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FAQs on Marine Water Quality involving Ammonia 1

Related Articles: Ammonia, Nitrates, Nitrites, Establishing Cycling, BioFiltrationPhosphate, Silicates

Related FAQs: Marine Systems Ammonia 2Marine Systems Ammonia 3, Ammonia 4, Importance, Science, Measure, Control, Chemical Filtrants, Troubleshooting, Test Kits for Marine Systems, Nitrates, NitritesPhosphate, SilicatesChemical Filtrants

Using and cleaning good mechanical filters like the bag to the right, will greatly reduce the likelihood of ammonia anomalies.

Nitrogen Cycle Fails to Start - 9 Mar 2005 I found your e-mail on Wet Web Media, and was trying to find an answer on early cycling of my marine tank (I also have your book).  <Okay> My set up is 210 litre tank (60 x 60 x 60 cm), with synthetic salt mix (tab water pre-treated with conditioner to neutralize chlorine and chloramines). <I see> 3 cm of crushed marble substrate (no buffering there, looks nice), 2 Via Aqua Canister filters, 6.5 litre capacity each, 1000 litres/hour circulation. One has only bioballs, the other filter wool, ceramic noodles, and outflow inline with a Merlin fluidized bed filter.  Tunze Turbelle internal circulation pump (6000 litres an hour), Deltec MCE 600 Protein Skimmer (rated for 450 - 700 litres), Jager 200 watt heater. <So far...> I have made some rock from white cement + crushed marble and coral sand (22 kg) and that will need to soak in water for at least 6 weeks to remove the pH lime effect. <Good> Later when it is safe to put them in the tank, I wanted to get a small live rock to sit on the cement rocks to make it live over time. Macroalgae does not fall from the sky (micro does). The tank set up would then have redundancies in filtration (but that may not be a bad thing). <Well stated> For now I wanted to cycle without fish. The Fluidized Bed Filter came with a packet of ammonia crystals, and I also added three cocktail shrimp (2 cm long). The water smelled bad in 48 hours, and removed the shrimp bits. I have added two "bottles," of StressZyme over the last three weeks, water temperature 25 degrees C. <Okay> My present external system for now should be a real nitrite >> nitrate farm. <Perhaps... in a while> Testing after three weeks, I have nothing to show for it. Ammonia levels are 8 ppm, nitrite zero, nitrate zero, pH 8.2 I have a sterile tank, which is lethal to all marine life. <Yes... and the ammonia... is actually way too high... principally at fault here for forestalling cycling> I have read the bacteria will grow quicker with a higher temp, so I have set it to 30 degrees today (can turn in it down later).  Bacteria are supposed to just fall from the sky anyway (in time). <Yes> Is this just a mater of more time, and wait, or is the high ammonia level acting as a disinfectant? <Ahhh! Bingo! As they say in the States> Do you have any suggestions? All the Best from New Zealand. Mike Lomb <Yes my friend. Do execute a good sized water change (perhaps 3/4) or add a bit of mitigating filter media, conditioner to render the ammonia concentration less than 2.0 ppm... and try to keep it there... or lower... Otherwise... it is "a matter of time"... or something that can be sped up... Have you read this? http://www.wetwebmedia.com/estbiofiltmar.htm re Establishment of nitrification in marine systems? It might give you solace to review others (the linked Related FAQs above) experiences... It reads as if you "Know what you're doing" and have a nice set-up here... all that is really needed is a bit more time... and possibly diluting the ammonia. Bob Fenner> 

Ammonia spike (8-22-03) Howdy!  <Hey!  Cody here today.> For the past couple of weeks, I have been battling an ammonia problem. First, a snail died - no biggie. Then another, and another. I ran a test, and found ammonia somewhere between the 0 and .25. Started doing water changes (30 gallons on a 140) every day. No change. Added Amquel, tried Kent another day, Seachem another day  <No more chemicals please.>  - all with no change, and still doing the 30 gallons every day. In fact, it is now WORSE. The level is .5 (that test is sooo green!) and I can't find the reason why the level is going UP and not down. I'm in a panic! I've cleaned all the filters three times a week, the skimmer - everything. My corals are all gone, most of the snails, and even a starfish isn't looking so hot. Luckily, no loss of fish yet. Parameters are: Ammonia .5, PH 7.9 (down from 8.4), Trate and Trite are 0, phos is almost nil. Calc is between 450 and 500, Alk is "high". What do you make of this, and do I do? I'm tempted to dump out ALL of the water and start over - bad as that is!  <My first thought is either something is dead or dying.  Check all creatures and make sure you get the ones that are dead out of there ASAP.  There is not much I can think of right know but keep up with the water changes and let me know what is still in there for fish and such.  Cody>  Help! Please? -Cathy <>< Fort Worth, TX

Tank Cycling: Maximum ammonium levels Hi, I am cycling a tank using live rock and sand (with lots of life in it).  I was told I should do water changes to keep the ammonia level below the "high" level indicated by my ammonia test kit.  My ammonia test kit reads ppm.  What ppm is "high" such that I should perform a water change to reduce it until the "cycle" kicks in and reduces it? Thank you very much, -Shawn <Hello Shawn, I would not worry too much about this, it will eventually balance out.  If your ammonia levels start getting close to 1.0ppm, I would do a water change.  There is a good article about cycling at the link below. Best of luck, Gage http://wetwebmedia.com/estbiofiltmar.htm>

Ammonia is 0 Dear Bob / Steven, My 70 UK gallon system is almost fully established, thanks to your advice and support. Nevertheless, the questions never end! Don't expect you to remember the details, but I set the whole thing back a few weeks ago by rinsing some of the filter media under a tap (no more cringing please!), destroying the precious few microbes & bringing on the ammonia! Already had my little Lipstick Tang & Bicolor Blenny in there, but they are alive and happy as I write three weeks on - again thanks to your advice: Patience! - and now the ammonia is 0, although the nitrite/nitrate stage has yet to settle completely, I'm planning on adding my third fish, a young Scopas Tang, in the next few days. <Please wait until at least two weeks after both ammonia and nitrite have reached zero before adding any new fish.> I've read and heard mixed opinions about the adding order of these fish; some say the Lipstick should have gone in last, but my stockist suggested it should be first. <Truthfully, I would have never recommended a Naso for a 70 gallon tank.> Of course it's there now, and the only other fish I'm planning to add to this fish-only system is a Blue Trigger. The Blenny has rocks for safety, but do you foresee any problems between these three larger fish? <Minimal fighting between the two Tangs, but nothing extraordinary.> The Lipstick is around 3 1/2", and has considered herself alone for about five weeks now. My stockist has acquired the other two, both a little larger than her. And just to remind you, I'm asking you good people because my shop doesn't tend to come up with crucial answers in time! The other question is: Now that I have algae, microbes and zero ammonia, is it ok to replace the white sponge in my filter, as it's looking pretty yuck! <If this is a prefilter, yes.> I've also resumed 10% water changes weekly. Thanks, Hamish, UK. <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>

Re: Ammonia is 0! Dear Bob, Brief update: After making the mistake of rinsing some filter foam under a tap, and as a result of you and your team's invaluable advice, I waited patiently and less than 2 weeks later my ammonia level is 0! However, I have a new problem, hopefully not as serious. According to Nutrafin testing, my ph is around 7.8, and my KH is around 160 mg/l. <Your alkalinity is approximately 9 dKH. A little on the low side.> Too low & too high. <Actually both low.> I purchased Salifert's KH & ph buffer, but I'm not a pro yet, and I'm not sure if this is the right thing to do right now. Also, is meq/l the same as mg/l, <No> as this is the measurement given on the bottle re: how much to use? <My advise remains the same. Do water changes, as adding chemicals does nothing to lower the amount of dissolved organics that are lowering your pH and consuming your alkalinity.> I have a couple of fish in there (being a 70 UK gallon fish only tank), the system's nearly three months old. Suggestions? <See above and previous emails.> Thanks again, Hamish. <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>

Re: High ammonia levels. Dear Bob, Was talking to my stockist about using "Nori", and they asked me if I was sure that it didn't contain oil. Bought it from a super-market in a sealed pack, made by a company called Sanchi, and it simply reads: ingredients: Nori (Porphyra tenera). Green light? <Yes... nothing else added here> You suggested I used this stuff whilst I was waiting for my ammonia level to go down, now at about 0.6 (much better!). And is this the same type of low pollutant stuff as purple seaweed (Porphyra umbilicalis), which I was already using? <Bingo> Also, the patches of brown/red algae have really started coming up on pretty much everything, which the blenny loves (bicolor, & my other fish is a little lipstick tang), and while I recognize this as a sign of "life establishment", <Yes, well put> & bearing in mind that you advised me not to clean anything till the ammonia was 0, can you give me any tips about controlling it?  <Yes sir. Please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/algaeasfriend.htm> Should it turn green? My system is now nearly 11 wks old. Your advice as always will be much appreciated. Hamish, UK. <You're on a/the right track. Bob Fenner>

Ammonia! Hi Bob, <Steven pro in this morning.> I heard a lot of good things about you and I really need your help. My new tank is 125 gallons. I set up my tank 3 days ago and I added the salt mix 2 days ago (Instant Ocean). Last night, I tested for ammonia, ph, and nitrite. The ph was 8.3, nitrite was 0, but the ammonia was 0.3 ppm. How come? I just add the salt mix and I did not add any ammonia source. <No liverock or livesand either?> So I test my tap water but no ammonia was present. Can you help me to explain what's going on. I hope you could help. <It is probably from chloramine in your tap water. Most municipalities have moved from chlorine to chloramine. Chloramine is a combination of chlorine and ammonia. It is stronger and lasts longer than just chlorine. Your water conditioner may have just neutralized the chlorine and released the ammonia. -Steven Pro> Re: Ammonia! HI, Thanks for your reply. I am testing my tap water now and the ammonia is 0 ppm. <As it should be, because it is chloramine.> Could it be the salt mix? <Highly doubtful.> I don't know perhaps it was not in a dry place (it happens). <Then it would clump, not generate ammonia.> Any way, is it OK? <Should be fine.> Once I add a salt mix in my tank and the ammonia raise to 0.6 am sure it is the salt mix but it didn't harm the animals. So is it OK? (WHEN THE NITROGEN CYCLE STARTS THE AMMONIA SHOULD BE 0) <When the nitrogen cycle is COMPLETED, your ammonia and nitrite will be zero. -Steven Pro>

Ammonia Woes Dear Bob, I live in the UK, just south of London, and although I have a very "clean" & established stockist locally, I tend to find that I'm only informed of my mistakes after I have made them.  <A universal feature my friend> In short, I'm new to this, and sometimes feel like I'm stumbling around in the dark. <Let us share with you> Having read countless FAQs on your website, I'm convinced that you are indeed the Aqua Mecca, and would appreciate some advice/support on my latest "sin"! <Ha!> Having set up a 70 (UK) gallon system, left it for approx. 6 weeks to mature, adding bacteria cycle etc., I purchased a lipstick tang, 3 ins, that seemed to settle in right away. About 10 days later, added a small bicolor blenny, and also purchased an ammonia test kit, already having done nitrate tests with satisfying results. The ammonia level seems to have been slowly rising from 0.2 - 1.0 gradually, and then today committed what my stockist has called the worst sin of them all; I rinsed the white sponge-type material from the filter medium under a tap for a couple of minutes.  <Yikes! Why?> Apparently this has put me back to start-up stage, and my fish will probably suffer/perish for it.  <Not necessarily... be very careful about feeding...> I haven't performed any other bacteria-removing cleaning other than that, changed my water last week (10%), and am preparing some more for tomorrow: I have a Turboflotor protein skimmer, a Quicksand sand-filter, a Tropical Marine UV sterilizer in a sump system, together with the sponge and carbon, and the tank has no live rock, only ocean rock. Is it true? Am I/they in for a rough time? <Not necessarily. Do monitor your ammonia, cease feeding if the reading approaches 0.5 ppm, and consider adding a bit more bacteria product, some live rock if possible> I look forward to your advice with a grimace! Yours, Hamish Allan. <The worry is likely worse than actual problems here... remember, cleanliness is not sterility. Don't clean anything, change any water till you ammonia reading is zero. Bob Fenner>

High Ammonia Dear Bob, Thought I'd just briefly update you: Last week I emailed you from England explaining my beginner's mistake (rinsing the filter media under a tap - I cringe now I realize what I did!). <Yikes... "and away go all the beneficial microbes down the drain"> Almost a week on, the fish are still showing no signs of stress (a lipstick & bicolor blenny), and my ammonia level is slowly going down (1.2 - 0.8 now, Nutrafin test), but I'm feeding them every other day; the lipstick is, shall we say, slim (and 3 1/2 ins), I've never over-fed her. In your email advising me what to do, you said I should cease feeding if the reading was 0.5 or above. You also advised not to clean anything or change any water till the reading is zero.  Questions!: 1, should I stop feeding altogether or, if anything, brine shrimp, dried seaweed, lettuce? <Go to the oriental food section of your food market and purchase "Nori" sheet algae... cut in strips and hang at edge of the tank, twixt the tank lip and top to hold in place. Not much pollution from this food type and generally eagerly taken by Nasos> 2, would a 10% water change help or not at this stage, <Would hurt at this stage... only ten percent dilution of noxious compounds, but would/will set back the re-establishment of nitrification> and 3, something altogether different, I've noticed small ruddy-brown patches appearing on my rocks/decor; is this algae, and is it good? <Is algae, is a good sign> (My tank's been up and running for nearly 10 weeks). I look forward to your reply, Hamish. <Do give a read over the WetWebMedia.com site re any questions (there's a search tool there) and if you'd like others input, try our chatforum: http://wetwebfotos.com/talk/ In the meanwhile, remember the virtuousness of patience. Bob Fenner>

Re: High ammonia levels. Hi Bob, Just want to confirm I've bought the right stuff - amazed to find it stocked in my local supermarket!- the only "Nori" I could find was a Japanese roasted seaweed, packed dried in sheets. Is that right? Cheers, Hamish. <Yummmm, wish we were at the sushi bar right now. This is it. Bob Fenner>

Re: Ammonia, pH anomaly  Mr. Fenner: Thank you for your reply. This is my first major tank event in 4 years and nothing quite like this has happened before. I would be grateful if you would agree to survive another round of questioning! <Glad to try help> The tap water we use has perfect KH, pH, NH3 and O2 levels, is pre-treated with chlorine, chloramine and ammonia removers, and is aerated. The events I have no answer for: 1. Literally overnight, a 100 gallon water change lowered pH and KH and raised NH3.  <Re the six lines above... be aware that w/o notice or regard the water districts will/do pulse chloramine (have recorded 32 ppm...)... and other anomalies (here in San Diego, occasionally a good deal of alum (aluminum sulfate) is sent through the lines (pipes) for a couple of stated reasons... Both of these materials would result in what you observed> I wrote that water changes are supposed to help, and they do, but in this instance, it really messed up our readings! (The tank water was perfectly buffered before this water change!) Could it be we stirred up some material that was settled and this caused the above readings? <Yes... but the tank/s would have had to possess a tremendous amount of "mulm"... and/or re-release some materials into the water that seem unlikely> 2. I can't reason through the chemistry behind the simultaneous high NH3 and low pH readings. Exactly how does NH3 cause low pH? <Most commonly through a co-reaction... the higher ammonia (ionized or not) resulting in loss of life (macro and otherwise), the resulting reductive events of decomposition dropping the pH... Or alternatively whatever triggers a drop in pH causing a loss of life, its breaking down producing/releasing ammonia by decomposition...> 3. I have been consulting with a microbiologist about the metabolism of P. aeruginosa. Have you heard of any instances where an infection has profoundly altered the water chemistry?  <Only speculations> I would tend to think that for this to happen the infection would have to be pretty heavy, <Very much so... unrealistic scenario> but my fish are showing no signs of stress. He has also mentioned that a heavy infection would compete with nitrifying bacteria (this is happening too), but again if the infection was that heavy, wouldn't the fish be suffering? <Yes... of a certainty. Bob Fenner> Kristen Schmid Senior Animal Keeper The Newark Museum Mini-Zoo 49 Washington St. Newark, NJ 07102

Ammonia Problem "Treated" with Stress-Zyme Bob, I have used on occasion when the ammonia was around 0.50 ppm, this product called Stress Zyme. The product works well and in about a week or less the ammonia goes to 0. They recommend to add 5 ml per 20 gallons once a week. Only weird thing it affects the protein skimmer, does not damage it just does not let work to full capacity. I have stop using it because I don't have an ammonia problem anymore. Have you ever heard of this? <Have heard of this... many things strongly affect skimmers/skimming, even foods. If you experience ammonia in half a ppm of concentration, you need to be looking for the root cause/s (lack of filtration, too much livestock...) and fixing them, not adding something as a stop-gap measure. Bob Fenner>

Ammonia Problem "Treated" with Stress-Zyme II I agree and I realize it was when I added a new specimen the ammonia went up. Of course this is normal. <Actually, no, not normal... there should be enough inherent capacity to make up for adding new livestock. You should see no ammonia at all. Bob Fenner>

Ammonia Problem "Treated" with Stress-Zyme III Oh, maybe it has to do with my Eco System 40. I only had it for a year. My live stock in this is 45 lbs LR,(1) med yellow tang, (1) sm clownfish, (2) turbo snails (1) peppermint shrimp, (1) xenia sm patch, and (1) large bubble coral. All in a 45 gal bow front tank. <I would have to agree with Bob, who is off in Sacramento. This is a very light bioload with a healthy amount of liverock. You should never see an ammonia spike, particularly after one year of setup. You should examine other causes. -Steven Pro>

Ammonia Problem Hello everyone! Once again, thank you all so much for all of the help! <You are welcome.> So- The current problem... I've had a 75 gallon fish only tank cycling with 6 Chromis for about 6 weeks. About a week ago the nitrites were still in the 4-5 ppm range. So, I added about 25 pounds of Fiji live rock (which had been cured in the LFS for about a month). Today the Nitrites have hit zero. My problem, though is that my ammonia level has been at 0.25 ppm for about a month. So, my current parameters are: pH 8.2 spg 1.0225 temp 78 degrees ammonia 0.25 nitrites 0 nitrates 0 To combat this problem, I have tried several things. First, I increased water flow. Originally, I just had a 700 gph Mag-Drive return pump from my sump to provide circulation. I've added two 200 gph powerheads. Then I increased the time that my lights were on from 7 hours a day to about 12 (by the way, I just have the metal halides that came with my AGA tank). <The powerheads were good. The lighting will not help. You should light for what you photosynthetic animals require.> I took a look at my feeding practices, but I don't think they're excessive. Twice a day I feed the Chromis what they can eat in about 2.5 minutes. I turn off the return line for this period so that none of the food gets into the filters. And, none of it has a chance to hit the bottom of the tank (or anywhere close). <All sounds good.> So, I finally suspected my test kit. I was using the "Saltwater Master Test Kit" from Aquarium Pharmaceuticals. I tried the Salifert ammonia test kit. Although they're not very specific with their range (they jump from 0 to 0.5), I estimate the result to be about the same, 0.25 ppm. <I like both kits. The AP ammonia kit can be a little hard to read.> Do you have any suggestions? <You may just need a little more time.> I'm contemplating adding more live rock, but I think that my biological filter should be adequate (I have a Amiracle wet/dry trickle that's rated for up to 200 gallons). <Liverock can never hurt.> My other thought is turning on my protein skimmer, but I don't want to interfere with the cycling process (if that's the problem). <It probably won't help, but I would fire it up anyhow. I would like to see you remove a lot of the nutrients accumulating now to avoid future algae problems.> Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated! I'm very excited to add some more fish, but of course I'll wait until this problem has been solved. <Good to hear you are willing to be patient because my advise for now is to wait it out.> Thanks! -Jes <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>

Ammonia emergency Hi Bob, <Anthony Calfo in your service while Bob travels Australia taking more fantastic pictures for WWM. Although, he did get some funny looks in the Public Aquarium with his tripod setup while shouting at a porcupine puffer through the glass to "vogue" and "give me pouty...now give me a pouty look!"> I was wondering if you could help me.  <I assure you... it is I that need help... hehe> I have looked through the FAQ's and can't find a similar situation (although I sure have learned a lot about other things!). This is a long story, but I think you need to know the background to help. My husband and I have a 90 gallon fish only tank. We have a wet-dry filter, a protein skimmer, and a canister filter. (all rated for 90 gallons or more) The first week that we set up the tank we added the sand, fake corals, and water and let it sit for about a week. The second week we added 20 lbs of live sand and 6 damselfish. 3 weeks into it we had not had any readings for ammonia, nitrates, or nitrites. The people at the aquarium store said that sometimes when you use live sand, you don't see any ammonia spike.  <ehhh...not exactly true. A lot of live sand can temper a spike, but cured live rock is better and neither are likely to great in a tank in one week (the time from week 2 addition to the statement at week 3)> So that week we traded in 2 damselfish for a Sailfin tang. A couple of days later, we brought back the other damselfish because they were picking on the tang. We traded those in for a pink-tailed trigger. The next week we added a flame Hawkfish and a powder brown tang. So 5 weeks into this we had 4 fish and still no readings for ammonia, nitrites, or nitrates.  <wow...even in a fully cycled tank...this is a lot of fish to add so fast. I understand your eagerness... I certainly have been there too. I just wish that you hadn't got the same bad advice that I did from salespeople all to eager to make a sale> About 4 days ago (week 6), we had a big ammonia spike, it was off the charts for our test kit. We did a 50% water change this day) My husband added something called ammo-lock, which is supposed to neutralize the ammonia. big mistake, I think because then we didn't know what the readings were).  <yes... a mistake indeed. Be sure to use dry tab ammonia test kits now for accuracy with this in the water> Yesterday we came home and the fish all looked dark and stressed. We tested the ammonia, it's still off the charts. We did a 15% water change yesterday, and then a 50% water change today. I waited a couple of hours and tested again, still off the charts for ammonia with absolutely no reading for nitrites or nitrates.  <which indicated that you are still early in the break in period> What is going on with our tank? If it is just now cycling after 6 weeks, why don't we have any nitrites or nitrates?  <because they haven't been converted yet from ammonia> Sorry this is so long, but I sure hope that you can help us. Thanks in Advance! Amy <with the fish life being out primary concern we have to way the stress of moving them again so soon with the stress of them staying. For now, let me suggest that you get some fully cured live rock (you must trust the retailer big-time here... clear water, no odor and no ammonia in the rock tank). The live rock can bring in some established bacteria to quickly and eagerly reduce the ammonia. You will of course be doing some series water changes too. If this tempers the spike in three to five days... ride it out. It may be very fine within 2 weeks. Else, reduce the fish load and build it back up slowly. Do archive this site to set-up articles and ammonia FAQ's for more info. Kindly, Anthony Calfo> 

Ammonia Levels I've been having problems lately with my ammonia levels. I do regular water changes -- once every 3 weeks (I have 100 gallon). I feed my fish every day -- could I be overfeeding? <A possibility, others being inadequate biological filtration or incomplete cycling.> If so, should I go to feeding them every other day? <No, best to feed the proper amounts instead. Feed as much as can be consumed before the food hits the bottom of the tank or gets sucked up into the filters.> Should I still feed the algae to the tangs every day and just cut back on the frozen foods/flakes to every other day? Should I put vitamin drops in every day or just when they are fed? <I prefer to soak the food in vitamins rather than dose directly to the tank. -Steven Pro> Thanks so much. . . . . you are a great help!

Ammonia Problems Hello, I am having a problem with ammonia levels staying between 0.15 and 0.25. I had a penguin 330 filter and just changed it on 03/26/02 with a magnum 350. <The little BioWheel on your Penguin was being overwhelmed by your rather large fish load. The Magnum will probably be even less effective, a decent mechanical and chemical filter, but not great for biological.> I also have a Prizm protein skimmer. My tank is 38 gal. and I have a Lion fish, <The common lionfish P. volitans grows up to 15".> a Foxface, <Depending on species will grow anywhere from 7-16".> a Bicolor Angel, <6"> a Naso Tang <18"> and 2 small Damsels <Lionfish food.> what can I do to correct this problem if I go bigger with my tank what size should I get? thank you <You need something long enough for your fish to get some exercise and wide enough to be able to turn around. A standard 180 (2'x2'x6') is the smallest I can recommend. -Steven Pro>

Ammonia Levels II In your opinion should I try increasing the flow rate?  <lets first confirm that you have enough biological filtration and that overfeeding is not an issue. Indeed, several small daily feedings are better than one huge feeding per day. Food should never fall more than half way down the tank or hit the bottom before the fish can eat it... else it is a sign of feeding too much or too fast for most fishes> How do you know when it's enough? Also, how do you know when your skimmer is skimming at the right rate too?  <when you can produce a cup of very dark (like coffee not tea) skimmate every single day and not weekly> Can you have too much filtration and skimming?  <theoretically impossible for most systems> Many thanks! :) <best regards, Anthony>

Use of Ammo-lock and other Ammonia detoxifiers Hello Mr. Fenner! <Howdy> It's been a while since I've emailed you, but that is attributable to the fact that I use your book, "The Conscientious Marine Aquarist" as my marine tank bible. It answers the vast majority of my questions! However, I'm in the midst of a debate that I'm having a hard time settling. <Perhaps there is no such settlement to be had> Today I've got a question on someone else's behalf regarding the use of Ammonia detoxifiers, such as Ammo-lock. This person setup their 75 gallon aquarium and added fish prior to cycling (I've had great success with fishless cycling on my tanks). They were told by their LFS that the live rock and live sand would not be sufficient to cycle the tank, and that they needed to add fish.  <Mmm, I do disagree... the LR, LS are fine on their own> Well, they did, the ammonia spiked, the fish began dying, and the LFS person told them to use Ammo-lock. They did this and, now, after seeing a spike in Nitrites and a gradual rise in Nitrates, they're experiencing a second, HEAVY ammonia spike. <To be expected... the product by Aquarium Pharmaceuticals is fine for what it is intended for... but this does NOT include forestalling the establishment of biological cycling> Now, I understand that Ammo-lock is supposed to convert NH3 to NH4, which is less toxic to fish, but that it should not prevent the accumulation of  Ammonia in the tank. <Actually... this product does not do this> I also understand that it will skew test results. <Can, yes, some types of tests> Personally, I've always been of the opinion that, chemically speaking, less is more, and that water changes should be used instead of chemicals, but I understand that others feel differently. My advice to this person was to bring the remaining live fish back to the LFS (no hospital tank setup) and continue cycling the tank in a fishless manner. They told me that Ammo-Lock does NOTHING to inhibit the cycling process. <Not so... the ammonia present is chemically bound-up, hence the group of nitrifying bacteria populations that "consume" such die off... and must need "re-grow" to convert newly formed/forming ammonia to nitrite, supplying this to other microorganisms that convert this in turn to nitrate... A simplistic model, but if "A" is necessary for "X" to make "B", and "A" is made unavailable then "Y" that relies on "X" dies off along with "X"...> So, my question is -- do Ammonia detoxifiers inhibit the cycling of a tank? <Most, by numbers of products, popularity... actually do forestall the establishment of biological cycling> What EXACTLY is their purpose and should they be used in situations such as these?  <Purpose? Let's see... mainly useful in dire "emergency" situations (too much bio-load being added too quickly, loss of biological filtration integrity in a compromised setting (e.g. treatment, quarantine tanks)... NOT in systems that have yet to fully cycle> I've always been under the impressions that nothing like this should be used while a tank has been cycling (I prefer never to use these things, no matter what the situation, but that's me). Any advice that you could give on this topic would be greatly appreciated! <We are of the same impression, belief set here.> Grateful as always! Deb Colella (A humble aquarist who strives to be as adept at this hobby as you!) <You humble me my friend. Bob Fenner, who apologizes for the delayed response. Have been out of the country> Deborah Colella

Questions about Cycling with Ammonia Hi Bob, <<Bob is out of town until 12/7, JasonC here answering the WetWebMedia Mail.>> Any news about your books (I need 2 of them) ?? The tank cycling is progressing and I need some first class info.. <<don't know if your order was processed before Bob and Di left town. Do check back after 12/7.>> To update you (and ask a question... you expected that, didn't you ?). I have been using the fishless cycling and (after 10 days) the regular ammonia quantity I add is turned to nitrites in 1 day, while nitrates are over the 50 mark. <<with regular ammonia from a bottle, interesting. How much ammonia did you add?>> When I started (after 3 days) I had NH3 = 4, NO2 = 0, NO3 = 0. Now (day 10) I have NH3=0 (or very close), NO2 = 8 ppm, NO3 = >50 ppm. In this environment I can't add a fish. <<no, you can't>> I was thinking of adding the macroalgae now. There is some sort of brown algae growing already.. The question is : will the brown algae consume the nitrates ? <<no, it won't. A little more time should pop the NO2 down to zero at which point you should probably do a water change [perhaps 25%] and then add the macro algae.>> Don't you think 10 days is a bit short ?? <<have heard of, witnessed 24 hour cycles in tanks with lots of prepared & cured live rock and sand. So who knows, certainly cycling with fish takes the longest. Very curious to know more about the direct ammonia method, if for any other reason than to get it on record for the WetWebMedia readers, but certainly to fix my own > (You see, if I had your book here, I would probably ask far less questions, if any !!) <<yes, is an excellent title, but somehow I think this same question would have come up, even with the book. Is a very interesting question.>> George J. Reclos Ph.D. <<Cheers, J -- >>

Cycling a Tank with Ammonia Editor's Note: this gentleman is a Pharmacist & Immunologist and as such is a professional with regards to the procedures he describes. If you don't have the foggiest idea what he is talking about, then don't try it at home! I started with a solution which was supposed to be 20%. The solution was found to be 18% after volumetric titration. After making the calculation to see how many ppm correspond to that 18% I added enough micro liters (1 micro liter = 1 millionth of a liter) of this solution in a liter of double distilled sterile water and used the kit I have to see when I would get a reading of about 4 (with those colorimetric kits it is quite difficult to say). Again the kit proved to be almost 30% off the calculated value but it was used as a basis for the calculations since this would be used with my tank water. Once this was achieved, I adjusted my calculations for a level of 6 ppm and added the necessary quantity in my tank (I first add the ammonia in 100 ml of water and then drop it in the tank). I repeated this every two days. After the NH3 dropped to almost 0, I add the same quantity every day. Of course, this would be far more accurate if one was to know what is the anticipated amount of ammonia a fish will produce per day. I think that 6 ppm in a 140 liter tank is a bit too much for one fish. This means that the biological filter will be calibrated for higher ammonia levels that the ones the fish will produce therefore part of the colony will die - polluting my water. That is why a fish cycling should be preferred but one has to work with what is available to him !! Thanks for your information about the algae !! I was under the impression that the algae being a plant would use the nitrates found in the water column... <<and they will to a small extent, but not to the level I think you were hoping for. Like any algae, they prefer the various phosphors, but will gladly take it any way they can get it as I'm sure you know.>> I was really surprised to learn that it won't !! Will the macroalgae have a problem to compete with the brown algae already installed in my tank (another very quick presence !!) <<Usually, macro algaes get preferential treatment from the people keeping watch, so it has a competitive advantage. You can also help that along by vacuuming out the brown algae once the cycle is complete.>> Note: You have to keep the concentrated ammonia solution in a tightly closed bottle in the refrigerator. The colder the water the more ammonia it can hold !! <<Thank you very much for the detailed explanation of this whole thing. You are a gentleman and a scholar. Cheers, J -- >>

Follow-up on Cycling a Tank with Ammonia Hi Jason, <<Hi>> Thanks for your kind words. I am preparing a "diary" which will appear in our site at the end of the month. If you like you can copy and paste it in your site or link to it. I send a notification to Bob at this address so you will know !! It will be a small reward for letting me use the information in WetWebMedia. George <<No really, thank you for sharing - this is what helps glue this site all together. Thanks again. Cheers, J -- >>

Re: High Ammonia, HELP! Thank you sooooooo much for your advise. I will transfer some into another tank. <<Glad to hear it. Cheers, J -- >> Thank you again

Whitish Hairy rock growth...? Hi Bob, I may not be following conventions, but I welcome any an all opinions about my current setup you may have in addition to the reason I'm writing... Thanks. <Okay> I am currently cycling ~110lbs of live Fiji rock in my 55gal with about 2" of aragonite (40lbs) on the bottom, a Remora protein skimmer, Eheim canister filter, two 279gph powerheads, heaters keeping the water around 75F, and an 8 hour photoperiod with a single 10000K 175W MH pendant [only begun within the last two days]. I'm having a bigger skimmer custom built at my LFS, and I plan to return both the Remora and the Eheim to my friend as soon as I receive the unit. The display tank is drilled and empties into a 20gal tank I'm using as a sump (about 1/3 full). I have a Rio2100 as a return pump. <Lots of gear... and hard to cure this much live rock in a fifty five generally...> I really goofed (in hindsight) by putting the sand in, and then not properly rinsing the rock before placing it in the tank (I've never cured live rock before, and there seem to be so many conflicting schools of thought on the web about how such is best accomplished ). <Ah, yes...> My excuse is that my supplier shipped the product to me much earlier than expected, and I hadn't completely plumbed my tank when I received it--I was in a panic to get the rock into water. I've since nearly restarted the curing process after dumping 90% of the water (vacuuming the gunk off the top of the sand) and properly rinsing the rock in the same process. The ammonia was out-of-control, and I'd wasted too much salt already doing water changes in the first 3 days. <I'm bobbing my head up and down like an old Beatles doll in the back of a 55 Chevy with no shocks> I am not aware of any complex organisms existing in the system. The tank is now clearing and my NH3 readings are ~1.5ppm (pH 8.2, and not registering N02 and NO3 levels [probably because of near complete water change]); however, I've noticed a new growth in some of the rock crevices of a whitish, diaphanous, hairy-looking nature that I am totally incapable of identifying. I had initially guessed a form of algae (because of its coincident appearance following the addition of light), but I can't find any that fit the description. Will you help me? <Unfortunately I probably can... these are colonies of decomposers... fungus, actinomycetes... that will be supplanted in time. Keep monitoring ammonia, doing water changes... staying the path. Bob Fenner> Thanks, Tyler

Re: Whitish Hairy rock growth...? Thank You Bob! You're fast man! <A slow day> Another question... What would your NH3 threshold for performing a water change be under these circumstances? 2ppm... 4? <IMO about 2 ppm... Soon we'll be dressing alike, sheesh. Bob Fenner>

Re: Whitish Hairy rock growth...? What are you wearing? [Just kidding!] Thanks again. :-) <Man, you're low... running shorts and tee... no shoes! Hope you're dressed in a minkey suit with one of those devices for emphasizing your bilateral symmetry... Oh, doubles as a napkin I guess. Be chatting. Bob Fenner> Tyler

Re: Whitish Hairy rock growth...? Hi Bob, Re: High Ammonia levels... Would you recommend a water additive like "Ammo-Lock2" to bring down the ammonia in my tank, or is that stuff just "hot air"? <More hot air than help in all but disastrously high situations where other strategies can't be employed... Need to find, solve root causes... adapt the livestock back down more slowly to lower concentrations... for their sake and the systems establishment of nitrification. Bob Fenner> Thanks, Tyler Re: Whitish Hairy rock growth...? > I am not aware of any complex organisms existing in the system. The tank is now clearing and my NH3 readings are ~1.5ppm (pH 8.2, and not registering N02 and NO3 levels [probably because of near complete water change]); however, I've noticed a new growth in some of the rock crevices of a whitish, diaphanous, hairy-looking nature that I am totally incapable of identifying. I had initially guessed a form of algae (because of its coincident appearance following the addition of light), but I can't find any that fit the description. Will you help me? > <Unfortunately I probably can... these are colonies of decomposers... fungus, actinomycetes... that will be supplanted in time. Keep monitoring ammonia, doing water changes... staying the path. Bob Fenner> Sorry to plague you with this, Bob, but what do you mean by "unfortunately"? <Sorry for the lack of clarity. By "unfortunately" I mean/t am all too familiar with this scenario, set of circumstances. Have done and heard, seen others suffer from these sorts of "collapses". Too much death/"curing" decomposition going on for other mechanisms to support sufficient "cycling" rates, pathways... and subsequent "whiting out", evidence of mass decomposer/ition activity> Does the presence of these 'actinomycetes' signify anything? Is my rock dying out? <In a manner of speaking, yes... more of it, faster than I suspect you want to. All will/can stabilize... but you don't want too much of the "live" portions of your rock to go under. Imagine a life raft, like our planet, or a bunch of different species/populations on a floating log traversing inhospitable space. Some species will be more favored/impugned than others and their populations will be favored/impugned more than others... depending on prevailing conditions (environmental, predator-prey, genetic-adaptive... so much more)... and all may die back... but likely not all "equally"... In your prevailing conditions the latter is probably happening. Conditions are "so bad" that the vast majority of life forms are dying... and "opportunistic" (from our view point) organisms are utilizing them, the space...> Do you know if the presence of Ammo-Lock2 will prevent the ammonia it advertises to "de-toxify" from registering in a standard NH3 titration test? <Hmm, yes... as stated previously.> (I bit the bullet and used some because the NH3 levels spiked up to 4.0 yesterday just before I did a 25% water change--they're still at 4ppm this morning. Aaargh!) <Yikes... best to "spread out" your live rock if at all possible... place it in containers of larger volume... if you can in a "single layer"... can even "go outside" like in a kiddie wading pool rather than continue to rot in a 55... Bob Fenner> Thanks again! Tyler

Re: Ich Treatment Mr. Fenner, I have been treating with CopperSafe for 3-days now and my nitrite has gone way up, my ammonia is at 0. Should I do a water change to get the nitrite down?  <How high is "way up"? If more than 1.0 ppm I would be changing... Please read: http://wetwebmedia.com/no2probfaqs.htm> What does not make sense to me is that the nitrite is very high and ammonia at 0.  <Perhaps different organisms being impugned differentially. Maybe your test kit... I'd "check the checker" here> During copper treatment, is it good to test for PH, Nitrite, Nitrate and Ammonia? Thanks again for your help! <Definitely for all the above but nitrate... and including free copper of course! Bob Fenner> Ron

Ammonia problem Dear Robert: I need your help again. I have a 20 Gallon aquarium with 1 Lionfish 2 Porcupine Puffers 1 Linckia sea star 1 Blue spine Urchin 2 Banded Coral Shrimps 1 Scarlet Shrimp 1 Very tiny lobster 2 Harlequin Shrimps 1 tiny panther Grouper Live Rock 25 pounds Live Aragonite sand <Come on, you're pulling my fins! All of this in a twenty!?> The fish are doing really well, despite the overcrowding (I think), but I still keep getting a 0.25 ammonia  reading. Nitrite is clear and Nitrate is very low, almost unreadable. <Trouble my friend... this system is a disaster not waiting to happen... it is WAY too crowded, and not cycled, perhaps not cyclable... due to the bioload, feeding.> I can't get the ammonia to go down. How much and how often should I change the water? Should I transfer some of my fish to a 10 Gallon aquarium I have with a red sea star and two clams? <Transfer some or all... but do get a MUCH larger system... like a hundred something... oh! Thank goodness, I see you have one on the way> I didn't want to overcrowd the 20 Gallon aquarium, but I ordered a 180 Gallon Berlin System aquarium from Tenecor and it hasn't arrived yet. The fish I have in the 20 Gallon have been there for 3 weeks, and no problems so far. <Oh, it's you Marcela (I pronounce it "Mar-chella"...). Please let me know what your ideas are. Look forward to hearing from you. Marcela <The most important bit of advice, feed SPARINGLY... to not at all... and give the folks in AZ, Tenecor a call and tell them to hustle! Bob Fenner>

Re: Ammonia problem Hi Robert: Thanks so much for the quick reply. It's always great hearing from you. Sorry about the overcrowding. I know it's a big No No, but it was my fault ordering the fish so quickly, thinking I wouldn't be able to find them anymore. Here's what I'm planning to do tomorrow: I'll transfer the Lionfish, the two Harlequin, the sea star and the urchin to a 10 Gallon cycled aquarium which I keep only live sand. That's the aquarium I had for the water changes only, and I'll make sure I'll add a few false corals as hiding places for the shrimps. Sounds OK? <Well, better> The other 2 banded corals shrimp I'll transfer to the other 10 Gallon with the sea star, 2 clams, 4 snails and another sea urchin. How's that? <I hope this will help.> I'll live the two porcupine puffers, the panther grouper, the scarlet shrimp and the tiny lobster in the 20 gallon. Does it sound better? Just to let you know, I knew there was going to be overcrowding, so all my small tanks have huge and powerful protein skimmers, mechanical and biological extra large filters and good water pumps, plus I change about 20% of the water every other day. I believe that's why the fish are doing so well. Also, all my fish and invertebrate are tiny and still babies. Let me know if that sounds better or if you have another suggestion on how to separate them. By the way, you always answer everyone's questions so sincerely and so patiently. How do you manage? I'm sure you have people who don't thank you back. <I am satisfied I am myself> Regards, Marcela (and you right, you can pronounce it Marchella, I'm half Brazilian and half Italian) <Fabulous. Be chatting my friend. Bob Fenner>

Ammonia I have the 5 gal. hospital tank with the tang in it. It has been since Monday that I put copper in the water and he seems to be clear of the ick...the problem is that even when I do a 1 gal. water change everyday, the ammonia stays at 1.0. Another person told me that the ammonia is locked up and I need to get ammo lock. Since I have started this salt water aquarium...it seems that everyone I talk to has a different opinion. I like your website the best and it seems to have "correct information", what do you think about the ammonia and getting the level down.. After the tang is ok, how can I get it back to the original tank when the ammonia reading is so different. Cheryl < Don't worry about the return to an Ammonia-free environment, the Tang will be quite relieved. Sounds to me like you're doing a great job. If you're aging that change-water before it goes into the 5 gallon quarantine, it's perfectly acceptable to do 3 gallons at once, to really get a good drop in the ammonia. You've actually struck a balance - the 1-gallon daily change is just enough to keep the ammonia from rising above the 1.0 reading you're reporting. You'll need to do more to actually bring it down. Without a nitrogen cycle (impossible in a coppered tank) Ammonia will ALWAYS build up without water changes. Always remember to treat the change water, and do be patient with a full 2-week treatment, and even 1-week post-copper quarantine of that Tang. Ick lives and dies in copper-resistant cycles, and two weeks is absolutely necessary to get it all with the copper. -Lorenzo >

Readable ammonia in an established tank!! Yikes! Hi Bob, I hate to bother you *again*, but this is an emergency (I think). I tested the water this weekend and was amazed and appalled to see readable ammonia levels. By readable, I mean about .1. I read through your water quality FAQ (including the stuff on ammonia) and I did some of the things, however I don't know how serious this is. (The writer had much higher levels than I do.) Also concerned re: trace levels of nitrites I have been getting for the last couple weeks. <0.1ppm is nothing to be alarmed re... likely transient... some excess food... a small die-off, change in population amongst some microscopic life forms...> (I'm going to sum up my system here. 40 gal breeder; 144 watt Pc.s; Ecosystem40 with the MaxiJet 400 as the outtake pump; Maxijet 1000 on side of tank; 40 Lbs LR; 20 lbs sand about half live) The only thing possibly dead is the strange white stuff on the mushroom rock, I don't know if you remember this. <Yes... and not to over worry about this> I added a nice green Rhodactis this weekend, but it was at the LFS for about a month and looks very healthy. In fact, strange thing, everything looks healthy. However this amounts to about 5-10 lbs of LR added, however it was packed in water and it took me an hour to get home. <This is likely the to-some-degree-cause of this minor incident> Anyway I am pulling out this white stuff rock. Other readings were: SG 1.0245 Temp 80 pH 8.2 nitrates below 10 nitrites trace (not showing up as any no. but water turned very slightly pink) Phosphate .1 Ca 370 Alk 3.5 So far I have done a 10% (4 gal) water change; stopped feeding; increased the photoperiod; and am set to do another water change tonight. <Do leave off with the water changes till the ammonia either goes back to zero reading or approaches 0.5ppm> Also read thru nitrite FAQ and the only guess is the thing about the pumps below: I don't know if this is significant, but while I was gone on vacation my Rio pump gave out (of course this happens while I am on vacation) in the Ecosystem (I have an Ecosystem 40). The kid who was watching my tank found a MaxiJet 400 and put it in instead. <A better choice> When I got back the water wasn't really coming out very strongly. He said it was too powerful so he turned it down. He was right but I was able to tinker with it to increase the flow. However I am wondering if this might have anything to do with the problem of having readable nitrites and ammonia?  <Possible...> I have a spare Rio 600 lying around but I really have heard awful things about them (frying systems; explosions; voltage problems) so I would prefer having the Maxijet in there, if possible. <Yes... the Aquarium Systems product is superior> BTW, he also pulled the side MaxiJet 1000 because of "bubbles" in the intake tube. I did put this back a couple days after I got back. <Okay> My nitrates, nitrites and ammon. have always been unreadable as well. Until lately. Sorry if this is so long, but I don't know how serious a problem I have. <Not likely a large one.> Thanks very much. Your service is MUCH appreciated by everyone! <Glad to be of help, solace. Bob Fenner> --Jane J

Re: Readable ammonia in an established tank!! Yikes! Bob, Sorry about asking for clarifications all the time, but I have a learning disability and get mixed up when things aren't really clear. (Not that I'm ashamed but maybe you shouldn't put that in the faq, kind of personal.) <I don't mind the least... must need be kept erudite...> >So far I have done a 10% (4 gal) water change; stopped feeding; increased the photoperiod; and am set to do another water change tonight. ><Do leave off with the water changes till the ammonia either goes back to zero reading or approaches 0.5ppm> But do you mean I *should* do another water change or NOT? And do you mean I should do the other things as well or NOT? I was thinking I would feed them tomorrow-- though watch the amount. <NOT... unless the readings are high, leave the system be to settle> I made up some water for another small water change tomorrow. Thanks for your help here. <Be chatting my friend. Murky Bob Fenner> --Jane

Starter Question???? I just recently started a 60 saltwater tank. and I have ammonia chemicals in my tank. could you help me out with my problem. thank you for you time. Jerry <Please read through the "Marine Aquarium Set-Up", "Ammonia", "Filtration"... sections of the Marine Index and associated FAQs pages on the site: www.WetWebMedia.com... and don't feed or add any livestock till your ammonia readings (and nitrites) are at zero. Bob Fenner>

Real tank problems (ammonia poisoning) Robert, I'm asking for your help once again. I obviously did a really bad thing.  I purchased 20 pounds of live rock last week and put it in my 75 gal. reef tank. Since it was sold as "fully cured" live rock and said to be safe to put directly in your tank, that's what I did. I wasn't aware of the need to check for increased ammonia levels. The day before yesterday I got a shipment of 55 pounds of live rock. This rock has a slight odor to it. <Ohhh, not a good idea to mix sources, so much material in such a short period of space and time...> I put it in the tank. After talking to a couple of people I was told to double check my ammonia levels, so I did. Ouch! The ammonia level was at 3.0.  <Yikes.... and don't feed... leave the lights on some extra hours... if you have/had another system, with the ammonia this high, I would have moved the livestock.> My local pet store suggested doing a 50% water change so I did. That was yesterday afternoon. The ammonia is still at 1.5 if not a little higher.  <Yes, diluted by... half with the water change> I'm wondering what is the best way of dealing with this problem. A couple of things I'm contemplating are: 1. Keep doing drastic water changes until the level are down. But I don't know at what point ammonia and Nitrites are deadly to coral and inverts. <Deadly? Depends on a few other factors, but NH3/NH4OH over 1.0ppm, nitrates quickly escalating into the tens of ppm...> For how many days can the levels be up before it effects them or kills them? <A little each moment... a matter of hours to a few days for LD-50's generally> 2. Taking some or all of the live rock and start cycling it in a big trash container. <Probably a bit late here... do you have friends who can lend you assistance? Like old filter media, bioballs, maybe a going fluidized bed filter...> 3. Leave the live rock in the 75 gal. tank, let it cycle. Take my most prized corals out and put it in my 20 gal tank (that I use for a quarantine tank, it's not cycled) and hope that the rest of the corals and inverts live. I have an octopus coral that spreads out about 2 feet that I'd be crushed if it died. <Maybe some of the more sensitive SPS... at this point "the damage" is likely done... > What would you suggest? I've had my tank for 8 years and obviously have a lot invested in corals, inverts and fish and I don't want to loose them. Are there any products out there that will absorb ammonia and Nitrites that would help? <I would go the "goosing the nitrifiers" route... You could try to secure the "overnight" version of Fritzyme (it actually works... as opposed to the shelf-stored products), or Hagen's Cycle or such... in addition to the water change/serial dilutions, non-feeding, leaving the lights on a few more hours, adding used filter media/substrate/fluidized bed filter... I would avail myself of all. Bob Fenner> Thank you for all your help. Jami Spitz

Ammonia, sea food, etc. Hi Robert, I have some quirky questions for you. They may seem unlikely to work, but they're on my mind, and the more I think of them the more realistic they seem, so... :-) Perhaps you'll indulge me. <Okay> 1) Is it possible to maintain a cycle on an aquarium by adding a drop of ammonia (lab grade) every couple of days? I know the standard way of doing this is to use a damsel, but I would far prefer the ammonia drip solution, as it doesn't involve trapping an animal in a very small place, and doesn't have the issue of where to put the aggressive, hard-to-catch animal while the quarantine is being used as a hospital tank. This doesn't seem like that radical an idea, and yet it doesn't seem from my surfing that anyone does this. <Yes... inorganic sources of ammonia can/have been used to establish, augment, keep going nitrifying beds... Ammonium chloride is most often employed. A bit dangerous... easy to over treat a system... best to under estimate, measure> 2) I recently noticed some kind of bivalve encrusted in a piece of live rock that I've had since October 30th. That's quite a while, so I guess I can keep it alive in this tank even without feeding it. <Yes, perhaps not expressly... getting food more indirectly from your system> It's approx. 1cm long, and in a cavity in the rock. My question this is leading to is the following: if I were to go to a fresh (live) sea food store, are there any animals in there that would have a chance of survival in my tank?! :-) Such as, for instance, a very small oyster or something? If so, that would be really fun. If I can keep this 1cm bivalve alive (this thing is obviously not photosynthetic), perhaps I could keep something more ambitious alive. <Yes, bait shops are even better... for fresher/more live material... be aware of the likelihood of these things dying (and consequent pollution) and please be sure to not allow such exotics to get into the wild> Thanks, and warm regards as always, Paul <I do like a curious mind. Be chatting. Bob Fenner>

Re: Ammonia, sea food, etc. Thanks Bob, OK. Here's what I was hoping to do... I intended to keep the quarantine empty, but with my old Hagen hob filter in there. I would have it continuously running, but at room temperature (no heater) to save electricity (it's in the cold-ish basement). <Okay> I intended to get some of this NH4Cl, dissolve it in a drop doser, and every few days shake it well and put in a single drop. That way, I could keep the cycle in the media in the Hagen. I could also of course use my ammonia test kit and make sure I wasn't overdoing it. <I would not do this... Instead I would use some filter media, substrate, water from an established system that's clean... after bringing the quarantine/hospital tank up to temperature> The advantage to this over the occasional fish food solution is the complete lack of organic detritus accumulation over time. (Remember, I don't have a protein skimmer on this baby.) <I understand... thought you/I were chatting about setting up a new/sterile main/display system... I would still not go the inorganic route> I think I understand your concern, but I wonder if it's alleviated by the fact that at this time, there are no animals (other than my Nitrobacter et. al.) in the tank. I would of course stop dosing at least a week before adding a critter, and test carefully at that time. <Only barely (alleviated)... easy to bump them off chemically as well> If your fear is that some chemical pollution could accumulate that wouldn't be measurable by my hobbyist test kit, then I understand completely and I will of course discard this approach. However, if your fear is other than that, then I don't quite understand you yet. Thanks! Paul <Do wish we were in face to face contact here. I/We lost the aforementioned Wopner case on the basis of the (my memory is lapsing here, sigh...) Nessler Reagent? Test... being overwhelmed by the too-high concentration of ammonia from the AP product... the plaintiffs got a false negative and blamed it on the test kit/store (one of ours)... and we lost the case!!! Anyhow, more of my boring anecdotes re lost Hollyweird fame. Bob Fenner>

Re: Ammonia, sea food, etc. Hi Robert, Thanks for your help. I called a local shop and they are willing to pick through a crate for a small oyster for me. I'll let you know how it works out... :-) <Sounds like a grand adventure> Just to be sure before I buy any, is the ammonia source you recommend: The Columbia Encyclopedia: Sixth Edition. 2000. ammonium chloride (m?nm kl??d) (KEY), chemical compound, NH4Cl, a white or colorless, odorless, water-soluble, cubic crystalline salt with a biting taste, commonly known as sal ammoniac. It is prepared commercially by reacting  ammonia, NH3, with hydrogen chloride, HCl, and is used chiefly in the manufacture of electric dry-cell batteries, in soldering fluxes, in textile printing, and in making other compounds. It is also used in certain medical treatments. It occurs in nature in volcanic regions. Thanks, Paul <Yes, this is the same material... but NOT recommended... About the only time I was on television was the "People's Court" re an "out of date" test kit set of reagents and an Aquarium Pharmaceuticals "nitrogen cycle goosing" product of this make... Very easy to poison the system... and totally unnecessary. Do instead (unless this is an experiment) use some "fish food", or better still, "live rock", even old substrate, filter media... from an established "clean" tank (no parasite, infectious disease agents) to help establish such cycling... Bob Fenner>

Oyster acclimatization (Re: Ammonia, sea food, etc.) Hi Robert, Using a lot of your time today. Let me know if you mind, ok? :-) I read your article on abalones, I wonder if these are available as part of the food trade or the pet trade? <Yes... uh, both... produced (induced spawning) for the food trade, secondarily for the ornamental...> I have found two references that seem to confirm that you can keep a regular old oyster alive in an aquarium. One even mentions that if you get bored of it, you can even break out the Tabasco and do the unthinkable... Here: http://www.mdk12.org/practices/support_success/hsa/biology/oysters/natal/aquarium.htm and here: http://www.fi.edu/fellows/fellow7/dec98/oysters/aquarium.html They say not to expect awesome growth or anything, but that it should live. Neither mention temperature; I keep my tank at 77 degrees. I wonder if I should lower somewhat? All my animals should be able to tolerate 75, even 73, I think. <Some species are definitely more tropical... I'd investigate the one(s) you're considering.> They do not mention, anywhere, about acclimatization. Your abalone article says pretty much to throw them right in (did I misunderstand you? "I do not endorse any special quarantine or preventative dipping procedures with abalones[...] hold them near their new home...") <No, this is about where I stand... much more frequently there's more to be lost than gained in acclimating/quarantining mollusks (among other animal groups)... unless you have a "farm" operation where you fear introduction of pests, parasites... I would just temp./chem/physically acclimate new specimens and introduce them to the main/display systems> My concern is that of course the bivalve will be closed, and when it opens, it'll take a huge drink of the new water, and go into shock. Is there a known way to get around this problem with bivalves? Thanks, Paul <You can, should drip acclimate a local specimen... like with a piece of airline tubing... it will/should open... and flush whatever out... don't introduce the mixed water. Bob Fenner>

Re: Ammonia, sea food, etc. Robert, 10-4. Thanks for your help; I guess I won't be doing this! :-) <A relief to me> Look on the bright side: with Judge Judy you would have lost anyway, but she would have called you names and made a fool of you in the process. <Felt very foolish just the same... Did "the greatest story ever told" in the way of nitrogen cycling for Judge.W on the wipe off board (got cut for showing), tried to explain that using the kit for measuring such high concentrations (the fish were killed within a minute) was like "weighing an elephant on a gram scale...", he even took a recess, called some of the local fish shops in L.A.... (supposedly), still lost out... Oh well, perhaps grist to the pet fish mill> I did find a source for human-consumption grade NH4Cl. I don't know who eats this stuff! haha. Anyway, does the fact that it's food grade alleviate poisoning concerns? <No, just less impurities...> I really am OK with abandoning this option, but I want to know as much as possible about why I'm abandoning it...; Cheers, Paul <Take a look at the CRC manual, Index Medicus... You're headed in the right direction... or at least I'm okay company. Bob Fenner>

A quick update and.....Thanks Bob Just thought it was fair for you to know everything is going well now. Ammonia disappeared.... Nitrite is at .1 and falling.... <Ah, good> Nitrate fell from some ungodly number to 10..... So my cycling tank is settling down. So now I am preparing for my first water change next week. After that I'm going to add some hermits and snails in hopes of cleaning up some of the algae that has appeared. After they settle in for a couple of weeks, I think I'm going for a tank raised clown or two. Anyway, thanks for all the help. It's really starting to come together now.... Paul <Very good to hear/read my friend. Bob Fenner>

Blue Damsel question Dear Mr. Fenner, I've read your FAQ on damsels and have searched endlessly on the web about blue damsels. It's hard to really find a good search engine.  <Hmm, likely you mean sites... Who knows when this will improve...> =) Anyways, I'm really concerted about my blue damsel. I just recently started a ten gallon "reef" tank about a week ago. I have 7.5 lbs of rock that was cured in the store for aprox. 1 1/2 months. I use aragonite sand at the bottom, and a Eclipse Twin Lamp filtration system. The chemical readings are as follows: Ph: 8.4 Ammonia:1.5ppm <This is definitely not good... Stop feeding period until your ammonia drops to zero!> Nitrate:0 Nitrite:0 Salidity-1.023 Temp:76-74 deg. I have 2 blue damsels for the cycling period. The 2nd day I tried to feed them freeze dried blood worms, the blood worms would stay on the top of the water and the blue damsels wouldn't eat them.  <Yikes....> I saw them start pecking at the rocks and searching the aragonite for food. <Good> I wasn't sure what to do so I took 2 goldfish pellets from my 50 gallon freshwater tank and crushed them up. I fed it to them and them ate it, I didn't give them anymore. Ever since the bigger blue damsel(1 1/2 inches long) would swim back constantly in the near right corner of the tank as if there was food in the water. I'm concerned that the fish food may have blended into the water causing the food scent so the damsel would get confused. I now feed the damsels live brine shrimp. It has now, for 4 days, been digging a hole in the sand. It goes up to the glass in the near right corner, put it's head to the glass and swishes it's tail to make the sand go up. By doing this it makes a crater in the sand about 5 in in dia. in the near right corner of the tank. I didn't know if this was normal because the little damsel just swims in and out of the rocks. The bigger blue damsel seems as if it's trying to eat food because it's darts towards small bubbles that the filter creates. Thanks for listening. Anything I missed that would be helpful please feel free to ask.  <Your live rock/system is not cycled... and you may "kill your damsels with kindness" by supplying them more ammonia through feeding... Hold off on all such feeding... They won't starve (due to the live rock organisms), and your system will stabilize/cycle soon... as evidenced by an absence of ammonia, increase in nitrate, growth of micro-algae...> I'm planning on purchasing your "The Conscientious Marine Aquarist" tomorrow. I don't have any books, rather have many pages of printed information from the internet. <Do read, and read... take a long read through the postings on Ammonia, Set-Up... of marine systems posted on the site: www.wetwebmedia.com> ALSO, one quick question. in all the information I have and that I've tried to search for it doesn't say if I should turn the light off in the tank. I do so in the 50 freshwater but I have gold fish in there. they're pretty much bullet proof ;-). Do I need to turn the fluorescent lights off before I go to bed of leave it on? thanks, your website has offered valuable information. I thank you greatly Ryan <Do indeed keep a regular light/dark regimen going in your aquatic systems... if you can with some "outside" lighting on at the on/off times... and best with timers (lest you forget) Bob Fenner> 

Re: Blue Damsel question Dear Mr. Fenner, Ammonia:1.5ppm ><This is definitely not good... Stop feeding period until your ammonia drops to zero!> I thought the ammonia level was suppose to peek and drop during the cycling period? thanks. Ryan <You are correct... but not with fishes, invertebrate livestock present... and it's usually fatal above about 1.0ppm coupled with anything in the way of elevated/normal pH... Do keep reading/studying... and not feeding the tank! Be chatting. Bob Fenner>

Re: High Ammonia, your book Dear Mr. Fenner, Where can I purchase your "The Conscientious Marine Aquarist"? Amazon.com is back ordered for 3-5 weeks both hard bound and soft. Your site doesn't seem to offer it. I've check the Super Crown Books and they do not have it either. Is my only alternative Amazon.com and wait 3-5 weeks. Thanks Ryan P.S. Your were right about the "fatal" ammonia readings. <Arggghhh, very sorry to hear about both situations... But thank you for the input. Re CMA, this work is up for another reprint in January/01... by Microcosm/TFH... about the only source I know that has any extant copies is Suk Kim of CPR (Creative Plastics Research, yep, same folks that make skimmers et al.) in Arcata, CA... they're link can be found on the Links Page of the www.wetwebmedia.com site. Be chatting. Bob Fenner>

Ammonia Level?? Hi Bob,  I hope you can help me with a very disconcerting problem of mine. About 3 months ago, I had to copper (Sea Cure) my 90 gal fish only tank due to a slight outbreak of ick. Ever since I treated the tank with copper, I think I am having a problem with ammonia. I used 3 different test kits (Red Sea Fish Pharm LTD. = 0.25 ppm, Tetra = < 0 ppm but > 0.25 ppm, and Aquarium Pharmaceuticals = 0 ppm), but it provided me with different readings. I also added a sponge filter and a Fluval 204 canister a couple of weeks ago as additional biological filtration. I am at a lost right now regarding the true ammonia level from the test kits. *All tests were performed concurrently and a day prior to writing this email.  However, all of my fishes have been in the tank for over 6 months, and they are eating well and behaving normally. Below are the specs for my tank conditions:  Water Parameters:  Ammonia = ?  Nitrite = 0 ppm  Nitrate = 15 ppm  pH = 8.0 ?#8364;" 8.2  SG = 1.020  <The spg could be a little higher. I would raise it to at least 1.023 about a thousandth per day or so> Filtration Equipment:  Amiracle wet-dry  Fluval 204 canister  Sponge filter  60 pounds of Fiji live rock  ETS protein skimmer  Custom Sea Life UV light  Livestock:  Yellow Tang (4?#8364;?)  Cuban Hog (3.5?#8364;?)  Flame Angel (3.5?#8364;?)  African Flameback angel (2?#8364;?)  Cleaner shrimp x2  Feeding:  Moderate feeding twice a day.  Water Change:  Approximately 15% every two weeks with RO water.  My assumption is I have a slight trace of ammonia in my tank (an unscientific approach using the mean of the 3 test results). If this is the case, what do you think is causing the ammonia to rise (i.e., live rock releasing nutrient, poisoned biological filter, etc.)? Why do you think my biological capacity is not sufficient and efficient enough to break down the ammonia (although I think the biological capacity is more than enough to handle the biological load)? What method(s) do you recommend to bring the ammonia level down to 0? Also, what is an accurate ammonia test kit?  Any information will be greatly appreciated.  Thanks. Dan <Hmm, could be that the copper product is somehow yielding a false positive reading via your kits, but do doubt that there is really any free cupric ion in your system (at least not from the medicine administration a half year back). At any length, what I would do (besides raising the spg. which I've mentioned above... which will aid in stabilizing nitrification processes...) is add a pad of PolyFilter (no, I don't own the company but do wish I did!), and/or a bag/unit of activated carbon... this should remove whatever residual copper and/or the compound that is giving you the false positive... and aid in restoring nitrification... consider adding a bit more live rock, macroalgae... perhaps in a lighted sump... and do keep your spg at near natural seawater levels. Bob Fenner>

Fish question I have a 44 gallon saltwater tank that has been cycled with damsels. I returned the 3 damsels and got a yellow tang & two clowns. Over the next couple days, the clowns started getting "cloudy spots" on them. I tested the water and the ammonia had gone up to .5. I am going to do a 25% water change and was told that the clowns were experiencing "ammonia burn" on their skin, and this should take care of it. What do you think is going on?, and is this a correct technique to try? >> Yikes... system NOT cycled... hopefully your Clowns will recover... take care not to feed period till the ammonia drops to zero... Do you have any live rock? Plans for same? I would place some, pronto... cured, and hope for the best. Bob Fenner  

Re: fish question I will stop feeding until ammonia goes to zero. I don't have any live rock to add but will look into it. Thanks for the advice! >> >> Ah good. Bob Fenner

Ich problem I have a 60 gal tank that is 1 1/2 months old. I have it stocked with 2 common clowns and 1 red sea Basslet. The clowns have developed ich. The local store suggested that I use a cleaner shrimp to treat this. Is this a viable alternative to medication. Also, I have a problem with ammonia .25 almost like clockwork every 3-4 days. I believe that I am not overfeeding the tank. I have a skimmer setup. I have 20lb. of live rock and also live sand. Will adding additional live rock help with my ammonia problem. I am having to do partial water changes way to often. >> The ammonia is a bad sign... either some component of the life in your system is doing poorly (dying), and/or your tank really has not cycled... I would take the advice of your dealer re the cleaner shrimp, lower your system specific gravity to 1.018, raise the tank temperature to 82 F.... and of course, hold off a good month before adding any livestock or live rock... after the ich problem is cured AND the ammonia has gone to zero... which will happen. You don't need, or want to add more live rock at this point. Bob Fenner

I put 90 Pounds of pre cured live rock in to cycle my tank last week. The ammonia levels were high and gradually going down. Wednesday I added 45 more  pounds pre cured and the ammonia now reads 0. I have tested four times in a  matter of 25 minutes. The Nitrite levels are 1+. Is this normal? I thought  the ammonia levels would stay high much longer. > Felix I don't doubt your testing is accurate. This is typical/normal... and no worries. Wait a few days to a couple of weeks and your nitrites will likewise suddenly drop to zero. With live rock use ammonia is generally transient. Bob Fenner

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