Please visit our Sponsors

FAQs on BioFiltration 1

Related FAQs: Biofiltration 2, & FAQs on Biological Cycling: Science/Rationale, Techniques/Methods: Seeding Filter Media, Live Rock/Sand, Using Livestock, Cycling Products: By Manufacturers/Names: Bio-Spira, Cycle...  Chemical Feeding, Anomalies/Fixing 1, Trouble/Fixing 2, & Ozone & Ozonizers, Ultraviolet Sterilizers, Wet-Dry Filters, Bio-Balls, Protein Skimmers, Fluidized Beds, Ammonia, Nitrites, Nitrates, PhosphatesDenitrification/Denitrifiers, Deep Sand Beds

Related Articles: BioFiltrationNutrient Control and Export


Filter Change Hi Bob, <Greeting from Steven Pro, one of the other WWM crew members.> I am planning on replacing the hang on filter on my 55 gallon FOWLR aquarium with a canister model (either Fluval or Eheim). I am running a skimmer and have had the tank going for over a year now. My question is, should I leave the hang on filter going for any period of time after I start the canister model, <Yes> or is there enough bacteria in the substrate to have this not be a concern? <Possibly, but better to be safe than sorry.> Thank you in advance for all your help. All good wishes, Daryl Clop <To you too! -Steven Pro>

Question Regarding Bacteria, which is correct? (are fresh, marine nitrifiers the same?) Dear Mr. Fenner, I have asked a few questions before, the last was answered by Steven Pro about an old stainless steel 55 gallon. In reply to him, I will be re-enforcing my tanks to the wall. I had another question...I am converting my 20 gallon tank to a saltwater tank, and I have read on some websites that the freshwater nitrifying bacteria are the same as saltwater, and therefore converting a tank over to saltwater by just increasing the salinity will not affect the cycling procedure. <Mmm, has to be done exceedingly slowly... Better to just set up new... Please read: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/estbiofiltmar.htm and the FAQs beyond> This seems incorrect to me, as I have also heard that the saltwater bacteria is completely different, and after being converted to saltwater, the tank needs to be cycled again. I will be adding live rock and such, so I plan to re-cycle the tank, but I was just curious about this, because it was more than one site that made the statement that the bacteria are the same. Thanks for your great help! You guys are great! <Similar bacteria species... I don't think the same.> Rob Lewis Long Beach, CA p.s. have any of you been to our "Aquarium of the Pacific" here? <Yes. A few times. Nice location there in L.B... Along with the Queen Mary (guess the "Goose" is gone), Convention Center... Bob Fenner>

Fluidized filter I am using a fluidized-sand filter for my seahorses tank. My question is, in the event of a power outage how long will the nitrifying bacteria remain intact.....................Thanks, Lou <Minutes... depending on temperature, the units make-up... a few to several. Bob Fenner>

Do Bio-ring need to be replaced/re-treated after years? Hi Bob, It's the first time I write to you, so a little bit nervous. <No need/cause> I have my 1000L FOT with sump for more than three years & I've put some Sera Siporax (bio-ring) in the sump so as to up-keep the bio-load.  <A good product> However, I've found the tank's NO2 level raised to 0.3 mg/l level recently that really makes me worry. My fish number keeps constant & I regularly do my partial water change weekly. I just wonder why the NO2 level raised. <Mmm, I suspect your test kit, not actually nitrite> Besides, do we need to replace/re-treat bio-ring regularly?  <No. One time purchase, generally no need to "treat"... can/should be rinsed if you find yourself washing out the rest of the filtration> How could we know it's time for us to replace them? Just need your opinion. Many thanks! King <Thank you for writing. You might try rinsing (in the sink with freshwater is fine) the Siporax beads to see if this makes a difference. Otherwise I would "test the tester". Check your test kit, water samples against another kit/assay. Be chatting. Bob Fenner>

Nitrogen Cycle I would like to run something by you and see if I understand correctly. I'm almost embarrassed to bring this up. In freshwater for 8 years and saltwater for 2. I thought I totally understood the Nitrogen cycle but in doing some reading F&Q's I have some questions. Bacteria turns ammonia to nitrite then more bacteria turn nitrite to nitrate. All this is an aerobic (w/ oxygen) process called nitrification. Turning nitrate to nitrogen gas to be released or substances in the tank.. (LR?) and bacteria in DSB using nitrate is called denitrification right? <A good deal of the metabolism is this> Now is this an anaerobic process (w/o oxygen).  <Almost entirely anaerobic> Which is why to me a DSB is so important to this process b/c it harbors anaerobic bacteria? <Mmm, yes... as well as a source of carbonate, calcium... surface area.> Now some questions. I understand that substrate depth of 1/2 - 1" is fine or 3-5" is best as a DSB more towards 5". I haven't found a reason why in between is so dangerous.  <Some folks claim this "in-between" depth is too likely to foster other, undesirable anaerobic processes... most notably rotten egg, H2S production> Just know it is. Also as far as LR, the bacteria alive on these would be in the presence of oxygen. <Actually... no. Both oxygen-using and absence-of-oxygen spaces are provided by such live rock... nitrification and denitrification> So LR is good for nitrification and not denitrification right? <As stated... real, healthy live rock is good for both. Lots of tiny nooks and crannies in live rock for anaerobes.> Macro algae on the other hand (to a point) would use some of the nitrates in the system. Putting this together I've been trying to figure out the wet/dry and bio media. Water is run over the bio balls and obviously in the presence of oxygen which is why it's so good at nitrification. But nothing anaerobic here to take care of the nitrates. Is there a benefit to having the biomedia covered w/ water or partially out like most places suggest.  Or does it even matter.  <Does matter... to a degree, "just wetted" media is more efficient at spurring nitrification.... much more dissolved oxygen in this condition than totally submersed.> Last thing.. When I clean the tank/water changes I usually turn the pumps and overflow off b/c the water level goes lower than overflow so it would run the pumps dry w/ no flow to sump. Not left off very long but probably 15-20 minutes at most. I'm wondering if this is dangerous to the aerobic bacteria, and if so how to do differently.  <Not dangerous... they can/do go into a sort of "resting state" and as populations rapidly recover... with the resumption of circulation, aeration> I'm getting a 75 drilled for bulkheads and placed so that I can leave everything on when doing water changes. Thanks for all your help Bryan. <Keep studying, wondering my friend. Bob Fenner>

Bio Media & Skimmer Questions Bryan here, Thanks guys for the quick responses and information. I have a few questions about biomedia. Anthony you thought I should keep the biomedia in wet dry b/c of my bioload in FO tank, but I have BioBale in the CPR. I'm going to make a switch. I've been reading and come across some mentions of different types of biomedia. First, Bob has made mention of ceramic biomedia for the wet/dry, can't find any info at all. Also have read on the site something on Siporax beads and have just looked at premium aquatics site and they have something called cell-pore bio blox. Do you have any info on these types of biomedia? <My personal favorite media for nitrification is bio-balls. They do not become clogged with detritus like some of the other media you mentioned do.> Good/bad, do any help with controlling nitrates by releasing them as nitrogenous gas. <No media is going to do that. You need a deep sand bed or a lot of very porous liverock if you want denitrification.> I'm In the process of putting together ideas of taking an old 20 gal tank and adding substrate and LR.... I guess I do have a few more questions....sorry. In the way of protein skimmers. I would like to get the new 2002 EV in sump by Aqua C but the budget won't allow right now. I currently have the Aqua C Remora (not the pro model) with Rio 800 in 75 gal tank. I've been reading the site about skimmers and I don't think mine is as efficient as should be. I can go most of a week and not get much skimmate. Any suggestions. Manufacturer says there is an upgrade to maxi jet 1200. I was thinking about the Rio 1400 which comes with the pro model (not sure if it will fit though).  <Has your production gone down or was the skimmer never producing? Try running the powerhead for the skimmer in some freshwater with vinegar. This will rid the pump of any deposits and should help it produce better. Afterward, clean the pump and skimmer body thoroughly before use. Hopefully, a good cleaning is all it needs. The upgraded pump is probably not for better skimming, but for peace of mind as there have been many reports of RIO having problems. You may want to contact the company directly if you still have problems. -Steven Pro> Thanks again Bryan.

Biological Filter in Quarantine Tank Hello Bob! Hope your Saturday has been pleasant. I have just one quick question. Because I am concerned with the water quality in my main tank (may have parasites still in some stage), I don't want to use it to jumpstart my biological filter in the quarantine tank. I am introducing a 7-member school of 2.5" lyretail Anthias, and a 5" sailfin (desjardinii) tang. Would it be safe to simply run something like Amquel in the QT (along with a mechanical and chemical filtration / Chemipure) while I am getting the biological filter up and running? <Not for me> I could also use some of those pre-packaged BioZyme type products to introduce some bacteria. <Yes... do check into hobbyists opinions... Cycle (Hagen) or fresh Fritzyme (Fritz Chemical) are better regarded... I think> The LFS has said that I don't need to take everything at once, though they don't really want to hold everything for "too" long, either. As always, your insights are greatly appreciated! Thanks again. Jim Raub <Bob Fenner>

Re: new setup Bob, I'm moving from a Rena FilStar xp1 to a xp3 to increase flow in my tank. (plus the xp1 isn't real suited great for bio due to its' small size) it's a bit oversized but i can adjust the flow accordingly <I understand.> I've read over some of your FAQs about moving to a different filter and running simultaneously for awhile. since i can move my used filter media and bio-ceramic rings is this step necessary? <Not nearly as much> i will be increasing the amount of filter media as well so some of it will be new. any issues you see with this? if this is ok should the used filter media go closest to the incoming water flow? <Not enough potential problems that I wouldn't proceed as you suggest. And fine to place the media as stated> I'll be mixing the FilStar ceramic rings with the FilStar stars also :) <A very good product> thanks for your help! also when am i going to see you on TLC or the discovery channel?  <I do wish... Partly my "reason" (not to say that I am reasonable) for trying to help that "talking dog hand puppet" co.... now gone... as this production company was a partial owner. Sigh...> hehe :) I figured you'd be on there diving with sharks or reef or something... <Perhaps with the companies' management... the ones in the water don't frighten me. Bob Fenner>

UV sterilizer and a start up reef tank-One more question I was wondering what you experience with a product called ALGONE is ( www.algone.com )? It claims to keep water clear without chemicals  <This is a ludicrous statement... the universe is made up of chemicals, space and energy... that's it... IS this product energy, space?> and can significantly reduce nitrates? Just wondering if you had any info. Thanks again. Christine <Do know of this product... I don't use it. You don't need it. Bob Fenner>

Fish Hi, Bob. I think next week the rest of my equipment will be here and I can set up my tank. The inside measurements of my tank are: 59"x17x21=91 gal. It was sold to me as a 110 gal. <Hmm, yes... often called "styles", as in "110 gallon style"... Very rare that actual gallonage is what is stated... important to keep this and displacement by decor, substrates in mind when figuring stocking, treatments...> I want to cycle the tank with pieces of chopped clam <Just use the juice, and not much of this, for the purpose of establishing cycling... it takes very little. I have a good clam pasta dish for the real clams> and when ammonia and nitrite are 0 and nitrate is 40 or less then I will put in the first fish. My pet shop recommends putting 4 yellow tail damsels in first (they are the cheapest and he has those available) and later 3 maroon or ocellaris clowns. But I keep reading that once the damsels have established themselves they chase any other fish away. So, should I skip the damsels completely and start with 3 ocellaris?? <Yes, this would be fine.> Later I want to add a royal Gramma, a flame hawk, a six line wrasse or velvet wrasse, a orchid Dottyback, 2 fire fish gobies, a canary blenny, a citron goby, a flame angel, a yellow tang, a hippo tank and a butterfly fish from Your selection of "good butterflies" in one article I read. I know that all of this fish will not fit in my tank, but I also know that I will never be able to acquire all of them here. I don't want my fish to outgrow my tank. Is the selection I chose o.k.? <Yes, a very good set of choices> If one of them gets too big, I'd rather not buy it. What is a max size for my aquarium? 8"? <Temperament is also very important. A six inch fish would be better as an average maximum to allow> I read that fire fish gobies like to be in a group. Will 2-3 of them live in a tank of my size? <Yes> Together with a canary blenny or a citron goby? <Yes> I will see if I can get 10 Astraea snails to put in from the beginning. Is that good, even so there are no algae yet?  <Wait until there is algal growth evident on any livestock> So, enough for tonight. I will call on You again once I have all the equipment and start setting up the tank. Thanks for everything. Good night, Bernd <Be chatting. Bob Fenner>

Tank setup. l Mr. Fenner, I apologize for what has been happening. I have no idea why my text is not getting through?  <Me neither... but no worries> Anyway, the reason I was writing to you is because I am trying to cycle my tank. I have a 55 gallon marine tank. I added tap water to the tank and turned all my equipment on. A week later I added 30 lbs of semi-cured LR. At this point my skimmer started skimming. Three days later I added another 45 lbs or Rock. One of my friends recommended that I throw a dead shrimp in there and let it decompose to help the cycle.  <Yikes... there was/is plenty of other sources of starter media/decomposition from the live rock... pull the shrimp carcass out.> It has been four weeks now that the rock has been in there. All my testing has not shown any changes until today. For four weeks the ammonia was at .25 ppm, nitrate 10ppm, and nitrite .5 ppm. Just last night nitrate dropped to 2.5 ppm and the nitrite dropped to .2 ppm. The ammonia is still at .25 ppm. I have cleaned my canister twice because it was getting filled up with sand due to my shifting of the rock. After the cleaning, I added water that I let aerate for a week. Those are the only water changes that I have made. Are my test results normal? <Hmm, yes... under the circumstances. Likely the addition of so much new LR so quickly for this size, shape system... and the addition of the shrimp... forestalled establishment of cycling... Hold off on adding any livestock at this point.> This morning I also noticed a brown type of algae building up on the tank walls and the sand. I am not sure if this is normal either. <Yes, normal. To be expected.> On a side note. I also noticed that the green, purple and red coralline on the rock is turning white. Is it dying? <Yes, some... along with other changes, succession.> Please refer to the close up of the rock that I sent you. It shows the white spots on it. There is also some white hairy stuff growing on the rock. Unfortunately I don't have a pic of that. I did notice on your FAQ about someone else experiencing this. Can I do anything to stop the coralline from turning white and stop the hairy white stuff from growing on the rock? <Yes...> My equipment is as follows: 1)55 Gal rectangular tank 2)Ehiem 2026 Pro II Filter Media: (1) Ehfi Mech (2) Ehfi Substrat (1) Pad and Pillow set (1) 3 Pak carbon pads 3)Bak-Pak 2 protein Skimmer w/bio bale 4) (2) Maxi-Jet Powerhead (1) 600 and (1) 900 5)New and Improved JBJ lighting. (4) 55W power compacts. Two daylight and two blue, 10,000K each. Thanks again, -rk <Read further on the WWM site re corallines: http://wetwebmedia.com/corlalgfaqs.htm is the "pro" coralline algae FAQs section... You can boost, retain this encrusting algal growth with attention to pH, alkalinity and biomineral content at this point. Do keep monitoring your water quality otherwise, doing water changes if more than 1.0 ppm of either ammonia, nitrites... And we'll be chatting. Bob Fenner>

Quick question about cycling Hi, First off great information you have on your web site! I'll be referring to it often in the future I'm sure, as I'm just starting out. <Great to be appreciated.> I searched the site and didn't see anyone ask this specific question. I'm starting a 50 gal reef tank, and I want to cycle it with LR ( I have 15 lbs now). I bought one bag of LS too (said pre-cycled, but), and want to know if I can add the LS to the LR and cycle them together in the tank, or do I have to wait to add the LS till the LR cycles? <Yes... both may be added simultaneously, and together will speed cycling along better than just one by itself.> Thanks for your time, John <Be chatting. Bob Fenner>

Tank cycle Hi Bob. I recently added 120 lbs of live rock to my new 125. I am cycling the tank with the new rock and a little water from my mature 46. The new live rock I ordered is 'cured', and has lots of life on it. There is 150 lbs of sand in the main tank, and 50 lbs (5 inches) in my refugium underneath. The rock has been in the tank for almost 2 weeks, and I get a reading of zero for ammonia and nitrite, 8.2 pH. The first week I got about 5ppm nitrate, but now it's at zero. I have been feeding a hitch-hiker crab some shrimp (from the supermarket) every other day. I have tried two different brands of test kits, and get the same readings from both. I started skimming after a week, since I couldn't get any readings from the tests. Is it possible that the tank is already cycled, or has it not started its cycle yet? <Likely it is cycled> I couldn't find any time frame on WWM about when it should start (1st day, 1 week, etc). Thanks for your valuable time, and all the help you provide every day to others! Jason <Glad to be of help. Bob Fenner>

Nitrogen cycle... Robert, Quick question for you: I have an 110G. marine aquarium freshly set up (bought it used), it has a protein skimmer (for 200G tank) a sump, large wet & dry, etc. I have put some bio balls that matured for a while in an other tank (several weeks), I have also put a piece of cured live rock (Marshall live rock / 11 pounds). I have prepared 110G. of water (from a RO/DI unit) confined for 2 weeks in some closed containers. To make a long story short (!), my complete set up has been successfully running for 5 days & I've just check the nitrate for the first time last night = 5.0. My question is the following: can I go through my nitrogen cycle without using damsel fishes?  <Yes, of a certainty. Please read: http://wetwebmedia.com/biofiltr.htm> I was planning on using some refrigerated bacteria's to speed the whole thing up & use some more cured live rocks. I plan on having a fish only tank, but I don't plan on keeping any damsels in it & I truly don't want to stress the hell out of them either.  <Good plan, agree with your perspective> Do I need the "live" source to create the ammonia that will start the whole thing up or I can successfully (& fairly rapidly) run my nitrogen cycle without the help of live fish (but w/ the help of refrigerated bacteria's live rocks matured bio balls, etc.)? Let me know. Thx a bunch for your help! <You don't need the "live source" in the way of fishes... enough "comes and goes through, by means of the live rock to establish cycling... even without the bacteria prep.> P.S: W/ my current set up + with the help of the refrigerated bacteria's, how long do you think it will take to go through the whole cycle? <With enough live rock, a few days to a few weeks. Bob Fenner>

Product info. (cycling, test kits, the death business/Tortugas...) Hi Bob Since my nitrite is at 1.0 I'm going to do a water change today and try to siphon off any extra debris on the substrate. I was thinking off picking up some beneficial bacteria at the shop. Any recommendations? Will this help my tank recycle quicker. What do you think is Bacter Vital Good Or is Cycle just good enough ? <Cycle> Should I get one that is designed for Marine use or are they all basically the same. <Designated for marine use is better> What is a good enough water test kit Sea Water? (this one is easily available here.) <See: http://wetwebmedia.com/martstkitfaqs.htm> Thought you may be interested if you didn't already know, there is a 1 pg. write up in today's Miami Herald "Tortugas gets full protection" Last week the National Park Service signed off on the final section of a complex and controversial plan that put nearly 200 sq. miles of the waters in Fl. off-limits to fishing or the taking of any sea life. <Yes, good news IMO. Saw this news elsewhere... have followed the developments for years... Now, how can we speed up getting the U.S. to stop bombing Vieques, and further along get all folks out of the death business, hmm?> If you have access to cable/satellite there is going to be a 30min.Ecowatch Special "Coral Crisis" at 7pm this Tuesday. NBC 6 with oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau with rare underwater video and world's leading scientists. <Perhaps "world's leading PR science types> The News Paper address is: www.miami.com Thanks again Kam <Be chatting my friend. Bob Fenner>

Re: Miami Herald click onto local/state then when the screen comes up scroll down a bit until Florida comes up the click onto it the look for the Dry Tortugas. Correction the water test kit is SeaTest I said Sea water. Kam <Thank you, and I understood/stand. Bob F>

Thanks (and keeping bacteria going) first of all another thank you to u. i read through the articles u pointed me too but i have a couple of questions for you if that's ok. firstly if i can keep the trickle filter damp will this help the bacteria stay there. <Yes, just damp, not submersed> secondly will it be best to put the fish in that day or should i ask a shop to look after them, <Less trauma, trouble to put the fish in that day> i am planning on putting a Fluval 404 on the tank as well that has been on another tank for almost a year so i hope this will make the tank safe could you advise me which option is best for the fish. and tell me whether the bacteria will reset it self in a certain time span or not. <You will very likely not notice any problems with beneficial bacteria loss.> as always i am honoured to talk to you and thank you 4 your time. Alex <You're welcome my friend. Bob Fenner>

Nitrogen Cycle Hi, Recently, I had a Koran Angelfish that died. I decided to replace it with some heartier fish <Hmm, the Koran, Pomacanthus semicirculatus is a hardy fish as marines go...> and bought 5 small electric blue damsels to go with a yellow tang, 2 perculas, a small Coris wrasse, and a purple Pseudochromis. Within 2 days, my tank started to go through the nitrogen cycle all over again.  <Yes... for a newer set-up, this is a whole bunch of life to add all at once> I have a 50 gal. fish only tank with 2" of crushed coral substrate and believe I have more than enough filtration (Marine 330 bio wheel, a Fluval 204 canister, a Bak Pak skimmer/bio combo, a Lifegard bed filter and a power head for water movement). I'm combating the recycling by doing frequent partial water changes and adding cycle twice a week. Did my addition of 5 new fish at one time cause this?  <Likely yes> If not, what do you think did; is there anything else I should do to speed up the cycling process, and how do I prevent this from happening in the future? <Be very careful about feeding... not much... and if your ammonia and/or nitrite don't exceed 1.0ppm don't change water (as this will forestall the establishment of cycling)... and when you do such changes, make sure the water is aged (mixed up and stored for a week or more) and of very similar specific gravity, temperature... You might want to add a "Starter" culture/product of nitrogen-cycling bacteria product here... and/or mix in some filter media, substrate, live rock from another "clean" (i.e. disease-free) system from a friends tank... to speed things along as well... Please read through the "Biological Filtration" and FAQs areas on our site: http://wetwebmedia.com/biofiltr.htm and we'll be chatting. Bob Fenner> Thanks, Bill Carter

Set up, skimmers, biological filtration I love your books. My buddy loaned me two of them and I refer to them often. <Good to hear ones work is of use, interest> (I'll buy them myself as soon as he takes them back!) I'm starting another reef tank now with the Berlin system. I recall that you suggest not changing the water until the cycle is over. Tampa Bay Saltwater, from where I bought my live rock, says I should do water changes as soon as the ammonia level gets too high. <Yes to the latter... if ammonia is more than 1.0 ppm, do change a significant part of it...> The live rock they sent me is primo stuff. It's got several types of beautiful inverts and algae and I want them to survive the cycle. I'm using a protein skimmer and some power heads in the tank. I believe I read somewhere that you advise against doing water changes during the cycle because it prolongs the process which puts further stress on the system. <Yes, but with exceptions, like the ammonia or nitrite exceeding dangerous levels. Please read over the "Biological filtration" and "Live Rock Curing" FAQs areas of our site: www.WetWebMedia.com here> I'm asking via e-mail because I can't find the source again and I'm not sure where the latter information came from. Thanks, Dan Evans <A danger of stock statements on anyone's part... In general best not to make indiscriminate water changes during establishment of cycling for the reason you state, but if the system is low on biominerals, alkalinity, going out of whack nitrogen-wise, otherwise suffering significant die-off... time to change the water, quick! Bob Fenner>

Cell-Pore Mr. Fenner, I know we have talked in the past about Cell-Pore and it's benefits and I am sure we even talked about you sending you samples for your own evaluation. Recently in a routine search on web, I came across an answer you gave someone on Cell-Pore and it occurred to me that I should re-offer some samples. <Talked with someone from Cellpore who was walking the floor at a PIDA show a few years back... and am a big fan of similar (use/function) products (Eheim's Ehfi-mech, Siporax beads...). Do like your ad campaigns and product in as much as I know of it second hand> As you know, there are many products on the market that do a very good job at nitrification and even some that do an adequate job of denitrification. One of the benefits of Cell-Pore is that it can do both with little or no added maintenance. In my 72 gallon Bowfront tank, I use a 15 gallon standard aquarium sump with two (2) Cell-Pore 9x9x1 inch plates above the water line and one (1) Cell-Pore 9x9x4 block under the water line. I have the standard sponge in the overflow for prefiltering and a replaceable filter floss pads on top of the first Cell-Pore 1 inch plate. The tank has been set up since last October with 5% monthly water changes. I have a number of soft corals, 14 fish, hermit crabs, cerith snails, etc and no nitrates. In another tank, I modified a standard trickle filter by taking out all bioballs and filling the trickle area with Cell-Pore rocks measuring about 4 inches in diameter. I keep the water line high so that at most, only the tops of the rocks are ever above the water line. Again, I have zero nitrates with minimal water changes. <Remarkable> I do not recommend zero water changes as I believe they are the only way to keep certain nutrients at a reasonable levels, neither too low or too high. For trying to determine or maintain a mass balance of protein nitrogen in versus nitrate-nitrogen maintained in my system, I keep them to a minimum. <Agreed> There is a lot more information I would like to share with you, but the bottom line is I would like your honest opinion and evaluation of our material. I believe in your attitude and techniques on marine keeping. <Thank you for this... we do have several test systems here, mainly twenty gallon tanks with various types of hang-on, other external filtration. But no real number of replicate systems, practical chance for scientific comparison. Will post your/my comments to our site: www.WetWebMedia.com where we have your website linked. Please take a look over our site, the sponsors info. pages. Bob Fenner> Thanks, Rich Helferich Technical Director Cercona of America, Inc.

Cycling 135 gal tank without fish Dear Mr. Fenner: I am all ready to add water to my 135 gal aquarium and have been reading up on cycling the tank without fish using ammonia. I have a couple of questions in regards to this and I was hoping that you could answer them. After the nitrates obtain a 0 ppm reading will there still be ammonia in the tank? and if there is, do I use an Ammonia lock or ammonia clear to clear them? Or in your opinion is it just better to cycle the tank using cheapy fish? Your help has been greatly appreciated. Sincerely, Shirley <Gosh, I do have definite ideas here... one of the few times I've been on "TV" was on a "Judge Wopner" show about just this topic (folks using inorganic ammonia (an old Aq. Pharmaceuticals product) and a supposedly faulty test kit (a Sea Test one they got from one of our retail outlets)... and getting a false negative on the latter while overdosing the former... Cutting to the chase here, don't use exogenous sources of ammonia to establish nitrogen cycling... very easy just to place some live rock, move some old substrate, filter media, gunk siphoned out from an established, clean system... Take a look on the topics "Cycling", "Ammonia", "Nitrate" FAQs in the Marine Index section of our website: www.WetWebMedia.com and you will know. Bob Fenner>

Hermits, BioBale, nitrification, behavior, life, and other mysteries Dear Bob, Thanks for the advice on the hermits. It turned out that we miscalculated that alkalinity and it is 4, not 2. <Ah, good... this is fine> You can tell we're very new to this. About a month ago, we took your advice and took some gravel and water from an established donor tank (our friend, a chemistry professor who also has kept fish for years, strongly advocated your approach too).  <Good...> I guess it was about a month ago. We never saw an ammonia spike but there was definitely a nitrite spike. We had lots of diatoms and some green algae. A week after all the nitrite, nitrate, ammonia were at zero we went and got 5 beautiful little damsels (blue with yellow tails) and 3 red legged hermits (we think Dardanus megistos). After a week, it looks like we're getting an ammonia spike.  <Interesting... do you think someone overfed the tank, something died unnoticed...?> We did a water change this morning and the level is going up again. I'm panicking that we're going through a cycle again. Do you think our little hermits and damsels can survive (I won't hold you to this) or should we return them?  <How high a concentration? Don't feed, and hold off on water changes unless this level approaches 1.0ppm... > Dakin said the hermits can tolerate less than perfect water conditions but when should we spare them? Should we change water? We'd be willing to have a slower cycle as long as our creatures don't suffer and die a painful death. <I understand... but don't know where the "re-cycle" is coming from here... though, this too shall pass...> We have several questions based on our readings (and yes, we've checked your site). <Ahh, good> We have what we think is a trickle filter (it might be wet dry).  <These terms are used interchangeably> There's a tray on top to trap detritus and then bio-bale in a plastic box with as sump on the side. How much of the BioBale should be submerged in water?  <Not necessarily any of it... at this point it matters little...> If the aerobic bacteria convert the ammonia to nitrates and nitrites, it seems like the BioBale should NOT be submerged in water.  <Yes, this is correct reasoning> If that bale was submerged, does that kill the bacteria? <Hmmm, it favors different microbes, lower populations, metabolisms...> Yet in the past people used undergravel filters for their biological filtration which leads us to wonder if the BioBale should be submerged in water. <Better to best to use none... but because this is a new system, please just leave as is... we will re-visit this at a later time...> After our scare with the alkalinity we're wondering if we should have buffers on hand in case of emergencies but there are many varieties.  <Yes, and/but please don't try to add, adjust at this point... very dangerous... as ammonia, nitrite are many times more toxic at higher pH...> Ones for alkalinity not PH (that doesn't make much sense...but it sounds like alkalinity is more complex than just basic).  <Ahh, you are so right...> I know, we should not do drastic changes but sometimes things happen quickly and you said the trickle filters often make things alkaline. <Really? Should be the opposite... nitrification involves reduction of alkaline reserve, lowering of pH in captive systems...> There's some info you might be interested in. Several people responded to our post on the marine list servers that acclimation of invertebrates (crabs, starfish etc.) required much more time. We floated our guys 15 min in the bag and then 10 min of water exchange (i.e. adding water from the tank) before introduction. People recommended at least an hour of water exchange. They insisted that they learned this through painful experience. Your web site advises against prolonging this acclimation process but people seemed to be saying that this might be true for fish but not invertebrates. If so, you might want to comment on this. <Highly variable sets of circumstances at play here... and much need to define terms... For the vast majority of people "just" purchasing livestock from local fish stores there is no great advantage, and several potential downsides to "waiting" or more slowly acclimating invertebrates... at some practical limit there is no more benefit... These descriptions without quantitation are maddening... if there is no great starting differences in spg, temp. as the most important factors, than fifteen minutes is about ideal for acclimating invertebrates (in the trade, between the wild to and through penultimate end-users there is often substantially great differences (spg, temp...) and even here, the vast majority of businesses expedite acclimation...> When we first introduced our 5 little damsels they fought bloody murder with each other. Several people recommended rearranging the rocks but it did not help us. It so happens that the professor next door to my office studies cichlid behavior and I asked whether territory in this species is structured around objects in the tank or space. He said it is structured around space. <Yes...> In fact my nasty little dominant one took over half the tank, regardless of how we rearranged the rocks. What has happened, from what I observe, that the 3 dominant ones took the lower territory, near the rocks and coral where they can graze on algae. The less dominant two took the top territory of the tank. I still want to ask Russ if territories are structured in horizontal AND vertical space (as it appears to me).  <for Pomacentrids and their near freshwater equivalents, the cichlids, of a certainty, yes> I would read if you're interested (I might but for now, they're not fighting as much). It also appears that the bigger one just has a larger space he guards. This might account for why their territoriality appears to increase with age (they guard a larger region). All this is speculation and again, after I get the basics under control, I'll look at Russel Fernald. <I worked for a time on one of the local damsels behavior (the Garibaldi, Hypsypops rubicunda) toward a doctoral thesis... the behavior of fishes always an interest...> Thank you very much. Allyson C. Rosen, Ph.D. <Bob Fenner>

Re: hermits Man, you're good. Thanks for your EXCELLENT and intelligent responses. You make sense of all the inconsistencies. Allyson <Thank you my friend... an esoteric, well-practiced world to me. Bob Fenner>

Establishing a new minireef tank There certainly is a lot of contradictory information available! I hope you will help. <I will try> What is the best way to cycle a new tank. I have ordered a 70 gallon acrylic tank in which I hope to establish a reef tank with both fish and invertebrates. Should the tank be cycled with commercially available bacterial cultures, hardy fish species such as damsels, or with living rock (or a combination of the above)? <The "best" way in my estimation is the use of live rock... in a system that has been set-up, allowed to run without any life in it for a week or so (so you can be assured of the stability of the salt mix, that all the gear is in working order...), and then the rock placed, a "normal" light cycle employed, skimmer running full out, with tests for ammonia, nitrite, alkalinity, biomineral (at least calcium here) made, augmented if "too far out of whack"... much to say here... No damsels, bacteria products necessary or desirable.> Following the introduction of live rock and a stabilization of the water chemistry, should predators such as arrow crabs be introduced to remove undesirable bristleworms?  <Hmm, you've been studying it's apparent... good. IMO, no to the introduction of predators... for this purpose in the majority of home/hobbyists tanks... the time lost, consequences of having said predators is not "worth it" in my estimation... most "bristle worms" are innocuous, even beneficial... and if you should end up with one/some too-large ones they are better trapped out...> What should be the sequence of introducing livestock to the aquarium; invertebrates first or fish first? <Hmm, depends on which species these are... better overall to introduce whatever sorts of "clean up" organisms (invertebrates and fishes) you intend, soon after (a week or so) the system is "cycled" completely... to curtail algae, other pest proliferation... Then to wait a month or so... to start waves of whatever other livestock you intend...> Is there an advantage, when purchasing cured live rock through the mail, to "re-curing" in a "quarantine" tank as opposed to introducing directly into the primary "show" tank? <Very little advantage in most cases... almost all rock "cures" again when imported, moved... and best to cure in-place in the main/display tanks if possible...> Do you suggest live sand in addition to live rock? <Almost never... one "industry secret" is that all (all I've ever seen, and I have helped set up such stations around the planet for decades...) "live sand" is "manufactured" in the same way you can/will/should... by simply placing "dead sand" in a system with newer live rock...> Thank you very much for any help you can offer. IG <Anytime my friend. Bob Fenner, www.WetWebMedia.com>

Aquarium Hello, I set up a 46 gallon tank. I used Aruba shell as the substrate, and coral skeletons as decor. I have a CPR BakPak 2 (bio-filter/skimmer), and a Fluval 304 running. Also have a powerhead running for circulation. Tank has been running a little over 24 hours. I have read over your site, and the Complete Idiot's Guide to Salt-water aquariums. Please advise from this point, I could not find the information on the site. Am I ready to add Live Rock and Damsels?  <No damsels need apply... just use the LR> How much Live Rock will I need? How many Damsels to add? <A "box" or two... look over the WWM site for etailers of such... and there current specials on LR from various places... buy it this way (by the box... about 40-45# net each...), cure one box... want more? Order another... and cure it "on top" of the other...> Do you add the Live Rock and Damsels at the same time? Would appreciate your help! Thanks! Cory Kross <Ditch the "Idiot's" book... You are not one... and look into other real books on the hobby. Bob Fenner>

Removing Bioballs, Putting in Fishes Bob, I have succeeded in removing the bio-balls from my tank (65-gallon, ~60-70 pounds of live rock, 1 yellow tang and an 8" engineer goby, 1 turbo snail, lots of small snails and assorted crabs). <Ahh, quite a job... good to have it over... was the anticipation worse?> [I take it you've done this before. <<Oh yes>> Yes, it was. I did it very slowly, but never saw any problem with the chemistry. BTW, is our goby unusually large?  <<This, eight inches, is about maximum>> He's become a favorite, even though he spends all his time hidden under the rock pile...He and the tang have both been in the tank since the beginning (2 years), both being purchased at a BAS auction.] My water parameters have been quite stable. I change 5-6 gallons of water a week and clean the sump filter pad at the same time. <No worries... you should have no problems... with changes in water chemistry> I would like to add some more fish. After reading your book, I am considering a flame angel and a long-nose hawkfish. I think I'd like to add a total of 4 more fish (6 total), but figure adding two at a time is a good way to do it. <Good species, good plan> The next 2 fish I am considering are clown fish. I would LOVE to try to have an anemone as well, but I know my lighting is insufficient for that right now, so I would only try that after getting better lightings. Right now, I have 2 30w 6500K Coralife full-spectrum bulbs. I figure I'd have to triple that wattage for an anemone. <Likely yes...> [Do you think that's all I would need? Is an anemone something worth trying in a tank like mine?] <<Hmm, a tough question... not necessary for the Clown... and can be real trouble... I guess I'll side on the cautionary bit here and say... I wouldn't place one... Please read over the many Anemone FAQs archived on the www.WetWebMedia.com site and in turn, check out the links proposed for more on actinarian husbandry... many horrific and heartbreaking stories...>> Your book cautions against overstocking, but I could not find any guidelines of what, exactly, constitutes overstocking. I have another book by Dick Mills that suggests 1" of fish/5 gallons. What do you suggest? <A difficult issue, formula to elaborate... Dick is a good, cautious aquarist-writer... Do read over some "examples" of stocking I have posted under an area of the same title on the site: www.WetWebMedia.com> [I checked out the web site. I agree that less is more, so I will continue with that mindset.] <<This is wise>> I hope all is well with you. <Yes, my friend, thank you.> I spoke to the president of the Brooklyn Aquarium Society last Friday at our monthly meeting and showed him your book. He said he intends to contact you to see if you'd like to come speak to our club. I think he does most of his booking work in the summer when there are no meetings. <Look forward to it... Wife Diana's family live in NJ, perhaps I can arrange to "just be" on the East Coast sometime during your meetings.> [That would be convenient. If you're interested, you can check out the club's new web site at www.brooklynaquariumsociety.org.] <<Ah, will do so... and add the Link to the Club to WWM's site>> Thanks for your help, John <You're always welcome. Bob Fenner> [You're always gracious and helpful. Thanks again. John] <<A pleasure my friend. Bob Fenner>>

Stocking Bob, I have succeeded in removing the bio-balls from my tank (65-gallon, ~60-70 pounds of live rock, 1 yellow tang and an 8" engineer goby, 1 turbo snail, lots of small snails and assorted crabs). <Ahh, quite a job... good to have it over... was the anticipation worse?> My water parameters have been quite stable. I change 5-6 gallons of water a week and clean the sump filter pad at the same time. <No worries... you should have no problems... with changes in water chemistry> I would like to add some more fish. After reading your book, I am considering a flame angel and a long-nose hawkfish. I think I'd like to add a total of 4 more fish (6 total), but figure adding two at a time is a good way to do it. <Good species, good plan> The next 2 fish I am considering are clown fish. I would LOVE to try to have an anemone as well, but I know my lighting is insufficient for that right now, so I would only try that after getting better lightings. Right now, I have 2 30w 6500K Coralife full-spectrum bulbs. I figure I'd have to triple that wattage for an anemone. <Likely yes...> Your book cautions against overstocking, but I could not find any guidelines of what, exactly, constitutes overstocking. I have another book by Dick Mills that suggests 1" of fish/5 gallons. What do you suggest? <A difficult issue, formula to elaborate... Dick is a good, cautious aquarist-writer... Do read over some "examples" of stocking I have posted under an area of the same title on the site: www.WetWebMedia.com> I hope all is well with you.  <Yes, my friend, thank you.> I spoke to the president of the Brooklyn Aquarium Society last Friday at our monthly meeting and showed him your book. He said he intends to contact you to see if you'd like to come speak to our club. I think he does most of his booking work in the summer when there are no meetings. <Look forward to it... Wife Diana's family live in NJ, perhaps I can arrange to "just be" on the East Coast sometime during your meetings.> Thanks for your help, John <You're always welcome. Bob Fenner>

How to Safely Remove Bioballs and Add Life Rock? Hi Bob, I would really appreciate your advice. My Nitrates are a 40ppm and I change water once every week, approx 7 gals on my 90g FO tank w P/S. This doesn't seem to be reducing my Nitrate level. Are my levels presently dangerous to my fish and how quickly to I need to re-act? <Depends on what sorts of livestock you have, I would not add more till you get this down below 10 ppm> I've read your FAQs on Nitrates. It probably will come to you as no surprise that I have a Wet/Dry w Bioballs. <None at all.> How do I convert from the Bioballs to Live Rock safely, without hurting my two fish ? <This may sound overly simplistic... but all that is really involved in an established system is to take the plastic media out... put the live rock in... add lighting, perhaps macroalgae... done> A friend in Key West, who grows LR, says he can overnight Live Rock to me, that would have no die-off, (that he would take out of his own huge tanks, ship wet) which I could immediately put in my aquarium...but I'm nervous. <Don't be... no problems> Should I take out a few bioballs at a time and gradually add a little Live Rock? (Or pull all the bioballs out at once and add a lot of Live Rock?.. sound's too drastic to me) <Once again, if it were me, I'd do the switch all at once... if this system were only a couple of months, or if it makes you feel better, you can/could remove about half a week...> Please let me how best to make the conversion as I am nervous about making some awful error and hurting my fish by throwing everything out of whack. <The system is actually presently "out of whack"... with overdriven nitrification... the moves described will bring it closer to center...> Thank you so much, Jennifer <You'll soon be much better off and so will your livestock. Bob Fenner>

Re: How to Safely Remove Bioballs and Add Life Rock? Dear Bob, Thank you so much for the incredibly fast reply, I was astonished. What a fine person you are. <One tries.> One last quick one, I am ordering the Live Rock right now. Should I in the interim add a little Prime to detoxify the Nitrate? I'm not big into having a chemical tank, but was wondering if I need to do something immediately? Do I need to save the day, today? <I would not use the Prime... too many very possible ill side-effects> If not the Prime, should I wait first for the live rock to arrive in a few days or take those bioballs out, right now? <Actually no, and sorry to not be clearer about this... do leave the bioballs in till you are sure the new live rock has re-cured in your system... wait a good week to make sure there is not... Do monitor ammonia and nitrite during this time... and leave the bioballs in till there is none measuring> Thanks for being here. You are much appreciated, Jennifer <A pleasure to serve. Bob Fenner>

Cycling with uncured rock Bob, My LFS told me to cycle my new tank with uncured rock. I believe your book mentions that uncured rock is quite stinky and should be done elsewhere. Part of my 120 gal setup includes 110lbs of live rock. Should I do it? Thanks Arlene >> Hmm, can be done.. and not un-recommendable... do take a look through our site for procedure though... and don't add any livestock now (of course).  Bob Fenner: Home Page

Cycling Question I had a question regarding cycling. I have just completed my third week of cycling. Which I used Fritzyme Turbo Start. I have a 46 gallon, fish only tank. I am using a Fluval 304 Canister Filter, BakPak Bio/Skimmer and a powerhead for circulation. Aragamax is the substrate, with coral skeletons as decor. Below are my current levels, I wanted to know if is now safe to add two damsels? How long do I keep the damsels before going/adding other fish? PH-8.4 Ammonia-0.25 Nitrate-0 Nitrate-0 >> <I'd wait till you see some discernible algae growth, and/or nitrate concentration, and have no detectable ammonia... to place any fish life. You'd be safer to add some live rock in the long haul.... I'd hold off on other fish livestock till about a month after placing the damsels. Bob Fenner

Cycling how long do i have to cycle though in a 46 gal. bow front and how many fish can i put in it? i have a yellow tang, snowflake eel, and a saddleback puffer in another aquarium. when can i put those in my 46 gal? >> >> Depends on how you're doing it... have test kits? Monitor ammonia, nitrite... and when they're gone/zip, and some evidence of algae growth shows up... about time. What you list can go in a/the 46 at that time, and about one more mid-size specimen, species. Bob Fenner

Cycling How long should I cycle the water before I add fish? I have a 20 gal. hex. I added some stuff called cycle. someone told me 3 days and someone else told me at least a week. let me know. thanks Larry >> A week would be better by far... and do add only one specimen, feed sparingly, and keep monitoring aspects of cycling (ammonia, nitrite...) until you're certain the system is established. Bob Fenner

Tank Not Cycled: Thanks for this site. I just found it and am very impressed with the vast amount of sharing and information.  I have a 60G fish tank for nearly 5 months now. Couple weeks ago, I introduced about 45lbs of cured LR and the water has become very cloudy (white) since. I have tried using carbon clarifiers (both Kent and Coralife) and introducing bacteria using Cycle but all with limited success.  Is my tank going through cycling despite I have had it for > 5 months? I have 1 tang, 1 dwarf angel, couple damsels. Ammonia is <0.25, Nitrite and Nitrate close to zero, and am using Mark Weiss Coral Vita, Reef Vital, and drops of Kent Turbo Calcium everyday. Thanks! Brian >> Something is definitely amiss here... cut out all feeding for a few days... and consider adding a bit more new live rock... cut the "additives" especially the Weiss sugar product... and clean up your skimmer.... for now. Bob Fenner

Tanks will cycle Approximately 3 weeks ago, I began the process of setting up a new aquarium. I took approximately 1 week to carefully prepare the tank and water for its first inhabitants. Due to the birth of my son, I was unable to complete this step and the tank remains uninhabited. Three days ago, I noticed some small patches of bright green "carpet" algae beginning to spread. Am I correct in assuming that without any life-forms or chemical treatments, the tank will *not* cycle? If so, is this algae a problem which needs immediate correcting, or will it go away in the course of the normal cycling? Does tank water, even in my uninhabited situation, still go "bad" and, therefore need the normal water change? Thanks in advance for your time and attention! >> Good questions. Tanks will cycle, albeit slowly and unpredictably whether they have life in them (expressly) or not. There are enough nutrients in the tapwater, salts, minerals from decor and substrates... and life forms from these sources and the air (even if you're way inland from any ocean) to start up and support a surprising amount and diversity of life. The observed algae carpet spot is no problem. I would leave this patch in place and allow it to help you cycle the system. The system can be just coaxed along as it is, with you resuming the run-in period, without dumping and cleaning, or even doing water changes, as long as many weeks have not gone by. Bob Fenner

Take a look at the pertinent literature Bob, I am not trying to be a pest, but simply learn as much as I can about marine fish. My question is this, on a biological, when a fish stresses, it puts of more by-products, but also the ability of the immune system to fight disease declines. <Not necessarily... in fact, for the most part, the opposite occurs...> This explains bacteria and fungal infections, but how does ick factor in? Does the fish actually secrete less of a protective slime coating?  <No, more... the white "pimples" you see during infestations is mucus-mucin precipitant by the fish host... not the crypt.> Does the fishes immune system actual fight parasites at surface level? <Absolutely. Yes. Take a look at the pertinent literature... through a computer bibliographic system like BIOSIS, the Zoological Abstracts... at a college library...> thanks, tom >> <You're welcome... Bob Fenner>

A few... you don't list a skimmer... does this system have one? Bob,  Its me again, sorry to clog your email single-handedly but I can not figure this one out and can not find the answer on your page . I have a 55 that I set up at Christmas time and put in 35 lbs live rock to cycle it . The temp is at 78 degrees , s.g. is 1.022 , it has a Fluval 403 with some beads in it but no sponge (took that out 2 weeks ago) for circulation and a 200gph powerhead. As of this writing I have yet to ascertain a zero reading on the ammonia .It is about .2-.3 . I have tried two different test kits (both the same brand-aquarium pharmaceuticals) that I have used on my FW. tanks . I asked the LFS and they said that the test would work on fresh or marine. The tank has tons of green algae growing , mostly hair algae. Any suggestions? Thanks , Jim Bell >> A few... you don't list a skimmer... does this system have one? I would put one on.  The spg is low for running the system in cycle-wise... I would elevate it to near natural seawater (1.025). Do you have another air and water mixing (i.e. open) outside power filter you could put on this 55? A hang on? I would.... More lighting might help. Another powerhead might help, directed to circulate water through and amongst the live rock. Otherwise, with these add-ons, just letting time go by. The tank does have ammonia... from a continuing die off of live rock components, under-filtration, circulation, aeration... and will cycle given improvements, time. Bob Fenner

Cycling and bubbles Dear Bob, I have just set up a 92 gallon bow front tank as a reef tank.  It has instant ocean salt and live rock with about a 6 inch plenum. My question are why hasn't my tank cycled? In two weeks I have seen no ammonia, nitrates or nitrites. Should I add some food to the tank even though there is nothing there to eat it? Also I have a protein skimmer that is adding a lot of bubbles to the tank through the main return pump. I have heard that bubbles can irritate the corals so I would like to get rid of them - any ideas? Thank you, Rick >> Very likely your tank has/is cycled... these things happen. And I would rig up a piece of filter media, foam on the discharge of the skimmer return to coalesce those bubbles... or if there are a whole bunch, a box, hanging on the inside of the tank with bioballs for the same purpose. Bob Fenner

Bio filter Hello Bob, I've written before, and i appreciate your feedback, my problem is that i have a 55 tank still cycling (its been 6 weeks) with three damsels, which i still show no signs of ammonia, or nitrites, and the fish seem to be doing fine.  <The tank is almost undoubtedly "cycled"... you have live rock? These "things" happen> The problem is i use a two bio wheels as my bio filter connected to a magnum 350, and they accidentally got turned off and set with no water flowing for about 16 hours, to my best estimation. Do you think that this is going to kill whatever bacteria i had on my bio wheels?  <No problem... they (the wheels) will become rapidly re-populated (hours)... there are enough predominant strains, colonies of microbes to keep the system nitrifying... with or w/o the wheels...> Is this going to be a problem, and if so is there anything i can do? Also, do you think this is a unusual amount of time (6 weeks) for my tank to be cycling? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, Reade Phillips  <No worries my friend, Bob Fenner>

Can I use water from my next water change on my fresh water tank to help start my new fish-only salt water tank?? this used water will have all the "stuff" in it, but is the "stuff" going to help the salt water "stuff" get going?? thanks. nice job on your book. >> Not really... much better to get some "used" gravel, filter media... even gravel-vacuumed material and water from a good, clean MARINE source to add to your new saltwater set-up... to spur cycling along.... Or better, do this AND add some live rock. Bob Fenner

Nitrites Missing in Action Bob, In the process of cycling my tank with live rock. The rock has been in the tank for 3 weeks now. The die off smell only lasted 2-3 days. The ammonia level shot way up initially and lasted around 7-10 days. During this time I took the rock out and scrubbed off any dying material and did one 25% water change. The ammonia is now at zero and has remained there since the initial spike. My question is this, I have checked the nitrite sporadically, and the times I have checked it, it has always been at zero. Did I miss the nitrite spike? The nitrates are zero and phosphates are at 2. I am using a mature fluidized bed filter to help cycle more quickly, but I really would have thought I would have seen the nitrites spike. Puzzled?..any thoughts? Thanks, Mark >> Sometimes you do, occasionally you don't... am surprised at the zero nitrates... would have my water checked with another kit... keep an eye on that phosphate level... below, way below one ppm is where you want to be. Bob Fenner

Inquiry Dear Mr. Fenner: First of all I would like to congratulate you on your wonderful book "The  Conscientious Marine Aquarium". I have never read such a concise, thorough,  and up to date manual on aquariums. I read the whole book the night I  purchased it. It was truly enjoyable. <wowzah... it took me years to write CMA and you read it in one night!?> Even though the book provided me with tons of information I have a very  specific question. I have just set up a 54 corner saltwater tank. My goal is to make it into a  reef. To help the cycle I have been adding Bacter vital and spectra vital on  a daily basis. The labels warn that using such products will produce very  high readings of ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. If Using these products  "fools" the readings, then how do I know when my tank cycled, and how do  I know when to stop adding these additives. It has been three weeks and all  my readings (nitrite ammonia, nitrate) have been off the charts.  Info on the tank: the tank is a 54 corner. standard lights.. (will upgrade after cycling) Amiracle wet dry TurboFlotor skimmer with 80 pounds of very good live rock and fine crushed coral as substrate I would be honored from a response from you, again congratulations on your  book, Andres Cisneros >> <Thank you for the high praise... the kudos do really belong to the editors, layout folks, photographers, and many other peoples' efforts as well... To your question, I don't know how/what I'd believe re these "vital" products and your readings... In all honesty/candor, I would stop using these products at this point and let the system settle itself out... (it will, probably within a week)... and leave it at that... Bob Fenner, who doesn't mean to be chimerical.

Niger trigger Dear Bob, I am hoping that maybe you can help me with a simple question. Its seems that no matter where I am, back home in NY or down south here in Florida, I can never get a straight or consistent answer from aquarium stores. My question is: I am starting a new salt water tank, 30 gallons, with a penguin 170 power filter. Just a simple type of setup. I have had saltwater tanks before, and was always told that damsels are the best way to cycle a tank before adding any fish. I have heard that triggers, including Niger triggers, which are my favorite, can also be used. Is this true? and If not, what other fish CAN be used? thank you, Pete >> I actually really don't like using fishes of any species for establishing nutrient cycling... Would encourage you instead to use old substrate, filtrants, and live rock to get your new system up to speed... Not inorganic boosting either don't add any source of ammonia... will come in sufficiently with the live rock... More on this issue stored at www.wetwebmedia.com Bob Fenner

Product Question Bob, I have a 20 gallon quarantine tank. Unfortunately when I added a pair of Percula Clowns last week the ammonia shot up (to nearly .8)and I needed to move them immediately to my main tank. The quarantine tank had been cycled, and I left a piece of live rock in it once the last inhabitant was moved out. My question: do you recommend products such as "Cycle" be added to a quarantine tank prior to the introduction of livestock? If not, how do I prevent the ammonia spike in the future and allow the tank to be ready at all times. Thank you. >> I don't use "nitrifying starter products"... and would either have done as you did (moved the fishes, fast), or executed a large water change... with water from your main/display tank... Almost always, moving some of the water, substrate, "old" filter media.... from the "good, clean" main system is the route to go with immediately assuring cycling in quarantine/hospital systems. Bob Fenner

The pet store told me to buy some mollies to move the biological process along Bob,  I am very new to this marine fish hobby. I have a 55 gallon aquarium up and running. It has been up for two days now. I am using a biological  starter to get my tank ready. What would you suggest to help my tank  mature for fish? The pet store told me to buy some mollies to move the  biological process along? If that is a good idea, then how long will it take. Thanks! >> Hmm, well this is an archaic, though useful suggestion... but if it were me, I'd place some live rock (any amount, the more, the better), some old water, filter media, gravel... from a "clean" tank... and wait... Bob Fenner

Adding commercial "nitrifying" organism cultures Bob, We are new at this fish thing and as usually for beginners we have made some errors. We keep getting different advice and are now completely confused.  We started with a fresh water tank a couple of months ago and now have a salt water. The saltwater seems to be doing fine we know more now). The problem is the other tank we believe we added to many fish at once and cleaned the filter to much. We think maybe we do not have enough bacteria. What are your thoughts of adding some bottled stuff like cycle) to help? would it hurt the fish? or just sit back and wait. We have already lost one fish. Thank you. Brenda >> Adding commercial "nitrifying" organism cultures does little harm, and might well help... as would adding/moving some live rock to the system, and increasing aeration, circulation... in the meanwhile, if you can detect any ammonia or nitrite in this system, cut off feeding entirely... This is important, as adding more food TO THE SYSTEM (it's fed as well obviously), adds more to the livestock's woes. Bob Fenner

TESTING QUESTION Hey Bob, Thanks for your quick reply on my protein skimmer question. During the 4-6 week "cycling" period should I be doing any kind of water tests? I read on a discussion board someone recommending putting raw shrimp in the tank to cycle it. Do you recommend this and how much should I put in for a 46 gal. tank with 65 lbs. of live rock. Thanks, Rob O. >> Nope to the raw shrimp (if you have extras, send them my way), there's plenty of nitrogenous starter material in/on the live rock... no organic or otherwise source need be added. And yes to the tests... I would use the usual "windows" into water quality: ammonia, and nitrites... and make a big water change if/when they get/go critical (lest a large part of your rock-biota join the fray). Bob Fenner

Cellpore material As a fishkeeper interested in keeping nitrates to a minimum I am interested in your opinion with the Cellpore material put out by Cercona. I read an article in FAMA recently that praised it for it's biological filter attributes as well as denitrification. Any experience with the denitrification properties of Cellpore ? Thanks ! >> No extensive personal experience, but I do concede that this material should be an effective nitrifying and denitrifying surface... Have much more background (even scientific research) on the use of other silicate and ceramic based materials (Siporax and Ehfi-Mech)... and they do definitely work. Would either place some sort of mechanical filter media (sponge or wool/Dacron) ahead of these materials to prevent clogging, and/or rinse them lightly periodically (let's say once a month). Bob Fenner

Undergravel filter Hi Bob I have a 185 gallon salt tank with live rock, large canister filter and two sponge bio filters, should I install an under gravel filter? Thank you, Debra Marshall >> Not necessarily... I'd hold off for now, if the tank is already up and going... Some folks still rely on these older style devices to aid in biological filtration... and even some mechanical. It's the latter that can cause troubles, via some of the chemical, physical and biological reactions that can/do take place with the trapping of large amounts of mulm in and under the filter plates and substrate. Do you have a skimmer, aka a foam fractionator? I would definitely add one of these tools to your filtration gear. Bob Fenner

BioWheel filters In today's column there was the following question and answer. He says he changes his BioWheel filters. I have a tank with BioWheels, and the instructions say you're not supposed to change them, because it messes up the bacteria colonies. This is right, correct? Could that be giving this person problems? I want to know that I'm operating my BioWheels correctly. Thanks, Jason from Chicago >> Though my old co-attendee at San Diego State, Tim Hovanec (big research type at Marineland that makes these wheels) claims otherwise, we independently tested their filters years back... taking the spinners off of some tanks, of differing salinities and stocking densities... and found, "no difference" in their bioload, conversion capabilities... For the most part, if your system is "established", with live rock, some sand... removing the wheels doesn't do much if any harm, IMO. The microbes in question live most everywhere in a going system... on all surfaces... the forward reactions of nitrification are just driven faster by having more "wet-dry" media. Bob Fenner I added the live rock about 3 weeks ago QUESTION: I have a 75 gallon aquarium [which has] has been up and running for a little over a year. I added the live rock about 3 weeks ago. I purchased cured rock from a local fish store where I have purchased my fish. Here is my problem. When I checked my ammonia yesterday morning before leaving for work, it was off the charts (a dark, dark green color). At about 7 p.m., I changed 10 gallons of water. I added my calcium supplements, changed my bio-wheel filters, added Cycle and did all my usual weekly maintenance procedures. This morning, my water was extremely cloudy. I checked my ammonia level and nitrite level and they are both off the charts. And on top of that, my Desjardin Tang is looking extremely ill. (He's been that way for about 3 days.) What am I doing wrong? The water change should have brought it down, right? I don't have anything dead because all my creatures are present and accounted for. Bob's Answer: Nothing you are doing is wrong. Your live rock (new, cured or so-so) is "re" cycling. At this point, if you have the flexibility I would move all your livestock and leave the rock to re-center itself. If you can't move the livestock, you will have to risk metabolite poisoning... as you've been doing with water changes. Hold off on most all feeding and let time go by. Do move at least the larger fishes (to a hospital/quarantine system? Friends tank?)  Thanks for all of your advice, I had one more quick question for you. As you often mention, wet-dry filters produce an abundance of nitrates.  However, I don't understand how more nitrates can be produced from the same amount of ammonia, I would think that for every NH3 and NH4 (ammonia) molecule you get one molecule of NO3 (nitrate), and that wet-dry filters would only remove the ammonia faster. Are there other chemicals in the water that the bacteria convert to nitrate? Thanks for your help! >> Ah, a delight. Yes indeed, there are other materials that are readily "broken down" (okay, fancy term anabolized...) chemically and physically ... due to the physical aspect of system water splashing on and about the plastic et al. wet-dry media... Think of oh-so many large and small "Alka-Seltzers"... you can imagine that if they were all smushed up (non scientific term) and spread over a larger surface area (more water than air in our example), they'd dissolve much more quickly... what happens instead in an aquarium is a bunch of the "bound up" nitrogenous material (food, solid wastes) stay that way, or get removed via other processes than "the greatest story ever told" microbial nitrification route... like gravel vacuuming, abiological mineralization (this is where all the big scale "storage" of nutrient occurs that sometimes resurfaces... via volcanism, el Ni?/a... on the surface events of this planet... Well, is this explanation any more satisfying? Or should we delve further? Bob Fenner

Cycling with dead coral? I have a 29 gal. aquarium with a yellow tang and a maroon clown in it. I have  had the tank set up for two weeks. a put a dead coral from my ten gallon tank  and a bio-wheel with a old cartridge. The pet store says it is cycled. i had  a high nitrate reading and put live rock in it. Now my nitrates are perfect.  Now (the day after) I have a high ammonia reading. is my tank cycled and  will my fish be okay? Greg. >> The tank is actually "re-cycling" with some of the new live rock organisms perishing and overwhelming your existing and imported nitrifiers... and/but you should be okay as long as the ammonia doesn't spike too fast (hours) or too high (more than 1 ppm)... You do have a skimmer? It is clean and running full blast? As in, if it's an airstone type, you've got good, clean diffusers on it? The contact chamber on it is slime free?... If the ammonia spikes too much/too soon, do a large water change... Feed your fishes sparingly while the system is re-centering... and don't place any more livestock till all is settled down... plus a few weeks. Bob Fenner

Tank conversion and adding new life Bob, I wrote your once before and you were very helpful and would appreciate a little more help. I am just about to convert my 37 gal tank to a 120 gal with a 120 gal sump. The sump is 32" x 34"x 32" and is located under my steps in the basement. The new system has an ETSS down draft skimmer that will skim prior to the water entering the sump from the main tank. Just before the pump for the skimmer we installed a tee fitting with one end feeding the pump and the other as an overflow into the sump if the pump can't keep up. Last time I wrote you recommended putting 4-6 inches of sand in the sump. First question, what if I put in a foot of coarse sand in the sump install a pipe with holes drilled in the pipe for the first foot below the sand) with an air stone at the bottom of the pipe to pull air from the sand bed, would this work or is this asking for trouble? My friend who came up with the idea thinks this will help and the increased sand will help buffer the tank and keep the PH constant. After I test my system for leaks and then allow the saltwater to cure for 3 to 4 days. I will be adding 40 lb. of live sand and whatever amount of aragonite that it takes to bring the main tank up to about two inches in depth, like you suggested. Now the second question, once the ph matches my old tank and there is no Ammonia, Nitrate or Nitrite can I add the live rock (35-40lbs) from my old tank along with a six line wrasse, a regal tang, clown fish and about 10 mushrooms to the tank at once or do I need to move them over a period of time while watching for spikes in the Ammonia? Somewhere in the next month I will be adding the live sand/aragonite to the sump at depth that you think is appropriate. After that cycles what should be the next thing that should be added to the tank, rock, corals or fish? I was thinking about adding more live rock about 80 to 90 pounds and then slowly start stocking fish and corals. My overall goal is to have reef setting with about 10-12 fish. I will be using four foot VHO lights, two actinic and two 10,000K along with two start-up actinic lights. Will this be sufficient to grow soft corals? What kind of lighting should I provided for my sump if any? Thanks again for all of your help! >> Some upgrade now! You're soon to think (temporarily) that you have "all the space in the world"... and flexibility galore with that equal size sump.  I would review the possibilities in putting together an in-sump NNR (natural nitrate reduction) system, with a plenum of a couple of inches of hypoxic water space, under three or four inches (of two graded) sand... maybe with a fiberglass screen between the two grades of sand. I would not use the one foot deep media in any case... real troubles in cleaning, managing such a deep bed... and in all honesty, no real need for your set-up... you'll get plenty of, pH stabilization, biological filtration and calcium et al. addition from the NNR arrangement. Do put the non-living aragonite in first with whatever live sand on top of it... rather than the casual opposite reference in order you make above. And do place some live rock, new or moved from your existing system... as soon as the system is stable... about a week after set-up... this will help speed the sort of establishment of microbes you want. If it were me, I'd add the new rock after the first week... wait a good month or two... with vigorous skimming, possible water changes should ammonia, nitrite get too high... and place the "old" live rock on and around it on the day you decide to move the rest of the livestock. The proposed lighting is not intense enough... either consider adding two more VHO output lamps (10k or other)... or if you haven't purchased the fixtures yet, look into compact fluorescents and the actinics instead... you'll be glad you did. Bob Fenner

Phosphate media Hi Bob, quick question for ya. I bought a phosphate remover for my aquarium (lots of algae)...when I got home I realized it was for freshwater aquariums. There's only two ingredients, Aluminum Sulfate, and Sodium Sulfate. Is it going to be dangerous for my saltwater fish? (especially the eel) Thanks for the info. Steve >> Not dangerous, but of dubious utility. I'd pull it myself. Check out Polyfilter if you want a nutrient remover that works... and/or competitors for light/nutrient (my fave, good live rock), predators (like lawnmower blennies)... And what about your filtration? Do you clean your skimmer? How efficient is it? Do you notice it collecting more, less, no material at times? You should. That is, it shouldn't be simply collecting a little all the time. Bob Fenner Not a real skimmer Thanks for the info. The "protein skimmer" I originally bought was not a true protein skimmer (I didn't know the difference at the time) its artificial sand and rock in a cylinder, water gets pushed up through the sand and rock and out the top...its worked 20 times better for bio filtration. once the tank originally cycled no matter what I added (live rock, the eel) the ammonia never became detectable. (A real problem I had with my bio wheel filter before). Anyway, I bought a real protein skimmer (those things are expensive for plastic!!). It doesn't quite fit with my tank right so I ordered some tubes from Petstore.com that should make it work....so to make a long story short (too late) I don't have a real protein skimmer hooked up yet. Do you think that will solve my problem? It's getting on my nerves. I've cut back on the lighting schedule it really hasn't helped a whole lot. Thanks again. Steve >> The new "real" skimmer definitely will help. Your old unit is some sort of fluidized bed filter, and as you know, it's really only a good and fast nitrifying biological filter. Have patience my friend, and keep that skimmer going. Bob Fenner 

I am "upgrading" from a 75 gallon to a180 gallon Bob, First of all thanks for all your contributions to this wonderful aquatic adventure! I have spoken to you some time ago about specifics on corals, algae, etc. Once again I need help. I am "upgrading" from a 75 gallon to a 180 gallon. I plan to have holes drilled in the bottom of the tank to accommodate plumbing to the sump. I know what type of water movement I need for this size, what I don't know is what size PVC to use as well as what size holes to have drilled in order to accommodate the 1,000+ GPH turnover in water. I have not yet made a sketch of my plan to help explain. Hopefully, you will be able to help. Although I am planning to use the Berlin style filtration, I may end up abandoning the whole idea and go with the Plenum (whereas, I won't need the holes). Anyway, what's your take on this? Would the Plenum be a better choice over the Liverock with simple mechanical filtration/skimming? Would a sketch help out on this one? Thanks a lot and I'll be talking to you later. Jon >> Hmmm, sounds like a nice upgrade... And, you're right re trying to figure these things (plumbing size) without a drawing, but a few generalizations should help. Check out the pumps fitting size on the volute (the part that covers the impeller where the water comes in and is thrown out), and let this be a guide to what size diameter to use. In other words, don't "bush down" the size of these fittings (likely something like one inch intake, 3/4" discharge... Further, a couple of suggestions: Do supply a schedule 80 (rate 800 PSI) "grey" fitting nipple (of whatever length), over the (likely) male threaded discharge, and secure this fitting (not with Teflon tape, pipe dope... but with) silicone rubber (trust me here) intended for aquarium use. This joint compound will take up the bulk of vibration (even if you secure the pump to some sort of base), prevent leaking/salt creep, and "give" without causing the plastic to deform... and facilitate it's possible future removal.  And, do get and apply a true union BALL valve (don't use gates) shortly before and after the pump... to facilitate it's removal (REALLY trust me here). You will want to someday (sooner than you think) remove this unit, work on it... and not have water dripping to running all over...  And, do get a friend who's "been here, done this" to look over your schematic and shoulder. Two heads are better than...? Bob Fenner, who, indeed, does have a lot more to say on the subject, but has to go make more coffee. Oh, and the plenum idea... I would still have the bottom drains (very handy for changing water, and a good idea to periodically drain from here), but am not a big fan of placing such NNR... purposeful anaerobic/hypoxic denitrators in the main tank... too inflexible and too many maintenance problems down the line... I situate them in separate sumps that can be manipulated more easily. Bob Fenner

I wanted to know if when making a plenum type system you could have to much substrate? My system is set up like this: 2 inches off the glass is eggcrate covered by a nylon screen, on top of this is 2 inches of coarse aragonite Florida sand and crushed coral, on top of this is another nylon screen, on top of the screen is 2 inches of fine Florida aragonite sand, and on top of that is 1 inch of very fine marine land live sand (the kind that comes in the 20 pound bag). The tank has 2 damsels, lots of hermits, snails, and a few cabbage corrals. Everything in the tank looks fine, the corals, polyps and mushrooms are open, the Caulerpa is green and wavy. It looks really nice, but it has been 2 weeks and my nitrAtes are off the chart (>160), I have had it tested at my LFS with the same results. What do you recommend doing? David There can be only one! >> The one that can be named is not the eternal one.  The arrangement you mention is fine. Much depends on substrate size and angularity rather than depth... this should be fine. Bob Fenner

Become a Sponsor Features:
Daily FAQs FW Daily FAQs SW Pix of the Day FW Pix of the Day New On WWM
Helpful Links Hobbyist Forum Calendars Admin Index Cover Images
Featured Sponsors: