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Old 11-12-2014, 01:55 PM   #1
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Nitrate, sand vs gravel, and plants (warning long rant :p)

I have a fish tank that lately has been giving me some problems. I think the problem started when I downgraded my tank size.

The 50 gallon I swapped from, was well established and had no problems with ammonia, nitrates , or nitrites. Essentially it was a minimal maintenance tank. The larger tank only had my pleco and gourami in it so I decided to take the water that was established and put it into my 30 gallon with new, clean rocks. At first this was perfect. I didn't have any problems, until the algae spiked up. I cleaned the glass, changed the filter, and added the recommended dose of API algaefix and it cleared up. This flare up happened a few times but this last time it came back with a vengeance.

This is what the tank looked like....



I had put an entire medium bottle of algaefix in the water and the picture above is the worst I've ever seen it. That is after the bottle of algaefix and it was still getting worse. So I tried to take action. I tested my water (found out that my nitrates were over 160ppm), I scooped out all the rocks and I rinsed them, and I also did a 50% water change. I also purchased a new filter (upgraded from tetra whisper to a eheim 2211 canister) and have been cleaning it every day for the last few days to get the algae out and now I have this...



The water is clearing which is a good sign but the test kit I have says that my nitrates are through the roof even though the water is clearing. I have some API nitrazorb to put in my canister to help that and I know cleaning the rocks out helps but does anyone else have any suggestions?

I also wanted to switch to sand to alleviate the nitrate build up problem and keep it from happening again, and I want to plant it as well. I have had no experience with sand or plants, and I didn't even know you could put sand in an aquarium :p any suggestions about sand and plants would be appreciated.
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Old 11-12-2014, 03:30 PM   #2
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Anti algae products won't work with this problem. This is what we call "Green water" problem or "Algae Bloom". This may be caused by many factors, but don't worry, this is not bad for the fishs. I already had to care about this problem on one of my tanks:


I have few questions for you;

1. How much time/day the lights are On ? Is it set on a timer ? What's the lighting system ? LED? Fluos? How much watts ?
Too much lighting can cause this.

2. What's the water parameters ? Is the water full of nitrates or phosphates ?

3. This can happen when there's presence of ammonia in the tank. I would test ammonia and nitrites too.

4. Are you dosing fertilizers for plants ? Do you have plants ?

If you get a negative reading of ammonia and nitrites, and nitrates are low, and lights running less than 6 hours/day, then you should consider doing a total blackout for a week. Doing waterchanges will help temporarly to clear up the water.


UPDATE: Sorry I did not read all the entire thing, I see nitrates are WAY OUT OF RANGE !

Can you test your tap water for nitrates ? I suggest you du daily water changes of 25%.
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Old 11-12-2014, 06:17 PM   #3
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I had the water tested and the ammonia and everything else was normal. I knew it was the nitrates that were the problem i just cant get them down. I have a light on all the time its just a standard fluorescent light no grow properties or anything.

Id like to put plants in the tank but i dont have any yet. Trying to determine if i should change to sand or keep the gravel i have. I hadnt thought that maybe my well water had nitrates and thats why i cant get rid of them. Ill have to test my water and see if thats the problem.
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Old 11-12-2014, 06:25 PM   #4
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You could get some floaters like anacharis or hornwort to bring em down. Nitrates are pretty much lots of plants or lots of water changes.

In saltwater this changes, but it is a bit harder to get beneficial anaerobic bacteria in freshwater.

If you have a lot of nitrates in your well water you could get a tub that you culture the water in a week in advance and have a bunch of floating plants in there.
Or you could get water elsewhere if you aren't off the beaten path.
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Old 11-12-2014, 06:48 PM   #5
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I have a light on all the time
Thats your problem right there. Cut the light down to at least 12 hours and you'll see a great improvement
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Old 11-12-2014, 06:58 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by BrackishAqua View Post
Thats your problem right there. Cut the light down to at least 12 hours and you'll see a great improvement
I would actually say to cut the light down to 8 hours max.

Theres currently 2 ways of taking care of green water.

The first is the easiest, but more expensive. Its to get a uv sterilizer. I bought one for my salt water tank when I got green water.

The second is a black out. Tape garbage bags over all the glass, turn the lights off, and really prevent any and all light from hitting the water. Do this for 3 days and it should die off.

Next, for the water parameters. How often do you change your water and how much do you change?

Assuming there's 0 nitrates in your tap water, it will take 4 to 5 50% water changes to get it down to good levels. After that, a weekly water change of 50% is usually enough.
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Old 11-12-2014, 07:10 PM   #7
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All that is required is to reduce the light and change out most of the water. Small 25% water changes won't cut it if you want a quick improvement. The good news is that green water is not harmful in any way. A handful of daphnia would make short work of that, but only if there are no fish in the tank.
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Old 11-13-2014, 03:15 AM   #8
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Its good to know that the water isnt hurting my fish but what i dont understand is how the light is causing the "green" to grow? I had a 50 gallon before this tank and the light ran 24/7 and ive never had this problem before now. The other tank was well established so i can see how the algae could take over in a new tank too. As for plants i would like to plant my tank now that the water has cleared enough for me to see. The only thing that keeps me from that is i dont want the same gravel problem to happen again so i was considering switching to sand but i didnt even know till like 2 days ago that you could use sand in a fishtank. I have always grown up with tanks that had rocks on the bottom and charcoal trickle filters. Haha i just learned of canister filters too :p so i guess my dilemma is what kind of sand and which plants?
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Old 11-13-2014, 09:11 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by BrackishAqua View Post
Thats your problem right there. Cut the light down to at least 12 hours and you'll see a great improvement
Lol keeping light on >12hrs create algae and green water problems.

That's not a planted tank... keep light off for 3 days... then go for 6hrs/day... And you can increase slowly (+1 hrs/day per week)
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Old 11-13-2014, 09:14 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Scottishscales View Post
Its good to know that the water isnt hurting my fish but what i dont understand is how the light is causing the "green" to grow? I had a 50 gallon before this tank and the light ran 24/7 and ive never had this problem before now. The other tank was well established so i can see how the algae could take over in a new tank too. ?

You get more chances of that to happen in new tanks, when a little ammonia is present. It depends from tanks to tanks... My 10g was ok 24/7 with low lights (except staghorn algae) and my hightech 29g was not Ok at 8hrs/day, water went green like you.
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Old 11-13-2014, 08:06 PM   #11
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What you have are either single cell free floating algaes, or euglena or both. Some few cells are always in a tank, just as bacteria find their way into our tanks with ease. Perhaps the larger tank just didn't have enough to get a bloom going, but now you have one.

Single cell algaes only need two things to grow; food and light. You are providing both in abundance. The nitrates are the food.

So once you get the nitrates down, it will help a lot and reducing the lighting to about 8 hours a day will help a lot too. Aquarists call this condition greenwater or an algae bloom and some of us actually culture this on purpose to act as food for filter feeding animals.

Plants eat nitrates, so adding any type of plant will help reduce nitrate levels. Some of the common floating plants are very good at using up nitrates, but they will shade the tank also, which may make some planted types of plant harder to grow.

And you don't necessarily have to switch to sand though of course you can if you want to. Many of the 'easy' plants will grow in gravel just fine. There are substrates that are made specifically for planted tanks, like Eco Complete or Flourite. Cost a lot more than sand, but give plants a lot more than plain sand or gravel can, especially those that feed heavily from their roots, like sword plants. Root feeders do best with a substrate fert, a tablet or similar, made to insert in the substrate.

Low tech planted tanks don't need carbon supplements, like Excel or CO2 gas, or much in the way of fertilizers, but adding some ferts helps plants grow better and look more attractive. Some of the low light plants are very slow growing though, like java ferns or anubias. And if you get either of them, be sure you do not plant the rhizome under a substrate, because if you do they will rot. They do best tied to a piece of wood or rock, and will eventually cling to such supports on their own.

Depending what plants you get, you may find you need a better light source as well. Fluorescent tubes with a colour temperature of 6500 K are probably the best for this, though there are many choices in lighting besides ordinary fluorescent tubes.

You might want to do a bit of research on planted tanks to get some idea what you'd like to have, and that will help you figure out what you should have for substrate, etc.
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Old 11-13-2014, 09:05 PM   #12
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As long as the nitrate level is above 0ppm then there's plenty of nutrients in the water for the green water to thrive. Doing water changes and adding plants aren't going to cause enough of an impact on the algae to take care of it.
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Old 11-13-2014, 09:14 PM   #13
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Thank you for the advice on the plants and such Fishfur :] that helps me out quite a bit. I think i have made the determination that im gonna do sand but mixed with some gravel. I dont know how that will work. As for the nitrates im working on multiple measusres to reduce the nitrates. I have api nitra zorb, a carbon filter, gonna change the water again, change my lighting a bit, and plant with new substrate that wont have stuff decaying in it :p hopefully the combination of these things will get rid of the algae bloom for good.

Currently i have no substrate in my tank so i am filtering out alot of the algae and leftover food etc. To essentially try and start my tank again without killing my fish in the process.

Thanks for all the help!.
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Old 11-13-2014, 11:04 PM   #14
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As Bill D said, truly, the simplest solution to greenwater is filter feeders. Fan shrimp or moina or daphnia will all clear a greenwater bloom very quickly. It's quite surprising how quickly they can consume the stuff. And later, daphnia make amazing fish food. But you do have to be able to get these critters to use their talents.
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Old 11-14-2014, 12:46 AM   #15
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I will just say start to cut off the lights for 3 days, then open it on a timer for 6-8hrs/days. Try to bring nitrates down if possible (remineralized RODI water?) or you'll get algae problems later.

+1 for 6500K° bulbs for planted tank.

+1 for Java ferns and anubias for low tech tanks (low lighting). No Carbon or ferts needed. You can have some chances with low lights plants like cryptocorynes. Valniseria may work, but not sure.

Adding plants will not help enough for your >100ppm nitrates problem, you need to fix that IMHO. RODI Unit + Seachem Equilibrum + KH test kit may help in this situation, you can bring NO3 near 10-20ppm with that overtime with waterchanges.

I heard people having success with floating duckweed for nitrates, but I won't only use this (fix?) as a solution.

Wish you good luck !
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Old 11-14-2014, 03:24 AM   #16
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Apparently my efforts have partially succeeded....



Now to test the nitrate in the morning and if no improvement with my newfound clarity then the nitrazorb will be deployed :p
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Old 11-14-2014, 04:45 AM   #17
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I agree wholeheartedly with what fishfur implies.

Did you have the water tested at the LFS before or after you bought a new filter? Are you aware that scrubbing the rocks and filter pads in tap water is destroying your bacteria and resetting your cycle? If this is the case then there may be other forms of nitrogen in abundance that the plants are feeding on but more importantly you may have to test for elevated levels of ammonia and nitrite as these could harm your fish.

If you use tank water to clean things and transferred the sponges from the old filter in to the new then ignore the last few sentences.

As already mentioned, algae needs very little to grow and it grows at an alarming rate. Adding plants will definitely help as the algae will have a bit if competition for the nutrients and light. Again 8 hours is a good starting point but you may need less.

I prefer gravel with live plants as the roots are less constricted allowing movement of roots through the substrate and the plants can anchor themselves easier. Waste particles that act as nutrients for plants can easily sift through to the bottom and provide root feeders with additional nutrients.

If you add both then the sand will just work it's way to the bottom and be fairly pointless.

Good luck.


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Old 11-14-2014, 09:10 AM   #18
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I bought my new filter online. And i had my water tested before i installed it. I had a plain carbon filter bag and unit that was riddled with algae so i figured the beneficial bacteria didnt really have anywhere to grow in any abundance anyways. I live in a pretty rural area and my water doesnt have the chlorine and stuff in it that most city supplied water does so when i do test i dont see changes in ammonia or nitrites. Anything that ive cleaned i have just rinsed with water no soaps or sterilizers to kill anything.

I think i have the algae problem under a bit of control now by filtering the water and cleaning the filter everyday and removing the crud riddled rocks that i had. As for plants i havent done anything yet, i pretty much have a clean slate for substrate and planting options at this point. My main goal is to avoid the aquarium "green plague" at all costs :p
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Old 11-14-2014, 09:41 AM   #19
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+1 to Caliban07, any chlorine frop tap kills BBs. Just don't rinse filter bio media unter tap and you'll be Ok. Rinsing theses media can result ammonia spike, wich can cloud the water white and poison the fishs...

Also, green water can't be filtered except with filter <1 microns pores (this not the case of aquariums filters)
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Old 11-14-2014, 09:48 AM   #20
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Well i dont know what i did but most of the algae is gone :p
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