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Old 05-01-2013, 07:19 PM   #1
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Newish reef tank with nitrate problem

I have been following the forums on here for a little while now and decided to enlist you all for some help. I have a 90g Seaclear System II all-in-one aquarium that was moved to my house from another, where it was setup for around 6 or 7 years. The rock, corals and fish all came with it and have all survived and done well for the 3 months the tank has been setup. Filtration wise, the tank has bioballs in the back, phosban in a filtration bag, sea gel in a filtration bag, a poly filter and a strip of 100 micron filter sheet covering half of the drip tray. I have a heater, a chiller and the lights are 4 x 65 watt PCs. Substrate is crushed coral, shallow bed. Fish stock includes 2 yellow tangs, 1 foxface, 1 flame angel, 1 marine beta, 2 clowns, 1 cleaner shrimp, a few snails and crabs. I was feeding twice a day, dry at 1100 and a cube of various frozen foods, thawed of course but not washed, at 1900. The fish ate all of the food within 1 minute when given, but I have cut them back to just the cube of frozen food at 1700 for the last week. And the reason being my nitrates. In the beginning, I had a fish service helping with the maintenance. For the first month, I didn't test anything, they did everything. I had planned to phase them out, so I started testing basic stuff during the second month with those strip tests. Everything looked good except for the nitrates, about 40 based on the color. We told the fish people and they said our nitrates were fine, so I figured my strips were probably junk. I got an API nitrate test kit a couple of weeks ago, as at that point, we planned to get rid of the fish service soon. I tested and the color looked like about 80 on the nitrates. We were doing 10 gallon water changes every 2 weeks but have been doing 10 gallons every 1 week for the last 2 weeks. Nitrates are unchanged so far. The question I have is, what would you guys suggest to lower my nitrates? And I mean other than water changes. What would you guys recommend as a filtration solution to help lower and maintain nitrates at a lower level? Interestingly enough, the corals in the tank have been growing like crazy over the last 2-3 weeks. The mushrooms are freaking taking over and are huge, the start polys are spreading much better now they early on, the xenia is heading for the top of the tank, the leather comes and goes and the torches keep getting bigger and bigger. As well, coralline algae is spreading like wild fire. I actually thought nitrates at these levels would be detrimental to the corals but that doesn't seem to be the case. Anyway, any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
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Old 05-01-2013, 08:37 PM   #2
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First id get a skimmer and try to rig it where the bioballs are and take them out. Bioballs are known to create nitrate from what ibe read. Second cut down your feeding to every second day. Keep the water changes weekly but maybe do 2 10% changes back to back over 2 days. These things should help.
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Old 05-01-2013, 08:41 PM   #3
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It seems you are lacking nitrate removal. Bio bells simply maximize the area for BB to convert ammonia to nitrate. Phosban does not help and I don't think sea gel carbon will help much either. So that leaves you with a nitrate build up issue. A 10% weekly WC will remove 10% of your nitrates. In the end you nitrates will climb until they stabilize at 9 times your weekly addition of nitrates thru the feeding process (food-ammonia-nitrite-nitrate). This means you are currently adding about 9ppm nitrate (in the form of food, before the nitrogen cycle) every week. Doubling your water change to 20 gal per week will only reduce your nitrate problem to 40 ppm. You need to do something different.
Adding a skimmer will remove much of the poop before it degrades into ammonia. It will also remove nitrogenous waste at all stages. Best thing you can do.
Pulling the bio balls out of that cavity and placing chaeto to grow in there with a light behind will consume your nitrates.
Reducing feeding was a good first step, but unless you find a way to remove nitrates, other than by insignificant water changes, you will continue with a build up.
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Old 05-01-2013, 08:43 PM   #4
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I don't trust api tests try maybe bringing a water sample to LPS and let them test it
I would invest in salifert test kits you get more accurate readings
but if your nitrates are that high I would suggest 1 big 30g water change
those small 10 g weekly changes aren't even putting a dent in your nitrate issue
than go back to your normal WC schedule
almost guarantee you have a bad test kit api is notorious for them
also I would remove bio balls cause they hold trates
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Old 05-01-2013, 08:53 PM   #5
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Thanks for all the replies so quickly. I am starting to sense a theme, remove bio balls and get a skimmer. All sounds good, the big problem is there are very few skimmers that will fit in the filter chamber and none of those get that great of reviews. I would go for a hang on the back but the tank is 1.5 inches from the wall and without basically draining the water, I don't see a way to slide it away from the wall. So I am between a rock and a hard place there. As for bio balls, what's the best way to remove those without losing too much bacteria too quickly and ending up with ammonia building up on me? Or will that be a concern? Thanks for all of the input thus far.
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Old 05-01-2013, 09:01 PM   #6
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I dont think you should have a issue you still have plenty of bb in the rock work in your tank
I'm assuming no sump to put skimmer
how about on one end can you sneak one on the side towards the rear
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Old 05-01-2013, 11:40 PM   #7
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Unfortunately the hood keeps anything off the side. But I think at least for now I can start adding live rock and removing bio balls. Do I need sand or just live rock? Should I stack the rock any certain way or just try to get as much in as possible? I have about 10-15 pounds of live rock sitting around from a tank I bought a couple of months ago to use as a quarantine/hospital tank. So I have that to start with. I think I will probably need another 15-20 lbs if I want to load up the back.
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Old 05-01-2013, 11:42 PM   #8
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Read the API directions some were in there it says divide by 4.4 because they test all nitrate if memory serves me. That woe be around 10 for you. Rinse your food also a few times and like stated remove your balls! Purigen helps absorb nutrients and chemipure elite works well.
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Old 05-02-2013, 12:47 AM   #9
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just be sure to cure any rock before you add it especially with live stock
you don't want to start another cycle or have any spikes
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Old 05-02-2013, 01:09 AM   #10
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If the live rock came out of a QT tank and was used as such I would not add that. If you bought it intending on using it as a QT and never did that should be fine. FYI you should skip live rock in your QT (try PVC fittings for hiding spots) and not put anything from your QT back in your DT except the livestock.
As mentioned ditch the bio balls for some macro.
Add a skimmer is the best thing you can do. Possibly an external one ran from the other side of the wall if you have no room under or beside the tank? I have one running that way, holes in walls are easily repaired.
You could always research a denitrator but someone else needs to chime in on those as I don't or haven't ever utilized one.
Best of luck.
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