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Old 01-09-2009, 10:43 PM   #1
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Exclamation Fish Dying in New Aquarium... Hopefully not the everyday stupid questions

Hello Everyone,

I'm new to this site... I came across is while doing several google searches on my dying fish. Google kept sending me back to the same site over and over so I started to get the hint that this is the place to be

First of all, let me point out that hopefully I'm not the average person trying to start a saltwater aquarium without reading a single thing on the subject first. I've spent the past couple months researching everything before ever even starting. I'd like to think I've avoided all the typical newbie mistakes, but here I am asking why my fish are dying, so perhaps I'm not quite as well informed as I think I am!

Let me give you a brief history to start with. The aquarium is 55 gallons. There is a 1500gph overflow box that I put on from glass-holes going into a 10 gallon sump. I custom plumbed everything and this is one of the areas where I may have possibly gone wrong. I used black PVC pipe to plumb everything and I used PVC cement on all of the joints. In my research, I came across a LOT of other people who did the same thing so I assumed it was safe, but now I'm starting to wonder if the PVC cement may be a contributing factor to the deaths? Anyways, back to the history... The sump has mesh filters, carbon filters, and bioballs in the first compartment. The second compartment is just mineral mud and a heater for now, but I plan to add algae once I can get things a little more stable. The third compartment is nothing but an 800 gph return pump that shoots the water up to a spraybar. On both sides of the tank I have a MaxiJet 1200 that are both aimed at each other and making a decent amount of flow. I have a dual tube Coralife Aqualight that has 50/50 and actinic lights as well as the blue led moon lights. I've been turning the actinic light on from 7am-9pm and the 50/50 from 8am-8pm. The moon lights turn on when the 50/50 is off. These are on a timer so the on/off times are always exact.

Inside the tank, I have about 60 pounds of Fiji live rock and about 10 pounds of other rock (lava rock, marshall, etc.). When I started the tank, I put the live rock straight into the tank since I had no fish and let it sit in there for a week. For water, I used tap water (de-chloramined) mixed with Instant Ocean salt to 1.022 specific gravity. The tap water is another thing I'm assuming may be the culprit... I checked out water supplies annual report and the tap water isn't incredibly bad here. It had some extra heavy metals than I would have liked, but nowhere near the lethal levels I had read about elsewhere. I had a Reverse Osmosis system ordered and shipping, but I didn't want to wait and I didn't think the tap water would hurt the live rock. After a week, I got the reefkeeper reverse osmosis from air, water, ice and got it all setup. The clean water is feeding into a brand new 44 gallon rubbermaid (brute) trash can. I hosed it out when I brought it home (even though it wasn't dirty) and didn't use soap or anything. Not sure the the plastic they use for the trash can may be harmful to fish? After a week, I brushed the dying stuff off the surface of the rock and sucked it out of the tank. I then performed a 50% water change for three days straight, replacing the tap/salt water with pure/salt water each day.

After the third day I took a mollie from a freshwater tank I own (which I just put straight tap water into) and slowly acclimated him to the salt water, then put him in the new tank. I watched him for a day and everything seemed fine... So I went down to my LFS and picked up 2 blue damsels, 1 domino, 1 three stripe, and a green chromi, got them home, acclimated them, and put them in the tank that night. The next morning I woke up and the chromi had already died. I took him out immediately. A few days later the domino died and a few days after that, both blue damsels had died leaving me with the three stipe damsel and the black mollie.

I was checking levels the entire time... Specific gravity was at 1.023, ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate were all undetectable. Calcium was up around 480ppm which I understand is a little high, but I couldn't find anything that said this level was harmful to anything in the aquarium. Carbonate Hardness was 13dkh, ph was 8.4 on the money, and phosphates were somewhere between 0 and 0.5. I couldn't figure out what was wrong for the life of me. I ended up leaving the two remaining fish in there for another week and they seemed to be doing ok. Well the black mollie seemed perfectly fine... the three striped damsel seemed to be breathing a bit fast to me, but he seemed that way when I got him from my LFS store so I started thinking it was natural.

After that week I started growing some brown stuff on the live rocks (I believe it's diatoms) so I went back to my LFS and got a cleaner pack that consisted of 2 shrimp, 8 snails, and 10 crabs and put all of those guys in the tank. They've been in there for about a week now and all of them are perfectly fine and seem to be eating fairly healthy and they're always quite active.

So yesterday, after another week and a couple more water changes went by, I started thinking that maybe I had just gotten a bad batch of damsel fish from the LFS I went to. I went to Petco this time (ya I know... definitely a step down from any LFS but the fish are a lot cheaper there and when I lost that many at a time, I didn't want to spend too much too fast). Last night I got 2 yellow tail blue damsels, 1 blue damsel, 1 green chromis, and another three striped damsel. I acclimated them and put them in the tank and gave them some formula 1 marine pellet food. They all seemed perfectly healthy last night and I thought I had gotten over the hump. This morning I woke up and all fish were accounted for... everything seemed to be going well. I came home from work around 5 and the new green chromis and the new three stripe zebra were both dead!

Nobody was picking at them so I don't think underfeeding is an issue here. With 800gph trickling down my pipes and hitting the water in the sump, I don't think lack of oxygen is a problem here either. I got a TDS meter and the water coming out of the RO is 0ppm so I don't think water quality is an issue either. All of my levels seem perfect, except for calcium and carbonate hardness which are both slightly high, but I don't think that the issue either.

At this point, the only things I can think of are the PVC cement I used on the plumbing, the trash can the RO water is stored in, the sea salt mix i'm using (it was instant ocean but now I switched to ocean pure), or possibly too much circulation and the fish are swimming themself to death, even though there are some slower spots inside the rock for them to take a rest.

I honestly don't know what to do here... I thought I had researched all I could and avoided all the newbie mistakes, but it would seem I feel right into the same problems others have. I would greatly appreciate any help... even if you need to flame me for a stupid mistake I may have made in the process

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Old 01-10-2009, 01:12 AM   #2
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no one will flame you here, we have a bunch of good members.

Test your water and post the results. how old is this tank?

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Old 01-10-2009, 08:52 AM   #3
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Welcome to AA. How long did you cycle your tank for? It sound like you did not cycle your tank before putting your Livestock in. Please read our Article about Fishless cycle Also if you can post your reading Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, PH? I don't believe your PCV cement would be the issue there are alot of memebers that build there systems with PCV pipes without any issues.... I could be wrong but I'll let some of the other chime in about the PCV cement.
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Old 01-10-2009, 08:56 AM   #4
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It sounds like you did not cycle your tank. Very important. Read the fishless cycle link in Tank`s post. BTW welcome to AA.


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Old 01-10-2009, 10:43 AM   #5
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I think that aside from not cycling properly you might also be putting in too many fish at one time.
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Old 01-10-2009, 10:47 AM   #6
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I'm fairly new here too and I'm just cycling my 55 freshwater, so I may be way out of my league...but I'd have to agree with the cycling and perhaps adding too many fish at a time. Also, how are you aclimating them? Float or drip method?
I use the drip method even with the fish I've purchased for my little 10g. I bought a German Blue Ram from a LFS that they kept in RO water and I don't have RO, so I think it helps them adjust to the water differences better than the float method.
Hope more of the salties chime in with better suggestions. Good luck!
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Old 01-10-2009, 11:14 AM   #7
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PVC cement is fine. I don't think there is any doubt it's the lack of cycling. Depending on how much ammonia (or source ) you would have been providing during your cycle could have a great bearing on adding that many fish at once also.

One of the common problems is that people don't continue to provide an ammonia source after the reading drops back to zero, thus beginning to deplete (or completely deplete) the ammonia eaters while the other bacteria are taking hold. Your tank needs a constant source of ammonia to keep everyone fat and happy. Until fish are in there that's your job.

Still, the good advice already given is only add a couple fish at a time in 2 week or more intervals.

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Old 01-10-2009, 11:34 AM   #8
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Good advice so far. I too beleive your problem is that you did not complete cycling teh tank before adding fish. Nowhere did you state that you tested for an ammonia spike and fall, then a nitrite spike and fall and then a nitrate spike. That is when you do the large water change. Cycling a tank with fresh LR can take a month or more. Slow down, make sure the tank is cycled before you add any fish.

The next problem is that you then added too many fish at once. When I started I was to start with ONE fish maybe two, when the cycle was conplete. I started with a pair of clown fish. WAIT A MONTH before adding any additional fish and wait 3 -4 weeks between each addition. Shrimp, snails, crabs (inverts) do not as much of a bioload so you can add them at will, just don't go overboard or they will die of starvation.

As was stated, the PVC is fine, the cement was fine and Rubbermaid BRUTE products are all food grade, so they are the best ones to use.

The best adivice I ever got here was "Nothing Good ever hapopens Fast in a marine tank"

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Old 01-10-2009, 12:20 PM   #9
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Wow... that article on fishless cycling made me feel pretty bad. You're right, I didn't do that. I was trying to start the cycle with the fish.

I currently have 2 freshwater aquariums, both of which have been running for years and they still look great. I started both of these aquariums by adding a few fish in to get the cycle going and I never had any deaths or distressed looking fish by doing that.

With the new saltwater aquarium, my LFS specifically told me to get 6 damsels for my 55 gallon tank so that there would be enough matter to get the cycle started. I didn't realize it would be such a detriment to the fish and I kinda wish I could go back now and start over.

My ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate levels are all at 0 still with the ammonia just barely starting to register. I've been doing an ammonia test daily and it's been the same the whole time. I'm starting to think I should unplug my protein skimmer during this to help things along? I'm not sure if that may be responsible for the low ammonia reading after weeks of having fish in the tank.

As far as acclimating the fish, I put their bag in my tank for about an hour to get the temperatures to level off some. Then I have a quarantine tank that clips onto the side of my main tank... I fill that half way with tank water and half way with the bag water, then clip that on the inside of my tank and put the fish in, then leave them there for another hour for so. After that I put them directly into the main tank.

Where would you all suggest I go from here? I don't have a hospital tank or another saltwater tank to move these fish to in order to start a fishless cycle. I'm not really sure what the best course of action is from here on out?
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Old 01-10-2009, 06:13 PM   #10
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Welcome to the site. Glad to hear Google kept steering you here!

I don't have much different to add, and sounds like you figured it out... you didn't cycle the tank, plus added WAY too many fish. With a 55g, I'd say you're near capacity with fish, just with your fish inhabitants!. Yeah... you can cycle the tank with fish, but there so many better ways to do it that accomplish the same thing.

What would I do? I'd take back ALL the fish to a fish store for credit. (I'm thinking you probably wouldn't be too happy with a tank full of damsels anyway.) I'm sure Petco won't take them back, but maybe a different LFS will. Either way, I'd get them a new home and start over again - with a fishless cycle. Test you ammonia/nitrites and watch for the rise and fall of the numbers. When it's all done (4-6 weeks) then do some big water changes to reduce the nitrates and then start stocking with just one fish every month or so.

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