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FAQs on Marine Water Quality involving Nitrates 7

Related Articles: Nitrates, NitritesAmmonia, Phosphate, SilicatesNutrient Control and ExportDeep Sand Beds

Related FAQs: Nitrates 1, Nitrates 2, Nitrates 3, Nitrates 4, Nitrates 5, Nitrates 6, Nitrates 8, Nitrates 9, Nitrates 10, Nitrates 11,  & FAQs on: The Actual Science Re: NO3 Compounds, Importance, Measuring, Sources, Means to reduce: NNR (Natural Nitrate Reduction, Anaerobic Bacteria), Algae, Other Biota, Physical Filters, Chemical Filters... NitritesAmmonia, Establishing Cycling, BiofiltrationPhosphate, Silicates, Biological Filtration, Fluidized Beds, Bio-Ball, Wet-Dry Media 1 Denitrification/Denitrifiers, Wet-Dry Filters, RO./Distilled/Treated Water Chemical Filtrants Deep Sand Beds

Advice needed :) (Small reef set-up) Dr. Mr. Fenner. Quick introduction... I've been keeping fish for several years now, and consider myself to be a contentious fish-keeper.  <Like this> After many interesting endeavors with freshwater (which I am still passionate about!) I am ready for a challenge, and I'm hoping you can help. <Oh, yes> I recently acquired a Tenecor Model 8 flat back hexagon tank, eight gallons with a wet/dry filter (you can view the tank here: http://www.tenecor.com/aquar/table2.htm ) Currently, I am researching setting it up as a mini-saltwater tank, quite the project I know! I have a bundle of questions I can't seem to find answer on, despite my fervent research. I'll list them here, and perhaps you can give me your advice? <Okay> I read on your website that wet/dry filters are nitrate factories. Am I going to run into serious environment stability problems if I run a wet/dry filter running on such a small tank? What advice can you give me for my small system with this filter? I've never used a wet/dry filter before. <Not too much of "problems" if you limit the source of the nitrates (livestock, feeding), increase the amount of "nitrate users" (photosynthetic life, including micro-, macro-algae... lighting...), and purposeful denitration (live rock, substrate...)> I plan to use live rock and live sand in this tank. How will this interact with the wet/dry filtration? How much live rock would you recommend for this tank? <Twelve pounds or so...> Do I need a protein skimmer on a small tank like this? If so, what brand and size would you recommend? <I would have a skimmer yes... a necessarily small one... hang-on... perhaps a modified Skilter (with airstone), a SeaClone, a Prizm if you can stand the noise, even a small BakPak by CPR... > Finally, any other advice you can give me before I embark on this journey. I'm absolutely willing to put a lot of time and effort into this tank, I just need to know what to do! Jill <Where to start here? You appear to have the most important requisites: an open, clear, curious/demanding mind... keep reading, chatting with others... and enjoy your new experiences... go slow here... savor each "step"... Bob Fenner>

Filtration question <First let me apologize Alejandro for the delay in getting back to you I was at MACNA.> I have a question,  I am going to buy a 155 gal all glass aquarium they are telling me in the store to use Caulerpa and miracle mud with a skimmer I want to have a mini reef with some anemones and sponges and soft corals, can I use a wet dry they are telling me no but what do you recommend. <The biomedia in wet/dry's have a bad reputation for putting nitrates in an aquarium and I'm sure this is what your store is basing their suggestion on. But Alejandro I have to be honest and tell you my reef has a wet/dry on it. I don't have problems with nitrates for two reasons, one, I have a refugium similar to what they are suggesting to combat the nitrates and I have a lot of live rock in the tank as well to combat the nitrates.> In the sump they are adding a light for the Caulerpa but I have no idea in this, I had a 75 gallon tank with live rock but it had a leakage and I lost it so now I am between a 72 or this 155 what do you recommend. <I think you will find the bigger the tank the more you will enjoy it, but that's only my opinion.> I had ordered for my previous tank a fixture 4 foot long with 2 175 MH 10 k Ushios and 2 40 watt actinics they say if I raise it could be used on top of the 155 gal I receive this lights tomorrow and don't want to lose them what can I do? <I think that lighting would work pretty well as long as you don't go into some of the stony corals.> can I use a wet dry filter with a skimmer and only that for a reef? <You can but you are going to have to really watch closely for nitrates and be prepared to do the work involved to keep what you want.  Anemones put a large amount of waste into the tank.  Good luck Alejandro, MacL> thank you very much Alejandro

- DSB and Nitrate Equilibrium - Crew! Please help me... On August 8th of this year, I "retrofitted" my 45G FOWLR aquarium with a 6" DSB composed of 1-2mm aragonite substrate, and some oolitic material as well.  Since then my nitrates have consistently remained in the 29-31ppm range (as measured with a colorimeter for accuracy.) Partial water changes do reduce the amount of nitrates present, however, after the water change, the nitrate concentration slowly rises again (about 4ppm a week) until it reaches that 29-31ppm mark.  I have heard of the concept of Nitrate equilibrium, do you think that this scenario is probable in my case? <Could be, but seems more likely to me is that your DSB just hasn't matured enough to provide any real benefit at this point. They are not plug and play, per se... they need to time develop the various levels of fauna that will at some point help consume the nitrate. Is akin to cycling your tank.> Given that the Deep Sand bed is only 4 weeks old, is it possible that it hasn't had enough time to establish enough anaerobic bacteria yet? <Exactly.> How many weeks should it take, and if this equilibrium continues, when should I look at other methods of nitrate reduction. <I'd give it a month or two.> I simply don't believe that 5 small fish (1 ocellaris clown, 1 Pseudo Fridmani, 1 Firefish goby, 1 sixline Wrasse, and 1 yellowtailed Blue damsel) could create that much nitrate. <Small amount of total water... makes sense to me.> They are fed very sparingly, I have a skimmer installed, (although not a good one, it's a Red-Sea Prizm.)  The 30 lbs of live rock are providing my biological filtration for me....  I don't understand the problem...  Is part of the problem that I'm not being patient enough? <Yes.> Richard    <Cheers, J -- >

High flow rate and bubbles 18 Aug 2004 Thanks for taking the time to read this...<Gladly Anthony, MacL here with you today.> question is in regards to the super high flow going through my sump I am running 2 BlueLine 200(iwaki70 equivalents) the only way I was able to stop the bubbles from crashing into my sump and making it through to the return pumps was to throw a couple hundred bioballs in the part of my sump where the overflow drains into...they are all submerged and only a handful hit the surface of the air...<I understand> when used in this way do the bioballs still have an effect on nitrates or will this be okay...<Nitrates generally build up on the ones that aren't submerged but you will get some effects simply because of the organics and detritus that will build up on the bioballs.>   the tank is a 120 with 65 gallon sump and is going to be set up for a SPS reef.... just working out the kinks right now... <Sounds good but you can use live rock instead of bioballs and other material as well to help with the bubbles. MacL>

Nitrate Spike in Established Marine Tank (8/22/04) Hi...long time.  Anyhow, things have been great with my 46 gallon marine tank...however, I have a Kole Tang, Yellow Sailfin tang, Yellow tail Damsel, 3 goby's (firefly, purple, and striped), a cleaner shrimp and hermits. A few weeks ago, I noticed some fin/tail rot on my sailfin (presumably stemming from harassment). <Yes, most likely, this should be resolved immediately. 46 gallons is really to small for 1 Tang and 2 is certainly trouble, as you are experiencing. It is not recommended to keep more than one Tang per system unless the aquarium is big and some species will still fight in very large systems. The minimum tank size recommended for each of those Tangs is 75 gallons. Firefish and Damsels are not recommended tankmates either. You should seriously reconsider your current stocking. Anyhow, I promptly treated with MelaFix for 10 days,  followed by a 25% water change. < Melafix  works well for promoting healing when the integrity of the  integumentary system has been compromised but once there is actual disease traditional medications are usually called for.  Water changes are an excellent way of reducing the pathogen load when ever  you are dealing with disease and essential, I believe.> Noticed all of the fish breathing rapidly.... <Utto, not surprised, adding treatments such as Melafix to the display tank can reduce the oxygen carrying capacity of the water, resulting in the increased gilling you noticed.> ...did a water test...all is checking fine (0 ammonia, nitrites, ph a little low....salt in specific gravity range) < Numeric values would be helpful here. > the nitrates are at 20, <Nitrates by themselves in a fish-only or FOWLR systems are not usually a real problem. 20 ppm are not unusual and most fish groups are remarkably tolerant of reasonable levels of  nitrates say in the 30-40 ppm range> so my marine biologist guy recommends BioZyme...went home and added it...tested  that night at 30...so I did another 25% water change...tested 2 hours later still at 30.....what do you recommend? < If the Tangs are small and you have the capability of upgrading to a larger tank in the near future, then I would recommend keeping one and returning or finding the other a new home. In the meantime I would remove the Tang with the tail infection to a hospital or Quarantine tank and treat with one of the antibiotic/antifungal combo meds.  I would add a small powerhead in such a way that the water surface is agitated this will improve the oxygenation of the water by promoting gas exchange. > I will re-test in the morning and go from there....If it is still up, do you recommend adding more BioZyme, or another 25% water change? < It appears as if the BioZyme has elevated the nitrates.  Nutrient removal products are not as cost effective or as good for your animals health overall as good protein skimming, DSB, proper feeding techniques, the use of purified water, with regular water changes and such.  I would inclined to not use anymore and if you are still concerned after reading the following article: Nitrates in Marine Aquarium Systems http://www.wetwebmedia.com/nitratesmar.htm, then by all means do another WC. IME it certainly will not hurt. You need to consider the long term effects of inappropriately stocking this tank, if not corrected you will continue to have problems. Some additional references on stocking and the particular species you have chosen can be found here. Please read them and consider making other arrangements for some of your fish.... Sailfin Tangs http://www.wetwebmedia.com/zebrasom.htm Ctenochaetus Species Tangs http://www.wetwebmedia.com/ctenocha.htm Firefish http://www.wetwebmedia.com/dartfish.htm Jumbo Damsels   http://www.wetwebmedia.com/microspathodon.htm HTH, Leslie>

Nitrates Out of Control! After an out break of ich, I have moved all of my fish to a quarantine tank. They are all doing well... except I just tested for nitrates and there through the roof! They are past 110. <That is really high! Not good for long-term exposure, of course, but something that should be corrected> The fish seem to be fine so I quickly preformed a 50% water change. After I finished I checked my water again and Same thing again past 110. I don't know what to do? Does chelated copper affect testing for nitrates? Thanks a lot. <Great question. To be honest, I am not aware of any such reaction, but it was a good theory on your part! Do consider checking the freshness of your test kit's reagents. More likely, this is a by product (no pun intended) of a filtration system that is really not set up for the long term. I suppose the best short term fix would be regular, small water changes for the duration of the quarantine period. Short of other, more aggressive (and entirely inappropriate for a QT) methods, water changes should do the trick. Get to 'em! Regards, Scott F.> Sump/Nitrates part II and breeding Clownfish 8/3/04 Hi Crew,  Thanks for the info on my Sump / Nitrate problems. I filled the first 2 compartments of my sump with Aragonite (5'), Also Added a 18 " tank with DSB and some Macro Algae. I got some of the rubble in the Live Rock Containers from our LFS to help seed my DSB. These guys seem to think a DSB will become live by itself so that's the only places where I got some critters. <The rubble should help, but exchanging some sand with fellow aquarists will help too.> I would like to setup 4 3 foot tanks as tanks for breeding pairs of clowns, I'd like to run them all off 1 sump.  This time I'd like to start of right so I'm looking for some help again.  Each 3 foot will have a DSB, some Macro Algae and will house only one pair of clowns.  Still deciding what to put in with them as a host (Anemone etc..). <Host anemones are definitely out for a breeding system.> I'm not sure which sump to use but was thinking in the line of these 2. I want as little problems as possible with Ammonia, Nitrites AND NITRATES. Option 1  Will use another 3 foot tank for this design: Light, Wool, Siporax, Space or chemical filtration (Activated Carbon), Deep sandbed.  Can plant Macro Algae, Live Rock, Power heads to Tanks Option 2  Here I will use 2 3 foot tanks to get more water volume and to have more space for live rocks. Light, Space for wool & chemical filtration (Activated Carbon), Space for heaters, Macro Algae, Live Rock, DSB Tank 1, Tank 2 - Over flow to tank 1 Tank 1 to hold power heads to main tank My Questions are :  Will any one of these sump setups work?  Can I leave out the Siporax in any one of these setups or should I leave them for a trickle?  What type of lighting should I use and must the lights stay on 24 hours a day?  <Breeding systems have some special requirements, and I would not recommend a refugium for filtration.  Both of the systems you describe (Your diagrams did not come through) would be fine for a display system, but not for breeding.> When Cycling the tanks when do I add the live rock?  Should I use a Protein Skimmer?  Can any one of these be used for my main reef tank?  Hope you can give me more info.  Regards, Gustav  <I always recommend cycling with live rock, since it is the rock itself that needs to cycle.  A skimmer can be used for breeding systems.  If you are considering breeding Clownfishes, please find a copy of "Clownfishes" by Joyce Wilkerson. It is an excellent guide.  Best Regards.  AdamC> Nitrate Issues I have an eighty gallon tank I have two dog face puffers and a grouper. <Wow, you ought to be out tank-shopping> I cant get my nitrate level down I've tried everything. <Yes, you're dangerously over the limits here with bio-load.> Frequent water changes, feeding them less. <Skimming should be increased, and the grouper should be removed.> My tank has been established for about two years and I've never had this problem with the nitrate level please help. <They grow, eat more, produce more waste.> Also my dog face scratches himself along the bottom of my tank he also looks discolored a lot. <Lots of possibilities here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/parasiti.htm> I've treated him with copper treatment and it doesn't seem to help. <Puffers, and other scale-less should be treated with a copper alternative.>  He's been less active as well.  <Yes, I'd find at least one of these fish a new home, or start exporting more nutrients from your system.> Any help or suggestions would be appreciated. <Good luck, Ryan> Nathan

Is my BioWheel creating more nitrates?     I have a 46 gallon tank that has been up about 3 months.  I have a Emperor 400 and a Bak Pak 2r.  I also have about 50 pounds of live rock and two weeks ago I increased my sand bed to 4". Last night I noticed my nitrates had gone up to 20 ppm and this is after doing a 5 gal. change the day before (and every week since the tank cycled). I don't think I am over stocked with two Percula clowns (1") and a bi-color blenny (1-2") for fish and a cleaner shrimp 6 Nassarius snails and 2 Turbo's. I also have a colt coral, green star polyps, some button polyps (5 came on live rock have since increased to 13) and a red open brain (in the substrate). do you think the bio wheels in the Emperor should be removed or should I leave them. << I would leave them.  I like BioWheels. >> could this be part of the nitrate jump or is it the sand working itself in. << I would suggest more live rock, and more sand.  Also if you do water changes, don't disturb your sand bed.  Give it time to settle and create the bacteria areas you need.  Try feeding less to your fish, like feed them once per week. >> thanks Jeremy <<  Blundell  >>

Nitrate control with wet/dry - denitrator or sand? 7/23/04 Hi Guys.  I've been reading a lot on your site and have found it all very informative.  <Very good to hear!> I live in South Africa and we have 2 good LFS.  About a year ago I started my marine setup and went to the 2 LFS for information and help in setting up. I wanted a sump and with tank overflowing into the sump.  This is what was suggested to me.  My sump is a wet / dry sump. This is a drawing of it:  <Unfortunately, I could not get your drawing to come through in the reply, but it doesn't matter much.  For other readers, Gustav's sump is a fairly standard wet/dry except with a couple of media chambers that the water passes through instead of a conventional trickle system.> My problem is Nitrates. My LFS says its overfeeding, but I really do not overfeed.<Your LFS is wrong.  Nitrate accumulation is almost unavoidable with a wet/dry system.  The bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrite and nitrite to nitrate are all aerobic, so these processes occur very efficiently in a wet/dry.  The process that converts nitrate to nitrogen gas is anaerobic, so this does not occur in a wet/dry.  In fact, if you are using live rock, a wet dry can "starve" the bacteria in the rock of nitrate by producing it so efficiently in the wet/dry and forcing it to diffuse into the live rock (very slow).> My tank doesn't have a DSB, it's not even 1". My LFS says I don't need it. However I feel I do, to help with Nitrates. <A DSB is one option and can work well, but it will require maintenance, and IMO and IME, must be kept very alive with worms, pods, etc.  Animals that will prey on these critters (some fish, sand sifting stars, etc., must be excluded.> I would like to get some sort of denitrification into my system and have a few Ideas and would like some advice. First Idea:  I was thinking of adding a DSB into my sump <Again, I could not get your diagram to appear, but for other readers, Gustav is simply indicating a 4+" deep sand bed in the first two chambers of the sump.  This is an excellent plan as long as the drains from your tank will not disrupt the bed.  You can also use an external container as a cheap "extra sump".  An empty salt bucket filled 2/3 with sand works well, and a small powerhead can be used to pump a small amount of water into the bucket and a small drain can be placed a few inches from the top to drain the water back to the main sump.> Should I put a light over my sump? <It depends on your goal.  If you simply want a DSB for nitrate reduction, then no.  If you want to grow and harvest macro algae for more complete nutrient export, then yes.> Second Idea: Taking a Bucket and making a Coil Denitrator as follow.  (I'm going into great detail of the design sins you know how it works.)  Spiral tubing from the top to the bottom.  Fill the bottom have of the bucket with Aragonite giving me a DSB within a Denitrator.  Fill the top half with Bioballs.  Provide a outlet on top.  Will this OK or should I leave the Aragonite out?  <One or the other solution will probably work just fine.  A simple DSB will probably not work quite as fast as a coil denitrator, but the denitrator will require some testing and frequent tinkering to be sure it is working properly.  If you use the coil denitrator, you must test the effluent for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate to be sure that complete conversion to nitrogen gas is taking place or else you could produce more nitrate or worse... nitrite.> I hope you can help me?  Gustav  <My suggestion is to decide the best place to place a DSB, either within your current sump or elsewhere.  Coil denitrators work very well, but require a lot of attention.  If your tank is not heavily stocked and you are using live rock, you can also simply eliminate the media from the wet/dry over a couple of weeks.  This alone may solve your problem by moving you biological filtration to the live rock.  If this doesn't work well, you can still always add a DSB somewhere in the system.  Do monitor ammonia and nitrite as you remove the bio-media.  Best Regards.  AdamC> What happens to my nitrates? Thank you so much for your timely reply! However I am a little confused. You said "stop water changes or do less." Okay what happens to the existing nitrates in my tank? Don't I need to remove them? << No, you don't need to remove them.  You can, but biological filtration like a deep sand bed allows for denitrification to take place, and for the nitrate to be converted into N2 gas.  It takes a while, but that is how it is supposed to work.  There are lots of articles on line, here, and in books that you may want to read. >> Or does not feeding my fish contribute to removing them? << Feeding the fish adds more nutrients, and adds to the problem, so I would cut back on feeding. >>Sorry for my ignorance. << Hey we're here to help, don't worry. >> Also not feed for 7 days? Will I have fish war? :) And macro algae do you have something on your site I could read more info on growing this? << Definitely, search around for Caulerpa the most common genus of macro algae in the hobby.  You can find it at almost any pet store. >> Since these are my pets I would like to do the best husbandry possible. << We all do, good luck to you. >> Thank you so much! And I really enjoy reading your site! Tann <<  Blundell  >>

How do I Lower my Nitrates? First let me say how truly wonderful your site has been. Truly an eye opening experience! (LFS really just want a buck!) << That is unfortunate, I have a few really nice LFS's where I live. >> I've never written, so patience please. Okay, let me state I live in a very secluded area. The nearest saltwater fish store is over an hour drive. However stubborn as I am I had to have a FOWLR!  Beautiful! Very new to hobby! I have had my tank approx 5+ months. A 55 gallon, with 55 lbs live rock, and 40 lbs coral substrate. I have a tiger jawfish (my fave!) 2 very small maroon clowns, 2 Banggai cardinals, 1 Gramma, 1 yellow tang (small). 2 Bumble bee snails, 5 hermits, 1 Horseshoe crab (small...wish I had read your site first on these guys!) I have a "Rubbermaid sump" with a "filter sock" (sorry this is the only term I have ever heard it called.)  Overflow box, into sump, 4500 AP pump back into tank. Simple set up. I use RO/DI water every time.   Everything ammonia, nitrates, nitrites were 0. Then someone told me to feed the tang spinach. Okay left it there for 4 days. No one told the tang he liked spinach. (Not sure if this is cause)( I did read on your site that I was feeding to much. We are down to a cube every other day.) Then I tested ammonia 0, nitrites 0, nitrates 40! Yikes! << Definite possibility, but I didn't see it coming either. >> Read on your site do water changes. Okay.. Several later (10% to 20% at a time) nitrates still 40's and sometimes rising... << stop feeding.  Don't feed your tank for 7 days. >> I don't have much algae. My coral substrate is whitish....my fish seem happy....but I read NO INVERTEBRATES. My ph is 8.1....but I have to buffer it, to get to 8.2 - 8.4 I recently got my SeaClone 150 protein skimmer to start working. (I'm getting 1/2 cup dark, greenish -brown, smelly water) << The skimmer can really help, and so could growing macro algae. >> However I must be doing something wrong.... And constant salt mixing is getting expensive! << Try more macro algae, and reducing feeding. >> I use Oceanic and recently changed to Instant Ocean. Should I just keep doing weekly water changes? Won't this stress my fish? << Yes to the stress, therefore I would stop or water changes, or at least do them much less frequently. >> How low do my nitrates have to be to get a cleaner shrimp? << Wow, I'll say 5ppm is a good goal. >> Please help. Any advise is welcomed. Thank you in advance. << Good luck. >> Tann <<  Blundell  >>

- Nitrate Reduction - Love your site !!! I have a 55g s.g fish only. with emperor 400, aquarium systems skimmer, (it does seem to work, have to tweak a little at times.) Ebo Jager heater, two inches of coral pieces and 20 pounds of live sand, for substrate. Population: one 3" powder blue tang, one 2"hawaiian yellow tang, scooter blenny, one fancy serpent tiger striped sea star, one sand sifting sea star, one sea cucumber, The tank is established, 8 months. Nitrates high @ 40, would like to get down, have been doing 20 gallon water changes, and has been helping. And tank conditions other then nitrates are good. My question is? what can I do to add on to this tank to reduce the nitrates with out disturbing the tank. i.e. plenum, DSB. <Both of these would disturb the tank.> can I set up something remotely above or under the tank? <You could, but doubtful that it would have any significant impact unless the addition was at least half the size of your current tank. Seeing as you will need a larger tank to support these fish in the long term, consider better planning before you build the next one and rely on frequent water changes in the interim.> pictures or drawings are worth a thousand words, and yes I have looked at other wet web FAQs. but are sometimes confusing as to their content. (amount of Information). please help!! any books would greatly be appreciated, I don't mind experimenting but not at the cost or lives of our wonderful fish friends!!! <Yes... start planning for that new tank.> thanks John& Terri <Cheers, J -- >

- Nitrate Reduction, Follow-up - Thanks J?? <My pleasure.> Yes better planning would have helped greatly, but being only into salt water only one year, we had to put our trust on information from LFS not so good. but have learned thru our mistakes, and have no further wish to do so again, now that I have been looking thru WetWeb site I will continue my pursuit in salt water experience, do you recommend any books? <Would consider two books from the Wet Web Media crew - Conscientious Marine Aquarist by Robert Fenner, and Reef Invertebrates by Anthony Calfo and Robert F.> thanks John   <Cheers, J -- >

- Cupramine and AZ-NO3 - Hi I've been using AZ-NO3 Nitrate & Dissolved Organics Exporter in my tank and I added Cupramine to the tank and the when I tested the copper level 24hr later it was 0mg/l. I included the description of AZ-NO3 below. AZ-NO3 is an additive not a resin material. I also use PhosGuard in my filter. Is it possible that using AZ-NO3 made it impossible to use Cupramine in my tank? <It is more likely that the copper was absorbed by your substrate and live rock. Product page is here: http://www.marine-monsters.com/front/products/add_azno3.html > Thanks, -Hans <Cheers, J -- >

- Use of Chemicals - Hi Crew, Thanks for your help in the past and now for a question regarding the use of a type of product. Dr. Foster carries it and it is called HyperSorb and the pitch is: A synthetic absorbent that removes organics, stabilizes the ionic balance, helps control ammonia, nitrite, nitrate. There are other similar products. Would a product like this cause a reduction in the bacteria population of a fully cycled system by reducing the available ammonia? <It might - would be a competitor for the resource.> I am looking for a way to reduce nitrates but I do not want to lose the natural cycle I already have which results in zero ammonia and nitrites for the load in my tank. <Best to up the amount of live rock and also step up the water changes - perhaps 5% a week. Cheers, J -- >

Nitrate Problem HI! <Hi, MacL here.> I can't express how helpful you have been in keeping me and my fish happy & healthy in the past. <Thanks> I read your site every day, and with every new find I run to your site and search away until I'm satisfied that all is well. Today I could not find an answer to a question though and am hoping you can help. <Will try> I'm having nitrate issues. I purchased a new fish, an Orangespotted Sleeper Goby, we have all been enjoying his antics!<Wonderful fish> He's doing a wonderful job of cleaning the sand, which I had been doing with the vacuum that came with my filter, but he's much more efficient and really entertaining!  However, my tank was cloudy for a few days after getting him, it's clearing up but not pristine. I digress, here is the problem. I did a 25 gallon water change this week, I do this every other week. I tested the water the next day and my nitrates were high (10), they've always been under 5, usually at zero. I just changed all the media in the canister filters (Magnum 350's) when I did the water change so it's not that. <You didn't keep any media the same in the canister at all? Canisters are notorious for being nitrate producers.> Could my new fish be stirring up my nitrates with all his sand sifting? Is that possible and if so can my tank get itself back to normal? <Do you have live rock in the tank as well? Or just a flat sand bed?> Oh, I neglected to tell you that my tank is a 120. Could this be the problem or is it that I am overfeeding them?  I feed them twice a day, greens in the morning (either flakes, spir. pellets, or seaweed selects 2x2 squares), and a variety in the evening, usually MYSIS shrimp or one of the red cubes (technical I know!). <Yes but probably a problem. You are doing wonderfully feeding such a variety but that's a LOT of food. Trust me on this I'm known for overfeeding my tank. My guess is that you are indeed overfeeding. The good thing about this is that its easy to fix. You just slow down some. Cut back the amount you are feeding each time or leaving a day where you don't feed at all. It is possible that he is stirring up some of the dead foods and possibly loosing some of the bacterial bed but the nitrate problem more thank likely is coming from the food.> Oh while I have you here I have yet another question, I have a SeaClone skimmer, which is crap!  I'm looking at getting a AquaC but I'm wondering, is the AquaC Remora Pro a hang on type? <I went to their website. www.proteinskimmer.com and yes it is a hang on. Also is the older version, the hang on AquaC Remora large enough for my 120?  Thanks so much! <Good luck, MacL.>

Nitrates follow-up Hi Mac, <Patrick> Thanks for responding, I just happen to be in my home office when your mail came thru. Sorry for being vague about the feeding. <No its okay,  I typically know the textbook answers, but I try to feed everyday 2 small feedings after I get home from work. On weekends, they may get fed more but throughout the day. I feed Spirulina flakes, small pellets (ocean nutrition), seaweed selects, and brine and Mysis shrimp (not all at once, but this is their diet). <It sounds like a good diet with multiple types of things in it. But I have to be honest and I'm speaking as a major over feeder it sounds like what I feed and that's too much food.>  My pH is at 8.2, the alkalinity is between 11-12, have not tested for magnesium, however a friend of mine recently called Marc Weiss and he stated that when using his product the magnesium should be added as well to promote coralline algae growth? <Magnesium is vital I have come to discover.> I am not sure outside of Seachem's reef complete what product to use to raise the magnesium, or what levels they should be at? <Let me borrow words from Rusty at Seachem here and give you an example. As for magnesium aiding in calcium solubility, it is true. The easiest way to explain it is to use the following example. Let's say you had a jar full of evenly mixed up marbles. The blue marbles are calcium (let's say there are 400 of these marbles representing the 400 mg/l of calcium in natural sea water), the orange marbles are magnesium (and there are 1,300 of these marbles representing the 1300 mg/l concentration of magnesium in NSW), and the yellow marbles are carbonate alkalinity (200 of these representing the 4.0 meq/l of alkalinity that most captive reefs are kept at. NSW is not this high). In this even mix of marbles, there is a greater chance that the blue calcium marbles and the yellow alkalinity marbles will never come in contact with each other because there are so many orange calcium marbles (1300 to be exact) along with other "marbles" (like sodium, chloride, sulfate, strontium, etc.) in the mix. If you lessened the amount of orange magnesium marbles (basically remove some magnesium out of the mix), then you have increased the chance of the blue calcium marbles and the yellow alkalinity marbles coming in contact with each other forming an insoluble precipitant (calcium carbonate) because there are now less marbles in the mix. The above analogy is an example of basic ionic competition and this is why ions stay in solution if there is an even mix of marbles in the jar (basically an even mix of ions in solution).> My angels don't bother the corals, I am working with a LFS owner whom I trust to get the right corals. <I'm impressed, my maculosus is in my reef, never touched anything until one day he devoured my anemone. Darn thing, four years in a reef and them bammo> Again, I am not really after a complete reef set up but enjoy both worlds. <Obviously and make it a more realistic place for your fish> I subscribe to the KISS method of doing things, so even though the tank size is up there, I have not really found a need for a lot of the accessories as found on tanks seen on the internet and so far seem to be have good success.  But, since my first email, I have added a the Coralife lunar light mentioned, and have timed morning, afternoon, mid-afternoon, dusk and finally night time lighting.  I have already noticed differences in the corals.  <I envy you, I have heard such good things about that.> More on gadgets can you suggest other means of lowering nitrates using gadgets or not given my set-up and ideas? <Not necessarily gadgets but instead some of the chemical nitrate removers. The idea is to get them all gone and then do what you do to figure out where the nitrates are coming from. Then eliminate what is causing them.> The filter ideas was to keep the LR submerged, it's a fairly large sump/filter. <That would work very well and should eliminate a lot of the nitrates for you.> I'd also like to mention that the drip pads were cleaned weekly, I don't think they were as dirty from over feeding as they were just doing their job as a micron filter. <I do understand, wasn't meant in any way as a criticism.> I watch to see if any food goes into the overflow, it usually does not happen since the food is eaten so quickly.  But when it does, the amount is very slight. But, since removing both pads, the tank is still just as clear and the skimmer seems to be picking up the slack.  I have not tested nitrates since removing the pads/bioballs, but plan on a water change today and will test. <I think you are well on the way to getting rid of your nitrates, I'm very excited for you. Good luck, MacL> Thanks for the input.. Patrick

Ich and Other Questions (6/17/04) Thank you for the response below <you are welcome> but I have a few more questions: 1. I am treating the quarantine tank with copper to cure the ich on the cowfish. He's been in there almost two weeks and the scooter dragon shows no signs of ich. I'm willing to be patient but how long do you think I should leave it before reintroducing the cowfish? <I'd keep the cowfish out for a total of eight weeks to maximize the odds that the ich will not return when he is re-introduced. I know that my fellow crewmates don't generally recommend UV sterilizers, but you might want to read what Scott Michael had to say about them in the 2004 edition of Aquarium Fish USA, which you should be able to find at Petco or PetSmart. I used one as a supplement to help rid my tank of ich, and I am convinced that it helped.> 2. On a separate issue, I've read several times on your website that filters such as BioWheels make too much nitrates and overwhelms the anaerobic bacteria, so using live rock as filtration is a better approach (I've got a BioWheel btw). I must be missing something - isn't nitrate created by bacteria from nitrites which come from ammonia, and since ammonia comes from waste in the tank isn't the amount of nitrate production only dependent on things like stocking and feeding levels? In other words, how could a BioWheel make more nitrate than live rock with the same level of nitrite and ammonia? <Good question. The problem stems from the fact that the Bio-Wheel (or Bio-Balls, etc) does not take things to the next step, which is the anaerobic conversion of nitrate to nitrogen gas that then exits the system. If you have enough deep sand and live rock, the nitrates from the Bio-Wheel should get processed there, but if you have that much LS & LR, you don't need the Bio-Wheel. I should like to point out that the whole concept of LR as a filter has been called into question. Read here: http://reefkeeping.com/issues/2004-05/rs/feature/index.htm The nitrates are really only an issue in tanks with inverts. Many still recommend Bio-Balls or Bio-Wheels in high-nutrient load FOWLR predator tanks. Of course, nitrates can reach levels harmful to fishes too, so routine water changes are essential in this scenario.> 3. If I was going to switch from the BioWheel to live rock how would I do it? Do I need to do it slowly to enable the aerobic and anaerobic bacteria to build up? Do I need to use a DSB in conjunction with live  rock? <Not necessarily, but very helpful. One would proceed to slowly add enough rock until the Bio-Wheel can be safely removed. Much info on this already posted on WWM, mostly with regards to Bio-Balls. Search the FAQs. Also, consider buying a copy of Bob & Anthony's "Reef Invertebrates" There is 100 pages on LR, DSB, refugiums, algae. An excellent resource.> 4. Finally, apart from the looks aspect, if growing macro algae is a good thing because it uses up nutrients why isn't it ok to let micro algae grow? As in, if I let my tank go fallow because of ich what is the harm in letting algae grow on the glass if I still do other maintenance? <None really. Some algae can have toxic effects (like crashing Caulerpa), but hair algae is not harmful, unless it grows to such excess that it crowds out other desirables such as coralline algae, and corals of other sessile invertebrates. The big problem is that if you let it go too long, it will be hard to get it back under control.> Thanks, Matt <Hope this helps, Steve Allen.>

Testing the Tester (5/16/04) Hello Crewperson: <Steve Allen tonight> I am curious about testing my Nitrate tester. Aside from comparing to another test kit, is there some way I can make a solution known to contain nitrates (in lieu of mixing one part Nitrogen with 3 parts Oxygen :o), to see if my test kit responds? <I am not aware of any way to do this. You could check with your local water department. I'll bet your tap water has nitrate in it. They can tell you about how much and you can test that way. Your best bet is to be sure to use a top-quality kit such as Salifert, Hatch or LaMotte.> Thanks, Rich <Hope this helps.> 

Nitrates in a large Tank Hi, I need some expert advice on nitrates, if you don't mind of course.  I am in the process of planning a filtration system for a 3200 gallon fish only system. I will be using 68 square feet of bioballs, a turnover rate between 8-10 times of total water volume, micron filters, U.V sterilizers and two large skimmers.  One aspect I not sure about is the nitrates.  This would be a community fish tank and to do water changes to keep nitrates in check might seem impractical,  I don't know not sure.  How do the fish stores do it? do they have some type of system that removes nitrates?   If you can offer some advice I'd greatly appreciate it. Thank you and have a nice day, Joseph Ditommaso <Large systems like this, particularly ones with so much nitrification (68 cubic feet's worth), can be nitrate controlled best by the use of equivalent amounts of denitrification surface area (live rock, DSBs) and/or consumptive matter (e.g. macroalgae grown in place or intensely in refugia). Bob Fenner>

Knocking Down Nitrate! Hey crew, <Scott F. your Crew member tonight> Long time no write (things have been going fairly well).  I have been doing my regular water tests and found that last week my nitrates were up to about 40 from 20 ish (colors suck).  I did a 30% water change and this didn't seem to do a thing.  I took some water into my lab and am getting ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, pH, chloride as NaCl by titration, specific gravity and electrical conductivity tested to determine if my test kits are good or not.  In the mean time I'm going to keep up with the water changes.  What else can I do?? <There are a number of things that you can do. Water changes with quality source water a great, but they will take time to reduce the nitrate level significantly. Keep up with small, frequent water changes. You can also utilize chemical filtration media, such as activated carbon or PolyFilter, clean and replace any mechanical filtration media that you have in the system, such as prefilter bags or "socks", and make sure that you are getting a couple of cups a week of darky, yucky skimmate from your protein skimmer. A properly constructed deep sand bed (DSB) is another proven technique that has shown a great capacity to reduce nitrate over time. You could also grow and harvest macroalgae, such as Chaetomorpha, in a dedicated section of your sump. And, you could even install a refugium to help process and export nutrients, including nitrate> My skimmer seems to be playing games with me, its a SeaClone 150, 4 months old.  Is there a way to clean the inside where the vortex is????   <Well, this skimmer has a reputation for being somewhat of an underperformer. Cleaning it is a good idea, but it may not be the only factor in it's problematic performance. See Steve Pro's review of skimmers in our new online magazine, "Conscientious Aquarist" for his thoughts on this skimmer.> I also only have about 63 lbs of rock in my 90 gallon, so upping this should help (I hope), my DSB is only about 2-3" should I increase the size of this?? <Yep...2"-3" is not really a "deep sand bed". Shoot for 4" plus. I've seen people increase their sandbed depth and notice a serious drop in nitrate in weeks. It really works!> I am moving in a couple of months so would it be ok to add some finely crushed aragonite to my already existing not so finely crushed aragonite when I move or will this to more harm than good? <I'd go for it> Are there any other "techniques" I could use?? <Ahh, I already touched on a few already...You could read in much greater detail about each on the WWM site> Thank you kindly, Todd Hawman <My pleasure, Todd. Hope that I gave you a few ideas to pique your interest. Good luck! Regards, Scott F> High Nitrates in a Mixed Reef Greetings, <Hello, Ryan with you>     I've been visiting your site for over a year now (since I first put water in my tank), but this is the first time I've written in as I'm really needing your advice.  My LFS are good people, but always seem too busy to really listen to my problems and help me find viable solutions. <Glad you're here>     I've got a 110-gal saltwater tank with two blue actinic, two white 48" VHO lights.  The blue's run from noon to 10, and the whites start an hour after and stop an hour before the blues (1pm - 9pm).  My neighbor gave me a bunch of his live rock and coral (star polyps, mushroom anenomes, and some others I can't name but are very soft and delicate) about 4 months ago as well as his food and advice on feeding (couple scoops of powder in a cup, dump into the sump). <Ack! I can see where this is going> For the first month or two, they did great, then my nitrates started getting higher and higher. <I can't wait for chapter 2 ;)  > I figure this is because of all the coral food being dumped into the system. <Yep> I started doing more regular water changes (25% every two weeks) and it still didn't help much.  We got a Condylactis anemone as a gift and that guy moved around for about a day, didn't eat the krill I stuck on it, and melted after three days.  I figure that my nitrates were too high for it (20-30 ppm), but I can't find hardly any documentation on this, and from what I can find, high nitrates won't kill a Condy after only a day or two.  This is probably wrong though.  My nitrites are zero and my ammonia tests at a low level, but I'm told since I use "Prime" water treatment chemicals with my water changes, my ammonia readings will stay above 0 even if there isn't any present.     Then, green algae started growing all over the place (with the little green bubbles and "hair" in some spots).  I thought this was natural until I started checking around and found out that green algae can choke off the life of your coral, which has been slowly dying off over the last two months.  I bought a Yellow Tang and about 8 turbo snails over the next two weeks, and started doing weekly water changes (25%), but my nitrates are still high and now some of my snails are not looking good, and almost all of my corals are still suffering.  The Tang is happy and grazing on the algae, and my 3 Sebaes, green Chromis, and coral-banded shrimp are all doing great, eating happily and moving normally around in the tank.     Can you please advise me on what I can do to revive my corals/lower my nitrates?  I very much appreciate whatever advice you can offer. <OK- Lots to go through.  First of all, you haven't mentioned a skimmer.  Are you using one?  This will greatly help remove dissolved organics from your system before they have the opportunity to break down, and affect water quality.  Secondly, the sump feeding isn't really helping anyone.  It's fueling the algae problem, and the corals will be fine if you limit this behavior to less than once per month.  What you really need to do is increase the light in your aquarium- 2 48" VHO bulbs are a good start, but you're not off the hook yet.  I would double this, at least.  Check out ahlights.com for an easy retrofit kit.  These animals need 3+ watts per gallon to thrive.  I'm quite sure that the change in lighting, along with the stress of transport killed your anemone- Although water with nitrates is not suitable for these animals.  Good luck! Ryan> Thanks a lot and keep up the great site. Judd Exley

Reefs tanks and trickle filters 5/2/04 I hope you folks can clear something up for me.  I often see postings to the effect that trickle filters are bad for reef tanks because they produce nitrate. <in some ways this is true> This doesn't make any sense to me.  It seems to me that the bio-filtration of a trickle filter does not create any nutrients, it only changes their form.   <correct... but unlike live rock and live sand which can complete the process with denitrification, trickle filters can only nitrify... and produce lingering nitrate> Any nitrate it produces would otherwise have been ammonia or nitrite, which I believe to be more toxic than nitrate.   <not correct my friend... some organics are used/assimilated directly by reef invertebrates and do not even enter nitrification by filters. But when such filters are employed, they are in direct competition with those inverts and filter feeders. The option here is utilization by the animals... or nitrification by the trickle filter: hence the "nitrate producing" argument> So it seems to me that while a trickle filter may not be necessary for a reef tank, one should not be concerned about it's nitrate production. Am I right? <nope... but thanks for asking :) Do read more about this popular topic in our wetwebmedia.com archives. Anthony>

Don't Want it Up, Can't get it Down!  >Hello I want to tell you that this is the BEST sit on the internet. I have a 55 gal, 5 mushrooms ,4 feather dusters, 2 small grammas, 1 Chromis. 30 pounds live rock (30 curing to add later), 15 pounds crushed coral. Emperor 400 (with about 25 Biostars), Sea Clone, 13W U.V., 301 powerhead.  >>Ok. Nice to read that you haven't grossly overstocked this tank as so many typically do.  >My problem is that my nitrate are always 40-60 ppm.  >>Sea Clone not doing its job, eh? They're actually NOTORIOUSLY bad skimmers. But, this can instead be addressed in more than one manner.  >I do 20% water changes every month and the still remain the same.  >>Pardon the expression, but that's as good as spitting in the ocean. To make a dent in nitrate levels you'd need to do at least one large (75%-100%) water change, then start changing 20% weekly to help keep the levels down.  >How can I lower the nitrate?  >>Another method to keep nitrate down is to set up a refugium. Search using our Google bar on the home page and you'll find FAR more information than you can shake a thing at. Macro algae can be one of the best methods around of exporting nutrients, provided you harvest on a regular basis.  >Would it be a good idea to remove the Chemi-stars?  >>Only IF you can replace that nitrifying portion of the biological filtration. Otherwise you're creating a real nightmare for yourself, as ammonia MUST be oxidized somehow, and you *must* have nitrifying bacteria to do that. Those bacteria are benthic, which means they *must* have a surface (and a safe one at that) to make their homes on.  >Thank you very much!!!!!!!!  >>You're welcome very much. Marina

Problem marine aquarium  hi; My name is Rob and I have a 55 gal marine aquarium. Every time I change my water I kill fish. The last time I changed my water all the fish in y tank died. (only 2). Did a water change and tested my water for PH-is 8.2, no ammonia, then I want out and bought some new fish and in 2 days the eel was breathing heavy and practically standing straight up to breathe. The Grouper was sitting on the bottom and when he started moving he was swimming practically upside down and got light in color. All the tests showed there was nothing wrong but obviously there is. Any suggestions?  <check the nitrates....how much water are you actually changing...do you quarantine these fish?? IanB>

High on Nitrates Hi Crew,  I have high Nitrates, about 160. <wow this is deadly> Work kept me away from home for about 2 months. During those two months essentially no maintenance was done on the aquarium. To further exacerbate the problem the pump on my protein skimmer went out at some point. My fish must have felt like Job! I will definitely seek professional care for my fin friends if I ever have a road trip like that again. I have been working on bringing the Nitrates down for about 6 weeks now with limited success. Here are the current stats:  Hardware:  75 gallon fish only  AquaMedic Turboflotor Protein Skimmer TFSA-1000 w/ new pump  UV Sterilizer  Tidepool II Bio-Wheel Filtration Wet/Dry Unit w/ 3-tray filtration  Mag 7 to lift from sump to Aquarium  Two power heads in aquarium for increased flow  Water:  Temperature - 75 f  SG - 1.022  PH - 8.4  Ammonia - 0  Nitrites - 0  Nitrate - ugly  Alkalinity ~ 290  Copper - 0.05  When I first saw my sick fin friends again they all looked very bad! There were 3 fish floating dorsal fin down :-(. A 30% water change was done immediately and I began treating the entire tank with copper (not such a smart move in retrospect, but every fish had ich. Good news is that all have recovered.) Copper treatment/level was stopped after 10 days. I have been doing 30% water changes every 10 days vacuuming the detritus material in the process. I have installed a 'Nitrate Sponge' from Kent Marine in one of the filtration trays on the advice of Local Fish Store. Kent instructions say the 'Nitrate Sponge' takes several weeks to begin to be affective, but I've since read on WWM, " Good company, bad product, idea all the way around."? I'm not too impressed thus far with results. I have checked the nitrate level of the 'fresh/new marine water' used in water changes and it is zero so we're not replacing nitrate with nitrate.  I'm not happy with the progress of improving my water quality so I'm looking  for alternative methods to attach the problem, but not kill the fish. I read a promising water change method for tanks with high nitrates on a web site other than WWM that involved multiple steps:  1. Drain 80% of tank water (nitrates = 160)  2. Refill tank to 40 % level (in theory nitrates in tank would now be 80)  3. Drain half of the tank water (back to 20% level)  4. Refill tank to 40% level (in theory nitrates in tank would now be 40)  5. Drain half of the tank water (back to 20% level)  6. Refill tank to 100% (in theory nitrates in tank would now be 8)  What is your opinion of this method? If there are better water change methods to reduce high nitrate levels please advise. Would more frequent and larger volume water changes be better than my current regime? Local Fish Store said I would put too much strain on the system if I attacked mores aggressively. When the water quality is restored 10% weekly changes will be the norm. <technically this should work. but I can bet the nitrates will not get down to 8 that easily>  I've read on WWM that Wet/Dry filtration systems are a virtual breeding ground for nitrates.<to some extent> I'm considering adding live rock to my sump to help offset the nitrates from the Wet/Dry. What are the light requirements for live rock, sump area to dark? Will the residual copper in my tank adversely affect the live rock?<I would setup a refugium.. do look on the WWM on how to set one up>  Local Fish Store said to remove Activated Carbon when using the 'Nitrate Sponge', but I just read where Kent recommends using Activated Carbon and frequent water changes with the 'Nitrate Sponge'. What little hair I have left is fading fast! I think I should reinstall fresh Activated Carbon? Should I ditch the 'Nitrate Sponge'?<I would>  I've read on WWM that using a 'Poly Filter' will aid in removal of copper and nitrate. I've purchased some and plan to install tomorrow after next water change. Good?<yes good>  I'm trying to fix this problem without playing with a bunch of chemicals.  Don't want any three-eyed fish. Over all I would say that my fin friends look 100 % better than they did 6 weeks ago, but I want to get the nitrates down to about 20? It's best to follow the advice of only one doctor, so whatever you suggest will be the plan. I'll just smile at the Local Fish Store folks as they offer advice! Thanks for the terrific web site with such a wealth of information.<your welcome...you have a good grasp on what to do to fix your problem. IanB>  Best Regards,  Patrick

Nitrate or Nitrate-Nitrogen?  (4/3/2004) Hi, I was wondering, what is the top line of NO3 level that is allowable in the fish only marine tank. <Not more than 20 ppm Nitrate Ion, lower if keeping sensitive species>  I have Fastest and Salifert Nitrate Test kits and the Fastest kit says that up to 20ppm NO3-N is ok for fish only tank.  <An uncommon way to test...measuring Nitrates as Nitrate-Nitrogen is usually misleading, as the vast majority of hobbyist test kits measure Nitrate Ion> So, that means about 80ppm of NO3 is ok. Am I right?  <Not at all.  As previously stated I would not allow N03 Ion to rise above 20 PPM or less if possible, depending on the species being kept>  My tanks' nitrate level is about 6ppm NO3-N (Fastest) and about 25ppm NO3 (Salifert) <closer to 27 ppm>. I see people who have NO3 level going up to 100ppm in your site.  <Definitely NOT recommend> I wanted to set a target Nitrate level and keep that going in my tank by setting water changes schedules and using chemical media like Seachem's Purigen.  <As low as possible, but realistically for a fish only tank without a DSB would be 10-20 ppm.  I just recently started using Purigen, we should share results> I have this MS Excel sheet that calculates and predict nitrate level in the future with given parameters like gallons of water changed and past nitrate levels in the tank.  <send us a copy :) > I know that 0ppm is best Nitrate level but I don't want to over do it and have the fish all stressed out.  <In a fish only tank it's best not to be obsessive over it, zero would be hard to attain with many of the messier fish and without a DSB> I learn lot of stuff about marine aquarium maintenance from your site. <As do I> Thanks, -hsk <No problems.  M. Maddox>

More nitrates and a bit of damsel (4/2/2004)  Hi,  M. Maddox, thanks for the information.  <Glad I was able to help>  I use both Nitrate and Nitrate-Nitrogen tests. I wanted to know the optimum level for Nitrate level, mostly.  <Best to measure this as Nitrate Ion>  I'm going to stop using Fas-test NO3-N Tester on my main tank.  <This is one instance where it's good to do what everyone else is doing>  I'll use whatever is left of Fas-test on my 10 Gallon hospital tank. All this time, about 6 months now, since I started my saltwater tank, I thought my nitrate level was low until I bought Salifert test kit. Now I'm on the right track on my nitrate levels.  <Great>  The nitrate level used to be within about 15ppm with Salifert test kit but lately I could not do my regular 20% water change because my two yellow tail damsels had babies.  <That's interested>  I don't know anything about taking care of baby damsels. They were getting eaten by my flame angel and my clown fish so I moved few of them to my 10 gallon tank and they died right away because I think they could not handle difference in water parameters. Problem is the damsels keep laying eggs. I don't know when they are going to stop. It has been 3 weeks and damsels laid eggs 4 to 5 times already. They laid least hundred eggs. I think tomorrow I'll have to do my water change even if the damsels try to bite my hand off. I'll try not to harm the eggs. I did not want to go into this matter but this cycle if being born and being eaten and laying more has to stop, some how? Help!  <Hmm, I don't know much about fish breeding in general. I'll pass your message on to Bob and let him take a shot at this issue. Do go ahead and do that water change though, if your nitrate ion is above 20ppm>  I used the Seachem's Purigen for about 2 weeks, now. The algae don't come back as fast as they used to after I clean the tank. My algae problem is another matter that I won't go into now. And my protein skimmer is producing less. I think the Purigen is getting to the nutrients before the skimmer.  <I have mine in my AquaC Remora, where it passes over the Purigen after being skimmed>  About my MS Excel sheet. This is my creation and it is still in testing phase. Right now it can predict nitrate level to about 5ppm. I calculate the nitrate level into the future, which is off by at least 5ppm, and when that day comes I plug in the current nitrate level and it does reverse calc to find out the actual nitrate level rise per day. Then I take that number and I can predict more accurately what the nitrate level will be in weeks in the future. And one of the parameter is water change amount in gallons and I can play around with the numbers to come up with right amount of water change to get right level of nitrate. Right now it requires lot of data. I have about 3 month worse of all the tested levels of ammonia, nitrate, alkalinity and so on in excel sheet with graph and everything. If I ever get it to be a useful and easy to use I'll send you a copy. I'm a software engineer and I used to be as Math major in graduate school so it was natural for me to start something like this.  <Interesting! Let me know how it goes>  Thanks for everything. <Anytime>  -hsk

Halide induced nitrate reduction -3/24/04 Hi, I have a 2 questions, which may be related. 1. I've read a few times on this site, and a few people have told me, that systems with DSB+LR (what I'm running) have had a dramatic nitrate reduction when switching from fluoros to halides (which I cant yet afford to do), in the vicinity of 40ppm to <5ppm. Can you tell me or point me to where I can find info about why this is the case. <I have not run across this in my readings anywhere. I seriously doubt that there is any info based on any particular research> I guess that this has something to do with bacteria growth/effectiveness <Not likely>, but my main dilemma is this: most tanks I've seen have most of the LR and sand surface covered by corals, etc., so very little direct light gets to the surfaces which contain coralline, etc., so how does the light make a huge difference to nitrate levels when what I assume is reducing the nitrate gets very little of this direct light (e.g. deep in the DSB)? <One argument for sure. I don't believe any of the bacteria rely on photosynthesis> Am I missing something? <not likely but then again, I haven't read any of the articles with relating to halide induced nitrate reduction> 2. I've read and been told from day 1 that direct sunlight on the tank is a no-no, <Not necessarily but can lead to algae issues in some cases> and the generic answer is that it promotes unwanted algae growth. <Oh, right....> Is this the only reason? <Pretty much> The places I've read it have been referring to tanks in general (i.e. freshwater), is this rule the same for reefs, where certain algal growth is encouraged? <In my experience, the same would be true in reef tanks as well> Wouldn't the benefits to livestock and beneficial algae out-weigh the extra cleaning that may be required? <Could, but don't forget your tank is far from the biological processes of a true large body of water (read Ocean). You are closed system with limited predators and lack the completion to limit nutrient factors in most cases> Also taking into account my first question, where nitrate reductions are another benefit, and if like me, budgeting is an important issue, couldn't this help many of us poorer reefers? <Possible, but there are a great many things one can do to reduce nitrates in an aquarium. Check out some of our many articles and FAQs on nitrates> Also taking into account, that if you placed your tank in front of a window, a lot of the time you would be getting 4hrs/day tops direct sunlight. Is the problem because natural light has a full spectrum? <Try it and let us know. Some aquarists have had good luck with this method. Most times though, light supplementation is necessary> Is the spectrum in halide bulbs very exact like fluoros (My lighting knowledge isn't too strong, espec halides)?  <Not sure what you are comparing to, but the intensity, PAR values, and spectrum are enough for photosynthesis to take place in flora and fauna. Is it comparable to the sun? In my opinion no, but I cannot cite one place to back that statement. Just a few discussions and debates but compared to Florescent bulbs, Yes these are comparable to if not greater in the above values.> No one has given me a decent reason to this No Direct Sunlight rule in regards to reefs. <Unfortunately, I can't give you a good argument either. In my experience, algae growth tends to be more of a nuisance, temps seem harder to control, and in the end I needed light supplementation anyway. COST vs. Effort ratio just didn't add up> Thanks in advance, hopefully I've asked some decent questions that haven't been answered before <I think you have done well. Thanks for being part of it all> (I know we all hate when ppl do that). <Can be time consuming> Ivan. <~Paul>

High Nitrate Hi crew, I know that you have answered hundreds of questions on high nitrates. I am far from any authority on control of a marine aquarium and am more of a seat of the pants participant. Looking through your site and others it gets very confusing on the proper amount of aerobic and anaerobic bacteria and how to naturally produce these processes. <Almost no limit to the amount, space dedicated to denitrifiers> I guess the first thing to do is to try to explain the system that I'm using. Everything is pretty much custom made. The aquarium is 5,500 gallons, 45 feet long and 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide. <More like 10k gallons...>  I have (4) 3 hp circulating pumps, 2 at the tank (one is pumping the top of the tank, the other the bottom) and 2 at a remote pump room (50 feet away). I have 2 five foot tall protein skimmers and 4 ammonia towers that are eight feet tall filled with bio balls. <Much of the source of your nitrates here> Two filter systems (a sock type filter we filter at 25 microns for the bottom of the tank pumps, and a hurricane canister filter for the skimmer pumps). The fish in this tank are too numerous to mention, but all are pretty compatible (no sharks). The nitrate level is at 80 ppm we are doing 2 wc a week at 500 gal. a change. Last week I purchased 20 shaving brush to assist in removing nitrates and they just turned white. By the way we have 32 20,000 k fluorescent tubes across the tank that we change out every 6 months. I am not losing a lot of fish in this environment about one a month, but I would like to bring other specimens into the tank that does not tolerate such a high level. I would like to install a refugium into the pump room but if the plants will not survive in the tank I'm concerned on investing into something that will not work. I am also having the same results in my quarantine tank that I have in my office (300 gal.). Any help would be appreciated, thanks. Dennis <Dennis, do measure your alkalinity and biomineral (particularly free calcium) levels in these systems... Though you don't list biomineralizing life (except the macroalgae) the presence of these materials will aid you greatly in your reduction of nitrate content. I do suggest you rig up as large as possible a refugium... perhaps one utilizing Caulerpa such that you can illuminate it 24/7... otherwise, there are other mechanisms for lowering NO3 concentration... just none as simple and free of having to fool with. Bob Fenner>

Nailing Down Nitrates Hi guys and gals <Hi there! Scott F with you today!> I have a 90 gal with some polyp corals and a moderate fish bioload: a small Kole Tang and a small Blue Tang, a Royal Gramma, Cinnamon Clown and a Scooter Dragonette. About 75# of live rock, 3" of substrate fine aragonite and some crushed coral. I had a wet dry that I got rid of and now have a sump/refugium with 3-4" of sand, some rock and assorted macros that I run lit alternate to the 90 gal. My nitrates always seem to run 5-10 ppm. I do 10 gal of water change every week. I have an EV120 skimmer that really removes the gunk. Fills the collector every day. Why wont my nitrates go down?? Not a deep enough sand layer in the sump?? I'm at a loss Joe    <Well, Joe, it certainly sounds like you're doing things right here. I suppose that the only thing that I'd do different would be to use a deeper sand bed (try 5 inches or so), and maybe to use a little more live rock, if you'd like. Other than that, I'd keep doing what you're doing. Good luck! Regards, Scott F>  

Nasty Nitrates, Nasty Illness (Ich Again!) Hello Everybody, I am in a situation whereby my Purple Tang, Flame Angel, Blue Lip Angel, Powder Brown Tang are all infected with ich, all started by the recently bought Powder Brown. <I have a feeling that you didn't quarantine him long enough, right? This is no fun, but you're learning a good lesson on the value of a full duration quarantine procedure! Try to embrace this practice in the future, okay? In all fairness, though, these fish can be somewhat touchy, so this kind of thing does happen...> My tank is 120gallon size and I have in addition 2 cleaner shrimp, an anemone, a Tomato Clown and 3 damsels. Presently, the Powder brown is in the Quarantine tank and is getting better, but the rest which are still in the display tank, have a few dots of white spots on their fins and tails. My house is too small to set up another tank as I read that I need to keep the display tank fallow for 6weeks to rid off this disease. <That's my preferred technique!> Can you be advise what is the next course of action. <You can obtain a large plastic container, such as the "Rubbermaid" line, which come in sizes large enough to accommodate a number of fish. They are cheap and useful alternatives to an aquarium, and they work great in pinch! Try the fallow tank technique. It's a pain in the rear to catch the fish, but the results of this technique are worth the effort, IMO. Plus, once you've done this, you'll never want to do it again, so you'll have the incentive to be absolutely rigorous in carefully selecting and quarantining all new arrivals in the future!> My nitrate level is abt 50, although I change water 10% twice a week. I have not be able to get the nitrate level down despite all these water changes, I suspect the tomato clown is the cause of it. I have seen him waging its tail on the substrates stirring up all the dirt from it, he has been doing this quite often sometimes quite violently. He will bite on the rock for support and will wagged its tail furiously causing a clouds of dirt all over. Is it the normal behaviour of such fish?  Thanking you for your reply to this matter. Regards Richard <Well, Richard, this sort of behavior is quite common with clownfish. I'd consider some light siphoning of the substrate to remove some of the detritus. Also, if you are using any mechanical filtration media, such as pads, etc- do change them or clean them very frequently, as they trap this detritus and can cause nitrate buildup if left unchecked. Not sure what kind of filter system you're running, but wet-dry systems tend to accumulate nitrate over time. Lots of ways to reduce or eliminate nitrate, all of which are covered in great detail in the articles and FAQs on this site! Do a key word search using "nitrate" with our Google search feature, and you'll find plenty of stuff to help you solve your problem! You can do it! Good luck! Regards, Scott F.>

Refugium or More Water Changes 3/8/04 Hello all: <cheers> Firstly, to Anthony, my blue hippo tang seems to have recovered from whatever was ailing him, as his "barking" has resumed. <heehee... just like me. I can empathize> Now to my question. I have read both the numerous FAQs and articles pertaining to nitrate reduction. I have a 125G FOwithoutLR with a wet/dry. The nitrates run consistently around 50 due to the wet/dry. Due to space constraints, I would be able to only add, at most, a 10G refugium, that would house a very DSB. <not bad... and it does not even have to be a proper lit refugium. A 10 gallon containers or even a five gallon bucket tapped inline and fed with a stream of prefiltered water could easily provide excellent NNR> Do you think it would be more beneficial to add the 10G refugium, or would more frequent water changes be the way to go? <both would be ideal unless you are already doing weekly (10-20% my recommendation) water changes> As always, your expertise is valued. Thanks, Mitch <kindly, Anthony>

Update on Nitrate Reduction (Success) and Artificial Anemones. 2/24/04 Hi Steven Pro & WWM Crew,  <Hi Glenn!  Adam here today.  Steven is no longer answering questions here, but I will pass along your kind words.> Hope everyone is doing well. As usual this site continues to be an excellent source of information. Appx. 2 years ago, Steven Pro offered me some advice on how to reduce the nitrates in my 75 gallon FOWLR aquarium. We exchanged several emails about how best to proceed. I added the extra rock he recommended, but was unable to locate a source of South Down sand so I continued to use the CC and UG filter. I did replace the Sea Clone piece of  junk with a Remora Pro. Nitrates continued to be high. In January, I resumed my search for Southdown sand and found some. I tore down my system, had it drilled, plumbed in a 20Gallon Sump/Refugium, added a 4" DSB the rock, fish and water back into the tank. 2 weeks after that I added Caulerpa to the refugium. 6 weeks later, having never had an Ammonia or Nitrite spike, my Nitrates have declined to .26ppm ... Thanks for the advice Steven, it worked perfectly. I've started adding a few beginner inverts, like mushrooms, yellow and brown polyps. They appear to be doing fine. <Nice upgrades!  Sounds like things are progressing well!> One more question about Nitrates. I've tried three different tests for Nitrate. Wardley's, Aquarium systems and Red Sea. I'm still getting 20ppm on the Wardley's and Aquarium systems tests. The Red Sea shows none detectable. I've read several posts from people who do not think the Red Sea kit it good. So I took it to an LFS that has a digital test kit. His came up with .26ppm. I guess the Red Sea kit was the accurate one after all.<Some test kits measure Nitrate ion and some measure nitrate nitrogen.  Make sure your kits are measuring in the same units.> I do have a question about artificial anemones. I know that anemones have a high mortality rate, so I don't think it would be wise for me to try and keep one in my 10G nano for my False Percula.<Agreed.> I've seen several references to clowns taking to artificial anemones. Unfortunately, the only ones I've seen for sale are rigid. I've seen a post where some one tried rubber bands, but that did not sound like a realistic looking anemone to me. What about using fishing lures? You know, those rubber or vinyl worms or minnow lures sold for fishing. Do you think these would be toxic? They float and sway in water like anemones do. Silicon 10 at the base. The rest of the lure would sway like the tentacles of an anemone. Not to mention, it would only cost $2.50.. <A worthy experiment.  I would want to be sure that the worms did not contain any scents, "glitter" or other potentially toxic ingredients.  I would also wash them in mild soap and hot water to remove any oils.> Thanks Again, Glenn <Always a pleasure, and please do report back with the results of your artificial anemone experiment!  Adam>

Live rock questions - 2/18/04 I'm a beginner with a 55 gallon tank, an A-Miracle trickle filter with protein skimmer, and an extra whisper power filter system, without carbon. I also have an extra power head just to help circulate the water. The tank has been cycled and has been running fairly well for about a year now, with only a few small fish and a couple of hermit crabs, and a feather duster. My question concerns nitrate levels. I never seem to be able to get it low enough. <Water maintenance is one of the most under estimated reasons for build up of excess nutrients. Be sure the top off and mixing of saltwater is done with a high quality R/O distilled water. Be sure to do frequent water changes of 10-20 percent to start. (I know nothing of your maintenance routine as you may already be doing this)> I've heard that live rock can help dramatically, <Yes indeed> but that it can also be a problem if lighting and other conditions are not just right. <Not so> What kind of lighting is necessary to keep live rock, and what kind of supplements will I need to add to the tank? <Supplements should only be added if one were to test for them but when it comes to live rock there are no supplements needed> Does the live rock have to be quarantined before adding to the main tank? How do I tell if it's been properly cured? <Ah, you are also a newbie to our site then. All of this info is yours for the taking please see here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/liverock1.htm Let your fingers do the clickin' and your eyes do the twitchin'. Follow the links to the info you need. Peace out, dude. ~Paul>  Any info you can provide would be of great help. Thanks!! Nitrate testing! Dear WWM Crew!    Thanks for all your help in the past. I was able to cure the ich, but lost fish to a fungal infection... and returned the survivors to the LFS. Anyway, getting to the point: A few weeks ago I complained that my Red Sea Nitrate test kit always read Zero PPM for nitrate -my 72G tank has a wet dry and DSB and has been running for 7 months with  plenty of crabs and shrimp -It had fish for 2 weeks only before they were moved to a QT. Based on your advice I purchased a SeaTest kit. It reads Zero too! I'd believe this number, except for one thing -I could never get the 2nd reagent to dissolve completely! Is that why I'm getting zero PPM even with the low range kit! Narayan <Yes, likely so... Sounds to me like these test kits' reagents are "old"... I would return them to your dealer for replacement. Bob Fenner>

Producing nitrates to feed macroalgae? 2/12/04 I have a question that I really need help understanding. It seems to me that having bio balls before a algae refugium would be very helpful. From what I understand plants will only absorbed nitrate when ammonia and nitrite are not present, as it prefers to absorb these first. Since there are many things in your system that can break down ammonia and nitrite wouldn't it be best to have the plants absorbing as much nitrate as possible as it is the hardest to break down? <flawed theory: the nitrate being produced is being done so by a man-made filter. Bypass the problem by aggressive skimming of organics before they turn into nitrate... and/or maintain adequate water flow so that live rock, live sand fauna and invertebrates consume the matter directly rather than letting it go through nitrification. This boils down to natural filtration versus artificial filtration methodologies> Since the bioballs have been accused of being overly efficient in breaking down ammonia and nitrite wouldn't they create a situation where the plants would have to feed on nitrate and you would get maximum absorption of that nutrient (which is the hardest to get rid of) out of your plants. <it's haphazard and unquantified. How much nitrate will be produced, how many plants are needed to temper it, what is the rate-limiting factor if not nitrate?> I thought this was why ecosystem has always kept them in there design, even though they are submerged? Thanks <Hmmm.. I cannot comment here. I do not care for or subscribe to the ecosystem methodology wholly. I appreciate some components of it, but would not employ it personally as directed (with Caulerpa, overpriced mud, etc). Anthony>

Knocking Down Nitrates! Hi Scott, <Hi there!> I have read your article about changing water twice per week and have been following your advice on such practice for the past 4weeks. In addition I not only change 5% as suggested but 20% of the water twice per week. <That's some serious water changing!> Despite of all the hard work, my nitrate level doesn't seem to decline, it remains at 50. Can you suggest any other options to keep nitrate level low. By the way my 120gallons tank is about 5months old, 4ft in length .Thank you for the time, Regards Richard. <Well, Richard, there are a number of things that you can do. As you know, it will take larger water changes initially to get the nitrate levels down noticeably. The regular small water changes that I advocate so earnestly are a great way to keep nitrates from accumulating, and a good habit to follow-but larger changes will get you started. Other steps that you can take to reduce or eliminate detectible nitrate include using a high quality (RO/DI, for example) source water (Lower quality water can be a continued source of nitrate in many systems) aggressive chemical filtration (such as activated carbon or Poly Filter), heavy duty protein skimming, and diligent feeding. I'd be remiss if I didn't push the use of a deep sand bed. DSBs (with or without a plenum) are well-known for their ability to reduce nitrate in a big way! Perhaps, one of the single best things that you can do to reduce or eliminate nitrate in a closed marine system. Another good idea would be to employ a refugium, for it's nutrient processing capabilities, and the use of a "purposeful" macroalgae, such as Chaetomorpha or Gracilaria, in a lighted section of your sump or the refugium. Other husbandry ideas: Clean or replace any prefilters or mechanical filtration media that you are using on a regular basis, which will prevent excessive nutrients from accumulating. Finally- if you are using bioballs or other plastic media, consider yanking them and using your sump as a "nexus" for water processing, with live rock, sand, and macroalgae doing most of the work! You can do it, and keep up those 5% changes! Good luck! Let me know if I may be of any further assistance! Regards, Scott F>

Nitrate in month old tank I set up a tank for a friend (saltwater- 75 gallon with 75 lbs of uncured live rock). natural seawater was used. the person left the tank off (no pumps running) for almost a month. now the nitrate is plus 80. Question how can the ammonia be processed into nitrate so quickly and then remain at such a high level.  is it because of stagnant water, not enough denitrifying bacteria can be established? Not enough oxygen? <All the above. Yes, yes, yes, and finally yes. Time to do some large, successive water changes, get the water moving, oxygenated, fire up the skimmer... Bob Fenner> What Be the Culprit in High Nitrate Battle? >Hi, I am very new to the marine aquarium.   >>Greetings. >I have spent many very enjoyable hours reading your web site.  I have also spent many hours shaking my head over the mistakes I have made, like buying an anemone from my local LFS.   >>Your neck muscles must be in great shape then, eh? >They told me they are easy.   >>Good lord.  Anything to make a buck.  What species of anemone do you have? >I've had mine a month now, and it seems to be doing ok, except it will not attach to anything.  However my clowns (I have 5) no longer have heated battles over it, and are now one happy family. >>Small favors. >In fact most of my fishes seem to hang out in the area of the anemone.   >>Interesting, I would guess that they feel there is better cover in that region. >I have purchased many of the books that I have seen recommended:  Aquarium Corals, Marine Aquarist, Marine Aquariums, The New Marine Aquarium, etc.  I am having so much fun with this tank... however I am having some problems that I just can't seem to get rid of.  I have a 70 gallon tank, with an Excalibur skimmer, Aqua Clear wet/dry filter, 3 power heads.  The tank has been set up for 5 months.  I have 5 clowns, 1 fox face tang (loves the Nori seaweed, so does my cat) >>Your.. "domestic" cat???  Seriously? >1 Flame angel, 1 coral banded shrimp, 2 peppermint shrimp, 10 turbo snails, 2 star polyps, 3 mushrooms, 2 yellow polyps.   >>DO watch that coral banded shrimp for aggression towards other shrimps! >I change 2 gallons of water daily, using RO water or DI water.   >>Not RO/DI?  It doesn't go through both systems?  Are you actually doing a water CHANGE, with mixed salt water?  Or are you actually topping off with fresh water?  If it is the latter, it is absolutely not a water change, as nothing is being removed.. although 2 gallons of top off is a LOT.   >My NH3 is 0, Nitrites 0, nitrates 20-40.  I have not been able to get my nitrates down to under 10 since I set up this tank.  I feed only once a day, and the food is eaten very quickly.  I feed the corals every other day.  I have Mysis, Cyclop-eeze, pro salt marine food, and recently purchased formula one (but have not used yet).   >>You've not mentioned live rock or any other form of denitrification. >I have read that the wet dry filters tend to have higher nitrates, yes?   >>No higher than any other (NECESSARY) form of nitrification outside of deep sand beds, refugia, or copious live rock.  It's actually a true misunderstanding of the processes that occur with nitrification (which is absolutely necessary, or everything would die of the ammonia very quickly) vs. Denitrification.  You have the first bit down pat, it's the second bit you're in need of. >Can you recommend a different filter system?   >>Rather than a different filtration system, how about starting to add the best quality live rock (post cure, of course) you can find?  Consider plumbing in a refugium with a deep sand bed, also (we have MUCH information onsite regarding this technology).  LARGE water changes (with good, clean makeup water) are in order for the short term.  I'm talking 50% or more here, to make a dent in those nitrate readings.  However, I will warn you to test your makeup water BEFORE it gets mixed, after it's mixed before it goes into the system.  Just to be sure. >Canister filter?   >>No, that wouldn't help this issue. >Oh, forgot that I have about 50 lbs of live rock.   I used to do about a 10% water change weekly but have gone to a daily 2 gallon water change.   >>Ok, so I'm understanding that you're actually changing out 2 gallons daily.  First, I would get at LEAST 20lbs. more live rock.  If you can get it to a ratio of 1-2lbs/gallon tank volume, I think you'll experience better results.  Also, check that your skimmer is producing absolutely NASTY skimmate (dark!).  I would start off with the very large water changes, do two this week and see what happens.  If it doesn't help much, do another, and so on until you hit those low readings.  In the meantime, research refugiums and the use of macroalgae.  Don't know where you are, but I had terrific luck with Caulerpa.  Special care must be given this genus, though.  There are other species of macros that will give excellent results, though (for nutrient fixing and ultimately export via harvest). >What am I doing wrong?   >>Nothing!  Just try the w/c's and follow above instructions. >I also read that tap water can be used if aged and treated (using Amquel).   >>It can IF it's generally good quality.  Be aware that nitrate as high as 40ppm is not unusual, though ammonia IS unusual, it's not unheard of.  Also, test for phosphorous so you don't add to your problems. >I am going to do a very large water change in a couple of days, needs to age...) 1/2 is RO or DI water, the other 1/2 I am going to use tap water.  On my wish list is a RO unit.  What do I do?   >>Buy sufficient RO/DI water (water that's gone through both units) if your tapwater isn't clean enough.  Mixed salt water only needs to "age" long enough to ensure the salt mix is dissolved and that it's up to temperature.  There's no other reason to let it set longer, unless you like to do what I used to do and mix up large batches so I wouldn't always be mixing (the dry salt mix is murder on my skin after all these years of exposure). >Thank you very much for any advice!  This site is fantastic! Kris >>Don't worry so much, Kris.  Do do the large water change, you can go 50%-75% easily if it's well dissolved and up to temperature (and no significant pH difference - THIS IS IMPORTANT).  Marina - High Nitrates - Good Morning; First let me thank you for making your know knowledge available to me. I do appreciate you taking the time to help.  I'd like to try and be succinct with my question but unfortunately I feel a background may be necessary for you to understand and offer suggestions.  I'll do my best not to ramble. A little over a year ago my wife decided she wanted to put a new floor down where my 90 Gallon tank had sat and done wonderfully for almost 2 years.  Of course I panicked but in the long run I knew she would win so I began planning a methodical way to take the tank down without disturbing to much of the balance that was in place.   I knew I wouldn't want to start up with all new water when I put the tank back up so I pulled 45 gallons out along with the 150 lbs of live rock and place them into a Rubbermaid drum. I kept the water aerated the for the 16 hour period that the tank was down.  I took the livestock, which was just a few fish and placed them in a 10 gallon tank.  At the same time I disposed of most of the crushed coral substrate but did keep enough of it for approximately a ?" layer on the bottom of the 90 gallon tank once it was set back up.  I used this opportunity to convince my wife that I should be using live sand as my primary substrate and purchased live sand from the LFS while the floor was being put in.  I also used the opportunity to scrub the tank down (no soap or anything / just warm water and elbow grease) Once the floor was in place, I set the tank back up and placed the ?" crushed coral back down.  At that time I also added about a 1 ?" of the new live sand I purchase.  I put the 45 gallons of water from prior to pull down back in and added a fresh 45 gallons with salinity mixed to a 1.22-1.23 range.  The tank looked great; I put the inhabitants back in along with the live rock and all seemed well.  Surely the tank wouldn't cycle... it did, ugggh. Well most critters survived the cycle and the worst appeared to be over when the diatom outbreak died back.  After about two weeks I noticed the ammonia was gone, the nitrites had dropped but my nitrates were extremely high (80-100 PPM).  No worries I said to myself as I did a 15% water change.  A few days later I measured the nitrates again and my reading was still (80-100 PPM).  I then decided that a 20-25% water change was necessary.  It has now been over a year and regardless of frequency and amount of water change the nitrates refuse to drop below  (80 PPM). I thought my test kit was bad so I took it to the LFS for them to test and sadly they confirmed the water was at 80 PPM Nitrates.  I am truly stumped. Could the Tide Pool 2 bio wheel be dumping nitrates back into the tank? <The most likely source.> Some additional information that may help you: * 90 Gallon tank * Salinity at 1.22 * PH at 8.4 * Nitrite 0 * Ammonia 0 * Lighting 4 x 110 VHO bulbs two actinic and two 50/50 bulbs from URI powered by a Icecap 660 * Skimmer - cheapie SeaClone / replacing with a Berlin Classic Turbo which I received for Christmas * Temperature at 81% * Filtration via a Tide Pool 2 * Water movement  (2 power heads one on the surface introducing oxygen into the tank one half way down used for current only) <Hmm... would add at least two more powerheads, and skip the aeration, your SeaClone and sump will take care of that.> * Tank Inhabitants (really bizarre they all seem healthy) yellow Tang, 2 tomato clowns, Sebae anemone, Condylactis anemone, daisy polyps, button polyps, giant mushroom **** size of a dinner plate, it won't stop growing**** giant clam, horseshoe crab, sand sifting star, brittle star, and a serpentine star. My next step is to hook up the New Berlin skimmer but even that has me confused as the manual says to place the skimmer in the sump after the pre filter but before the carbon (Chemipure which currently sits in trays on the Tide pool 2) and the bioload (Biowheel?). <The instructions are for optimum placement - for most practical purposes, placing the skimmer in the sump after the filtration will work just fine.> Does this mean I should take the BioWheel out altogether so that the water flow from the overflow box through the prefilter into the skimmer out of the skimmer onto the carbon and then onto some of bio filter (I'm guessing bio balls instead of the BioWheel) <Well... the BioWheel is just another form of wet/dry filter, so replacing this with bioballs would produce results identical to your current situation. For more background on nitrates and wet/dry filters, please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/nitratesmar.htm > If I do this and remove the BioWheel do I lose the "good bacteria" on the BioWheel? <Yes.> I truly appreciate your help, while the LFS guys are pretty nice and seem knowledgeable on the surface they are truly baffled by my nitrate problem; I really want to add some nice corals but am afraid to do this until I get the nitrate under control. <That is a must... consider adding more circulation in the tank along with more live rock, and perhaps a deep sand bed.> Your help is truly appreciated.   Thanks, Randy <Cheers, J -- >

- High Nitrates, More Follow-up - Hello Once Again; The knowledge you share is beneficial and addictive.  I took your advice and removed the BioWheel from the Tidepool 2 and added an additional power head for a total of 3.  My nitrates dropped from 80-100 ppm down to about 25-30 ppm almost instantaneously.  Great advice, thank you! <Glad to hear things are on the mend.> I also began reading your article on DSB and it is clear that 4-6" of a fine .02-1.0mm sand is the way to go.  I am a bit confused because on some of the FAQ's the responses state to add 1/2" at a time while others appear to state that you can bring the height up to the desired level all at once. <Adding a little at a time reduces the cloudy water effect and stress-impact on your fish... either way will work.> I also need to know whether I should remove the current substrate which is appx 1/4" crushed coral and another 1 1/2" - 2" fine sand. <I'd leave the existing substrate in.> It sounds like I have indeed created a "dead zone" and want to make sure that putting new sand on top doesn't trap the "bad stuff" (for lack of better words) that already exists in the current bed. <Wouldn't be too concerned.> I also need to know whether I need to take out the existing live rock so that the whole tank is covered with 4-6" or can I just build up the sand around the rock? <Either one.> Is there a good way to introduce the sand without causing a large amount of cloudiness? <Not really - rinse well ahead of time, but it's still going to make the water a little cloudy.> I know I'll need to take some water out to account for the displacement the sand will cause but should I take out more to minimize the cloudiness? <Nah... no need to over-plan this. Just go for it.> As for water movement, currently I'm agitating the surface using the method you describe in your last reply, do I need to point one down at the sand so that the sand is constantly moving/blowing? <Perhaps add another powerhead, have at varying depths.> Finally, one individual referred to using "Southdown sand" purchased from Home Depot for his live sand, he states the sand was like $5 for 50lbs, this just doesn't sound right, can you confirm that this type of a sand from a hardware store is viable for a substrate? <I can confirm this, I've bought it myself, but must point out that Southdown is not universally available in all Home Depots, for instance not available here in SoCal.> My main purpose for wanting to add the additional sand is for nitrate control. <Understood.> You my friend have helped me solve a problem that no one else came close to in over 1 1/2 years. I am grateful, not once did anyone ever mention the importance of water movement outside of saying to have a (singular) power head in this 90 gallon 30" deep tank. <Yeah, good for you to have three or four - fish love the increased flow, and your tank will respond well to the boost in circulation.> Thanks a bunch, your kindness is appreciated. Randy <Cheers, J -- >

- High Nitrates, Follow-up - Hello Again; Thanks for sharing your thoughts with me,  You have a ton of info on the site and I've been trying to read through the FAQ's so I don't burden you with question already asked and answered. <Much appreciated - and really, much more there than I could put down in an email...> I do have one quick follow up, you mention adding more power heads, at what level of the tank would you place them or does it matter?  <I would place them all over - trying to produce random, robust flow and avoiding laminar patterns. One good way to do this is with two powerheads facing each other.> Per your suggestion I did back off the air introduction via the power head and am now using it for water movement only.... a nice by product is less salt on the VHO bulbs. One last question, I promise.  I am seriously contemplating removal of the BioWheel, my thoughts are that the same bacteria on the BioWheel exists in the sand bed and all I am accomplishing with the BioWheel is the leeching of nitrates back into the tank.  What do you think? <Is probably your best option in the long haul.> Tragic move? <If done too suddenly, yes - you need to make certain that the live rock and sand can support the nitrogen cycle. Perhaps begin supplementing the quantity of live rock ahead of the removal of the BioWheel.> It seems as if even with significant water changes 35-40 % I bring nitrate down to 30-40 PPM but that only last for 2-3 days before I am back at 80-100PPM.  I would consider my livestock load to be very light and thus don't understand how nitrates are running this high such a short period of time after the water change.  This is the one piece that I just can't get right on the tank, it's driving me bonkers. <I think you are on the right track.> Again, your time, patience, and knowledge are all greatly appreciated. <My pleasure.> Thank You, Randy <Cheers, J -- >

- High Nitrates? Are you Sure? - 3 - 7 ppm nitrates? <Is not high - think Parts Per Million - consider three or seven red M&M's as part of a group of 1,000,000 green M&M's. But more importantly, as far as the presence of nitrates, this just isn't what most would consider a high level. Cheers, J -- >

Nitrate from filters 12/17/03 Hi Crew <howdy> Keep up the good work! A few questions!  1. I've heard time and again in the daily FAQs that the traditional / old bioball sump setup is a 'nitrate sink' whilst the live rock / refugium setup is not. <hmmm... more or less true. Although this is oversimplified> Well, assuming the nitrogen cycle is occurring in both, why is one a nitrate sink and not the other? <because bio-balls are a fully aerobic matrix and do not afford anoxic or anaerobic locales (as in the depths of live rock and especially deep fine sand) for denitrifying faculties> Where in fact do they part company? <as described above... bio-balls are nitrate producing factories> Second q-and knowing this is likely subjective-what do you think the top five inverts are, in terms of long term viability,  for a well maintained FO tank , say 75-100g? Thanks! <zoanthids, corallimorphs, Sinularia and Sarcophyton leather corals would top the list for hardiness. No LPS or SPS stony corals would dare make this list for their fragility in handling if nothing else. Stay with soft corals only. Anthony>

- Nitrates in Micro-reef - Ok, after a year and a half of slowly learning and drifting into salt water tanks (after years with freshwater tanks) I have upgraded from tinkering with a 15 gallon "nano" which I have completely taken down after a year.  I have moved everything into a 29 gallon tank since July.  Yes, I'd love a bigger tank, but for now this is what I have.  I've read so much online and in books (the new Fenner "Reef Invertebrates" book is incredible)  For the past 6 months the organisms in the tank have looked healthy. But looking at what I have set up now I'd love some second opinions on what I have done, and any advice to make the tank as stable as possible over the long haul. <Well... do keep in mind that 'stability' comes with water volume and that usually via tank size. You've chosen a size that will be inherently unstable so there may not be much else you can do except upgrade the tank at some point.> The nano had a large population of macro algae which only a small portion is left of now.  The reason I mention this is because in the nano with about a 3" sugar grain sand bed my Nitrate readings were always zero.  The macro seems to hardly grow in the new tank. The new 29 Gallon Tank: Livestock 50+ pounds of live rock 6+ inches of sugar fine aragonite sand DSB <Good grief... after the rock and the sand, is there even room for a gallon of water in this system? Ok, sorry... two gallons. Really... you'd be better off to lose some portion of either/both in favor of more water volume.> 2 Ocellaris Clownfish 5 Peppermint shrimp (Added to kill off Aiptasia, which they did very well.  Then they finished off any small fanworms they could find.) 6 hermit crabs 6 Astraea snails 3 Turbo Snails 1 Small Caulerpa plant A few very small brittle stars that came with the rock Equipment 1) 29 Gallon Tank 2) Glass top to allow maximum light through 3) 130 Watts of power compact lights 50/50 4) Bak Pak -R Skimmer 5) An Aquaclear 500 HOB filter with nothing but small pieces of live rock basically to add to the water circulation.  I keep a small PC lamp over this filter. 6) I keep the temperature right around 80F 7) Salinity near 1.024 8) I am not using any additives beyond replenishing the tank with fresh saltwater. 9) I do use dechlorinated tap water that sits for days with an airstone running in it.  Getting RO water regularly was becoming a large hassle. Lastly, the equipment I am most skeptical of: 10 gallon wet/dry filter fed from a hang on the back overflow, into a prefilter (cleaned weekly), through some polyfill that is cleaned weekly, though bioballs in the wet/dry, though a sponge which is also cleaned weekly with a Rio 600 return pump.  Occasionally I will place a bag of activated carbon in the wet/dry. Concerns: 1) With "normal" amounts of water changing my nitrates still creep up. They hover around 20ppm.  I take out a few gallons a week.  I could more aggressively change the water, but this wasn't my initial plan. <Well... the wet/dry is the most obvious source, so more frequent water changes are likely your only option if you don't ditch the wet/dry.> 2) I wish my coralline algae looked more vibrant. <This seems to be a universal wish... time, patience, and calcium additions are the key here. If you're not adding calcium, your coralline will wane.> 3) The visible air bubbles in the DSB don't seem to go below 2 inches.  Below that it looks very barren.  Does it just need more time to mature? <Yes.> Once it is more mature will it also begin to drop the nitrate level? <Probably not - it's not really large enough to counter the efficiency of the wet/dry.> 4) Should I slowly pull the bioballs and replace them with live rock rubble? <You could, but if the rock is still exposed to the air, it would have the same effect.> Would this help my drop the nitrates? <I'd scrap the wet/dry in favor of a proper sump. The design of most wet/dries is such that they don't convert well to other duties - not designed for this.> 5) Do I need to seek out more creatures to sift the sandbed? <Perhaps a Nassarius snail or two.> I personally tend not to disturb the sandbed myself more than necessary.   6) There really isn't much space for a proper refugium.  Unless I somehow convert the wet/dry into one, or if I modified or got rid of the AC 500. <I wouldn't bother with converting the sump or the hang on filter. Instead, I'd ditch both in favor of a properly designed sump/refugium. Anything else will be a compromise, and will have varied results.> Any other good suggestions? Thanks so much! Dan Ashland, MA <Cheers, J -- >

Isolation tank biological filtration 12/17/03 Hi Folks, <Hi Andrew!> My 100l isolation tank is biologically filtered by an Eheim canister containing their recommended biological media. The water quality in the tank is very good except nitrate which is often 60 to 80mg/l before the 25% weekly water change (using RO water). I am looking for a solution to reduce the nitrate down considerably. <A worthy goal!  I will discuss options below, but would suggest that an ideal isolation (quarantine) tank should not have any input to generate nitrate.> My LFS is adamant that the high nitrate levels negate the benefit of an isolation tank, he argues it would be better to introduce the fish directly into main tank to benefit immediately from the excellent water quality. While I do not agree with this view (I will always isolate before introducing new fish), I do understand where he is coming from. Therefore I would like to make the isolation tank water as good as possible. <First of all, your LFS is missing the point.  The isolation isn't just to benefit the incoming fish, but IMO, equally or more to protect those you already have.> I am considering replacing the Eheim biological media with live rock. I propose placing the live rock actually in the canister itself, so that it benefits from a good water flow. I would make the transition slowly, to give each bit of live rock time to get up to full biological capacity before removing all the Eheim media. <I would suggest against live rock in an isolation tank.  If you add medications, they may be absorbed into the rock reducing their effectiveness.  The porous nature of the rock can also harbor pests and parasites> The key to this strategy is that I am not interested in the critters that live within the live rock, I am purely interested in the rock acting as a host for bacteria (for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate removal). <I agree with your philosophy here, but not the strategy. Most folks would suggest that you accomplish the biological filtration with synthetic media.  Air driven sponge filters work marvelously for this purpose.  After use, they can be removed from the quarantine tank and washed, boiled, bleached, whatever.  Once appropriately cleaned, they can be kept in the sump of your display to re-establish the biological filtration potential.> Now the worst case scenario - I have to treat a fish in the isolation tank with copper. This would finish off any critters in the live rock and no doubt temporarily reduce the bacterial effectiveness (as it would the Eheim media). After the treatment I assume the rock would recover full biological capacity, in the same way the Eheim media would - or is this assumption flawed? Perhaps the rock would absorb the copper more than the Eheim media, slowly releasing it back into the system, therefore delaying the bacteria re-establishment? Perhaps the fact that the Eheim media is not porous is a key to its success - quick recovery after copper treatment? <I am quite sure that the Eheim media is very porous.  The large surface area created by the porosity is what makes it an effective biological media.  I don't  know if it is any more or less likely than live rock to absorb medications, but IMO the point is moot.  A basic quarantine system should not contain any porous materials at all.  A bare bottom tank with a couple of pieces of PVC pipe for hiding places and a sponge filter are all that are necessary.  This allows for the siphoning of the bottom (where parasites and wastes will settle), and no worries about reducing the effectiveness of medications.> The alternative is to place the live rock in the isolation tank itself, and remove it temporarily whenever copper is applied. But this is not really going to work. I would have to run the Eheim media constantly, even when not treating with copper, so that it can "take the load" on the occasions the live rock is removed due to treatment. Therefore the canister will be generating nitrate more quickly than a few pieces of live rock can deal with it in the isolation tank. I know this doesn't work because my main tank had this arrangement, and even a large mass of live rock could not keep up with the nitrate generated from a canister. It was only when I totally removed the canister biological media that the live rock eliminated nitrate from the main system completely. <Your observations are right on.  Nitrate will accumulate when an ultra efficient, highly aerobic nitrifying media is present (your canister or bio balls for example).  When nitrification occurs in a substrate that also supports de-nitrification (live rock), de-nitrification is much more efficient.  Again, these are moot points.  To ensure that your isolation/quarantine tank achieves it's goal of being a place to identify and treat any diseases on incoming fish and prevent their spread to your display, I would recommend draining, bleaching and drying the quarantine system after every use.  Most aquarists leave such systems dry until they are needed and only keep a sponge filter "seeded" in the sump of their display.> In short, do you think my idea of live rock in the canister is wise for my isolation tank? <In short, no.  Porous media have too many disadvantages and no real advantages for the relatively short period of time that fish should be kept in isolation/quarantine.> As always, thank you for your trusted advice. <As always it's a pleasure!  Adam> Andrew Senior 

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