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Old 06-06-2016, 01:03 PM   #1
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High Ammonia Levels, Zero Nitrate/Nitrite


I am new to the forum site. Hoping some kind cichlid enthusiasts can help me.

We have a 20 gallon tank with 4 cichlids between 1.75-2.25", 1 cuckoo synodontis (1.25") and 1 bristle nose pleco (small 1.5" for now).

We started our tank over a month ago fish less cycling for a week and then adding some dither fish- 4 small tetra. And maintained it great for a few weeks with ideal chemistry. Then we felt the tank had "cycled" (4weeks) we added the pleco and synodontis. We used a the tetra pro wafer every other day to offset the lack of algae in the tank. Our other fish were fed tropical flakes.

Week later- we added the African Cichlids. Everything seemed fine for the first week. Then the tank became cloudy. (This is last week). We started reading various forums looking for advice and decided to get the API Ammonia Test kit. And ... Oh my gosh.. Shock. Our Ammonia levels were 4ppm.

Our tanks chemistry stats consistently read:

Nitrate: 0
Nitrite: 0
Hardness: between 75-150
Chlorine: 0
Alkalinity: 120
pH: between 7.8-8.4
Ammonia: 4ppm

We use the tetra easy strips.

Temp stays at 80 degrees.

We started daily 50% PWC on Friday (today is Monday) to get the ammonia levels down and tested the tap water we are using. It started as 2ppm .. Then we bought Prime and did triple the amount to the tank and added to our PWC bucket. It tested between 0.25 - 0.50 in the bucket, and the tank dropped to 2 ppm but then back up the 4ppm less than 24hours later. We do not like the PWC number but felt is was better than 4ppm so we continue to do while searching for answers. We had read that the bacteria in our filter should take that to zero if we can get the entire tank down.

Our filter system is for a 20-30 gallon tank and we also have added a 5 gallon air pump this weekend to help introduce oxygen to encourage the beneficial bacteria growth. It adds a lot of the bubbles for being so small.

We use the following chemicals for our startup and PWC-
API quick Start
API Stress Coat
Aqueous Water Conditioner
Prime (This weekend started)
And if needed API pH Up.

Our cichlids are:
Otter Point Jake
2 Mbunas - Zebra
1 Dragonblood (side bar: he looks like Eugene Levy)

We were over feeding at first by feeding twice a day. Then dropped to 1 a day with food gone within 5 min. And this weekend didn't feed Friday or Saturday but a small amount Sunday. (Gone in 2 min)

We have vacuumed as much of the excess food and funk from the gravel with each water change. And there is no Algea on the walls or on the deco. (We have several caves and hiding places to help alleviate cranky cichlids.) I rinse the filter in the tank water.

So my questions are:

Is there a better water supply we can use? Bottled seems to be boo'd a lot but a blend of something maybe?

What are we doing wrong or is there another chemical we add to improve the situation?

Should we change water more than once a day?

Please help .. They are seem fine so far but over time I know this will be damaging. Help me keep Eugene healthy!!

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Old 06-06-2016, 03:36 PM   #2
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From what I have learned thus far, I see a couple of issues:

1. The 20g tank is too small for your cichlids. They need at least a 55g or better ultimately for them to be truly happy and not stunted.

2. I'm thinking that at this point, because of the stocking of fish you have, that's what's keeping the ammonia levels up. Too much fish to water ratio.

It's entirely possible that the things I have said are rubbish, but it's my lowly opinion.

-55 gallon FW, sand -55 gallon FW, planted fluorite -38 gallon black sand -10 gallon white sand nursery
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Old 06-06-2016, 04:53 PM   #3
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Hi Carriwin

Yes, the 4 cichlids, pleco, and synodontis are probably too much for our existing tank. We are going to move them to a 100+ in a few months (4-6). This is just to get them and us in a solid routine. We are moving soon and didn't want to lug the giant tank back and forth.

We have been assured by our friend who raised African cichlids for 18 years that we are ok for the size of tank and the size of fish. (He is the one that got us started) However, we are definitely not experts and greatly appreciate the feedback.

A local shop here suggested we use ammonia filtration pads in our filter system until it levels out, do PWC every other day instead of daily, and switch to fluval beneficial bacteria. Everything I see in online forums is kinda negative about the ammonia filter pads. I certainly don't want to just buy "products" geared to newbies.. But feeling pretty helpless.
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Old 06-06-2016, 09:53 PM   #4
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UPDATE: A few hours after my last PWC, I added extra beneficial bacteria after speaking with my "cichlid" friend. It's been 3 hours since then and the Ammonia dropped from 2 ppm to around 0.75ppm. Going to leave the tank alone and see if the bacteria balances it out. Suggested I go to 25% weekly ones now and let the bacteria do its thing since it's going down now.
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ammonia, ate, high ammonia, level, nitrate, nitrite, ten

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