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Old 07-04-2008, 10:06 PM   #1
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Need some advice

I've looked throughout the forums and I think I've tried most of the things I could find that seem to apply to my problem. Some background: I started a 40 gallon FOWLR tank in Feb. I cycled the tank with 1- 1/2 inches of crushed coral (at the time I thought I read this was the best substrate, now not so sure!) and 60 lbs. of live rock. The tank cycled and after 8 weeks I bought 3 green chromis and 2 margharita snails. Those snails didn't make it, they kept getting flipped and I didn't get to help them out in time when I was at work. So they bit the dust unfortunately. My levels were good and I got 5 red leg hermits and 3 turbo snails. All doing well so 3 weeks ago I got a royal gamma basslett. The inhabitants are all good but I'm concerned with my water parameters.
My ammonia and nitrites have been at 0 since I cycled. However my nitrates have consistently been at 20 for the last 5 or 6 weeks and I can't get them down. My phosphates are .5, temp 82, salinity .0125. I can't keep the ph up, it keeps going to 7.8 so I am concerned about that. I have some stuff to add to make it 8.2 but I am really leary about adding that to my tank water. I use RO water that I purchase at a local store and I use Red Sea Coral Pro salt. I had used instant ocean but my lfs told me this new salt would work better to raise my ph. Hasn't helped one bit. I have been doing a 15% water change ever 3 or 4 days for the last 2 weeks and the nitrates haven't gone down at all. I used to feed 2 times a day (very tiny amounts) but I've cut that back to once a day for the last 4 days. Although I have read that chromis should eat 3 times a day. This week the brown algae started on my live rock and the walls, nothing on the substrate though so far. My calcium is really low, I would eventually like to tackle corals but I know my calcium is too low for that, it is at 320.
Oh, my lights are brand new, I got them 2 weeks ago, Satellite - 65W. I did have them on 10 hours a day the first week as I was hoping to get some stuff growing on my live rock. I've cut that back this week to only 5 hours a day. Forgot to mention I have 2 power heads and a Remora HOB protein skimmer that I've been running since week 3 or so. Also, I have my old Magnum 350 canister filter (a leftover from my 7 years of freshwater fish I had before I switched over to salt) running with an empty canister at the moment. I had run a small amount of carbon in there for about 6 weeks and I pulled that out last week. Now just running the canister with a filter sleeve on it. I am not sure if I should even run the filter, I do get some gunk on my filter sleeve that I clean weekly. I haven't replaced that sleeve, I have just been cleaning it out regularly. Could that be the problem?? Should I ditch the filter do you think? I do not have a sump.
Any recommendations to improve my water quality??? I am very concerned about these nitrates and yes, I have tested my water source. I've checked my premixed water and that comes back at 0 for nitrates and phosphates. I love this site and I am constantly going through the postings for ideas and advice. I just can't figure out what else to try!
Another newbie question - one of my hermit crabs found the old margarita snail shell that I hadn't gotten out. He moved right into it. (Freaked my daughter out when he did that!) Some of the other hermit crab shells seem tiny as his was. Is it ever recommended to get them larger shells or will their shells grow with them?
Thank you all!

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Old 07-05-2008, 12:07 AM   #2
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Hmmm... seems like you've thought of everything I can think of. My first thought was source water, but you said you tested that. 0.5ppm for phosphates is REALLY high... even for overfeeding. That's the part that confuses me. Well... along with the fact that you're doing water changes but not seeing a dent in your nitrate levels. What brand test kit are you using? Have you tried another test kit?

What type of skimmate are you pulling with your skimmer? Fairly wet? Fairly dry? How often does the cup get filled up?

I run a HOT Magnum 250 on my 46g, and have the blue filter sleeve over the cannister. But I swap it out for a clean one each week. The old one gets washed out good and hung to dry for the next week. You might try a new filter sleeve, but I don't think that's your problem.

Regarding your salinity... I'm thinking that's just a typo, but you said your salinity was .0125. Do you mean 1.025? Or did you mean 1.0125? I'm guessing you meant 1.025 but didn't want to assume that...

I've had 3 chromis in my tank now for a year. They definitely don't need fed 3 times a day. I feed mine once a day, and they could probably do just fine being fed once every other day.

Nothing really jumps out at me regarding your nitrates. Not sure why you can't get them down. Regarding the pH and calcium, I'm not familiar with that salt so maybe someone that is can comment if that's normal.

Oh... and yeah - get some bigger empty shells for your hermits and put them in the tank. That way when they go shopping for shells they won't have to kill your snails. No... the shells don't grow with them, unlike snails.

Welcome to Aquarium Advice, by the way!

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Old 07-05-2008, 01:53 AM   #3
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Welcome to the site Maybe the crushed coral is trapping waste and there is not enough Biological bacteria to absorb the waste?? Have the nitrates been an issue since you set up your tank or just recently? If your source water is ok then something within your setup is producing the nitrates its just a matter of figuring out what it is. Where does the waste build up at? Do you have lots of flow??

Just thinking out loud here

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Old 07-05-2008, 02:14 AM   #4
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Crushed coral is a bad nitrate collector. Then your water source. You cant test batches as elements like ammonia and nitrate and phosphate among other cill collect with each water change and your water source could give high readings with only 1 water change .

Your LR and if you had LS will help convert ammonia and nitrate into harmless nitrogen but not if flow is low or placement wrong.

Your powerheads position and size matter also.

A tank pic and equipment list would help.
And water change amount and scedule.

In this hobby your always learning so getting the basics right makes it much easier.

Water source #1 as if you dont have a quality water source then you can never rule this out .
Then your flow and amount of LR and LS and maintance habits.

A book would help .

Amazon.com: The New Marine Aquarium: Step-By-Step Setup & Stocking Guide: Michael S. Paletta, Edward Kadunc, Scott W. Michael, John Goodman: Books
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Old 07-05-2008, 07:39 AM   #5
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I actually have that book, that is what got me started on everything. I've poured over that book for weeks and weeks. That book is what got me to decide on the crushed coral which I've learned since then isn't the best. I test my water that I've got mixed up for water changes every week before I use it and it has always tested 0 for nitrates and phosphates. So I am positive it can't be my water. I am using the API water testing kits and have used them from the start. I got the nitrates down to 0 after I cycled the tank and they stayed there until 2 weeks after I started adding the fish. Then they crept up to 10. They stayed there for a little, but I only did water changes weekly then and only about 10% or so. Then the last few weeks they jumped up to 20.
My rock doesn't have much growing on it. Just starting to get a little green and purple showing at some areas and then of course the brown. I'll try to get a pic today of the tank if I can. My camera is not the best but I'll see what I can get.

I think I've listed most of the equipment I have on my original post, I just can't remember the type and flow on the power heads. I have to dig out the boxes in the basement!

I pull a ton of dirty water with my skimmer, I've not ever gotten the nice foam that others talk about. When I email Aqua C on that, they tell me that it is my water, that I can't use conditioners on it as that will cause the tea colored water and not foam. I've told them twice I use RO water so I don't add conditioners but they keep sending me the same response. I empty the cup twice a day. It had been worse, I used to have to empty that 3 or 4 times a day. Any advice anyone has on that would be welcome too.

I apologize for the type error on my salinity - I did mean 1.025. I realized I errored or my phosphate too. It should have been .05, not .5. Sorry about that! (Had a couple too many drinks yesterday!) I still know that is high, as everywhere says that should be 0 as well.

I will be doing another water change today - I've read mixed reviews on cleaning the substrate as well. I have a gravel cleaner but I haven't cleaned the coral for a couple of weeks. I have pulled my water for changes that way a section at a time until I cleaned it all. How often would you recommend I clean the coral? I think I've read that it can stir up more trouble if done too much? I did plan on vacumning the LR today when I siphon out water. I've seen a fair bit of dirt on there although I normally use a turkey baster and clean it off weekly.

Thanks all and I'll work on getting a pic on here today.
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Old 07-05-2008, 02:27 PM   #6
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OK... 0.05 on phosphates is still high, but at those levels, it's totally possible that it's coming from your initial overfeeding, and whatever is trapped in the crushed coral.

I didn't catch that in your first post - I'd plan on changing out the crushed coral to a normal sand bed. It can do nothing but help your situation. Regarding cleaning it, normally you don't want to disturb a sand bed much. But I think you want to vacuum at least the top layer of crushed coral.

Regarding the Remora skimmer... Aqua C's response is a little strange because their skimmers are pretty well known to run wet - and that's not really an issue. Never heard anyone complain about that aspect of them so it's strange that they're trying to "blame" it on something in the water. Regardless... I've got a Remora also, and yes - it runs wet. And I've never used water conditioners. Only reason I asked about the skimmer was because sometimes I've read posts about people not collecting ANY skimmate because they've got it adjusted too high, or never emptying their cup and just letting it overflow back into the tank. Just wanted to rule out misoperation of the skimmer, but it sounds like everything there is OK.

You aren't adding any supplements (coraline algae food, phyto for filter feeders, etc...) to the tank, are you?
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Old 07-05-2008, 04:59 PM   #7
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Once again, thanks to all for the advice- as much as I HATE the thought/chore of switching out my crushed coral, I would do it for the fish and to ease my worry over these nitrates. So now can I ask how you recommend I do that? The tank isn't that old, will I have any problems switching it out? From what I've read quickly on some posts here, I guess I should go with dry sand and not what they call live sand? It seems like most people say it isn't really live anyhow?
So if you could advise me on how to switch it over? Do I have to take out everything, move my 4 fish and their water and the LR into a temp home and take out the coral? Then just clean and put in the sand? Can I put everything back in right away or do I need to let my tank settle for awhile? Will it do a cycle again? Sorry for all the questions!!!!!!!!
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Old 07-05-2008, 06:25 PM   #8
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If you are not vacuuming the cc that is probably the cause of the nitrates. Switching it to a sand bed should be done 1/4 or 1/3 at a time with about a week between each switch. That should prevent pullling out too much of your beneficial bacteria and give the sand bed a chance to start getting populated with bacteria.
LS in the bag is really just wet sand. It generally will not cause the sand storm that new dry sand will, but you can prevent that to a large degree. Mix the dry sand in a 5 gallon bucket with water from a PWC. You want to mix it up and add water to slowly start overflowing the bucket or suction out the top layer of water that is silty. The remaining sand should be added slowly and carefully. You can use a 4" diameter section of PVC to fill a section of the tank at time. Put the pvc against the glass bottom and half fill it with your wet sand. SLOWLY lift the pvc and let the sand spread out. You will get a bit of a sand storm, but that should settle in a few hours. Move on the a new area and repeat until the section is at the height you want it. You could also fill plastic bags with the wet sand and lower those to the bottom. Open the bag on the bottom and slowly empty it. And ...
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Old 07-06-2008, 09:29 PM   #9
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I'll be going away for a week shortly, do you think if I just started to take out some of the crushed coral now and got it down to a thin layer it might help for awhile? Then when we are home I can start the switchover?

I am already freaking at having my neighbor take care of my tank while we are away and I want to have things as stable as I can when I go away. Not to change the subject but I love the idea of using a pill dispenser to measure out the food. My neighbor used to feed my HUGE goldfish we had in the tank before the switchover and I'm so afraid she'll overfeed while I'm away.

Also, my calcium is so low at 320 and has been there since I've been testing that for 2 months or so. Alk is within normal limits. After reading a bunch of posts on here tonight, would a different salt mix help bring that up? I think I posted I used to use Instant Ocean and then switched to the Red Sea Coral Pro on the advice of the lfs. So far I see no improvement in my calcium with that salt mix. Of course I am getting a collection of salt buckets here and I'd like to use some of these up if at all possible rather than buy another brand. But I hate the thought of having to dose to increase the Calcium if pwc will solve the problem with the right salt mix. So I'm torn right now. I'd love to get into corals in a few months and I also want to get some growth on this live rock.

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