A friend gave me a fully established tank and I've detailed the nitrate saga in previous posts, namely in this earlier post
In a nutshell, it's a FO
system with (I'd estimate) 40 - 50 pounds of LR
(which he has had for 14 years in various tanks), a CC
substrate (yeah, I know), a wet/dry with bio-balls, protein skimmer and a grand total of four fish (two clowns, one scopas tang, and a double saddle butterfly). The tank is 90 gallons.
We moved the tank with all its water (detailed in the previous post linked above) and had it going again within hours. The fish were returned to it the next morning and everybody -seems- happy. They are eating, not behaving oddly, etc.
My pH is 8.2, ammonia is 0, nitrites are 0 and nitrates are off the color chart of my tests which ends at 160 mg
/L. Basically, I've no idea how high the nitrates really are since they go right off the end of the color scale. My sg
is on the low side with 1.019. The temp sits right on 77 all the time.
So.... I want to head in the reef direction and the nitrates scare my pants off. The books I'm reading and the zillions of posts I dredge up on the website here seem to lay this out as a classic case of an established system (about two years on this tank) that uses bio-balls. There is no equillibrium. The fish can maybe take it, but nothing else that I want in the future will.
ANYWAY.... to get beyond the backstory...
I decided to go the route I keep reading about and swap the bio-balls for LR
in the wet/dry and then start adding substantially to my existing LR
that is already in the tank.
I called liverocks.com today to ask them some questions and met Mike (who answered). He immediately started asking me some key questions and he really jumped in with both feet when I told him my goals. The nitrate levels put his hair on end, too, and he thought through a series of scenarios on how best to use LR
to get things under control.
One thing I really appreciate beyond just his tremendous willingness to help was his asking all the little questions that I wouldn't yet have considered. For instance, he knew to ask me the opening sizes in my tank since it's acrylic so they can select rock accordingly. It might seem silly to mention, but it's the little things that help a semi-newbie like me.
Anyway, he initially was proposing a large LR
infusion (my words, not his) to get the biological environment in order in a big way but changed the approach when my lower than average salinity, etc., came into the picture. When he weighed the work I'd need to do to get my salinity up properly (while not freaking my fish) to avoid shocking their life-covered rock and further weighed that against a ticking timebomb of a timeline with the nitrates so high, he shifted gears to a different approach that would be more mangeable.
In a nutshell, I am grateful that he intuitively put the process of getting the tank in order ahead of selling a big pile of rock. In the end, of course, he's also gaining a customer (me) that is certainly going to make the larger future rock purchases through them (and very happily).
In the end, this is the course of action we settled on:
1 - I ordered 40 pounds of their base rock. It's their least expensive since it's not as showy, but solidly beneficial in the biological sense which is our current priority.
2 - They are hand selecting the rock that will best fit my wet/dry area. He had me measure the actual water-filled area of my wet/dry under normal running conditions. This is the space where the bio-balls are currently entirely under water. He and Ron are going to select the rock on the basis of what will best fit into that space. What they can't fit into that space in my 40 pound order they will send in the form of larger pieces to put in the tank itself.
3 - Mike says for me step up the water changes (which I began already this weekend). We're hoping that between the bio-ball removal and the added LR
that we can get things to sane levels in the nitrate department. He suggested buying RO
water over even my seemingly clean well water. In the meantime, I'll get a booster pump and get my existing RO
online and making water at a sane rate for the future.
4 - I'm also going to -slowly- try to increase the salinity through the water changing process to get closer to ideal levels for their Key rock. Assuming things trend in the right direction with this first order and I get the salinity right over time, he'll start sending me larger loads of Key rock to further meet our biological goals (as well as the beauty).
So I'm writing this to express my appreciation for wonderful customer support at liverocks.com and also to run these ideas by the community in general. Mike said to definitely bounce this off others and figure that into the equation, but what he has told me so far seems relavitely sound.
Any warnings or additional info or modifications to the above description? Should I swap the bio-balls outright when the new LR
gets here tomorrow? He seemed to think so under the circumstances, but I want to be sure. Where he and I differed a bit was our sense of criticality of the current nitrate levels for the existing livestock. I want it down, but he seemed more sure this is the beginning of the end without immediate and drastic action. I think the nitrates have been high for longer than just this last week (but can't be sure since I didn't own the tank) and no livestock has croaked as of yet.
What suggestions are there for a slow but purposeful increase in salinity?