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Old 04-27-2005, 10:33 PM   #1
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Major Tank Relocation & Nitrate Questions

Hello!

The last time I had a marine tank was ten or twelve years ago. I've missed it a great deal and have often pondered getting back into it but haven't had the time or been ready to spend the money for a system I'd really like.

Last week a friend of mine who has shared the hobby with me all these years (but stuck with it when I haven't) decided he no longer has time and wanted his system to go to a good home. In rather short order (my head is still spinning), I've gone from no tank to a gorgeous acrylic 90 gallon with wet/dry, protein skimmer, Kent Marine 24GPD TFC RO unit and all the miscellaneous support equipment. More importantly, I'm inheriting an established ecosystem that has been wonderfully healthy from the beginning (it was probably his fourth system and he had quite a bit of experience before building it).

The tank has a couple of inches of substrate, a good amount of live rock that he's carried across his various tanks for somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 years, two clownfish, a pair of brittle stars, and one rather attractive Double Saddle Butterfly. As I stated earlier, there is a wet/dry (BioFil 1) and protein skimmer. There is also a Little Giant 465 GPH pump, fluorescent (actinic) lighting, etc. Throw in a black laminated stand and hood and it's one gorgeous addition to our living room.

We moved the system yesterday. On Monday (the day before), I picked up the RO unit from him and bought a couple of new 34 gallon plastic trashcans (which I hosed out thoroughly). I started making water with the RO so we'd have additional water if we needed it after the move. On moving day, I picked up some new 5 gallon buckets and four more trashcans (for a total of five during the move with the sixth being on the RO unit).

We siphoned water into a 5 gallon bucket and moved the three fish there for the coming hours. We then started siphoning a movable amount of water into the various cans and distributing the live rock through several of them so they would stay submerged. We shoveled out most of the wet substrate into a couple more of the 5 gallon buckets. The tank got wrapped in a heavy blanket. We filled two trashcans heavier than we could move (on purpose) so that the other three were mangeable. I bought one of those ratcheting loadbars (like you use for holding a toolbox in place) for my parents' pickup truck. The three movable cans with live rock were pinned against the cab with the loadbar and had
their lids bungied in place. The tank, stand, filtration gear, etc., were loaded in the remainder of the bed and we took the first batch to my house.

Once there, we set up the tank, dumped in the substrate and started loading in the water. Once there was a decent amount of water, we added the live rock (so it was submerged). We took the now empty three cans back to his house and distributed the overly heavy two cans across a total of four and took those to my house. In the end we managed to move MOST of the water from the running system. We mixed salt into the water I had generated with the RO and topped off the tank. The salt we used was from his existing supplies and the same stuff that has been used on this tank all along (Kent Marine brand, I think). We set the heater to around 72 and cranked up the protein skimmer, pump and (inherently) the wet/dry unit.

In the process we also added a bag of larger substrate that I bought. It's mostly pieces of shells about the size of your thumb or smaller and added some nice variety to the more plain, fine-grained substrate that was already in the system. My wife washed it thoroughly while we were moving things despite the bag saying "pre-washed".

Needless to say, the tank looked like poop for the next couple of hours. The fish remained in the five gallon bucket with the addition ofan airstone to keep them xygenated. I wrapped the bucket up in a towel near a radiator and it stayed around 72 degrees all night long. I did some aquascaping before I went to bed since it was getting clear enough
to work and I figured it made sense to get most of the craziness over so I didn't have to distrupt it so much later.

By morning the tank was quite clear, the water was in the mid 70's and the salinity read around 1.020. I checked the fish in the bucket and their salinity and temp were virtually an exact match to the tank, so I went ahead and moved them to the tank. They seemed quite calm and eagerly ate the food I gave them a few minutes later. They have showed no signs of stress throughout the day and the tank has gotten nothing but clearer. I cleaned off some algae this morning and, as of now, it's just this side of crystal clear.

Tonight I did my first water tests so I could start getting a feel for my new system. The test kit I used was the one he gave me with his supplies, so I'm not sure of its age. I'd guess a few years. Most of the little bottles feel like they are mostly full.

pH checked out at a solid 8.2 on the color chart.
Ammonia came in at zero on the color chart.
Nitrites came in at zero on the color chart.
Nitrates, however, hit the end of the chart with the best coloar match being the 160 ppm reddish box at the bottom.

I'm glad the first three were so ideal, but the nitrate part has me puzzled.

I've been thinking on it and was wondering if any of the following
are a factor:

A) Obviously, the nitrates could have been screwy for a while and he wasn't aware of it since the tank has been healthy and I'm not sure of his most recent testing...

B) Stirring up everything to such a monstrous degree has unleashed all kinds of crapola in the substrate, etc., that will freak the nitrate level but naturally come back into balance in the coming days... ?

C) The additional substrate I added was funky? Doubt it, but just throwing out all the variables for consideration...

D) The test kit is hosed? I don't know the lifespan on these things... ?

Everything seems healthy and the first are happy. I am worried, though, about the nitrate levels until I can better understand the cause and possibly correct it (if it needs correcting and I imagine it does).

Needless to say, I'm thrilled to be getting back into the marine tank scene and especially now with all the new technology, Internet resources, online livestock options, etc. My wife is new to saltwater and is equally excited by the possibilities. It's definitely fun getting a jumpstart on the process with an established system, but also a little daunting not having gone through the process from scratch and knowing all the variables.

Any insight on the nitrates would be appreciated. I'd also be curious for any input on our method of moving everything (it's water under the bridge already, but any constructive "you screwed up, jackass" comments would still be useful for the future). If I left out any helpful details on the nitrate issue, don't hesitate to ask (email or response
to this post).

Thanks!
- Aaron
Sweet Briar, Va
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Old 04-27-2005, 11:09 PM   #2
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The substrate being stirred up may be causing the nitrate reading. However, most test kits are only good for 9 months to a year. You should start fresh unless he can guarantee they are less than 6 months old. Sounds like you did well in the move though. Most reef tanks are kept between 78 and 82 degrees temperature.
When you do your tests be sure to do them at the same time every time. Parameters change throughout the day due to the light cycle. The parameters also change with temp fluctuations. The salt bag should tell you what the readings should be at specific temperatures. Such as " sg 1.023, ph 8.3 at 78 degrees" or something like that. It will tell you what the calcium would be too. Keep an eye out for ich spots on the fish, because this move will have caused severe stress and stirring up the substrate can mess up the water , etc. If there is any ich in the system at all they will be more susceptible to it.
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Old 04-27-2005, 11:11 PM   #3
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And by the way welcome to AA.
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Old 04-27-2005, 11:36 PM   #4
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Welcome to AA

As far as your move goes...sounds close to perfect to me. That is, I believe, the prefered method and easiest way to move an established system. 50 Kudos your way.
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Old 04-28-2005, 11:15 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by electrikat
The substrate being stirred up may be causing the nitrate reading. However, most test kits are only good for 9 months to a year. You should start fresh unless he can guarantee they are less than 6 months old. Sounds like you did well in the move though. Most reef tanks are kept between 78 and 82 degrees temperature.
When you do your tests be sure to do them at the same time every time. Parameters change throughout the day due to the light cycle. The parameters also change with temp fluctuations. The salt bag should tell you what the readings should be at specific temperatures. Such as " sg 1.023, ph 8.3 at 78 degrees" or something like that. It will tell you what the calcium would be too. Keep an eye out for ich spots on the fish, because this move will have caused severe stress and stirring up the substrate can mess up the water , etc. If there is any ich in the system at all they will be more susceptible to it.
Thanks so much for the reply. I'll hold off on my alarm a bit until I can test it again with a fresh kit... thanks for confirming that as a possibility.

Assuming it still tests this way, can I expect it to maybe drop as the tank settles in the coming days? I can see stirring things up causing the nitrate jump. Would that be normal or does that indicate things are already out of balance with the substrate holding all of that to begin with?

The current fish in the tank have never had ick. I agree that we stressed them massively in the move and likely stirred up the sources of ick in the process. I -might- be seeing signs of it on the clownfish (as of yesterday), but am not certain just yet. I've not once seen them scratching or rubbing anything where I -think- I am seeing the spots (a single dot in either case), so I'll keep an eye on it.

Thanks to both of you replying for the kudos on the move... glad we seem to have done it properly. It was a lot of work, but completely worth it!

Thanks!
- Aaron
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Old 04-28-2005, 01:10 PM   #6
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I agree that the substrate has something to do with your nitrates. It's recommended not to disturb the substrate and throw out the old substrate when doing a move or switching tanks to help avoid these kind of issues of releasing un-wanted stuff back into the water colum. Established sand has benificial infuana and it's recommended to collect a cup or two from the upper 1" layer of the sand to reseed your new sand.
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Old 04-28-2005, 02:53 PM   #7
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Glad to hear there is a growing concensus on the substrate disruption. Next question is what I should do about it - if anything. Will it settle again or should I look for some kind of corrective additive? Normal water changeouts? If so, how much and how fast?

Thanks!
- Aaron
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Old 04-28-2005, 06:33 PM   #8
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I suppose doing 10%-20% water changes every two-three days is good start to lower your nitrate. Don't over feed as that will add to the problem. Use RO/DI or distilled water will help also.
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Old 04-28-2005, 07:29 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by klam
I suppose doing 10%-20% water changes every two-three days is good start to lower your nitrate. Don't over feed as that will add to the problem. Use RO/DI or distilled water will help also.
agreed
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Old 04-28-2005, 09:59 PM   #10
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I think the water changes and time are your best ally here.....once things settle it will lower your nitrates....but prolly not enough...the water changes and the settleing together should take care of the problem in no time at all.
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Old 05-02-2005, 01:05 AM   #11
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Thanks for the encouragement on the water changes and letting things settle. I did the first one today.

Last night I spent time measuring water into various buckets and marking lines so I'd know for the future how far to fill various vessels to get specific quantities. At this point, I have a clean trashcan that has only ever been used with the aquarium (bought it during the tank move last week) that is now my salt mixing vessel. I can easily fill it to 10 or 20 gallons with the two lines I marked inside with red electrical tape.

Anyway, I filled it to 20 gallons last night with strictly cold water (to avoid potential metals/minerals from the hot water heater). I tossed in a spare pump to circulate the water as well as a 30 gallon rated submersible heater that I bought for this purpose. I set it to bring the water up to the same temp as the tank and left it for the night.

This morning the water was the right temp, so I chose a new cup to use for measuring out salt and added it in batches until the specific gravity matched the tank. I took note of the number of cupfulls to speed the process along in the future.

I mixed the salt with the pump still running for better circulation and let it sit a little while afterward. I checked the sg a few times and it always came in right on the mark.

I pumped from the tank just shy of the amount of water that I had mixed . I discovered after pumping that this second trashcan had developed a small hole and started to run all over the living room floor. I dragged it out in a big hurry and my wife and I soaked up the relatively small (but fast moving) pool. I know that thrilled her to no end, but she's really liking the tank, so I escaped summary execution...

I decided after pumping in the new water to mix up five more gallons to be sure I was fully topped off. I repeated the above procedure using a clean, tank-only five gallon bucket and all went perfectly.

The fish seem plenty happy - no odd behavior. Tonight I checked all the chemistry again and my pH is still dead on 8.2, the ammonia is 0, the nitrites are 0 but the nitrates show (at this point) no visible change and are at (or beyond) 160 according to the color chart.

I tested it twice using my original kit and a new one I had purchased to rule out problems with the old one. Both registered the same.

Since 160 is the top of the chart, I don't know how bad it really is (numerically speaking). I also don't know whether I've improved things but not brought it below 160 just yet or if things are the same or worse. I was hoping to see a decline - but no such luck.

Is there any sort of nitrate test with either a wider range of measurements or a device that will yield a numeric score so I have something to track other than a finite color chart?

I plan on repeating the water change process on this scale every couple of days until I can get some measurable shifts in the results. I'm using my tap water right now since the RO will take a hundred years under current conditions to give me what I need. My tap water checks out pretty nicely straight from the tap (it's well water) and registers no nitrates of its own (and very, very low phosphate).

Since I've started the process, can anyone tell me if this is a sound procedure and if it is safe to keep doing changes of water on this scale every few days? Any guess on how long it might take to conquer the nitrate problem?

Also, are there some additional theories on what might be the problem if I see no real improvement after several large water changes? Someone in another post had suggested that my problem might be in my wet/dry. If so, what would be the process for getting that straight? Is there a scenario I need to prepare for here where I might NOT be fixing the problem despite the water changes?

Thanks for the help!
- Aaron
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Old 05-03-2005, 02:16 PM   #12
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It is best to let the salt mix at least 24hrs before the water change. This will help aerate the saltwater. Also i've heard that newly mixed saltwater can burn the fishes gils.

Since I don't want to add salt to my mix before the water change what I do to aviod this to add less water than salt in the begining of a new mix. So the salitnity will be higher than desired. But it is a lot easier and faster to add water to lower the salinity than it is to add salt and wait for it to dissolve completely to raise salinity.

Test kits are a pain. But Salifert are a little easier to read, but it's still a color chart.
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