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FAQs on Marine Water Quality involving Nitrate Sources

Related Articles: Nitrates in Marine Aquariums, NitritesAmmonia, Establishing Cycling, BioFiltrationPhosphate, SilicatesNutrient Control and ExportDeep Sand Beds

Related FAQs: Nitrates 1, Nitrates 2, Nitrates 3, Nitrates 4, Nitrates 5, Nitrates 6, Nitrates 7, Nitrates 8, Nitrates 9, Nitrates 10, Nitrates 11,  & FAQs on: The Actual Science Re: NO3 Compounds, Importance, Measuring, Means to reduce: NNR (Natural Nitrate Reduction, Anaerobic Bacteria), Algae, Other Biota, Physical Filters, Chemical Filters... NitritesAmmonia, Phosphate, Silicates, Biological Filtration, Fluidized Beds, Denitrification/Denitrifiers, Bio-Balls, Wet-Dry Filters, R.O./Distilled/Treated Water Chemical Filtrants Deep Sand Beds

Sources Short List: Excess foods/feeding, over-stocking, insufficient water changes/dilution, inadequate skimming, lack of useful biota, driven nitrification: Fluidized beds, UG Filters, Air-exposed "Wheels", Wet-Dry media, DLS media, sponges/filter pad media, canister filters, too large grade or not enough substrate, or LR...

Nitrate Help. They'll sock it to you baby!     1/4/19
I'm at a loss. I entered the hobby in 2001, and have had multiple trouble free tanks - albeit, in my basement aquarium room. I sold everything in 2009 for kids, a move, etc... Fast forward to Oct 2016 and I bought a Innovative Marine SR-60 (shallow reef, they have the little alley in the back that acts as a sump).
<A good desc.>
I have a Ghost skimmer, which isn't the best but it's still foaming and removing nasty materials. My tank circulation through my double filter socks is about 15X/hour, and I have an MP40 that circulates within the tank (set to random) on top of that. My substrate is a little bit of aragonite on the bottom with some sand on top... total depth about 1.5". I have 60lbs of live rock. My tank is exposed to a massive 2nd level window (open concept home) and receives some sunlight during the day, but I've adjusted my lights to a total of 9hrs accordingly - more on this in a bit. I do 6gal water changes of RODI about every 6-10 days. My critters:
watchman goby, two clowns, canary wrasse, rose BTA, cleaner shrimp, some Nassarius snails, two emerald crabs, a banded serpent star, a few assorted snails and blue legged hermits (but not many left), frog spawn coral, colt coral, Zoas, star polyps, and a toad stool. I had my tank running from Oct 2017 through June 2018 with no issues other than the regular new tank problems and balancing out my natural sunlight with my lighting.
Honestly, the only problem was a little hair algae that was managed by the introduction of some Chaeto in my refugium. Water parameters were always perfect. I did have a friend looking after my tank during summer vacation over 3 weeks. I didn't notice anything at first, other than snails were dying. Those tiny little nuisance snails that I had hordes of were disappearing. My toadstool coral was looking not great, so I was suspicious enough to do a water test, and my nitrates were off the charts!
<Of what you mention; the socks... need to be cleaned... maybe daily... good to have multiple sets; one soaking, one air drying, another in use>
I used that Red Sea denitrifier and followed the directions, did 10% water changes daily, and the Nitrates were back in line. I can't keep my Nitrates down without using the Red Sea product! So, I figure I've had about 30X 10% water changes since... I've tested my source water for phosphates and nitrates
and can't get a reading - so that's good, although it would be easier to discover that was the problem. With four fish, my feedings of frozen are half a cube every day, thawed in a small Tupperware of tank water... ensuring it's all eaten. I switch up the various frozen with pellets, but only enough pellets that the fish are eating. I figured maybe I needed more Chaeto, and mine wasn't really growing as it had in the past. I bought some off a local hobbyist, and I believe his batch introduced Bryopsis to my tank.
Wasn't hair algae, definitely Bryopsis and I've been battling that with Fluconazole for the past 5 weeks and it's almost entirely gone. Of course, this means no (or limited) water changes. Nitrate issue hasn't
gone away. On the other hand, all corals now look healthy, my critters seem to be doing well, and I haven't lost any fish or other noticeable cleanup crew.
The actual Nitrate test kit has expired, but reads differently for newly mixed water (0 nitrates), and tests high for my actual tank in the 40-80ppm range. I know I need to get this under control, but I'm at a loss.
<Yeah; just remove the sock/s for a week or so... to test their likely effect here>
The nitrates should be caused by something going into the tank. New water is good, food can't be the issue, fish waste is pretty minimal with those 4 little fish. Is there anything that comes to mind that I may not have thought of?
<The socks Dave; other nitrifying over-driving sources like plastic media...>
Ammonia and Nitrites always test as undetectable.
<And/or you can/could add more "denitrifying" matter... more/fine substrate to your present... Bob Fenner>
Re: Nitrate Help    1/4/19

Hi Bob,
Thanks for the response. I had a typo there... tank had run more or less smoothly as expected from Nov 2016 through June 2018. Either way, yes this is the first tank that I've had with filter socks!
I keep reading that they should be changed out twice a month, and I've been doing once a week. Do you think it's better to do an every two day change?
<Try it and see. More often, mo' better... even daily as I mentioned>
Or to take them out completely and see if there's a difference?
<Already stated>
My previous tanks that were trouble free emptied into a sump, splashing over 30lbs of liverock before water entering a refugium, skimmers, etc...
The socks vs. the sump is definitely the difference.
<Yes... sumps/refugiums mas mejor. BobF>
Re: Nitrate Help    1/4/19

I'll take them out tonight. I'm limited with water changes now while full dosing fluconzaole, but once my 3 weeks is up, I'll see what happens with the changes. On a side note, Chaeto doesn't fair so well while using Fluconazole.
<Okay; and correct. B>
Re: Nitrate Help      1/7/19

Sorry to be a pest... one last question. If I go sockless forever, would I be ok with the frequent water changes?
<Likely so... I would add more "less nitrification forward reaction" media... See WWM Re>
I was thinking I'd just remove the water from the tank from that back alley portion (i.e. siphoning up any
junk that gets back there).
<A good place; along with periodic substrate vacuuming. Bob Fenner>

Live Rock/Sand     11/25/14
Hey Bob, question for you... I have a 150 gallon tank with 150lbs of LR in the display and about 30lbs in the sump. Parameters are Ammonia 0, Nitra <i> tes 0, pH 8.2, and salinity 1.023 and nitrates are at about 60-70ppm.
<Mmm; too high. See WWM re how to keep this under 20 ppm>

Inhabitants consist of a Black Dogface puffer (6-7 inches), Teardrop Butterfly (3 inches), Long Nosed Hawk, Comet, and a Flagtail Blanquillo.
I can't seem to get my nitrates under control. I feed mysis once a day, and a variety of meaty fare for the puffer every other day.
I've had the same LR and live sand for 4 years.
<This is part of the issue. Some LR needs to be added, switched out every year or so... more soluble areas, biodiversity lost over time>

Once a week I change 25% of the water, and before doing that I shake out all rocks and move sand around vigorously then change the filter socks/skimmer about an hour later.
<Good... but I'd be rinsing the socks out... likely daily>

My question is do you think the Rock and sand are saturated and possibly leaching nitrates?
<More of the former>
If so, do I need to change out the rock, and sand?
<At least some; yes. Do you "do" macroalgae culture in your sump? I would... on a RDP light pattern... and have as large a fine DSB there as possible>
Thanks so much,
<Welcome! Bob Fenner>
Re: Live Rock/Sand     11/25/14

Hey Bob,
I was hoping you'd say that :) Now I have something to go on.
I have lots of "dead rock" that is fully cured that I will slowly start changing out with existing rock. How about the sand? Should I be siphoning some out now and then and replacing with new?
<Is a good way to do it>
Rinsing the socks daily is a good idea.
<Best to have two, three sets... be bleaching/rinsing, drying the others between use>

I've been changing them every other day so they don't just sit in the water. I have 10 that I use and wash once week. I do have a ball of growing Chaeto above about an inch and a half of "Miracle Mud" on a reverse light cycle. I don't know how good that mud is but my LFS told me it was great for nitrates but takes time to work. He's also had great success with it treating Lateral line disease. Go figure?
<Oh yes; am a believer...>
I'll get back to you in a few months when all rock is changed out. Thanks so much and have a great holiday!
<And you and yours. BobF>

29 Biocube... stkg., foods for "corals",     3/22/13
Hi there, First time writer.
<Ahh; you are a stranger here but once. Welcome>
I am new to the hobby and love it! I have a 29gallon biocube. I have been doing this for about three months now. The tank was set up for two years before I bought it. I have Ocellaris Clownfish, Yellow Watchman Goby, Purple Firefish,  and Kaudern's Cardinal fish. I have a few pieces of lps, sps, and one small toadstool leather.
<This last; Sarcophyton, may prove problematical in time... get very large (much bigger than this tank), and produce/release copious amounts of five carbon compounds that can be toxic to other life... esp. if "challenged">
 Everything is healthy, but has seemed stressed lately due to Nitrates.
They have been running around 20ppm. I feed new life spectrum pellets and Mysis. Pellets in the morning and Mysis at night. I feed very light small pinch of pellets which they consume in about 15seconds. The Mysis I feed maybe a quarter of a cube a day. Coral feedings. I feed a small piece of a algae sheet twice a week for my snails at night and remove what is left in the morning. Normally its all gone in the Morning. I feed my corals twice a week. Kent marine ZooPlex and marine snow.
<These foods aren't worthwhile... the one is a source of pollution, the second a placebo. I'd leave both out, count on foods fed to your fishes alone here>

 I target all my corals twice a week. I do five gallon water change the next day after second feedings of corals. Ammonia 0, Nitrite 0, Calcium 420, Carbonate hardness 10dkh, Ph 8.2, and Magnesium at 1250ppm.There are three chambers in the back of the biocube. In the first chamber I have a AquaticLife Internal Mini Skimmer. It seems to do well. Fills the collection cup with nasty brown stuff every other day. the second chamber I have rock and charcoal with filter pad over the top of the rock that comes with the system. Third is my pump, uv and heater.  So I have been reading all over the internet and saw a few post of people having the same problem.
People told them to remove the rock from the chamber that it was not needed and that was where all the Nitrates were coming from. I thought of doing that slowly and vacuuming the chamber, but isn't that where all my bacteria to keep my sweets alive is at? Hope you can help? Becky
<Leaving out the bunk "coral foods" will highly likely solve the NO3 issue.

Bob Fenner>
Re: 29 Biocube    3/22/13

Hi Bob, Thank you for such a fast response. So far the Cardinal fish seems stressed free and not bullied. I will keep a eye on him for sure especially as he gets older. So do I target feed the lps corals?
<You can offer them some "extra" Mysis a couple/three times a week if you'd like>
Do I keep feeding the same amount I have been? I have tried target feeding some of the lps I have, and the Mysis seems to blow right past them.
<Mmm, try temporarily turning off the pump/s, using a dedicated turkey baster (or eq. commercial petfish tool) to blow the meaty items onto them... after offering some, juice to the tank ahead for a few minutes>
 lol The only thing I seen take it well is my Duncan coral.  I also do feed them at night when lights or off and tentacles are out.
<All can/will be trained to accept foods with lights on in time>
 Are there any corals food that is good?
<Depends on what one calls/labels as "corals"... There are very few purposeful foods sold in the ornamental aquatics interest that are specifically of use for Cnidarians... However, "loose", and used "fish foods" are often of great use, as are in situ produced single celled algae for some species, some small animals..., bacteria and more>
 Thanks, Becky
<Ah, welcome. BobF>
Re: 29 Biocube    3/22/13

Bob, I will start trying to feed them tonight. Tomorrow is water change day so tonight will be a good training day. So should I  disregard worrying about removing my rock from the chamber? I will leave you alone now. I know your busy. Becky
<I would leave it in place. B>

Moved FOWLR Aquarium = huge Nitrate readings     10/10/12
When searching the moving section there seems to be a lot of talk about the physical transportation and not much about
things that can happen to water quality.
Now to my story/question:  I purchased a 55 gallon aquarium that has been running for 5 years.  It has live rock, 1 damsel, 1 urchin, and various snails and crabs.  I moved it maybe 40 miles.  I left the sand bed (3” deep) in the aquarium with enough water to keep it wet.  I moved the live rock in totes with the aquarium water.  When setting it up I had two issues… one was the filter/pump was leaking so I couldn’t use it overnight and I had to fix it in the morning.  I did have an air stone and pump for water movement.  The second was the heater they gave me stopped working, so everything endured temperatures in the mid 60’s for 3-5 hours.  I’ve had the aquarium for 5 days.  My nitrates are off the chart, which is above 160.  I did a water change
enough to get them down to 80, but the next day they were 160 again.  Ammonia and nitrite are at 0 ppm.  What do I need to do?
<Mmm, a few choices... vacuum the substrate mostly... other ameliorative processes. Read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/nitratesmar.htm
the linked files above>
 I assume that there is die off in the sand, on the rock, or in the filter.
<Mostly just the stirring of the mulm, muck in the sand>
 I can think of two courses of action.  One being that I just leave it alone and pull out snails and such as they die, and
hope the system stabilizes. 
<Mmm, it will, but I'd make some changes, additions....>
The other thought is to drain it into buckets, put the live rock in buckets.  Empty out all the sand to rinse and clean it thoroughly.  Clean out the aquarium and the filter.  Then start the setup as though it was brand new.  Do either of these have merit? 
<Yes they do... but I'd add a fuge, DSB, RDP macroalgal culture....>
What is your suggestion please?
<To have you read for now>
You assistance is greatly appreciated,
<Glad to assist your understanding, efforts Nick. Bob Fenner> 
Re: Moved FOWLR Aquarium = huge Nitrate readings    10/10/12

I appreciate the response.  I’ve read through that link and several of the other sections there.  It seems I still can’t find anything closely relating to my situation
<Mmm, no; not re moving and registering high NO3... have added your input to the f'>
 or the boneheaded solutions I thought up.  I’m stressed like my aquarium.  Bob, I do appreciate your response, but you are often so cryptic I could flip a coin to determine whether your response is a yes or no.
<Sorry for the lack of clarity>
 lol  I’m familiar with freshwater cycling, and I’m a research junky… so, I’ve gathered tons of information before trying this
saltwater endeavor.  Although, it appears I’ve created a terrible situation for myself and livestock.  I guess I’ll try to move as many inverts to a quarantine as possible,
<Mmm, I wouldn't do this (is this clear?). I'd leave all in the display/main tank, and work on reducing the [NO3] over time... the exposure will not be as detrimental to your livestock as sequestering in a smaller, uncycled, hard to manage volume/system>
and then figure what to do with the main tank.   To your suggestions… I thought 3” was considered a Deep Sand Bed, is it not?
<Actually, this is borderline... depending on the grade/s of substrate... better four inches/10 cm. plus>
In freshwater I vacuum gravel but try not to disturb too much.  Should I deeply vacuum and disturb/sift through the sand bed?
<Yes; I would, do>
 Assuming I am not able to buy another piece of equipment like a fuge, what is another way to reduce nitrates quickly other than macroalgal culture in a fuge or 100% water changes?
<The former means are vastly better... akin to turning/steering a large ship w/ a small rudder...>
  Is waiting and watching things die my only other option?
<Of course not>
  I am a patient person and I understand there is a need for that in aquaria, however, I use patience only after I know there are no immediate solutions.  Are there no immediate solutions?
<Yes; vacuuming, and/or removal of hard substrates and washing, even replacing...>
 Thank you so very much for your response!
<Welcome. BobF>
Re: Moved FOWLR Aquarium = huge Nitrate readings    10/11/12

Bob, thank you for your help.  When I got home yesterday to test my water, the Nitrate level is now around 50 ppm.  I guess the live rock and sandbed must be working. 
<Ah, yes>
I was very surprised to see a drop from 160 ppm down to 50 ppm.  Lower stress on the tank, and lower stress on me.  Now we're heading in the right direction.
<Welcome. BobF>

dosing to maintain some nitrates using Knopf's recipe    6/2/12
Hello lively crew,
I'm in the situation of having zero nitrates and have purchased some food grade sodium nitrate to begin dosing. I am going to use Knopf's recipe,
<For meat prep.?>
but I don't know how much of the pre-made solution to dose my tank with to try to maintain 10 ppm.
  I have a 4' long 70 gallon mixed reef(several SPS at the top,  a few LPS in the middle to lower areas, three different types of Zoos in middle area, yellow and orange sun corals on bottom, Dendrophyllia on lower half, Purple Blastomussa, Maxima Clam and a Derasa Clam, one Bleeding Apple Scolymia and a few Chalice corals on the bottom) with a lot of live rock, Cerith snails, fancy Nassarius snails, Bumble Bee snails, Red Linckia Starfish, Yellow Sea Cucumber and an Abalone.  I have two Orphek PR-156W LED light fixtures on my display and T5's over my refugium on an alternate light cycle with 4 hours total darkness. In my 40 gallon refugium, I have a DSB, live rock rubble, a Harlequin Shrimp, large mass of Chaetomorpha Macro Algae housing many copepods, mostly Tisbe for my Mandarin, although he loves frozen blood worms too!  All of my corals are smaller frags and are out of stinging distance of each other. The SPS have room to grow.  When they grow large enough to be cramped, we are upgrading to one 1000 gallon which will combine the inhabitants of my husband's tank and mine and then some. I have a Yellow Tang, Flame Angel, Blue Mandarin Dragonet, and an Ocellaris hosting RBTA. I feed my Sun Corals 3-4 times per week, my Anemone and SPS corals 2 times per week and my lps once per week. I spot feed oyster feast or Cyclop-Eeze to everyone, then I also feed small pieces of shrimp, silver sides, or krill to my LPS, Sun Corals, Nassarius snails and Dendrophyllia.
I put some Phytoplankton drops in the display and refugium about once a week. I have Cyano under control, but have come up with this nuisance blue leafy algae I can't get rid of.
<Likely the brown/Phaeophyte Lobophora... see WWM re... the search tool>
 I manually pluck it out with forceps,  flake pulls off separately. I will spend hours manually plucking it off my corals and rock, only to have it return a week later. I need to get rid of this stuff. It was growing around my blue Acropora and the area it was growing on looked like it was paling up, so I pulled it off, and the color returned, but I am struggling to keep it off my healthy corals. It seems to grow on my Acropora mostly, although it is growing on most of them, just not as fast. My Tang doesn't eat it, and it doesn't seem my Abalone does either. He prefers to devour the Macro-feast I clip on for my tang. Anyway, any suggestions? Lightening up the feeding schedule is not really an option for me with my livestock. For my parameters:
Calcium         460
Alkalinity          11
SPG              1.025
temp            79-80
Nitrates         -0-
Phosphates   -0-
PH                  8.2
Water is crystal clear.
I use Kent Marine reef salt, which gives me a high calcium reading at first when SPG is at 1.025 usually about 480-500 with an alkalinity of about 11.
I have to dose for alkalinity the first couple days as it drops after the first day of the water change, then my calcium comes down to normal (I strive to maintain in the 450 area), and I am able to maintain for a day or two with B-Ionic two part until I do another water change which I normally do 20% water changes weekly, change carbon, etc. then it starts all over again. I have sponge filters on my intakes in both my refugium and display.
 They get cleaned 1-2 times per week with my protein skimmer. I thought about changing salts, but my corals and livestock are all healthy, growing and eating so don't want to mess up a good thing. I don't mind the meticulous maintenance schedule.
I have read that zero nitrates are not good, and even though my corals look really good and are eating, I've read that they need some nitrates.
<They are getting them...>
Is it possible they are getting enough nitrates with all the nitrate eating livestock/conditions I have?
 My tests are always zero using different test kits so I am thinking I should be dosing. Thanks again for all your wise advise.
<... I wouldn't "fool" w/ direct chemical addition for raising NO3... best to add indirectly as foods for your purposeful livestock and leave it at that. You can/could use expanded notation, molecular weight... to figure (with an accurate gram scale) about how much of nitrate-containing compound to add. Again, I wouldn't. Not of practical use and too dangerous in terms of overdosing. Bob Fenner>

Nitrate Problem! Help!   3/28/12
Dear Wet Web Media,
Hopefully this is not the last email I send before any critters die.  I am having a massive nitrate spike and I am clueless as to why.  Before I explain this is my setup:
40 gallon main,
1 Naso Tang,
<A Naso sp. has no business being in this small of a tank
. Needs to be removed asap. Read more here- http://www.wetwebmedia.com/naso.htm >
5 Chromis,
1 Maroon clown,
<Going to be an aggression issue at some point.>
1 Red Bubble Tip Anemone,
<Do you have appropriate lighting?>
1 snail,
1 Bicolor Blenny,
1 Lawnmower Blenny,
1 Condylactis Anemone (very small, 1 inch tall max)
<You are going to have some chemical warfare taking place between the anemones. One needs to be removed. Read more here- http://www.wetwebmedia.com/anemcompfaqs.htm >
20 gallon sump with a Eshopps skimmer rated for 80 gallons.
So two weeks ago I noticed I could not find the Condylactis Anemone at all.
 He has been in the tank for about 3 months and moved around all the time but looked okay.
<Something is amiss if an anemone is constantly on the move, most likely allelopathy.>
 Last week before the weekend I noticed my nitrates were high (30 ppm) so I did a quick water change before I left my home and didn't think much of it.  I was planning on coming back on Monday to do another water change in hopes the problem was solved.  I was wrong.  When I got home my tank tested off the scale (above 160 ppm).  I immediately did a
water change and it sill tested off the scale.  In a last ditch effort I used Seachem's Prime.  I used 5x the dosage to reduce the nitrates (I understand that this is very temporary but I needed to do something).
<This is only masking the problem.>
 The nitrates then tested around 40 ppm.  Tonight I changed roughly 30% of the water, before the water was testing 40 ppm and after the water change it is testing 80 ppm.  My only theory is that the Condylactis Anemone is somewhere in the
tank spewing toxins about my tank and that I disturbed his corpse in the water change.
<I suspect the E. quadricolor killed the Condylactis and it is decomposing.
Try to find the remains and siphon them out.>
Also on each water change I tested the new water for nitrates and all the new water going in tested 0ppm.  Please give me your insight!
<See previous response.>
Also, say hypothetically the Condylactis never existed.  What could the possibility be?
<A Naso sp. in a 40 gallon.>
 Or is there no other possibility?
<Multiple anemones and a Naso sp. in a 40 gallon was a powder keg waiting to explode.>

Thank you,
<You're welcome>
Re: Nitrate Problem! Help! 3/28/12    4/2/12

Dear Wet Web Media,
It has been about a week since I last talked to you about my nitrate problem.  Since then I did a 15 gallon water change on Tuesday and a 8 gallon water change on Thursday (I ran short on water).  After that my nitrates were somewhat acceptable (20 ppm) or at least acceptable enough to try to let things settle and balance out in my tank.
<Rather quick drop in nitrates.>
I did some reading about Chaetomorpha Macro-algae since I have some in my sump and I found out I had the wrong type of light on it (it never grew much in the past).  I was using a 50/50 fluorescent bulb which was probably 20 watts.  I switched over to a 100 watt equivalent 5100K compact fluorescent bulb from Home Depot . 
I also started dosing iron and manganese to try to encourage the Chaetomorpha growth.
<You want your macro growth to be a result of nutrient export, not dosing.
Concerning element dosing, don't add it if you are not testing for it.>
Since I changed the light and starting dosing the chemistry of my tank has been very good (close to 0 ppm most of the time) but every so often my nitrates have little spikes of about 15 ppm.
<Which levels are close to zero?>
The strangest part about it is that I usually get a small spike while the light to the main tank is off or while the Chaetomorpha light is off.
<Coincidence; light schedule has not affect on nitrates.>
 I run my Chaetomorpha light from 3pm to 9 am and my main is on from 10 am to 10pm.
<I would run the refugium light 24/7.>
  Any possibilities for why my nitrates have little pulses?
<Unstable system, misreading test results.>
 P.S. - I am working on finding a suitable home for the Naso sp.
<This needs to be a priority.>


Re Butterfly Fish/Compatibility/Systems/Now Filter Media/Nitrate Control 2/16/12
Thank you for your quick response.
<You're welcome Justin>
I have another question that is off topic from my last one. I have a Penguin 350 Bio wheel running and an Aqua Clear Aquatics Pro 150 wet/dry with a protein skimmer that I am in the middle of setting up. The wet/dry has been running for a week now with the Penguin 350 running as well to get all the organisms onto the bio balls.
After reading into your forums about bio balls it seems like I am making a bad choice.
<Not really.>
I bought the wet/dry because everybody I know has the bio balls and love them. Should I take the bio balls out and make it a sump? What would you do in my situation? I have a 55 gallon FOWLR saltwater tank just to remind you with 80lbs of live rock and 60 lbs of live sand. I plan on upgrading to a 75 gallon within the next few months.
<With live rock, the bio balls aren't necessary.  Bio balls are very efficient at denitrification and the bad rap they get in using them is that nitrate levels tend to climb.  This only holds true if poor husbandry exists.  Filter pads/cartridges must be cleaned or changed weekly as well as vacuuming the substrate during a water change.  This is not meant to say that if not using bio balls, you can get away without proper maintenance.  Nitrate levels will rise in tanks without bio balls but it generally takes a little longer if poor or little maintenance is performed on a weekly basis.>
With the skimmer that came with the wet/dry system I am running it with a Maxi-Jet Pro 1200. The
skimmer is working well but will it be enough for a 75 gallon?
<That will all depend on the biological load of the system and only time will tell.  If it were mine, I would be looking for a skimmer upgrade.>
Like I said the wet/dry has been running for a week and it just may be a coincidence but when I put it in my nitrates were at 20 and after testing today they are at 40. I thought with the installation of the wet/dry and protein skimmer the nitrates were supposed to go down not up.
<Depends on how cured the live rock is along with existing nutrients in the sand bed.>
Thank you for all of your help in advance.( I was not very good at English in High School so sorry about my last email and any grammar problems with this one.)
<Just capping the "i's" and all proper nouns saves us time as we have to do this before placing in the dailies.  James (Salty Dog)>

Sump/Refugium + Fluval 205 question 1/11/12
<Hello Earl>
I value your opinion, gentleman, so here is my question. I have a 36 gallon corner tank, 35 pounds of live rock, 4 small fish, about 12 coral frags, and I am putting in a DYI 10 gallon sump with a small refugium, because that's all I have room for. My son used his computer/laser to cut out the panels for the baffles, it looks professional. I am putting this in because I was told that a canister filter would turn into a nitrate factory and I should take it out.
<Only if the floss/pads aren't cleaned/replaced weekly.>
My nitrates did go up so I removed the filter.
<Nitrates will go up in any system if dissolved nutrients aren't exported out of the system.>
I have an AquaMaxx HOB1 protein skimmer that I am using on the tank right now, but plan to hang it on the intake compartment of the sump. In talking with another reefer, they told me that I can run the canister (Fluval 205) if I use it for carbon only and leave the pads out, in addition to the sump for added filtration.
<Without pads the carbon will plug quickly.  Best to use a pad and change/clean weekly.>
I thought this sounded good but I thought I would ask you since you are much more educated in the hobby than myself. Does this sound reasonable?
<The refugium is a good idea.  As to the other issues, re above.>
I was also wondering at what level nitrate can get to start becoming dangerous to my tank.
<For a fish only system I'd keep below 30 but that depends on the fish you are keeping.  Some fish do not appreciated nitrate levels much above 10ppm.>
I know a 0 level is ideal but according to my chart the most it has gotten to is 20, API test kit.
<Actually, zero nitrates is not ideal.  Best to have a low level (10ppm) of nitrates in the system if keeping corals/clams, etc.  James (Salty Dog)>

Source of nitrates   11/18/11
Dear Crew,
After Eric's help I decided to give my sump a once over and discovered I had a dead spot in my refugium area where I used De-nitrate as a substrate (I know now that was not the best idea). Much to my dismay, I found the back areas covered in detritus and mulm due to my large ball of Chaeto blocking much of the view. Obviously this is unacceptable and somewhat dangerous, and I wish to covert this area to a deep sand bed and continue to use my current ball of Chaeto for pod growth/nutrient control. My question is: how am I to go about removing the De-nitrate without disturbing the balance of my tank?
<Just siphon it out and toss>
At this point I believe it is doing more harm than good as my nitrates have increased 5ppm in 3 days. I am wondering if I can remove all the De-nitrate (as I would really like to do a full tear down/clean of the sump) and replace it with 20-40lbs live sand instead.
<Sure... Read here re: http://wetwebmedia.com/substrepl.htm
Will this upset the system too much, or will the sand be enough to biologically buffer the system to where only smaller water changes may be necessary to keep parameters in check?
<Highly likely there will no negative issues>
I have roughly 175lbs of LR in the tank, with a 3-5" sand bed (due to current, sand sifting critters...and gobies....lol). I am really trying to weigh out my options without upsetting the tank more than it already is.
Thanks Crew!
<Welcome! Bob Fenner>
Re: Source of nitrates  11/19/11

Dear Crew,
Once again I cannot tell you how much I appreciate your input and help. My sump has been completely cleaned and Ll organic material removed. Now I am contemplating how best to set it up. I am thinking that where I originally had the De-nitrate I should put a deep sand bed.
<A good choice>
The chamber is 9" high, so I am thinking a 7" depth to maximize water flowing over it and reduce any waste from accumulating on the sand surface without creating a storm. With that I will move my Chaeto to the return chamber for additional nutrient export. I have re-plumbed the skimmer chamber so that absolutely no water passes without being skimmed ( the dsb water is fed directly from the skimmer output), which I should think will work much better to reduce any waste that could potentially settle on the sands surface as well. Does this sound like a solid plan?
<Does sound fine>
Or should I still look at doing the sand bed remotely. Thanks again Crew!
<Welcome. BobF>

Saltwater Tank/Ridiculous Stocking Levels 12/4/10
<Hello Amber>
We had a 5 yr old 55 gallon established saltwater tank in good shape with a small grouper and 2 larger(@ 8inches) and a larger Volitans Lion fish. We needed to go bigger because our fish had grown. We bought a used 90 gallon tank which had been used to raise plants for a company who sets up and maintain tanks for
offices, hospitals etc.
<Increasing the length and width of a tank when upgrading are much more important than just increasing the depth. You have provided very little improvement for these fish.>
We switched everything over (original water, live rock, gravel and fish). Then added enough saltwater to fill up the tank. That was about 2 months ago. We have tried about everything and cannot get it to
straightened out. The pH, nitrates, nitrites and ammonia went through the roof.
<The fish load in this tank is ridiculous and am not surprised that readings have gone "through the roof".>
We were told replace your bulbs because the spectrum has gone bad (done that).
You need a protein skimmer (done that). You have an old out dated filtration system (got a new canister filtration system for up to 110 gallons plus was using the 2 out dated filters (for up to 130 gallons).We are using reverse osmosis water now (was told it would straighten out our problem) instead of well water which always worked in the 55 gal tank. It will be clear as day at night time and early morning but after the lights come on (about 3,4 or 5 hours later) it looks very brown and cloudy. We were told water changes and a lot of them.
Done that lots and lots. We were told it keeps cycling since after we do a water change it is clear for a day or so then it goes right back to the same brownish cloudy state after the lights have been on for a few hours. The fish quit eating for awhile but now are back to having a large appetite. Haven't lost any fish but it looks terrible. We have Googled this and looked at everything and talked to people who do this for a living and tried everything. We have gotten the water tested professionally. The last time they said we have no nitrites but the nitrates are back through the roof. Can you offer any advice?
<I am surprised that no one ever told you your tank is overstocked and is the major cause of your problem. Three groupers and a Lionfish produce a huge amount of waste that your system cannot deal with, it's crashing, big time.
The Lionfish alone is a bit too large for your system. Sounds to me like these "experts" were more concerned with selling you equipment rather than seriously addressing the real problem. My advice is
to find homes for these fish and fast. Secondly, I would tear this tank down and wash the substrate thoroughly and start anew with fish that are suitable for your tank size. Research fish before you buy, ensure you can provide the requirements needed for keeping a particular species. James (Salty Dog)>


Filter Question... Tidepool/Marineland Wet-Dry wheels, skimmer sel., CF lamp sel.  3/13/10
I have a 150 gallon aquarium with two corner overflows. I have 2- Tidepool 2 filter systems. Can you give my some advice on media to put in these?
Should I be using the bio-wheels?
<If you have live rock in your system, I would not use the bio-wheels.
Because of their high efficiency at denitrification, it is likely that the nitrate levels will increase in your system.><<RMF doubts this... I'd leave these wheels on/working... can be removed for experiment...>>
Can the heaters be housed in here or better in the main tank?
<Much better to place them in this filter/sump.>
Could you recommend a good skimmer?
<I like the Vertex and AquaC line up, a lot of bang for the buck.>
Lastly, would 4, 50/50 compact bulbs be as good as 2 daylight, 2 actinic?
<Should be, 50/50 is generally referred to as 10K daylight, 460nm actinic.>
<You're welcome. James (Salty Dog)>

Re BioWheels, NO3 non-concern in systems with sufficient LR    3/14/10
Hi Bob,
Regarding your input "<<RMF doubts this... I'd leave these wheels on/working... can be removed for experiment...>. I've read a few articles which mention that media in wet/dry filters including bio-wheels can cause an increase in nitrates because of their large surface area. You also mention this in your nitrate article that I clipped and pasted below.
"Wet-dry media in same-named filters are a huge source of nitrates. The aerobic bacteria cultured on their vast surface area readily produce nitrates. By and large, aquarists and their aquatic charges are best served by removing such media, converting the same space to live rock, macro-algae culture, either on an alternating light cycle with their main system, or leaving the lights on continuously."
<Yes... but the difference in having these wheels in a system with "enough" live rock... is miniscule/negligible. BobF>

Nitrate Frustrations/Nitrate Control/Marine Set-Up 3/10/10
Hi guy, gals
<Hello Chris>
I have a nitrate problem that will just not go away.
<It won't go away without attacking the source.>
Unfortunately I am thinking that it is stemming from a bunch of incorrect information passed down to me during start up
About 6 weeks ago I did the switch from Africans to building a reef.
Talking to a fellow hobbyist, it was suggested that I do not discard my water as it would speed up the "aging" time before more delicate corals could be kept.
<Mmm, are you saying you added the sea salt directly to the African system?
Not good. The tank should have been torn down, cleaned, and set back up for a marine system.>
Bottom line is that I listed <listened> to that advice and am currently second guessing it.
The 2nd thing that I did was put a bunch of live rock rubble in my 5 gallon refugium and then put some Chaeto inside it. Unknowing to me, there was some Caulerpa mixed along with it and am thinking that this may also be a cause to my problems as I was working to have my lights (20 w aquarium bulb) work opposite to my display.
<Should have helped lower nitrates.>
Anyway, I've been monitoring the water for the past 3 weeks and have noticed extremely high nitrates. I actually took some water into the local fish store and they confirmed these findings as well, as well advised that my pH,
ammonia and nitrate were fine.
<??? You stated you have extremely high nitrates and your local fish store confirmed this and then said the nitrate level was fine. I'm not getting this.>
I have now done a 10% water change 3 days in a row and it appears that I am not making any headway in getting these down. From my test today it looks like they are sitting at around 100 ppm
What should I do?
Because of the other levels, should I assume that the tank is indeed cycled?
Should I be looking to get a new batch of Chaeto into my fuge?
Should I do a larger water change?
Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated as I have now gone through an entire bucket of salt trying to get this set up with no avail.
<You must control/eliminate the source of the nitrates and is likely in the substrate that you used for the cichlids. To avoid further problems, this tank should be completely torn down, cleaned, then properly set-up for a marine system. May want to read here.
Thanks in advance
<You're welcome. James (Salty Dog)>

Re Nitrate Frustrations/Nitrate Control/Marine Set-Up 3/10/10
Thanks James
<You're welcome, Chris.>
When I said Nitrate, I meant Nitrite (I was working on this till midnight last night).
<Makes sense now, but are you saying your nitrite level is at 100ppm or nitrate.
Just want to be sure where your errors were.>
When I transferred the tank from fresh to salt I did a 25% water change cleaning the gravel with a siphon The 3 water changes that I have done thus far petty well cleaned the gravel again (at least 80% of it), with little to no debris coming out of it.
<That's good.>
I was hoping that you were going to suggest that the Chaeto would fix my problem fearing the amount of rework to remove the rock and drain all the water.
<If it is nitrates you want to lower, then reading the links I provided you with will aid you in this. You need to look at getting a good efficient protein skimmer for starters.
Filtering the water through a good chemical media such as Chemipure will enhance water quality by lowering dissolved nutrients which will aid, along with the skimmer, in lowering nitrate levels.
If it is the nitrite at 100ppm, you have a serious problem with ammonia getting into the system somehow and
it is quickly being processed into nitrite, the second stage of the denitrification process. I'm thinking a household ammonia based cleaner may have been or is being used in the area of the tank.>
Thanks for your time.
<You're welcome. James (Salty Dog)>

Source of High Nitrates? -- 02/11/10
First of all, thank you for your help in the past and all the assistance you provide to fish people.
<<It is our pleasure to assist>>
We are having a nitrate problem in our tank. The nitrates are at 50. This is after changing the water daily over the past week. At one point the nitrates did reduce to less than 20. So no water change again for a couple days, checked nitrates and they were back up to 50.
Skimmer is cleaned every couple days. We have a large refugium with Caulerpa and Chaetomorpha. 250lb of live rock and plenty of circulation. Only thing that has recently changed is we removed the one inch sand bed because we have 2 puffers along with other fish that make a lot of waste. LFS suggested we do that.
<<Okay 'but a ' very fine' substrate of 1' or less should be okay 'and looks better/more natural than a bare bottom, in my opinion>>
Is there anything we are missing here?
<<Probably 'but what? Do you have any un-cured rock in the tank? You don't mention the size of the tank'¦ Is it overstocked? '¦overfed?>>
Any suggestions you can provide are appreciated.
<<Look for a source of the Nitrates that already preexists in the tank (e.g. -- rock, detritus buildup 'too many (large?) fishes). I would also very much recommend a deep sand bed (6'+) of 'sugar-fine' Aragonite in that 'large refugium' you mention>>
Thanks again.
<<Happy to share'¦ Eric Russell>> 

Re: Source of High Nitrates? -- 02/12/10
Thanks for getting back to us.
<<And thank you for this additional information>>
It's more of a complicated set up.
We have 2, 125 gallon tanks that share a 90 gallon sump and a 55 gallon refugium.
<<Ah, I see 'I hope such 'shared' tanks also share the same theme (e.g. -- FOWLR/FOWLR vs. FOWLR/REEF) as mixing these, and then trying to balance water quality rarely if ever works out>>
The refugium has a 6 inch sand bed.
<<Excellent (and hopefully of a very fine grain size)>>
The fish we have are: a porcupine puffer about 7 inches, a stars and stripes puffer, same size, a unicorn tang about 6 inches and a fox face about 5 inches. In the other tank we have a magnificent about 4 inches, a blonde Naso about 3 inches and a couple clown fish and 4 small pajama cardinals.
<<Is a lot of fish flesh 'though not overly so I don't think, considering the dimensions/volume here>>
We have about 250 lb of live rock none that is uncured; tank has been established for about a year also have a variety of LPS.
We disagree about the tank being overfed.
I believe that it isn't...husband believes it is.
When he feeds, the fish get ich and we have lost some in the past.
When I feed, the puffers get fed twice a week with one baby octopus and two medium shrimp or something similar.
<<Do consider some 'greens' and more 'hard' foods to help grind down their teeth. Have a peruse here and among the associated links: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/puffers.htm >>
Every day I feed all other fish with either two cubes per tank of Mysis or pellets totaling for both tanks 2 tablespoons.
<<Actually this is rather 'light' here, in my opinion>>
Am I over feeding and causing the nitrate problem?
<<Not in my opinion/estimation 'but then I do also believe in feeding my fishes very well>>
I'm afraid to under feed because I don't want them to get sick.
<<Agreed 'starving your fishes is not the answer. I does seem your system should be 'adequate' for what you have. I know you mentioned the Nitrates falling briefly during water changes, but this did seem to come slowly, and did not last with subsequent water changes. What I'm getting at is 'have you tested your salt mix as a source of Nitrate? What about your source water (it is prefiltered, yes?)? If all this checks out and you don't have a source of Nitrate from within the tank/s (e.g. - fresh live rock)'¦then I think your options are to either increase the volume of the system with larger display tanks/sump/refugium'¦or decrease the piscine bio-load. You haven't really mentioned any malaffect from the high Nitrate readings (the statement re your husband aside), so it occurs to me'¦have you checked-the-checker? Do validate your test kit'¦>>
Thanks again.
<<Please do let me know how you proceed/how things progress. Cheers'¦ EricR>> 

R2: Source of High Nitrates? -- 02/16/10
Hello again.
<<Hiya Jen>>
So we tried two different nitrate test kits, turns out it was the test kit as suggested.
Thanks so much for pointing that out.
<<Quite welcome>>
We would have never thought of that.
<<Indeed, is quite common'¦ But, validating test results should be the first step'¦this can save much 'wear and tear' on your livestock, and on you!>>
One question I do have though regarding your answers, you thought I was feeding a bit light.
<<For the size, species, and number of fishes you have'¦yes>>
Did you mean the puffers or the other fish or both?
<<I think the 'special' feedings you provide the puffers are fine (with maybe the exception of more 'hard' foods like shelled mollusks), and they likely get a bit here and there from the feedings of the other fishes'¦which I thought was a bit 'light'>>
I think you meant all other fish than puffers,
but would just like you to confirm.
Can you tell me how much you would feed compared to what I am currently feeding?
<<Determining how much to feed is a matter of watching the fishes feed (to make sure the food is truly being consumed and all are getting enough), observing their health and appearance (our piscine charges should have full, robust bodies exhibiting vibrant coloration'¦not the thin, pale, sunken and bony specimens I all too often see), and watching their behaviors (sated fishes tend to be less agonistic). Here to start'¦I would combine the total of the pellets (hopefully these are NLS pellets) and the Mysis shrimp you're feeding now, and then feed this amount 'twice' a day to 'each' tank. I would also offer a more varied diet (I like frozen Glass Worms, Plankton, etc. '¦ even some Spirulina Brine Shrimp could be thrown in to the mix) , to include some 'greens''¦for this last, and the fishes you have, I like/suggest the macroalgae offerings from 'Two Little Fishies''¦pre-soaked in a vitamin/HUFA supplement like Selcon>>
Thanks again.
<<Happy to share>>
You guys are great!
<<And thank 'you!' Eric Russell>>

Emperor Angel success... hlth., sel.  -- 02/02/10
Hi Crew!
<Hi Jeff>
Tanks <Is this a bad joke, or do you mean 'thanks'?>
in advance for what I know will be the best answer I can get on this issue.
<Let's hope so>
I got a gorgeous 6" Emperor 3 days ago as a birthday gift.
<Ooooo.. a front runner in the 'most beautiful fish' category for sure>
Adult colors directly from Vanuatu. No middle dealer. Very fat, eats good, eyes & fins clear. The local shop dipped him in FW mixed with Methane Blue upon arrival.
He stayed in that solution for 10 minutes. I'm a friend of the official "dipper" guy there. He told me that night what a great specimen that had just come in and that I should consider acquiring it for my 320 FOWLER tank.
<Yes, but I have the controversial viewpoint that these special fishes should be placed in a reef system of size, not fish only. 320 gallons is a nice size tank however>
I was hesitant to do so as I had heard over the years that Emperors from Indo aren't as hardy as the Red Sea or Australian ones.
<This is true for all fishes initially, but once settled in most rate 'about the same'>.
He talked me into coming down to see it, I did, loved it but still did not want such a touchy species.
<Hmm, this is THE fish in my opinion, and the one that I would have chosen over all others>
I was looking to get a Koran
<A great fish and easier than the Emperor>
or Passer.
<A very beautiful fish, but too aggressive in general for me. Neither of these are as beautiful as the Emperor>
The Emperor stayed in QT at the shop for 2 weeks. All QT tanks are supplied a constant low dose of Prazi-Pro.
<Hmm, ok>
My birthday was the next day, and my friend there bought it from the shop owner at a fantastic price as a gift for me.
He brought it over, we set up my 40 gallon tub QT tank I learned about from Bob's book, and he's now been in there with main tank water, 2 pieces of live rock, sponge filters from main sump.
<This will be fine for the short term>
Eats great, eyes, fins still clear. I thanked him but told him I was still unsure about adding the new fish to my tank due to its rating on your site. He said if it got sick, he'd help me with it. That just doesn't bring me comfort. I'm an intermediate fish keeper, <soon to be an expert now> and poured over your article on these fish, and my heart just sank. It was good to see they were hardier than some of the other Angel species, but these from Indo are not high on Bob's list.
<I would not worry too much here -- if he is eating and not hiding then the battle is nearly won. He should be 'interested' in everything including you, and react immediately to any sudden movements but not so much that he tries to hide away. He should move away, but come right back again afterwards. The danger is when they first come in they are spooked>.
My only other inhabitants are a Kole tang and a pair of Raccoon Butterflies.
<Yes, and these will be fine with your Emperor in this sized system. A beautiful group indeed>.
Again I was saving all of that room for a Koran or Passer.
<No, you have made the right choice here for sure>
I plan to add a harem of dithers later.
I read through your FAQ's on these fish. I see a lot of folks are dealing with HLLE, lesions, pimples, mouth tumors and ich.
<Yes, hence my earlier comment re: 'reef' systems for this fish. Emperor Angels WILL show signs with deteriorating water quality, first of all with lighter 'patches' and spots all over the fish, so you should endeavour to keep your FOWLR at so-called 'reef' parameters, particularly with regards to nitrates.>
I wrote down all of your suggestions to combat those issues and have no fear about providing sponge, vitamins and macro-algae
<Yes, he should have all of these. Feed him Nori as well, and not too much meaty fare, this is too fatty>
to the tank for him if he ever makes it over there.
<It sounds like he should make it ok. Watch the Ammonia in the QT>
Bob, if you are reading this one, I also see where you endorse the use of Tropic Marine Center's (in the UK) carbon product for general water quality lesions.
<<I definitely do. A very good product/quality. RMF>>
<Hmm, I know nothing about this particular product, except to say that I would be running carbon in this system -- will place in Bob's folder for his comment here if he has one>
I can give it back, so it's not like I'm stuck. The fish is a kind fella, and eats so well.
I already use those vitamins you suggested with my other fish, and plan to get iodine for him as well.
<No reason for him to 'need' this that I know of>
With so few tank mates, vitamins, iodine, TMC's carbon product, good live rock, sponge, macro-algae, hide spots and careful observation, please, honestly, do you think this beauty from Vanuatu can live well here?
<Yes I do>
You said they have a dismal survival rate from this part of the world. Does that mean they get ich/parasites more than the average fish (like the blue hippo tang I had years ago) and could die from it?
<No, this is more because of the collection techniques in that part of the world. It is the indo-pacific Pygoplites that have this bad rep w/ regard to diet etc.>
Or can they live good healthy lives in the right environment and with great care, but just a short life span of a handful of years?
<Should live 20 years+ in your system with good care>
I cannot handle seeing white spots on fish. Freaks me out. Sleepless nights, nosebleeds, just a general sense of dread and impending doom.
Your article also suggested they stay in QT a full 4 weeks. Your final warning of "trust me" scared me. That would mean another 2 weeks in my QT here, for a total of 4 weeks. Will this 40 gallon stress him out before the 2 weeks are up so much that he could be weakened by it?
<If you are happy that there are no parasites then I would move him after two weeks, as long as he is feeding well, and behaving as stated above>.
I was thinking I could use this time to boost his system up real good with Selcon, Boyd's Vita Chem, iodine and the other vitamins you suggested of C, E, D, and A.
<Yes -- the easiest food to add this to is Nori>
So if/when I add him to the main display he'll be able to fight off any illnesses that may present themselves. I used filtered tap water for 3 years, but have recently switched to RO water 2 months ago.
<Will be necessary here -- do make sure you have the added 'DI' element as well -- very cheap to add>
As such, my nitrates are fluctuating between 20-30 after weekly 60 gallon water changes.
<This is too high. Nitrates want to be below 10 consistently, preferably even lower. You should be able to achieve this with your system and stocking list no problem at all -- have you read here? http://www.wetwebmedia.com/nitratesmar.htm>.
All of the junk from the tap water is embedded into the live rocks, and my friend says it'll take another month or so of clean water changes to dilute the tap water present. 3 fish in a 320 should not produce that high of a reading, so it must be the old water still present.
<I would work on this with gusto -- have you considered that there might be another 'source' such as a filter clogged w/ debris somewhere?>
Well, that's my long winded dilemma. Can this Emperor from Vanuatu really stay colorful and healthy with me doing all I have learned from your site? I respect your opinions, look forward to your input/suggestions.
<Yes he (she?) can. I do think that this whole system should now be geared towards providing for this very special animal. If you do this then you WILL be rewarded in kind many times over>.
Take care, and thanks Jeff.
<No problem Jeff, and good luck to you with your Emperor. Simon>

Re: 01/02/2010 Emperor Angel success--reply to Simon 2/4/2010
Great answers Simon, thanks so much.
<No problem Jeff>
Yes, my earlier "tanks" was indeed a typo! ;o) I do love the Emperor now, and am not nearly as afraid to keep him
as I was a few days ago. I took your wise advice, and searched for a possible nitrate booster on the system, and I see my filter sock in the refugium was caked with waste.
<Yes -- a source, remove this, or clean it 2-3 times a week>
Probably a huge contributor to the steady 30-40 nitrate readings even after 60 gallon water changes to get it down. I tossed it out altogether, put filter floss under the drain hoses instead to make it easier to just toss it out and add new on a weekly basis.
<At least this, but I would simply be draining direct into a compartment that holds the skimmer if it were me>
Did the water change, nitrates went down to 20ppm. Another large one in a few days should get it down to 10, I'm sure.
<Aim for 1 - 5 if you can>
Great idea to look for clogs. I also saw one of 2 return pumps was no longer working.
I bought a new one, cleaned out the gunk in the plumbing, and had a nice clear flow again. It was lots of debris in there, as well. I am turning this into a tank with reef parameters for him. I already have 200 lbs. of live rock and a handful of mushroom rocks.
<Mmmm, Mushrooms are probably not going to last long here, whatever the type. Your Raccoons will probably eat Corallimorphs, and your Emperor will eat Zoanthids and Leathers most likely. These are NOT the cnidarians that I would choose to house here.
If I was you I would stick with the live rock for the minute, do some reading ref: calcium and alkalinity, and when you are 'ready' if you still want some coral try some Scleractinians instead, maybe some Montipora. You are much more likely to have success here, although this is not guaranteed as individual fishes will have different habits. A bit of trial and error may be required. The butterflies are the real worry, but a positive is that you will not be plagued with Aiptasia like many others at least!>.
I will add other things the butterflies won't eat, more reef-like.
<Mmmm, stay away from soft corals and Anemones. You could easily add some Lysmata shrimp>
This Emperor behaves exactly as you have described he should. He's alert, interested in me and my presence, gently scoots away when I feed him, then comes right back to eat.
<That's marvelous news -- this is a very graceful fish>
Not spooked at all, very friendly for sure. I was even able to feed him Nori pieces by hand today.
I'm working hard, and keeping the QT ammonia at zero and very close to it.
<0.25ppm TOTAL ammonia will be ok short term (a few days) if the pH is low>
Yes, that "DI" end result of RO water is indeed part of my new & top off water.
Thank you for the suggestion. With his blue bottom colors, I have named him LEVI, as in the jeans. Levi & I thank you for the honest, educated feedback in specifics.
<No problem Jeff, you will find that your Emperor comes to recognise 'you' personally -- another characteristic of a most wonderful fish>
I'm glad I chose to keep him. Nice to know you'd have gotten him too!
<Yes, I do indeed own one of these myself>
I feel validated.
Jeff J.
<Simon, who has one more point to make -- this fish will do better if it is the 'king'. That means no Sohal or similar large aggressive fishes>

Phosphate And Nitrate In Live Rock 1/13/10
Hello crew,
<Hi Carrie>
I currently have a 75 gallon tank with 100 lbs of live rock, the large CPR HOB refugium with Chaeto, and a Remora Pro Skimmer. I made the mistake of using tap water for the first year of having my aquarium, and now I have water quality issues. I have always done a weekly 10 gallon water change, not realizing I was only making the problem worse.
<Actually depends on the quality of your tap water. Our tap water is of good quality and is all I've been using for years.>
I bought a RO/DI unit and continued my water changes and I have done three 50 gallon water changes in the past two months to lower nitrates and phosphates.
<Have you ever tested your tap water for nitrate and phosphate?>
Not surprising, I have a horrendous hair algae outbreak because of these issues. I don't believe I am overstocked, other than needing a larger (6 foot) tank for my tang, which is planned for tax refund time.
<I'll likely buy the IRS a 6 foot system.>
Ocellaris Clown
Onyx Ocellaris Clown
2 Green Chromis
Lawnmower Blenny
Fusi Gobi
White Cheek Tang (A Japonicus) -
Electric Blue Hermit
10 small hermits
3 turbo snails
Fuzzy Chiton
10 Ceriths
Frogspawn - not extending
Galaxea - extending fine
Zoanthids - not extending
Salinity 1.025
PH 8.0
Temp 79
dKH 11
Ammonia 0
Nitrite 0
Nitrate 40 (topped out at 180)
<Yowsa, much too high for a reef tank.>
phosphate .5 (topped out at 5)
calcium 500
2X 175 Watt MH lighting on 8 hour timer.
Please forgive the overflow of information, but I wasn't sure what all you would need.
<Is just fine/useful.>
After spending several weeks reading, I cannot figure out if live rock and sand will continue to leech nitrates as well as phosphates into the water after the problem is removed.
<Nitrates are formed by denitrification, the rock doesn't "leach" nitrates.
Phosphates are present in many fish foods and is leading me to believe overfeeding may be causing your high nitrate level. Depending on the size of your tang, overstocking may also be a contributing factor. Do read here and related articles/FAQ's
Also, my sand bed is about 3 inches, so I believe it is in the gray area that could be contributing to the nitrates.
<Likely a nutrient trap if no beneficial fauna is present in the sand.>
I was considering lowering the sand to one inch, but am concerned about trapped gasses. What is the safest way to remove sand?
<Siphon out during water changes until you get it down to your goal.>
As always, thank you for the advice.
<You're welcome. James (Salty Dog)>

High Nitrates/Nitrate Control/Stocking Level 12/6/09
<Hello Alex>
I've been having some problems with my 90 gallon tank. Last time I checked the levels on my tank (five minutes ago) my nitrite and ph levels were fine but my nitrate levels were at 80 ppm! I know they really aren't supposed to be at this level and I really need help fixing them! I only have three fish a Green Bird Wrasse (around 7-8 in), a Chainlink Moray (barley <barely> a foot long), and Porcupine Puffer (juvenile around 6-7 in) and I'm really
thankful they're so hardy because they're doing fine.
<I believe you just answered your own question here. Three high waste producing fish in a 90 gallon tank.>
I have around 100 lbs of live rock, a wet/dry filter, and a large protein skimmer. The only thing I can think of that is raising the nitrate levels of the tank are A.) the bio balls in my filter.
<I would slowly remove these.>
B.) the siphon system hasn't been working correctly so the filter hasn't been running at it's full potential and
C.) I recently had two fish die in the tank a blue-chin triggerfish because of the stress of adding a zebra moray to the tank (it's been moved) and a clownfish because of disease and moving it too much since I thought it was stressing the blue-chin trigger.
<Your tank is too small for the types of fish you wish to keep.
The system is importing nutrients faster than it can export them.>
Any help would be very helpful since I don't want to lose anymore fish and would like to get another fish like a tang, angelfish, or triggerfish in the future.
<You're over the max now. More researching needs to be done on your part before buying fish, know their requirements, needs, etc. The Bird Wrasse alone grows to 10-11 inches and requires at least a 125 gallon tank. A four foot tank is not a lot of swimming room for this fish.>
Thanks for all your help since this is probably a really dumb beginners mistake.
<Definitely. Read my friend, read. James (Salty Dog)>
-Alex Pottebaum

Question About Fish Tank/Nutrient Control 9/29/09
Hi guys.
<Hello Alex>
I have a 55 gallon saltwater tank with probably about 35 pounds of live rock in it and a 3 inch live sand bed and the Nitrate levels are high in it. About 40ppm. None of the other levels are high, that is what I am
curious about. I have a 3-4 inch Panther Grouper,
<This fish will become much too large for your tank.>
a 3 inch damsel, and a White Ribbon Eel in it that is between 12 and 20 inches. The eel is new.
<Good luck with this fish, a very small percentage survive in captive conditions.>
I feed them either every two days or every other day so I don't think overfeeding is the issue since I don't see any uneaten food.
<Is the waste produced by the food that can lead to high nitrate levels.>
I use a 50 gallon Penguin filter, a 30 gallon Penguin filter, and a 45 gallon canister filter on the tank at the same time. I have been doing 25 percent water changes on it every week for a month but the nitrate is not
going down. I use city tap water to do the water changes and I just tested it thinking that it might be the culprit but the nitrate and nitrite levels are both 0. I am not sure what to do. I ordered a RO unit to use to make the water, but I'm not sure if it will make any difference seeing as the levels in the tap water are 0.
What do you guys think. Do you have any suggestions as to what I can do.
<Get yourself an efficient protein skimmer, will help much in removing/exporting dissolved nutrients which lead to elevated nitrate levels. Many other suggestions here.
<You're welcome. James (Salty Dog)>

Macro causing high nitrates? 7/24/09
Hello wonderful answer-ers!
<Hello April.>
I am totally confused about the idea of placing live macro algae in the main tank, could someone please clarify the best place to put it?
On the one hand I read that is is a great natural food for herbivores like mine to graze on, then again, I have read here in your FAQ's that someone did that and the thing went all "sexual" on the tank, and the nitrites went way up because of the plant trying to regenerate itself after feeling picked and nibbled by the fish.
<Hmmm, the only way this would happen is with improper care and maintenance. Macro will only increase nitrate when it dies off.>
Yet, placing it in the refugium helps to reduce nitrates, and pruning it back does an even better job of keeping the nitrites in check.
<To a point.>
But pruning is the same as a fish picking and nibbling at it in the main tank, yet the plant doesn't go sexual in the 'fuge. How come?
<It can.>
And between the main tank and the 'fuge, which place is better to put it to help control nitrites?
<Generally the refugium is the place to put it. Controlling the growth in the display can be tough, and considered unsightly by many. Do distinguish between the different macros. Using Chaetomorpha rather than Caulerpa will avoid the issues you describe above.>
Thanks as always for your valuable insight,
<Welcome, Scott V.>

Wet/Dry Filters and nitrates 12/30/08 Something I just don't get; Every aquarium must have an established bio cycle to be healthy. <Yes.> And in an established system all ammonia and nitrite end up as nitrate. <Agreed.> Which in turn, slowly is reduced to nitrogen gas, and bubbles away. <This is dependent on the setup.> This last step seems to not be able to keep up with nitrate production and requires water changes to keep nitrates at an acceptable level, even in reef tanks with only live rock and skimmer. <In many cases with DSBs and/or a macroalgae refugium along with appropriate stocking and feeding it can indeed keep up.> Now, it seems important to have the ammonia and nitrite converted to nitrate as quickly as possible, after all these levels must be zero in a healthy tank. This is what a wet/dry filter is great at doing. And a wet/dry filter cannot make more nitrates than it has nitrites to convert. <True.> So what difference does it make in the total nitrate production if it is done by bio balls or live rock. That is, for a given amount of ammonia introduced into a system it will be converted via bio balls or live rock into the same amount of nitrates. <It will, the question is where does the ammonia come from?> The handling of these nitrates should also happen at the same rate. Assuming each tank has the same amount of live rock and DSB. Or put another way, If an established tank with live rock and skimmer has a wet/dry filter installed in it, the tank can only become more healthy. Right? <We disagree here.> (Yes I know if the tank is prospering why add another filter?) But in theory does my argument make sense? <Your argument does indeed make plenty of sense. The thing about it is where the ammonia originates in the first place. Artificial biomedia will channel the water flow. Certain areas will constantly get washed clean while others will collect detritus. There in lies the problem. It sits there and eventually ends up as the nitrate that these filters are so good at producing. With a LR system the flow within the tank keeps it in suspension, allowing the skimmer or other filtration to remove it from the water column, not to mention the detritivores actions adding to the process. Wet/dry filters are great and can be used in systems with low nitrate levels. The biomedia should be treated as a mechanical filter, cleaned frequently. But since it is biomedia it cannot simply be washed in the sink. If there is going to be LR in the tank anyway there is no need. My point of view, Scott V.>

High Nitrate pollution source identified  12/22/08 Hi guys, <Chris> I just wanted to let you know that I was able to locate the source of my Nitrate problem in my tank. <Oh!> The source water was good (tap water No Nitrates), the RO/DI water (taken from the tap)was good (no nitrates), the Instant Ocean mixed with RO.DI water was good (also no nitrates). So I tested the fish food in the clean RO/DI water and I use 2 types. 1) Ocean Nutrition Formula 2 small pellet (this tested NO Nitrates) 2) Yaki Sushi Nori by B&C consumer grade sushi seaweed (Off the chart High Nitrate) Probably used nitrates on purpose as a preservative. This is no longer in use and my Nitrate problem should be over here in a day or two after 50% or more water change(s). <Ah yes> I just wanted to make a post so that if anyone else has the same problem they will think to test the food. <Is one of my resounding suggestions as well.. a primary source... no matter what foods are employed> Also, with regard to my green chromis behavior, turns out it was guarding eggs. I noticed them on the side of the tank where he/she? was swimming. Thanks for the heads up. Thanks Chris Edwards <"Who said heads up!? I'll take some of that!" Thank you for the follow-up, input Chris. You've helped many people down the line. Happy holidays, BobF>

Wet/Dry Filter Dilemma 12/19/08 Ok, thanks. <Hello Dustin.> I have a problem with my nitrates. My set up is a 55 gal. reef ready corner tank with a wet dry. I have a Remora skimmer, metal halide and blue actinics. I have the tank fully stocked with 100+ lbs of live rock, 50 + lbs of live sand, <Wow, in a 55? Full of the good stuff!> fully loaded with coral, and 1/2 or so dozen small reef type fish. The tank has been running flawlessly for 1 year. Recently I started noticing an increase in nitrates. Do you have some advise? I heard I should start slowly removing my bioballs from the wet dry. <Yes, the bioballs are notorious for collecting detritus and letting it just sit there, eventually becoming nitrate. Nothing wrong with removing them slowly, over the period of a couple of weeks, but with your amount of LR you need not be too cautious.> Do I need to change my filtration set up? <For the most part it sounds fine. Removing the bioballs can have a great impact here. You do have a fine skimmer for the size of the tank, how about water flow? Keeping the stuff in suspension to be removed by the skimmer or processed by the live rock/inhabitants can be helpful too.> Can I do such a thing with a loaded tank? <Oh yes.> Your advice would be greatly appreciated as I am beginning to get nervous of a crash. <I am of the opinion (with a base in a bit of experience) that �crashes� generally happen by lack of vigilance/maintenance or just one stupid action. None of which is going on here. You are watching your tank and addressing potential problems before they are dire and approaching the changes carefully.> Thanks, Dustin <Welcome, Scott V.>

Canister Filter in a Reef 20g 12/8/08 Hi There, <Carlos.> I've been reading your site for years, it's a wealth of information. <Thank you.> My question is about canister filters in reef setups. I have a 20 gallon that had a wet dry with a bit of Seachem's Matrix. All was fine till I had some nice 150w MH so had to get rid of the wet dry and bought a canister filter. I added the Matrix I had to the new canister filter, included some Purigen and active carbon and a  week later added more Matrix totaling 1Kg. 2 weeks later my nitrate went from 20 to over 50. <...> I have been doing 30% water changes ever since but to no avail. <What does your change water read re nitrate?> I clean the entire canister filter every fortnight, and floss every week, should I just turn off the canister filter and run with just a pump in the tank or give it more time (7 weeks now)? <Do you have any other means of biofiltration, live rock perhaps?> I am not over feeding, in fact I've stopped feeding my corals to see if it helps. <The nitrate is coming from somewhere, feeding corals or fish, makeup water.> Any advice would be greatly appreciated Cheers, Carlos <Do write back regarding any other biomedia and your water tests on the change water. More info needed here. Scott V.>

Help with nitrates please!!! 9/12/08 Hello, <Hello John.> My AquaPod 24 was doing very well (my corals seemed to be thriving) up until a few weeks ago. We were away for a few days and my sister-in-law came over the house to feed the fish. To make it easy for her, I left some flake food (low phosphate kind) out for her.. <With instructions/measured portions?> We left on a Friday afternoon and came home on Sunday night. When we got home, I noticed that one of my prized (and fairly new) Trachys was deflated, whereas on Friday morning it looked like it was going to explode. Ever since then, it has not inflated that much except at night. My up-to-recently fully open Palythoa colonies pulled in some of their tentacles, and now some of them are half-closed or 'cupped backwards. Surprisingly, my finger leather, purple Mushrooms and green Zoanthids are doing excellent. I fed sparingly to the brain a few times at night and the next day it always was inflated, but a few days later it deflated again and now it's about 33% inflated and has been that way for several days. Up until that little trip my nitrates were very low (between 0 and 2.5) but I checked them early this week. To my horror it was over 50ppm!! <Pretty high.> I did massive water changes over the course of three days and I think I changed all the water in the tank! I checked it again last night and it was still 50ppm. I did a 'flush out' of all the corals and LR with a turkey baster, ran a Vortex Diatom filter for several hours to 'polish' all the detritus and crud out, and then did another massive water change. This morning the corals looked only a LITTLE better and nitrates are still 50ppm. What could be wrong? <Overfeeding could be the culprit, but other factors do come into play. If the overfeeding was so excessive that the biofiltration in the tank lagged a bit, you may have had an ammonia spike. One other factor to consider in the corals not doing as well could be water top off. Replacing evaporated water in the wrong manner (too much, too sudden) can shock the system/corals as well. As for the nitrate after the changes, I do suspect you either have something dead/dying in the tank (is everything accounted for, how does the Trachyphylliidae really look now?), there may have been so much excessive food that it is still creating nitrate (people do this) or there is nitrate in your change water. Do test your water you are using to be sure. > Thanks John <Welcome, do let us know what you find. Scott V.>

Re: Help with nitrates please!!! 9/13/08 Scott, Thanks for the help. <Very welcome.> Last night I checked my RO/DI water (from a 6-stage WaterGeneral system) and nitrite/nitrate/phosphates are zero. I used my marine kit and checked the water about 3 hours after making a batch of saltwater, So, the water going in is OK. <Good.> Nothing is missing, all livestock is accounted for. <Okay.> Today my wife came home before I did and she said that the "sickly" brain coral was "huge" meaning it was very inflated, but when I got home it was only about a 1/3rd inflated once again. I forgot to tell you that this trachy is only about a month old. One other trachy is about 6 months old and it never really inflated much but doesn't look any worse or better, and one other trachy (14 months old) has always looked very inflated but lately only about 2/3rds. So, my worries are more about the newest one that was fully inflated when I first got it about a month ago, was fully inflated right up to the trip but seemed to deflate right afterwards. BUT I am ALSO worried about the oldest one that seems a LITTLE deflated lately. <Hmmm.> Oh, and the palys are a LITTLE better today but only a tiny bit and the Zoas never missed a beat. I'm too beat to check the water tonight, I'm going to do another change and see how it is tomorrow. <If all else is well this does sound like a severe overfeeding incident.> About an ammonia spike: Last night ammonia was zero, trites were zero but trates were high. <If this is overfeeding you may have missed the ammonia spike while gone.> Thanks John <Welcome, Scott V.>Re: Help with nitrates please!!! 9/13/08 Hi Scott, <John> I just got up to go fishing (yes, I CATCH fish too and I'm not ashamed by it :) <Most us humans do eat things with faces/mothers, killing them either directly or indirectly.> and I noticed that the 6 month old trachy was puffed up and had its feeder tentacles fully exposed, the 1 month old was semi-inflated and the 14 month old was fully inflated. This is all under my lunar LEDs. I can't figure trachys out! <It sounds like your system is going through some motions here, stressing the corals. Give it time with your successful past husbandry. Finding a knowledgeable reef type or very implicit instructions/premeasured feedings in the future when gone will help.> John <Scott V.> 

Re: Help with nitrates please!!! 9/16/08 Hi Scott, <Hello John.> Thanks for all your help. <Happy to assist.> Please, I have just one more question: My tanks temp is running at between 82-84F (sometimes even 85F) ever since I upgraded from my original 64W PCs to 150W (a nanotuners.com retrofit). <MH will do this.> I upgraded in January 2008. Is this too high? It used to run 78-82F but I have often heard that typical reef temperature more like my current temps... <Your range can work so long as it is not fluctuating too badly in a short period (throughout the day for example. Decreased gas solubility and lifespan come along with the higher temp.> Regards, John <Scott V.> 

Re: Help with nitrates please!!! 9/16/08 How "forgiving" is the metabolism of my corals? I mean, how much longer can they take undesirable conditions before they just die? <This depends on what exactly the undesirable conditions are. Fast changes in temp, salinity, PH, etc. can kill a coral in swift order or take its toll over time, this is a great challenge in small systems'¦stability. The 'forgiveness' will vary between species and from coral to coral. Best to just give them the best conditions possible. Humans can live some time in sewage, but would one want to or be happy? If you are referring to the previous query re temperature, I would concentrate more on keeping the temp stable rather than the 'perfect' target number. Scott V.>

Re: Help with nitrates please!!! 9/19/08 How stable is stable? <As stable as can be. Smaller tanks are inherently less stable.> My pH is very constant, my temps vary about 3F. <This can work.> What about salinity? <Stable enough to pretty much read the same throughout the day.> I have to add about 1-2 cups of RO/DI a day (BTW, the new lights are still PCs, not MHs). <Sounds fine. If you end up with overheating problems do consider using a small fan blowing across the surface of the water to help with evaporative cooling. A few cups a day is not too bad. Scott V.>

Re: Help with nitrates please!!! 9/21/08 Scott, Thanks for all your help. <My pleasure.> The corals seem to be recovering SLOOOOWLY - except for one. All the palys are open and are beginning to extend their tentacles. The oldest brain coral is nearly back to normal, the 6 month old one seems to be starting to inflate again but the one month old is actually showing a couple of bare ridges (skeleton) and I think I see some algae growing on them (YIKES), which I didn't see before. From my experience with brains they almost never recover from that but I'm going to be optimistic. <They can, do recover.> Last night I fed it a piece of fish (silversides) which it slowly took inside of itself but this morning I noticed that it seemed to have "disgorged" it as it was laying on top of it only slightly digested. <Do be sure to chop the silverside up. These corals can digest fairly large pieces, but making the food into smaller bits will aid digestion. Keep up the water quality and feeding, hopefully it will recover.> Regards, John <Talk soon, Scott V.>

Nitrates & Stupidity 6/10/08 Hi I hope you can help me with a nitrate problem. <Should be able to.> I have been reading your articles & trying to follow your input. I have a 90g tank which I started 1 1/2 years ago. I started with a Rena 3 filter, Skilter protein skimmer & 2 Zoomed Powersweep powerheads with filters. I added 75 lbs live rock and after cycling added 40 lbs live sand. After the tank cycled I started adding small fish no more than 2 at a time. Things went wrong when I believed a LFS person & added 50 lbs live rock, (about 7 months ago) directly to the tank. Seems it wasn't really fully cured. <It should never be considered cured, there is almost always die off just from bringing it home/reorientation of the rock.> After numerous water changes, adding a denitrification filter (after 4 months gave up on it as the stink & the reduced ph made it impossible to live with) and reading your column I slowly removed all the bio media, added a Pentair 300 fluidized bed filter & removed 1 powerhead (tank getting too warm) and went up to a Remora protein skimmer. <A far better choice in skimmer. We will talk about the fluidized bed in a bit.> I have finally gotten the nitrates down to 20 but cannot get them further down. I have 1 Sm Yellow Tang, 1 Sm Blue Tang, 3 sm. Chromis, 1 Sixline Wrasse, 1 Anthias, 2 tiny Scooter Blennies, 1 Mandarin Goby, 1 Rubyhead Wrasse, cleaner crew of snails & hermit crabs, , 2-4" Maxima clams, Zoos, corals- Frogspawn, Elegance, Bubble, Hammer, Fox, Open Brain, Yellow Leather, Green Leather, Clove Polyp, 2 Ricordea, Green Star polyps, and a Bubble Anemone with Maroon Clown. I have a euro braced acrylic tank so putting another filter will be hard as I would have to cut into the bracing which only leaves some other type of canister filter which of course brings up the fact that I would be buying another "thing" to replace something that I already spent money on & frankly I am tired of thinking I'm getting a good product just to have it not be right. (ie-Skilter $99, denit.filter $175 & $225 flour. Light when I needed a MH light) <Another filter will not solve the problem anyhow.> So instead of trying/guessing/hoping I am simply going to ask someone who knows. What the heck should I do?????? <Hmmm, much to say. First off, the fluidized bed can trap detritus and produce nitrate just as the other biomedia, usually to a lesser extent. With the amount of live rock you have I would remove all the biomedia and let the live rock do the job. More of a natural approach that works very well. Next, your livestock list is not only stocked quite high for a 90, which contributes to the nitrate issue, but some in this mix just will not work. The Tangs will need more space in time and it is pushing it having one Dragonet (Scooter and Mandarins) in a system this size, three will starve in time. As for corals, the combination of Leathers, Euphylliid and Anemones is quite noxious, it will lead to trouble in time also.> Maybe I should just ignore the nitrate test (API) because through all of this I haven't lost any fish, or corals which all are growing, and have minimum brown algae, but I really want some Birdsnest & Acro corals & I know they won't be forgiving of bad water. <Or the potential tankmates.> Oh nitrite & ammo are reading 0. <An indication that your current filtration is doing the job.> Thanks for any input or suggestions you have. <Very welcome.> Down but not yet out! Tina <Hee, hang in there! Please see the link below and a quick search of WWM regarding allelopathy will shed some light on the issues mentioned above. Best of luck, Scott V.> http://wetwebmedia.com/cnidcompppt.htm

Re: Nitrates & Stupidity 6/10/08 Hi Scott, <Hello Tina!> Thanks so much for your help. <Welcome.> I didn't suspect that I had done so many things wrong. I guess my biggest mistake was depending on my LFS to tell me if what I was buying were good choices. My only excuse is....gosh darn everything looks great when you are standing in front of tank after tank of the most marvelous creatures ever !!!! <I know the feeling, it is very easy to get caught up in the moment. This makes it all the more important to make a carefully planned stocking list and stick to it, avoid impulse buys!> I really want the Acros. If I remove the Leathers, Euphylliids, and the Anemone, the 2 Tangs, with what I have left, and the equipment, will that work? <You will find that you do want a larger home for the Tangs in time. As for corals, the Anemone is definitely something you will want to find a new home for. They pose numerous problems when housed with other corals. Other than that the Leather coral poses the greatest allelopathic potential. I personally would not choose to keep one with SPS, but it can be done with the use and frequent changing of carbon. More information on this here: http://www.reefkeepingfever.com/article1.htm > I would remove the Dragonettes but have had them for over a year, and although I don't doubt the article on them, the only place they could go is back to the store where they were housed in small cups. They don't appear to be skinny, and removing them almost impossible without taking everything out. There seems to be a lot of teeny tiny shrimp & copepods on my rock so who knows maybe leaving them alone will be best. <A good sign, time will tell!> I fully intend to be more "armed with knowledge" before purchasing anything for this tank, so if you think that Acros will be the wrong choice for this tank (or perhaps me) I would appreciate your thoughts. <Hmm, no, Acros are great corals and make for a beautiful system. You will be shocked at how fast they actually do grow! I love the nature type shows that claim 1' every hundred years, just not the case. Knowing what I do about your system, you will likely want and need more flow, in the higher end for a reef (20 X turnover plus) for the SPS.> Thank you again for your super fast reply and your information. <Welcome, Scott V.> Tina P.S. Thought your websites trials with bad spelling etc. very good reading ! Hope my letters never wind up there !! <Hee, me too. They are fun reading (remember they are there for a purpose) and I certainly hope none of my replies end up there!!> Filtering a Marine Aquarium on a budget, Nitrate problems 03/27/2008 Afternoon Crew! <<Afternoon, Andrew today>> I wrote to you last week asking about compatibility and stocking for my 55 gallon Bow Front. To give the run down again, I have a Prizm Pro skimmer, a CPR BakPak skimmer, Aqua Clear 1200 powerhead, about 35-40lbs of live rock, crushed coral, and an Ehiem2215 Canister Filter. The inhabitants are 2 Ocellaris Clowns, 1 Yellow Tang (who's going to be moving in a few months), a Royal Gramma, 2 Skunk Cleaner Shrimp, 3 Peppermint Shrimp, and soon to be a Flame Angel. <<ok>> My questions is about my canister filter. I accidentally erased the response one of you sent me last week with the links to the information on the canister filters, but have done some searching myself on your site, and decided it needs to go. I do biweekly water changes, and after checking my Nitrates last night, I'm very concerned. If I remember correctly, the test strip read 260 ppm, or mg/L. PH is 8.1, Nitrites are zero, and I wasn't able to determine Ammonia, but I'm assuming zero since this set up has been running for over two years now. <<Yikes !!!! ....Start of with, get rid of the test strips, they are highly inaccurate. Purchase a good range of liquid test kits like Hagen, API or Salifert and then test again to get a more accurate reading>> I'm wondering what are some options for my set up besides the canister filter. I just started school and am on quite a budget, but also want to do what I can for the health of my tank. Plans are in the works with my father and I for a large (120 gallon) tank with 40 gallon sump, but until them a sump/refugium is not an option on this tank. Could I just get rid of the canister all together, and if I do, should I replace it with anything? Can I just take out everything besides the two pouches of Chemi-pure and let it run like that? Are there any better filtering options for me? <<I would slowly raise your live rock level to 55lbs and then slowly over the coming weeks, remove the canisters / hob filters and rely solely on the live rock to provide your filtration>> Again, thank you for all you guys do for us. I'm an every day reader and I picked up Mr. Fenner's book before I picked up my first fish. Sincerely, Heather <<Thanks for the questions, hope this helps. A Nixon>>

Removal of a Tidepool II Bio-Wheel!! 3/7/08 Good Day Gentlemen, <And ladies, hello Heath.> I have a few questions for you concerning a Bio-Wheel out of a Tidepool II sump if I may. <Sure.> I have read on your site and have gathered that this Bio-Wheel could contain nitrates, or nitrate causing waste. <The problem is detritus accumulation that would otherwise be exported out of your system, not that big an issue with the Bio-Wheels compared to bioballs.> My first question is how much could it actually harm if it were a two year old system?? The reason that I ask this is because my nitrates are around 40 right now. <Yes, high.> I performed a 20% water change and it lowered the nitrates to around 30 for about 2-3 days, next thing I know, back at 40.? Obviously something is causing it. <This fast a rise is likely due to feeding or stocking levels.> Everything that could cause nitrates in the sump has been removed (blue-bonded pads, filter socks, old reactor media, etc.). The tank was recently moved (4 months ago) to my new home, so everything behind the rockwork was cleaned out as well. The only thing I could guess at is the Bio-Wheel, and if you guys will, please tell me if it could be the problem. <Not this much, this fast. Take a look at your substrate and circulation, these are much more likely to be the culprits. The mechanical media mentioned above does have the benefit of exporting the detritus, if cleaned frequently.> Here are the rest of the stats before I ask my other questions: 95g 125 lbs of LR Tidepool II sump Aqua C EV-120 skimmer PhosBan Reactor w/Pura phosphate media 9 watt UV Sterilizer (don't know if this matters) 3/4" - 1" sand bed 1 ocellaris clown, 1 medium fairy wrasse, 2 PJ Cardinals, and 1 cleaner shrimp + various snails and crabs (small stock list for this size?) 1 bubble tip anemone and various small mushrooms. Temp at 78 F,? ph 8.0 (a little low), SG 1.023, <Low also, shoot for 1.025-1.026.> nitrates @ 40 I ran out of calcium and alkalinity test liquid...sorry for the incomplete info! <No problem, not important regarding nitrate.> I have 20lbs of additional cured rock (Marco rock if you've heard of it, it's completely bleached out? and dry) that just finished curing a week ago, even though it's having a diatom bloom right now, could I add it and curve any problems that the removed bio wheel could cause? <No, dry rock is not live rock, it will take time to populate and become some semblance of live rock. With the amount of additional live rock you will be fine removing the Bio-Wheel.> Third, what potential problems could I encounter from the removal of the Bio-Wheel and how do I prevent them? Fourth, how would you recommend removing the Bio-Wheel and what would you do to prevent any problems? <You should have no problems simply removing it, I would simply take it out.> I appreciate your patience with me and any advice that you may have for me. Unlike Bio-Balls, it's all or nothing with this wheel, and I would rather err to the side of caution in removing it. Thank You Again, Heath <Welcome, thank you for writing. All will be fine with the live rock to take over. Scott V.>

Garlic Supplement (as Crypt trtmt.) and High Nitrates (rel.?)   02/19/2008 I have 30 and 75 gallon tanks salt water/reef set ups. A week after adding a fish to the 75, I noticed white spots this fish (only this fish). My LFS suggested soaking the food in "Garlic Guard" by Seachem. I would then feed both tanks with this food. The white spots disappeared within a week but the store suggested that I feed the supplement for a full month because if it was ick, the disease would come back in about a month. <<Feeding a fish garlic will not fight or remove Ich. The fish needs to be removed and placed in quarantine and treated>> I took readings recently in both tanks and the nitrates were high, extremely high in the 30 tank. Could the supplement be causing my problem? <<If you feeding a lot, then, yes its possible>> Since diagnosing the problem, I've drained about 20 gallons of water from the 30 gallon tank and intend to drain about the same amount in the next couple of days. Any other suggestions? Thanks. <<Quarantine the fish, back off the feeding a little to once per day, or even once every two days. Continue water changes until nitrates are under control. Please read here and linked articles and FAQ's regarding Crypto http://www.wetwebmedia.com/ichartmar.htm >> Larry <<Thanks for the questions Larry, hope the above helps. A Nixon>>

Aqua Medic BioStars Flotor Query 11/23/07 Hi Gang, I love your website and use it daily with my ongoing trials of owning a mini reef aquarium! <Hello Mark, Scott V. here. Our tanks can be challenging at times.> I try not to take up your time by sending in trivial queries and like to just search for my answers on your site (I usually find what I need somewhere in there). <It can sure be fun. There is so much information and a person can't help but to learn a lot along the way.> However I have a query about my skimmer / biological filter. I am currently using the AquaMedic BioStars Flotor which is a moderately priced but seemingly high performance piece of equipment. It is a motor driven protein skimmer with a biorotor biological filter. I have a 180 litre tank with 20kg of liverock and currently have 6 fish (2 percula clowns, 1 strawberry basslet, 1 yellow wrasse, 1 bluespotted puffer, and a Tailspot blenny). The skimmer appears to be working with a small amount of brown liquid being produced daily (I assume this is about normal for the amount of livestock I have). I have been testing the water every few days for the 3 months I have had the setup running and have had no problems until recently. The PH has been constant at 8.4, Ammonia has never risen above 0, nitrite has never risen above 0 and the nitrate (until recently) had been measuring at 0 also. <Sounds good so far.> Approximately 3 weeks ago I noticed the nitrate levels rising to 20ppm so I have been carrying out 20% water changes every 3 days with minimal success. The nitrates always fluctuate between 10 and 20ppm even after a change of water. I don't fancy carrying out larger water changes and understand a 20% every week or so should be fine. <Should be.> My question is this... does this type of filter I am using increase levels of nitrate? I have read that this type of filter is a nitrate 'factory' but didn't take much notice of these warnings until recently. Is there anything I can do to reduce my nitrate levels and should I remove the BioWheel from the housing? Thanks for any advice you can give on this. Mark <I would remove the BioWheel. Your live rock will provide the necessary filtration. The wheel is probably contributing to the rise, but there can be other factors. If you were not seeing a difference in nitrate after your water changes then I would test your makeup water to see if anything has changed there. Also take a look at your substrate. Is it large grains and trapping detritus? Is there enough flow to keep the detritus from settling? Another thing to look at would be how much you feed. With the bioload on this sized tank you will see rising nitrate and must reduce/export it somehow. Either through constant water changes (which should happen anyway), through macro algae in a refugium or a deep sand bed. The BioWheel could very well be the culprit, but these are other factors worth mentioning. Your welcome, happy reefing Mark. Scott V.>

Re: Yellow Watchman Goby -- 09/14/07 Bob, <Paul> Thanks again for fielding my questions. When you said "This may be a large part of the problem" What did you mean? <Read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/fluidbedfaqs.htm FBs can be nitrate generators par excellence> The fish load is too small? Too great? The fluidized bed filter is a bad idea? I also forgot to mention that I use an aquarium pharmaceuticals Tap water filter for all my top off water and water making needs. <Too slow, expensive... look into RO...> Phosphate kit indicates "undetectable" I let the new mixed salt water age for a couple of weeks before use. <Good technique> I will do more frequent water changes, but to be honest I despair at it not working. This is a very tough problem, and I feel like I am a very attentive and conscientious aquarist. I am not trying to create a "pretty thing" to look at, I love the animals and love the challenge of giving them a good home and I desperately want to succeed. BTW I made a contribution, it is the least I can do considering the wealth of info on the website. Paul <Appreciate this... When/where in doubt Paul, divert that time, energy to constructive purpose... e.g. reading. Cheers, BobF>

Fluidized bed: Should I pull it?   8/26/07 Gentlemen, I have a 60gal/80lbs Cured LR/Venturi Skimmer/Fluidized bed/fish only system. Its been up just for a month and a half. I understand from your site, that FBD's tend to build Nitrates. <Possibly... many systems have countervailing influence/s...> 1.Given my qty of live rock should I pull the FBD or its not going to harm me to keep it going? <I'd wait and see here... perhaps the denitrifiers elsewhere will utilize the extra NO3> 2.On a different note, I see black algae growth on the back walls of my tank. <Or, maybe not...> My Turbos and Nerite are not eating them. <Ah, no... is likely unpalatable... a mix of microbes, BGA...> Are there any snails which would munch on them? <Not likely> And once again thanks for all your help! Cheers Gans <Some valuable lessons here... I would be reading re Cyanobacteria on WWM. Bob Fenner>

Nitrate problems -- 06/14/07 Hello, <hello Christopher> I've been reading your site since I started my saltwater aquarium about a little over a year ago. It has been extremely helpful in gaining an understanding of this hobby for me. <Thank You glad we can help> My problem has been that my nitrates do not seem to ever get down to an appropriate level. I recently did a 10% water change and I couldn't tell any difference in the reading from the day before. Right now it is close to 40-50 ppm. I used a Hagan test kit for both readings. I am really stumped on ideas. All I am hearing is feed the fish less, but I am wondering if there is another alternative. I feed twice a day, mostly flakes, pellets, but I alternate with Mysis and clips of algae. My phosphates are very close to zero on the Salifert test kit at about .03 (one over from zero). Here is background on my tank: 1. I have a 150 gallon FOWLR with approx 120lbs of live rock with 4inches of sand depending (some fish move the sand around to make more room behind rocks) 2. Wet/dry filter to size <Here is your problem> 3. UV sterilizer 18watt 4. about a shoe box size of Chaetomorpha algae in tank doing fine, grew from a baseball size. Should I use Caulerpa? <Yes Chaeto is a great nutrient remover. I would increase light and duration over Chaeto so it grows faster and removes more.> 5. Water changes 15% about every 2 weeks. RO water is always used and gives zero reading on sticks for nitrate. I think PH starts fine from the salt mix (Red Sea), but never tested it at that point. 6. I feed them twice a day with flakes or frozen. 7. Fish and approx sizes are a. Naso tang - 6", b. Hippo tang - 6", c. Majestic angel - 5-6", d. Lemon peel angel - 4", e. Red spot Pseudochromis - 2-3", f. Yellow strip maroon clown - 5", g. Juvenile Annularis angel - 3", h. Tomato clown - 3", i. 9 Blue/green Chromis - 2-4" If you could assist on some advice on maintaining proper levels of nitrate, I would greatly appreciate it. I would like to get my water quality near perfect. <The thing is here is that you are using a wet/dry filter which is an excellent biological filter for removing/converting ammonia and nitrite to yep you guessed it...NITRATE! These filters are referred to as nitrate factories and usually operate at nitrate levels over 100ppm. My advice to you is increase light and photo period over Caulerpa and remove the bio-balls or whatever media is in the wet/dry. Fear not...the biological filtration will continue with the liverock that is in the tank. You can use your wet/dry as a sump but remove the media that is in the tower section. Once you do this your nitrates will fall over the next week as they are converted by the bacteria within your 4" sand bed. Continue water changes because they are always needed to replenish trace elements and remove organic waste products from the system.> Thank you in advance. Regards, Christopher <Hope this helps-Rich aka MrFiremouth>

Raising nitrates, Feeding Tridacnids...  4/26/07 Dear WetWeb crew, <Hi Joel.>   This is my first time writing to you. <Welcome to the show!> Thanks for all the great information so far. <Thank you for reading.>   I'll keep to the point, my nitrates have been at 0 since cycling 12 months ago. All water parameters are within reef specs.   The tank is a 90 gallon with a 16 gallon sump and 55 gallon refugium.   I have 5 fish, 2 shrimp and about 20 snails & hermits, about 15 inches of fish total. Although everyone is healthy and growing, should I be feeding more or running the Aqua C EV-120 skimmer 12 instead of 24 hours per day? Also, I just tossed out very large ball of macro algae from the refugium called "Fire Algae" which I got free from Inland Aquatics and replaced with small amount of Ulva. <Sounds like a very functional system.>   I want to increase nitrates because I just bought 2 Crocea Clams from Clams Direct and read they and corals need some nitrates. <It is true that these animals do benefit from some dissolved organics in the water column. T. Crocea in my experience is the most light demanding of clams and while it too appreciates "food" it derives most of it's energy from the zooxanthellae within it's mantle.  Having said that I wouldn't mess with your system to much, it sounds like it's well balanced and functional. What I might recommend is the addition of phytoplankton, look into reactors if you have the time, effort...as phyto is best fed on a continual drip. If you can't go the reactor route I would at least power the skimmer down or off for an hour or so after feeding the clams.> Please suggest some ways to safely increase. Thanks, Joel <Adam J.>

Question... Very interesting observations of the effects of adding an Archaster/Sifting Star   3/29/07 Hi Crew! <Rowan> Hello, hoping you can help me.  I haven't seen specifically this answer in your archives, so maybe it's a new one. <Many "to go"> We recently added a Sand-Sifting Starfish to our 120 Gallon tank.  Our testing levels were all within parameters (ammonia=0, nitrites=0, nitrates=0, PH=8.1, etc) just prior to adding "him", but almost immediately (within a hour or two) we noticed something funny was going on in the tank as the soft corals started to emit some "waste/chemicals" starting with the coral on the one side of the tank and working it's way towards the right. <Ah...>   Almost reminding me of a "wave" at a baseball game if you can imagine.  Our fish seemed more "irritated" than usual (i.e. the tank "bully" our zebrasoma was bullying without any cause to ALL inhabitants, <Good observations> which is not normally the case also normally rather peaceful fish like our Blue/Green Chromis' nipped at some larger species of fish (like our Tomato Clown) which is again, highly unusual).  So, since it was such a drastic change, checked water parameters again only to find the nitrates soared from a reading of zero, to a reading of 60 or more ppm! <Mmmm> So, obviously a water change was in order.  This morning, I tested for all parameters again: ammonia-0; nitrite=0; and nitrate=80+.  Remembering what I had read thru one of your threads, it had been suggested in such a scenario to check the water source (RO/DI water) before the tank to be sure that the test kit was still "good".  The source water is a zero for nitrates.  So, noticing again that I will need to change some more water out when I get home from work, I bring you to my question. Is it possible that the reason for such a drastic spike was caused by the only new addition to our tank, a sand-sifting starfish which we acquired to help stir up the aragonite bed? <Yes, possible... Probable> Vacuuming has never seemed to help very much with the amount of detritus at the bottom of our gravel, there is always more!  Is the detritus on the bottom being stirred into the environment creating a nitrate haven that even my skimmer cannot keep up with?   <Also a probable source> Plus, once I've gotten the parameters in check again, should the system "settle in" again? <Hopefully yes> I do have a well fed aquarium, but as we've never encountered this problem before, and have no Cyano or other visibly "bad" algae and our fish do seem to gobble it all food offered down, although we've always noticed a brown colouration to our aragonite gravel bed under our purple coralline layer. <Not to worry re this... actually beneficial> Any help is much appreciated!  Love your site which is more valuable than any collection of books/advise from LFS, Heather Allan <Thank you for your kind words... and valuable, careful observations... I do think the Star was involved directly in chemically stirring the cnidarians in your system... by its chemical presence as well as the stirring of the substrate. And I suspect all will re-settle here in short order. Bob Fenner>

Nitrates and Canister Filters Hello,  <Hello David I have a 55 gallon tank with 75 lbs of live rock, and approximately 3 inches of live sand (no plenum). I am using an Aqua-c remora with a Maxi-jet 1200 for protein skimming, and have another Maxi-jet 1200 for circulation. In addition, I have been running a FilStar Canister filter (300gph). The canister filter, however, only contains foam filter pads.  Marine life in the tank consists of two Clarkii clowns, a yellow tang, bi-color blenny, six line wrasse, and some assorted snails and crabs for house-cleaning. Nitrates in the tank tend to hover around 20-30, despite 20% water changes every two weeks. I am also very conscious about not over-feeding. Is it possible that the canister filter is contributing to higher than normal nitrate levels? Would a larger protein skimmer bring the levels down, or is this just the reality of keeping a relatively small reef-tank? Much of the reading I have done suggest that under-tank refugiums can be very beneficial in reducing nitrates. However, I want to make sure there is not something in my current set-up causing abnormally high nitrates, before investing all that additional money. Any thoughts or suggestions would be much appreciated.  <The use of canister filters requires religious cleaning of the foam pads weekly. The detritus it traps leads to higher nitrates levels if these pads are not cleaned weekly. The waste is still in the water, just in a different place. I would suggest the use of Chemi-Pure in the filter for improved water quality. I've been using this in a canister filter for quite sometime, and changing pads weekly. My nitrates are barely detectable and I don't have as efficient of a skimmer as you. Give it a try. James (Salty Dog)>

Bio-Bale question Hey guys. Love reading your stuff. Quick question, Does CPR's Bio-Bale hold nitrates like the bio-balls do? Thanks in advance. <Am pretty sure this stuff is just polyethylene (turnings, like from a drill bit working a solid piece)... Will definitely encourage the forward reactions of nitrification... but not "hold" nitrates... more likely to experience more/higher concentration with its use than not... I have mainly removed this material from CPR's products... Bob Fenner> 

Canister filter inserts and Nitrate 5/16/05 Greetings WWM Denizens! Thank you for all the advice, info and time spent accumulating it! You have gotten me from freshwater to saltwater, which may explain my configuration and question/problem. (I've searched the forums and can't find my particular query.) My problem is nitrates (surprise, surprise), and I wanted to know if my solution would work . <Thanks for the kind words! Glad you have benefited from the info here.> Tank is converted from freshwater, about 9 months old with salt as follows: 100 gallons, Aqua C Remora Pro, with the larger skimmer, about 50 pounds of live rock--adding more slowly; 40 pounds of lava rock, which I am hoping will slowly become live rock (it has only been in saltwater tank); 3 powerheads knocking water around; my good old Fluval 403 from the previous century; an Eheim 2217; I also have about an inch of crushed coral for cushioning and prettiness.  <Sounds reasonable, although adding live rock slowly is often a problem since each new piece has to cycle. I strongly suggest setting up a small tank (even a plastic tub) to cycle new rock in before adding to the tank. Also, lava rock can be unpredictable in composition and is a risk for introducing contaminants (especially metals). I would personally lean toward removing this in favor of live rock.> The problem is nitrates. No matter how careful I am with feeding and how much goop my skimmer picks up, the nitrates will not drop below 15-20. (Ammonia always 0, pH 7.8 to 8.0, treating with 1 Tsp washing soda each 25 gallon water change.) I use RO water from a nearby ice and water store (about $60/year at 25 gallon change every four weeks), which I test for nitrates every now and then, so that's not the source.  Forgot livestock--one perc, two yellow medium sized tangs, one dwarf coral beauty--that's all!  <Your stocking is reasonable, but your pH is a bit low. I would urge you to check alkalinity (especially if you are adding washing soda). You nitrates are likely a result of two things... since your ammonia and nitrate are being processed in the highly aerobic canister filters, nitrate is being produced away from the live rock.  When the nitrate is produced on/in the live rock, it can be further reduced to nitrogen gas in the anaerobic zones in the rock. You probably have enough rock now to completely take over biological filtration. In any case, such a small amount of nitrate is probably not a problem.> The long term plan/solution is to add a sump/refugium, but until I can figure out how to explain that to my wife, I'm stuck with the canisters.  <The sump/refugium will have many benefits, but in the mean time, keep those canisters squeaky clean! A good rinsing of the media in a small amount of tank water weekly will help a lot. Also, I have found that many expenditures can be (mostly truthfully ;^)) be rationalized to your spouse by explaining that it will save money in lost livestock.> From reading the posts, I think I understand you all agree that weekly--yikes!--changes/cleaning of the foam/pads would help with reducing nitrates. Although I spend time every day with my beloved tank, opening those things once a week (or every other week) isn't going to happen. (See previous comment about wife and add "traipsing water across the living room" and you'll understand why.)  <If you aren't going to maintain them, I would get rid of them or gut the media from them and use them only for water movement. Even when perfectly maintained, they aren't providing you with much benefit and you could sell them for money for more live rock.> So here's my thought: How about just using no foam, poly filters, or pads in the canisters and only leaving the Eheim pre-packaged materials, plastic pot scrubbers, and other "hard" porous materials that I have in there other than foam? Would that reduce the nitrates without losing all the benefits of the filters? (If so, I would like to do half plastic pot scrubbers on top and half the rock-type stuff that is in there now, if that would work.) Then, would 2-3 month cleanings of the rock-stuff/pot scrubbers be adequate? I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Other than the nitrates, everything in the tank seems to be quite happy (including some very full Xenia and a couple of mushrooms). Thank you again for your assistance. Greg  <The nitrates are a result of both the accumulated organic matter and the highly aerobic nature of these filters. The media supplied with these (and plastic "pot scrubbers" make great high surface area, aerobic media. I would maintain them properly or gut them completely of all media.> PS I would like to chime in that Sally Lightfoot crabs, in my opinion, ARE killers. I lost a bunch of damsels and a cardinalfish to one before figuring out what was going on.  PPS Since this is my first question posted, I have to say again, you guys are great!  <I couldn't agree more! In my opinion there are no completely safe crabs (including hermits). Best Regards. AdamC.>

Bioballs vs. Live Rock - 07/13/05 Dear All; <<Greetings>> Thanks for the great site! It has been a truly valuable source for me.  I am new to marine aquaria, but I have had fresh water systems for many many years.  It has been somewhat difficult making the transition, if not for your site it would have been an even more daunting task. <<"Thanks" from the crew...gratifying to know.>> I have been reading on WWM about the use of bioballs in a reef tank.  The general opinion seems to be that they should be avoided and the use of just live rock/sand bed in a refugium should be implemented. <<Agreed>> However, I have not read a sound, convincing argument about why bioballs act as "nitrate factory" and live rock does not. <<Really?>> Could someone offer a concise self-contained sound argument. <<Not asking for much, eh? <G> >> If a system has both live rock and bioballs then how does having the bioballs convert ammonia eventually to nitrates differ from the live rock doing the work? <<Ok let's see...concise...hmm...  The process is essentially the same for converting ammonia to nitrite to nitrate whether it's done by the bioballs or the live rock, as you have already surmised.  The difference comes after the conversion of nitrite to nitrate... The pore structure of the live rock (or the grain-size/depth of a sand bed) creates anoxic zones; not commonly associated with bioballs, that foster bacteria which can/will process nitrates converting them to nitrogen, which is then liberated from the tank as the bubbles you see rising from the rock/sand bed.  The bioball/wet-dry filters are referred to as nitrate factories because their end product is just that...nitrate...and they are so efficient at it even when used in conjunction with live rock they can overwhelm the live rock's ability to convert same to nitrogen.  Thus, most prefer to exclude bioballs from reef systems...though they can be quite handy for dealing with large/fluctuating bioloads in FO/FOWLR systems that can handle a higher nitrate load.>> Your time is sincerely appreciated. -Kenny <<Regards, Eric R.>>

High nitrates with a wet-dry? Of course! - 8/13/05   Hi there,   <Howdy, Ali here>   I have enjoyed your website and reading through all the advice. I've told everybody even the LFS. But despite all the reading I wanted to see if  you can help me with my situation. <Sure> I have: 29gal. mini reef 30"x12"x18", approx. 52 lbs. Live rock, 30lbs.  live sand,  Coralife PC one 65watt 10,000K daylight and one 65watt  actinic, ProClear Aquatic System 125 wet/dry with 266 Bioballs in Biotower, CA  2200 return pump at 685gph, Aqualine motorized protein skimmer in sump. Two  Lifetech powerheads 295gph each on timer one for 6hrs in one direction then the  other in opposite direction for 6hrs and so on. <I'd keep your powerheads on simultaneously and take them off of the wavemaker device.> Adding Kent marine's Essential Elements, Tech-I, and Purple-up according to directions on each bottle. <All are unnecessary. A good two-part calcium/alk. supplement would be all you truely need. Bi-ionic or C-Balance, do a search on these.> temp. avg 78,  LFS tested water parameters and all was where it  should be except for NITRATES >200ppm said one LFS. So I was told to do a  water change and I did a 30% water change. Next day LFS tested water and  this time Nitrates where at about 40ppm. Did another 30% water change and I  tested my water for nitrates and still high>40ppm. I was also told to siphon  the sand which I did before the water change. LFS said that it could be the  Bioball sand advised to take some out but you guys have said to remove them  all out slowly and replace with LR. <Unfortunately my friend, you have been receiving bad advice from your LFS. This is not uncommon so please don't feel singled out.> Livestock: 1 Pair of (not mated) Gold Stripe maroon clownfish one  is 1.5" the other approx 3", <Not a good choice for this size tank. A healthy pair of clownfish do make for a really pretty, calming yet humorous display. Unfortunately, the maroons not only get big - but very aggressive. Look into a pair of A. percula, A. ocellaris or some neat skunks.> 1 diamond watch goby, 2 Brown colored BTA purchased together because both were and still are occupying the same rock so I bought the rock and the Anemones. Clowns have gone into anemone and enjoy it. 1 blood shrimp. I have read the articles and seen the FAQs but concerned for my tank crashing with the high nitrates. <Unless you enjoy doing daily water changes, remove the wet-dry system ASAP. Look into doing a tank renovation, with a 3" fine grade aragonite sandbed layer (CaribSea Aragamax Select works perfect for this, and given your tank dimensions 1 x 30 pound bag should get the job done.) Read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/reef2.htm  >   I have read about turning the wet/dry to a sump Refu. but not sure how to do it with the DSB and the pump in there as well as where to place the live rocks with this kind of "generic" or  "standard" wet/dry? And how do I position the light for the LR and the  DSB in the wet/dry because at the top of the Bio tower is where the water  from the tank comes in? <With a little creativity, you can make all this work Felix. If that is not possible, consider removing the entire wet-dry filter unit and purchasing a standard Berlin style sump or utilizing an empty aquarium.> If I make a DSB in the sump would I still need to siphon  that sand as well? <No need to do this Felix> Also the bottom of the wet/dry has white spots or fuzz  along the walls. <These are harmless critters. Don't worry about them. :) > Sorry about the length but I wanted to make sure I gave as much information as possible. Please let me know what my next course of action should be. If left  any missing info please let me know so I may provide it for you. Thank you so much for your time and keep up the good work thank you Felix <Good luck and make sure you read the provided links Felix, all of the set-up, filtration, sandbed, answers you are looking for are thoroughly explained. - Ali> BioWheel removal... nitrates 9/1/05 Thank you so much for all your help. One of your comments spurred a new question. You said "Sounds okay for this particular system. Removing the "bio-wheel" will help with nitrate issues a bit"  Do you mean removing the Bio-wheel system or just the rotating paper wheels?  How will that help with the nitrates?   <Hi again Judson! Remove the bio-wheel, do a search on the nitrification process. The bio-wheel/wet-dry has no way of 'eating-up' nitrates. It converts ammonia/nitrites to nitrates which will continue to build up. Focus on using your liverock, sand, skimmer and water circulation as your main source of keeping your water clean. - Ali> Not so mysterious nitrate mystery - 11/12/2005 Hello, <Hello.> I have nitrate problems! They are always 60ppm or more. <Whew...for a minute there I thought you said...oh wait...YIKES!>  If I do a water change the nitrates go down for a day? <Are these large (extremely) water changes? If you're properly aging/storing the water, you'd be safe to do another the next day.> This is my tank: 50gal saltwater 2 Fluval 304's (with bio-max, ChemiPure and nitrate sponge) <Hopefully cleaned regularly.> 1 SeaClone protein skimmer 1 402 powerhead crushed coral <At what size/depth? Could be part of the problem. Do you vacuum this with the water changes?> NO under gravel filter NO live rocks NO live sand <Both are quite helpful. Do research them here.> <<Um.. yeah, where do the nitrifying bacteria get to live?  MH>> 14" inch snowflake moray eel 2" humu trigger Just 2 fish? <Just two messy, high waste producing fish.> However I just took 2 porcupine puffers out of the tank 1 week ago they both were 5 inches long" then I did a 50% water change. Still have the problem. <Good grief man. This is a horrible stocking plan (for lack of a better word).  <<Oh, please do emphasize this.  No WONDER you've got such a problem!  MH>> Do take a read through the FAQs on this eel. Your skimmer is inadequate and your tank is undersized. I'm surprised you haven't had more problems than just water quality. - Josh>

High Nitrates from Feeding/Overstocking Hello Guys, Hope you're all well. As you can tell I have nitrate problems and it being such a common headache for newcomers like myself, I searched your archives for answers. Found some answers but I still can't figure out the exact cause & remedy so I'm asking you guys...I've a 40g FOWLR (3 mushrooms came with one of the rocks). I've over 100lbs of LR which I've added gradually over the past 3 months since I first set up the tank. Below are the order in which I've added livestock at 2 wk intervals since the set up: 14" Zebra Moray & 3" Spiny Burrfish Medium sized Cleaner Shrimp & one turbo snail Small Camelback Shrimp Small Red Hermit 3" Maroon Clown All are doing very well. Ammonia and nitrites have always been zero.  pH consistently at 8.5. Salinity consistently at 1.025. Nitrates started out ok averaging 40ppm. In the past 3 weeks, It has spiked to as high as 100ppm. I've been doing 33% water changes fortnightly. Since the spike, I've increased it to weekly (aging the water for 2 days) but the nitrates are still around 100ppm. I don't feed the invertebrates at all. They do a pretty good clean up. I feed the clown flake food daily. I feed the Spiny Burrfish daily with 2pcs of small krill. I started feeding the Zebra 3" of frozen crab leg every 4 days (first 4 weeks) but lately he seems to be always hungry (chasing after the Burrfish's krill) So I started feeding it daily. Changed his diet to frozen shrimp (2" worth every feeding). This is when I noticed the spike in nitrates.  So I'm guessing the spike is from overfeeding or from the juices of the frozen foods? If so, how often should I feed them? Btw, my LR generates lots of debris which I vacuum away with every water change. Could this be a cause as well? Or am I overstocked?  <Desmond, you are very much overstocked. Your moray alone is too much for this tank. These fish are large waste producers. Your going to have to find a home for the moray, or get him a bigger home.> What can I do to reduce the nitrates?  <You need to eliminate the moray. Until then, you will be fighting a battle you can't win.>  I can't afford to do water changes everyday! Salt mixes are expensive! As is a denitrifying coil!  <I don't like the coils and this is just a band aid. The only way to be successful in nitrate control is to control nutrients. Your system is way out of balance.>  And I've no more space for more LR! <You stated you have over 100 lbs of live rock. How much actual water capacity do you think you have in that 40? Desmond, I'll post a link here. Scroll down this link and there is some info here on stocking levels. You will be surprised.  http://www.wetwebmedia.com/stocking1.htm >

Nitrates Hello, I have a nitrate problem... please help. I have a 50 gal salt water tank -70 lbs of crushed coral -undergravel filter with 2 402 powerheads -a SeaClone 100 skimmer -1 Fluval 304 with just sponges and bio-max -1 Fluval 304 with sponges, charcoal, Bio-Max and Kent nitrate sponge. Fish:  2 porcupine puffers 4-5 inches long 1 humu trigger 1 snowflake moray eel Nitrates are 80-100 ppm What is your advice?    Thank you, Tony  <Two things, Tony. First, you have too big a fish load for a 50 gallon tank. Just the two puffers at 4-5 inches would be pushing it, let alone the trigger and the eel. Secondly, the undergravel filter isn't helping you. The gravel bed on the filter plate needs to be gravel vacuumed weekly along with a 10% weekly water change that should be done. The addition of a protein skimmer will help immensely toward lowering nitrate levels. James (Salty Dog)>

Nitrates Follow-up Hello, Is it best that I take the under gravel filter plate out? I will be moving in 2 or 3 months so I will have to break the tank down anyway.  <I'd take it out> Also what are my options if I want to keep the 4 fish that I have in the 50 gallon tank (fish: 2 porcupine puffers 4-5 inches long, 1 Humu trigger 2 inches long, 1 snowflake moray eel 12 inches long)? If I had to would I be okay with just taking the Humu trigger out? <Nope>  How big will the puffers get?  <This puffer can grow to 18 inches, the trigger to 10 inches. My rule of thumb is one cubic inch of fish per 5 gallons tank size. You will always have a nitrate problem with that big of a load in a 50. James (Salty Dog)> 

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>

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  >>

Plagued with Nitrates <hello! Ryan with you today> I have a 55 gallon fish only marine tank.  I have a Clown Trigger and a Sohal Tang in it. <Hmmm...have you made future plans to expand?  That Sohal alone is going to require at least twice the volume that you're currently running.> I'm currently having a big problem with my nitrate levels. <Not exactly shocked> Which are at 80ppm.  I don't know how to lower it I've bought more live rock and I've used R/O water that I got from my local fish store.  The water here in my city straight out of the tap has anywhere between 40-80ppm of nitrate in it already. <What did the local fishkeepers do to deserve that?> That's why I've been buying the R/O water. <Very smart> I just changed 10 gallons of water using R/O water and my levels are still the same. <Yes, you need to keep fish that are well suited for your setup.  You're trying to do too much.> I don't have the money to buy the nitrate reductor. <And, you'd likely have just as many problems.> Will a better protein skimmer work? <Yes, it will help prevent the nitrates from rising, but it certainly won't solve the problem.  The one I have isn't all that.  Any suggestions would be great cause I really don't know what do about this problem.   <Well, it's back to the drawing board, my friend.  You've got 2 "gross polluters," and something has got to give.  Please either seriously consider upgrading, or take these two magnificent specimens back to the LFS that shouldn't have sold them to you in the first place.  If you're set on keeping one of the two, the clown trigger will do better in the short term, but eventually also will need a bigger home.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news!  Ryan> Thank you for your time                                          Scott -Rising nitrate levels...- let me just say have just found your site and it is very helpful GREAT SITE tank has been running for 6 months with no problems until now no3 gone up to 25mg/l  no2 is 0 running 2 Eheim filters 1 thermo prof 2 with Ehfisubstrat & Ehfimech <If these are bio and/or mechanical filters, this is likely the root of your nitrate accumulation> and the other 1 model 2222 pro with just active carbon and running threw a UV  2 power heads red sea protein skimmer 25 kilos of live rock I use ro for water changes have been doing water changes weekly last 3 weeks since it went up <Oh, only up for 3 weeks? If the rock was cured in the tank, and just finished curing, a nitrate level of 25 would be expected.> do you think I am using the right media in thermo filter. <You really don't need/want anything in the filters besides a periodic stash of carbon.> new to marines so any advice would be great, regards john <I hope this helps, also check out http://www.wetwebmedia.com/no3probfaqsii.htm and the four (count em!) other nitrate FAQ's, you're not the only one! -Kevin>

- High Nitrates, Small Tank - Bob, <Another crew member, JasonC here...> Hope you can help me with a few questions. <I can try.> I have a 26 gallon saltwater tank with 10lbs of live rock, 40 lbs of AragAlive fine sand (1-1/4") a 60 gallon trickle filter with bio-balls (Purigen under bio balls). The tank is stocked with very small blue tang, clown, bi-color pseudo, cleaner shrimp, flame scallop, rose anemone, a few snails and crabs, bubble coral, green star polyps, metallic green moon brain coral. I am also running a 75 gallon protein skimmer. I am doing 20% water changes every two weeks. All parameters test perfect with the exception of Nitrates. My Nitrates are consistently between 20-30. Is this a deadly level for fish? <No, marine fish can usually take up to 50-ish ppm before they start to show the effect.> What about corals? <High nitrates are no good for corals and other invertebrates.> My brain coral has lost most of its color and has produced cobwebs that stretch out to my LR. I am quite certain it is dead or almost there. Blue tang and pseudo are battling ich. The cleaner shrimp is helping them through this. <I wouldn't rely on the cleaner shrimp - they can take care of day to day issues, but rarely can get on top of an genuine outbreak.> Tried dosing the tank with kick-ich twice but not much luck. <Wouldn't dose anything in your display - much better to remove the fish and treat elsewhere.> The cleaner shrimp alone seems to do as much if not more than the kick-ich did without the shrimp?? Any recommendations on an effective reef safe ich med? <That's an oxymoron - there is no such thing. Reef-safe ich medications are usually not safe or not effective - one or the other.> I am feeding my fish and inverts every other day. I am also adding Cyclop-eeze for the corals. Fish like too. Rose and shrimp are hand fed frozen food like fish. I think my high nitrate problem is a combination of issues. 1) Overfeeding <Always a possibility.> 2) Small tank  3) Bio Balls <Unless these are completely submerged, a very likely source.> 4) Not changing blue/white filter pad often <Another likely suspect - these should be cleaned/replaced very frequently - perhaps every time you change the water.> 5) Not cleaning foam block in sump often (how often should I clean these two filter media's?) <Same as the foam pad - at least once a week.> I am cleaning the pre-filter sponge every two weeks. I do have an issue with spot algae. I have to clean it weekly but believe this is due to high lighting I am using (8 hours of 165 watts - 5watts per gallon) plus blind filtered sunlight that comes in through blinds all day. It is enough light for star polyp to be half open. I don't want to spend much more money on my system then I already have so plan on adding a poly filter at bottom of egg crate and using denitrate chips below that along with current Purigen. The only other thing I can think of doing that wouldn't add to much additional expense is adding one of those mini CPR in tank refugiums. The one that suctions on the inside, putting some live sand and Caulerpa inside. What do you think? Any other recommendations? <Address those other issues first - then see where you stand. Perhaps speed up the water changes, perhaps 5% a week.> Thanks, Rob <Cheers, J -- >

High Nitrates Hey guys! <Hello!> I'm having a nitrate build up in my 215g reef system....its been up since early may, and has been going along great, but in the last 30 days or so, the nitrate has been rising from around 10ppm to about 40ppm now...all of the inhabitants seem fine, but this seems like a scary trend... <Agreed> I've been doing regular 35g h2o changes every 2 weeks....skimming aggressively....don't think I'm overfeeding....about 300lbs live rock....plenty of snails and crabs, no2 is near 0 ammonia near 0.... <You need zero for both of these. Has something died in the system recently?> Ideas? btw, Anthony or Steven, did you guys ever receive that article about sexual reproduction of e. quads ??? <Not enough information. We need to know more about your filtration. Off-the-cuff, I would say something has died in the system or you're feeding too much> Happy holidays ! <Happy holidays to you and yours!>

Nitrate Problem Thanks for the reply.  As far as the live rock goes we are running 60lbs of live rock in the tank.  We do change filter media every 3-4 weeks depending. As to the stocking level there is not a great amount of fish in the tank mostly of them are smaller and we do have a decent cleanup crew with many crabs. I have a 72 gallon Salt tank setup for over 18 months now and during that time have had an incredible problem with nitrate levels in the tank.  I am currently using 2 Emperor 400 filters and a Fluval 280 on the tank as well as a red sea skimmer for protein. <Bodda boom bodda bing! I think we may have found the source of the nitrates. Are you replacing the filter material in these canisters regularly? If you're slack with the maintenance of the filtration equipment that you mentioned, you will definitely have nitrates> During the time that we have had the tank we have always had a problem getting nitrates under control: at best we did have the nitrates down to 5ppm but then again the nitrates spiked to over 150ppm. <That is excessive. This could also be a sign of overstocking. Is the stocking rate of the tank realistic?> We have tried everything from water changes every 3-5 weeks to at this point I am running nearly a lb of Denitrate in the various filters. <I feel reasonably sure the problem is the old filter media. Change the media regularly (weekly) but don't remove all the media in all the filters at once. Have a rotating schedule...do water changes weekly, and analyze your stocking level. This should take care of it. Oh...I also see no mention of live rock> This does seem to be helping as now the nitrates are starting to fall but I was curious as to any other suggestions that you may have.  Thank you. <My friend, you are correct. As you seem to realize what good does it do to treat the symptom without finding the cause? Check out wetwebmedia.com for more information. David Dowless>

- Defining the Nitrate Factory - <Greetings, JasonC here...> Thanks for the great web site. It is the most useful and informative site that I have found on  any subject, period. Coming from fresh water I am having trouble understanding the Nitrate factory view of filters. <You know what? So am I... I personally think it's something that is being blown out of proportion.> I am just getting ready to set up a 90gl .FOWsomeLR and will add more LR later. It seems to me that a high flow/oxygenated media would remove Ammonia and Nitrites quicker then live rock, but would do nothing for Nitrates. How can a filter be too effective at getting the first two out since they are so toxic to fish? <Well, any biological filter doesn't really 'get rid' of those nitrogenous wastes, it just breaks them down into less-harmful compounds; nitrate is the end product.> A wet/dry couldn't actually make more Nitrate from the same biological input than LR (could it?) <It could... wet/dry filters are highly efficient and would be able to process more waste sooner.> If was just using a DSB and LR for anaerobic processing of Nitrates how does a wet/dry impede this ability? <It doesn't, the nitrate would still be resident in the system, and the DSB and live rock would help keep the levels low.> Much thanks for any Help. Jeff Mahan <Cheers, J -- >

Reduced Nitrates indeed, coming from somewhere, I sent bob an email yesterday in regards to tossing the rest of my bio-balls in my W/D, was running 20ppm nitrates yesterday,18 hours after removing the balls, I've tested 0-5ppm nitrates, that's great and another thing off my list in this battle, the Naso tang and lion are likely going tomorrow, cutting down on fish load should help, I will get a yellow tang to see if he helps, thanks for your help here Jason, and tell Bob thanks for assuring me about the balls, <You're welcome> very happy to see trace levels of nitrate now, btw, if I'm running such low nitrates now, does this mean i can/should cut back on water changes?, was doing 20g a week but this is because of the nitrates, now am wondering if this much is needed......riot... <Frequent, partial water changes are a good idea... but twice a month is fine for these. Bob Fenner>

Media Replacement And Skimmer Choices (Pt. 2) Thanx again!  Now changing the foam media on a weekly matter will in itself help keep down the Nitrate levels in the tank would it not? <Yep! That's the best reason to do this! It's a viable "nutrient export" mechanism, as you're literally removing undesirable substances directly from the system. If you are a serious fish nerd, like me- you'll get a few of these foam media inserts and rotate 'em out several times a week...Scary- but really an easy way to keep nasty stuff from ever accumulating to begin with!> Also have you heard of the Back pack skimmer (doing a search right now on them but your opinions also appreciated)?  They seem to be sold in abundance at one of my local shops. <Yep- The CPR Bak Pak is a great hang-on-the-tank skimmer, IMO. Productive, simple to clean, and reliable. Another fine choice is the Aqua C Remora Pro. In my opinion, you can't go wrong with either of these models, if serviced regularly! Good luck! ScottF>

Re: nitrates Hello, I am writing today with a question about lowering nitrates. I have read many of your articles and FAQ, and I'm confused. Let me tell you about my set-up. I have a 55gal. , (2) emperor 280 filters, (1) hot magnum filter, and a Prizm skimmer. I have about 2 and a half inches of crushed coral and about 25 - 30 pounds of live rock. <Here's the problem. A deep course bed of crushed coral traps detritus and wastes contributing to nitrate production. Also the biomedia in the filters produce nitrates. These need to be cleaned very regularly (weekly to biweekly) and simply not enough live rock for bio-capacity and for your mandarins, which need at least 75 lbs of well established live rock per fish to survive. This is completely inadequate for these fish. Please read about Mandarins at WetWebMedia.com.> My inhabitants are 2 percula clownfish, 1 pair of mandarin Dragonettes, 1 pair of green spotted Dragonettes, 1 scooter blenny, 1 Sailfin tang, 1 long horned cowfish, 1 pair of seahorses, and some xenia coral. I also have 1 coral banded shrimp, and 2 camelback shrimp. <An unusual mix. You are mixing fish from completely different environments, current needs, etc. Seahorses generally have specialized needs compared to high current fish like Sailfin Tangs, which incidentally get to be 16", WAY too big for a 55.> I change 10 gallons every other week. I cannot seem to lower my nitrates, I have tried chemicals (prime - works for a short time) so I thought the problem was in my tap water, so I bought a tap water filter for changes. Now my question; I have been reading a lot about DSB, should I replace my coral with sand? <Very disruptive and stressful to your current inhabitants. Some of these fish are hard to keep, esp. in such circumstances. I would change substrates, but this would require a great deal of effort regarding established/establishing the needed food supply for mandarins, etc. Real serious vacuuming would be a good start, too much crud in substrate.  Not enough live rock to provide bio-capacity/denitrification.> I am trying to understand Plenum Systems, should I put sand on top of my coral with a screen in between. <Definitely not!!! a bigger waste trap. Do you see, wastes are the problem, and nitrate is the end game unless you have the live rock and sand to process it naturally.> Or maybe I should just increase my live rock. <Deal with substrate and more rock definitely!  A larger tank would be the ideal for the Tang and Mandarins. Please read about Sailfin Tangs (and any other fish) at WetWebMedia.com.> Nitrates are my only problem, I have no ammonia or nitrite. Also I feed my fish live brine shrimp and frozen Mysis everyday. ,I would use the brine to get them eating if difficult to feed, then wean to Mysis only. Brine shrimp are the Hostess Twinkie of fish food. Pretty much junk food.> This is my first marine tank, and I am looking for a cure not just a quick fix. <You have a nitrate factory in your substrate and filter media, take care of those and increase bio-capacity with LR and perhaps LS with proper precautions. (be wary of releasing toxic wastes by disturbing dirty substrate without vacuuming wastes in doing so). Also, larger water changes with above maintenance will help, maybe 10% per week according to water tests to get to desired levels.> Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. Thank you for taking your time to read this letter.  Sincerely, Linda <Our pleasure Linda, hope this gets you on track! Craig>

NITRATES !!!!!! AHHHHHHHHHH !!! Hi WWM crew '¦ <Howdy, Don with you tonight> I have a 40 gallon FO Marine tank with 5 damsels, one snowflake eel that jumped out for the first time and seems, so far, alive after putting it back, and 1 tomato clown. The fish have been thru a lot, I mean a lot, with Ick and PH fluctuations and temp. fluctuations but now all is good and dandy. I have everything under control now with the PH, the sickness and the temp. thanks to u. BUT I have one problem. My nitrates, all along, are shooting thru the roof. I mean, I can't seem to get them down for nothing. My Ammonia is 0. My nitrites are 0 also. And my Nitrates are around 60ppm !!! I have an Eheim Ecco canister filter, crushed coral as my substrate and a Berlin skimmer (that I had just bought 2 days ago). The reason why I have the skimmer is because I have read on WWM that it would essentially get rid of the Nitrates or at least decrease the amount. The liquid I'm getting is light beige color, out of my skimmer. Is that true? and what else do u think I should do to get this Nitrate situation under control? And when and if I do get this under control, could u provide me with a link that I could read up on how to convert my FO tank to a reef/coral with fishes. <The skimmer will help. Beige? Maybe the color of tea? Sounds OK. Looking for dark color and good daily output. Try to cut down on the amount of food and perform 10% water changes for a few days. The canister filter needs to be kept very clean (like daily). The crushed coral can trap a lot of detritus so you want to keep it clean as well. For more reef info, check here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/reef1.htm.> Thanks Guys. I really am bad with hobbies and I usually lose total interest in hobbies that are complicated and boring. But honestly, the subjects on WWM and help that u guys give us hobbyists is unbelievably awesome and has helped me thru a lot with this hobby and keeping me interested and I'm sure with all the support u guys give, I will most definitely stay in the hobby for a long long long time. <Glad to help, Don> Regards, Ash

Nitrates won't come down Hi! <cheers> You have been very helpful in the past and I come to you with another query. I am having a problem with nitrates staying close to 100 ppm in my 75 gal marine tank. The tank has been set up since early May. It has a 3" sandbed and 150 lbs of Florida live rock.  <wow! Young tank... DSB and heavy live rock! Its unusual to have high nitrates in light of all of this. My first intuitive guess is that the sand grain is not fine (sugar/oolitic grade) or that it is mixed/coarse. Coarse sand grades are poor at denitrification and mist very very thick compared to sugar fine grades to work comparably. Over 5" thick needed here and very strong water flow in the tank is a must. Also, I wonder if you have been getting dark skimmate every day from your skimmer... a common flaw to not have a tweaked skimmer> I have a sump with an AquaC EV120 skimmer. No other filtration.  <no worries... plenty of rock and sand> The sump does have a coarse filter sponge in the baffle between the skimmer and the Mag 7 return pump. I clean the sponge about once a week to get rid of the detritus it catches.  <outstanding and little addition to nitrates here> I have recently also added a mesh bag with activated carbon. I am running two Maxijet 1200 powerheads in the tank for additional circulation.  <good move to keep detritus in suspension for skimmer> I have been changing 10 gal of water once a week (sometimes twice) in the last month and a half. This is about 15% of the actual water volume.  <perhaps larger water changes needed to keep pace> I use RO water from a drinking water machine at the local supermarket for all my water changes and top-offs. Using tap water results in fairly bad diatom blooms so I've never used any on this tank, not even for the initial fill. I just ordered an RO/DI unit which I expect to get next week. Nitrates had gone over 100 ppm (kit only shows 100 and 200 ppm) but the water changes are keeping them somewhere between 50 and 100 ppm according to my Salifert and Red Sea test kits. Nitrites are also between 0.1 and 0.2 ppm.  <that almost sounds like a misreading?!? I cannot fathom nitrites existing in this tank. Do confirm on another brand of test kit> Ammonia is 0. Ca is 450 ppm and Alk is 3.2 meq/l. pH is 8.3. I don't know why I can't keep nitrates (and nitrites) closer to 0. I think the tank has been up long enough for the nitrites to have gone down to 0. <agreed> A picture of my tank can be found at http://wetwebfotos.com/Home?actionRequest=userview&userID=819 but the tree sponges and gorgonians in that picture are now gone. I took them out after some comments from Anthony. the tank is stocked as follows: Fish: 1 Blue Damsel 2 Percula clowns 1 Royal Gramma 1 medium Purple Tang 1 Blue (Hippo) Tang - this is the largest fish at 3.5 to 4" < a fine selection of fishes and no significant source of nitrate here... at least nothing out of the ordinary. Still doubting test kits> Invertebrates: 1 cleaner shrimp 2 peppermint shrimp 1 coral banded shrimp 1 cup coral 1 frogspawn 1 hammerhead coral 1 brown zoanthid colony (turns white when the polyps retract) Misc mushrooms and polyps snails and miscellaneous life that came with the live rock and live sand from the Florida coast of the Gulf of Mexico. There are probably a dozen mollusks attached to the live rock, all live. <very cool> I've had the damsel, clowns and coral banded shrimp for about three years. They started out in a 10 gal tank. I feed the tank one cube of either Formula One or Formula Two thawed in tank water every two days and I also add a narrow strip of Nori a couple of times a week. Sometimes I feed a cube of frozen Mysis instead of the Formula x.  <all light feeding> I add DT's phytoplankton (about 15 ml, three capfuls) twice a week for the filter feeders. Could this regimen be the cause of my nitrate problem? <hmmm... perhaps a source indeed... take a capful in a sample of aquarium water and tees after some days... just for a ballpark idea on what a concentrated solution can do> Would it be OK for the fish to cut back further on the feeding?  <your feeding of fish and corals already seems light... cutting back should not be necessary> The food seems to be consumed very quickly. I wouldn't mind removing the hippo tang, since he's the dirtiest of the fish, but there's no way I can catch him without taking out a lot of the liverock and causing a major disturbance in the tank. <actually... the waste of these fishes is what in part will keep many of your corals alive unless they get target fed. The problem again is not your feeding amounts (modest). I'm wondering about skimmer performance or test kit accuracy> The livestock seems to be doing well but I am concerned about the coral's long term health since I read here nitrates should be kept at a minimum and certainly a lot less than 50-100 ppm. Based on what I've read it seems I should have a big algae problem, but I don't. There's some red algae that builds up under the sand level between the sand and the glass, but it is pretty light and there is nothing above the sand level. Running a stick between the sand and the glass gets rid of it immediately.  <very fine> I don't have any angel hair algae but the back panel of the tank is covered with small deep green dots and coralline algae that I want to let grow over the rear glass surface. Am I making too much out of the nitrate level I have?  <somewhat yes> I may start doing larger water changes,  <excellent> but I really would prefer to find the source of my problem and fix it there. <agreed... as per above suggestions> Thanks for any insights or suggestions you might have. Henry <best regards, Anthony>

Re: Nitrates won't come down Anthony: Thanks for the information. I don't trust the nitrite test either because the Salifert kit had them down at 0 before and the colors it produces are not the easiest to interpret, although it is clearly not 0. They don't quite match anything on the color chart. Unfortunately I no longer have the Salifert kit. I will get another one. The two nitrate tests I have (Salifert and Red Sea) do agree with each other so I think the nitrate readings are accurate. <interesting> Your guess about the sand is a good one. The sand is not particularly coarse but it is not oolithic either. It is straight sand from the Gulf of Mexico, similar what you find on the beach in Cancun or elsewhere in the Caribbean. Making it thicker in the main tank would be difficult because of all the live rock. <ahhh...understood> Would it help to add a 3 or 4" oolithic sandbed in the sump?  <yes... perhaps a refugium or sump with more than 4" of sugar fine sand will do the trick (denitrification) where coarse sand cannot. Unlit is fine with a good strong flow over it> If so, would it need special seeding or will enough life make its way to the sump from the main tank?  <just a handful of live sand to inoculate it would be enough> The sump area is dark. Lighting it might be an option but most of the sump area is taken up by the skimmer and pumps.  <no need... easier unlit here> I would also need to figure out some way to keep the skimmer pump submerged. There's a baffle right before the main pump and water is perhaps 8" deep. <all sump skimmers need a well or reservoir of their own (even a bucket with an overflow to drain in to the sump). It is critical; that a skimmer receives all raw overflowing water but it cannot be at the mercy of a fluctuating sump level (evaporation, etc) or skimmer performance will be compromised> The skimmer does foam all the time but it takes 2-3 days to reach the overflow outlet of the cup. I will adjust it to see if I can get more foam production.  <if the skimmer is sitting in the open sump, that may be a large part of the problem...see here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/plumbingmarart.htm > I find I need to clean the pre-filter on the Mag 5 often to avoid pump performance from degrading. <the frequent cleanings are helpful but their need indicates a flaw in the system that allows such detritus to accumulate. Such matter should be kept in suspension for the skimmer to export. This does bring us back to water flow and skimmer performance needing tweaked> Is 50-100 ppm nitrate acceptable for the LPS and other invertebrates I listed?  <somewhat stressful but not fatal to many> I don't want to make too much out of these readings if my livestock is fine. I initially wrote because I thought I needed readings under 20 ppm. <indeed under 20ppm is recommended> Thanks again for your wonderful site and the help you provide. Henry <our great pleasure... thanks kindly. Anthony>

Re: Nitrates won't come down You are quick on the replies! <yes :) Here at WetWebMedia.com you have one of the rare exceptions of getting more than you pay for <G>> I am still confused about the cleaning of the pre-filters of the skimmer pump.  <no worries... I shall try to illuminate> The pump is right next to where the water comes from the tank into the sump. Anthony says: "the frequent cleanings are helpful but their need indicates a flaw in the system that allows such detritus to accumulate. Such matter should be kept in suspension for the skimmer to export. This does bring us back to water flow and skimmer performance needing tweaked". Since the pump is where the raw water comes in, that chamber contains detritus from the tank. That detritus gets trapped at the foam block on the intake of the skimmer pump (what I am calling pre-filter).  <yes! That is exactly the problem! Unless that foam block is cleaned daily in an attempt to prevent the biological nitrification of trapped waste... you have a filter that is generating Nitrates that could otherwise export said nutrients (raw water to the skimmer) BEFORE they have a chance to break down into nitrates> The pre-filter is meant to avoid any big items from entering the pump.  <that is the flaw, my friend... you want all raw organics...particulate and dissolved to enter skimmer with hopes of ending up in the skimmer cup BEFORE turning into nitrate in the system> Of course there's buildup there because the skimmer hasn't skimmed that water. Why wouldn't you expect this foam block to get this accumulation? Are you saying I should remove the pre-filter so the pump can push all the detritus into the skimmer?  <exactly... it is a common filter design flaw> I was just afraid something could make its way down from the overflow box in the tank and cause a problem in the skimmer pump, however, I now see where the pre-filter might be doing more harm than good.  <bingo, bub> There's also a foam block on the baffle before the return pump trapping this detritus, but some still makes its way to the other chamber, where it gets trapped by the pre-filter on the Mag 7 return pump. <this last stage polishing foam block isn't as bad as long as you clean it weekly or more often and it doesn't accumulate much. More often, I forgo it> Henry <best regards, Anthony>

Wet Dry Nitrate Factories? Hello Bob, I need some education regarding wetdry filters being nitrate factories but first the setup... 140 gal FOWLR with wetdry filter Aquaclear skimmer ~100 LBS live rock Inhabitants are an Emperor angel, Maroon Clown, Pacific Blue Tang, Convict Tang, Sailfin Tang, Scissortail Goby, Lawnmower Blenny, 2 neon gobies, plus some number of red tip hermits and turbo snails. This tank has been running for about a year. For maintenance I do a 20 gallon water change every 2 - 3 weeks and change the filter fiber, clean the skimmer etc. while doing the water change. My nitrate levels have always remained well below 10 ppm (I use the FasTest kit which has a lowest reading of 10ppm.) <Good maintenance, live rock... careful feeding...> >From what I have read from various sources, I should be pulling out my bio balls because the huge amounts of aerobic nitrifying bacteria growing on bio balls should be cranking out nitrate like crazy given the load on this tank. I'm struggling with this concept since it has always been my belief that the number of bacteria present is dependent on how much ammonia/nitrite is being produced. <One principal factor... as is a relative availability of aerobic, hypoxic, anaerobic space... detritus, circulation, types of foods...> If this is the case how would a wet dry system produce more nitrate than other types of filtration? <"Driving" the "forward" reaction of nitrification over its reciprocal complement (denitrification)... you may well have a relatively uncommon situation of "good" mix of livestock, feeding, upkeep, live rock, substrate... If you're satisfied with the under 10 ppm. nitrate readings in such a FOWLR system (I would be), then I wouldn't change much> Is it really just a maintenance issue of detritus collecting on the bioballs over time?  <These possibly, and other major to minor inputs> If you could either explain to me or point me to any information (books, articles, etc.) explaining how a wetdry filter can produce more nitrate than other filter systems I would greatly appreciate it? <... perhaps better to encourage you to do experiments... increasing the feeding, trying more frequent water changes... The energetics of the reaction series that yield more/less nitrate accumulation are straightforward... if there is more source material (ammonia, nitrite), less aerobic activity and/or more anaerobic digestion... the equation/balance of accumulated metabolites will/does shift from higher/lower. Do you want specific reference as in articles on biological filtration? What books, magazines do you have access to? I will take a look at what matches in our references. Bob Fenner> Thanks in advance, Richard

Nitrate Reduction Dear WWM crew, <Scott F. with you today> First off, I'd like to put out my thanks for all of your time and effort spent helping fellow hobbyists. Now, for the crisis. I have a 29 gallon FOWLR tank with a 5 gallon refugium containing Caulerpa prolifera and a nice large number of visible pods, a 10 gallon sump with a trickle tower containing DLS, and a diy skimmer (counter current). The trickle tower and skimmer were just added in the last few days to replace the two penguin bio wheels that are running on the tank. The substrate in the tank is only enough to cover the bottom as I had always read that deep sand beds were a negative thing in marine aquaria. Really regret that I didn't know about your site at the setup point, but I do plan on adding a good 3 inches of sand to the tank and the sump. <Good idea on the sand bed-deeper than 3 inches would-be even better.> The inhabitants are a pair of ocellaris clowns and a coral beauty angel, as well as a peppermint shrimp and a myriad of creatures that come out of the live rock when the lights are off:) Here's the problem- we just recently lost a very healthy (seemingly) Sailfin tang that we had for about 3 weeks or so. We found him lying upside down or on his side of the bottom of the tank gasping. The other fish were just fine. Every water parameter checked out accept the nitrates, which were in the 100 ppm range. <Yikes!> We've done a six gallon water change, and then another roughly one week later, but the nitrate remains the same. Thick clumps of emerald green algae appeared in different spots in the tank, but have now died back and been replaced with brown algae. Worrying profusely about her precious clown fish, my significant other has convinced me to do a massive water change to reduce the nitrates, as the smaller ones did nothing, and fearing her clowns will be lost to nitrate poisoning. At present, the water is mixing, but I fear that a large change (75% or so) will cause to great a shock to the fish and actually be their demise. <Better to perform smaller, regular changes> Also, the peppermint shrimp, a rock crab (in the refugium), and a tiny brittle star are all still alive and well- but I would assume that the nitrate level would do them in far before the tang? I sincerely appreciate you time, Thank you, Daniel <Your high nitrate level and algae bloom are indicative of a high nutrient level. There are somethings you can do to reduce this-adding a deeper sand bed, as outlined above, institute regular water changes, siphoning detritus as you go. You really should not use DLS material, or for that matter, bioballs, in your filters, as the DLS is a detritus trap, and the bioballs are essentially working against your deep sand bed by producing nitrate. Make sure your skimmer is adjusted to produce at least a cup of dark, yucky stuff weekly. And finally, if you really want to use Caulerpa in your sump, do harvest it regularly-a good source of nutrient export. Be careful not to rip the fronds while doing this. Keep reading on the wetwebmedia site for more information on maintenance. Good luck!- Scott F>

Nitrate and Clownfish Hello again! I hope this finds you all well. <Scott F. back with you again> I spent the day researching again, and decided on some "field work" to boot. I searched one of the LFS's that we like to use on occasion for more opinions (on your ideas) and for some comparison for my poor clown. I'm afraid I made a poor impression, but all is well that ends well, right? I told him of your suggestion for removing the bioballs upon addition (or a week or so after) of the DSB.....this had him pondering back and forth and finally he decided that he agreed with you, though he could not understand why it could not be a two inch sand bed, which I just had to let go, as I could not explain it to his satisfaction. That taken care of, I spotted several tanks of tank raised tomatoes and ocellaris that had some of the same markings on their white patches, which is what ours looked like at the start; I asked him what he could make of it, and I honestly believe that he had no idea, taking my "bait" with the marks having to do with the high nitrate levels....he was adamant that my clown's situation is indeed due to the high nitrates. I read every piece of Brooklynella information on WWM pages, and concluded that he is showing none of the symptoms for it. Still a mystery to me, any ideas besides Brooklynella? Daniel thinks that it could be Hole-in-the-head/HLLD...what do you think? <It's a distant possibility- this malady generally causes markings and/or pits in the skin due to skin loss; usually found near the no surprise here-head or lateral line area on the fish. It is rarely fatal, it just looks bad. All kinds of "remedies" exist for this malady, ranging from the addition of vitamins in the fishes' foods, to daily water changes, to grounding the tank from stray voltage, etc. This might even be "normal" coloration for this strain of captive-bred clowns?> I am very concerned even though he is still eating well, and behaving as usual. <Just keep a close eye on these fish and follow good maintenance practices. Be prepared to act decisively should the need arise>  The nitrates as of this afternoon are just under 20ppm by the way.) <definitely a positive trend. Good job!> I also asked him about the Caulerpa (which is all they sell) and if/when they might have other plant life available for us.....I'm afraid he thinks I'm crazy now, and we will more than likely not be using this store for any further saltwater related items. <Well, now you've crossed over that threshold into the realm of "fish nerd"-just like me, and there is no known no cure for that! :)> Our next research will be in the refugium section of WWM for better options. What *would* we do without you guys?! <Buy lots of Caulerpa, maybe? LOL> Thanks again immensely for your time, opinions and educated guesses. Kelly and Daniel in Houston <You're welcome. Feel free to contact us any time!>

Nitrate Crisis (Part 2) WWM Crew: <Scott F. with you again> (Kelly here, Daniel sent you guys the first note; I am the "significant other" worrying profusely *grin*.) Thank you so much (everyone) for how quickly you are able to answer our e-mails, and how dedicated to education you all are. I need to make some clarifications, and your response has sparked a few different questions. I think the best way will be to cut in on the existing dialog with my own input and shoot for some clarity to this "muddy" situation! He works nights, so communication is not always optimal.... Sorry for the length, by the way. >*He has removed the DLS at my insistence, prior to the water changes today, Chemipure and poly filter and carbon are all in place as well.* <Good!> *The nitrates at this go round (finding my beloved Sailfin) were nearing 40ppm, and we did not test again after the second 6 gallon water change until last night (see below)...I'm afraid he was mistaken about the 100ppm, it was very high, but in truth the test from last night was between 60 and 80, he read the test more than an hour after I took the sample and tested it which was last night....there is more on this below, it's very hard to clarify. Daniel may have been trying to condense our experience for the sake of your time which we both greatly appreciate.* <That's what I'm here for, it's okay> *Do you think we might find a balance in raising the sandbed to 4 inches in both the tank and the refugium, keeping the bioballs in the filter? Daniel also suggested partitioning the sump to add a nice deep sandbed there as well. The reason for this question is oxygen, as the tanks day to day temperature here in Houston in the summer is determined by how much A/C we can afford! He has essentially built the entire system: wet/dry, skimmer, refugium, sump, and hood (awaiting better lighting), and I'm sure he can modify it to your suggestions.* <I think that increasing the sand depth and retaining the bioballs would be kind of counter-productive, sort of a "tug-of-war" with no winner> >Make sure your skimmer is adjusted to produce at least a cup of  >dark, yucky stuff weekly. And finally, if you really want to use  >Caulerpa in your sump, *I'm sorry to be a pain, but I've read through some of the Caulerpa FAQ's and found nothing on how to actually "harvest" it. Essentially harvesting the Caulerpa would be in fact "ripping the fronds" no? I thought it was the runner that you are to keep from damaging. Maybe I missed something...? We are both confused by your reply.* <Sorry for the confusion! It's almost impossible not to rip some of the fronds when harvesting Caulerpa, but you can gently pull lengths of it out in clumps. You just don't want to radically rip it out, because there are numerous toxic compounds that can be released into the water which are not too good for the life in your tank. In the long run, I'd eliminate Caulerpa. just ask Anthony- he loves to tell people that "Friends don't let friends by Caulerpa!" >do harvest it regularly-a good source of nutrient export. Be careful not to rip the fronds while doing this. Keep reading on the wetwebmedia site for more information on maintenance.> *Thank you again for all your time and effort, the website itself is such a plethora of information that I'm sure I miss some things every time I'm there! I hope I was able to clarify our situation for you. Take care :) Kelly (and Daniel) in Houston <Glad I could help-let us know if you have any more questions- Regards, Scott F.>

Toxic Water (Nitrates) Hi, I am having a problem with my tank. Last month my nitrates were 200 and my nitrites were 10. <Ugh!> I don't understand how because I did a 20% water change monthly. <Well, lets work this through. Let us assume your tank produces 1 ppm nitrate per month. Now, you do a water change of 20% each month and lets also assume (which is not always true) that the new water you use has zero nitrates. The 1 ppm you had at the end of the first month is now (after the water change) 0.8 ppm. Now after the second month, you have 1.8 ppm nitrates, which you do a water change and bring it down to 1.44 ppm. Month three, it increased to 2.44 and was brought down to 1.95 ppm. Do you get the progression? Nitrates accumulate and need to be monitored monthly, so you can later your husbandry.> My tank is 55 gallons and my filtration includes a wet-dry good up to 150 gallons and a Prizm skimmer good up to 75 gallons. <Your Prizm needs to be accumulating a cup of dark skimmate everyday.> I also have a UV sterilizer 200 watt. I did a 50% water change and that didn't not bring the levels down. <It should have cut the levels in half. Perhaps your test kit is inaccurate or not sensitive enough to distinguish between 100 and 200 ppm. Both are too high. The other possibility is to check your new saltwater. It may not be free from nitrates, either from the raw water you are using or from your salt mix.> I put a nitrate sponge in my sump as well as activated carbon. <IME, these have little to no impact.> I also put a Polyfilter in my drip pan. I cut back on feeding to once every other day too. The levels after one week were nitrates 200 and nitrites 0.5 ppm. <Well, at least the nitrites have gone down.> I noticed my dogface puffer has been getting ich off and on for the past month since these levels were elevated, tonight he is covered with it. My levels from yesterday were salinity 1.021, temp 80, nitrates 200, nitrites 0.5 ppm. What can I do to get them down? <A series of 50% water changes using nitrate free water.> I did a 10% water change yesterday. <This will do next to nothing.> Should I do these daily or weekly? <I would perform a 50% water change every other day until your nitrates have dropped to 20 ppm.> What percentage should I be doing? <See above> Please help. Thank you. JPK <Good luck! -Steven Pro>

Does eliminating bio balls help eliminate nitrate Dear Bob, <Gage here this evening.> I had the opportunity pleasure to meet you many years ago, (about 5 years) back in Monroeville PA. This is where I lived and worked in the trade for about 5 years before returning to my native home of California. I moved from Pittsburgh to Rancho Santa (South Orange County) back in 99 where I still live today. I have a question with regards to the true "Berlin" system. If I am correct, the true Berlin system is a bare bottom tank with good circulation, live rock, sump and a good proteins skimmer and micron prefilters. The main goal is to eliminate the need for any outside biological filtering media such as bio balls, with the purpose of eliminating a breading ground for Nitrosomonas and Nitrobacter bacteria, which then eliminates the nitrogen cycle and it's final waste product of Nitrate. Does this make since......if not bare with me. Nitrobacter bacteria grow on any and all surface areas that are provided with oxygenated water, and they only colonies in amounts that are needed based on the waist load. So, if you have a sump with bio balls, how could this contribute to the nitrate problem; If the bio balls are available, the bacteria will colonies on them, and it will also grow on other surface areas in the aquarium (liverock, glass walls, etc). If the bio balls are removed, since the Nitrobacter bacteria only grows to the amount needed, the same amount of bacteria would then just colonies in other areas of the aquarium system, still producing the same amount of nitrate, which is then removed by skimming and water changes. So my question is: Does eliminating bio balls really help reduce nitrate? <Sort of. If you remove the bio balls you will need to replace them with something else, like more live rock. Pound for pound the live rock is much better at filtering your water and removing nitrates.> or am I completely wrong in my theory because the skimmer is suppose to remove all waste before the nitrogen cycle has a chance to happen? <The nitrogen cycle is going to happen no matter what. Using live rock in your filter instead of bio balls will ensure that you are better equipped to handle the nitrogen cycle. Check out the link below for some good info http://wetwebmedia.com/nitratesmar.htm> Thanks for your time with regards to this matter. Sincerely, Mike Proctor P.S. Tell Anthony I said hello...he might remember me as "The Fish Guy", my aquarium service in Monroeville. <will be sure to, best regards, Gage>

Location of articles specifically explaining benefit of removing biomedia from wet dry filter Hello and thank you for reading this.  <Hi Richard> I have gone through most of your articles regarding the benefits of removing the bio media in a wet dry filter. My question is what specifically is the benefit of removing the bio media from the wet dry trickle filter.  <These bio-media convert nitrite to nitrate as a dead-end process awaiting your export via water change. Removing them and relying instead on 1 -1.5 lbs of live rock per gallon and deep sand beds further breaks the nitrate down to it's gaseous form in the deep anoxic recesses in the rock and sand and it rises to the surface of the water. This does not preclude removing other non-nitrogenous wastes and replacing vital elements with regular water changes.>  I understand from your articles that the live rock and live sand will do the job of the plates or bio balls or whatever was in the wet dry. But specifically what is the benefit. For example does live rock and live sand take the denitrification a step further, for example convert nitrates into some other substance? <Yes, gaseous form, as above> Does relying on the live rock and live sand remove the need for water changes?  <No.> I currently am using a wet dry trickle filter as well as live rock and live sand in a 90 gallon tank. The inhabitants include three damsels two perculas about 30- 40 pounds of mixed live rock and 3-4 inches of live aragonite sand. Things are going fine everything is thriving as long as I change around 20 gallons of water a month. Will removing the bio media in my wet dry trickle filter improve my water quality to the degree that water changes are no longer needed or are needed less frequently? If you would kindly point me in the right direction I would greatly appreciate the insight. Thanks. Richard Slocum <I would advise adding more LR before removing the wet/dry although you have a relatively light bio-load. There is much more on live rock and sand on WetWebMedia.com. Scroll to the bottom of the page and type "live rock" into the google search engine. Craig> 

Source of Nitrates Hi. I was wondering if my elevation in nitrates (200 ppm) can be the result of my 200 watt UV sterilizer on my 55 gallon aquarium? <Nope> Is the UV light killing off all the good bacteria to get rid of the nitrates? <No, UV's only kill what is passed through them. Denitrifying bacteria only occur in low oxygen environments; deep sand beds and deep inside porous live rock. They would never be free floating and going through the UV. Nitrates accumulate from overfeeding, overstocking, poor nutrient export, not large enough or frequent enough water changes, from low grade salt mixes, from source water, etc. Please examine these possibilities and take corrective measures.> Thanks, JPK <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>

Nitrate Nightmare Hi WWM Crew! <Scott F. here today!> I have a 55g FOWLR, 120g FOWLR and a 20g tank that is currently without fish but running. I have had constant problems with  high nitrates in all three of my tanks.  I recently changed from buying  water from my LFS to mixing and storing my own salt water. I store and  mix the water in a 30g trash can with 2 powerheads constantly running. I haven't yet, but I also intend to add a heater.  So far I have only been using the container for makeup water, so on my first run of using it for a water change, I mixed the salt and Amquel and let the water aerate for 2 days before doing a water change.  Immediately after doing a 20g water change to my 120g tank, I did a water test that indicated the nitrates were high in the tank. <May be in part because of high nitrate present in source water, but also possibly due to husbandry. Do re-visit your maintenance procedures, feeding, skimming, etc., to make sure that these factors are not contributing to the problem. Fortunately, these are easy to correct!> I have the Saltwater Master Liquid Test Kit that uses a color chart for readings, so it's very hard to tell exact numbers, but let's just say it read that the nitrates were fairly high. Anyway, after realizing that the nitrates were high in the tank, I tested the stored water.  I realize that I should've tested it before doing the water change, but I'm learning as I go.  : ) <Hey- at least you're testing! That's great. Don't be so hard on yourself!> I found that the pH level was low, so next time I will buffer the water to bring it to 8.2. <Good procedure> I also  found that the nitrites were high <Bingo!> ....this is where my query comes in.  My thinking on the issue is that by using Amquel to get rid of chlorine and ammonia, the ammonia is converting to nitrite during storage and then to nitrate in the tank.  Does this sound logical? <A very interesting theory, but I'm inclined to believe that the fresh water was high in nitrate to begin with, and certainly not helping the existing nitrate situation in your tanks. When you're starting out with source water that's, say, 5ppm or more nitrate, you're "behind the eight ball" already!> If so, what can I do to remedy the problem? If this explanation doesn't sound right, what do you suggest? <I'd recommend that you invest in a good RO/DI unit that can produce virtually pure water at a modest cost. This way, at least you can be assured that you're starting with good source water> Seeing that I have 3 tanks, it got to be quite cumbersome getting saltwater from the store, so I really want to learn to mix my own water. <Agreed- been there- done that!> Does this sound like a problem that a chemical tap water purifier could fix or is an RO/DI unit in order, or is there something else that I'm missing? <Nope- as above- an RO/DI should help. But do investigate husbandry, maintenance, etc. to help reduce nitrate levels in your tanks.> Thanks in advance for your help.  You guys are the coolest! <Not as cool as our readers! Keep up your efforts at learning and improving your systems! You're doing great! Regards, Scott F.>

Rubbermaid got nitrate Looking to set up a Rubbermaid 150 gal sump out of one of there stock tanks. Question is, do you know if Rubbermaid has nitrate in the plastic? Have heard that this might be a problem for a reef tank.  Thanks. <Mmm, made of Polyethylene... carbon, hydrogen, oxygen... no nitrogen... no nitrate. No problem. Bob Fenner>

Dastardly Dascyllus Behavior Steven, You can disregard the question on the clown (Waddles). As of this morning, he is eating and swimming all over the tank. Hope his days of being stress-free are over. <I am glad to hear it.> As for my Domino, so far so good and I'm keeping my fingers crossed. <You can hope, but this fish is going to be a fish. No changing its behavior. Domino's are categorically one of the meanest fish out there.> I know he'll eventually have to go, as I wish to purchase some Cardinalfish in the future. <Agreed> As for my second question, I don't think you answered it. <Perhaps I was not clear enough.> My nitrates (been at this same level for 2-1/2 weeks or so) seem to be "stuck" at 25 mg/L (according to the test) and the guy at the LFS suggested I make a 20% water change since in his opinion, the tank seems to be "stuck" at the end of it's cycle. <You LFS guy is incorrect about the cycle. You said you tank is run with an undergravel filter. If so, you will always have nitrates. You do not have a sand bed and are therefore unable to culture denitrifying bacteria. You will always have nitrates that you will have to continually try to dilute with water changes.> Been up and running for 6 weeks, ammonia zero, salinity is normal. What is your advice on this? Should I make a water change? <Yes, but do not think that eventually you will not have a need for them. Even with a DSB and complete denitrification there is always a need for water changes.> Thanks, Maureen <You are welcome. If I was not clear enough or you need further explanation, feel free to email again. -Steven Pro>

Unhappy new addition?? Hi there again, guys! I have a zillion more questions for you, but I'll limit this session to just two. I have a 20 gallon saltwater, UGF, etc. I purchased a tank raised Percula clown yesterday, acclimated him, and he seemed okay. My yellow-tail blue damsel started attacking him and wouldn't leave him alone. He even tried to bite! He was smacking him in his face with it's tail and had him cornered and wouldn't let up. <This is not unusual behavior for damsels. They are inherently territorial and aggressive.> Needless to say that the damsel is now gone, but the clown (Waddles) is still hiding and won't eat. I had to really move around some rock to get that little @#*&@ out. Is he still unbelievable stressed or should he have a companion (there were 4 in his tank at the LFS)? <I would bet on stress, damage, even just plain old fear.> My Domino damsel doesn't bother him. <No yet!> Any suggestions? <I always try to plan out every fish I put in a tank before I put any in. Come up with a game plan and you will have fewer problems like this in the future.> Now on to question number 2. My tank has been up and running for over 6 weeks and my nitrates are still hovering around 25 ppm (according to how the test reads). The guy at the LFS suggested that I do a 20% water change since in his opinion it seems my tank is "stuck" (ammonia zero, salinity is normal). The nitrates have been at this level for about 2-1/2 weeks, maybe a little longer. Any suggestions on that as well? <I am a bit confused. You will always have nitrates with an undergravel filter. You do not have a Deep Sand Bed to perform denitrification. Perhaps you should invest in Mike Paletta's "The New Marine Aquarium." It is an excellent first book. Very easy to read and pretty short, too.> Thanks again, Maureen <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>

Nitrate Problem I have a 72 gallon Salt tank setup for over 18 months now and during that time have had an incredible problem with nitrate levels in the tank.  I am currently using 2 Emperor 400 filters and a Fluval 280 on the tank as well as a red sea skimmer for protein. <Bodda boom bodda bing! I think we may have found the source of the nitrates. Are you replacing the filter material in these canisters regularly? If you're slack with the maintenance of the filtration equipment that you mentioned, you will definitely have nitrates> During the time that we have had the tank we have always had a problem getting nitrates under control: at best we did have the nitrates down to 5ppm but then again the nitrates spiked to over 150ppm. <That is excessive. This could also be a sign of overstocking. Is the stocking rate of the tank realistic?> We have tried everything from water changes every 3-5 weeks to at this point I am running nearly a lb of Denitrate in the various filters.   <I feel pretty sure the problem is the old filter media. Change the media regularly (weekly) but don't remove all the media in all the filters at once. Have a rotating schedule...do water changes weekly, and analyze your stocking level. This should take care of it. Oh...I also see no mention of live rock> This does seem to be helping as now the nitrates are starting to fall but I was curious as to any other suggestions that you may have.  Thank you. <My friend, you are correct. As you seem to realize what good does it do to treat the symptom without finding the cause? Check out wetwebmedia.com for more information. David Dowless>

Information overload...HELP!  11/12/2005 Thank-you for your help in advance. I've been a long time African Cichlid keeper starting out with a 10 gallon tank and working my way up to my existing 150 gallon bow front tank. I took time and patience in learning all I could through reading and the knowledge of others. Then, one fine day the salt water bug bite me. I'd like to convert my 150 gal in the future but right now I am using a 29 gallon starter tank to "get my hands wet" so to speak.  Here is how things look so far: 40 lbs live sand, 40 lbs live rock, Red Sea Prizm protein skimmer that actually works (have read lots of not so good things), 1 rotating power head, Eheim Prof 2 2126 (with only filter pads and Chemi-pure) mostly for water movement and nitrate control and my lighting is 130w=12,000k, 420 actinic blue pc with 4 moonlight for lovely night time viewing.  Specific Gravity 1.024, temp 81 deg, ph 8.4, ammonia 0ppm, nitrite 0ppm, calcium 410(use Kalkwasser drip once a week to replace 1gal of evaporation), GH/kH 8, but nitrate is always at 20ppm. <"It's your filtration"> I do 10 percent water changes weekly as well as rinse/replace filter pads. Stock= 1 yellow tail damsel, 2 blue damsels, lawnmower blenny, sand sifting star, tiger striped star, fancy red star, multiple blue legged crags and a few snails. Not to mention all the beautiful life on the live rock. Now to my question -What am I doing wrong that my nitrates are so high? <Mmm, nothing... due to your filtration mode, maintenance... See WWM re canister filters, maint...> Any advice with my set-up? <Mmm, not on this one, but I would read... maybe a few good marine aquarium books (biblio. on WWM), and our general marine aquarium set-up articles and FAQs files> And with my current set-up would it be possible to have corals and the like? <... some> Worth noting- before using the Eheim I was using a Penguin 350 Bio-wheel filter but opted for more water movement. Thank you for your insight. Frankie <I might put the Biowheel back on and run it at the same time. Bob Fenner> 

Trickle Filters as Nitrate Factories I am a newbie and just found your site a couple of days ago. I can't leave it alone and can't tell you how much I've learned in a short period. <Glad to hear it.> Anyway I had a question that's been bugging me. I have read several places that trickle filters are nitrate factories. Wouldn't any biological filter stop generating nitrates as soon as the supply of ammonia and nitrites is depleted (which is what I want anyway)? <Ammonia is produced constantly in our aquariums. The thing is when your tank is completely "cycled" the ammonia is converted/consumed nearly instantly into nitrate so that at any given time you get a zero reading from your ammonia test kit. Pretty much the same thing happens with nitrite, too. The main drawback to trickle filters is their incredible ability to nitrify many dissolved organics and turn them into nitrate too. You would much rather see your protein skimmer grab a hold of these compounds and export them from the system instead.> Thanks, Darrell <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>

High Phosphates and Nitrates Hello, I am posting this for a friend from my salt club, can you help? <I'll try> 'I have been having some water chemistry problems lately that I can not figure out, so I am going to put it out there for you all to help with. About 2 months ago, I started getting high nitrate readings along with moderately high phos. Everything I have tried to get these down has failed or only worked for a short time, which equals failed in my book. I have nothing missing in the way of livestock, most of my corals are now doing fine, with the exception of the birds nest frag I got at the swap. I have tested the makeup water and it does not read any nitrate or phos. either. Tank readings this am are. pH. 8.0 (buffer added), Nitrite 0mg/L, Nitrate >110 on one kit >120 on another, Phos. 1.0mg/L, Ammonia, 0 on both kits, KH 110, CA 300 (today is Kalk day). <Elevating the pH with the Kalkwasser to about 8.5 (temporarily, it will drop soon on its own) will precipitate out most of the soluble phosphate here... But its source?...> Tank is a 55 gal with 4-5in DSB, HOB BakPak skimmer, 4 Powerheads for circulation, Temp. remains at 78. Inhabitants: 2 tangs, 2 midas blennies, 1 blue damsel, 1 lawnmower, emerald and sally lightfoot crabs, 2 conch with multiple babies, 5 starfish of different varieties with multiple baby ones. About 70lbs LR, Multiple corals of all varieties (SPS, LPS, Softies). Coralline growth is great. No nuisance algae. I have been struggling with red Cyano, but it appears to be controlled now. <Here's a clue> Photoperiod is 14hrs, first and last 2hrs are actinic only from 220w pc lighting. Any ideas? Suggestions?' <It may well be that the measurable nitrate, phosphate are coming from the dissolving Cyanobacteria... or perhaps a mineral source in the system (substrate, rock...), overfeeding... Please have your friend read through this section of our root web: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/nitratesmar.htm and the linked FAQs files there. Bob Fenner>

High Phosphates and Nitrates Hello, I am posting this for a friend from my salt club, can you help? <I will try.> 'I have been having some water chemistry problems lately that I cannot figure out, so I am going to put it out there for you all to help with. About 2 months ago, I started getting high nitrate readings along with moderately high phosphate. Everything I have tried to get these down has failed or only worked for a short time, which equals failed in my book. <Agreed. This type of problem needs to be attacked at the root cause, not by attacking the symptoms.> I have nothing missing in the way of livestock, most of my corals are now doing fine, with the exception of the birds nest frag I got at the swap. <Phosphate is a known inhibitor of calcification.> I have tested the makeup water and it does not read any nitrate or phosphate either. <Is this some sort of purified water, RO or DI? Either one is preferable to tap water.> Tank readings this am are pH 8.0 (buffer added), Nitrite 0 mg/L, Nitrate >110 on one kit >120 on another, <Indeed, quite high.> Phosphate 1.0 mg/L, <This will fuel nuisance algae, if not now, soon, particularly Cyanobacteria.> Ammonia 0 on both kits, KH 110, CA 300 (today is Kalk day). Tank is a 55 gallon with 4-5 inch DSB, HOB Bak-Pak skimmer, 4 Powerheads for circulation, Temperature remains at 78. Inhabitants: 2 tangs, 2 midas blennies, 1 blue damsel, 1 lawnmower, emerald and sally lightfoot crabs, 2 conch with multiple babies, 5 starfish of different varieties with multiple baby ones. About 70 lbs LR, multiple corals of all varieties (SPS, LPS, Softies). Coralline growth is great. No nuisance algae. <Surprising!> I have been struggling with red Cyanobacteria, but it appears to be controlled now. Photo period is 14 hours, first and last 2 hours are actinic only from 220w PC lighting. Any ideas? Suggestions? <Many possibilities. Over feeding, feeding inappropriate foods, inadequate nutrient export processes, not large enough or frequent enough water changes, etc. Not enough information given at this point for a definitive answer. -Steven Pro>

Nitrates... No. Big fish and a Shoehorn...  Hello Bob and Crew, I have been reading all the articles on your site and am amazed, has to be the most informative site on the net, and I thought my old site was something, lol, <thanks kindly!> just looking for a suggestion, I have a 130g tank with a Picasso trigger, red coris wrasse (Bob's fave and mine), Naso and blue tangs, queen angel, tomato clown, cleaner wrasse (I know), long spine and pencil urchins, oh ya, and a volitans lionfish and snowflake eel, <OK... first suggestion is to get a bigger tank ASAP. We must be responsible when planning for the adult sizes of our fishes without any unnatural, unhealthy or unrealistic hope of fishes stunting but not dieing prematurely. You have names seven fishes that approach or exceed one foot in length as adults!!! Yowsa, bud> I have been changing 20g a week, my nitrates have been at 10ppm,climbing to 20 at water change time, but now they have been at 20 climbing to 40 and above, <no surprise here... way too many fishes> I had a fluidized bed (Marineland) and got rid of it after reading some articles, but has not reduced the nitrates, I have a wet/dry running, a good protein skimmer, a 16w U.V (Laguna), and recently have added an AquaClear 'quick filter" into the tank for better circulation, could the filter attached to this be my problem? This increase has started after adding this, coincidence?, <no my friend... your fishes and tank are simply maturing. The nitrate is an inevitable by-product. Removing the fluidized bed was a good guess... it was the biggest "nitrate" producer in the system (besides the fish load...heehee)>  I have floss as well as carbon and a phosphate removal pad in the first tray of the wet/dry, which I change regularly, and floss and bioballs in the main part which I do not change, this tank has been running 6-8 months, any thoughts are greatly appreciated, <this is an easy one bud... thin the fish out or mother nature will do it for you. "Mysterious deaths" in the next year in your tank won't be so "mysterious"> I do run tap water, age it for a few days in my salt mix container, with some "prime", our water here is not that bad I think, and all fish are doing well, with the exception of the blue tang that always has ich (hence the cleaner wrasse), thanks guys.....riotfishdude <If you have a significant other, tell her I said it is OK for you to buy a 500 gallon aquarium :) Best regards, Anthony>

Nitrates Hello Bob and Crew, I have been reading all the articles on your site and am amazed, has to be the most informative site on the net, and I thought my old site was something, lol, just looking for a suggestion. I have a 130 gallon tank with a Picasso trigger, red coris wrasse (Bob's fave and mine), Naso and blue tangs, queen angel, tomato clown, cleaner wrasse (I know), long spine and pencil urchins, oh ya, and a volitans lionfish and snowflake eel, <You are or will be very overcrowded once these fish mature.> I have been changing 20 gallons a week, my nitrates have been at 10ppm, climbing to 20 at water change time, but now they have been at 20 climbing to 40 and above, I had a fluidized bed (Marineland) and got rid of it after reading some articles, but has not reduced the nitrates, I have a wet/dry running, <You W/D is contributing to your nitrate problem, but so is the sheer number and size of your fish. This is one instance where I like W/D's, for tanks with big messy fish.> a good protein skimmer, <This should easily be removing a cup per day.> a 16w U.V (Laguna), and recently have added an AquaClear "quick filter" into the tank for better circulation, could the filter attached to this be my problem? <No> this increase has started after adding this, coincidence? <Yes, coincidence.> I have floss as well as carbon and a phosphate removal pad in the first tray of the wet/dry, which I change regularly, <I would recommend cleaning the prefilter on the W/D daily. This would do a lot to remove organics and lower your nitrates.> and floss and bioballs in the main part which I do not change, <I do not like the floss in the W/D chamber.> this tank has been running 6-8 months, any thoughts are greatly appreciated, I do run tap water, <Another source of nitrates> age it for a few days in my salt mix container, with some "prime", our water here is not that bad I think, and all fish are doing well, with the exception of the blue tang that always has ich (hence the cleaner wrasse) thanks guys.....riotfishdude <Make sure your skimmer is putting out, clean the prefilters everyday, and perhaps switch to RO or DI water, and your nitrate levels should come down. You are going to have to work to keep this bioload in your tank. -Steven Pro>

Nitrate Levels After Reverse Osmosis? Are there nitrates existing in r/o water ? If so how much? And, is there any way of ridding nitrates before putting r/o water in your tank?  <Nick, if your membrane in the R/O filter is good, your water should be 97/98% pure. I would do a nitrate test of your tap water and see what the nitrates are out of the tap, if any. I would concentrate on getting the R/O filter working properly rather than incur extra expense in removing nitrates from R/O water. Nick, in future queries please watch your caps and abbreviations. It does save the editor work as these queries have to be corrected before they can be placed in the FAQ's. Thanks in advance. James (Salty Dog)> Thank you  <You're welcome> 

Lowering Nitrates Dear Mr. Fenner, <Steven pro this evening.> I have a 155 gallon tank, 20 gallon sump with 10 gallons in it and a 20 gallon refugium. 55 lbs live sand in the tank, 110lbs live rock the tank is 4 months old with 3/4 of the rocks coming from an established tank that was taken apart. I have approximately fourteen, 1 to 1 1/2 inch fish ( clowns, purple Pseudochromis, Banggai cardinal, etc) for a total of 18 fish in all. I have 50 blue leg and red leg crabs, 20 to 25 turbo snails, Caulerpa growing in the tank. I have mushrooms, Goniopora, star polyps, toad stool and a nitrate level of 20ppm. The refugium was just installed this week with reverse light cycle all other tests are in the correct range. Even with water changes I cannot get the nitrate level lower than 20. Will the refugium help? Please help me. Thank you, Nick. <The refugium will help somewhat. Aggressive protein skimming, use of purified water for top-off and water changes, as well as proper feeding will all help, too. -Steven Pro>

The 160 is reading 80ppm for nitrates I have two tanks, one 160 (fish only), and one 55 (reef). The 160 is reading 80ppm for nitrates, even with Chemi pure in the sump, and the 55 is reading about 50ppm, way to high for inverts. I have been doing water changes once a week, at about a 30% replenishment rate for each month. Should I increase the amount of water changed, and/ or are there any truly reliable products (reactors or sponges) that can eliminate this stress to the tanks? While I am at it, is Maracyn safe for treating infections with out harming the denitrifying bacteria? Thanks, Tom Griffith >> Do look into more "biological means" of addressing your nitrate concentrations/excess... Do you have much in the way of live rock, macro-algae... have you considered setting up a natural nitrate reduction area... maybe in a sump... with some Caulerpa algae and a light even? Where are your excess nitrates originating? Do you have plastic wet-dry media, a fluidized bed filter? Overfeeding highly-proteinaceous foods? No to larger water changes, and the use of chemical filtrants for this purpose (lowering nitrates). And Maracyn (tm), erythromycin won't harm nitrifying bacteria. Bob Fenner

Nitrate factory Hi Bob, I've noticed that you are not a big fan of "trickle filters," stating that they are a nitrate factory. What is your opinion of the "bio-wheel?" Isn't that the same type of effect as a trickle filter? Are they also considered a nitrate factory? Thank again for your excellent advise and your daily Q&A - you've helped me tremendously. >> Yes, both wet-dry media and the type of wet-dry media called "wheels" over-drive nitrification. In the absence of sufficient nitrate-using life, anaerobic media (live rock, plenums, Siporax Beads, Ehfi-Mech... ) they can/do cause accumulated/ing nitrate anomalies. Bob Fenner

Salt Water Aquarium addict Robert, Hello again... The facts again... I currently have set up: 55 Gal SWA w/ UGF w/ 4 power heads (250 MaxiJets) w/ 1 Eheim 2213 CF w/ 1 Sea-clone Protein Skimmer 40 lbs crushed coral 15 lbs crushed shells approx. 50lbs of live rock In the tank are: 3 Yellow-tailed Damsels 2 False Percula Clown (one is new addition) 1 Porcupine Puffer (new addition - one week, so far, so good) 1 Yellow Tang (new addition) 1 Banggai Cardinal (new addition) 1 Mushroom rock( 6-8 Mushrooms) Clean-up crew include: 3 Emerald crabs 15-20 Scarlet hermits 10-15 Blue leg hermits 4 Trochus snails 2 Astrea snails Questions: Regarding feeding, What, how much and how often? (I have frozen formula-1, frozen brine shrimp, brown marine algae, flake food) <Twice a day... while the lights will still be on for an hour in the latter part of the day... try to fake the Puffer out or it will eat most everything> I looked for compatibility charts on your site, but with no luck. <Mmm, these are of limited validity/utility... unless down to the specific/species level... at least> Can you tell me what invert is compatible with a porcupine puffer, specifically? <Absolutely speaking, none. Will likely sample most everything in such a small system> For my particular situation with nitrates at ~15PPM, should I increase live rock, add macro-algae (if so what type), and/or increase amount of time lights are on per day? <They'll be higher with the puffer, your too-small skimmer... yes to more live rock, check the algae coverage on the WWM site... for species of Caulerpas, Halimedas...> As always, your help is greatly appreciated. Thank you, Brian Bottarini <Be chatting, Bob Fenner>

Nitrates, Public Education, Stores I can not seem to get the nitrate lower than 40 in either one of my aquariums. I do frequent water changes and one of the aquariums I have used nitrate sponge. Is it okay if it does not get lower than 40. <Please read over the FAQs section on the Marine Index on the site: www.WetWebMedia.com re Nitrates... not hard to reduce by getting rid of nitrification over-driving mechanisms (fluidized beds, plastic bio media in wet dry filters...) and culturing Green et al. Algae...> everything else is at 0 and ph is usually 8.1. Also I talked to the pet store about a mandarin goby and they say they are bottom feeders and they are not hard to keep but everything I read on the computer says they are hard to keep because they usually starve to death. In your opinion which is correct?  <The vast majority of these fishes do starve to death in captivity... see the section re them on the WWM site> It is very confusing when you get different information. If the salt gets high will this kill a fish that is not hardy like I read about a mandarin. Would he more likely die from starvation or if the salt is high. A mandarin goby died and when they checked the salt it was high but I wondered if that is what killed him or starvation. <Perhaps there is a synergistic effect.> People I have talked to say they have only been able to keep a mandarin goby for a month, one said seven months but the pet store people talk like they do fine. No big deal they just eat what the other fish do not eat and the green algae. What is your opinion? Thanks for your help. LS <My overall opinion? Find another store to shop at. Bob Fenner>

Nitrates and Wet/Dry Filter Hi Bob, Once again I need some advice. The unbiased advice you give out is hard to come by.  <I try to be objective... but as you know "attention is narrowed perception" and no one can hope to know but a bit of what is currently understood... and this pales to what is unknown...> I appreciate it very much, as I'm sure do all of the other visitors to your site. I have read through the web site information and all the FAQ's in regard to wet dry filter setups. I have an AMiracle wet dry setup (good bad or downright ugly)?  <I think an okay unit... seem to be well-built, last... I don't especially endorse them for their wet-dry components...> of last years design, with a protein skimmer , 8 watt UV and four powerheads on a 40 gallon tall tank. My nitrates rarely spike over 20 mg/L as tested by Hagen's kit. They are usually under or in the range of 10mg/L. Now my confusion over nitrate factories as you call them is this: I have had some problems with nitrates in the past. As a solution, I tried lowering the level of water in the filter as to create more air space. My filter now has just enough water in the bottom as not cause the pump to draw air or cavitate.  <Interesting...> According to your writings, that should cause a spike in nitrates, No?  <Not necessarily... a few other factors could/can easily sway an/the equation (nitrification back and forth to denitrification...)> I also removed some bio balls and replaced the empty space with a fibrous high surface area filter board.  This board rests just below drip plate at the top of the filter box and the remaining bio balls, out of the water all of the time. Is this the reason my nitrates went down? <Good idea> Or was it simply the removal of the bio balls.  <Perhaps an experiment with just this one tank could prove out the answer here> This brings me to my next question. Uh-oh you say. Does the live rock in the tank act as denitrifiers?  <Of a certainty yes... but how much? Would your "nitrate spikes" be more frequent, persistent without the live rock... I think so> In the tank I have approximately 50 pounds of live rock with a few pieces of lace rock as building blocks on a bed of only a couple pounds of live sand. I have almost no algae growth save for the back glass which I allow to grow and is green. And finally, I know you suggest removal of the bio balls. What do I place in the filter then? Live rock? More of the fiber board? Coral, ground or skeletal pieces? More water? <My choice? Live rock and/or the skeletal pieces... Caulerpa algae and lighting... and more water... as much as is "safe" (for when the power goes off, or your pump fails...> If more water is part of the solution, what percentage of the filter medium should be submerged full time? Why do I feel my filter is about to morph from a wet dry to a wet wet?  <It may well do so... submersed or not media with air, dissolved atmosphere will drive nitrification... the forward reaction ammonia to nitrites to nitrates...> As I read in another query, should I place the bio balls in the down tube to subdue the gurgling of the filter?  <I wouldn't, unless...> Does it matter, will it help? <Only to reduce noise...> I really can't afford to upgrade to new filter at this time, so how can I work with what I've got? <Read over the Algae Filters piece and FAQs and Caulerpa and FAQs on the www.WetWebMedia.com site... think you're moving in a right direction... you're obviously concerned, thinking, caring about your livestock, system... I'm with you> Thanks for expert help. By the way, all tank mates which include fish, inverts and corals are healthy. All other tank readings are within normal ranges with no anomalies. I do a five gallon change weekly or thereabouts. All water starts as RO. Thanks again. Brett <Sounds good. Be chatting, Bob Fenner>

Previous aquarium setup, with high Nitrates Hello Bob, Many thanks for clearing up my lighting disillusion/confusion. Before I pick your brain I want to get your opinion on which of the following lighting would be most beneficial. I found some VHO lamps using the iceberg transformer, I think they were Formosa lights, a 2x110 watts 47" in length. How do these compare to the 4x65 watt Power compacts? Any advantages either way? <Unfamiliar with this make/model... but Very High Output fluorescents are the next best thing to CFs in general. Maybe search for "Formosa", "Iceberg" on the net, get the address, more info. from labels on the unit?> Now for my pondering of my current situation. I have the 55 Gal Show style aquarium that I have been running for about 5 years. I could never keep a yellow tang, but otherwise I would generally get about a year out of other species except for a spotted scat which I had for 4 years. About two months ago I bought a Coral Beauty Angel and a Saddle Back Clown. I put them in with the only fish I had at the time, the Spotted Scat (he/she had been alone for about a year). The two new fish seemed to be doing great, very active, no quick breathing, and ate well. Three weeks later, from the closest Fish store I have, I purchased a Powder Brown Tang and a Arc Eye Hawk(?), along with some sort of anemone that was according to the fish store on of the cheapest available. After about two weeks, everyone had been doing fine, eating, sleeping, reading, etc., the fish were doing OK as well. (humor). Then it appeared I got a good/bad case of Marine Velvet. Lost everything in a matter of 2 days. I suspect possibly coming from the locale (new word)<a good one> fish store, not very attractive. This is why I am going to start things from scratch, going with LR and so forth. <Yikes> My question is originated around Nitrate levels, they were always exceedingly high, like according to my test kit around 140 ppm. I'd do regular water changes about every two weeks, using pre stored tap water and then storing the mixed salt content a couple of extra days, about 5 gallons at a time. My floor bed consists of crushed coral approx. 2", and landscape was the new synthetic Lava Rock. I gather that I probably had to much crushed coral, has it because it was what the fish store told me to get. My filtration in this setup was a Marineland 330 Bio, and a Visi-jet skimmer (undersize and very busy). <y Nitrates were never at 0, but they were less than .25 ppm.  <I suspect you mean nitrites... and the nitrates and this value lead me/you to understand the system was "under filtered" nitrogenously...> My pH is at roughly 8.2-8.6, color of test water always seemed to be in between those two color chips. My Ammonia is 0 ppm, and my SG is around 1.021-22. From this, what would you say the Nitrate problem was/is?  <Insufficient skimming, insufficient denitrating (lack of depth in your substrate, not enough live rock), possibly over or mis-feeding, not enough photosynthesis (too little light, absence of algae...)... many more...> I am in hopes of going with LS or a minimal coral bed with LR that things with decompose more stabile, aside from being more esthetically pleasing. I even had the high nitrates when it was the Scat alone and I fed him about three times a week. <Well, now you know why they're called Scats (family Scatophagidae), "Dung Eaters"... Live in scatological conditions in the wild... > Generally I keep a couple of flake foods, some frozen shrimp and blood worms, along with three varieties of the algae that packaged as dry in the cartoon. I am going to retain the Marineland 330 Bio for use in a quarantine tank, but I'll keep it on the main system when not in use in the QT. My main filter now is a Rena Filstar XP2, and was told by Chris that I should probably just run the floss filters and carbon in it and let the LR do the bio. I am also getting, on Chris's recommendation, the Remora skimmer, it's rated for a 75 so I assume that would be plenty for the 55, unless you think that you cannot go over kill on the skimmer, then I would opt for the Remora Pro. I will also add three powerheads for water circulation. One thing I am not sure if I need is a UV sterilizer, what do you think on this? <Leave off the UV, the rest is a sound plan> I really appreciate your help, I want this next system to be sufficient in it's life supporting capabilities. I'm sure I'll be talking to you again soon, Rod <Ahh, good. Look forward to it. Bob Fenner>
Re: Previous aquarium setup, with high Nitrates
Hello Bob, Little snip here (below), and I did mean Nitrates as you assumed. Busy day, both ways I'm sure. To answer your <y to my undersized and very busy skimmer, I live in a rural part of Kansas and I purchased the original setup through the closest store, it was the best they had. <I understand. This is... now> At that time, the internet was not accessible in my area, so my access to knowledge of this type of aquarium was very limited. This time I plan on using the places available on-line to do my equipment and aqua life purchases. Mostly FFE, I figure if you respond from there Q&A they must not be to bad? <No, but one of many fine places... do shop about> <Insufficient skimming, insufficient denitrating (lack of depth in your substrate, not enough live rock), possibly over or mis-feeding, not enough photosynthesis (too little light, absence of algae...)... many more...> Do you mean 2 inch of Crushed coral was not enough? I had been told lately if I go with live rock to use just enough crushed coral to cover the bottom. <Not "deep enough" to function as an effective denitrator (to use up those excess nitrates), no... Would have to be a few inches deeper depending on grade, composition...> Should I definitely use Live sand instead? If Coral is OK does it need to be replenished? The Coral in my aquarium is the original 5 year old coral. <Your live rock will make the sand live... and yes to replenishing, replacing older carbonaceous substrates. Please read the areas posted on the site: www.WetWebMedia.com about "Marine Substrates"... need to be augmented after about a year and a half...> Ah, I just thought of something else, what type of testing supplies do you recommend, based upon ease of use and dependability? And are they dissolving pellets or liquids? I got a list of the type of tests you like to have checked on one of your Anemone FAQ's. <Ah, good... and there is a "Test Kits, Use" area on the site as well.> Thanks, I knew I'd talk to you again <And soon enough again my friend. Bob Fenner> Rod

Nitrate problem Greetings from Texas! <Howdy> I need immediate help. My fish-only tank has recently experienced a cycling event, and I think it's because we have a heavy livestock load and my husband and I have been overfeeding them (unintentionally, at different times of the day).  <This is all-too common> Plus, we were only doing monthly water changes and should have been doing bi-monthly water changes. As a result, the ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates went up and are now in the process of falling (the ammonia's at 0 and the nitrites are at .25), but I have a dilemma. I have a FFE order coming in tomorrow for some Linckias and an XL Fiji bubble anemone, and my nitrates seem to be spiking at 140 ppm!  <Call and cancel the order, now! or find other quarters for these new animals...> Aarrgghh! (I know you're shaking your head right now!) <No... at least you know what's going on... seem to be aware of the need to do what it takes to remedy the situation...> We did a 20 gallon water change last night and replaced the filter pad in the overflow, which was quite nasty, as well as thoroughly vacuumed the crushed coral gravel. The fish (a yellow tang, a purple tang, 2 percula clowns, 2 green Chromis, 2 blue damsels, a flame angel, a coral beauty angel, a juvenile imperator angel, a juvenile Koran angel, and a Heniochus butterfly) were moved into a 60 gallon quarantine tank and are being treated with copper for a light ich infestation. (Once the copper/quarantine period is over only half the fish will be going back into the main tank.) The only inhabitants in my main tank are some shrimp, hermits, a snowflake moray eel (about 14" in length and as thick as a thumb), and a Pacific cleaner wrasse (which I now know I shouldn't have bought, but I got your book, The Conscientious Marine Aquarist, after the fact -- and as an aside, he's been with me for over a month now but I think his health is declining...his color's not too good, and I can see his little ribs or some other anatomical vertical striations under his skin...what would be the best thing to do for him now?  <Really... hope... if the fish becomes too emaciated to sacrifice it (euthanasia) by freezing in a bag with some water...> I didn't know whether to put him in the coppered tank so left him in the main tank.) Back to my main problem -- it's a 75 gallon tank which has been running for about 15 months, and has an overflow box with BioBale, a trickle filter with 5 gallons of bioballs, a protein skimmer, and a 15 watt UV sterilizer. How can I immediately bring down the nitrates in my tank? By removing the bio-material, <Yes... and adding some live rock, growing some macroalgae... Please see the "Nitrate FAQs" on the "Marine Index" of our website: www.WetWebMedia.com for much more here> what will serve as my biological filter since I do not have live rock?  <All the other surfaces in your system...> I guess I should order some, but it will take a while to cycle and all that, so it's not an immediate help for my current situation. I have some Cycle in the fridge; should I use that? <Yes> What about activated charcoal or something similar? <Polyfilter and activated carbon may help to offset some of the mal-affects of the chemical problems here, but there are no chemical filtrants that will do what you are seeking outright... your system needs to cycle completely (with or w/o live rock help) and be returned to "center" with the removal of biomass, effects of overfeeding... completion of cycles via enhanced denitrification, use of nutrients...> Thanks in advance for your help! Sherri J. <Do read over the WWM site... Bob Fenner>
Re: Nitrate problem
Mr. Fenner, Thank you for your lightning-quick response. I retested the nitrates, and 12 hours after reading 140 ppm, they have fallen to 80 ppm. Hopefully, the removal of the bio-material, addition of Cycle, another 20 gallon water change tonight, prayers, and time will help. :-)  <Yes... they will> It's too late to cancel my invert order as they're on the plane as I type, but if things look bad tomorrow, I know several people who will baby-sit them in their tanks if need be. <Ah, good plan> The first thing I do when I have a problem or question is check your website, but there is no article for copper use nor nitrates.  <Yes... only the FAQ files as of yet have been placed...> The FAQ's are there, but no article. I'd like to segue way into a copper question I have: I read that tangs have intestinal microbes that are adversely affected by copper treatment, and I have two tangs being treated right now (it's only been 24 hours since the initiation of treatment). Is there anything I should watch for or is the duration of treatment different for these guys?  <Hmm, just to limit the treatment period to a maximum of two weeks> Additionally, should I still provide them with Nori on which to graze or try to cut down drastically on feeding during treatment? <Do feed them> The less waste, the better, I know, but how much of a feeding reduction is dangerous to their health? <Always trade-offs in this universe... I feed my livestock ahead of myself...> Thank again most kindly for your guidance, Sherri J. <You are certainly welcome my friend. Bob Fenner>

Ex-established... <Lorenzo Gonzalez, 'playing bob', who's underwater in Asia somewhere> First off thanks for the awesome Q&A site!!! As a beginner I have really found your site to be extremely helpful. My problem is this... <We're glad you're enjoying and appreciate it - it's a lot of work on Bob and Mike...> Four days ago I purchased an established 55 gallon tank from a private owner that has been established for a year and a half. <Sounds like it's not so established anymore...> The gentleman I purchased from had aprox 4+ inches of live sand, plus live rock in the tank. When I set it up at home I only installed a 2 inch sand bed and did a 14 gallon water change. <Depending on how much live rock you had, tossing all that sand must've really done a (bad) number on your nitrogen cycle...> I have a sump and a wet dry with this system. This tank contains both fish and soft corals. Fish are              common clown              Mandarin goby              yellow tang              blue spotted Jawfish              green Chromis              coral beauty              blood shrimp Coral are              assorted mushrooms My problem......          pH           =  8.2          Ammonia = .5 - .10          Nitrite      =  0          Nitrate     = 160+          Specific gravity  = 1.029 @ 78 degrees My problem as you can see is the nitrate levels. Should I do a large water change? (20%) I don't want to stress everyone out but this can't be good!! <Do it anyway. Get a water aging system going, bucket and air-pump, or something similar, so you can do 5-10% water changes everyday until the system gets more stable again.> The original system did not have a protein skimmer and I have purchased a Aquarium systems VISI-JET-PS. I would like to install this in the sump but it is to big. The manufacturer says that I can cut the bubble tube to fit but wont that decrease the efficiency? <Yes, it will. But just about any skimmer is better than none.> Everyone in the tank seems to be doing alright. (except the Jawfish who hasn't come out of his corner which he's been sharing with the blood shrimp since the move). <Think of all the work a Jawfish puts into building a home, and you'll understand why he's so grouchy... that, and 2 inches isn't nearly enough sand for this fish. That's probably why the original setup had such a deep bed. The fish needs to be able to dig a tunnel at least 50% deeper than he is long, preferable twice as deep... consider making the fish (and shrimp) an hospitable 'mountain' or some such -regards, Lorenzo>

Bailing On Bioballs? (Nitrate Reduction)  10/6/05 I have a 54 gallon 3-4 month marine tank with 55 lbs of Fiji live rock. I have 1 maroon clown, 1 Yellow Tang, 4 Eel Gobies, 1 Black Star Damsel and 1 Maroon Clown Fish. All the fish are very small-2-3 inches. I have a wet/dry trickle filter with bioballs. I am using a AquaC Urchin protein skimmer in the sump. I also have 3 powerheads in the tanks and am using a current USA power compact with dual 65 watt bulbs- one full spectrum daylight and 1 blue actinic. I have about 2 inches of crushed coral aragonite as a substrate. Water parameters are Ammonia zero-Nitrite zero-Phosphate zero- calcium 400-ph 8.0 and salinity 30 * Total Nitrate levels are NOW at 80*. <Yikes...> I have easily maintained my Nitrates under 10 with a weekly 3 gallon water change. 2 weeks ago my Phosphate levels were 2.0. I added a phosphate sponge to the trickle filter at that time. This is the only thing different I did to my setup. Within 2 weeks the Phosphate levels dropped to Zero and the Nitrate levels sky rocketed. (Is this coincidence or does this Phosphate pad have something to do with it?) My well water used for water changes has zero phosphate and zero nitrate. <Glad to hear that you have great source water. That's usually one of the leading causes of nitrate and phosphate in closed systems. The phosphate in your system, of course, was coming from somewhere...The most likely source is feeding. It's often a good idea to revisit husbandry practices which could have lead to this problem in the first place. I'm glad the phosphate has been eliminated...Keep up the good work.> I am unsure why my Nitrates were below 10 for 3 months and then skyrocketed in 2 weeks without increasing the bioload. My question is should I remove the bio balls? <I would> Will the live rock and protein skimmer be enough. My thought is that maybe this nitrate build up is from the bio-balls. How about replacing the bio-balls with live rock. Will this prevent nitrate build up that occurs from a bio-ball type filtration system? I do not want to do a Refugium at this time. I will purchase a Nitrate remover if necessary. Thanks, Wayne <Sounds like you're on the right track, Wayne. I'd avoid using a nitrate removing product until you've tried other controls. Do remove the bioballs, as they are extremely efficient removers of ammonia and nitrite, but nitrate tends to accumulate faster than it can be removed in bioball-based systems. Victims of their own success, so to speak! Also, if you are using any mechanical filtration media (such as filter pads, "socks", etc.), be sure to replace/clean them very frequently, as the organic matter and detritus contained within them can degrade water quality. Also, If your intent with the sand bed was to foster denitrification, you probably need to go deeper (3 inches plus). Otherwise, no worry. Just keep up with good husbandry and observation, and you'll be fine! Good luck! Regards, Scott F.>  

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