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Old 10-10-2009, 03:23 PM   #1
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Exclamation Reef tank w/Nitrates OVER 160ppm

I wanted to start a new thread related to this one

Getting into the aquarium maintenance business

And specifically posts #19 and on. Forget about the part about 'getting into the business' and review the tank setup if you like, but I believe this is a dire situation that needs an immediate remedy, which is why I broke this out separately.

I tested his Nitrates and the reading was off the scale before I got done with the 1 minute shake. I have no idea how high they actually are without diluting the sample. I will test again (maybe several times and with a different lot, since I have a new Nitrate test kit as well) to make sure I didn't get an erroneous reading, but I'm not expecting anything different.

Now the way I figure it, I can't screw this tank up any more than it has been. Coral growth has stopped or receded, several fish died within the last few weeks, the sump is dingy, skimmer is nasty, and it generally has been neglected. The owner doesn't even know how often PWCs are being done, but I'm guessing at a minimum of 10% every 2 weeks. Hopefully it's more, but it doesn't look like it.

At least most of the fish are alive, but I wouldn't think they're too happy, and are probably susceptible to disease and distress.

Honestly at this point I think I could do a better job than what they're getting now, and it's not because their guy doesn't care or isn't intelligent, he's a very nice guy and knows just abut everything, he's just way too busy and there are other factors as well I won't go into here.

I plan on suggesting (and probably assisting) in a 20% PWC to start, cleaning the sump, skimmer, replacing filter media (pads, not bio balls), and adding a nitrate removal media product into the sump somewhere.

I am a big fan of Seachem Purigen, but right now Nitrates need to drop fast. What about Nitra-zorb or another similar product? Any suggestions? As with any system, I never add chemicals directly to the water unless it's an absolute must, so a passive removal is what I'm going for.

After that I think a 10-15% PWC weekly would be in order until they are brought down to nominal levels, then maybe adding Seachem de*Nitrate (after Nitrates are <20ppm) in the sump in a low-flow area would assist in harboring anaerobic bacteria to keep the Nitrates down, in addition to the Purigen.


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Old 10-10-2009, 03:46 PM   #2
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If it's really that high, 20% isn't even worth doing unless you can do 20% X 5 or so over the next few days IMO. If it were me, I'd find another tank/tub(s) whatever; empty everything out, clean everything and restart. If the sump is trash then trash it or clean the sump. Shut the valves; move the equipment into the main and do something with it. New substrate (hopefully sand) may be in order as well. At 160+ nothing short of cleaning and water changes is going to help.


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Old 10-10-2009, 05:25 PM   #3
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I guess I had considered do-over a last resort, but that was suggested to me by another LFS employee that maintained several systems and seemed extremely knowledgeable. All in all, it would probably be the best thing to do.

On the substrate, I had seen this initially as a concern also. I know there is a fair bit of discussion and opinions on DSBs but I think it would look a lot better and support a wider variety of corals as well as fish species. I have read in several places about using pool filter sand for a DSB in SW, is that what you're suggesting? This is a question I had for my coming SW setup as well.
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Old 10-10-2009, 07:21 PM   #4
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Just perform a 50% water change (gravel vacuum too) every 3 days and you'll be back on track. I've gotten much higher numbers below 40ppm this way.
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Old 10-10-2009, 07:22 PM   #5
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Well, I would do a 50% water change, and then follow with 30% changes daily. That way fish dont get more stress than their in. Then I would put a light and add cheato to the sump.
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Old 10-12-2009, 11:01 PM   #6
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I went in today and tested the system water again. I was aghast to what i discovered. Their guy had been in today and did a PWC (unknown how much) and...get this...ADDED FISH AND CORAL. He added this Goby to replace another that had died

And a coral which is sure to die. Unbelievable. He didn't charge them because he got a deal on some dental work from them (it's a dentist's office). Anyways, here's a full water parameter report:

pH 7.8

Ammoina 0
Nitrite 0

Nitrate test kit #1 (purchased 1/1/9, almost empty) - still 160ppm, but at least it only read 40-80 after the shake (first pic) but then off scale at 5 min

Nitrate Kit #2, recently purchase (for verification), Same results

Both vials side by side, #1 left, #2 right

Phosphate about the same

And silicates negligible

Other test parameters:

KH 7 (5 deep blue, 6 turned it green, 7 went yellow, same as before)

Temp 79.5 (I replaced the dead battery)

Salinity 38.5 / SG 1.0285

As for Calcium, if I understood the Salifert test and performed it properly, it's at around 600-625 ppm. Maybe someone can help me out on this one, I drew up 1ml in the titration syringe and went one drop at a time, swirling it, etc, sometimes a couple at a time, until I eventually emptied out the whole syringe. I refilled it with 0.1ml and went through that. I refilled it with 0.2ml and went through about 3/4 of that and it finally turned over to purple then blue. Each time the black head was at the line for the levels I just gave. I've got a pretty good scientific background so I'm pretty confident I did it correctly. So if the formula is (1-level on syringe) x 500 = Calcium level, and "level on syringe" being what is left over after it turns blue measured in mL (assuming you use less than 1 syringe of vial 3) and I used 1.25 ml (an excess of 0.25ml above and beyond the initial 1mL) then "level on syringe" would be -0.25 giving 1- (-.25) x 500 or 625. That seems high and the opposite of what I expected, but who knows if he dosed the tank after the PWC.

So Nitrates are still the biggest problem, Temp is OK, pH still low, SG is high, Alkalinity could come up a bit, phosphates are high.

Flow rate is quite low, he mentioned that it used to be significantly higher. I mentioned that if the power head had not been taken apart and cleaned, it should be, at least once a year if not more often. I also suggested adding one or two powerheads.

I'm going in there on Wednesday with the new LFS guy I turned him on to, he will probably switch to his service and I will assist and learn.


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Old 10-13-2009, 02:58 PM   #7
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Man, that tank is all screwed up!
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Old 10-13-2009, 03:30 PM   #8
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You say he added more fish?!?!?!

OK, unless the income he provides for you is worth it, I'd consider dropping him. He's not helping himself at all!

"Life may not be the party we hoped for but while we are here we might as well dance!"

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Old 10-13-2009, 03:41 PM   #9
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wow that tank is really crapped. yikes! just keep doing water changes. and add cheato to the sump. have you cleaned out the sump and the skimmer yet? thats probably what you are going to want to do. then add the cheato. if you dont know what it is, it is a plant that will 'eat' the nitrates right out of the water. it is called a refugium when you do this...
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Old 10-13-2009, 04:52 PM   #10
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I would also consider going to RO/DI water. Tap water is adding nitrates to the tank.

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