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FAQs on Brackish pH, Alkalinity

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kH in Brackish Water     6/20/18
"Everything happens for a reason" is one of my favorite sayings (although I find "Everything" to be a bit too broad) and the case of the failure of my filter hose in my Goby tank is an example. Before the hose split, dumped all that water (and my biological filter) onto the floor, and threw the tank into a mini-cycle, I thought everything was fine.
<Indeed! Sounds quite the crisis.>
But I've been struggling to get the tank to re-cycle again.
<So long as the substrate didn't dry out, there should be plenty of bacteria, albeit dormant, in the filter and/or substrate.>
I'm using Prime consistently, so the fish are not being affected, but the ammonia has been "jumping" around from .5 one day, to 2 ppm a few days later; I'll get a slight rise in nitrite, but then it goes away without increasing the nitrate (of which the test shows is less than 10) - it has been very frustrating.
<I would imagine. Nonetheless, I'd still have an optimistic approach here.
The filter bacteria will be there. There's no reason that damp filter media should lose all its bacteria, and indeed it should 'regenerate' into something useful within a few days. Of course do multiple water changes, perhaps 25-50% a day for the first week, and don't add any food. But there's no reason for a whole 6-week cycling process that I can think of.>
But I learned a similar lesson with my 125 gallon tank so I decided to check the kH of the tank and discovered there is none - no kH at all (if that hose had not split and caused the cycling problem, I might not have discovered this until the fish had been affected and might not have put it together even then). I put one drop of the test liquid in the test tube with the tank water and the water remained clear. After putting three drops of the test liquid the water had a slight tinge of yellow (yes, I know it's supposed to turn blue). I had to put in 10 drops of the test liquid before it turned a solid yellow and as I added more, it turned a light orange. I think that what is happening is that the amount of Instant Ocean I'm using to achieve an SG of 1.005 cannot provide sufficient kH because 1) I'm using RO/DI water (human remains in the water), 2) I'm brackish, not full salt, and 3) I'm low end brackish (1.005).
<I would agree with this analysis. Nothing a bit of baking soda can't fix!
Something along the lines of 1 teaspoon baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) per 5 gallons/20 litres should do the trick, but feel free to increase as necessary. Use a KH test kit to keep track, and adjust the dose
accordingly. Experiment with a bucket of water first and see what works. If you want to raise GH, then 1 tablespoon Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) per 5 gallons/20 litres can be used as well.>
When this same situation occurred in my 125 after I re-homed my loaches, I started using Seachem Alkaline Buffer to bring up the kH (I'm not chasing a pH, just working to establish a healthy kH.
The kH in all the tanks is 8 and that's just fine) and it has been working perfectly in all the tanks. But then I found myself in a quandary - I know Seachem make a Marine buffer, but I'm not keeping a marine tank - just low end brackish, and I was afraid the calculations and proportions in the directions on the Marine Buffer would only apply to full salt tanks.
<Should work, just go 10-50% dosage, as seems appropriate with your KH and/or GH test kits.>
So I decided to use the same Alkaline Buffer I use in my freshwater tanks.
I calculated the amount needed to bring the kH up to 8 like in my other tanks and split the dosage into three parts (I didn't want to do it all at once because I know it will affect the pH - I didn't want to inflict a radical change on the fish). I added the first dosage earlier this morning and when I tested this afternoon the test showed a kH of 3. Unless you think I'm doing something wrong, or you think the Goby and the Mollies need a higher kH, I'll put in the next two doses over the next two days. So that's the purpose of this e-mail - do you seen anything wrong with my thinking or my plan to correct this problem?
<Nope; it's a good plan!>
*Renee *
<Good luck, Neale.>
Re: kH in Brackish Water      6/21/18

Great! Thank you!
<Most welcome. Neale.>

Re: HELP HELP HELP continued! New Tank/High pH 3/7/08 Last night I moved my green spotted puffer from the 10 gallon tank where he was a little stressed but otherwise acting normally (eating, exploring, etc.), to a new 55 gallon tank. I treated the water with Prime before putting it in the tank and I'm using crushed coral/live sand as a substrate. <Live sand? It can't be live at that low SG. Did it come in a bag? Nothing live in a bag of sand.> I moved all of his stuff from his old tank into the new tank (including the substrate, plants, deco, and filter, which I set up alongside the main filter for the tank). Last night he appeared to be doing well and I went to bed, content that I had done right by him. <:o)> This morning I came down to see my buddy and he did not look like himself at all! He's weak, barely able to swim, just getting swept along with the current. I did some tests and nitrite is 0, ammonia is .25, nitrate is 10 and pH is a whopping 8.8. <WOW! That's odd'¦> I have NO idea how the pH got so high... my tap water doesn't run that high and I'm utterly baffled. I rinsed all of the new items I placed in the tank (obviously not the old tank stuff because I was trying to preserve the bacteria). I quickly pulled him out, as he was barely showing any signs of life and I put him in a small quarantine tank that I'd set up for the new mollies that he was going to live with. He's swimming lilting to one side and he already got wedged between the filter and the tank wall once (that's how weak he is). <Probably pH shock--that's quite a jump for the lil guy.> I put some pH down into the tank in the hopes that it would help, but honestly, I hear that stuff is total junk. <Temporary fix. Causes pH swing which is just as bad.> In my efforts to save him I'm afraid I've doomed him! What do I do?? AHHH! Micah <I'm combining your 2 emails.> While the green spotted puffer was in the molly tank I added some pH down and brought the pH to a much less disturbing 7.6. nitrIte is still 0, nitrAte is still 10 and ammonia is .25. Tank temperature is about 80. After the mollies started getting a little too bold (some of them even pecking at his head, to no response from him), I decided keeping him in there just wasn't a viable option. I retested the tank water (see above results) and crossed my fingers that it was safe to put him in. <Generally, a steady pH of 8 us recommended for brackish fish, so that's what you need to aim for. Emphasis on 'steady'.> My poor guy is just being swept with the current of the tank and bashed into everything in his way (tank walls, plants, decor...) <What is causing such a strong current? Just the 2 filters? Shut the new one down for now if that's too much & put a sponge on the end of the intake, to prevent him from getting stuck.> I called a few LFS and one of them mentioned that the pH spike might be related to the crushed coral I'm using as a substrate but I've never heard of such a thing. <It should raise the pH to 8. Put some in a cup & test it in there with some tap water, treated with Prime.> I'm in a state of absolute panic...what have I done??? <I don't know a lot about chemistry. My guess would be the substrate. I don't know what you bought. Since this seems to be an emergency, you are welcome to YIM me at Pufferpunk. I'll try to help the best I can. ~PP>

Raising pH in Brackish Tank, "FW" Morays  7/11/06 Hi, <Hi John, Pufferpunk here> I am writing with a few questions for anyone who may have the time to answer them for me. All help is greatly appreciated. <I can certainly try!>    I have in my possession a "Freshwater" Moray Eel, about 14 inches in length. He is currently in a 55 gallon tank (48"x12"x18") with about 1/2" of gravel on bottom. I saw him for sale a while back and did some research on him before making the decision to purchase. The specific gravity of salt in the water is 1.008, according to my recently purchased hydrometer. <I prefer refractometers--much more accurate--hydrometers can be off as much as .005.  You might want to compare the reading on your hydrometer, with a refractometer, to see if it's true.> Ammonia, nitrite, nitrate levels are all at zero. I believe the pH is a little low for him, ranging at just over 7.5. I've had him for just over two weeks now and am having problems. :(   My first question is should I raise the ph level? <I would, BW fish prefer a pH of around 8.> He is a lone inhabitant, other than food (a few guppies ranging from very small to about an inch in length and a few ghost shrimp I put in yesterday). I'm not sure of the exact pH level he would be happiest in so I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask. Second, would he be happier if I kept him on live or switched him to frozen? I bought some frozen krill for him but he isn't taking to that very well. If it's better for him to be on frozen, what is the best way to switch him to frozen? One person I talked to said that I should not let him eat one day, then try frozen the next and if he doesn't take to it then give him some fresh and to just keep trying that making the gaps in-between feedings longer, until he breaks and eats the frozen krill. <You will have to "train" him to eat frozen foods (hopefully you are defrosting before feeding).  You can spear the food with a wooden stick (like the ones they use for kabobs) or you can get a plastic one at your LFS.  I'd take away his live food for about 3 days before trying this.  Then you will have to entice him, by wiggling the food around by his face (preferably in the evening, during "regular" hunting hours).  You could also bounce the food off a thread (use a needle to go through the food) but don't tie a knot in the end.  I would try a variety of foods, including silversides, people shrimp & any other odds & ends you see for sale in your grocery/produce store.> My other problem is with his breathing. He is breathing rapidly with the same symptoms of another eel I read about in one of the FAQ's on your site but I don't believe that low salt is the problem. Like I said the salt level is at 1.008 SG. What else could possibly cause this breathing problem? He is not eating as much now as he used to. Is it because I'm trying to switch him to frozen or because he is sick? He is displaying no outward signs of any parasitic infestation or bacterial infection. Is there the possibility of internal infection? <Heavy breathing can be a sign of ammonia/nitrite issues, affecting the 02 levels in the water and/or burning their gills.  How long has that tank been set up?  Are you doing regular weekly water changes?  You should be seeing some detectable nitrates in a cycled BW tank.  How was the tank cycled?  How quickly did you raise the SG?  It should be only raised by .002/weekly water changes so as not I'd test the water again.> My last question is due to fact that he is a brackish water fish. Could I put substrate at the bottom of his tank instead of the standard fish gravel that he is in now? <This actually goes back to your pH question & how to raise it & keep it stable around 8.  It is recommended to use crushed coral or aragonite as substrate in a BW tank.  Since you only have 1/2" of gravel in there, you could just add another inch to that.  If your gravel is dark though, you may not like the look & want to change it out completely for the buffering substrate.> He seems to be doing just fine with the gravel--he is burrowing down under some rock I have in his tank during the day.  Kind of like a natural rock structure that he swims through and sleeps under. <Yes, they hang out in burrows during the day & hunt at night.> I have some knowledge about aquariums but I don't know everything <Ha, me either!> and hopefully you guys can help me learn a little more about this guy. I've had him for just over three weeks now. Anything you guys can share is greatly appreciated. Thanks for your time and have a great day. John R. Ayer <Thanks John I will (today's water change day) & enjoy this interesting creature!  ~PP>

UGF and High pH II (03/01/04) <Hi! Ananda here with some ideas...> No....nothing new....yes I vacuum, nothing has changed, it was 6 for so long and now 7.4-7.6 ....tried SeaChem acid buffer/alkaline buffer.....for a few days and ph did not budge....I am clueless <Do you, by chance, have kids? Is there a possibility that the kids sent something into the tank that you haven't seen? Or perhaps your municipality has changed the way it treats its water supply? Or have you recently started to use a different household cleaner? Are you using the same brand/type of pH test kit? Is it possible the test kit chemicals have expired, giving you an inaccurate result? Or did you recently get a new test kit, and your old test results may have been inaccurate? Also, if you've had the windows and such closed all winter, perhaps you've had a high level of ambient CO2 in the house, which would depress the pH. If  you've recently had a bout of spring weather and opened up the house, the pH could go up as the CO2 levels in the house drop. Hope this helps.... --Ananda>

Re: wood for aquascaping First of all let me say I am very impressed not only with your site ( boy am I getting an education).   Second, thank you for tour incredibly quick reply to my last question about velvet.  It remains to be seen whether my fish (scat) will make it.  Without your advice the chances would have been zilch.   My question:   I need to provide more cover/structure for my fish to get out of each other's way (especially my Chromides).  I like the look of wood over rock.  However, the wood I am considering, labeled "Mopani wood", is indicated on the label to help soften the water.  My understanding from what I've gleaned from your articles & FAQ's is that brackish aquaria should be fairly hard water. ( I believe our local tap water is considered to be quite hard). <I would test it for hardness> "Wood" it be a mistake to use wood? <I believe so. Look to types of rock (carbonate, Tufa...) that impart alkaline earth materials (calcium, magnesium...), alkalinity to the water> Also, in an effort to increase pH slightly (was about 7.6 - trying to get to 8.0 or so) I have started using baking soda (I'm cheap).  However some of the commercially available products apparently use a variety of bicarbonate salts and claim this is superior.  Is there a problem with adding only the sodium bicarb? <No problem other than it will only raise pH to about 7.8> Thanks a bunch (still crossing my fingers on the scat - he doesn't look too well at the moment) Andreas

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