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Old 05-30-2003, 11:06 PM   #1
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Newly setup tank, fish keep dying

We have a 40-gallon saltwater tank with a 2" substrate of crushed coral and a variety of dead corals. My daughter set up the water, and has ph, salinity & temp in correct ranges, and zero ammonia. She added something to start a beneficial bacteria culture, then let it stabilize for a couple of weeks. We've tried several batches of 1-4 small damselfish, but they have all died within 2 days, most the first day. Local aquarium shop tested a water sample and said it was OK. Any suggestions on what could be the cause?
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Old 05-31-2003, 12:07 AM   #2
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Have you tested for Nitrite yet? What is the exact ph, alk , salinty, and temp?
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Old 05-31-2003, 06:05 AM   #3
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In addtion to the above questions, how did you acclimate the fish? What was added to start the bacterial culture?
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Old 05-31-2003, 05:36 PM   #4
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My daughter set up the water, and has ph, salinity & temp in correct ranges, and zero ammonia.
A newly set up tank will not naturally have ammonia in the water. This will not exist until you have some sort of bioload in the tank.

Quote:
She added something to start a beneficial bacteria culture, then let it stabilize for a couple of weeks.
A bacterial culture, if it even worked, cannot exist without food which kinda seems like what you did with the tank. The bacteria process ammonia and nitrite (and nitrates if you use a deep sand bed) by consuming it....yet they also require this feeding to survive. If you let the tank "stabilize" for a couple of weeks without feeding the bacteria with some sort of bioload, most probably starved and died.

Quote:
We've tried several batches of 1-4 small damselfish, but they have all died within 2 days, most the first day.
Interesting, damsels are normally pretty hardy. My guess is similar to the above mentioned....that you maybe did not acclimate them before adding them to the tank. Fish can be hardy, but different PH's and rapid salinity changes stress even the hardiest of them (For example, if the specific gravity of the LFS water was 1.019 and your tank is 1.025...this is very stressful if not acclimated properly).

Quote:
Local aquarium shop tested a water sample and said it was OK.
With them dying so quickly, they are probably not even contributing any bioload (excreted ammonia, uneaten food, poop!, etc.).

My best advice would be to not add any more fish. My hunch that your tank has not cycled at all. Fish are not even needed for this, anything that will create bioload will work (many, many people use cocktail shrimp...I would put in several). There are two benefits to this. One, no fish are harmed to cycle the tank (ammonia and nitrites are very hard on fish). Two, many people for forced to remove damsels after the cycle is complete. This is due to how fiercely aggressive they can be, yet removing them is not easy and many tanks have been torn down to get to them .

If you are unsure of the whole term of "cycling", I will try and some it up for you as concisely as possible. Bioload (cocktail shrimp) is put in the tank and ammonia is produced as the shrimp decomposes. Bacteria form (an inoculation as you did before could shorten the process, but is not necessary) that consume the ammonia (toxic to livestock), in turn converting it to nitrites (also very toxic to livestock). Other bacteria populate the tank and begin consuming the nitrites, in turn converting them to nitrates (fairly harmless). Once the bacteria are formed, your tank is performing the "Nitrogen Cycle" as ammonia produced passes through the chain and is removed from the tank via water changes, macroalgae, etc. It is not an immediate process, as the bacteria often take several weeks to establish themselves to the point where ammonia and nitrites remain 0ppm, your tank will go through two main spikes: first ammonia, then as it returns to 0ppm the nitrites will spike and then return to 0ppm. This initial "cycle" can take up to 6 weeks. You will want the test kits to measure this as it occurs.

Once everything is solidly 0ppm, you can start adding livestock....SLOWLY! Since your tank is not really started, I would put some thought into not using crushed coral. While it is by all means a workable substrate, it requires maintenance (vacuuming, etc.) that is not required in other substrate like sand. Cleanup crews of various snails, hermits, and other micro and macro critters will eat the algae and detritus created in the tank. However, in CC, most of the crew cannot reach it because of the coarse substrate and it sits and produces nuisance algaes instead of being cycled back into the system by the crew.

I hope this helps.
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Old 05-31-2003, 11:19 PM   #5
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i agree wit log... maybe you didn't aclimate the fish properly.. what type of water did you use?
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Old 06-02-2003, 10:09 AM   #6
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I agree with HoopsGuru. I started in this rut. I then did the fish less cycle (fresh shrimp) and all has been well.
Good luck and the best advise I have been given here... "take your time, wait, do not rush and nothing good in this hobby happens fast".
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Old 06-03-2003, 12:17 PM   #7
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Tank parameters

>>Have you tested for Nitrite yet? What is the exact ph, alk , salinty, and temp?<<

I forwarded your note to my daughter, who had set up the tank, and is the expert. I hope she will have those parameters.

>>...ph, alk,...<< As I understand it, alkalinity is just one end of the ph spectrum. Did I misunderstand you?

We took a water sample from our tank into the local aquarium shop, and they tested it and pronounced it perfect. Of course they could not test temperature, but we had that stable in the appropriate range, I believe. She will be able to tell you exact temp.

One suspect was parasites, but I don't see how they could debilitate a strong fish so quickly.

Several of the fish we got were obviously weak when we got them, but the one factor that really implicated our tank was the last one, a larger Australian damselfish who was vigorous and active when first introduced to the tank, but had quiesced by evening and was found dead the next morning.

She has all the coral out drying, and is starting over with the tank. Any suggestions to prevent recurrence?
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Old 06-03-2003, 12:29 PM   #8
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Sorry, I posted before reading all the responses.

Hoops, thanks for the good explanation of tank cycling. Looks like we need to start over and go slower & monitor the cycling before introducing fish. If we use the cocktail shrimp to jump-start bioload for the bacteria, is there a schedule for this? I.e. do we just toss a couple in and wait a couple of weeks? How many shrimp, how often? I'm trying to get a handle on how to feed these bacteria before fish intro.

Thanks, all, for the helpful advice.
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Old 06-03-2003, 01:15 PM   #9
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If we use the cocktail shrimp to jump-start bioload for the bacteria, is there a schedule for this? I.e. do we just toss a couple in and wait a couple of weeks? How many shrimp, how often? I'm trying to get a handle on how to feed these bacteria before fish intro.
I would put in 2 or 3 large ones and then just monitor the water (don't need to add anything else!). Once the ammonia and nitrite levels are back to a solid 0ppm, your tank has cycled. The shrimp do not need to be removed.

A great article on it is here: Shrimp Cycling

I think you guys are on the verge of success with just this little bit of fine tuning and getting on the right track.
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Old 06-03-2003, 02:06 PM   #10
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Thanks, Hoops. We'll try it, and let you know ... in six weeks.

Regards,

- Bob
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