site. I am very new (2.5 months) at maintaining a saltwater tank. I have been able to find answers to almost all of my questions on your site along with  Robert Fenner's book and have not had any major problems  until now. <Let's see if we can help you fix...> My 55 gallon hex tank was set up on Dec. 6th. with live rock, live sand,  and 4 striped damsels. I have a trickle filter with sump/bioballs. underneath.  The tank cycled by mid January.  My current stock is 5 Chromis, 2 clowns, one brittle star, one red serpent star, one coral banded shrimp and a dozen hermit crabs, (I returned the damsels to LFS as they were very aggressive). All of my "numbers" until today have been good.  S. G. 1.024, ammonia, nitrates zero, pH 8.0 - 8.23. Tank temperature maintained at 79 degrees. 4 days ago, I rearranged my live rock, during the process, I shook the rock so the crabs would fall off. A huge amount of debris from the rocks clouded the water. I am embarrassed to say I had not turned off the pump while doing this. I turned off the pump and did my usual weekly 10% water change.  Water cleared fairly well and things seemed ok. The next morning  the return water jets were very slow. I cleaned the filter on the pump, it was full of debris. It solved the problem: water return was fine. Yesterday I did another !0% water change.   <Good> This morning I had a small increase in ammonia, not quite to 0.5.  Went to LFS  and asked my contact there, who has seemed fairly knowledgeable,  if the debris would have "damaged" the good bacteria on the bioballs. <Assuredly yes> He said no, that the debris wouldn't hurt anything, and  sold me Kent ammonia detox. <I would not use this> By the time I returned home in one hour,  the ammonia was in the danger zone on the test strip. I added the ammonia detox slowly per instructions on the bottle, to the sump until the strip showed a bare trace. My question:  would the debris and resultant clogging of the water jets have upset the balance and the tank is recycling? <Yes... a lack of flow, oxygen, the release of organics...> I am not sure what to do next and would greatly appreciate any advice. Fish seem fine, active, and eating well. <Just "keep on keeping on" really... these sorts of issues, problems are "self-regulating" for the most part. Happily you have good discipline in setting up, stocking, maintaining... All will be fine> Thank  you very much for taking the time to read this lengthy email. Again, I think your site is one of the best I have seen and appreciate your efforts. Sincerely, Jill Phillips <Certainly welcome. Bob Fenner>

Ammonia Spike!...Glass Cleaner The Culprit? - 02/16/06 Hello again WWM! <<Hello Derek>> Thanks for the quick reply. <<You're welcome>> My tank is still experiencing that problem though, but now, I believe it's the ammonia that is killing the fish - it has risen to 1.0 ppm.  So my question is, what is causing the ammonia spike? <<All you did was plumb in a refugium with sugar-fine DSB?  Appears to be something else a work here...you haven't medicated this tank have you?...added anything besides the 'fuge/DSB?...any questionable tank decorations?  Just fishing, but seems maybe something has wiped out your nitrifying bacteria...wait a minute...you didn't happen to "replace" a bio-filter with the refugium did you?>> I did a decent job of rinsing the new aragonite (CaribSea brand); I rinsed it in small amounts in buckets few times until the water lost that milkiness to it. <<Takes quite a bit of effort to rinse clean these fine grades of sand.>> Could it be the sand or something else like the new refugium itself? <<Possibility of an introduced contaminate, yes.>> I talked to the guy who made it for me, and he claims that glass and silicone are kosher and that they shouldn't be causing my spike. <<Am in agreement...but was it possibly cleaned with an ammonia based cleaner (glass cleaner) before delivery to you?  This could explain the ammonia spike.>> I've been trying to combat the ammonia; I've done two 20% water changes over the past three days, and I've been adding Aquascience's "Ultimate" water conditioner (this conditioner has been an effective way to temporarily reduce ammonia from past experiences), but neither of these have affected the ammonia level.  How much and how often should I be doing water changes until my levels go back down, or is there something else I should do? <<You need to isolate the source.  Ideally you can relocate your livestock while you do this, if not, remove the sump/'fuge from the system and do a 50% water change to reduce the ammonia level.  Continue to monitor this and do water changes as necessary.  If the sump/'fuge is the source of ammonia the tank should recover relatively quickly.  If not, you'll need to remove the livestock and let the ammonia cycle out (as in a new tank cycle).>> Thanks again! Derek <<Regards, EricR>>

Re: quandary with Oodinium infection ... ammonia, sources, sea salt - 03/05/06 Once again thanks so much for the help!  I've been doing water changes on my QT tank and didn't think the ammonia levels were coming down enough... so I started testing my water, both just the RO and the RO after it was mixed with salt and aerated.  Testing a jug of RO I get about a .25 ammonia reading and testing my water aerated and mixed with Crystal Sea Bioassay formula to 1.022 I get .5ppm. <It's likely the salt mix...>   So I thought my kit might be bad so I grabbed another kit and got the same readings. Hmmmm....so now I'm really confused...then I read a FAQ on this site about a cat box in the same room....and bingo!  What I don't understand is how water in a 5 gallon jug with a lid could absorb ammonia from the cat box (could the test tube used to test absorb? <Not likely... try mixing the salt outside... testing> ....course I rinse right before testing).  The really hard part is convincing my wife we have to move the cat box.  Is the cat box really the culprit here...the quest for knowledge and ammonia free tank water continues....... George W <Again, my strong urging to pre-mix, store new synthetic seawater... Please read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/seawater.htm Bob Fenner> Ammonia Rising - 5/18/2006 Hello and greetings from Alabama, <<Hello Jeremy.>> I know you have heard it a million times but you do have a great site. <<Thanks!>> I recently purchased a new tank and moved my fish from a 54 Gallon corner tank to a 110 high (48X18X30). I moved the sand, water, and filter from the original tank to the new one and added two more power filters to it. <<I do not use power filters on saltwater tanks.  Have you looked into adding a sump?>> I have been using a DSB for Nitrate reduction (which has worked very well) and added the original sand on top of about 3 inches of new sand (for a total of about 5 inches). <<OK>> Everything seemed to be doing fine for a few days until yesterday I noticed the water was a little cloudy. Tested the water: pH - 8.2 Ammonia - 0.5 Nitrite - 0 Nitrate - 0 Occupants: Small Regal Tang Small Purple Tang Small Fiji Foxface 3 -- Perculas <<Your tank is too small to house two large tangs in my opinion.>> 20 lbs. Live Rock (50 more pounds ordered but will have to be cured first) I had never had problems before with water quality; the original tank was over a year old. I tested the new tank the day after I moved everyone and the Ammonia was zero. Not sure what caused the Ammonia to rise, I don't think I overfeed. <<Likely from disturbing the old sand bed.  It will pass in time.>> I read through the FAQ's and wasn't sure if this level was high enough to start doing massive water changes or just give it time to balance itself. Is this level high enough to cause a great deal of harm to the fish? <<Ammonia is toxic.  I would get on the water change.>> Should I stop/limit feeding? <<I don't think your feeding is the issue, but do be conservative during this transition.>> Will I also see a rise in Nitrite, as I did with the original cycle? <<You might, it's really hard to say with certainty.>> Thanks for all of your advice and the great website, I recommend it to everyone. <<Me too! Glad to help. Lisa.>> Jeremy Well Water High In Ammonia  - 5/18/2006 Hi. Hope you can help me. I have set up, cycled, stocked, and maintained 3 freshwater aquariums with the fine articles and faq's you all so tirelessly provide. Now I'm stuck and need an informed opinion please. My nitrates are staying high constantly. My tap water...well water has .50ppm ammonia...0 nitrites and 0 nitrates. I store water in a Rubbermaid container and treat same with Novaqua per instructions. < Try Amquel or Ultimate instead.> Water is heated and aerated until used. If I use replacement water for water changes that has a .50 ppm ammonia level ,will it cause high nitrates?? < The replacement water will convert the ammonia to nitrates on a one to one basis. So you will end up with .50 ppm nitrates. The only way to reduce nitrates from an agricultural source, like well water is to use an R/O unit, DI unit or use live plants to absorbed the nitrates from the water.> That is my theory whether it is right or wrong. Please tell me if I'm on the right track and if I need to de-ammonianize my tap water before using. Thanks for all of your help.....DR < Your situation is not unusual in agricultural areas that over fertilize the crops and the excess nitrogen fertilizers make their way down to the first or shallowest aquifer.-Chuck>

Ammonia Contamination in Basement - 08/24/06 Hi, <<Hello>> I recently had a 75 gallon reef tank installed [upgraded from my 40 gallon] with the sump/refugium/RO water maker & auto top-off in the basement. <<Cool!>> I have a finished basement that is concrete with a drain ditch all around the basement that goes into a house sump in the floor in case the basement floods [which it never does since we are on top of a hill]. <<Even so...is nice to have the protection>> Recently I discovered that if the RO water sits in the barrel for 2 or 3 days, it tests of ammonia. <<Really?  At what level?  Is the barrel used?...contaminated?...made of food-grade material?>> I have cleaned the barrel three times with water & complete care [Rubbermaid garbage can, new] & cleaned out the basement of anything that may be contaminating the air, including all the firewood. <<Mmm, can't think of anything right-off that might have been used in the construction that might be causing this.  Some insulating foams/polyurethane products might leach substances that could concentrate in a confined space such as a basement...but I would think these would be a noticeable irritant if this were the case>> The basement is now basically bare.  I ran another test.  The RO water tested OK out of its faucet & after 2 days I tested one bucket of water I left in my house & another I left in the basement.  The basement water still had ammonia!!!! <<But how much?>> Now I am vinegar & water cleaning anything made of wood [stairs, beams, etc.], I have all the windows open during the day & a fan going. <<Why are you concentrating your efforts on the wood?>> The guy who installed the tank suggested peroxiding the walls with a garden hose sprayer [a little drastic?] & my handy-man suggested covering the floor drains with plastic or building a little room for the sump. <<I don't see how either of these actions are going to help...folks place sumps/water collection vessels in basements and garages all the time with no ill effect my water top-off/salt make-up barrels are in my garage).  Were I you, I would do the simplest and most obvious thing (in my mind anyway) and replace the water storage container...perhaps with a polyethylene container purpose-built for storing food-grade liquids>> I thought about getting a special water container made so as to keep it covered, only having the necessary wires hanging out of the lid & then using a UV light to keep the RO water from getting contaminated. <<Don't waste your money on the UV here...is not necessary/won't prevent ammonia from entering/leaching in to the water>> Do you have any suggestions for me?  I'd be grateful forever. <<Try replacing the container before proceeding with any other "drastic" measures...which by the way is just "shooting in the dark" at best.  If you do indeed have/think you have something leaching ammonia in your basement I recommend you contact your local environmental protection agency and have someone come out to test/identify the cause/source...or at the least, put your fears to rest>> Thanks, Linda C, a teacher soon to go back to school & worried about my new reef tank & all its creatures. <<Understood and appreciated Linda.  I am intrigued by your dilemma...do get back to me with the ammonia readings (and brand test kit used) from your RO storage tank.  Regards, EricR>>

Ammonia Spike After Power Outage.. canister filter danger   7/2/06 Hi, <Hello there> Thank you for your excellent site.  I'm a former fresh water hobbyist turned salt water since Oct. of last year.  Your site has been a huge help in the last year.  I have always found ample information without having to write but have experienced my first major problem.  I was hoping for a second opinion on my plan of action to deal with this.  My livestock include one sailfin tang (I know he'll need a bigger tank and will provide for him), 2 clarkii clowns (mated pair), one blue damsel, one red knobbed starfish, one banded serpent star (a brown w/ darker brown striped brittle star not sure if that's the correct name as I've never found his exact pic on your site), <There are many such species> 3 blue legged hermits, a cleaner shrimp, and live rock with various little hitchhikers. I have a 72 gallon, hex tank, that has been running for almost 9 months.  It cycled well last year and I thought that I had made it through the flooding in the area that had shut the power off several times without trouble.  I discovered this morning I was wrong.  My ammonia level was slightly elevated (normally it is 0, nitrite, and nitrate zero, pH 8.2, temp around 72) this morning it was 0.25 ppm for ammonia.  I found out my magnum 350 was the problem. <For other readers this is a canister filter... would "go anaerobic" with cessation of power/flow> Although it had come back on after the power returned it wasn't primed and therefore never was really working.  Like I said I'm a beginner since my fresh water always had hang on whisper filters. <And these are hang-on power filters... open to the air> So now I know that I've got to check that when the power goes off.  I got the 350 running, but stupid me over looked that the little water left in the intake and return tubing had gone bad.  It caused my ammonia to spike to 1.0 ppm. I was horrified. So I added the recommended dose of ammo-lock 2 as an emergency stop gap after doing a 25% water change.  I plan to do another 25%water change in two days.   <Any ammonia will hopefully be gone before this> I will also stop by the LFS to pick up some stress zyme to add after the next water change.  I thought that that may offer some help to replace any bacteria harmed from this large a disturbance in the cycle (I had vacuumed the sand, changed out some of the decor, and changed out the filter media before I turned on the filter and sent that horrible water into the tank). <Yes, best to vent initially...> I will continue to test and do changes as needed to keep the ammonia, etc in control.  Does this seem a good plan? <Yes... though, as stated, likely all will be rectified in short order on its own>   I had been planning to add some more live rock, would now be a good time to do so? <Not for a few weeks> I feel like an idiot for not realizing the filter wasn't moving water and then letting that water into the tank. <Happens... a common mistake.> Soon after I set the tank up my father was diagnosed with cancer and ten days later my father in law had a heart attack.  Things are only starting to get back to normal so I'm not as observant as I should be with the tank. <Good that you recognize these influences, events... Even better that you are able to keep all in perspective. In a/the grand course of things, the aquarium is "small potatoes"... Put emphasis where emphasis lies> Sorry for the long email, I was trying to give all the needed info.  Thanks for all the help and hard work. -Ali <Thank you for sharing. Bob Fenner> Ammonia On the Rise - 10/9/06 Hi everyone, <Greetings! Emerson here with you today.> I'm having a big problem with my ammonia. 1 week ago, all parameters were fine, and when I tested this week, ammonia was at 1 ppm! Nitrates were also up to 40-50 ppm, nitrites 0, Ph 7.9. We did a major water change, (24 gallons on a 55 gallon tank) and tested later that day. The nitrates went to about 30, and the ammonia was .33. I tested again this morning and the nitrates are down to 20-30 (maybe from the refugium?), but the ammonia is back up to .75 in one day! What do you think could have caused this? <Poorly established biofiltration, overfeeding, possibly rotting materials brought in with uncured rock etc etc etc.> We do have a few new, strange types of algae that are growing so fast it even grows on the snails, but my husband says he doesn't think there's any hair algae. I added Amquel + to the tank this morning to see if that will help. I assumed yesterday the raised ammonia was probably due to overfeeding. (I feed three times a day, small amounts, once flakes, once artic pods -we have a mandarin- and once frozen foods of all different types.) <Your mandarin is likely doomed. Please read: http://wetwebmedia.com/mandarins.htm > Foolishly, before we did the test yesterday, we added a baby cleaner shrimp and a very large (2") spotted snail (sorry, I can't remember what it's called.) We added the giant snail because the green algae was getting out of control on the glass and on the live rock. <Algae is to be controlled with proper feeding and nutrient export (water changes and skimming). Adding snails is a band aid approach, and not addressing the cause of the problem.> Both creatures are doing fine. Really, I just forgot to test first.  Could the addition of these two cause such a rise in ammonia in one day? Is it more likely the algae, and if so, what types could do that so I can try to identify it? <No regarding the shrimp/snails, and no, algae did not cause your ammonia spike.> When will I be able to safely do another water change? How soon is too soon? It's going to need to be done ASAP I'm sure, I'm just not sure when that would be. <You need to be doing 30% or more changes daily until the ammonia is under control. Please test for ammonia and nitrite (you may see nitrite rise soon) daily until both tests read 0, and then continue to test a few times a week to be safe. You are having serious issues with biological filtration and should stop feeding your fish for at least a few days. Please read through the articles and FAQs regarding water quality here: http://wetwebmedia.com/marine/maintenance/index.htm > Thanks so much for your help with my stupid mistake of adding new creatures without testing first. And thank you in advance for any help you can give me with ammonia. <You are welcome. Please read as much as you can on the website, and you can save your critters! Best of luck.> - Jennifer

The batfish alone gets 2 feet! (4/3/2004)  In response to your questions my collection consists of a 7" imperator, 4" Asfur, 6" Maculosus, Flame, 5" Grey, 2" Annularis, 6" Koran, 6" Navarchus, The Navarchus is not doing well it is eating but it looks like areas around its head are sunken in? I have a 7 " tall Orbic Bat and a cleaner shrimp oh and I have a 4" Passer angel, 4" Queen 3 Damsels, 2 3" Raccoon butterflies. <*Gape* your tank is massively overstocked. You really should read our FAQS regarding your fish and the stocking FAQ archives as well. The overstocking alone probably explains your recurring ammonia problems> There has been no deaths or MIA's Filtration: besides the two tidepool II's I use a Ocean Clear for main Mechanical filtration but the Tidepools have that 3 tray system for media and I have blue pad in the top trays then 2 bags of Chemipure <I highly recommend using Poly-Filter until you conquer the ammonia> in each filter and finally seeded Bio Stars in the bottom trays I have a 35 watt UV and a Berlin hang on the back Skimmer with the Turbo pump and it is in my sump. the best I can do is change water weekly because my RO unit only makes enough water to do that. <Distilled water can be purchased from your local grocery store> chemically my PH is 8 my Amm. is .25 ppm and the nitrite is at 10.0ppm. <Possibly deadly, most definitely in the long term. 25% water changed daily or every other day, consider dosing the tank with Amquel+ from Kordon, see below> I was treating a fungus with Maroxy about a month ago. I did do a Maracyn treatment about 2 to 3 months ago <another possible cause, especially coupled with the overstocking> and I keep a low level of Coppersafe in the tank <Hmm...not sure if I would recommend this for long term use. I'll get others' opinions and get back to you> I did use a large bio wheel from my over a year old 80 gal with these exact fish in it and I feel that bio wheel was fully seeded with the good stuff. <Amazing they survived in a tank of that size> The tank has a great development of brown and green algae and the fish are showing no signs of stress all are eating like pigs <another source of ammonia>. Any help would be great!!!  <Find new homes for most of your fish or triple your tank size. In the meantime, 25% water changes daily or every other day, dose Amquel+ for a quick removal of the ammonia and nitrites (do half the recommended dose, wait a day, and do the other half. Rapid water chemistry changes of any type is stressful for all inhabitants). Do purchase a Poly Filter (or several) and use them to help control the ammonia. The Poly Filters will absorb your copper, as well (which I personally wouldn't maintain, additional stress on the biological filter among other things). Start feeding less: temporarily, I recommend only every other day. Again: find new homes for your current inhabitants quickly.>  thanks  Kirt <Anytime>  Ammonia spike caused by gravel vac? <Hey Richard, Mac here> My FOWLR tank has been running for over 8 months, with the ammonia cycle long since completed.  Tank is a 125 gal with dual overflows, sump, 50-micron filter bags attached to overflow hoses going into sump, AquaC EV120 skimmer, Mag Drive 1200gph return pump, 2 powerheads in tank (300gph each), 130lbs LR, aragonite substrate about 1-2" deep. <Nice> Livestock includes yellow tang, royal gramma, six line wrasse, chalk bass, green Chromis, dragon goby, and Foureye butterfly. A note on the Foureye:  your site shows that it is a poor choice for an aquarium.  The store had it labeled as an Atlantic Reef Butterfly.  It looked cool, was not expensive, and they said it would get along with my other fish, so I bought it.  I then looked it up on your site, found a picture, and realized the exact species.  While I never would have bought it had I read your site first, I must say that the fish was doing quite well during the two weeks before the sudden death.  There was no indication that he would not survive.  He did not eat what I was feeding, but was constantly picking at the rocks.  Looking healthy after two weeks, I assumed he was getting whatever food he needed. <Just a note, he probably was, the problem with them in a reef tank is that eventually he will start eating things you don't want him to eat. Like corals, feather dusters, etc.>   Back to the problem.  My testing has always shown zero ammonia and nitrite, nitrates about 20.  <Tad high on the nitrates, you really should try to take them down a bit more> On my LFS advice, I have kept the salinity very low (1.017 SG) to prevent parasite infection. The store keeps their tanks at 1.015 and the fish look great, even the ones that have been there for months. Last weekend, my Foureye butterfly and dragon goby both died a day apart. LFS said the butterfly had what looked like ammonia burn.  He had reddish patches under the skin, with no other signs of abuse.  He looked and acted perfect the day before. The store tested my water and did find ammonia to be about .25. <hmmm, just a note here too.  It might be a wise idea for you to invest in some test kits at some point.> Both of these deaths came after I did a water change and vacuuming of the entire substrate. LFS now thinks that my vacuuming released an ammonia spike into the tank.  Looking back through my logbook, <very important you are to be commended> I do find that a number of my fish deaths (unfortunately there have been many) did happen within a day or two of a cleaning.  They now tell me not to vacuum the substrate, that it interferes with the biocycle going on underneath. <The filtration system you are using is the live rock system with a bacterial bed in the sand.>  Is this true?  <This is a wonderful system and is working for a lot of people.  Your fish store is correct in saying that when you vacuum out the sand you are pulling out both the bacteria and probably lots of wonderful creatures and animals that make your sand bed both fascinating and functioning.> What do you recommend as a cleaning regimen to go along with water changes?  <Definitely keep up the water changes.  If you think you are seeing a lot of detritus on the sand there are creatures that you can use to clean them that will not disturb your bacterial bed.  Narcissus snails, fighting conchs, even several of the serpent stars will do a wonderful job with that.  Most fish will not bother a serpent star either.  You could always do some gentle vacuuming of just the very tip top of the sand.  In fact, I have been known to get my net and grab something off the sand.>  If my vacuuming didn't kill the fish, any ideas on what did?  <Technically its not the vacuuming but the ammonia rise that did the killing.  But your disturbing the sand bed could have caused the levels to rise.  Its good that you are jumping on this and trying to figure out what could have gone wrong.  Butterflies are more sensitive to ammonia levels and that's probably why he was the first to go.  Since your tank is fish only, I really would recommend getting an ammonia test kit.  You can make the ammonia level go up by massively over feeding the fish and then their waste products. Ask me how I know this?  Been there done that!  Seriously we all probably have. Having the kits at home will help you to get a jump on this and do a water change before there is a big problem.  Good luck with this.>

AIRBORNE AMMONIA ENTERING TANK SYSTEM Hello all, firstly, I would like to extend a thanks for all of the work done by the crew.  Secondly, this is not a question so much as a warning.  I had a disturbing situation arise in my 'fish room'.  I am in the process of placing a few corals in a DIY acrylic grow out system.  I had been testing perimeters regularly.  The other day, while testing the ammonia level hit 1.0ppm.  I couldn't understand how this could have happened.  There are no fish, just 6 small photosynthetic coral pieces in roughly 120 gallons, none were in any state of decay.  I then tested a tank that has had several pieces of live rock for several months, this had 0.5ppm.  I then tested my make up and top off water, that hit 1.0.  I proceeded to test the water out of the DI unit, 0.0ppm, then the tap, 0.0.  I also cross checked using 3 different test kits.  At that point I concluded it had to be coming in from the air.  After some thought, I recalled that two days earlier I had noticed, through a nasty aroma, that my grand daughter had neglected the cat litter pan.  The pan is down the hall from my fish room.  I put two and two together, I was injecting the air borne ammonia into all of my water.  Since water changes were out, I immediately put an ionizer/air cleaner in the room, loaded the tanks with carbon, and placed the filter pads I had been culturing in a well established  aquarium into the tanks.  I have not lost anything as of yet, some things are not looking great, but time will tell.   The moral is if it is in the air, it will find its way into the tank. << Wow, what a story.  Here is another example.  You can set up a salt water tank in your backyard.  Wait a couple weeks, and you'll have algae growing in it.  The question many people have is where did that algae come from?  And, how can a marine strain find its way to wherever you are.  Well the answer is that tiny little spores from the ocean are actually carried all the way across the continents in rain clouds and the like.  So I guess just about anything is possible. >> Enjoy the 4th, God bless America. Ed   <<  Adam B.  >>

Ammonia Questions ?? Hi Bob <John> I have the following problem, please help! Sorry for the long email but giving some history. I have a 3 foot tank that I set up as a quarantine tank. I took some media (ceramic balls) from the trickle filter, some media (ceramic balls) from the sump and 100 litres water from my display tank (Running for 10 Months) and placed it in the quarantine tank canister filter. Also added an AquaClear 200 filter on the tank with only a new sponge for media  to build up some bacteria. I put a piece of live rock (as big as two fists together) in the tank as well. I put a clown trigger which I bought in the QT tank for a week. I checked the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate twice daily. For 7 days everything was fine within acceptable limits. The fish also looked good with no signs of any disease. I put it into my display tank. (I know this is a bit soon but needed the QT for other fish). I bought 3 regal tangs of about 50 - 60 mm each. (These are scarce in my town so I had to get them!) <Not an easy species to keep alive... do check into Pablo Tepoot's food line "Spectrum"... about the only thing I've seen that works to get this species going in captivity... especially when small as yours are> They where flicking in the shop before I got them so I put them in the QT. The salinity at the LFS was 1.018 so I lowered my QT salinity to 1.018. PH is at 9.5 <9.5? This is WAY too high. Please read re and adjust slowly down to 8.2-8.4> and temp at 27.5 to 28 C. On day 2 of putting the new fish in QT I dosed Red sea Paracure (copper) at 0.3 as recommended to clear the infection on the fish (they had "white-ish" marks on them and still flicking, not sure if ich or Oodinium). On day 3 started to see ammonia 0.25 ppm on the card. On day 4 ammonia was at 0.5 ppm on the card (Red sea copper test kit) so I did a 25% water change with water from my display tank. Ammonia down to 0.25. Added Paracure to get back to 0.3 (Nitrite and nitrate is near to 0) On day 5 ammonia was back at 0.5 ppm so I did a 25% water change again with water from my display tank. Ammonia down to 0.25 again. Added Paracure to get back to 0.3 (Nitrite and nitrate is near to 0). The fish seem fine now and are not flicking any more but still have small "white-ish" patches on them. Here are the questions now as I need advice on what to do next: 1. The Paracure label said that it does not affect the bacteria in the filter. Is this correct? <Doesn't appear so, but...> If so why do I have the ammonia problem? <Likely the copper or lowered spg killed off or induced a physiological check in your nitrifiers> 2. Technically the tank should be cycled as it has all the water from the display tank as well as the filter material. Is this correct? <Was likely, but as stated one or both of the medicants and altered spg bumped off or stalled the process, processors> 2. Does the lower salinity have an impact on a) the biological filter, <Yes... will kill most microbes> b) copper dosing and c) ammonia? <Yes> 3. According to the Red sea ammonia test kit NH4+ is less harmful. This it the 0.25 to 0.5 that is measured on the card. How bad is this for fish and how long can fish handle this amount of ammonia. How does it affect the fish? <Mmm, hard to state... weakened fish livestock may die as consequence in hours, days at this concentration. 1.0 ppm is almost always toxic within hours, days> 4. According to the Red sea ammonia test kit NH3 is toxic ammonia. This value is about 0.016 when calculated at 0.25 NH4+ and 0.032 at 0.5 NH4+. How bad is this for fish and how long can fish handle this amount of ammonia. How does it affect the fish? <Good question... once again, not a black/white scenario, but as an added source of "stress", any detectable ammonia/ammonium is bad news> What I thought of the problem is that the biological filter is failing and therefore the ammonia spikes. How can I fix this problem (Would it helped if I put in some Hagen Cycle? <This product might help... as might adding some more filter media from your established system, but the best move is to change out good percentages of the water with used as you've been doing... and possibly risk dipping the Regal/Clown/Lineatus tangs and moving them to the display> Any recommendations please of what to do next as I would like to keep the fish in QT for at least another 2 weeks. Thanks for the help and excellent web site.   Regards John Squier <The "call" is up to you. I would dip/bath these fish and move them. Bob Fenner>

Re: Ammonia Questions ?? Hi Bob <John> Thanks for the info. I made a typing error - PH not at 9.5 its at 7.95 sorry. <Ahh, much better... as you're likely aware, ammonia/ium is much, MUCH more toxic at higher pHs> One more thing, after reading about lowered salinity I could not find anything on the topic that it would effect the biological filter. <Does so my friend... think about osmotic shock... for instance... the simple use of "salt" mouthwashes, astringents to kill... single-celled organisms of pathogenic nature... the nitrifying bacteria are... single-celled organisms... Too much, too soon change in specific gravity stalls them physiologically, kills them> Could it be the combination of lowered salinity and copper that caused my filter to crash? <Yes, easily> Do you perhaps have any links where I could find more info on this please. <More on what? Please use the Google search tool on the homepage... www.WetWebMedia.com with key terms that describe what you're looking for> Your recommendation <The "call" is up to you. I would dip/bath these fish and move them. Bob Fenner> Would you do this because of the negative effect of the ammonia? Do you think 9 days of copper treatment is enough? Thanks John <Yes to both... the advantages/risks of moving the stock are shifted greatly to the former. Bob Fenner> Ammonia... killing off one's biofilter Mr. Fenner, Thanks for all your help in the past. <Welcome> I have been battling ammonia the past couple weeks, and I lost a lot of fish.  <Mmm... what are fishes doing in such water?> I seem to have gotten it under control today. I have had my tank setup for about 6 months. I suddenly got a tremendous (off the scale) ammonia spike that I could do nothing to fix immediately.  <From?> I don't understand. I'm thinking I might have somehow caused new tank syndrome. I did replace my CPR BakPak skimmer with an ETSS reef devil, but the downward spiral started a couple days before that. I did keep my biomedia from the old skimmer and put it in a ventilated container and floated it in my sump. I don't know if that would do any good anyway. <Should have> Somehow, I think I killed off all the beneficial bacteria. <I agree... or overwhelmed the system with proteinaceous material... did someone toss in a bunch of food... might an animal have died and you not caught it?> I was reading all the posts and I think it was from excessive vacuuming of the DSB. it was so dirty though. I wanted your opinion on this observation: Immediately after 2 ammonia spikes settled down, the deep sand bed was covered in a rusty brown substance. That's what I vacuumed away. Is there any correlation between this "stuff" and the ammonia level going back to zero?  <Yes... the brown stuff are likely diatoms, other algae... that need the ammonia to be gone, nitrate (product) to flourish> It's just odd that the sand is white, and my ammonia is through the roof, and then finally the ammonia is gone, and instantly the sand is brown. Well, I still have 1 dogface puffer and 1 striped damsel left, and I don't want to go vacuuming if its gonna finish them off too. I'm really surprised they made it. My ammonia scale only goes to 2, and it was definitely way over that! <Yikes> Also, what do you think about Chemi-clean?  It's supposed "removes disease causing red Cyano bacteria, oxidizes trapped organic sludge and sediment. Chemi Clean also clarifies aquarium water to crystal clear and promotes ideal enzyme balance."  <... not a good idea... Please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/maralgcidefaqs.htm> I started having the troubles when I added this in conjunction with B-ionic Calcium Buffer, and Ruby Reef Kick Ich. <Oooohhhh... This is the source of your trouble... you actually killed off your nitrifiers...> I think maybe it all had some unknown effect. <Yes, for sure> I read something on your site about one of these effecting pH, which might affect ammonia? Thanks for your time, I read your posts daily. B. Robinson <The "Clean" product... kills microbes... including your beneficial bacteria... the "kick" product does nothing (but flavor food), the B-ionic is a fine product (for pH, alkalinity). More study, less chemicals my friend. Bob Fenner> 

Kent Salt vs. Coralife Hi, Thanks for your quick reply.  I will do the 24 hour fresh/24 hour salt aeration.  Though I have to say, the other way has saved my butt, since I have had an ammonia jump .4 (dead snail...found it) having lower PH has probably saved the fish's life!  Would you agree? <It sure helps> I was told AmQuel + was a bad product for saltwater, but to me neutralizing ammonia and nitrates seem paramount!  What do you think? <In an established system without overstocking and good maintenance, ammonia should never be a problem.> I have been doing several partial water changes with no real affect on ammonia, except when I neut. it with AmQuel, it does come back the next day.  I have taken out all the live rock and swished it around, dug through my 1 - 1 1/2" sandbed (where I found a Nass. snail chowing the remnants of something...took it away from him, I mean...ewww!)  I did a 50% water change and added AmQuel + but my ammonia is back to .4.  What is the deal?  I am using fastest ammonia test and it has worked right in the past few weeks.  I figured because this is a powder it would read right, and it did, just to have the ammonia come back.  WHAT IS GOING ON????? <Adding AmQuel prevents the bio system from readjusting to the levels it needs to be at since it quells the ammonia, and that's why I believe it is coming back.  I don't believe in using this stuff as a routine.> Should I just move everyone to a QT and let the tank "cycle"???  It is about 8 weeks old and the contents are: 3" Yellow Tang "bubbles" 2' Spotted Snake Eel "spot" 2" White Molly..... "molly" (4) 3/4" Neon gobies 8 little hermits 2 Nassarius. snails 4 left of the "turbo" really small 3 BIG Turbos "Larry, curly and Moe" 1 sandsifter "Patrick"  PS: Do they eat leftover food....shrimp, silverside slivers? 1 3" BTA Would they be okay in a 20 gallon??? <No> I think I may have to leave the BTA snake eel, star, snails and crabs in tank as the QT has the treatment for tail rot.  Need advise!! <Your tank is overstocked with the two foot eel in there, that is just adding to the ammonia problem.  I have a rule of thumb....one cubic inch of fish per five gallons, that is cubic not just length.  James (Salty Dog)> Thanks! <You're welcome> Carrie :)

Ammonia and Nitrite Emergency 6/6/05 Hi Crew, my name is Justin and I am having a bit of a problem on the action I should take with the screw-up I just made. I have a 55 gallon salt water tank with a moray eel in it. Since I am a beginner I decided it would be a really good idea to clean my filter (you guys probably know where I am going with this). So I rinsed my Eheim 2028, and all of the media of course, in tap water. From reading on this really helpful website (and lack of common since), I realized I just sent all of my beneficial microbes down the drain. <Hmm... this can be a problem.  More because of the chlorine rather than the rinsing itself.> So everything seemed fine for 2 days then BOOM ammonia that was 0 is 1.5 and nitrite that was less than .3 is now .9. I am terrified for my eel, he seems fine, but I'm worried my microbes will not come back fast enough. I have 40 lbs of live sand and 20lbs of live rock I am hoping that they will help. I am sorry if some one has asked a similar question but I could not find it after an hour of searching. Well I hope you can get back to me soon and help me with my problem. Thanks Justin  <Your live rock and sand should easily meet the filtration needs of your tank.  I would consider removing the canister filter for a more thorough cleaning and monitoring the water chemistry closely.   If the ammonia or nitrite get any higher, I would institute a couple of large water changes, but otherwise, let them come down naturally.  Best Regards.  AdamC.>

Ammonia Spike! 8/3/05 Hello WWM Crew, <TJ> Great site. Very, very helpful. I'm on your site almost everyday, it's amazing how much can be learned here. Now, on to why I'm writing to you. I have a 55 Gallon FOWLR. Emperor 400, Tetra Whisper Power Filter 60 and a counter current skimmer. Tank mates are 2 Ocellaris Clowns, 1 Purple Tang and 1 Yellow Tang. A couple of hermits and 2 Lysmata shrimp. Approx 50lbs of live rock and 35lbs of live sand. Sorry to go on but I want to provide you as much info as possible. I do a 5 gallon water change EVERY week. In 3 years this has never happened. My ammonia level is HUGE 8.0ppm?? PH 8.2, Nitrite 0, Nitrate 20ppm. I have been doing daily water changes of 10 gallons for 2 days trying to bring it down. This morning I changed 25 gallons and tested about 6 hours later and still a very high ammonia level. At this point I collected up tank mates and moved them into the quarantine tank where it's safer. I did another 10 gallon water change on main tank, removed all live rock looking for something....anything dead or dying and found nothing. Any suggestions? Am I missing something?? Any comments / suggestions are most welcomed. Thank you TJ Ontario <Some event may well have killed off your nitrifying (biological filter) bacteria... But first off, I would "check the checker" here. Have your ammonia test kit checked out... You might be best advised to switch out or add a good deal more live rock... to re-set, re-establish nitrification here. There are instances, trends toward "microbial wars" in older systems... that result in your experience. Bob Fenner>

Re: Ammonia Spike! 8/4/05 Mr. Fenner, Thank you for your response. By the way, great book! I think my ammonia test kit is ok. I get acceptable levels when testing my quarantine tank. All the same I will have it checked.  I will as well switch out some of my older live rock for some new.... <This is the best long-term solution here> I assume that I now play the waiting game. Isn't it strange that it is so hard to look at a tank with nothing in it? <Perhaps... for some> Thank you very much for all that you (and the rest of the gang) do here. Regards, TJ <Welcome my friend. Bob Fenner>

Caulerpa racemosa raising ammonia? Indirectly 7/18/05 Hey guys, <And gals> I bought a handful of racemosa Caulerpa last week and placed it in my sump.  When I got home that night, all my racemosa skipped over my baffles and got sucked into my pump. <Oh oh> I saw racemosa floating everywhere.  I know that this type of Caulerpa releases back several compounds.  I immediately checked my water parameters and  ammonia levels spiked up to 1ppm from 0!  I did a large water change ( about 40%), checked my ammonia afterwards and it fell to 0ppm.  I also tried to remove as much of the Caulerpa as possible.  My  fish and corals are ok.  This week, the levels jumped up again but to .5 ppm.  I've never had an ammonia problem.  I did another water change and now the level is down to .25.  I also cleaned my prefilters thinking that there maybe some decaying Caulerpa hanging around.  What else to do you guys suggest I do?  For how long?  I hope that this ammonia problem levels out soon. Nilesh <Keep monitoring your water quality, watching your livestock for signs of overt stress... I would place activated carbon, a pad of Polyfilter in your filter flow path... Likely the Caulerpa stressed the livestock, which produced extra ammonia... Bob Fenner> Ammonia... from a cat litter box... possibly 7/14/05 I was wondering if you could help me with my 125 gallon tank.  I've  had the tank for 2 years and ever since it has been giving me problems.   I've had fish grow large and then die. <...> This year alone, it has been disastrous.  All my fish die and there seem to be a fungus in the water  that would not go away.   No matter what medication I would use or how many  times I'd do a water change, nothing would help.  In fact, the water changes would shock the fish and they would ultimately die.   <Bingo> One  day, a friend suggested that perhaps the cat's litter box may be causing the  problem, seeing that it's right next to the tank. <Interesting... a possibility... ammonia can be introduced in this fashion... best to move these apart> I have another 46 gallon  tank across the room away from the litter box that has never given me any  problems.  As she explained it, cat urine contains ammonia and the large  tank may be absorbing it. <Yes> I moved the litter box to another room and  bought new fish.  They seem to be doing ok, but it's too soon to  tell.  Could this be my problem??? <Yes indeed. Bob Fenner> Thank you, George Ammonia Issues / Moving Tanks - 07/06/05 First off with the specifics: 45 gallon tank 40lbs. of Aragamax Sand 50 lbs. of live rock BakPak 2 skimmer/filter Bio Wheel 200 filter (added recently) 3 power heads for water movement Heater Dual compact fluorescent lamps <<Okey Dokey>> The tank has been set up and running for 7 months, but recently I have had a massive spike in my ammonia levels and the inhabitants are dying off. <<Uh oh>> We recently moved the tank from it's prior space (like 50 feet across the room). <<Hmmm...>> Before the move, all the water properties were fine, but now it's like the tank has started defending itself and killing everything inside.  First some snails, then a starfish, then a few crabs, a couple of fish, and now all that is left are 2 snails, 3 crabs, and a damsel. <<Did you remove/replace the rock and substrate when you moved the tank?>> I have read many of the postings, but not sure what I should do at this point.  So far I have tried: removing all the dead creatures, routine 25% water changes, adding stress zyme, adding a second filter (bio wheel 200), bacteria cultures, raising the temperature in the tank.  I am trying to use as little chemical additives to let the tank right itself naturally.  I have tried everything short of removing all the substrate and starting over. Nitrate is 0 Nitrite is 0 pH is 8.4 Ammonia is 2.0ppm Alkalinity is 300 Where should I go from here?  What should I try to get this tank back on it's feet? <<I think your tank is cycling.  If you pulled the substrate to move the tank and then put it back in the tank you are experiencing a huge bacterial dye-off which is spiking your ammonia.  Your best option is to remove the livestock and let the tank go through/complete its cycle again.>> Thanks so much for your input Jay <<Regards, Eric R.>>

Ammonia Issues (Maybe Not The Substrate) - 07/07/05 Thanks Eric for the response.  When we moved the tank all we did was; laid the live rock flat on the tank, removed 75% of the water, moved the tank, replaced 50% of the water, re-stacked the live rock, then added the remaining 25% of the water.  All the time replacing the water with a pre-mixed salt water solution (not the same water that was originally from the tank).  Now, I guess it would be possible that when adding the replacement water we possibly stirred something bad that was settled under the sand (kind of like a red tide scenario). <<Possibly...but not likely unless you really "dumped" the water in creating a large disturbance of the sand bed...and if this sand bed is sugar-fine and had proper water flow over it I doubt you had/have anything "bad" in it anyway.  Besides, most "bad" substances disturbed in a sand bed are hydrogen sulphide which actually dissipates rather quickly in a good flow...often with no more harm than a bad smell.>> After reading through more of the FAQ it looks like the best plan of action may be as follows (please correct me if I am on the wrong track). 1) Add more live cured rock to re-activate the cycle and introduce more NATURAL bacteria to the system. <<This will likely only extend the cycle at this point, very little "cured" live rock actually is...there's no profit in "holding" rock, if you get my point.  You can do this...just be prepared for the cycle to start over.>> 2) Increase the water temp to about 83 degrees 3) Longer light cycles 4) Continue with water changes to bring the ammonia levels down <<I wouldn't bother with the water changes until the cycle completes, may even extend the cycle...but the livestock needs to come out.>> Please let me know if I am on the right track with these suggestions.  I do not have a quarantine tank, so I cannot move the livestock.  Not that losing a damsel, a few snails, and crabs is a big deal but death is still death and I would feel bad for tormenting an animal like that. <<Then remove them and give them away/back to the store.>> Thanks again for suggestions Jay <<Jay...I can't say for sure what caused your ammonia spike (maybe simply disturbing the live rock), but the deaths and ammonia readings indicate something is definitely amiss.  Give the tank a while to cycle/process the ammonia (minus livestock) and see if things improve...write in again if things don't start to get better in a few weeks.>> BTW: Your website truly rocks for answering many difficult scenarios that us hobbyists come across. <<From one hobbyist to another...Regards, Eric R.>>

Ammonia spike  11/24/05 Hi, <Hello> Yesterday morning I noticed a fish was missing, after searching I found it dead, and then I removed it. It was not the ammonia that killed it, most likely it died from being harassed by a larger fish. However, after testing for ammonia I found it to be at 0.5 ppm. <Likely from the dead fish decomposing...> I did a water change yesterday, only 5% that's all the water I had pre made. This morning I tested again and the ammonia is about 1.0 ppm. Why is it still climbing? <The ongoing result...> I did another water change this morning about 20%. So far nothing has died because of this. All that is in the tank is a 4-stripe damsel, a yellow tang, and several crabs and snails. the tank is 50 gallons, and has 45 pounds of live rock. Is there anything I can do other than keep up with the fast water changes? <Relax... likely this spike will solve itself shortly... Do skip feeding till the ammonia is below 1.0 ppm> Will the bacteria in the tank eventually take care of this excess of ammonia? And if so how long should it take? <Yes, and a few days at most> Please help and thank you, Jed <Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Live Rock Turning White, Fish Choking on Their Own Waste - 11/22/2005 Hi, <Hello.> I'm new. I have bought a 50g Uniquarium for a FOWLR system. The tank is cycling now with three damsels. <Please read up on fishless cycling in the future.> Ammonia is at about 2. <Poor fish.> I have added about 15 lbs of LR over the last few days. Today I noticed that the LR is losing much of the color and turning white. Am I killing the LR and will it be lost forever? <Yes and no. Some die off to be expected, again POOR fish.> Is there anything I can do to help? I'm buying a venturi skimmer in the morning. I have 1 50/50 fluorescent tube. Do you think it is the poor light or ammonia turning the LR white? <Lighting is weak but the initial cycle is at work here. The skimmer will help, but water changes and optimal conditions must also be maintained. All should be fine (except those POOR FISH).> What can I do? <Wait.> Thanks <Welcome.>   <<Who are you, you who answered this query?  Marina>>

Ammonia in anemone tank  12/16/05 Hi guys, I have 29 gallon tank that I recently added a green bubble tip anemone to. <Smaller systems are fraught with much more potential problems...> The tank has been established a little over a year now and is doing wonderfully.  Before I purchased him, my tank levels were perfect even though the tank was pretty heavily stocked.  I had a pair of true Percs, a rock blenny, a spotted mandarin, a tiger sleeper goby and a royal Gramma.   Ammonia, Nitrate and Nitrite 0 and pH around 8.2.  After having him for about 3 weeks I have no problems, but my ammonia has risen to almost 1.0 ppm <Yikes...> (I just checked it about 5 min. ago).  My anemone isn't showing any signs of problems from the ammonia, but I did decided to get rid of a few of a couple of the fish.  The Gramma and blenny were sold to the LFS the other day.  I have also been doing water changes with what seems like absolutely no results. <Good, clear descriptions>   My question is could it be possible that with all the water changes I've done recently, have my beneficial bacteria levels dropped low enough that they can't keep up with the ammonia? <Possibly... but more likely the anemone is producing more ammonia... metabolic, stress... than the present circumstances, bacteria can accommodate> And is there anything else I can do to lower the ammonia levels?  Thank you guys so much for your help, I'll keep you posted on my progress. <Please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/nh3marfaqs.htm and the other Related FAQs linked above, the sections on Anemone Systems, Biological Cycling... basically, continuing water quality monitoring, changing, scant feeding, leaving the biological filtration be... should solve this in time. Bob Fenner>  

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