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FAQs on Freshwater Quality involving Nitrates 1 

Related Articles: Nitrates in Freshwater Aquariums, Establishing Cycling, Freshwater Filtration, Know Your Filter Media, A Concise Guide to Your Options by Neale Monks, Setting up a Freshwater Aquarium, Tips for BeginnersWater Quality and Freshwater Aquariums

Related FAQs: Nitrates 2, & FAQs on FW Nitrates: Importance, Science, Measure, Sources, Control, Chemical Filtrants, Troubleshooting/Fixing, & Ammonia, FW Nitrites, Biological Filtration, Freshwater Nutrient Cycling, Establishing Cycling 1,

When the nitrates get above 25 ppm is when many problems begin.-Chuck

Bloaty goldfish caused by damaged gills?   2/28/12
Love your site!  We have a 20 U.S gal tank with two calico fan tail (Ryukins body shape) fish about 2-1/2 inches and 1-1/2 inches long.
<Will need more room in time, with growth... the best way to monitor is NO3 accumulation...>
  The set up is: hang on back filter for 30 gallons plus 20 gallon sponge filter, ammonia -0, nitrites - 0, nitrates - 20 -still trying to get that down,
<...As when you can't keep this under 20 ppm>
pH about 8 though finding it hard to stabilize less than that with pH Down,
<Leave as is; not worth the stress on your fish to lower thus>

 one live plant, temp at 72 degrees with heater to help with possible swim bladder problem).
<Not usually temperature related in aquariums... almost always genetic, nutritional>

 After two botched attempts at cycling due to ignorance we are finally cycled, but I think our larger fish has some burns on her gills.
 There are small black spots on the part that sticks out beyond the gill plate.  She is often gulping at the surface, and I believe as a result, she is also often upside down, seems to lose her bearings, etc.  She is eating (sinking pellets in the morning, free grazing on broccoli or lettuce during the day, two peas at night) and defecating (small greenish)
regularly.  Is there anything I need to do for her so she no longer needs to gulp at the surface?
<Just time going by, your good care>
  I would like to do right by her since I gave her and her tank mate a rough start.  Should I try to bring the pH down with something else that hopefully won't hurt the plants?
<Ditch the pH down>
Thanks so much for sharing your information with us newbies!
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Nitrite and Nitrate Problems
Controlling Nitrite and Nitrate Problems  10/15/09

Hello Chuck, I got another question for you concerning the same 30 gallon tank. We for a little while have had a problem with ammonia being really high, so we started doing 50% water changes like every 3 days or so but only vacuum the surface of the gravel so we don't disrupt the biological filter. The good news is the ammonia level is good now however our nitrites and nitrates are off the charts. Question is should we continue to do the water changes to bring these levels down or is there some other way we can bring these levels down to a safe reading? The fish seem to be happy and are very active, we are just concerned about these levels being harmful.
Thanks, John and Anika
< The good news is that the nitrites and nitrates are less toxic than the ammonia. I would watch the amount of food fed each time. Remove any uneaten food after 5 minutes by using a siphon. Clean the filters often
too. Plants will remove some nitrogenous wastes if they are healthy and the lighting is strong. Using Dr Tim's One and Only will help quicken the process. One you u are dealing with just nitrat4s then you can try to control them with water changes and try to keep them under 20 ppm.-Chuck>

Sudden change in NitrAtes??? 10/13/09
I have an established and cycled tank. It's been set up for about a year now. Readings have always been; Ammonia= 0, NO2 = 0, and NO3 = 20 or so.
Suddenly NO3 is now 0?
I know low Nitrates are a good thing, but I'm concerned about the sudden change.
<So long as nitrite and ammonia are both zero, so it's not as if the biological filter has conked out, I wouldn't worry.>
At first, I thought my cycle had crashed inexplicably, but Ammonia and Nitrite have not risen at all. There are no live plants in the tank, so that can't account for the change.
<Nor can I. Most likely what scientists call a "rogue reading". Would repeat the test, and also think about possible sources of error -- e.g., old/contaminated test kit.>
It's a 29G brackish system for guppies with a SG of 1.003. Right now we have 9 guppies in there with their fry making plenty of ammonia. pH is 7.8, GH is about 300 (too high?), and KH is also 300 (also too high?).
<Both fine.>
As an aside, I've had trouble w/ pH stabilization due to low KH and I'm using a Rift Valley Salt mix recipe I got at WWM but it seems to make things stable but REALLY hard.
<You can tweak the proportions a bit if you want. Adding a bit less Epsom salt will lower the general hardness, while adding a bit less baking soda will lower the carbonate hardness. The Rift Valley salt mix is a starting point really, and you can feel free to experiment a bit to get the precise mix of general and carbonate hardness values you want.>
Any suggestions on this would be helpful.
<I wouldn't worry too much Guppies enjoy "liquid rock" and 300 mg/l calcium carbonate is about 17 degrees KH, well within their comfy comfort zone.>
Everyone seems basically happy, but they seem to be a bit more active than usual. There isn't any flashing or rubbing, however, so I'm not sure what the extra activity is about really. So (after all that) my question is, can a sudden drop in Nitrates be indicative of a problem? If so, what am I looking for?
<So far as fish are concerned, low levels of nitrate are not a problem.
There are arguments about whether near-0 levels of nitrate are useful for corals or plants, but that's a whole other issue. For your Guppies, it's fine.>
Thanks so much.
<Cheers, Neale.>

New African Knife fish not eating/RMF  10/4/09
<Hi there>
Two days ago I purchased an African Knife fish after researching for quite some time and visiting pet stores.
<Xenomystus nigri... one of my fave fishes>
I purchased a 55 gallon aquarium setup and cycled it for ten days,
<This is a quick cycle>
took a water sample to be tested, and finally purchased my knife fish. It is quite healthy (busy at night and still in the day.) It has plenty of hiding places, but does not seem the slightest bit inclined to eat. So far I have offered him frozen bloodworms, earthworms, and tropical flakes at night when he becomes active. He is about five inches and very healthy. I have searched the web diligently, finding only similar instances where refusing to eat was a problem and have read that larger knife fish can be difficult feeders. I was hoping for some suggestions on how to get him interested in feeding, because I would really hate to lose the fish I was soo keen on keeping.
<Mmm, well... am not sure this system is fully cycled, nor the fish all the way settled in...>
Thank you,
<Do try some form (frozen/defrosted, freeze-dried (stuck to the side low against the inside viewing panel/glass) or live Tubificid worms to get this fish started on captive foods... And do search again on the Net using the scientific name. Bob Fenner>

Re: New African Knife fish not eating  10/5/09
Thank you so much for responding,
<My pleasure.>
To cycle my tank, I used AquaSafe for the heavy metals and in the next ten days I fed the tank with tropical flakes.
<Well, adding the flakes should work. But I'd be staggered if it only took 10 days to cycle the tank. Three to six weeks is normal. My gut feeling is your aquarium isn't cycled, and until the ammonia and nitrite levels hit zero, you'll have some problems. Non-zero levels of ammonia and nitrite stress fish, and among other things, put them off their food.>
I had a sample of the water tested for nitrates and the man that showed me how, explained that it was at zero.
<Nitrate -- with an "a" -- is largely irrelevant here. Unless you have very high levels, freshwater fish generally don't care about nitrate levels.
It's nitrite -- with an "i" -- that matters, and above zero, this most certainly is toxic to fish.>
I will try Tubifex tonight, and hopefully he will give in.
<Would actually buy a nitrite test kit first, and check the nitrite level.>
Thank you soo much for your help!-Stephanie
<Cheers, Neale.>

Re: New African Knife fish not eating  10/5/09
Thank you for responding! I cycled the tank using AquaSafe and feeding it for ten days like there were fish in it and when I had my sample tested, the nitrates read zero,
<... actually, NO3 should be accumulating if the system is cycling...>
but perhaps he is just not quite settled in yet. I have bought some Tubifex worms and I will give these a try tonight. Thank you soo much for your help!
<Do read on WWM re biofiltration, cycling. BobF>

Re: New African Knife fish not eating  10/5/09
I took your advice and bought a good test kit, and determined the following: Nitrites are reading 0, Nitrates are 80-160, hardness is 25 (very soft), chlorine is 0, Total Alkalinity is 180-300, and pH is about 7.4-8.4 (Alkaline).
<Mostly sounds within the tolerances of this species. That said, the pH between 7.4 and 8.4 covers a lot of ground: an increase of 1.0 on the pH scale corresponds to a ten-fold increase in acidity or alkalinity. I'm assuming this test kit is one with strips: while easy to use and certainly inexpensive, they are notoriously difficult to read and consequently can be unreliable. In any case, if you can have the pet shop confirm with a liquid test kit what the carbonate hardness (alkalinity) might be, and what the pH actually is, then that would be very useful.>
Since Nitrites are zero, should I not be concerned about the water quality?
<I'm still skeptical that you were able to complete the cycle in ten days... that's really a very short period of time (unless of course you added mature filter media from another aquarium). So I'd be sensitive to
the idea nitrite and ammonia levels might not be as low as you think. Try a test 2-3 times in one day; once first thing in the morning, another immediately after feeding, and then another a couple of hours thereafter.
If these are still zero, then yes, you are probably fine.>
Will this water quality contribute to the knife fish's lack of appetite?
<I'd try and pin down the pH. Xenomystus will do fine at pH 7.5, and should remain healthy even as high as pH 8. But above pH 8, and certainly at pH 8.4, it is out of its comfort zone.>
Thank you again for helping me!
<My pleasure.>
<Cheers, Neale.>
<<I think Neale (or I) mis-read the Nitrate reading... 80-160 ppm is WAY too high. Please read here re importance and reducing: http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwnitrates.htm
and the linked files above. Bob Fenner>> 

Re: New African Knife fish not eating: MORE... & FW NO3 f'  - 10/05/2009
<<I think Neale (or I) mis-read the Nitrate reading... 80-160 ppm is WAY too high. Please read here re importance and reducing:
and the linked files above. Bob Fenner>>
<Bob, you are quite right. I missed that: in fact I've never even heard of nitrate levels that high. Stephanie, you need to do a big water change today, and another tomorrow, I'd say 50% each time. Did you do water
changes while cycling the tank? You need to, otherwise the nitrate just builds up. Don't feed the fish. Review carefully before you start feeding how much you're adding. With luck, once the nitrate drops to below 50 mg/l, and preferably below 20 mg/l, you'll find the Xenomystus behaves much more normally. Feed, sparingly, small morsels of food. Initially at least, maybe one earthworm, every other night. Cheers, Neale.>

Re: New African Knife fish not eating: MORE... & FW NO3 f' - 10/05/2009
Oh, wow, I am on my way to doing a water change, but before I did, just out of curiosity, I tested the tap water and noticed that the Nitrates are equally high coming out of the tap! I have a Culligan water filter and I tested it as well with absolute opposite results... Should I consider using the filtered water instead? There were no nitrates present at all, the water was a bit softer and not as alkaline. The Xenomystus at an earthworm last night, so he is giving in, but I feel the water is still stressing him. Thank you again!
<... Please read where you were referred to. I would NOT drink this water until it is tested by a professional. I would NOT use salt-recharged filter water... ALL this is gone over on WWM. Bob Fenner>

Re: New African Knife fish not eating: MORE... & FW NO3 f' - 10/05/2009
<... Please read where you were referred to. I would NOT drink this water until it is tested by a professional. I would NOT use salt-recharged filter water... ALL this is gone over on WWM. Bob Fenner>
<<Within the EU at least, the upper level of nitrate that is considered safe to drink is 50 mg/l; above that, your water supplier is *obliged by law* to act. It sounds as if your water is contaminated, e.g., by
agricultural run-off (the source of ~70% nitrate in UK water supplies, at least). As Bob says, this should NOT be treated as drinking water. Babies in particular are at particular risk (see "Blue Baby Syndrome"). Call your water supplier, now. Cheers, Neale.>> 
>A note here... Neale and I are certainly NOT trying to scare ("terrorize") anyone, nor are we "certified" health authorities of any sort... We are only trying to urge readers on to further awareness and possible action, to safeguard their livestock and safety. RMF<

Re: New African Knife fish not eating: MORE... & FW NO3 f' - 10/06/2009
Wow, I certainly will have to get someone to come out and check the water (we have a well and live near some farm fields...)
I went ahead and used reverse osmosis filtered water for my 50% water change (I would not dream of using the same tap water,) and the nitrate level is in the 30's! I may have to supplement the water with minerals, but at least this is bearable for now. Hopefully my problem is solved.
<One problem solved, and another created. Plain deionised water has zero buffering capacity and isn't suitable for fishkeeping (indeed, pure water is potentially harmful to fish). To each bucket of deionised water, add appropriate minerals to harden it up. You can buy ready made hardening salts (often called Rift Valley cichlid salts, as opposed to tonic salt or aquarium salt, which don't want). Or else, you can make your own. See here:
There's a recipe for Rift Valley cichlid salts, but use one-quarter to one-half the amount listed, since you want soft to moderately hard water for these fish; pH 7-7.5, 10-15 degrees dH would be ideal.>
Thanks again Neale!
<My pleasure.>
<Cheers, Neale.>

Re: Sick Betta. Happened all of a sudden :-(, NO3 input f'  9/2/2009
Oh, no! I had already disposed of the body before reading the email :-(
Not squeamish, but I must admit I would have not been that keen on performing a post mortem on my poor pet after (potentially) killing him with less than adequate water conditions. I had become attached to him :-(
<I understand>
My sister in law, who is an haematologist would have jumped with delight at the prospect of an autopsy but she is away now, where is family when you need them?
<About somewhere>
Anyway, body is gone, so unfortunately no luck here. Sorry, I agree it would have been an interesting thing to do to rule out the poisoning.
I was not sure about what you mentioned about EPA standard so I researched and I have found out that this is a US government guideline.
<It is... at the Fed. level a limit of 10 ppm...>
I live in the UK and here these things are, to an extent, up to the local councils. Looks like the government regulations state the following with regard to nitrates "that the water satisfies the formula [nitrate]/50 + [nitrite]/3 1, where the square brackets signify the concentrations in mg/1 for nitrate (NO3) and nitrite (NO2)."
<Too much... I really do strongly suggest you employ an RO device for your potable (drinking, cooking) and pet-fish needs>
Thames Water, the water company states 50 mg/l as standard. See link, if at all interested.
For my area in particular, the 2008 water quality results state
Nitrate as NO3 mg/l Standards =50
Minimum =33
Max = 35.7
My results came up as 40 but it might be an inaccuracy in the testing.
Ph standards from 6.5 to 9.5
<Wow! This is some range... 1,000 times>
Ph for the area in average is 7.5. In my tests it comes up as 8.00. Again, the differences might be coming from the testing process. I use API master kit.
<Are reasonable quality... accurate, and precise "enough" for home hobbyist use>
Maybe you have got better drinking water in the US.
<In NO3 respect, yes in about 9 out of 10 places... but is highly variable in quality, getting worse and more scarce most everywhere. Let me be blunt: there are too many humans on this planet>
Funnily enough the report concludes that the quality of the drinking water is very good although there is one infringement as Coliform bacteria was found.
do you realise I am giving this to my family to drink? From tomorrow onwards, bottled water for everyone.
<Mmmm, okay; but RO is cheaper by far and more convenient. Please peruse WWM, the broader Net re.>
Anyway, I am keeping the tank cycled but empty for a couple of weeks to kill any potential nastiness and then I am not sure what to do. This tank is only 20 l (about 5 gallons) so, really only suitable for Bettas, too small for other species, but if the water hardness is going to kill them little beauties I would have to reconsider... Any ideas of what to keep in 20 l of hard water :-?
<There are some "quite small" invertebrates, plants... not many fishes really...>
What would you use to disinfect the siphon and the nets?
<Chlorine bleach, air exposure, time going by>
The shop told me to wash them with hot water but that does not sound radical enough, somehow.
Maybe I should just dismantle the whole thing, disinfect the whole tank and
cycle again?
<I would not... but I would do what you choose to get, keep Nitrate concentration below 20 ppm maximum. Please read here re:
and the linked FAQs file above>
Thanks so much again for your attention to this case.
Kindest regards
<Maria, there are MANY folks who have similar circumstances (small volumes, issues consequent...) to yours here... Let's keep discussing your experience, thoughts, and progress... for the edification of all. Bob Fenner>

Nitrate/baby guppy problem 05/29/09
Hi Crew, it's me again....
We have a nitrate problem in our 28 gallon.
<Nitrate is best removed from freshwater tanks simply by [a] not overfeeding the fish; [b] not overcrowding the aquarium; and [c] doing more water changes. Fast-growing floating plants are also good at using up nitrate, but that should be viewed as a supplement to frequent water changes, not an alternative.>
Our ammonia is at 0, nitrite 20 mg/l, nitrate 40...so the pet store recommended a bacterial supplement that claims to be 'for fresh and saltwater aquariums'. Will this work?
<No. Nitrate is broken down by anaerobic bacteria, such as those that live in live rock (in marine aquaria) or stagnant mud (in ponds). It is not easy to create these conditions in a freshwater aquarium, so denitrification (the breakdown of nitrate to nitrogen gas) rarely takes place quickly enough in freshwater tanks to make any difference.>
We have a male Betta, my only remaining Neon Tetra, 3 Glo-Fish, 3 Giant Danios, and an African Dwarf Frog. Our 10 Ghost shrimp and 5 Mystery snails all died...and my Betta, who used to easily eat 20-30 pellets (!) a day, now only gets 4 or 5..those giant Danios...:)But anyway he's usually a bundle of energy and now he's lethargic and fights with his own reflection.  Plus his eyes look clouded. We got him almost 7 months ago so could these be age-related cataracts? And my baby guppies (they were born on April 7th) are in the 2.78 L, there's only 2 of them and both look pregnant. One just died...so should I move them to the 28-gallon in a breeder net with our nitrate level?
<I can't see Guppy fry doing well in 2.78 litres of water. Seriously, that's not an aquarium; it's a soda bottle.>
Yes, we have live plants-Umbrella, Amazon Sword, Peacock Fern, Aqua Fern, and White Ribbon. The Amazon Sword ones-and only those ones-are dying. Why?
<Probably not enough light. Umbrella Plant (Spathiphyllum wallisii), Peacock Fern (Selaginella willdenovii), Aqua Fern (Trichomanes javanicum) and White Ribbon Plant (Dracaena spp.) are all non-aquatic plants that will die kept underwater within a few months. Any retailer who sold you these was CONNING you out of money. So I wouldn't trust him/her on anything.  There are many retailers who sell these plants to inexperienced fishkeepers. These plants ALWAYS die and NEVER last for long underwater.  Total waste of money. The reason they "look" healthy is that their leaves are stiff, being adapted to living on land where gravity is more of an issue than underwater. So it takes a long time for them to look dead. But
DIE THEY WILL. Take them out, put them in houseplant soil, and stick them on a windowsill. Enjoy them for what they are: houseplants! As for your Amazon Sword, these are demanding plants that need strong lighting (at least 2 watts per gallon, ideally 3 or more watts per gallon) and a rich
substrate containing iron and other minerals; plain gravel will not do!  Usually when people fail to grow these plants, it's because [a] there isn't enough light; and [b] they stuck the plants into plain gravel without considering their need for fertilizer.>
Please help...
<Cheers, Neale.>

Please help - nitrates through the roof!! 5/18/09
Hi there,
We got a new 26 gallon (100 litre) about a month and a half ago.
<Six weeks old... should just about be cycled now, though still vulnerable to water quality swings, so go easy with stocking and feeding.>
We lost a few fish in the beginning, which was probably due to water quality and to a monster filter we had in the tank.
<Eh? Don't understand why a filter would cause bad water quality. Most water quality problems come down to [a] adding too many fish too quickly; [b] feeding the fish too much; and [c] not having sufficient water volume and filtration for the fish being kept.>
We currently have 1 golden Gourami,
<Males become very aggressive...>
1 dwarf Gourami,
<Worthless fish in my opinion; very prone to disease.>
2 Neons,
<Need to be kept in groups of at least 6, and prefers slightly cool conditions, around 24 C ideal.>
1 angel,
<You do realize Angels eat Neon tetras?>
4 penguins and 4 suckers (1 large and 3 small) in the tank.
<Suckers? Do you mean Pterygoplichthys species? These are FAR TOO large for this aquarium. If you mean Gyrinocheilus, then not only are these fish too large, they're also far too aggressive.>
I am feeding them flakes and blood worms at the moment.  I have read up about the whole cycling situation, but I just don't think I'm doing everything right.
<I'll say. You've obviously added too many fish too quickly.>
I have purchased a water testing kit. My ph is round about 7 and everything else seems okay, except my nitrite and nitrate levels (more than 250!!).
<I don't believe this number. For a start, which is it, nitrite or nitrate?  Next up, what are the units? The devil is in the detail! In any case, if you had 250 mg/l of either, your fish would be dead. So let's cut to the case here: anything other than 0 nitrite is dangerous, and will kill your fish. As for nitrate, levels under 20 mg/l are best, though up to 50 mg/l won't do much harm to your fish, except perhaps the Angelfish. Like most cichlids, Angelfish are intolerant of nitrate.>
They are through the roof and I'm not sure what to do!! I usually do 30% water changes on a weekly basis and have even tried doing them twice a
week, but it still won't come down.
<Too many fish, too quickly, and likely the filters aren't being maintained properly or stuffed with useless media (like carbon) instead of what you actually need, biological media.>
We have one corner filter, under-gravel filter and another hanging filter in the tank and they seem to be functioning fine. We have a castle and some pipes in the tank, and the fish like to play and hide in them and the suckers are very fond of them as well. We had some plants in the tank, I added plant fertilizer (as directed), but they turned yellow. I removed the plants yesterday and I'm hoping that it will maybe make a difference.
<It won't. Like the plants died because you either [a] bought plants that were cheap but actually aren't underwater plants (a very common con trick among retailers) or [b] your aquarium isn't suitable for plants: not enough light, the wrong substrate, etc. Undergravel filters, by the way, cannot be used with plants except floating plants or epiphytes (plants attached to wood or rocks).>
Firstly, please help me with the water!!???
<See above.>
Secondly, I am not sure about the amount of bloodworms to feed my fish. I am currently giving them 1 block per day, and flakes twice a day. Is that too much?
<I'll say. One meal a day is ample, and for this collection of fish, the smallest pinch of flake food is fine. Don't feed them at all while you
detect any ammonia or nitrite.>
I know I must check what they eat in 2-3 minutes,
<Too much...>
but that is very difficult, as my suckers don't always dine with the rest of the fish.
<Correct. Hence, you feed them at night, using algae wafers.>
Thirdly, my golden Gourami is looking a bit bloated, it has been like this for about two weeks and I've been reading up on it trying to find the
problem. I saw some people posting that it may just be bloated and I need to give it a deshelled frozen pea. Will that work or is the water causing
<Likely to some degree.>
I think the Gourami is female, but so is the dwarf (I think), so I'm not too sure if it can be pregnant.
It got a black spot in the middle of where it tail starts, is that normal?  I know the golden Gourami eats quite greedily when I feed them, but that is always the case. Can that be the problem?
<Likely environmental; concentrate on that for now.>
Please help me with this. I am quite new to the tropical fish scene and I just don't want to lose my precious babies just because I just don't know better.
<Much written for beginners here. Do have a read here:
Would recommend you take some/all of these fish back, and start adding a few hardy fish to start with, while you pick up the skills required. The Yellow Gourami is perhaps the toughest of the bunch, though males are super-aggressive and worth avoiding (males have longer dorsal fins than females). Space out each batch of new fish by 2-3 weeks. Use the smallest amounts of food you need; a piece of flake about the size of the fish's eye is really all it needs per day, and skipping a couple days a week if you have problems with water quality won't do the least harm.>
<Cheers, Neale.>

Re: please help - nitrates through the roof!! 05/19/09
Hi Neale,
Thanks for your previous response. I will check the links that you gave me and see if I can maybe get things on track. Unfortunately I left the water testing kit at home, but I will send you the exact readings tomorrow. I think it was the nitrates as one of our angels died quite suddenly last week.
<Hmm... nitrates don't normally kill Angelfish (or cichlids) quickly, but rather make them prone to disease, leading to gradually weakening health over a period of weeks or months. So I'd be looking at other, more immediate issues: ammonia, nitrite, toxins, etc.>
What I meant about the monster filter was, that it sucked in a few of our fish.
<Doesn't usually happen; fish are plenty strong enough to avoid being sucked into filters *of appropriate size* for the aquarium in question. So assuming the turnover isn't, say, 10 times the volume of the tank (in your case, 200 gallons per hour for a 20 gallon tank) there's very little chance the filter killed your fish. What often happens is a fish are weakened/killed by something the aquarist has (or hasn't) done, and the moribund/dead fish gets sucked into the filter.>
My golden Gourami was very aggressive with the dwarf in the beginning, but they are best of friends now. The purchase of the Neons was a mistake on my part. I bought them without reading up on them. I initially bought 7, but 1 died and 4 were eaten. Now there are only 2 lonely Neons in the tank.
<Who ate the other 4?>
The people at the fish shop was quite clueless and never told us much about the dwarf Gourami, he seems to be doing just fine at the moment. We have 4 Pterygoplichthys' (see picture as example). I am quite aware of how big they get. But we just love them to bits. They are great fish and we will look after them properly.
<Do understand you'll need 55 gallons, minimum, for one of this species, and 3-4 times that for 4 specimens. They also need massive filtration, upwards of 8 times the volume of the tank per hour. Do understand also that they are aggressive towards one another, and the dominant fish will kill the others if they can't avoid him.>
The big one is about 6 inches (15cm) and the other 3 are about 2 to 3 inches(7cm).We are moving into a new house at the end of the month and will be looking to get another aquarium later on. I will rehouse 2 of the suckers to that one.
When we bought the filters, the guy at the shop gave us carbon to put in the filters. What should we be using instead?
<More biological and mechanical media: ceramic noodles or sponges, as you prefer.>
Thanks for the tip about the plant. I'm not sure what plants they were, but no one told us that you can't keep them with an underground filter.
<Most any book about aquarium plants will state this. I'd recommend "Aquarium Plants (Mini Encyclopedia Series for Aquarium Hobbyists)" as being cheap, easy to read, and very useful. It's so easy to waste all kinds of money on plants, that spending some money on a book really is good value.>
I don't have algae wafers at the moment, will try to get to the shop as soon as possible. At the moment I am just feeding them bloodworms. Is there anything else that I can feed them?
<Algae wafers, courgette (zucchini), sweet potato and small pieces of seafood make good staples for Pterygoplichthys; for the midwater fish, frozen bloodworms (wet, rather than freeze-dried are better and better value) and other small invertebrates, augmented with quality flake and pellets is fine.>
When we got the tank, they gave us some hardy fish(according to them). It included the golden Gourami, some other small yellow fish, the big sucker and a Bala shark. But the Bala shark died in the 3rd week.
<Demanding, schooling fish; Bob's written about these at length here, do read:
http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebindex/bala_sharks.htm >
When we lifted up the castle, he had died in there. Is it possible that he couldn't get out or do you think it was something else. He didn't have any markings on him. Then
a week later, we got 2 ghosts and 2 small Bala sharks. The ghosts were doing fine, but then they got sucked into our monster filter along with the 2 Balas. We were told to put some mesh in front of the filter to avoid this. The Neons seem to be fine though, none of them got sucked in?!
<Quite. Fish aren't sucked into filters when healthy.>
I know we introduced too many fish too quickly, but I really don't want to return any of the fish. They are like part of the family now and I will try my damndest to save all of them.
Thanks for the assistance. Will send the water readings tomorrow, should give you much more of an idea of what is going on in our aquarium.
<Cheers, Neale.>

Nitrate concentration in crayfish tank -- 06/28/08 Hi,= I have a problem with the nitrate level in my crayfish tank which I hope you can help with. It's only a small tank, just under 10 gallons, with an undergravel filter and another small internal foam- filter. It has been set up for over three months, and my crayfish (the only occupant) has been in it for two weeks- less than that. Since I added her, my nitrite and nitrate readings have always been 0. For the last couple of weeks, my nitrate level has jumped to 25 mg/L (nitrite still 0) and I cannot get it down. I know this is not high for fish, but am concerned that it may be too high for her as a crustacean. I have always done 25% water changes each week. The last couple of weeks, I did two 10% changes the first week, and then, as the nitrate level didn't decrease, a 50% change about 5 days ago. It doesn't seem to have any effect. I tested the nitrates of the tap water, after conditioning, and this was 0. I suspect its the amount of food that she loses when feeding (miniscule bits of fish seem to 'cloud' off while she chomps) and I do have some brown scum/algae which accumulates at the front, which I keep having to scrub off. I can't understand why the water changes are having no effect. I don't know whether doing any more just yet is a good idea as I don't want to start the tank off cycling again. Have you any suggestions? Should I be worried about this concentration? Thanks very much for your time. I couldn't find anyone else with this query for crayfish tanks. Best wishes, Kathryn <Hi Kathryn. Nitrate can be difficult to manage. The first thing is to establish the nitrate level in your tap water, which you have done. If you're finding that the tap water has 0 mg/l nitrate but the aquarium has 25 mg/l after one week, you almost certainly have an overstocked or overfed aquarium. Given that nitrite and ammonia are zero, the filter itself is doing its job just fine. Your crayfish isn't in any immediate danger -- the common swamp-dwelling crayfish sold as pets have evolved to live in a variety of water conditions, and will adapt to relatively high levels of nitrate without problems. Given the crayfish are primarily herbivores in the wild, you could opt to focus the diet on plant matter. There is less protein in plant material, and while your crayfish will still receive all the nutrition it needs, the amount of ammonia dumped in the water, and consequently the nitrate produced by the filter, will be far less. Across the week you might feed your pet on 5 days with plant material, and 2 days with something meaty. Beyond that, more frequent water changes will dilute the nitrate, and the use of fast-growing floating plants under bright illumination will further use up nitrate. Hope this helps, Neale.>

Re: Nitrate concentration in crayfish tank -- 06/29/08 Hi, Thank you very much for your advice- I will certainly try to shift her to a more vegetarian diet and find some floating plants. Hopefully she won't be able to catch and destroy them like she does everything else! Thanks for your time, Kathryn <Glad to help. Try soft plant foods like tinned peas and cooked rice as staples. The peas are great for protein, and the rice provides starch. You can also offer Sushi Nori, cucumber, courgette (zucchini), cooked carrot, blanched lettuce or pretty much anything soft and/or green. There's no need to feed crayfish every day. Feed in small amounts, and at night if you want to minimise wastage (crayfish are nocturnal). Inexpensive pond plants like Elodea will do double duty as forage for the crayfish as well as nice decorations for the tank. Maybe once a week offer something meaty with either shell or bones in place. These provide the calcium required for successful moults. Frozen krill and/or lancefish (both available in aquarium stores) will do the trick here. Some aquarists recommend adding iodine drops to the crayfish aquarium. You can buy this stuff (inexpensively) at marine aquarium stores. It seems to help prevent one common problem with crayfish, namely "bad" moults, where the crayfish dies part-way through. Use as indicated on the bottle, though perhaps a half-dose would be ample for just one crayfish. Cheers, Neale.>

High Nitrates after use of Melafix -- 03/20/08 Hello, <Hi there> First, let me say thank you for your wonderful site, which I return to every chance I get. You have been kind enough in the past to help me; and I am hoping for your assistance again. <Will try...> I have a 36 gallon freshwater tank, lightly stocked with 10 fish. When my tank was new (15 months ago) it always had an alkaline PH of about 7.2. <... Mmm, not "that" alkaline... In fact, some good reasons to have a slightly elevated pH... NealeM has a nice article re: http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwhardness.htm and the linked files above> As my tank matured, I was told that it would probably become more acidic, which it did. It has been around 6.6 for the past few months now. However, 2 weeks ago, my Boesemanni Rainbowfish got injured in a castle ornament (which I have since removed) incurring significant scale damage. I added Melafix <...> to the tank because I had heard great things about it speeding up healing. Well, it worked. He was completely healed within a week. <Might've taken seven days (or less) w/o...> I was performing modest 10% water changes every other day for the length of the 7-day treatment in an attempt to keep the water pristine. During the course of the treatment I only tested for ammonia and nitrite to ensure that my bio filter was not being affected. Ammonia and Nitrite always tested at zero and continue to do so to date. After treatment ended, I put carbon in the filter (Eheim canister) and performed a 25% water change. I tested my water parameters a few hours later and was very surprised to find high nitrate levels of at least 40ppm, but could possibly have been higher. It is very hard to differentiate on my test kit at any level higher than 20ppm since the shades of red are almost identical. <Mmm, often diluting samples by half (by adding "clean" water of the same approximate volume...) can/will bring readings back "on scale"> My nitrates never exceeded 20ppm before this, as I religiously perform 25% water changes every two weeks with a complete gravel vacuuming. I theorized that the Melafix must have been responsible since it is a plant derivative and probably contributed to the dissolved organics in the water. Could this be the reason? Also, as I feared, my PH level has dropped to the lowest range on my test kit (6.0-6.3). <All are possible interactions, yes> I have been doing daily 15% water changes since this occurred and the nitrates seem to be dropping (hard to tell once in the "red" range on the test kit) and my PH did go up temporarily last evening to 6.4, but had dropped again by this morning. I don't wish to stress my fish, who all appear fine at the moment, so I hesitate to do large water changes for fear of the PH rising too quickly. <You are wise here> Should I proceed with the daily 15% water changes, or do you feel that this is insufficient to correct this issue in a more timely manner. <I would continue as you are> Is there anything I could have missed (besides the obvious of not using Melafix in my display tank anymore). I thank you in advance for your assistance. Michele <Mmm, I think you're doing fine. I am NOT a fan of the "fix" products by API, but there are folks here (WWM) who are a bit more charitable. Am a bigger promoter of the use of real medicines. Bob Fenner>

Follow-up on High Nitrates/low PH after Melafix use Hello again, <Michele> I wrote to WWM earlier in the week regarding experiencing high nitrates and subsequent low PH in my tank after using Melafix to treat a injured fish. <I recall> For your reference, I have included my original correspondence which Bob Fenner answered and was kind enough to assist me with. I have been doing daily modest water changes to bring down the nitrate levels, which has vastly improved (currently reading in the 20ppm range) but of course I'm still working on getting it even lower. However, in tandem with the high nitrates, my PH level dropped from 6.6 to the lowest range on my test kit (6.0-6.3). Water changes have resulted in the PH rising to 6.4, but this effect has been temporary, usually dropping back down within 24 hours. <I would bolster the alkalinity here with at least a few teaspoons of baking soda... or a commercial prep.... Covered on WWM> I realize that larger water changes would yield quicker nitrate reduction, but I don't want to stress the fish in case the PH does increase too rapidly so I'm proceeding cautiously. <You are wise here> But despite the nitrates being reduced, the PH is not climbing back up as of yet and stabilizing as I had hoped. I was somewhat puzzled about this, so I went to your site and researched some possibilities as to why. In doing so, I realized that I did not know what the KH or GH of my source water was, so I purchased a KH/GH test kit to find out. <Ahh!> I live in New York, and we have very soft water, which has almost no KH/GH, which I confirmed with the test (only 1 drop yielded a slight tinge of color). I know now that this is not ideal, and that PH drops can occur without enough buffering; <Yes> however I am very leery of adding any chemicals to the tank for fear of rapid and/or wide PH fluctuations which can be much worse than a stable but low PH. <Best to make all such changes gradually, through/by way of the change out water... modify it and add it to the system> My father has been using the same source water for 30 years, and has successfully kept tropical fish without the use of any chemicals to alter PH or hardness. His philosophy is to keep fish that will adapt to your conditions and thinks I am overly concerned about this. <A valid concern; particularly if only keeping livestock that "enjoys" softer/acidic water...> I tend to agree with his philosophy but my real concern is the low PH hindering the nitrifying bacteria. <Also a valid concern> I have read that at lower PH levels, the bio filter does not work as efficiently. <This is so> Is this true, or does PH have to much more acidic for this to occur? <Slightly alkaline is better... the forward reactions/nitrification are reductive in nature... drive pH down... so having some biomineral in place...> If I continue with the daily water changes and get the nitrates down to about 5-10ppm and keep them there with a more frequent maintenance regimen (perhaps a weekly water change instead of bi-weekly), will the PH increase to where it was a few weeks ago, or without sufficient KH will it remain low no matter how many water changes I do? <If there is no addition of alkaline material (esp. carbonate, bicarbonate) from somewhere, the GH, KH will not change... If reductive processes continue, the pH will drop...> Forgive me if this has been explained somewhere on your site. <An, no worries> Be assured that I have been reading, but I find this issue of hardness somewhat confusing and wanted to check with someone from the crew before deciding on a course of action. Also, please note that prior to adding the Melafix a few weeks ago, I did not have excess nitrates nor any problems with a sudden PH drop so I am hoping that just keeping the nitrate level extremely low will get my tank back to where it was a few weeks ago. I had also read Neale's suggestions to some people about using crushed coral in the filter to raise KH, but I don't want my PH to rise by very much. <Depending on how much, how soluble, this addition is very safe... will not raise pH much, very quickly at all> Since my source water is on the acidic side (6.6-6.8), my goal is to get the tank PH as close as possible to my source water. Is it possible to use the coral and only increase the KH and PH slightly rather than to the basic side of the PH scale? <Yes... could be placed in a filter, bag... in a container with your make-up water... allowed to "soak" for a few days...> I'm somewhat confused because I have been hearing/reading conflicting information about their use. How do you suggest I achieve my goal of increasing my PH to about 6.6 - 6.8 and stabilizing it? <Mmm, the water changes you're doing... with the addition of a bit of sodium bicarbonate (very safe) or a modicum of commercial aquarium pH buffering product> Once again, your advice is greatly appreciated and invaluable. Michele <Let's keep chatting this over till you feel comfortable with your understanding of the underlying principle/s here... This aspect of water quality (pH, alkalinity/acidity... "hardness") is too wordy in English unfortunately... But once you grasp it... Cheers, BobF>

Re: Follow-up on Discovery of Low KH after High Nitrates/low PH w/Melafix use  3/26/08 Hello Mr. Fenner, <Just Bob please Michele> Thank you so much for all of your assistance in explaining how KH factors into maintaining PH. I have been doing some more reading and if I am understanding correctly, the baking soda method needs to be replenished with each water change (outside of the system in the new water) . <Yes, this is best> Since I'm not great at chemistry, and thus would be experimenting with the amount to use to reach my goal, I fear that this leaves a lot of room for human error. <Actually, not much error possible. This practice, with Baking Soda is quite safe> So I think I feel more comfortable with a slow soluble carbonate substance such as crushed coral or even crushed oyster shells and will experiment with a small amount in the filter as a first corrective step to increase KH. The only crushed coral I have been able to find however has aragonite mixed in as well. If I understand correctly, this makes it more soluble, so is this still acceptable for my purposes or would this make the tank too alkaline? <No, not likely> If not recommended for my purposes, I have also been able to locate crushed oyster shells packaged as a "bird feed". <Ahh! This material... usually some type of Dolomite ("Tapa Shell)... a compound of calcium and magnesium carbonates CAN be very soluble... and a mess to handle/deal with... too "cloudy" in preparation/use> In the meanwhile I will continue with my water changes to further decrease the nitrates and proceed from there. Thanks for the offer/opportunity to continue chatting until I get a better grasp of the subject matter. I'm honored that you would take additional time from your busy schedule to assist me. Michele <Am out in Malaysia currently... where am dreading the Net slow-down. Cheers! BobF>

Re: Follow-up on Discovery of Low KH after High Nitrates/low PH w/Melafix use  3/30/08 Good evening Bob, <Mich> I hope your trip to Malaysia is going well. <Yes... but the Net is slow... and intermittent> I did purchase the crushed coral and added a very small amount to the filter on Tuesday. I figured I could always add more if needed. Since my nitrates are now in 10ppm range, I've stopped the daily water changes and will continue as necessary to keep them low. The PH was holding steady at 6.4 for a couple of days without dropping. Today it has increased to 6.6, so it seems that the coral is working. My KH test kit still is reading very low (1 degree), but I'll give it some more time since I seem to be making some progress. And speaking of progress, I actually managed to talk my father into adding some coral to his filter as well. <Ahh!> I referred him to your site and our discussions; and I guess he realized that no matter how long you've been in this hobby, there's always something to learn. <Is so for me... and I am indeed an old timer in the trade, science and hobby> Thanks again for your help. I have been enjoying chatting with you. I will keep you posted on the progress of my tank, but I'm confident that the coral will serve the purpose. Michele <Bob Fenner>

High nitrates, FW   2/5/08 Hi, <Hail and well met.> My nitrates are undergoing a spike. After numerous water changes and no change, I decided to check the well water. Seems with the freeze and thaws we are undergoing the well has been contaminated. The water both out of the well and in the tank (API liquid test kits) is about 40mg/l. This normally would be a reading that would indicate the need for an immediate water change, but of course not under the circumstances. <Nah... 40 mg/l is well within the toleration zone for most freshwater community fish, particularly if they're acclimated to it. Nitrate is (under lab conditions) known to be something like 1000 times less toxic than nitrite. While dumping a fish from low nitrate water into high nitrate water is harmful, if they experience gradual changes, they seem to adapt well. There are exceptions though, primarily Mollies and most of the Cichlids, which react badly to nitrate once it gets above a certain point. That said, the nitrate level in London, for example, is about 50 mg/l right out the tap, and lots of Londoners keep fish without problems! This isn't an excuse for skipping water changes of course, since water changes are about a lot more than nitrate. Provided you're doing 25-50% water changes per week, I wouldn't be overly concerned about this moderately high level of nitrate.> If have been reading up on solutions for high nitrates, but most involve changing my water chemistry (RO method which is relatively expensive, never mind the plumber) My well water is hard and the tanks have been stocked accordingly. I was buying plants at a rather slow rate and yesterday bought a large number to at least try and help with a biological control method and reduce the naturally occurring one of algae growth. From my reading here today, I suspect that will not be enough. <Plants can help, but you do extremely fast growing species under intense lighting.> It seems the only causalities so far are a couple of zebra Danios and as I recall from my reading here yesterday (in a effort to figure out what was wrong with them) they are particularly sensitive to high nitrates. <Not heard of Danio spp. being nitrate sensitive. They don't like "old" water certainly, but not sure if that's nitrate-specific or more about water quality generally. In any case, people can and do keep Danios in water with quite high levels of nitrate in cities without problems.> Other species include swordtails, platys, Boesemanni and dwarf blue Rainbowfish (have read that these too can be very sensitive to nitrates) Plecos, Corys, diamond tetras.....though so far they are demonstrating no signs of stress. <Wouldn't expect them to.> The information contained on this site seems to indicate that additives and/or filters designed for nitrate removal have negligible effect. Is my only option to dilute the well water with bottled water? <Wouldn't bother. Nitrate-removal systems in marine aquaria make sense because the baseline is very low (ideally 0 mg/l) and the level of stocking is low as well (so the rate of nitrate accumulation is low). In your freshwater tank these factors aren't the same, and you'd need a huge nitrate-removal system to reduce 40 mg/l down to 0 mg/l quickly enough to make any difference.> This would indeed not be easy are we are talking about 110 g tank as well as some smaller ones. And of course, I do not live in town. However, if you think that this in the only option, I guess I shall start toting..... <I'd do this: sit back and watch what happens. Keep up with your normal water change routine, using the well water. I'm not a great fan of doing massive amounts of work to water chemistry if it can possibly be avoided; the ideal is to keep fish that like your local water. If it's hard and alkaline and has 40 mg/l nitrate, then that's the situation and you can choose fish accordingly. I will make the point that rainwater is what I use to dilute the water I have to work with, which I mix 50/50 with tapwater to get something moderately hard and neutral in pH and with half the nitrate amount. Collecting rainwater is easy to set up and costs nothing to do, but of course it does depend on your local climate. Here in England, rain is rarely lacking! If you live in Arizona, this mightn't be an option.> Thanks in advance for your assistance....again Cheers Aileen <Cheers, Neale.>

Re: high nitrates, FW   2-05-08 Thanks Neale, <Hi Aileen,> I guess I was so used to having low nitrates and read often in the pages of this web site the preference for maintaining low to nil nitrates. <Ah, don't get me wrong: low nitrates are a good thing. But when it comes to standard community fish -- guppies, Danios, Corydoras, etc. -- nitrate levels as high as 50 mg/l are not likely to cause problems. Mollies and dwarf cichlids are the notable exceptions. So you should certainly aim for low nitrates, but if you can't get a nitrate level of zero, don't lose sleep over it; your fish won't be all that bothered.> Then to make matters worse just after discovering the change in the well water, I had two Danios under obvious duress with no other symptoms. One had died, the other seems to be recovering in quarantine with no meds. Just salt and a little peace and quiet. <Good.> Just in case, I did test the other parameters and they are fine at 0. I shall try to ignore this twist on the continuing saga of ever changing well water..... <Indeed.> By the way, I do not know how much you may recall about my previous emails you answer so many, but I gave up on obtaining more swordtails for now. That said, my remaining female has given me a whole school of them. They are two weeks old now and growing like weeds. Spoiled though, they have bottled water mixed in! <DO remember Swordtails, like most livebearers, like their water as hard as possible. Hardness is your friend with livebearers.> And I am in Ontario, lately it seems I could be collecting rain water one day and buckets of snow the next! <Well that's good then, no? Collecting rainwater is actually kind of fun, because you start glowing with pride afterwards for doing your bit to save the planet AND you get to keep funky soft water fish from the Amazon or wherever.> Thanks again Aileen <Cheers, Neale.>

Excess nitrates problem, FW   11/1/07 Dear WWM, <Melissa,> I have/had a 5 gallon tank with two panda Corys, mechanical and biological filtration. <Hmm... 5 gallons too small for such fish, and really too small for any fish. The main problem is a lack of stability, so even if a 5 gallon tank is fine one day, by the next it can be a death zone. The bigger the tank, the slower such changes, and the more time you have to fix them. Experienced fishkeepers can usually run a 10 gallon tank safely enough, but for beginners there is no doubt in my mind a 20 gallon is the bare minimum for anything like a consistent chance of success.> Yesterday when I left my house, my fish were fine. One of my Corys was displaying some clouded eye a few days ago, but it seemed to be improving. The other Cory was unaffected. <Cloudy eyes don't tend to go away, and even if they do, they're really an indication of infectious agents in the water. In other words, this should be an alarm bell.> When I got home about seven hours later, there were these tiny worms in my tank. They are very small, ranging from about 2 to 10 mm long, almost translucent, and free-swimming. They resemble Planaria but are not white. I suspect them to be nematodes. <Quite possible. Nematodes such as these are harmless, and simply turn excess food you are giving your fish into more nematodes. Cut back the food, clean the tank more rigorously, and the nematode population will die back. Again, an alarm bell.> I have not added anything new to my tank recently. My java fern has also started yellowing suddenly for some reason, I don't know if this has anything to do with it. <Likely not; are you fertilising the water? Like any plant, Java fern relies on minerals such as iron and magnesium from the water. This is used up over time, so at least monthly you need to top up with plant fertiliser.> Plus, there are tiny white specks crawling on the inside of my tank walls. <Could be nematodes, planarians or even some sort of tiny crustacean such as Ostracods.> I also lost both Corys over the last 12 hours. <Sorry.> I suspect both the worms and the fish loss to be due to excess buildup of nitrates in my water. <Wrong. The nematodes and the nitrate levels (which you don't quite) are a product of poor aquarium care. Provided you don't give fish too much food, there should be no food for nematodes to turn into even more nematodes. Likewise, nitrate comes from food, not thin air. So if you have relatively high levels of nitrate compared with the water you put into the tank, this means you are adding too much food and/or not doing enough water changes. Bottom line, the nitrates and the nematodes were warnings about a systemic problem with the tank; without fixing that problem, you allowed the situation to become critical, resulting in dead fish.> However, I don't see how this could happen as I siphon thoroughly once a week along with 20-25% water changes. <Not enough. The smaller the tank, the more the water changes need to be. Minimum, 50% a week for this system.> I also underfeed. <Apparently not, or there wouldn't be any worms. Understand this: nematodes are animals. They eat stuff. They eat fish food. They can't survive on just water and gravel. So if the nematodes are multiplying, that can only mean there is "stuff" in there for them to eat and turn into baby nematodes.> Although I did a full siphon and water change two days ago, yesterday I was still able to siphon out a very large amount of dirt from my gravel. This included white and brown specks about 1 mm as well as microscopic specks that looked more like dust than anything. <Organic detritus. This is the stuff you need to remove with each water changes. In a bigger tank, this really isn't a problem, but in a small tank, organic decay can be critical, resulting in things like rapid pH drops.> Today, I siphoned again, and even though I siphoned yesterday and did a 40% water change, today after an hour of siphoning I was still able to stir up a significant amount of this dirt. <Bizarre. Let's review how the gravel should work. In a tank with an undergravel filter, you need around 5-8 cm of gravel, through which water is drawn. Each week you need to stir the gravel and siphon up the solid waste that accumulates there. In tanks without undergravel filters, you don't need a deep bed of gravel unless you have rooted plants. In your case, if the only plants you have are Java fern (which you NEVER stick in the gravel but attach to wood/rock) the gravel need only be 0.5-1 cm think. Enough to cover the glass but no more. This should be very easy to keep clean. In tanks with plants that have roots (Vallisneria, Amazon swords, etc.) the substrate needs to be much deeper, around 10 cm. Actively growing plants will largely keep the gravel clean by themselves, and to a degree use the organic wastes as a source of nutrients.> I am not sure what is causing this huge accumulation of waste in my gravel. No amount of siphoning seems to decrease this amount. <Put the filter in a bucket of aquarium water and leave it running, and then take apart the tank and give it a thorough clean. Return only so much gravel as you need to cover the glass.> Ammonia and nitrites are both at 0. What should I do? <Clean the tank, and review the basics of setting up and maintaining an aquarium. Once you're happy you have them covered, go get some more fish, but choose something more suitable for a 5 gallon tank, such as a Betta or perhaps a few shrimps and small gobies.> -Melissa <Cheers, Neale>

Re: Excess nitrates problem  11/1/07 Hi again, <Greetings!> I understand that 5 gallons is difficult to keep balanced. I'm preparing a 15 gallon now...don't have room for anything bigger. <Good. While 15 gallons is still on the small size, it's certainly much easier to maintain than a 5 gallon tank.> My java fern is rooted to a piece of wood. I also have a piece of driftwood on which I am keeping java moss. <Correct maintenance for both these plants. If placed in the substrate, they rot.> My gravel is about 3/4 of an inch deep. <Use less. In a tank without plants or an undergravel filter, you really only need enough to cover the glass. I prefer to use sand with Corydoras than gravel; you will immediately see changes in their behaviour as these catfish happily root about in a more natural way. Aquarium sand can be used, but non-calcareous smooth silver sand (silica sand) costs next to nothing and can be bought at any garden centre.> I will take the tank apart and clean it as suggested. Should I empty out all the water as well when I do this? <Yes. Of course, make sure the new water is dechlorinated and at roughly the right temperature for your fish, i.e., not too cold and not too hot. Corydoras panda (which I think you said you had) like water on the cool side: aim for 20-25C, but no higher and not substantially lower. Do keep the filter running in a bucket of aquarium water while you're cleaning the tank; otherwise, the bacteria will start dying, which is a Bad Thing.> Thanks for the help. -Melissa <Good luck, Neale>

Bad link on your site... and FW algae, nitrification issue   10/15/07 Hello Crew member, FYI, you have a nasty link on your site located at /diatomfltfaqs.htm. It is the 9th post from the top, titled ?Re: Diatom Filtration? and the link is <http://www/> http://www dot aquarium advice dot com/viewtopic dot php?t=3250. (link is retyped so to prevent you from accidentally clicking it) The link attempted to install the following 3 viruses: Exploit-MS06-014 (Virus), Exploit-CVE2006-3730 (Virus), and VBS/Psyme (Virus) in rapid succession. My virus software stopped the attack, but my system was frozen for several minutes. <Yikes... I see what you mean... Have removed this link. Thank you> While I am taking the time to write you, I might as well ask a question. I have spent many hours reading your site and have asked a few questions in the past as well, and I must say that you people are the bomb. <La Bomba!> Currently, I have a green water situation that seems to go against standard logic. In a nut shell, the problem worsens each time I vacuum the gravel or clean the filter. Several months ago the problem was not green water, but rather cloudy water. If I left the tank to its own (if I neglected it), it would clear up, but nitrates would rise as well to the point that water changes would have little impact. <Mmm, you need/want more "filtration"... low/ hypoxic to no/ anoxic spaces...> It is then that I clean the filter and/or the gravel to slow down the production of and lower nitrates, but that causes the water to turn cloudy. I try to keep the nitrates below 10ppm, but when water changes will no longer keep the level below 20ppm is when I know I need to clean the filter and gravel. <Yes... a common situation> After purchasing 2 Plecos who do a wonderful job of cleaning the glass, gravel and decor of all visible algae, the problem of cloudy water became a problem of green water, and boy is the water green. Visibility in the tank is about 4 inches, and it has been that way for about 2 weeks now. I am at a loss. All water tests are currently and stay great with the exception of phosphates, which I have not tested because I use to use a phosphate buffer to control Ph so I knew the reading would be high. I have since quit using the Ph buffer and have let the Ph rise as a result. High or otherwise, phosphate levels have no impact on the cloudy/green water. I have read so many of your articles and FAQs that I feel like an expert on the subject, but something is amiss. More info; I can't keep plants because my silver dollars will eat them. My tank is 75 gallons. I have 4 silver dollars, 3 Corys, 2 bushy-nosed Plecos, and 1 blue ram. I wonder if I do not have enough fish to support the biology in the filter? Is that possible? When I had many more fish I didn't have this problem. I have an EHEIM Pro 2 canister filter running about 275GPH and it is full of bio balls that I am very careful to not tamper with. <Good> The tank has been running for about 3 years. I use RO water treated with RO right (2dGH) and baking soda (3dKH). Everything in the tank is plastic, or epoxy coated except 3 pieces of Malaysian drift wood. <This, these should help> No nitrites, no ammonia, Ph 7.6, (I prefer lower but cannot seem to keep it down without using phosphates), nitrates 5ppm at last check. I need to get to the root of the green water. I have had aquariums for over 30 years, but never has issues like this. I am trying to keep this short, so will cut it off here. If you need more info please let me know. Best Regards, Scott <Not to make too much of a simple/simplified response sans explanation, but the "answer" to the situation here is more fine substrate... like another inch or so of gravel... or the addition of ceramic ring, sintered glass media... for the bioballs. This will shift more of nitrogen cycling to/back to denitrification... Bob Fenner>

Nitrite levels waaaaaaaaay high - ugh.  9/2/07 Neale, <Kristi,> OK - now I'm thoroughly confused. <Pray tell...> Regarding my nitrite levels - they were and still are reading 2.0 mg/L. I double checked the color card (API test) and that's what it is and has been. <OK. Well, not actually OK, but OK as in I understand.> Other levels are as follows: Nitrate ~10 mg/l (and on its way down), ammonia 0, ph consistent at ~ 7.7. <These are fine.> Given that 1 m/mg./l nitrite is lethal and my fish are still alive, what is going on? The 35% water change yesterday didn't do a thing to reduce the nitrite 2.0 levels. The test kit suggests the following actions when initial levels are high: <1 mg/l is a ball-park figure. It varies. 0.2 mg/l will kill Tanganyikan cichlids pretty quickly, while mudskippers (adapted to resting in burrows when the tide is out) will take levels of ammonia and nitrite much higher than most fishes. So it varies. What nitrite does is stress the fish, damaging tissues and messing up its immune system. In the long term, a tank maintained at 2 mg/l nitrite is unhealthy, and the mortality of the fish will be high.> 1. Add a Nitra-Zorb to the filter, <Waste of time.> 2. Add bacterial supplement to help speed the development of the bio filter, <Waste of money, except perhaps in the case of BioSpira and Tetra Safe Start, which are "live" bacteria cultures. By contrast, filter-boosters and filter-aids have had very mixed reviews from aquarists, and are probably not all that useful.> and 2. Add aquarium salt to reduce nitrite toxicity to fish while the natural filter is removing the nitrite. <Possibly an option. The livebearers and glassfish obviously won't mind this at all.> Question: Is adding *any* salt a good idea given I have an ADF and dwarf Gourami? If so, at what dose? <It's a case of "less of two evils". As a short-term supportive, salt has some value here. You don't need Aquarium Salt for this, plain non-iodized cooking salt will do just fine (this is sometimes sold as Sea Salt for example). Use small amounts at first, perhaps 1 gramme per litre. If the fish are basically fine, I'd back off using salt, and just cut back the food and let the filter develop speedily. Regular water changes will dilute the nitrite enough to keep the fish healthy, all things being equal. This is "cycling with fish" basically, and done properly, works fine. It's the old fashioned approach to be sure, and done badly ends up with a lot of dead fish, which is why so many books recommend fish-less cycling instead.> What could be causing such high nitrite levels? <It would appear that your nitrifying (ammonia -> nitrite) bacteria are all in good shape, but the nitrifying (nitrite -> nitrate) bacteria are for some reason not doing their job. Give it 2-3 weeks more and you should be fine. In the meantime, do everything you can to optimise conditions for the fish and the bacteria. You already have an alkaline pH and fairly high hardness, which is what the filter bacteria like (they HATE soft/acid water!) but they also need lots of oxygen, so check circulation of the water is adequate. Also make sure the filter is sufficiently large, and not filled with worthless rubbish like carbon. What you want is plenty of good quality biological filter media. Sponge and ceramic hoops are best, but filter wool will do too. Make sure the media aren't clogged up.> Kristi <Hope this helps, Neale>

The game plan. FW maint.  - 9/3/07 Neale, <Kristi,> All right, hours of reading/research on the WWM site and your expert advice resulted in the following game plan to address my issues. Could you please review and confirm that I'm not missing anything. <Will do.> 1. Initially add sea salt (@ 1 gram per liter) for short-term detox of high nitrites. I'll use this only as needed for spiking nitrite levels. <Yep.> 2. Feed only once per day for now, <Correct.> 3. Hold off on gravel vacuuming, <Do, don't do; it really doesn't make much difference. I find hoovering up the detritus with each water change is easier and less likely to uproot the plants.> 4. Add more gravel substrate (I currently only have 1 inch), <Depends on what you have in the tank. If no rooted plants, then 1 inch is fine. Too much, even. You only need enough to cover the glass, and volume used for gravel is taking away volume of water. And the more water, the more stable the conditions in the tan. Lots of plants don't need gravel and prefer to grow on objects (rock, wood) for example Anubias, Java moss, and Java fern. On the other hand, rooted plants need about 3-4 inches. To some extent rooted plants (like Vallisneria, Amazon swords, etc) also need nutrients in the gravel too. I use pond soil, but others use laterite or fertiliser pellets they shove into the roots of each plant every couple of months.> 5. Replace current power filter with BIO-Wheel (I changed out the carbon filter three days ago before realizing I was throwing away the good bacteria - oops) <OK.> 6. Add BioSpira to help establish good bacteria more quickly. <If you want. At this stage it probably won't make a massive difference, because you have half the bacteria established already. But it won't hurt. Follow the instructions on the package carefully.> 7. Consider adding a small bubble wand to add more oxygenation (although I already have a bubbler water feature along with the power filter serving up to a 20 gallon tank). Would the ADF be ok with more water current, or should I hold off on the bubble wand? <Ah, should be fine. But as I've said elsewhere, frogs and fish don't really mix. Frogs (generally) live in still or stagnant water where fish are unable to live. They can't compete very well in the wild -- fish simply eat frogs because they swim so much better. So to some extent this is a "suck it and see" situation; try it out and see what happens.> 5. Hold to weekly 50% water changes unless levels become dangerously high. <You can't do too many water changes, so be flexible here. Provided the new water has zero ammonia and is of the same pH, hardness, and temperature as the old water, do as many water changes as you can.> 6. During water changes, treat "new" dechlorinated water with Ammo-Lock as well to address Chloramine issues. <Yes.> 7. Eventually decide on algae control critters, but don't add until tank stabilizes. <Algae control critters are a contradiction in terms. Adding animals to an aquarium increases the nitrates and phosphates, which increases the rate at which algae grows. Biology doesn't care if the animals eat algae or fried chicken, all animals are pumping out nitrate and phosphate. The only algae control that works is adding fast-growing plants. Vallisneria, hornwort, Cabomba, etc. Somehow, for reasons not entirely clear, these plants suppress the growth of algae, to the point where it stops being a problem. It sounds bizarre, but truly, you can have an overstocked tank but if there are lots of plants in there, at most you'll be wiping a little bit of algae off the glass once every six weeks. Quite how this works isn't clear, but it may be something to do with allelopathy, the ability of plants to (effectively) poison algae so that their leaves stay clean. There's so much about plant physiology we don't understand, but this is one aspect we can put into use in the aquarium.> Hmmmm...anything else? Oh yeah...more patience. <Hah!> This fish thing is becoming addicting!!!!!! Thanks again to you and the WWM site for all your guidance and info. Kristi <Happy to help, Neale>

Water readings always zero, Not a bad thing 8/29/07 I'm so sorry for having yet another question. I love your sight, but for everything I learn I have questions. I find the answer and then that leads to more questions. <The learning process.> This concerns water quality. I've got 5 aquariums. I split up the percentage and do daily water changes vs. a large weekly water change. The fish don't even notice as it's syphoned out and slowly pumped back in with a tiny pump from the stored aerated well water. I've done this for over a year and the fish are very healthy. In researching your site for ideas in setting up a drip system (been wanting to do that for awhile) I came across a references stating low level nitrAtes were needed in the water. It happened to be talking about saltwater tanks. Is that true for *only saltwater? <In some very specific situations this is mostly true, heavily planted tank in FW and some clam tanks in SW will benefit from low levels of nitrates, but for most aquariums if your nitrates are 0 then be happy.> My ammonia, nitrItes and nitrAtes have literally always read '0' on my FW tanks (cycled). All the references about nitrAte always say to keep them under about 20-25 for FW fish. So....does that mean I'm *supposed to have at least some nitrates in the water? I always thought I was doing the right thing but I've found sometimes I try too hard and come to find I've over-done it. <0 is best in most situations, just most people are not willing to do the amount of water changes you do to achieve that.> Now I wonder if there's some electrolyte or mineral or some weird alien nutrient I hadn't considered that I'm depriving them of by keeping their nitrates at '0' instead of letting them build up to 10 or 15 ppm. <Nope> I'm so sorry if this is a ridiculous question, I've been pondering it for 3 days. It might help someone else to know this, too. Thank you for your endless patience. I'd gladly join your team and answer questions but I feel I know so little compared to your crew. Mitzi <Don't underestimate your knowledge. When you feel ready, drop a line, we are always looking for people who are willing to help.> <Chris>

High Nitrates  8/27/08 Hi there Neale (?), <Hello Lisa,> Hope you are well. <Can't complain.> Could you please help me out? In my community tank, I've been reading high nitrate levels for the last few weeks. This tank is a 30 gallon hex, with 5 guppies, 1 black skirt tetra, 1 giant Danio, 1 zebra Danio, 2 Plecos, 2 bumblebee cats and 5 Corys (many bottom feeders I know! I LOVE them - they are such happy creatures). The change has come about in the last few weeks, as I have made an effort to feed the cats a few shrimp pellets and an algae wafer or two on a nightly basis - I've been doing reading on your site and I believe it was Fenner that recommends feeding the catfish "meaty foods" twice a day. (Oh and I did add the bumblebees to the tank about 2-3 weeks ago (Microglanis iheringi). <Define "high" nitrates. Anything from 50 mg/l downwards is fine, and even 100 mg/l is unlikely to cause problems.> I realize a high nitrate level is due to excessive food decay - correct? Nitrites and ammonia levels are 0. pH is on the high side - 7.6 (I usually keep it neutral at 7.0 - out of the tap it's 7.2). <Nitrate comes from the end of the biological filtration process. Ammonia (from the fish) goes to nitrite, and nitrite goes to nitrate. Water changes are used to dilute the nitrate. Since nitrate is (basically) non-toxic, there's no need in freshwater aquaria to worry about it most of the time. Things are different in marine aquaria, and to some extent in Rift Valley cichlid aquaria, but for standard community tropicals you can usually ignore nitrate. So long as you aren't grossly overstocked/overfeeding and you do the 50% water changes each week, it should stay at a safe level automatically.> I've been doing partial water changes 2-3 times per week to keep the levels down. <OK. But how *much* water per change? Aim for 50% a week, one way or another.> I'm running a Penn Plax canister filter with a capacity of 65 gallons (I realize it's turnover that's the important factor). I just ordered a large bubble wand to provide both additional aeration and get the waste and excess food up and into the filter intake. <Hmm. Not sure how the bubble wand will help here, but OK. Neale's golden rule for spending money is always buy another filter when you have spare cash. Everything else is niceties, but a filter is always money well spent. Even a cheap little internal box filter jammed into the corner and filled with ceramic media or filter wool will do more good than a dozen bubble wands.> I wanted to move one of the Plecos (5-6" in length) over to the Mbuna tank however that nasty Chinese Algae Eater is in there and I don't want him to latch onto him. <Hah! Plecs and CAEs usually coexist, and I've mixed them together myself. Does depend on the relative sizes of the fish, and how much cover the Plec has (it rough aquaria they tend to hide during the day and feed only at night). To some degree, CAE behaviour depends on diet: adults are more or less omnivorous rather than herbivorous, and should be provided with a mix of green vegetables as well as opened mussels, bits of prawn, and so on.> What do you recommend in this situation to get the nitrate levels down? <Tell me what the Nitrate value is first, and then I'll comment. If it's below 50 mg/l, don't worry about it. Also check you tap (faucet) water supply. London tap water for example has 50 mg/l anyway, so aquaria in London will have nitrate levels above that. Doesn't cause undue problems most of the time. Fish adapt to even sub-optimal conditions, and provided everything else is basically sound, nitrate is a relatively trivial issue.> As always, thank you!! <Not a problem.> Lisa in Natick, Mass. <Neale in Berkhamsted, Herts.>
Re: High Nitrates -- 08/27/07
Thanks again Neale. <Hello Lisa,> As you say, I did note on the FAQ that nitrate problems refer mostly to marine aquariums. I do not want to take advantage of your service so I will always do the research before asking a question. I so appreciate this great service. And thank you for your patience. I can sense a bit of humor in your responses - I'm not sure you're rolling your eyes at my questions - but I'd say it's definitely a possibility! :-) <More than likely, yes...> My concern with the nitrates is the change in readings (although the fish are not displaying stress). I usually receive 5.0ppm ratings for all three tanks (I apologize for not providing a reading). However, in this particular tank I AM overfeeding hence receiving a reading in between 40-80ppm (brought down to 40 with 25% water changes a few times per week). I believe I've sufficiently run out of real estate concerning number of fish also. There's even waste lying on the substrate (Plecos). I will begin doing 50% changes regularly on the weekends. <Solid waste -- faeces -- really aren't a problem, especially not from Plecs, which are herbivores. While unsightly, faeces contains little by way of toxins. Fish dump their "toxic waste" across the gills and in the urine, as ammonia. Neither of these sources is visible. This is why biological filtration is so important. Turnover is also important. For standard tropical fish (guppies, barbs, etc.) you need a filter providing at least 4 times the volume of the tank in turnover per hour. For big fish, like Plecs and goldfish, 6 to 8 times turnover is in order. That's how you decide on whether or not you have enough filtration, though obviously nitrite test kits can be used to directly measure your success at managing the nitrogen cycle.> I must have sensed "Neale's Golden Rule" for subsequent to writing my note yesterday, I installed a powerhead with a filter cartridge for added filtration - I will add a bit of carbon and bio media too. <Skip the carbon, and double the biological media. Carbon provides a questionable service in a freshwater fish tank. But biological media is ALWAYS useful.> I changed the canister's filter media too (except for bio media). Bubble wands are for wimps - noted. :-) <It's not so much air stones and whatnot are for wimps, it's just they're not very good value in terms of what you get in return. The only time I use air in aquaria is for powering box filters or, on marine tanks, for skimmers. I just don't see much use for them otherwise. This isn't to say you should use them, and if money is no object, they certainly add a nice touch to the aquarium. But there are better ways to spend your money if you want sheer improvement in water quality.> I will stop loving my fish with food and resort to the old feeding routine supplemented with a shrimp pellet, algae wafer or fresh veggie once or twice a week although seeing those bumblebee cats scoop up a pellet at the speed of light and the Cory feeding frenzy is quite fascinating! <Indeed! You're talking to a catfish enthusiast, so no question, they're among the most fun fish in the hobby. Cichlids obviously win out when it comes to intelligence, but if you want "weirdness" (as Calvin & Hobbes might say) you gotta go with catfish.> The CAE came as "a gift" as part of the Mbuna package. He IS fun to watch - the Mbuna chase him around a bit but if this guy latches onto my Pleco there going to be hell to pay! <Agreed. I kept one in 200 gallon tank with Central American cichlids. Worked quite well. There was also a gibbiceps catfish in there, and they all seemed to get along fine.> The Pleco I'd like to move into the tank is about 5 inches long, the CAE is about 3 inches. <Sounds a reasonable gamble. I'd try it out and see what happens. The CAE couldn't kill the Plec in one day, so it should be apparent if one or other fish is being bullied long before there were problems.> I do not have sufficient hiding places for him as of yet in the Mbuna tank however I'm going to decorate the tank with a great deal of rock next weekend. <Plecs love terracotta flower pots, so providing hiding places shouldn't be hard. Perhaps I will move the Pleco in there once the aquascaping is complete. I'll place a bit of driftwood in there too as he really likes it. <It's more than "liking", they eat the stuff too. While common Plec species can't digest wood (only "Royal" Plecs, Panaque spp. can do that) they do seem to use wood as a source of dietary fibre, and it keeps them healthy.> Do Plecos "feel" crowded - am I stunting his growth in the 30 hex? <Quite possibly, yes. 30 US gallons is rather less than what I'd recommend for a common Plec. Even twice that wouldn't be exactly generous.> Maybe I should just leave him where he is? I know Plecos can get huge in the wild and even in captivity... <The standard Pterygoplichthys species get to around 40-50 cm in the wild, but there are other Plecs that get twice that size. I've seen photos of as-yet undescribed Loricariid catfish literally the size of a child. There's a great You Tube video of a *school* of wild Plecs in a Mexican lake, and it's quite something to see this huge mass of giant catfish scooting about like overgrown Corydoras. Sometimes, aquarists don't realise how different their fish behave in the wild.> Thank you Neale! <You're welcome, Neale>

Nitrate in freshwater Eclipse 12 system -- 08/11/07 I have written off to Drs. Foster and Smith and That Fish Place but only received the pat answers which did not help me at all. I've seen your threads so thought I'd try you all. <OK, Jeanine, fire away.> I have a Marineland Eclipse System 12, freshwater, that has been up since January. I do weekly 25% water changes and vacuum the sand bed which is about 2 inches deep. I run my tank light about 7 hours a day. A month ago, I began noticing some of the brownish/red colored algae growing both on tank ornaments and on the live plants and when I checked nitrates, they were around the 40 or more mark. <Right, you have a 12 US gallon tank, which isn't much at all. So by any standards you need to handle this tank extremely carefully if you want it to be stable. That said, nitrates at 40 mg/l are fine for most freshwater fish. Local water in London is around 50 mg/l right out the tap, and people keep fish with this stuff fine. Sure, there are some nitrate-intolerant fish, like Tanganyikan cichlids, but the basic stuff like Neons and guppies generally couldn't care less.> After doing reading and checking, I decided I had too many fish - 4 Cory cats and 5 dwarf neon rainbows, so I donated the rainbows to an LFS reducing the fish to only 4. <The 4 Corydoras would be fine, but the rainbows aren't "overstocking" the tank, but just the wrong fish for such a small aquarium. They're hyperactive creatures. I'd sooner go with Glowlights, Neons, and other inactive small tetras when working with small (lengthwise) tanks.> At the time, I had been feeding the fish daily, so I changed to every other day feeding so I am definitely NOT overfeeding. I feed frozen blood worms one day and also Hikari sinking wafer for catfish the next feeding. Oh, I also checked my phosphates and they are around 0. <Now, frozen foods are great, and bloodworms low in proteins (something like 5%, check the package) so far less polluting than the same quantity of flake. People often forget that it isn't how much food you put in the tank that matters, but how much *protein*. That's why you can stick a head of lettuce in an catfish tank and let them graze away for a week, and yet the impact on the nitrogenous waste levels will be minimal.> I did a massive 4 gallons at a time progressive water change sequence until I got the nitrates down below 5. I always make sure the carbon filter pad is clean (in tank water) and I even rinse out the BioWheel in tank water to remove excess buildup (if there is any). <I say this twice daily, but carbon pads are useless, or at least, don't do any of the things aquarists think they do. Carbon doesn't remove nitrate and carbon doesn't reduce water pollution. All carbon does is remove dissolved organics, and if you're doing 50% water changes weekly (as you should be) then there won't be any dissolved organics anyway. So throw out the carbon, and replace with more biological filter media, which *will* do something useful. Corydoras, by the way, love big water changes, especially if the new water is slightly colder than the old water. If you're lucky, they'll spawn!> Okay, so I've done everything I know to do so now that I've reduced the nitrates and am not overpopulated or overfeeding, surely the nitrates will not start going back up quickly. Well, within 3 days of doing the water change/vacuum, the nitrates were already back up to a good solid 5 ppm color so they are obviously rising. <Nitrates are good in some ways, because they show the biological filter is doing its job. Don't worry about them. As I said, 50 mg/l is harmless in most cases, and even 100 mg/l won't cause major problems.> I have read that BioWheels cause higher nitrates but that is the filter on the eclipse system and no one says much about freshwater nitrates and BioWheels in their articles. <All sounds like rubbish. No filter can "make" more nitrates than another. Assuming you have biological filtration equal to the loading of the tank, each milligram of protein the fish eat will end up as exactly the same amount of nitrate, whether you are using a sponge filter, and undergravel filter, or a trickle filter. The only factors that moderate this are plant/algal growth (these use up nitrate) and denitrification in anaerobic sediments (where nitrate is broken to nitrogen). This latter is uncommon in freshwater tanks.> I want to keep the nitrates at a lower level so the algae will not get a major foothold again. <Non sequitur. You can have 100 mg/l of nitrates and no algae. You can also have 5 mg/l nitrate and lots of algae. Algae is a problem where a tank is "unbalanced", that is, there is an excess of light (especially sunlight) but not enough plant growth. Algae will grow more quickly if there's lot of nitrate, yes, but even if there isn't, algae can grow pretty well too. Add some live plants that grow rapidly. Vallisneria, hornwort, Cabomba, and Elodea are all good. Make sure they have lots of light. Honestly, once established, you'll be down to scraping algae once a month, if that. It's pretty amazing really. The mechanism isn't clear scientifically, but allelopathy may be a factor. Slow growing live plants, like Cryptocorynes, Java moss, Java ferns, Anubias, etc have no effect at all, by the way.> How can I keep the nitrates lower - I will continue my tank maintenance and weekly 25% water changes, but I don't want to have to continue these huge progressive water changes every week to lower the nitrates. <Forget about it. Too much work, not enough reward. Weekly 25% water changes aren't "huge" by the way, they stingy. 50% weekly is widely accepted nowadays to be a good baseline. The old idea that "old water" was somehow better for the fish has been thoroughly discredited.> I find it hard to believe that 4 Cory cats with live plants and no over-feeding and regular weekly tank maintenance still generates such a quick nitrate rise. My only thought is that it must be the BioWheel, but I'm not sure at all and don't know what to do about it. <You're fine with the fish you have. Add half a dozen or so small, inactive tetras like Neons, and maybe a handful of algae-eating shrimps for fun, and you'll have a nice little tank. Algae isn't the enemy by the way. If your fish breed, it becomes live food, and shrimps especially seem to eat nothing but algae and the microbes living amongst it. Algae is part of the natural world, and the only places you don't want it are the front glass and on the leaves of the plants. Everywhere else...? Get over it. Let the algae do it's thing. It's fish/shrimp food of the best sort and a valuable source of vitamins for them. Most fish will peck away at it occasionally, like cats nibbling on grass. But seriously, once you have rapid plant growth, the algae becomes a trivial issue.> Thanks so much, Jeanine <You're welcome, Neale>
Re: nitrate in freshwater Eclipse 12 system -- 08/11/07
Neale, What an AWESOME response. Thank you for taking time to respond so thoroughly. Yours is the first real answer I've gotten from anyone. I really don't see algae as the 'enemy', but obviously didn't want it overtaking the tank and plants and things. I will get some of the plants you recommended and see if that takes care of things. I have about 6 plants in there now, but don't think any of them are what you recommended. <Do some reading on "aquarium plants", "allelopathy", and "algae" and you'll get lots of information about how people think the system works, what plants work best, and so on. It's controversial, but I'm sold. When I tried it, it worked.> If I do get a few Neons as you suggested, is there any particular brand of flake food (which I assume they eat) that is not too high in protein? I have the Hikari micro pellets if they would work. <Should be fine. The secret to feeding fish is variety. Don't buy big tubs, but small tubs of flake or pellets, so you can regularly skip between brands. Algae-based flake foods are probably the best diet for most small fish. Some days, don't feed your fish any flake foods, but instead put in something like a thin slice of cucumber, some sushi Nori, or an algae pellet. Frozen foods are always good, but live daphnia or whatever are best of all. Raid the kitchen: bits of raw prawn or fish meat are often enjoyed by small fish. All sorts of greens can be pressed into service. As with anything in life, a little of everything is better than just one thing, however good.> Thank you again, I am really grateful, Jeanine <You're welcome, Neale>

FW filtration, lowering pH though using Aragonitic mat., and NO3s in an Af. cichlid set-up   6/20/07 Hey guys. In your opinion, regarding freshwater tank setup, do you think it would be equally as effective to put two Aquaclear 500 HOB filter on a 125g opposed to one canister and one HOB Aquaclear 500? <Mmm, possibly... though I would in either case, locate the units at either end of the system, clean only one per week during other regular maintenance... water changes, testing...> I am setting up a tank for a friend and through my past experience I really think that the HOB's do a better job at filtration. Currently on my 75gal I have one of each (canister/hob), what do you recommend for a large tank like this? <For what sorts of livestock? If this were a planted tank, I'd opt for the mix of units... for Af. et most Cichlid set-ups the two outside power filter hang-ons if these were my only choices> Also, on my Malawi tank I put roughly ten pound of crushed aragonite as my substrate to buffer the ph. <Good> In the beginning, my ph was steady at about 7.9-8.0, now i notice that it has gone down to about 7.5-7.6, what could be the problem? <The more-soluble parts/faces of this substrate are gone... a good idea to refresh (replace, add to) occasionally... every three months or so in this proportion of sized tank/gravel> Also, my nitrates are constantly at 40ppm even shortly after a large water change on my 75gal. <Too high... a good idea for you to read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwmaintindex.htm See the yellow tray, Nitrates below?> My bio load is only at half of it's maximum plus the fact that it's well over filtered with filtration rate of 850gph. I have about ten cichlids and one catfish with a total of about 40 inches so I guess I probably have about 30 more inches left to stock (going by general rule of thumb....1" per gallon). Any ideas as to what may be the problems here? <All sorts> Thanks in advance for your time and help!!! Jason <Read on my friend, read on. Bob Fenner>
Re: FW NO3   6/20/07
Thanks Bob. The link you gave me in the last email was targeted toward saltwater (even though it claims to be freshwater nitrates), <Ah, yes... we don't have enough mat. as yet to separate. Many of the principles apply to both...> and did not answer my questions. The article told you "generally" about nitrates with no information pinpointed to my current situation. I also checked the FAQ's and no one seemed to have the problem I have without probable cause. I have no probable cause, so with your several years of experience do you have any idea what the problem may be? <Yes... a simple balancing of a series of variables/equation... More food, metabolism on one side... not enough anaerobic digestion by certain groups of microbes on the other... And insufficient nutrient export otherwise... Again... please do re-read where you were referred to... the linked files at top.... Your options are simple to delineate... less food, esp. of a proteinaceous nature, less livestock... more anaerobiosis... DSB likely, perhaps specialized media (e.g. sintered glass, ceramic beads/macaronis... made for this...) and the export... more water changes, the use of chem. filtrants, purposeful photosynthesis... the DSB, plants likely in a tied in live sump... All gone over and over on WWM...> I vacuum once every two weeks along with 20% water changes. My bio load is only at about half of the maximum it should be <... not useful thinking... Try covering your "good eye" with your hand, walking backward for a minute... Really> for a 75gal tank. I have an Aquaclear 50 HOB and a Filstar XP3. I have bio rings and stars in both filters but no BioWheel so the bio filtration is constantly under water with no air hitting. I use no supplements and feed very lightly. So clearly Bob, can you see any probable cause here? I don't, I need help. Jason <Read my young friend, read. RMF> LOL, thanks for answering my simple question Bob. <Welcome... RMF>

Nitrates and Green Water   6/10/07 Hello! <<Hello, Vicki. Tom here.>> I've been reading through your FAQs on green water, since my tank has a sudden and terrible case of it. All of the responses stress the importance of testing the nitrate and ammonia levels in the tank. My question is this - is there any way to lower ammonia or nitrate levels without increasing the number of water changes? I'm worried that if I change the water any more frequently, I'll destroy the beneficial bacteria and have to cycle the tank over again. <<Vicki, provided the water changes are performed correctly, there's little chance that these will harm your bio-colonies which are housed primarily in the filter media. That said, you can also change your water too frequently which might seem at odds with what your research has turned up. We'll take this up later in your post but for the time being, think in terms of the quantity of water changed versus the frequency of the changes.>> Here's a little background: I have a 10 gallon freshwater tank with 4 mollies, 2 guppies, 3 tetras, a Kuhli loach, a horsehead loach, a Corydoras catfish, and a snail. <<Off the subject just a bit, Vicki, but your ten-gallon tank is over-crowded with incompatible species. For example, Mollies prefer hard, alkaline water (consider these to be brackish water fish) while Guppies prefer soft, acidic water. Same goes for your Loaches. As an aside here, Corys are highly social little critters that really do best in groups, not alone.>> The PH is stable at 6.9 and the temperature is 78. <<This isn't too bad for any except for the Mollies.>> Up until three weeks ago, I had a goldfish instead of the mollies. He died, I replaced him with the mollies, and within a week, the water was cloudy and green. <<Skip Goldfish until you're in a position to get a much larger tank, 30 gallons or better.>> First, I tried reducing the lighting (the lights are now on about 1 hour/day). <<An appropriate move here, Vicki.>> Then I tried adding about a tablespoon of aquarium salt (replacing it proportionally after water changes). <<The correct methodology but unnecessary. The Cory, Guppies and Loaches don't appreciate salt in their water and, under different circumstances, the proper salt to use for Mollies is Marine salt, not aquarium salt.>> I also added plants - I now have four of them. <<Good move for several reasons.>> When none of that worked, I tried taping a piece of water to the outside of the tank on one side, to reduce the small amount of sunlight that comes in. For the past two weeks, I have been doing 20% water changes every two days. <<Let's pick up on this once again. The green water you're experiencing is the result of an algae 'bloom' likely caused by an excess of nitrates and/or ammonium in the water. (The reason for testing for nitrates is pretty straightforward since these are largely responsible for the nutrients needed for plants/algae to thrive. Checking for ammonia/ammonium may be a little less obvious but ammonia (NH3) exists as ammonium (NH4) at lower pH levels. This is also somewhat temperature-dependent but pH is the bigger factor here. Since ammonium is also used by plants and algae -- in some cases before nitrates are -- this explains why this test is also important.) You've got a lot of life going on in a small environment which contributes to a proportionate amount of waste from the fish and, potentially, uneaten food. In a stable tank, a 20% water change once a week, or even two weeks, would be sufficient. In your case, however, I would recommend a single, 'massive' water change as opposed to multiple, smaller changes. My rationale is that a 20% change still leaves ~80% of the suspended algae and nutrients behind. These increase rapidly over a couple of days and you're back at 'square one', i.e. the reason why the smaller changes aren't really correcting the problem. One massive change on the order of 80%-90% will dramatically reduce both the algae and nutrients and allow your other measures to take hold and combat the algae growth.>> I've changed the filter cartridge once, but left the plastic sponge in, which is supposed to house some of the beneficial bacteria. <<You haven't specified the size of your filter, Vicki, but it's possible/probable that it's smaller than what is needed based on your stocking levels. Good for you, however, that you left the sponge in place. This is where the lion's share of the bacteria reside.>> I've also thoroughly vacuumed the substrate. I used to have a small amount of algae on the tank decorations and glass, but this has all died while the green water problem continues to flourish. <<Part of your plan is obviously working, Vicki. We just need to get rid of the suspended stuff.>> I admit, I haven't purchased a nitrate or ammonia test kit, yet. They seem fairly expensive and I'm not sure how the nitrates or ammonia could be high after all the water changes I've done. <<You don't need to start with an entire test kit if it's not in the budget right now. Individual kits for ammonia and nitrates, alone, can be purchased from virtually any LFS in your area. It's a good bet that you could find these even cheaper online. As for how these compounds could still be high, simply put, you have more going in than coming out. Algae is exceptionally prolific and you've got plenty of sources of nutrition in your tank right now.>> If the levels do prove to be high, should I change out even more of the water? <<Yes, but by quantity, not frequency.>> Won't that kill off the beneficial bacteria and cause my tank to re-cycle? <<Not to any significant degree. Fish rid their body systems of ammonia through specialized membranes in their gills, not through their waste. In other words, your fish will be providing the bacteria with a pretty steady supply of ammonia even after a large water change.>> Thanks very much for your help! - Vicki <<Happy to do so, Vicki. You may want to re-evaluate the size of your filter, as I mentioned. Within the realm of common sense, of course, it would be pretty hard to over-filter your aquarium as you currently have it set up. Best of luck to you. Tom>>

AZNO3 in freshwater aquarium  2/19/07 Bob, can AZNO3 be used in a fresh water aquarium without a protein skimmer to reduce nitrates? Thanks Bob P. <Mmm, can be used... ( http://www.marinedepot.com/aquarium_additives_azno3.asp?CartId=)no need to use a protein skimmer in/with FW systems (are problematical due to physical/chemical properties of phobic molecules in such)... but there are many other "more dependable" means of nitrate reduction... in FW... covered on WWM. If you purchase this fine product, make sure it is "fresh" and store in a fridge... and use w/in two months... Bob Fenner>

Molly Crossbreeds and susceptibility to white spot    1/5/07 Hello from the middle of the UK <And hello from Chicagoland, Illinois, USA!> Firstly, your site really is a fantastic resource, many thanks for the hard work you must all put into it. <On behalf of the WWM Crew, thanks for the kind words.> I have found different websites have slightly varying opinions on the finer points of keeping tropical fish... <...there really are lots of views out there.  Of course, there are some concrete basics that cannot/should not be varied, but many things are debatable...lots of differences of opinion, even amongst crew members at times...> ...your site deals with this so well as the answers in the FAQs come from different people as do the questions, it's very informative, thanks again. <Glad you find it useful! I am always looking things up on the site - it's how I've learned much of what I know about the hobby.> Having prostrated myself at your feet and declared myself "not worthy" :-)..... <Well, you don't have to go that far!! lol...> I have a 150 gal tank with 2 female Bettas, 1 Plec, 1 Algae eater (long thin light orange sucky fish, not sure what to call it really)... <another type of Pleco, perhaps? Any pictures for identification?> ...7 tetras of varying types, 1 Lyre tail molly and 12 fish that came out of the Molly, I think they may be crossed with a Guppy we have in our other tank... <crossbreeding between livebearers can, and does, indeed happen> ...(we moved her and some of the offspring, she is getting quite big and the kids were taking over the tank). <Yup, livebearers can/will do that! I'm amazed they haven't taken over the planet with their reproduction rate...> Water is at 28.3 deg C +/- .2... <This is the high-side of OK for most tropical fish, but good for the Bettas...> ...ammonia 0, nitrite 0, nitrate around 40ppm... <MUST reduce the nitrate levels...20 ppm is as high as they should be.> (most of the time) ph 7.8 constant. Filter is an Atman 882, it's an in tank filter, housing a heater, 2 compartments holding bags of different filter medium and a pump, in that order as the water flows through. I do a 10% water change/clean every week and add a little stress coat type treatment (Nutrafin AquaPlus) each time to the fresh water to remove the chlorine and help the fish, I normally age the new water for 24 hrs before doing the change and add a little AquaPlus (20ml) to the tank. <Your water change schedule generally sounds OK, but since those nitrates are so high, I would recommend doing a 10% change 2 times per week, until the levels fall under control.  They really are too high and are likely stressing the fish, causing them to be more susceptible to disease.> The water from my tap is quite high in nitrate (around 40ppm) so 1 of the bags in the filter contains "Nitrate Sponge" to help keep the nitrate at an acceptable level. <Well, there's the problem, then...if you keep doing water changes with this water, the nitrate levels likely won't drop.  I'd recommend looking into a RO/DI unit, or at the very least, a DI product such as this one: http://www.aquatichouse.com/WaterPurifiers/tapwaterfilter.asp The RO/DI unit will cost you more, but will save you money in the long run, as the filters don't have to be replaced nearly as frequently as the Aquarium Pharmaceuticals Tap Water Filter product.  I don't know if they'll ship to the UK, but I am a big fan of www.airwaterice.com for RO/DI units. I'm not familiar with the "nitrate sponge" product you refer to, but it clearly isn't working.  I really suggest a water filtration system.  Everything else you describe seems great.> Questions: Can a Molly cross breed with a Guppy? <Yes.> The offspring certainly look like that is the case though there was also a male Swordtail in the other tank when she gave birth (She has also had normal Molly babies before and after this bunch arrived). <From my understanding, all livebearers are capable of cross-breeding. Might want to consider just housing a single sex, if you want to keep all these different species.> A quick aside here, she also gave birth to a Platy! <Without a platy parent?!> And we don't have any, well we do now! <OK- I'm confused a little about that one...> Why are these cross breeds so susceptible to Whitespot (The pure Molly is fine as are the rest of the fish)? <I am by no means a geneticist, but my general understanding is that too much genetic variation causes all sorts of problems, including a weakened immune system.> If the nitrate level climbs above 50ppm they start breaking out with it,... <Nitrates really need to be between 0 and 20 ppm...> ...which is fine when I spend a lot of time watching them as I see the first spots and drop in some of the stress coat stuff and check the nitrate levels straight away and the Whitespot goes in a day or 2. HOWEVER, if it's Christmas and I don't pay enough attention, they get in a hell of a mess in a very short time and it's out with the blue stuff (Waterlife Protozin) to fix them. <Do read here for some helpful information on treating ich.  Keep in mind that the ich parasite goes through various life-stages, and truly the only way to get rid of it is to run the affected tank fallow for at least a month... http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwich.htm > Probably worth mentioning the fish in question are now at least 4 months old, maybe more.> Any ideas? The best I can come up with is that it's a genetic failing, but I wanted to check it's not something I am doing wrong, I'm not sure they like it! <It is likely a genetic weakening, and these fish will likely always be more susceptible to disease than their "purebred" parents.  The one thing you can do is to lower your nitrate levels - that's about the only problem I can see.> Many thanks again John <You're welcome. Get rid of those nitrates and you're fish you all likely be more healthy.  Best of luck, Jorie
Re: Molly Crossbreeds and susceptibility to white spot (Now about Nitrate levels)
 1/5/07 Hi, have replied with the previous message and comments below so you know what's going on. <OK, sure!> Firstly thanks for the info, a brief overview of your reply would be that I need to get my nitrate levels down. Great, I have something to do that should fix the problem so... 3 reasons for my reply: 1) Many many thanks to you all 2) Discussing reason 3 may help others with their searches when this message goes into the site 3) I'll be as brief as I can....... <(1) thank you,(2) this will be posted on our FAQs, and hopefully others can benefit from the info. also, and (3), no worries - I can be long-winded myself!> Up until now all the information I have read and been to me given about nitrate levels has been that they don't matter too much, and yet "Graham T" says 20ppm Nitrate is good, any more is bad, 60ppm a big no no... <Graham is one of my fellow volunteers; for some reason, I think his name got attached to our general "crew" e-mail box.  In any case, my humble understanding of water chemistry is that 20 ppm is not "good", per se, but on the high-end of acceptable.  In an ideal world, nitrates would be at zero, but that's pretty hard to achieve in reality. If the reading is 20 ppm, I do a water change, but I understand that in your case, since your tap water is coming out at 40 ppm, this really won't help.> ...and yet when I ran up my first tank a year and a half ago, I took a sample of water from the newly cycled tank to my local shop and they tested the water and did not comment on the nitrate being around 50ppm. <This is precisely why I test my own water and do independent research.  I can't tell you why your fish store wouldn't advise you the same way, all I can say is that my own readings, research and experience have all led me to the conclusion that FW nitrates must be 20 ppm or less for the ultimate good-health of the livestock.> The water from my tap has a nitrate level of 40ppm!!! <I remember - I was shocked when I first read that!> so my frequent water changes are just making matters worse. <Well, I wouldn't say worse, but it certainly explains why your last reading was 40 ppm...> I shall put my hand in my pocket and buy a water purifier. <Reverse osmosis/de-ionizing units can be expensive, but well worth it, in my opinion.  We had a problem with high phosphates in our tap water, which is what led us to purchase ours...our fish have never been healthier.  Plus, there's a drinking water switch, so you may be able to benefit from that, personally, as well!> But, a couple of questions: A quick search of WWM shows that you all think that nitrate levels are important, how come I had so much info that said otherwise? <"So much" contrary info., or just what your local fish store folks told you? Again, I certainly can't comment on why others say what they do, but I can tell you that most, if not all, reputable research in the hobby shows that nitrates, while not as toxic as nitrites and ammonia to fish, certainly aren't good and should be as low as possible...> I am beginning to thing my beautiful male Betta died because of the high nitrate levels, I won't replace him until I have got the nitrate down, he was more of a pet that a pretty fish in a tank, real personality, sob sob etc... <I agree with you - I've got three Bettas (two males and one female, all separate, of course), and they are my favorite fish.  So much personality, and beautiful, as well.  I can't say that the nitrates killed your Betta, but they surely didn't help.  Another common problem with folks keeping Bettas is not keeping them in a min. 2-3 gal. filtered tank, with a heater set to a constant 80-82 degrees F...I'm sorry you lost your little friend.  Once you get your RO/DI unit, and a suitable tank for the Betta, you will be all set, as they are very low maintenance once these general requirements are met...> sorry, had to let it out somewhere :-) best to do it where I maybe understood. <Ask my boyfriend - I am the nutso-save-all-the-Bettas-in-little-cups-in-PetSmart lady - I'm in the process of writing a simple how-to-care-for-your-Betta article.  It's one of my passions! Long life the Bettas...I can keep going for ever:-) > Second and maybe even more importantly, myself and my family (and everyone else in the town) are drinking tap water with a nitrate level that makes fish ill. Is this bad for humans?????? <Well, I'm not a doctor, but I can't imagine it's good.  Again, if you invest in a RO/DI unit, I would look into the drinking water attachment...> Finally a note for the Google search to help others... " High nitrate levels in tap water " :-) <Thanks - will pass this along.> My complete thanks to you all John <You're welcome, John.  And, your P.S. re: a FAQ on sending pictures - I am forwarding that along to Bob Fenner himself.  I'll happily admit I am not a computer junkie, and as this is Bob's site, he's the best one to help you out on that note. I'm sure he'll appreciate the advice/suggestion.  Best regards, Jorie>

Nitrates in a Discus tank.    12/26/06 Hi Crew, <Ari>     My discus grow-out tank is a 125 gallon w/ all-glass mega sump model 4 below.  My nitrates are too high (can be over 40ppm depending on day of week) probably from lots of high-protein foods.  I do a lot of water changes, but wonder if I should adjust my setup to help deal with nitrates.   <A good idea>     It is a heavily planted tank with plenty of stem plants, swords and Glossostigma, Riccia, and java moss ground cover. Have pressurize co2, 500watts of lights on tank, reverse photoperiod an 50 watts below, 2-4 inches of Fluorite main tank with undergravel cable heater, about 4 inches of freshwater miracle mud in sump, I left bio-balls in the sump.  I also just added water lettuce and hyacinth to sump (read an article on this website suggesting this). <Mmm, these last two re really too cold-water plants to be used here... I'd try other tropical species, lighting here... on a differing, though over-lapping light cycle with the main tank>    I don't vacuum substrate because of ground cover plants.  Do you have any suggestions to help me lower nitrates besides cutting down feeding, and more specifically, do you think I should a) rip of ground cover so that I can siphon gravel better, <I would not> b) should I add more Fluorite, miracle mud, or another type of substrate and <I would do this> d) should I remove bio-balls?   <Yes...>     All advice is very much appreciated. - Very truly yours, Ari. <And in the meanwhile "kick up", increase the frequency, amount of water changed... daily if need be. Bob Fenner>

Nitrite And Ammonia Problems In A Big Tank   12/21/06 I adopted a 150 tall FW tank with a sand bed, two bio-wheel filters, one canister filter, several pieces of driftwood. Living in it our 4 grown Severums, 2 grown Jurupari, 1 2.5ft fire eel, 3 African clawed frogs, 1 small Knifefish, 1 Pleco, and 2 3 to 4 inch eels. I have had it running for about 3 months.  It seemed to cycle the first week I had it (even though we moved it entirely and saved all the media)  - with nitrites and ammonia levels going to 0 after numerous days of massive water changes My problem is that about every 10 days the nitrites and ammonia test heavy again. I repeat several days of massive water changes and it returns to a clean state. But without fail about 10 days later it goes off the charts. A local fish guy suggested that the sand bed is responsible. I took about 1/2 the sand out - from 3 inches to about 1.5. but it did not stay clean. I have also put ammonia rocks into all the filters - but they have never "turned green" which I was told means my ammonia test kit is giving me a false positive. I am willing to replace the sand with gravel and even install UGF is necessary - both ideas have been suggested. I do not overfeed. There are no dead fish. There is ample biological media in both wheels and in added media in all filters. Any ideas? Does sand in a FW present problems. I have 12 other tanks and everyone is cycled and stays that way. Thanks Tim < Do a 50% water change, vacuum the gravel and clean all the filters. Chemical waste levels should be down to zero. Feed as you normally do and test the water daily. I think you will find a logarithmic but gradual increase in these levels over a few days before they peak. The Bio-Wheels are great little inventions and you are correct that they should be handling all the bioload for this tank. The problem is in the canister filter. Food/waste gets trapped in the canister filter and there is very little oxygen in the canister for the bacteria to live on and break down the waste. So now the fish are generating biological waste and so is the crap in canister filter. The outflow of the canister filter has no measurable oxygen so bacteria cannot live and break down the waste. I would recommend that you add a bio wheel attachment to the canister filter outflow before it goes back into the tank and that you vacuum the gravel every time you do a water change. If the driftwood is not suitable for the aquarium then it could be rotting and contributing to the problem.-Chuck>
Re: nitrates & ammonia in well water ... Ammonias Converting to Nitrates  - 05/19/2006
Thanks Chuck. What I'm trying to say is...Will putting water that has measurable ammonia levels in an established, cycled aquarium cause a spike in nitrates? < Yes.> All I know is that when I do a 25% water change on my 75 gal freshwater. The water clouds up within 18 hrs. and the nitrates start shooting back up. Like stocking a new tank too quickly. I think I should try to remove the ammonia before using. Do you agree? < Absolutely. Ammonia is very deadly to fish. Converting it to nitrates is a very good idea.-Chuck> Thanks again...DR

High Nitrates in a Young Tank, UGF - 05/13/2006 Hi Crew. <Hi.> Thanks so much for such an interesting and informative website! I have spent countless hours reading the many fine articles and FAQs all of you provide. <And thank you for these kind words!  I'm glad the site is of use to you.> Now I have a question I can't find a specific answer to. Hope you can help me. I have a 75 gal. freshwater aquarium that has been running about 14 weeks. It has gone through its cycle and has a medium bio load. <Medium being....?> I do regular water changes; 15% every 2 to 3 weeks. Filtration is Emperor 400 with bio wheels... UGF with 2  -145 gph powerheads. (I know, I know, everyone hates UGF's but me!) <Mm, they can be useful, but tend to trap detritus that ends up "stuck" down there, and gives you nitrate, even pH, issues....> I can not keep my nitrates down. <There ya have it.> Do I have too much bio filtration? <Not necessarily.  Tough to say without knowing what's in the tank.  A "medium" bioload to you may be "severely overstocked" to me.> Should I remove the bio wheels from the 400? <I wouldn't.  The BioWheels, though a good spot for bacteria to live, can't compare with the amount of bacteria that live in the substrate of a tank.  I would like you to consider running the UGF in "reverse" so detritus can't be trapped beneath the plates if you are very keen to keep using it.  If the nitrate trap of the UGF is not at fault here, then you'll likely need to either decrease your bioload or increase the amount and/or frequency of water changes.> Thanks so much for your time... DR <Wishing you well,  -Sabrina>

Nitrate and the freshwater tank 5/12/06 <Hello> Yesterday I tore down my 29 G FW tank, removing the UGF. I replaced the gravel with eco-complete, and planted the tank. I kept the  power filter in place.  My fishes are in another tank I have, awaiting the trip back to their newly planted home.  This morning I checked my water parameters, expecting all zeros, but see that I have 15ppm nitrates. How is this possible? The one thing I know that concerns me, is my power filter, sat with water  in it, but not turned on,  for 3 or so hours, maybe some bacteria  died?  Would that have an effect? Is the remedy merely a water change, or am I going to have to re cycle. I have no ammonia in there at present. Thanks for your time, soooooo much! Karen <In a freshwater tank nitrate is the end product of the nitrogen cycle, so seeing some is not uncommon.  If you left water in the tank while taking out the gravel it is probably from material released in the cleaning.  Otherwise it could be from dying material on the new plants and planting material.  Either way 15ppm isn't that bad for a freshwater tank, and a water change or two should take care of it.> <Chris>

High nitrates after 4 months!  - 5/2/2006 <Hi, Christine. Tom with you.>> I've had my 30 gallon tank set up for 4 months. I did the fishless cycle and all the levels were great! <<Kudos to you and more kudos!>> I added fish and it all came undone. <<Eeek! What happened?>> 6 African Cichlids <Cichlids>> live in the tank with a coral substrate, plastic plants and a 300 GPM waterfall filter. <<Uh, oh. Too many of this species for a 30-gallon tank.>> The nitrates are over 40 ppm no matter what I do or how often I do it.  Fish are very healthy....growing like bad weeds and everyone gets along as much as cichlids are able to get along. <<Did you research these fish, Christine? (More to follow...)>> I've tried adding carbon to the filter media, <<Won't do it...>> weekly 40% H2O changes, vacuuming more often. <<Very good practice. Hoping you're vacuuming deeply (all the way to the bottom) and not just "superficially".>> What have I missed? <<You have too many of these fish in the size tank that you have. Your filtration is likely undersized for the situation. You don't mention how much you feed, or what you feed them but, they can be "messy". Uneaten food/detritus will contribute to nitrate levels.>> Does it really matter anymore if they are healthy that the nitrates are high. <<You REALLY need to research your fish, Christine. High nitrate levels can lead to HITH/HLLE disease in Cichlids. Your "target" should be less than 20 ppm. With Cichlids, I would aim for < 5 ppm to be on the safe side. (Side note: Unless you have Dwarfs (and they aren't if they're African, i.e. Malawi, Tanganyika, Victoria), you'll need a larger tank in the future.)>> The other chemical levels are well within normal parameters; ammonia is nonexistent, no nitrites and I have hard water. <<All here is very good, Christine.>> Thank you in advance for your help Christine <<You're welcome. Tom>>

Nitrate & Nitrite in an Uncycled FW Tank - 4/24/2006 Hi <<Hi Gary.>> I was hoping you could help me. <<I'll try!>> I have got a nitrate/nitrite problem.  I have recently started a freshwater fish tank.  Everything was going ok, took the advice of where I bought my tank, read up a few books, and I set the tank up. <<Many fish stores are less than properly educated.>> Then added the water with a water conditioner also bacteria, I left it a few days then added plants and rocks. <<If you added live bacteria, like Bio-Spira (anything else available is dead bacteria at best), it will have died in a day or so without ammonia from fish waster to feed it.  You add your fish right after adding the Bio Spira to your filter.>> I then also left a few days longer approx 4 days, after checking ph levels, ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, calcium hardness and carbonate hardness all seemed to be ok. <<You didn't read ammonia, nitrite or nitrate because your tank hadn't yet started cycling.>> I went and bought my fish a couple of days later and I noticed most of my fish had white spot so I treated that problem with tri sulfa tablets (treated twice).  This is when all my problems now have started the ammonia nitrate & nitrite levels went sky high so I started to do the water changes.  I have now just got the ammonia level down to 0ppm but the nitrate & nitrite are just getting worse. <<Your tank was not cycled, and now is.  Do daily water changes of 75% or more to keep these toxins down while the nitrifying bacteria grow in your filter.>> I suppose you can tell from this that I am inexperienced in aquarium keeping, but I do enjoy fish keeping.  I hope you can help me with this problem, as I am getting more worried about loosing my fish.   <<Keep up with the water changes, and your tank should be cycled in a few weeks.  Read on WWM to learn about fishless cycling for the future.>> I look forward to hearing from you soon Thanks, Gary <<Glad to help. Lisa.  In the future, please capitalize your I's and run your email through a spelling/grammar checker.>>

I Have read that high nitrates can cause unwanted algae blooms...    4/9/06 <Can> I have a 37 gallon and a 10 gallon tank. In the 37 there is A huge goldfish, 1 Gourami, 4 platys, 2 Corys, 2 angelfish. <Goldfish are not good to keep with tropicals...> My nitrite is finally down to about 0 for about 3 months now but the problem is my nitrates. They are so high! <How high?> Same in my 10 gallon which has 7 zebra Danios and 6 neon tetras. I have no clue how to get my nitrates down. <... Please read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwnitrates.htm and the linked files above> I do excessive water changes - about 20% every weekend. I have been at this forever and they are still really high! I read that plants may use nitrates for something (can't remember what) so I added some potted plants (in little yogurt containers with soil and rocks on top) and they are actually growing little roots! <Good... takes a while> I added them into my 10 gallon tank so I could experiment because it is easier to take care of the plants because the tank is small and I can easily move things around. Also, the 10 gallon is shallow so I don't think I need exact and strong lighting because the light is so close and so strong for a 10 gallon tank, right? <Mmm, not necessarily> I have just some 15 watt regular white bulbs that my LPS sold to me. These are my first MAJOR tanks, I had little things when I was little, now I'm 15. My mom has a successful 250 gallon pond in our backyard and I understand that algae is natural, but I have the ugly brown stuff when she has nice green fluffy stuff. Should I add more plants because on one of the FAQ sites of yours I read that plants use about the same nutrients as algae. <Possibly... read> I also read the brown stuff will go away on it's own but it has been about 4 months since it has come... I set the 37 tank in the end of December. How long will it take for this stuff to as you said "go away on it's own?" <Maybe never> Will more plants reduce the time? <Likely so> The plants also look really nice when they are alive! I always went to PetSmart and got plants and brought them home and put them in my like 1 gallon bowl for my fish when i was like 6 and they always died! If you could email me back that would be great -  this is the first time i have used your site so I do not know I you post my question and your answer and I have to go searching for it. Thanks! - Marc <Read my young friend. Bob Fenner>

Re: Freshwater Tank Won't cycle... sump des., Denitrators...   3/28/06   Well, everything is still all well, except the 10 gal tank we are using for a sump seems to have sprung a small leak.  Since I've been needing a good project, I'm looking at this as an opportunity rather than a hassle. <Good attitude> I went out and bought a new 10 gal tank, and some Plexiglas.  This time I am sectioning off different parts of the tank to do different things.  All similar to what is going on now, but hopefully incorporating what I've learned in the past several months and do it better. I now have the left 5 inches of the tank filled with bio-balls, which fill over into a slim area where the external pump will get it's intake from also where I will put bags of Purigen, etc...) past that there is an area about 6 inches high and about 8 inches long, that I hope to fill with mud from the lake we live on.  The last 4.5 inches or so from the aquarium hold an enclosed fluidized sad bed filter that is powered from a little RIO that sits in the area where the Purigen bags are.  I inject air into the Rio to add more oxygen to the fluidized filter. I'm still running the denitrator, and just got a cheap dosing pump for it to feed it nutrients for a few min.s daily on a timer, and that seems to be doing OK for the moment, <Danger Will Robbins!> but ideally I would like to deal with it another way. <Mmm, need something like a pH, RedOx, DO meter, solenoid... to shut off the effluent should there be trouble...> I'm hoping with the 5 in deep mud bed, that there will be enough anaerobic bacteria doing there thing to deal with the nitrates. <You'll see...> I'm also putting in a 40w grow light over this whole system to encourage algae to grow is this part of my sump to better deal with phosphates, etc... What I was wondering is if you think this will be enough, and if you had anything you would recommend other that algae to put in there that would grow in the mud and do a good job at eating nitrates and phosphates, or any medium that would be best to have a lot of algae grow on it. <Don't know what sort of life, water quality... you have, otherwise intend...> Algae in the tank is not a big problem, and a few stingray Plecos do a great job of keeping the tank clean. thank again, -ed <... some grand experiments now! Bob Fenner>

My poor harlequin is breathing from the surface!? Inherent BiOrb limitations, problems   - 03/26/2006 Dear WWM, <Molly> I am having some trouble with my relatively young tank. It has been up and running for about 3 months now (not including the pre-fish cycling period). It is a BiUbe. <BiOrb? Akin... a circular tube rather than an oval> I have 6 x harlequin Rasboras, 1 x male Betta splendens, 2 x smallish bottom feeders. I have followed all the instructions on setting up a tank religiously and all my readings are always perfect -except for nitrate (NO3) which always seems quite high -have been doing water changes to bring it down (is coming down slowly). It's in the 50-70 range which my test kit says is bad but not toxic. Is this right? <Not correct. Please read here: http://wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwnitrates.htm and the linked files above> Everyone seems happy and fine although the tank gets dirty VERY quickly. <These units have this trend/trait... unfortunately "kill off" much livestock and hobbyists consequently...> I clean the top of the filter tube and the rock I have when I do water changes but they, and my plants (not live) become grubby very quickly -a few days tops. It is a green sludge, sometimes brown.   Is this algae? <A mix of this and bacteria mainly> Why is it becoming so dirty so quickly? <Inadequate filtration, circulation... the unit itself> Should I change the filter? Or am I feeding too much (once a day a pinch of flakes which all get eaten up)? <Both changes would likely help> -Perhaps I should also mention that during my pre-fish cycling period I put in some live plants but they   kept going brown and dying so I only have plastic now. Any ideas why? <All sorts... posted on WWM> However, this evening I noticed that one of my harlequins seems to be breathing from the surface. He goes up for air for about 10-20   seconds, swims around for a few seconds then goes back for more. No one else is behaving oddly. I am very worried for him. What could it be? <Lack of oxygen, pollution... see WWM re... real trouble once again with this product> My temp is 78-80. Many thanks for your wonderful website, Molly, London. <Please use/read it... and soon. Bob Fenner>

High Nitrates In a Big tank  - 03/12/2006 Greetings from New York to the WWM Crew: I have been running a 72 FO FW for 5 years. Current stock is: Oscar 9", Snook 7", Dempsey 5", Convict 2", Rope Fish 5", Pleco 4".  Filter is a DIY wet/dry with bio balls at 300 gph. The Pleco and rope fish are new additions, and since their introduction nitrates have sky rocketed to 100ppm.  I feed only once a day but unfortunately I must slightly overfeed since most of the fish are afraid to compete with the Oscar for the cichlid sticks floating at the top, typically the others wait mid tank for the sticks that are pushed down by water flow.   I have tried sinking pellets but they don't take, the only food they like is floating sticks. Anyways after reading through a lot WWM advise I've come up with several ideas of how to deal with the problem long term, other the frequent WCs. First would be to add another 10g tank to the sump and plant it since planting the main tank would not be such a good idea with my stock.   Eventually moving some plants to the main tank as they out grow the nursery. If you think that this is a good way to go could you please recommend some hearty plants that wouldn't require a CO2 setup and too much extra lighting, I've read that nana's do alright w/o CO2. <When you feed the sticks and wait for them to sink, the filter is catching  many of them and adding to the problem. The Pleco is stirring up the gravel and I suspect much of the uneaten "dust" food that has settled in between the pores of the sand or gravel. Try soaking the sticks so they sink right away and then feed on enough so that all the food is gone in two minutes once each day. When you do your water changes I would recommend using a Python water changing system and gently vacuum the junk in the gravel. Make sure that you clean your filter weekly. You filter only collects waste, it does not remove it from the system. You have to do that. Anubias nana is a very easy to grow plant but it really isn't an effective denitrator because it grows so slowly. The best plants are the ones that grow very quickly . Amazon swords would help but may not keep up with system you have.> Second would be to add some sort of sintered glass or other denitrating media to the wet dry.  The ease of this approach is tempting but I have doubts whether it would be effective enough on its own.  However I am already in the process of updating my wet dry from a 1 stage to a 3 stage to accommodate a mechanical and chemical filters in the first stage.  It would be relatively easy to design the third stage for some sort of denitrating media.  If you thing this is worth while would lowering the water flow through this stage would aid in the denitrification process as some products like de nitrator require less then 60 gph. Thanks in advance for your help, keep up the good work, Matt < Depending on how high the concentration of nitrates are I would think that this media would be quickly exhausted and its effects would be temporary.-Chuck>

High nitrate and cloudiness... amphibian system   2/9/06 Hello I desperately need your help. <Really?> I have a 60 gallon tank with about 20 gallons in it. It has been running for 6 years. The past few months I have had cloudy water and nitrate levels over 160. <... yikes> I have done several water and filter media changes and lots of vacuuming and even taken some rocks out of my tank. I added plants and even tried leaving it alone for a while.  All I have in my tank is one fire bellied newt. pond stone. very little gravel. some plants. and two glass fixtures and two rocks that gave always been in there. no matter what I do the water does not clear up and the nitrates do not go down. I have a Fluval 2 plus underwater filter. I have tried all different kinds of media for this and  nothing helps. <... unusual...> I feed my newt live Blackworms/bloodworms. I was curious if I should add an air bubble thing. Or maybe different plants or some sort of gravel under the pond stone. <Does need a filter of some sort...> Or take everything out. Please help! I have been all over your web-site and tried some of your suggestions but nothing seems to work. I have checked the water and other than the nitrates its all right. the tap water I use has a ph of 7.6 but the tank is 7.2      They treat the water with chlorine and chloramine. I use Amquel. Some cycle. and some metal remover. please let me know what I should take out or add. Also whether I should restrict sunlight or my tank light or expose it too more. please help. I know you guys don't specialize in newt tanks but all the other sites have been no help. And your site is the best. Thank you very much  Jason <... First, I would check your checker... your test kit may be off... Next, I would start changing more of the water more frequently... at least a quarter every week, while vacuuming the bottom. Do please give specifics re the media tried... And lastly, if it is just the newts you have, are concerned with, I would not be overly concerned with nitrate per se. Bob Fenner>

FW Nitrate confusion? Ongoing goldfish disease/system   2/9/06 Hi      Thanks for the speedy reply. I was told that the nitrates were ok up to 40 by the pet store, so I am now confused... Thanks for the advice.      Paula <Please see WWM... there's a bunch... re nitrates, their implications, consequences. No need to be confused... educate yourself. Bob Fenner>

High Nitrates FW - 01/12/2006 High nitrate levels, I have an established tank that I have had for about 6months now. My nitrates are sky high, I have an underground filter, with a carbon cartridge. My ammonia and nitrites are 0. My question is how do I fix this, I see other comments to get live plants which I do not have but what kind of plants are best? Do I get them at a pet store or elsewhere? Is the filter a problem? Do I need to get another kind of filter? Oh I have 2 red Serpae tetras, 2 red eye tetras, one dwarf Gourami. I just added today a baby Chinese algae eater and 2 great Danios. This is when I found out about the high nitrate levels. Thanks for your help. < You probably have a lot of mulm in your gravel. It needs to be removed with a gravel vacuum. Next water change vacuum the gravel until the water runs clear. You should be able to control your nitrates with routine water changes and periodic vacuuming after that. Stem plants with good lighting and CO2 injection are the best nitrate removers. Plants usually don't do too well with undergravel filters.-Chuck>

Nitrate Removal  - 2/21/2006 Thank you for your reply, I'm very grateful. I'm going to the store right this movement. Also, in case the nitrate is high, how do I treat elevated nitrate readings ? Sincerely thank you again, Godfrey D'souza < In the aquarium the are taken up by plants like algae. The can be diluted by doing water changes.-Chuck>

Too Good to Be True! No Nitrates!   1/11/06 http://aquaripure.com/ I found this site, and I was wondering if this I a scam.  I assume it is because removing nitrates is a lot more involved than that for a marine aquarium right!? <The website information is accurate and has a lot of good information about nitrates and how to get rid of them. Here is how it works. Aquarium water is pumped through a long tube. Bacteria that live on the walls of the tube break down ammonia and nitrite into nitrates. When the oxygen is depleted by the aerobic bacteria in the tube then anaerobic bacteria grow and break down the nitrates into nitrogen gas. There is no oxygen coming out of the pipe but nitrogen gas and water. These keep coming up from time to time. They are expensive and in theory will reduce nitrates. The question is can they reduce enough nitrates to skip water changes? Many manufacturers in the tropical fish trade are aware that changing water is the least favorite part of fish keeping. There are chemicals for binding up nitrates, as well as chemical and biological nitrate removers on the market too. To date the most effective sure fire way to remove excessive mineral/nitrate build-up in the water is by doing  water changes.-Chuck>

No Nitrates  - 01/09/2006 Hello I have 4 tanks that have been running 6 months +.  I was wondering when I tested the water I have as follows: 0 ammonia,0 nitrites and 0 nitrates.   I have contacted the test company and they ensure that the test was produced in may of last year so that it is unlikely that the test has gone bad. I was wondering if I should worry about this or just consider myself lucky that I have good tanks.  I have had several fry, my fish all seem very healthy, and their coloring it good. Thanks for any info. Jill < Plants and algae will remove nitrates. Get a water sample from one of the tanks at your local fish store. If it still reads zero then I would change kits and get one with a powder reagent instead of a liquid reagent.-Chuck>

Anaerobic digestion/Denitrator product input, Ariids in FW  1/8/06 Hello WWM crew. <Howdy> I have a few questions I can't seem to find the answer to. 1. http://www.aquaripure.com/index.htm this is the link to a filter that reduces nitrates in the water. Does this filter really work?   <Mmm, "can" but almost always doesn't is the fairest answer... folks don't keep up with feeding (a source of ready carbon, usually a sugar, sometimes an alcohol) to these units... and the claim re cutting back on water changes... fallacious is a nice adverb here> 2. I have a 30 gallon tank with a 1-redtailed barb,1-silver-tipped catfish and a 1-peacock cichlid. I know that the silver-tipped catfish needs to eventually be in brackish water. Will the silver-tipped catfish live his/her life span in freshwater conditions? <Mmm, a much fore-shortened one... the answer, no> 3. In the same tank as described in question 2, I am running two Marineland Emperor 400 power filters. The entire tank is recycled about 26 times per hour. Is this too much water current for the fish? <Nope> Thank you, your time IS greatly appreciated by all <Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Getting High Nitrates Down  12/26/05 Thanks Chuck. I'm still slightly surprised as I do have live plants, change water once a week, vacuum the gravel once a week and rinse out the sponge in the tank water. I think I need more plants! Is there a link to a DIY way to check the nitrate level? < I think the algae bloom is enough of an indicator. It may be high in the water already. In the US in agricultural areas the nitrates are already high from agricultural run off.> I live in a smaller city in China so I may not have access to some type of kit. Thanks again < If you are doing all the other things then I would watch the feeding, remove any excess waste/food after a couple of minutes after feeding. You plants may not be active enough to remove all the nutrients from the water. Maybe even change the light bulbs if you haven't done it in a couple of years.-Chuck>

Nitrifying Bacteria Doing Their Job  12/24/05 I was wondering if you could help me. I have a fresh water tank with under 10 mid size fish. I am pumping the water fairly fast into a (vertical) plastic bottle with holes cut in it filled with bio balls and some white filter cotton material. the water also goes through a mechanical filter (sponge) first, and I replace about 20% of the water once a week and clean a quarter of the balls once every 2 weeks. However, algae is growing like crazy in my tank...there is not too much light either. Do you think this is because my bio balls have become a nitrate factory? <Check the nitrates. I am sure they will be high. Filters catch the waste and break it down from toxic ammonia and nitrites down to less harmful nitrates. They do not remove the nitrates. These must be removed or diluted with water changes or by using live plants. You can get ahead of the game by cleaning the filter often, vacuuming the gravel while doing a water change, and by feeding your fish once a day. Fed them only enough food so that all of it is gone in two minutes. Ring out the sponge too. This should help.-Chuck>

Silver Dollars, Environmental Disease - 10/12/05 My silver dollar fish have had on-going fungus that I can't get rid of. It eats up their fins and spreads across their body. I have tried all different Meds for this, and have since stopped treating them to keep from poisoning the tank with many different Meds. The various Meds would seem to cure the fungus, but it comes right back when I stop treating them.  <I imagine this is environmental, not pathogenic.... Let's read on about your system....> I have a 55 Gal with 5 fairly large silver dollars, 4 fairly large angels, 2 clown Plecos, and 2 neon tetras with a knack for survival.  <Too many big fish for this tank.> My water is very hard and I've been using peat moss to soften it in a storage container. I'm concerned because my nitrate level has climbed quite high (160), <Disturbing, and toxic if not deadly at this level.> hardness was at 115ppm, ph 7.6, ammonia=0 and nitrite=0. The submersible transfer pump from the storage tank is turned off until I'm ready to transfer water to the fish tank, I first run the water for a short time to clear the pump of the standing water in the pump and tubes so as to run only fresh water into the tank. The storage tank is circulated by an external Emperor filter that I put the peat into. The peat I bought at a Lowe's garden department, doesn't list any additives that I thought would add to Nitrate increase. The 55 Gal. fish tank also uses an Emperor filter for general filtration (but no peat added), and an undergravel filter.  <Consider removing the undergravel filtration - often this is a MAJOR contributor to very high nitrate due to accumulated organic material under the filter plate(s).> All the fish seem to be doing ok except for the silver dollars, although I'm guessing they all may be uncomfortable with the high nitrate level.  <Yes, this level is absolutely staggering. Should be maintained below 20ppm. All the fishes will be affected with time and exposure. This must be rectified.> Very high algae growth also.  <Another bad side affect of high nitrate, overstocking....> I guess I'm questioning if my problems are related to my water storage tank, transfer set-up, or softening process, or something else. <As above, I fear the UGF is the culprit. Test your make-up water storage tank; always be sure to aerate and/or circulate your make-up water if you store it for any length of time (hours, even).> Thanks, John Rogers <Wishing you well, -Sabrina>

Body slime and eye cloud 10/7/05 I have a 2 Sorubim lima, an Oscar, a Pleco, and a Synodontis nigrita. The 2 Sorubims have a body slime infection (the color of the slime is clear). One of the Sorubims has eye cloud. <What cause/s?> The Oscar I haven't noticed a body slime infection yet but he only moves when there is food (not feeders) in the water. The Pleco and the Syno. seem to be unaffected. Also there was an albino Pictus cat in the tank and a tire track eel in the tank as well but they died (I think from the body slime). <These fishes were/are not compatible> The fish who have been affected by the body slime appear to have a problem keeping buoyancy (the fish almost have to swim upside down), they swim near the top of the tank, and a few days later die. Can you offer any advice/treatments. Thanks CJ <You're joking? What about the system? Its history? Water quality tests? Please read through WWM FW Subweb re disease... Bob Fenner> 

Re: body slime and eye cloud 10/9/05 A 55 gallon tank <Too small> ...with some bog- wood and no plants (know it's small but a 110 gallon tank is going to be ordered from a local dealer a Monday). PH. 7.6, <Too high for Sorubim> nitrite 0,ammonia 8.0, <What? Toxic!> and my nitrate is a constant 80ppm. <Way too high... s/b below 20 ppm> The ammonia is high because of the medication I am using. The only disease that has been in this tank was septicemia {septicemia?} which happened 5 years ago. <I do hope you're joking here... fix this environment, quick. Bob Fenner> 

Re: New Tank Woes  9/29/05 Thanks again Catherine.  The two neon Gouramis look like they will be dead by morning.  <Give them a chance.>  The 3 zebras, 1 molly and dwarf Gourami that are left still look pretty good.  The molly and zebras had spots, but they appear to be gone.  <Keep the salt in the tank for 3 weeks as well as the elevated temperature.>  Wal-Mart suggested I buy Tetra Easy Balance with "nitrate reduction granules and pH stabilizer".  Should I use this and continue with the tap water.  <I had some luck with Nitra-Zorb by Aquarium Pharmaceuticals.  Nitrates are hard to get rid of.>  I am worried about matching temperatures, etc. if I buy distilled water.  <Just put it on the stove for a minute or two, or if your room temperature is warm, you should be okay to add it if you are only doing 10% changes.>  This has been a great learning experience for me.  <Check out the WetWebMedia Chatforum for even more information.>  Your website is great.  Again, thank you for your time and help.  <Good luck!>

High Nitrates, And How To Reduce 'Em - 09/21/2005 I continue to have HIGH nitrate levels....but my Cichlids are reproducing.... WHAT CAN I DO to make it better for them?????  I know there  is something to make the nitrate levels go down....but WHAT IS  IT????? <Simply water changes; nothing more.  Find the reason for your high nitrate (undergravel filter plates, unclean canister filter, unvacuumed substrate, overstocked tank, poor husbandry....) and fix it.  Wishing you well,  -Sabrina>

Nitrate Reduction in Freshwater  8/26/05 Hello, <Hi there>         Once again I have to say: Great site!! Here is my new question. I have been researching ways to reduce nitrate in freshwater aquariums, as I had a problem with high nitrates. I am using a wet/dry filter with bioballs as the media. While doing some research, I came across a product used in Koi ponds called Alfagrog. It is a porous, stable, light weight rock that is used as bio-media in Koi pond filters. I was wondering if this would foster anaerobic bacterial colonies for the reduction of nitrate, in the same way live rock works in the marine environment. Alfagrog rock is sold as SUPRA in the USA. Any thoughts? Thanks, CW <Is possible... best way to find out... to try it. I would arrange this media such that is submerged, underwater. Cheers, Bob Fenner>

Freshwater Nitrate Questions 8/6/05 Hello, <Hi there>         Your site has provided me with sound advice in the past. Here is my present question. I've had my new 125 gal planted community tank up for about 5 weeks. This was an upgrade from a 55 g. When I did the upgrade I moved everything (water, plants, rock, wood, fish) into the new tank to reduce cycling. My filtration consists of a large wet/dry filter that is new and 2 Penguin 330 bio wheel power filters that are completely seasoned from the old tank.  My water parameters have me puzzled. Ammonia and Nitrite 0, PH 7.2, Nitrates above 100ppm. <... from the wet-dry...> I have been doing 15 gallon water changes every other day for 2 weeks and this week I did 2 30-40% water changes with thorough gravel vacuuming. There was quite a bit of dirt that came up with the vacuuming. I think a lot of the dirt is from the old gravel.  My substrate consists of all the old gravel from my old tank plus 50lbs of new Fluorite and 50lbs of new 2-6 mm pea gravel. I use Amquel plus for my water conditioning, which is supposed to reduce Nitrate. I am wondering if the Amquel locks up the Nitrate, and my test kit is still reading it. Or does the Amquel neutralize it? and how? <Does not> My nitrate readings have not changed. My tap water has no Nitrates. I clean all the filter sponges (power filters, pre-filter, and drip plate) once a week to remove the accumulated organics. I have mainly Java ferns for plants and they seem to be doing great. I ordered more plants and am hoping this will lower my nitrates. <May, in time> I don't think my fish load is causing the problems. I have 3   3-4inch Boesemanni Rainbows, 3  4 inch Clown Loaches, 1 6inch Royal Pleco, 1  12 year old 5 inch Chinese Algae Eater (very docile), 1 4 inch spotted Raphael cat, and a couple of Corys. I suspect my feeding to be a little excessive, so I am going to switch to every other day feeding. What is your opinion about flake vs. frozen brine cubes? <Neither are good exclusively> The flake food seems to disintegrate into tiny pieces when the fish eat it. Would using frozen brine exclusively cut down on food pollution? <Umm, no> I am looking for a way to reduce my Nitrates, because I seem to be unsuccessful. Thanks, CW <Please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/wetdryfaqs.htm and the linked files above. As you will see, the technology of wet-dry filtration often "overdrives" the forward reactions of nitrification... there are a few countervailing strategies... Bob Fenner>

Wet/Dry and Nitrates in Freshwater - 08/19/2005 Hello, <Hi.> Thanks again for the great wealth of information. I have been doing a lot of research on wet/dry filters. There seems to be a lot of info on using live rock instead of bio-balls in reef applications for the reduction of nitrates. Are there any options for freshwater systems that use wet/dry filters? <As in, similar to live rock and opposed to bio-balls?> What about the use of sintered glass in the bottom of the sump under the bio-balls? <I would fear you'd actually end up with more trapped organics than worthwhile....  if you can ensure a flow through the sintered glass, this may be a good idea.> I am looking for a way to control nitrates without ditching my wet/dry. <Can you plant this tank?  Vascular plants will soak up that nitrate....  Look to floating plants like water lettuce, water hyacinth, and even <yuck> duckweed if you can do so, otherwise a great deal of fast-growing stem plants (Anacharis/elodea/Egeria, for example) will help....> My nitrates were well over 100ppm a couple of week ago, but after a lot of water changes, it is down to an acceptable level of 20-40 ppm. <Wow, still high!> Any thoughts? <How much bioload is in this system?  It is rare for a properly stocked freshwater tank to build up nitrates that high, wet-dry or no....  If the tank is properly stocked, is there perhaps an undergravel filter plate in place (still in use or old)?  Is the substrate/gravel very deep and not well/often cleaned?  Perhaps a canister filter on this system that has not been cleaned in a long, long time?  Look for the causes of this problem (not likely the wet-dry alone) before trying to solve....> Thanks,  CW <Wishing you well,  -Sabrina>

Re: Freshwater Wet/Dry and Nitrates 8/19/05 Hello, <Hi there>         Thanks again for the great wealth of information. I have been doing a lot of research on wet/dry filters. There seems to be a lot of info on using live rock instead of bio-balls in reef applications for the reduction of nitrates. Are there any options for freshwater systems that use wet/dry filters? <Sure> What about the use of sintered glass in the bottom of the sump under the bio-balls? <Yes> I am looking for a way to control nitrates without ditching my wet/dry. My nitrates were well over 100ppm a couple of week ago, but after a lot of water changes, it is down to an acceptable level of 20-40 ppm. Any thoughts? Thanks, CW <How about a DSB? Live plants? Bob Fenner>

Wet/Dry and Nitrates in Freshwater - III - 08/19/2005 Thanks for the reply. My aquarium is a 125 gal that has been running for about 6 weeks. This is an upgrade from a 29 and 55 that I combined into the 125. When I did the upgrade, I moved everything from the old tanks into the new. I suspect a lot of the nitrates are coming from the substrate. When I did the upgrade, I moved all the gravel from the old 55 into the new tank and added 50 lbs of Fluorite and another 50 lbs of new gravel. The old gravel was pretty dirty, but I wanted to preserve the bacteria, so I did not rinse it. <This could be the issue.  I would try doing a pretty deep gravel vacuuming....> My fish load is pretty light. 3 4-5in clown loaches, 3 4in boesemanni rainbows, 1 6in royal Pleco, 1 5in Chinese algae eater, 1 4in Raphael cat, and a couple of Corys. <Yeah, that's not the issue, then.> My wet/dry is moving 980gph. I am also running 2 seasoned penguin 330 bio-wheel power filters from the old tanks. All my water parameters are good--except for the nitrates! My plant load consists mainly of Java Ferns that are doing great. I recently added some floating Watersprite that is growing well. <Ahh, these will suck up nitrates so well, they won't know what hit 'em!  More of these, and other such plants will do a great job.> My light is 2 55w compact fluorescents in a 4 foot fixture. The light is centered over the tanks, so I have some subdued lighting on either end. My loaches and Corys seem to appreciate that! I've tried some stem plants, but my Royal Pleco eats them. <Try Anacharis/elodea/Egeria, either loosely anchored, or floating....  Though he'll nibble it, it should be able to grow quickly enough to compensate.  Vallisneria may also be of use, here, and the large Crinum thaianum.> I have been making steady progress in the reductions of nitrates with water changes. When I first tested the nitrates they were off the chart--deep red on the test kit. Now, 5 weeks later, I am around 20-40 ppm, according to my tests. <A significant change, indeed.> Thanks,  CW <Wishing you well,  -Sabrina>

Effect of Medication on Nitrates 7/22/05 Could you please tell me if medication (Jungle Brand- Parasite Clear and Fungal Clear) added to a freshwater tank would increase the nitrates? <Mmm, don't think so... at least not directly... the principal ingredient in these products is "salt"... which, if anything would subtend the metabolism of all microbes... including nitrifiers. Bob Fenner>

URGENT * high nitrates, need immediate assistance... much more trouble than this  07/02/05 Hi there, novice here,     I've been reading up a lot on your website and I am very pleased with the quality and quantity of information, thank you. So, here's the scoop: EQUIPMENT: 1 55 gal. tank (fresh water), 1 75 gal, limit bio wheel penguin filter, 1, in tank, tube heater (approx. 12in. long and 3/4in. diameter but plenty large for the tank), and 1 double hose air pump (air rocks located on both ends of the tank). LIVESTOCK: 1 spotted eye Oscar 6'', 1 silver Arowana 9'', 1 fire eel 15'', 2 blood parrots 3-4'' (one developing black spots within the last two weeks, the other's scales seem to be blemished [best described as one's hair when he wakes in the morning, but only in one spot as opposed to all over, approx. 1/8'' diameter on one side] and not discolored, 1 Large South American Cichlid (heard he's named after a famous boxer??) <Maybe a Jack Dempsey> 10'', 2 blue face discus 4'', <... mixed in with these other cichlids?> 2 peacock bass 5-6'', and 1 Pleco 6''. SUMMARY: I acquired this tank approx. the first week in June, I immediately outfitted the tank with 1/4'' round gravel substrate and about 50lbs. of it, i filled the tank with tap water and added the appropriate dosages of "Stress Zyme" and "Stress Coat" both by "Aquarium Pharmaceuticals," and i hooked up and plugged in all of the equipment and let it run for about 5 days. I then added the Oscar, the Arowana, the Parrots, the South American Cichlid, and the Pleco. After two weeks, I added the rest of the fish but at roughly the same time I noticed there was some ich developing on a few fish so I treated the whole tank with "Rid Ich" for a total of 7 days. on about the fifth day of treatment the Oscar developed a "Hole In Head" about the size of a cubic millimeter, accompanied by two grayish lesions on one side of his body, he was also "gasping for air." To remedy this, I did a 40-50% water change, accompanied by the appropriate replacement doses of "Stress Zyme" and "Stress Coat" and of "Rid Ich" I also decided to treat the entire tank with "Metrazol" [for the hole in head] because I was afraid that the other fish would also soon exhibit the internal parasite. <... not really due to a parasite per se, but poor water quality... poisoning from the Rid Ich to boot> Within one day, the Oscar was still gasping for air but his lesions were clearing up and he was becoming his usual active self. On the beginning of the eighth day [of ich treatment, added every day as directed, and the third for Metrazol, yet, only one dosage of treatment (the directions say only one dose but two if necessary) was put in the tank and deemed necessary because there was (visibly) only one fish to treat] I found the Oscar dead, lesions almost healed, but with brown gills. For a side note, the other fish seemed to be absolutely fine. I immediately took out the Oscar and went to the LFS to get a "TetraTest Laborett." RESULTS: Ph= BTW 7.5 &8, NO2-= BTW 1.6 and 33mg/l <!> (It was RED and I'm sure you guys know how broad these things are), Ammonia= 0, GH= 8-9dh, and KH= 2dh. fed the rest of the fish [like I do every morning and every night, careful not to overfeed, followed by a 50% water change of equal temperature (and proper dosages of "Stress Zyme" and "Stress Coat"). <... you don't want to keep adding these...> I noticed though that this time (doing a 50% water change) the fish did not take as well. the Arowana has been quite temperamental and the less aggressives are significantly less aggressive, particularly the South American Cichlid who is generally quite aggressive, has become quite docile by comparison to his usual self. I really need to know what the best plan of action is for lowering nitrates?? <Please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/FWSubWebIndex/fwnitrates.htm and the linked files at top> can you give me a realistic idea of how much water i should be changing and when? <This is posted on WWM as well, but you have many larger issues... Principally a lack of sufficient filtration and incompatibility> can you tell me if the Ich medicine conflicted with the Metrazol so I don't do it again (it was LFS OK'ed?)? Or anything at all I'm not considering... I have noticed throughout the forums "Bob Fenner" suggested multiple times to stop feeding the fish until Nitrate levels subsided to 0 and I will do so immediately once I get the OK from him for my tank. I know that 50% changes are not healthy especially when the tank is first cycling but it seems that there are always extenuating circumstances. I'm just concerned about starvin' the Ol' fishies. Sorry i don't have a Nitrate reading yet, will be getting a test kit for it tonight. Thanks ahead of time, George Kordopatis <I do wish we could start back at your planning stages here... the BioWheel is insufficient... the Arowana will get too large, the discus doesn't live in the same water... Time for you to stop buying livestock, medicines, water conditioners... and STUDY. Read on our FW Subweb re set-up, the fishes you list, their care, husbandry, water conditions, nutrition. Basically, start over. Bob Fenner>

Nitrate Problems Hello, I have a 55 gal.. tank with a Tiger Oscar (approx. 6 in.), Pleco (4 in.) and 3 red fin barbs... things have been fine until a couple days ago when I did a water check and the nitrate levels are high.  I just did a 50% water change and added the water conditioner and the levels still are high (nitrate NO3 is 20, and nitrate NO2 is 3.0).  Please tell me what I need to do ASAP so that I can get this under control.   I also noticed that the Oscar looks like he has been scrapping himself up against things (he has marks on his body).  Thank you. < The nitrate is the end of a long chemical process. You need to eliminate the waste that is generating the nitrates. First clean the filter(s). Second is do a 30% water change while vacuuming the gravel. Check your tap water. Sometimes the nitrates are high in tap water from agricultural areas as a by-product from years of over fertilization.-Chuck>

High Nitrates in a FW Tank Thank you for directing me to Dr Tim's website. That and a few other articles I have had time to read has cleared up many of my questions. I look forward to reading more.  I changed 30% of my water and rinsed out the filter cartridges, All stayed the same except Nitrite is now 3.0 instead of 5.0 and Nitrate is still 40 (typo earlier in that I wrote 4 instead of 40). Should there have been more of a change? < Nitrate is the result of long standing waste somewhere in the tank. If the filters have been clean the next area would be in the gravel. This is why we recommend gravel vacuuming so often. Next water change vacuum the crud out of the gravel that has accumulated over time.> I plan to change 30% again in 2 days. I noticed a couple of brown spots on my Anacharis can this be causing any problems? < Anacharis could be the result of shading and could be normal.> Also I forgot to mention I do have duckweed up top, it covers a 1/4th of the surface. < Duckweed is a great indicator of nitrates. If the duckweed doubles very quickly then there is adverse level of nitrates in the tank and the aquarium needs a water change.> Is there a better Ich treatment than what I used? < I prefer Kordon's Rid-Ich.-Chuck> 

Nitrate levels in goldfish water Hello all ,      1st off can I thank you for providing all the info and help on the site, it's a great source of info. I have had my freshwater aquarium for about 4 months now and have never had any problems at all, I only have 2 Orandas and they have loads and  loads of room , but when I cleaned out the other day as I always do , I  carried out the water checks the day after only to find unusually high nitrate  levels (7mg/l). <This is actually not high at all... Most goldfish systems have a few to many tens of mg/l of NO3> I cant seem to get it down , the fish seem fine and I have cut the feeding down but I don't know what products to use (don't want to buy any old stuff recommended buy the brain dead 17 year old puppy sales person at the only pet superstore near by) is there any thing you can recommend please. thanks Rik. <No worries... just keep up doing what you're doing. Bob Fenner>

Tank clean enough? Hi, I went to another city for the treatment you recommended as there is none available here.  I treated the tank with Metronidazole.  I question the Ick treatment, as I used Ick Away 10 days ago when I changed the tank.  Is it your recommendation to treat it again? < The rid-ich will take care of some external parasites. The twitching and scratching are signs of ich so it may have come back.> While I was at a more qualified pet store I purchased the water testing kit and a gravel vacuum. The water readings are Ammonia 0, PH 7.6, PH high 7.8, Nitrate 10 (is that high??), Nitrite, 0.   I am interested in your thoughts, Jessica   < Everything looks good. When the nitrates get above 25 ppm is when many problems begin.-Chuck>

High Nitrates in a FW Tank Hello, help needed, I have a major nitrate problem. It has happened in my 10 and 29 gallon tanks and each time I have moved lately it has happened to them (totaling about 5 times). I have been changing the water weekly trying to fix it, but after a few days it is dangerously high again. I have lost so many fish that I am starting over again. I don't want to give up, but in the past I have had a stable tank for weeks, added fish and then it becomes dangerous again in a matter of a few more weeks. How long should I have a stable tank before I add fish? < I would recommend that the tank be stable for a couple of weeks before adding any fish.> What can I do to increase my chances of getting it started better this time? < I would recommend adding BioSpira each time you set up a tank to make up for any of the good bacteria that may have been affected by the move.> I have had very stable tanks for 5 years using well water and moved a year ago and have not had a stable tank ever since. Could there be a link? Please help! Thanks. Kris Barker < I would recommend that you do a complete analysis of you tap water to find out where you are chemically. You can ask you local water company supplier for that information. They usually send that to you once a year anyway. Look at the pH, hardness and the nitrates. Some fish don't tolerate extremes in water chemistry. Many agricultural areas have high nitrates from years of over fertilization. I would do a 30% weekly water change, clean the filter and vacuum the gravel. Watch the amount of food you are feeding your fish. Feed them once a day and only enough food so that all of it is gone in two minutes once each day. Before doing a water change I would fill up a 5 gallon bucket the day before and treat it with a chemical to neutralize any chlorine and chloramine. Ammonia and nitrites should be zero, Nitrates should be under 25 ppm for most fish.-Chuck> 

Refugium Benefits in Freshwater Nitrate Reduction Morning Crew, <Yawn... good morrow to you> What an informative site! Having come across it a couple of weeks ago, I have been voraciously reading on the many, many topics presented in an effort to become, at least, an informed "aquarist" if not a successful one. <A useful distinction> I've found a lot of material on WWM that discusses the use (and benefit) of planted refugiums for Marine aquariums, however, I am specifically interested in more information on the possible benefits of including them in freshwater (specifically Cichlid) setups.  <Would be similar> I have very much enjoyed keeping approx. 14 African Malawi and 2 Plecos in a 75 Gal, "reef-ready" Oceanic tank for the past year. As background, my aspirations to become an aquarist were not of my own initiative. The tank was donated (dry) to me when a friend moved out of the area. <What a gift!> I inherited the tank/stand, an AMiracle wet/dry, Red Sea protein skimmer and a couple of pumps (tank previously used for SW). Despite the nature of my start, I have done (and continue to do) as much reading as I can to fully enjoy the hobby. Having now become "addicted" to the enjoyment and care of my new pets, I am upgrading to an Oceanic 200g. I know...a "big" jump...but, I love this. I am investing in necessary larger pump (to cycle 8-10 per hour), sump etc. as I expand my enjoyment. I plan to move bio-media, as much water, substrate etc as possible and (once stabilized) fish to the new setup.  My question: I perform 25% water changes every 10 days, regularly rinse mechanical filter sponge on the return, replace the wet/dry Polyfilter pad, etc, and my fish appear healthy (recent Peacock fry) and things are predominantly great. I attempt to feed my friends properly, via isolated float feeder, and on the basis of what they can consume within 3-5 minutes.  Food provision consists of Cichlid flakes, algae disks (2 per day (for the Plecos)), occasional dry shrimp pellets and cucumber slice treat once in awhile (removing what is not consumed in a day). Despite my water changes, I continue to see slightly elevated nitrate levels which I attribute to the food amount, the wet/dry (bioballs) and, of course, the Pleco waste.  <Yes> I use the (probably totally inaccurate) test strips found at my LFS to watch vitals.  <These strips are fine for their (gross results) purposes> Nitrate is constantly borderline between "safe" and "unsafe" (medium pink to dark pink reading). I am wondering if the addition of a well-planted refugium tank (placed beside the sump in the under cabinet) would be of any benefit to overall nitrate control/reduction and water stability in this Cichlid environment? <I do think it will be> As I move to the larger tank, I'll have more room in the base cabinet for such a refugium if there is some benefit to be gained. Also, if a refugium would be of benefit, I would appreciate recommendations as to what types of plants would survive/prosper in the high-PH environment and grow-out to fill the enclosure to maximize the denitrification (is that a word?) <Yes... and I'd look to Anubias (very slow growing) and Crinum... the opposite... two native genera... that enjoy similar water quality as your cichlids> ...effect? <Reduced metabolites, improved water quality... all the ancillary effects, benefits of this> What would be the suggested flow rate to/from the refugium from main tank-volume? <A few... 2,3, up to five turns per hour are ideal> Should this be a trickle or liberal flow (perhaps a % of tank volume per hour through refugium?). Is the use of a refugium a good idea here, or am I going overboard? <Worthwhile> My LFS rep has told me that plants would not survive in this hard, high-PH environment and that the refugium concept for a Cichlid tank won't do any good.  <Mmm, incorrect on both counts...> Obviously, were I to incorporate a refugium, all of the plants would (from what I've read) warrant extra care to ensure continued, adequate oxygenation of the water for the fish. <Not a problem> With circulation rate of 8-10 times per hour and use of air stone bubbler in tank I am hoping that I'd be OK. Any advice, comment you might offer would be very much appreciated. <Better to not have excessive flow here... to by-pass the refugium with some via plumbing...> Many thanks for your collective (crew) support to we ambitious novices!! Best Regards, Brian. <Be chatting, Bob Fenner> 
Re: Refugium benefits in freshwater nitrate reduction
Bob, Thank you very much for your informative (and quick) response and time. I know you cover a lot of technical ground for so many, but I do have a follow-on question... final one... for awhile anyway.  Based upon your advice, I will incorporate the refugium with recommended Anubias and Crinum.  If you do have the time to take an additional question on this, here's a little more info on my system/plan:  As I mentioned, the gifted 75G (rr) I've been using with a single Amiracle wet/dry.  In pursuit of my 200g upgrade, I acquired a $$discounted 2nd Amiracle wet/dry (identical to the first) and two T3 Velocity pumps and plan on placing both wet/dries, each with their own pump but connected (via plumbing) in parallel (prevent flooding accident), to support turnover.  I'm hoping the dual T3 setup will achieve 1400-1500gph considering head pressure.  This should give me between 7 and 7.5x H20 turnover of main 200g tank.  Do you think this rate is satisfactory for a 200g with 20-30 (4-5") Africans and 2 Plecos? <Yes... and sounds like a workable plan thus far> Do you think that the waste-producing Plecos (considering the nitrate issue) are of benefit or detriment in a Cichlid environs. would I be better served in finding alternative homes for them? <Mmm, am a bit torn here... on the one hand, some Loricariid species presence may well be of benefit in maintenance, and their waste production is actually minimal... they mainly "re-cycle" other molecular/cellular components... But, if it were me, my tank, I'd rather have Mochokid (Synodontis) species of catfishes... though not algae eaters per se... more "native", tough, accustomed to many African cichlid conditions>   I considered going with a larger, single, higher volume Dolphin or Iwaki pump, but got a fair deal on the two T3s and liked the idea of duality...couldn't get the same deal on two T4's (or 2 of anything else larger) unfortunately. <No worries> Going back to the installation of the refugium, thank you for your suggestions on partial thru-flow.  I forgot to ask what optimal refugium size (volume) would be for this 200g setup...probably as large as I can fit in the cabinet, right? <Yes> I planned on plumbing partial (as you suggest) tank flow output directly into the refugium.  Should refugium out flow be directed back thru the wet/dry (bioballs) or go directly back to pumps/main tank thus bypassing the wet/dry altogether? <Either way... often easiest to have simple overflow to the other transit volume sump> Also, what would you suggest as a substrate for the Anubias/Crinum (regular play sand, Eco-Complete, Mud or other??) <Coarse (one eighth to one quarter) "natural" gravel... to a mix of this and/or marine substrate of your preference... Considering I know not re your source water make-up, you want a material here that will not only suit your plants, but make, keep the water quite hard and alkaline... and be facile in terms of your cichlids' digging potential> ...and should the sandbed be deep to provide anaerobic benefit...primary tank substrate is 2" crushed coral? <Mmm, I discount this here... by and large you want to avoid in situ anaerobiosis in these and most all freshwater systems> How often should refugium substrate be cleaned (or should it)? <Infrequently, in one word... perhaps a stirring, rinsing (with the return pump/s turned off) every few months to a year> Again, thank you so much for your great assistance.  I really appreciate it.  Best Regards, Brian.   <Thank you for your participation, sharing. Bob Fenner>

HIGH NITRATES IN FW I have a 1 year old established African Cichlid tank 75 gallon, 10 small to medium fish. I cleaned tank without fail each month 30% with full vacuum of gravel. Never had test kit or water tested since the beginning. Recently I missed the past 2 months due to business travel. Had the water tested and found the nitrates at 180PPM (yes, 180PPM). I have a canister filter Rena x3 which is cleaned just as frequently as the tank.  I just added a Emperor 400 and performed two 50% water changes with full vacuuming this week about 3 days apart. I am trying to be aggressive to save the fish who have been hanging out at the top (not vertical) and twitching often. These guys are fighters that is why I want to get the Nitrate down. By performing these changes logic would tell me that the levels should at least drop down a bit.  Has anybody ever heard of this extreme condition and when will I see some results from the water changes?   Thanks <You should try and keep the nitrates below 25 ppm to keep your fish healthy. I would check the ammonia and nitrites. They should be zero at all times. With the new Emperor filter this should not be a problem once the bio wheels are seasoned. Check your tap water for nitrates. In some agricultural areas the ground water has a nitrate level as high as 50 ppm from the tap. Assuming the nitrate levels of the tap water are low and the filtration is working properly you may need to perform your maintenance procedures more often. Start out by servicing the filters and doing a 30% water change once a week. The canister filter can be a real pain to change but all the waste that accumulates their is not gone out of the system. It is just contained and adding to the nitrate problem until you decide to get rid of it. Cleaning it once a month is too long. Feed only enough food so that all of it is gone in 2 minutes once a day. Use a vegetable based food for Lake Malawi cichlids. You might try Amquel plus . It is supposed to reduce nitrates. -Chuck> 

High Nitrates Hello, I know there have been questions like this but I am confused.  I have had 120 gallon freshwater tank running for over 2 years.  It is a community fish tank.  I have usually tested my water once a month or so and regularly done water changes at least once a month of 20-40%.  I have never had any problems with Ammonia, PH, Nitrate or Nitrite as I try to add things gradually.  I have a sand bottom, a Magnum 350 canister filter, and a whisper power filter.  I am considering adding another canister but wanted to change the substrate and see if the whisper and magnum would be enough first.   About 2 weeks ago things started to go wrong.  I performed a water change, 25-30% and I added some gravel (20lbs) and some water clarifier (Tetra brand I think).  I added a few more fish (4 guppies, red tail shark, and 3 mollies) over the course or 2 weeks.  I have been watching for any ammonia and not detecting any. Suddenly my Nitrates are going out of control (over 160ppm).  I performed a 50% water change and repeated the test the next night and still over 160ppm. What can cause such a high spike with no detectable ammonia, and what should I do to reduce this?  I did also check my tap water to make sure there are no detectable Nitrates.  I am going to keep trying water changes, but was not sure if there was anything else that could be done. I have had about 8-10 guppies die in the past week and a half, and also 2 of my 4 clown loaches that I have had for almost 2 years, and don't want to keep killing fish. Thank you for any help or suggestions, < High nitrates are definitely a problem. If they are not coming from your main water source then I would recommend that you service the filters, remove the rocks and vacuum the gravel while doing a 50% water change. Treat the new water with Amquel plus to help detoxify the nitrates.-Chuck.> Jason
Re: High Nitrates
Hello again, I took your suggestions and have done 3 water changes of 50% in the past week and have been vacuuming the gravel each time.  I have changed the filter materials.  I have also been adding Amquel plus and have not seen much of if any improvement.  I have moved everything in the aquarium to ensure I am vacuuming out as much as possible.  I have continued to check my ammonia levels and nitrite levels and not seen any registering amount of either.  At this time I have 2 guppies, 2 clown loaches (3 inches each), a ghost knife, 2 Neons, 3 algae eaters, 2 iridescent sharks (5 inches each), a red tail shark (2 inch), and 4 white mollies (2 inches each).  I have had this 120 Gallon tank setup for 2 years and was not having a problem with this until recently.  Is there anything else I should do to try and correct this? < Sounds like you have done everything possible to remove the nitrates from the tank. Now check you tap water. Check it right out of the tap and check it again after it has sat for 24 hours. If may be a change in the water supply. In areas of high agricultural runoff the nitrates leach down to the aquifers and rivers and it could be coming out as high as 50 ppm. Other sources could be decaying wood with lots of cracks that could have been filled by mulm.-Chuck> Thank you, Jason
Re: Nitrate too high
Crew, <Frank> As I was changing the water and cleaning the contents of the tank I discovered the source of my water problems. I found a dead Goldie inside a sea shell. He was probably in there for several months. Based on this new information would you revise your recommendation below? Thanks again, Frank <I would revise the advice... I would not raise temperature... but do a good 30-35% water change... wait a few days and do another... and so on... WITH water testing for nitrate and likely ammonia... diluting the former... Do chuck the shell... too likely to cause further troubles. Bob Fenner>

Re: Not sure if treatment is needed, nitrates in source water Bob, Thanks for your response- I appreciate it. I have attached a interesting tidbit I found regarding Nitrates in drinking water, my site is on the list for violations- Yay... http://www.ewg.org/reports/Nitrate/NitrateContam.html I do know I have tested with the Aquarium Pharm. liquid reactants test and have come up over 10 several times in the past- I do not regularly test my incoming water anymore for this. <... and I do think the Fed. limit for nitrate has come down since this note (1996)> I did go out and get some Prazi (Jungle parasite Clear) as it was the most gentle multi-parasite killer I could find, and have started adding salt to the water to get it to .3% for a couple weeks- just in case somehow I got an invader. I do have a Betta in a 10gal at home, but all seems well with him- and I can't remember doing anything that may cause a cross-over contamination. <Unless you introduced "something" live... food/s, plants, other fish livestock... where would this vector from?> I was feeding Marineland's Bio Blend, and Spirulina flakes- supplementing with Cukes, oranges, seaweed, or freeze dried blood worms as treats a couple times a week. I am now just feeding him Jungle Anti-Bac food and will for a good 10 day stretch. I soak all his dried food first to soften it.  He is passing the food within a hour of feeding him, and it seems to have more fiber-bulkier feces. <Wow, I'd give your fish the name of Riley, as in "the life of"> With the addition of the meds and salt he seems to be perking up, and acting a bit better- I was worried as I really thought he was on his way out. Am I correct that if it were parasites, between the salt and the Prazi treatments- they should be knocked out? Thanks for the help, and the resources on the web! <Yes... do know that goldfish, and many other fishes do "just go through" bouts of inactivity, lethargy at times... as do I! BobF>
Re: Not sure if treatment is needed
Aha! Plants! I had ordered live plants a month or so ago- (and sorry to say- added w/o dipping them in PP) Wonder if something rode in on them and set up shop in my fish. <Ooooh> I will never add live plants w/o doing the dip on them ever again! Yikes, oh well- lesson learned- plants are probably not going to survive the salt anyway. They are (were) just a few javas, not nearly enough to battle my little swimming nitrate factory anyway. Thanks for the help! <Good response... actually Java Ferns are quite salt-tolerant... Upward and onward (Excelsior! As Don Dewey used to write). Bob Fenner>

Denitrators, FW I have a small 25 (I think) gallon tank with plants and 10 very small fish and I'm interested in buying a denitrator. Firstly, do they work? Secondly, is it too much for a small tank such as mine? BTW it's a freshwater tank. Thanks for your input. -Jessica Wertz <There are purposeful denitrator "filters" sold for freshwater systems... some do work moderately well (better than marine ones for sure), but I'd like to ask, what sort of concentrations of nitrates are you experiencing such that you're interested in such an addition? And to state that you can very likely get sufficient anaerobic denitrifying action through the addition of a ceramic or fused-glass bead media... to an outside hang-on or canister filter... Bob Fenner>

Nitrates in a 10 gallon freshwater aquarium Hello,             My husband and I set up our 10 gallon aquarium about a month ago and have a concern over the level of Nitrates we have in our water.  The tank itself has sand for substrate, live plants, river rocks and a resin cave rock  We have the filter that came with the kit, a heater.  Currently we are housing three female Bettas (it has been an interesting time and one will be put in isolation due to aggression issues), three neon tetras, one gold molly and two snails (that we can find the stowaways!).  We had two black mollies but they succumbed to illness and we had to put them down.  We do a 10 % water change every week, scrubbing the tank and creating fish panic while we try to keep their water clean.  The tank is clear and not cloudy and the plants are doing well.  We have a bubble wall and 10 gallon air pump to oxygenate the tank.  We feed the fish twice a day using flakes in the morning and blood worms at night.               On to my question: We have purchased a freshwater testing kit and my husband has tested the water in the tank.  The ammonia is 0 and the nitrites are 0 but are nitrates are between 60 and 80 ppm.  Our pH is 7.2 to 7.4 (which we are treating with ph Down to help out the tetras).  With that concern we tested our tap water through the Brita filter we use to drink from and change the fish water and discovered that the tap water had the same nitrate level.  My husband (the mad chemist from all the testing) also tested our tap water without filtering it through the Brita and received the same result.  After researching your site (which is very informative) I couldn't find a solution for anyone with a tank lower than 55 gallons.  I did find a post about acquiring a reverse osmosis machine (see below, and will have to investigate this further if we can't figure another solution). What can be done for us small guys who have nitrate issues? < High nitrates can be a problem for those aquarists living in areas with lots of agricultural activity. Excessive nitrogen fertilizers leach down into the water table and are picked up in aquifers used for drinking water. Many fish cannot tolerate these high nitrate levels. Your best bet would probably use purified or bottled water for your aquarium. R/O will remove most nitrates but I cannot justify buying an entire R/O system for 4 gallons per month.-Chuck> Thanks for your time. Wendy

Located information. "Nitrates in Tap Water Dear Mr. Fenner: <Bob is off in Australia right now leaving the rest of the WWM crew to pick up the pace.> I have a 135gal tank with African cichlids in it. They are all doing wonderful. Have even had Kenyi produce fry, and Jack Dempseys also. My question is the Nitrate level is always high. Have tried placing reducers in the canister filter, but it really doesn't help much <Not very cost effective either.> so last night I set some tap water out....and tested it this am........and found my problem......the Nitrates are high 50-110ppm in the tap water. <Wow.> What can I do to reduce them in the tap water before adding this water to the tanks. <The first thing I would do is request a report from your local water authority. By law they have to send you one every few years and whenever you ask. That seems really high. I know there is a federally mandated upper limit, but cannot recall the exact number at this time. Your only corrective course of action is a RO unit. You may want to consider a large unit to produce drinking water, too.> Please help......all my other parameters are great......do weekly water changes.....with gravel vacuuming...but still can not reduce the nitrates. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Sincerely, Shirley <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>"

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