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Old 06-22-2003, 10:05 PM   #1
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Uncontrollable ammonia

Hi folks, first timer here,

I have a 3 month-old, 46 gallon freshwater tank. Everything was fine until about a week ago, when the ammonia level started driving up. In the span of 5 days, it went from 0 to >8ppm. I've been pouring in enough ammonia detoxifier a couple of times daily to clear 2ppm, without any effect (the detox claims to be compatible with the salicylate-based test, and the fish are looking bad, so I don't think it's the test kit). I've done 25% changes every 2-3 weeks with a gravel filter, and every couple of days since the problem started. Since I got the tank, I've swapped the carbon twice (filter is rated to 60gal) and otherwise done as instructed by the pet store. When I noticed the ammonia creeping up, I started cutting back on the food, to the point where I hardly feed them now. One of my guppies gave out this morning, with another looking ready to do the same. In a panic, I've just changed out 75% of the water, and I'm now down to 1.0ppm. I realize this is a drastic and potentially dangerous measure, but I didn't see any alternative.

I would really like to avoid this kind of incident in the future, but I don't know what I've done wrong. According to Petsmart's guidelines my tank is understocked, but browsing through the forums I get the feeling they may have been overselling. I have 3 guppies left (<1 in. each), an orange swordtail (1.5 in.), a danio (1.5 in.), four tetras (<1-1.5 in. each), four dwarf gouramis (1.5-2 in.), a red platy (1.5in.), and a plecostamus (2.5in). That's about 20 inches, and the store says I'm ok with 1 inch per gallon. Is that a gross exaggeration? (i.e. am I overstocked?) Does anyone have any advice on how to prevent future catastrophes like this?


P.S. If somehow important, other vital statistics have been fairly constant: pH 6.9-7.2, temp 76-80F. Nitrite was 0.0 while running normally, up to 0.25 when ammonia problem was at the peak. At its worst, the tank was also quite cloudly; I tried a single enzyme treatment two days ago, but it made the cloudiness worse.

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Old 06-22-2003, 10:56 PM   #2
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I'm assuming you didn't do anything different just before the ammonia spike. One of two things has happened. Either a considerable amount of biological material was introduced into the tank or something killed your bio filter. Have you used any antibiotics in the tank? Did the rise in ammonia start soon after a water change/filter service? Has anyone sprayed furniture polish or something similar in the room? Was anything added to the tank in the week prior to the ammonia spike?
The "inches per gallon" rule isn't really a good thing to go by because different fish have different biomass...eg: an inch of neon is not equal to an inch of oscar. With the fish you are keeping though, I think you are understocked at 20" of fish. One thing to remember is that a lighter bio load makes for easier tank care and less potential problems.
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
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