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Old 01-03-2011, 10:03 AM   #1
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Unhappy New tank, dead fish, please help!

Hi all,

So I kept goldfish for a few years a while back and loved it. For Christmas this year my wife gave me a new tank/starter kit (my old stuff was gone). After some debate, I decided to go with freshwater tropicals this time around.

I will say right off the bat that I made a big mistake early. I don't know if I misread the pH or what, but when I went back and checked post-fish, the pH was 5.5! I started adding a bit of 'up' chemical each day to slowly raise the pH.

That said, here's the rest:
It was an Aqueon 14gallon kit - powerfilter was for a 20, came with a heater and some Aquasafe.

Timeline
- Got tank and stand, etc. set up last Wednesday. Used our tapwater which is from a well - not much in it, but there is high turbidity. Water is pretty hard, around 300-400. Added the Aquasafe then let the heater and filter do their work for two days.
- On Friday we got a couple of fish. Four X-Ray Tetras, all no more than an inch, and one Marigold Swordtail, about 2 inches tops. We set the bags in the water, let them adjust, let set them free. Gave them a touch of tropical flake food that evening.
- Friday and Saturday the water got cloudy. I added some bacteria supplement and Saturday evening/Sunday it was much more clear. It was Friday that I discoverd the pH problem and started trying to raise it.
- Sunday I notice my Swordtail is now swimming around the top a lot, where before he was all over the place or in the bottom corner. Much less active.
- Later Sunday I ask a friend about the high hardness and he mentions that it is a pain to lower. Basically suggests diluting it. I wanted to do a water change anyway, so I do a water change and replace with distilled water.
- This morning - my little fishy seemed a bit better. He was cruising around the mid-level a bit more. An hour later after my wife left for work, he was on the bottom, on his side, barely breathing. I removed him to a temporary 'hospital tank', where he later stopped breathing entirely. Poor, poor fishy.
* The Tetras don't seem to have a care in the world.

Testing:
Water has not really varied in stats, though pH is coming up some:
pH - 5.5 to about 6
Alkalinity - Showed 'ideal' - don't remember what the number was.
Nitrate/nitrite - The dangerous one was 0 and the other was a little high.
Hardness - ~300-500, higher than the Tetras at least would like.
Ammonia - ? I'm ashamed to say the test strips I have include color codes for ammonia but no location on the strip to compare them to!

Tank:


Thank you all for any help you can give!
-Matt
Distressed and saddened fish owner

EDIT: The plants are live. Swordtail ('Westley') was nipping on the green one with stripes. The decorations were added Sunday after a thorough rinsing with warm water only. Both decorations are quite fake. The big one did still smell funny (plastic-y) after rinsing.
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Old 01-03-2011, 10:29 AM   #2
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A few things here that will help you out:

1. You did not cycle your tank before adding fish. The Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle

Check out that article about the nitrogen cycle. When you stick fish in an uncycled tank, there are no bacteria to convert ammonia to nitrite, and nitrite to nitrate. This means that even in the course of a few hours, ammonia levels can rise if you have even just a few fish in the tank. You need to get a reliable ammonia test kit, and the ammonia in your tank needs to be at 0. This probably means daily 50% partial water changes until your tank is fully cycled and bacteria has established itself. Each time you change 50% of the water, it will reduce your ammonia by half... so if you have 1ppm ammonia, changing 50% will get you to .5 ppm, which is still too high. You may have to do even more than 50% a day for awhile if you want to keep the fish healthy and alive. This is the biggest mistake people make that are new to the hobby.. cycling the tank properly and keeping ammonia as close to 0 as possible during a cycle. Once it is cycled, it gets much much easier.

Many people are proponents of doing a "fishless cycle". It is a little late for that for you unless you want to take the fish back. You can do a cycle with fish, it just takes more work. Partial Water Change (PWC), PWC, PWC, PWC. And then PWC again .

This probably also contributed to the cloudy water you experienced. It is very common with newly established tanks that haven't been cycled to experience a bacteria bloom and have cloudy, milky water for a few days or even a week. Just keep doing PWCs (did I mention that?).

Now for the pH altering chemicals... you may want to check your tap water again... 5.5 very low pH. Either way though, using pH altering chemicals is a bad idea. Fish can adjust to a surprising wide range of pH, but what they cannot handle are swings in pH. Using additives causes massive swings in pH, and will result in obtaining what you may think is a "correct" pH, but it will never be a consistent pH, which is what is most important. The only chemical I ever add to any tanks is Prime to condition my tapwater when performing PWCs. I have lived in places with much different pHs and hardness values, but have successfully raised plants and fish in a wide range of each... so long as it is consistent, it is usually ok.

As far as hardness, there are few plants or fish that have absolute requirements for soft water. Your water is probably fine for most common plants and tropical fish. Again, consistency is probably more important than the hardness. If you decide it is just too hard, then I would get an RO system and only use that water for PWCs. If you mix and match, your hardness will never be consistent.

Good luck!
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Old 01-03-2011, 10:31 AM   #3
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Also, as for your plants: They are not true aquatics. They will not survive in an aquarium... let me guess... petsmart or petco? They sell those white ribbon plants as aquatics, but the fact is they just can't grow submerged.

Check out plantgeek.net. He has a great listing of plants that are often sold as aquatics, but are not. You will find the white ribbon plant on that list...
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Old 01-03-2011, 10:38 AM   #4
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There are several problems with the tank:
1. The tank is not cycled. Running it for a few days empty is not enough to establish a cycle. Chances are the fish is dying from ammonia poisoning. <If your ammonia test color is not on the chart, it is off the chart high!> Bacterial supplement may or may not help. (A lot of the off-the shelf bacteria products are dead from long/poor storage .... about the only one that has good results is BioSpira). At this point you are doing fish-in cycling. You need to do lots of water changes to get the ammonia down .... a couple of 50% today & then daily pwc's as needed to keep ammonia less than 0.5 & nitrites (you will get that eventually!) less than 0.25. Read more about cycling so you know what to expect. A start here:
The Aquarium Nitrogen Cycle

2. Messing with the pH is stressful for the fish. You are far better off letting the pH stay at what your tap is. Doctoring the water (adding distilled or using pH UP/DOWN) is for experts, and you really need to know what you are doing or you get into trouble. A KH of 300 is not bad at all. Most fish will adapt to a higher than ideal pH. What they cannot stand is have the pH bounce up & down.

3. Distilled water has no buffering capacity & cannot hold a steady pH. Depending on how much distilled water you used, your pH may represent a pH crash, another reason to have dead fish.

4. Test stripes may not be accurate. A liquid test kit is recommended if you are going to do any serious fish-keeping.

My suggestions:
1. Test your tap water for all parameters & compare that with your tank parameters. Also let your tap water sit out for a day or so in a bowl & re-test. <Some water are not stable right out of the tap & need to stabilize overnight.> You need to know what your water is like to manage fish properly. <Secondary benefit - you validate your test kit .... make sure your kit can read zero accurately ... esp. important for stripes, as they go bad easily.>

2. Do the 50% pwc's as suggested. I would suspect that your tank parameter had drifted way off form your tap, you need to be careful with that. The best thing for you at this point is to stop using any pH altering chemicals & stop using the distilled water. You want to return your tank to your tap water's pH slowly just by doing pwc's. <Maintaining tank parameter at tap is easiest, esp. during cycling when you will be doing lots of large pwc's.> For you first few pwc's, until the water parameter of your tank is back to that of tap, you MUST add the change water (make sure to dechlorinate!) SLOWLY so the fish can adjust. I would suggest putting your change water in a bucket & set up a siphon system with some tubing to add the water in slowly, over at least 30 min & preferably 1 hr. <I suspect your tap pH will be 7.8 or so & your tank pH is 5-6 ... that is a big gap to correct.> Alternatively, you can do a series of 10% pwc's every few hours ... this is more work but possibly less stressful to the fish. Either way, you need to bring the ammonia down to safe levels pronto.
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Old 01-03-2011, 10:57 AM   #5
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Yikes! Thank you all SO MUCH!

I really screwed up the cycling, and I did read about it - not sure how I missed some of these key points. Eagerness, probably. <sigh>

Ok, that said, I will do whatever I need to in order to keep everyone else safe, so PWCs here we come. I'll get a real test kit on the way home and get checking everything.

So to review:
1.) Real test kit
2.) Test everything thoroughly (tap, tank, tap after a day)
3.) PWC, PWC, PWC
4.) Test, test, test
5.) Avoid adding chems (other than AquaSafe type stuff)
6.) Avoid distilled water (I also read no O2 in distilled - how is spring for this stuff, if the tap really does turn out to be off?)

Thank you all again!

Poor fishy. No more fish will die because of my stupidity!
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Old 01-03-2011, 11:12 AM   #6
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Don't beat yourself up..I think it's safe to say a lot of us have made mistakes, especially in the begining. You've been given a lot of good advice. Just keep testing your water and doing partial water changes to keep your ammonia/nitrites as close to 0-.25ppm as you can and your tetra should be fine!
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Old 01-04-2011, 01:09 PM   #7
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Hi all,

So here's an update in no particular order.
Tetras are still doing great. Happy fishies.

I went out and got the API master test kit. The pH from my tapwater shows 6 (or lower... that is the lowest it goes - test strips showed ~ 5.5). The pH in the tank, however, is right around 7-7.5. Crazy! Why would that be? I was using the Tetra tabs as mentioned...

I have not been able to do the 'tapwater after sitting out overnight' test yet.

Ammonia reading last night was .25ppm. Will do another test and PWC tonight.

Turns out I hadn't used distilled water for the water change after all - it was Poland Springs spring water.

Pulled out the striped plant. After looking it up it I discovered that ingesting it is toxic to people, cats, and dogs. I assume that means fish as well, and Mr. Westley (the Swordtail) was munching on it.

Oh, and I was using 'Prime' as the tapwater cleaner. I just kept saying 'Aquasafe' because I had used it before and remembered the name.

Thank you all!
-Matt
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Old 01-04-2011, 01:39 PM   #8
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Your pH is fine. Fish will adapt. It's more important to have steady pH than "correct" pH. Unless your tap water comes out of the faucet in chunks, I'd use it for the tanks.

The white ribbon plants you have are actually the tops of lucky bamboo plants. I don't know about them poisoning the fish, but they'll eventually rot underwater because they're not fully aquatic. You did a good thing by taking them out. You can plant them in the house or hang them in the tank, as long as the leaves are out of the water.

Prime and Aquasafe are both good.
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Old 01-04-2011, 08:52 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by prophet224 View Post
Hi all,

Turns out I hadn't used distilled water for the water change after all - it was Poland Springs spring water.
-Matt
That was prob the reason for the discrepancy between tank & tap. (Although to be sure, you do need to do the 24 hr tap to make sure the tap isn't changing values on you.) Another thing might be the presence of calciferous rocks, shells, etc. in the tank, which can raise the pH.

Some Spring water has lots of minerals & such, so can raise your pH.

As long as the pH is stable, ti should be fine. <Incidentally, the initial reading of high GH & KH is prob. in error. As that does not jive with the low pH.> The only worry with very soft water is if there is not enough buffering capacity and the pH will tend to drift downwards in the tank. In that case, either frequent pwc's or a bit of crush coral (or limestone) in the tank will solve the problem. But for now, I would just monitor the tank & see how it settles out.

Good job on keeping the ammonia down. Your happy fishies are proof that you are doing a good job taking care of them.
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