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Old 09-06-2013, 04:08 PM   #1
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After 3 years, am now thinking of quitting saltwater

Hi Everyone,

Three years ago I entered this hobby thinking this would be an enjoyable relaxing experience. Boy was I wrong! My wife and I have been trying unsuccessfully to manage our saltwater fish tank for the last 3 years. We thought we did all the right things. We first ran the tank without any livestock. Purchased plenty of live rock in advance. Slowly introduced new fish to the tank, etc. The whole 9 yards.

Unfortunately our experience has been nothing but one problem after the next. Obviously we went through the normal fish tank cycling process... dealing with brown diatom algae, etc. and other issues until the tank got established. We normally do regular PWC's (10-15% every week).

The first year we tried doing a 20% every 2 weeks, but had a severe cyanobacteria algae bloom during the summer. To save money on our electric bill (and reduce some of the heat to the tank) we went with good quality LED's (I know many of you are against them, but we're trying to save monthly SCE expenses). I think one area where we went wrong during our first year was attempting to run the tank without a chiller. When summer got hot, the tank reached temperatures of the high 80's (close to 90 - even with the lights being LED instead of hallide).

None of the fish died, but some coral did. I believe the cyanobacteria may have been a by-product of easier growth in the warmer climate, but not 100% sure. I know it's primarily due to excessive phosphates or overfeeding. But I'm fairly confident we do NOT overfeed the fish! We learned very early that was a common misstep people make, and have taken great care not to overfeed.

We were also doing the liquid drop tests with expired API test kits. For the first year it seemed like we were only getting readings of 0-5 ppm on the nitrates. But since we replaced the test kits with unexpired kits we're getting more accurate reading (averaging 15-20 ppm).

We have 1 yellow tang, 2 green chromis (we had 3 but 1 died), 2 scarlet cleaner shrimp, various mexican turbo snails and hermit crabs, and we also had 1 beauitufl flame angel (that died). Prior to the flame angel we had a coral beauty angel (that also died). I'm NOT sure why our angels are dying... but it isn't because of the yellow tang. The yellow tang was friends with the coral beauty from the get-go, and became friends with the flame angel within a few days (we got the flame angel after the coral beauty died of course). Both angels seemed to have gotten sick and then there was one day where they vanished/disappeared nowhere to be found. We also have one small striped wrass as well.

Fast-forward to today...

We have been facing a severe green hair algae problem for the last 6 months! I'm constantly pulling some of the green hair off the rocks. We have also tried running a marine anti-algae solution for weeks (this may have caused the flame angel to get sick). We do NOT overfeed - and even with regular weekly PWC's we still get nitrate readings of 10ppm at the lowest (15-20 at the highest).

Is this really high enough to cause green hair algae? Why won't it go away?

We even took the rocks completely OUT of the fish tank (to kill off the algae). And after putting them back it seemed to do the trick, but it was only temporary (slowly the green algae just came back). During a hot day this year we also had a small cyanobacteria bloom again. It seems every year around this time we get this cyano bloom, but quickly sucked it out and did yet another PWC.

To help reduce this problem faster, my wife we tried doing TWO pwc's a week... the first one a 10% change the second one a 15-20% change... hoping this would dilute any of the bad stuff faster. STILL doesn't seem to help at all!

What the heck are we doing wrong???? We are a hairpin away of scrapping the whole saltwater idea and just doing freshwater. It sucks. Our electric bill is also approaching $350 this month (Normally our highest bills were in the $120-$160 range in the summer). I can't help but think this saltwater tank has a LOT to do with it. As far as I can tell, there may be only 2 small things we're doing wrong:

1) We are running bio-balls in the sump. From my understanding, this was an old school thought of filtration for saltwater but has since been abandoned since they are stated to be nitrate factories. Do you suppose it's possible the bio balls are responsible for the nitrates to be as high as 15-20ppm?

Even if I slowly take the bio balls out, how much would it realistically reduce the nitrates? Maybe cut them in half? And even if the nitrates are down to 5-10ppm do you think these algae problems would go away? I think it's impossible to have ZERO nitruates - especially when having 5+ fish in the tank as you will have dissolved nutrients in the water no matter how good your protein skimmer is (our EuroReef skimmer is overkill HUGE designed for a 150+ gallon tank - and ours is only 60).

2) We rarely clean the 2 physical sponges in the sump. One is the circular sponge for the return from the protein skimmer (it exits the plastic pipe and trickles down the cylindar-shaped sponge before hitting the water. There is also a long square/rectangular shaped sponge that separates the 2 water compartments.

Before we completely scrap the idea I was hoping someone could give me some pointers. Have you gone through this same problem as we have? Is it easily apparent what we are doing wrong? If we downgrade our tank to a freshwater system...

Can we use the internal overflow box (it's a sectioned off rectangle in the corner of the tank that feeds down to the sump) to run piping to a Fluval freshwater filtration system?

I assume we can remove the bioballs and sump, and just use a fluval filter - maybe in conjunction with an aqueon HOB filter (quiet).

I assume we won't need the protein skimmer anymore (which would save money).

We also won't need the 2 current blowers anymore (which would save money). Instead we may have bubblers instead (which is probably less energy than the 2 blowers I imagine).

Can we also get by without a chiller? This would also save quite a bit of money - but am afraid the water temperatures may reach close to 90 degrees like it has before.

We keep our house around 82-84 degrees while we're not home, and down to 78 degrees while we are home. But factor in the heat from the motors and lights (and the sun) and you can imagine how that room can hit 85 (even though the HOUSE is 82-84) and the tank itself being several degrees hotter.

Thanks in advance for your advice and help! We really need to do SOMETHING about this problem this weekend.
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Old 09-06-2013, 04:14 PM   #2
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Is there any sunlight coming into the room anywhere near the tank? I had to move my tank completely out of my kitchen as it was the brightest room and green hair algae took off. Maybe a back bedroom, end of a hall or other darker room... (yeah tearing down is a pain I know)

I am no expert just my experience with a 29+15 I am trouble shooting
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Old 09-06-2013, 04:32 PM   #3
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Sunlilght pours into this family room during the morning & early afternoon. We have french doors that faces due east! The sun comes in, but the sun itself hits the small couch, or flooring. Sometimes it hits the tank's stand.

For the most part, the tank does not have DIRECT light hitting the tank. Maybe 1 or 2 months the sun directly hits a small section of it (but not right now).

Is even indirect sunlight bad for a tank? Saltwater or not?
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Old 09-06-2013, 08:05 PM   #4
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I just spoke with an experienced fish store owner, and he agreed both direct and ambient light would have a huge impact on the growth of algae.

He also said it's common when live rock is "smooshed" into the sand bed that it creates dead pockets for cyanobacteria to thrive. he suggested placing the rocks into the aquarium directly on the glass and just gently maneuver the sand around the rock.

he also mentioned a UV sterilizer (which we don't have) will kill some algae spores... but perhaps that's just salesman talk.

in any event, what is the thought about live rock being placed directly on the glass and the sand gently moved next to the rock versus the sand first... then rock "smooshed" on top?
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Old 09-07-2013, 01:11 AM   #5
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Algae fix worked for my saltwater tank to rid hair algae. Some say don't use it but no adverse affects on my mixed reef or invertebrates.
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Old 09-07-2013, 11:36 AM   #6
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Hi Scotty,

Yes - AlgaeFix (Marine) was the product we tried. It seemed to have had SOME effect on the algae! The hair algae started to discolor, and "die off" - which... allowed me to pull and pry off the hair algae from the rocks (or take the rocks out and scrub them with a brush).

The problem was this fix was only a temporary band aid and the hair algae eventually grew back.

I used to run the lights for 8-9 hours, but am now running them for 6-7 hours.

The room the tank is in does get a lot of sunlight. We have french doors that face the east! So every morning & afternoon sunlight literally pours into the room. It only directly hits the tank at certain times of the year, but the tank does still receive a lot of INDIRECT sunlight. I wonder if that might be the major cause of the algae problem?

I have a good feeling if I do these three things:

1) Slowly remove the bio balls
2) During the weekly pad removal, also clean out the 2 sponges
3) Construct a poster board tri-fold cover to completely BLOCK the fish tank while we're at work mon-fri (no sun AT ALL) can now enter the tank - except on the weekends

I'm hoping by doing these 3 things will significantly help our algae problems.

I also think by running the algae fix excessively may have been a contributing cause for our flame angel to get sick. I think that product is best used for just a 2-3 weeks (but we were doing it week... after week). It does say "invertebrate safe".

I also have a feeling the dirty sponges and bio balls may be contributing to spikes of nitrate of 30-40ppm. From my understanding, crabs and snails don't do well with these levels... would the community agree? So our cleanup crew typically starts dying off within a few weeks! Is this normal, or is this because we get nitrate spikes until the next PCW?

Assuming the removal of the bio balls (and ensuring the sponges are cleaned) I'm hoping the tank would now only hit a max. of 10... maybe 15 ppm BEFORE the PWC. I hope the community can please tell me this is a reasonable expectation for a 60gal tank with 5-6 fish.
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Old 09-08-2013, 04:42 AM   #7
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sounds pretty right on to me, add some sporadic water tests during the breaks and forge on though. keep us posted
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Old 09-08-2013, 06:16 PM   #8
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bioballs gone yet? When you clean filters and sponges what is your technique?

RODI water or tap? how do you remove water for WCs and how do you mix your salt water prior to adding it?

Are the bioballs in a sump or a canister filter (sorry if I missed it)?

People can correct my next piece of advice but if not running a skimmer or HOB filter, maybe adding one or both while trouble shooting or for the long term would help preserve and colonize BB that could be affected by the changes to the rocks and sump.

I have also heard to place live rock on the floor glass rather than atop the sand, but I was told to do this for better stability when stacking, but his point about cyanobacteria doesn't far-fetched to me..

update? pics?
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