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Old 02-12-2007, 12:15 AM   #1
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New to Saltwater

I had decided to setup a reef tank. Having made that decision, I figured the best way to go about it was to read the saltwater sections of my aquarium books, the stickies, and the saltwater forums for a bit- I thought maybe about six weeks or so would be good.

If you've heard the one about the best laid plans of mice and men, you know where I'm headed. I got the chance to purchase a "complete" setup for about what the tank and stand alone would cost after only a week. $500 for a 125 gallon tank, stand, 2 coralife lights, 2 cannister filters (Magnum 350 and a cascade), HOB Protein Skimmer, glass hood, 2 clownfish, a lionfish, various snails, anemoes, and other hitchhikers, a few hundred pounds of live rock, and shopping bags of assorted parts, media, and gadgets. Craigslist can be such a mixed blessing.

The problem is the complete setup included fish (And inverts... etc). I'd prefer not to kill them, and as of yet have been unable to find them a temporary home with a more experianced marine aquarist while I learn the ropes.

Because of my insufficent research, I made a couple of decisions that might come back to haunt me. The first one was that I didn't know if live rock was more sensitive to being dry, or cold fresh water. Since my books suggest adding the live rock before the water, I did so with about 2/3rds of it. And added water. As some of my experiance with freshwater suggests hot water has far too much copper, and my books agreed with me, it was cold- Very cold. I tried to adjust salinity as I filled, and at least didn't end up too salty! I added the remainder of the live rock at the proper salinity, and about 65 degrees. The live rock added to the cold water was moist but in the air about 3 hours, the rest maybe 8. Did I kill off my live rock?

Since I keep several freshwater planted tanks, I assume my knowledge of saltwater is absolutely zero. Even the nitrogen cycle, from what I've read, is more complicated- As I see saltwater often extends the cycle into converting nitrate into nitrogen gas. I've hit the stickies, but can anyone suggest any further places to look for basic step by step guidelines, or offer some of the mistakes you've made or heard about that a newbie might fall into?

I know this kind of thread must have been posted often in the past, and I am searching for similiar items.
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Old 02-12-2007, 12:36 AM   #2
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You probably kill most if not everything on the LR that was out of the water for 8 hours. The LR that was out of the water for 3 hours and doused with cold FW doesn't have much of a chance of keeping anything alive either. There are a lot of things that you need to know and fast. Did you put the fish that you listed back into the tank? They don't have much of a chance of survival either. Your amonia is going to go through the roof from the die-off!!
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Old 02-12-2007, 09:12 AM   #3
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The fish are in a bucket with Live Rock.

Alright, that puts me at about 0 chance to keep the fish alive (Stepping up efforts to find them a temp home) and needing to start over as if I had uncured live rock?

What are the lots of things I need to know and fast?
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Old 02-12-2007, 12:03 PM   #4
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Not sure from your post but it sounds like you added the live rock first to fresh water (no salt mix) and then added your salt. If that's the case, I'd say "yes" you probably killed off whatever bacteria was on your live rock and will need to cycle the tank again. And if that's the case, you'll need to find your fishies a foster home for 4-6 weeks or so - the time it normally takes a tank to cycle.

If I misunderstood you and you actually added the rock to saltwater, and it was just out in the air for a while, you probably didn't kill off your entire bacteria colony and might not see much of any cycle at all.

Either way, if it was me, I'd work on finding a place your fish could hang out for a couple months while you get your new tank in order. Yeah... there's a lot to learn, but at least you know you need to learn it!

On thing that jumps out at me though is that you want to mix your salt water in a separate tank/tub/bucket and let it aereate for 24-36 hours before adding it to a tank with anything live in it. Most folks have a separate tub with a heater in it set at their main tank temp, and a powerhead to aereate/circulate the water. That tub is where your new water gets mixed up (usually with RO/DI water, or distilled water from a store... tap water as you note has heavy metals and chlorine in it) and has time to "mellow" out. New saltwater is pretty caustic and the pH levels take a bit of time to stabilize. Same with the salinity... only after about 24 hours do you get a true reading of what you actually have.

Good luck, and read read read!
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Old 02-12-2007, 01:45 PM   #5
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I agree with the above advice and props to you for the research. I have made plenty of mistakes and thankfully, the folks here have been great.
LR, in the terms of SW, means it is full of the nitrifying bacteria, that converts ammonia to nitrItes into nitrAtes.
If you wased in FW or subtected them to air, for a long period of time, that bacteria is probably almost all gone.
If the two filters weren't washed out, you may still have some bacteria there and in your substrate (what is your substrate).
I would get a test kit and check your water parameters.
As stated by Kurt, I too like to premix my water in a plastic barrel, in my bathroom for at least 24 hours (of course, if there is an emergency, I'll mix it, heat it and circulate it and then the the PWC, once the parameters meet my tank's).
I'd say, test today and tomorrow, you might not have messed up to bad. Check for ammonia/nitrItes and find out where your nitrAtes are.
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Old 02-12-2007, 03:22 PM   #6
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Anyway as Kurt said you`ll need to find another place for the fish. If you have not read them yet check out the articles at the top of the page. Good info there.
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Old 02-12-2007, 04:01 PM   #7
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Hmmm... I lost my reply.

Nitrate, Ammonia, and Nitrite all read low to none. But it's been slightly less then 24 hours, so I have little to no confidence in that yet. If the nitrate slowly increases and the rest stay low, I'll feel better.

I split the option- My books said to add rock, then water. My instincts said "BAD IDEA". Portions of the rock were added as the water was. Portions waited until the water warmed up. All rock was covered with a damp paper towel until added. I added salt at the same time as the water. Salt was mixed in a seperate containier, but only to ensure the salt was all dissolved- I misunderstood part of intent.

The bio filter of the cannister filters should be intact- I know freshwater bacteria can withstand the time frames involved, and they were kept in warm salt water.

I am still treating for a potential ammonia spike- Zeolite and Nitra-Ban (The label says it works on Ammonia...) were added to a spare filter I have. PWC's are standing by, premixed and preheated.

Since the ammonia spike will be caused by dead organic matter, and what I read about the Berlin method suggests the protein skimmer removes some of this matter before it decays, I read and reread the protein skimmer instructions to ensure it's working correctly. It's a D&D Custom and has skimpy directions- I've never known that to be the hallmark of a quality product, so will likely be the first item I upgrade. I'm sure the best skimmer has been debated before- I'll check the forums and dig out some recommendations.

The fish are living in a spare aquarium I had forgotten I had- A 29 gallon, with seed media from the bio filters. NH3 tests at zero for now.
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Old 02-12-2007, 04:48 PM   #8
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I believe - someone correct me if I'm wrong - that the normal freshwater ammonia removers you mentioned will not work with saltwater. In fact, I think it can be very bad for fish. Don't know what it would do to the bacterial colonies you're trying to keep alive.

While your skimmer will reduce DOM (dissolved organic matter), it doesn't pull it all out. At this point, I believe you are actually wanting to generate a little ammonia so you can see if your bacteria friends are still alive. You're correct - what you want to see is a slow increase in nitrates, with ZERO levels of ammonia and nitrites. When you see that, you know things are good.

Personally, I wouldn't run the skimmer at this point as there really isn't much DOM being generated. I wouldn't do a thing as far as adding any more chemicals to the tank and test the water every other day or so for a week. See what your tank is doing, and then figure out where to go then. With those ammonia-removing chemicals in your tank, I'm not sure what that's going to do with your test results, though. Perhaps someone with some experience with that can chime in. I'd be concerned about those ammonia "removers" though. I know that with the ones that are OK with saltwater, even though they convert the ammonia into less lethal things, your test kits will still show the presence of ammonia. You eventually want to rid yourself of that water through PWCs.
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Old 02-12-2007, 05:15 PM   #9
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I agree with Kurt. Stop adding things to the water in the tank this is SW and not FW. Again I suggest you get to reading. About.com has a nice SW lesson with 10 parts to it I think they walk you thourgh settng up a tank step by step. I think it would be a good idea for you to have a look at it while you let your tank cycle. Adding chemicals to your tank is most likely going to prolong your cycle instead of speeding it up. A lot of FW people jump to SW before they take the time to research fully the difference between the types of aquariums. I almost made the same mistake but instead I stepped back and spent about 4.5 months rading and studying about SW.
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Old 02-12-2007, 08:19 PM   #10
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There is some confusion here, and it may very well be on my part.

I'm not using ammonia additives. I'm using this stuff http://www.drsfostersmith.com/Produc...&N=2004+113805

This particular stuff is Kent Marine Nitrate Sponge. I've always heard the "generic" term as zeolite. Is this snake oil? It's essentially the same stuff as Purigen.

Hmm... after some double checking, it appears that there is/may be enough sodium in Marine Tanks that Zeolites don't really remove much/any ammonia.

OH! I see where it happened. NOT NITRA-BAN. That's the snake oil made by Tetra. I threw the package away already, but it was a Marine brand name of Zeolite, Nitra-Something. Again, filter media, not an additive. I think the only additive bottle I have is Prime for dechlorination. Well, actually, the package deal included tons of those snake oil bottles, I looked at em long enough to see what they were and tossed em, but they're still in my trash.

My mistake.

Kurt- I'm not sure what I'm missing. Can you tell me which part I have wrong?

I may have killed off all (And almost for sure, some) of my bacteria, algae, etc. Because of this, I have the potential within the next few days of an ammonia spike. The spike would be caused by the rotting dead items above.

So, I either have DOM, or I don't have a problem?

The skimmer removes (Among other things?) DOM, but not all of it. If I have DOM, I want to remove enough of it that I don't have a huge spike that kills off more bateria, etc, but not all of it, so that ammonia can feed the regrowing bacteria.

Ammonia levels about zero in both my live rock tank and my live fish tank. I'm using a salicylate test (API), so I should be mearsuring NH3, not NH3 + NH4.

If I don't see an ammonia rise in either tank tommorow, I'm likely going the beleive the live rock made it despite my best efforts to kill it, as well as the biological filter.

Lesson Learned- Don't buy Live Rock on the same day you plan on filling the tank in the winter if you don't have a place to store it a few hours. YOU might forget how long it takes to warm up 125 gallons of cold water- The water didn't.

Lesson 2- Double check the brand names. Nitraban indeed. :-(
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Old 02-12-2007, 09:16 PM   #11
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MarkP,

Yes... there was confusion with your comment "...treating for a potential ammonia spike..." and then mentioning some freshwater ammonia treatments. As you noted, those don't work in saltwater.

The stuff you mentioned now, Kent Marine Nitrate Sponge, deals with your nitrates... not ammonia. Two different things, but I'm pretty sure you know that. At this stage, I wouldn't be one bit concerned about your nitrates. In lower levels (<40ppm?) those aren't harmful to anything you have right now.

However... you've mentioned a couple times that your ammonia is "about" zero. Your fish are not going to like anything above zero. If you're getting any readings at all for Ammonia on your fish tank, you'd better be doing some small PWCs each day on that to keep the levels down until your bacterial filtration kicks in from the old/seeded filter media. Keep an eye on this aquarium the most. Your main tank will take care of itself as it is going to do whatever it wants at this point.

Again... I wouldn't rush it with the main tank at this point. Take your time to read up. As you originally noted, you started off with good intentions but made some bad decisions up front. That's fine, but slow down at this point and do that research you meant to do up front. As long as your fish are OK in their smaller tank, you have plenty of time. Regarding the big live rock tank, what's done is done.

I'm not sure why you're concerned about an ammonia spike in your main/live rock tank. If you see one, that just means you're going to have to re-cycle your tank. If your bacterial base is not sufficient to process the ammonia, you need to have ammonia present in the tank to build up that bacterial base. Getting rid of it at this point is not what you want to do - as long as I understand you correctly that you have no critters in there... just live (or not so live) rock. When most people cycle their tank, they don't do any water changes at all. I'm cycling my quarantine tank right now after I majorily disinfected it. I'm going on 4 weeks with the same water. It's gone from prisinte water, to 1.5 Ammonia/0 Nitrites/0 Nitrates, to 0 Ammonia/3.0 Nitrites/10 Nitrates, and now the nitirites are dropping. Eventually, I'll end up with 0 Ammonia/0 nitrates/ and around 40 Nitrates at which point I'll do multiple PWCs to bring the nitrates down to around 10ppm, before adding a fish That's the type of activity you'll normally see with a cycle.

I wouldn't say that your big live rock tank is "OK" just because you don't see an ammonia rise within a day. Personally, I'd probably throw some flake food (or the infamous dead raw cocktail shrimp that I'm sure you've read about here!) in there to give it an ammonia source, wait a week or so, and see how your water parameters test. If you see no ammonia OR nitrites, but see an increase in nitrates you're good to go.

By adding stuff (Nitrate sponge) to your live rock tank at this time, you're just making it hard on yourself to figure out what your tank is doing and where it's at in any cycling that it may be doing. Nitrates can easily be removed by water changes just before you add the fish back in. You don't need anything chemical to deal with it.

And yes... it takes an amazing amount of time to warm up 125 gallons of water!
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Old 02-12-2007, 10:19 PM   #12
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Well... Actually I did make that mistake. Nitrate Sponge (Zeolite) will remove ammonia... in fresh water. :-( In a Marine tank, the sodium displaces the ammonia but not (I gather) the Nitrate. Note that several Marine zeolite brands still advertise they remove ammonia (Such as Seachem with Purigen), so I'm not the only one to fall for that one.

Hmmm... perhaps I can add some ammonia and start a fishless "cycle", the move of the fish back to the live rock was to address lack of ammonia, giving me a few extra days.

If I killed off the live rock, I should see an ammonia spike. If I didn't, I shouldn't.

I say about zero due to the limits of the test- The test shows zero, but no hobbyist grade test is exact.
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Old 02-12-2007, 11:42 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MarkP

If I killed off the live rock, I should see an ammonia spike. If I didn't, I shouldn't.
Bingo... you've got it. And if you don't see any ammonia, you should see a slight increase in nitrAtes - depending on how much food/shrimp/ammonia source you put in.

Regarding the Seachem Purigen - it's not the same as the other ammonia neutralizers you mentioned. I believe Purgien acts more like the resins found in Deionization units... it's a polymer that's been specially processed to adsorb certain things out of your water. From what I've heard about it on this site, I wouldn't lump it in the "snake oil" category. But I think you're probably right to consider a lot of the stuff out there unnecessary, and possibly harmful to your tank if not used correctly.
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