Problem Solving Your Aquarium PT-1

Discussion in 'User-Created Articles' started by jhnrb, Sep 25, 2005.

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  1. jhnrb


    Mar 9, 2005
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    Your aquarium is not in good shape. You have tried just about everything you can try, yet you still do not get the results you expected and your tank does not look the way it should. The water quality is low, the animals do not look vibrant, some are diseased, or a combination of all of these is what is occuring in your tank. You are basically at a loss and do not know what to do or where even to begin to try and restore the tank to the conditions it should be in. the animals do not look the way they should. The fish may be sluggish, have cloudy eyes, they may not eat, loose color, be infected with parasites, have lesions, have fins that are damaged and so on; the corals may not fully open, may show signs of stress, may open partially open, may show damaged areas, and so on. The tank may show signs of algal and diatom growth, red algae may be present and generally poor water quality conditions are found when you test for your water quality parameters.
    Anything you try to bring the tank back to normal seems to fail or not produce the overall desired results. Any of the above situations, or any combination of them, indicate that something is quite wrong with your water chemistry and that the animals are under stress, or have been stressed already to the point where signs of this stress (or these stresses) have become visible. This is especially discouraging when it happens to an aquarium that has been running for some time and has been doing well.

    When situations like this occur in an aquarium that is cycling, matters are different. Many biochemical processes occur during the cycle and most if not all of them create stress. That is the reason why no animals or hardly any animals should be present in the tank while it is cycling. The live rock alone has enough matter on it that will die and decompose during the initial weeks to get your cycling going (started) and proceeding as it is supposed to. There really is no need, in a reef tank, to add any animals to commence the cycle. In fish-only tanks this is different of course, and this difference is the reason why some hobbyists use ammonium chloride to cycle, or add a few damsels or similar fish to get the cycle going and continue to its completion (which takes usually 28-35 days).

    It should be obvious from the above that if any of these conditions exist, or if a combination of them are present, that the aquarium needs immediate attention. One or, more than one parameters of your water quality are probably either somewhat, or totally, out of order. This is what leads to the stress and the depressed condition the animals are in, and show signs of.

    The problem often is that the hobbyist does not know where to start. This is especially so when more than one of the above problems are present, and usually that is the case. It is more common to find that many parameters are not in line than just one of them that is out of its normal range.
    Whenever a tank's inhabitants are out of shape you need to first establish what water quality parameters are not in line with generally recommended rules. This, of course, means that you will need to perform a whole series of tests to determine what the water quality parameters are using good test kits that are not outdated or faulty.

    Make notes when you do so, and date them, and make some general comments about the tank conditions as well. If you can, make some photos of the tank so that you have a reference that you can look at a few weeks later when things start to improve, or have returned to normal.

    Over time the more reference material about your tank you have, the better it is in general, and the easier it is for you to compare present conditions with old ones. Perhaps you can even use the notes to diagnose what may have gone wrong, or use them to see what you did the last time when something similar happened to bring the tank back to its normal condition. Historical data on your tank and notes on the condition of the animals are an important part of tank maintenance and husbandry. Use a regular notebook or buy one of the specially made and printed for aquariums.If you do not know the quality parameters of your water, you can not really decide what needs to be done to correct what needs to be corrected. This is common sense, yet many hobbyists do not have the tests they need, or if they have tests they are so old that the chemicals may no longer give accurate results. In addition some hobbyists may have tests that do not read in the right ranges (e.g. phosphates: a test that only measures down to 0.1 ppm is not sensitive enough to detect levels of 0.03 ppm, the level we should strive for to avoid green micro-algal growth in the tank). Equip yourself with a good battery of test kits. You do need them to monitor your tank and what is happening to the water quality.


    * they measure in the right range,
    * that they are chemically active,
    * that they give you a result in units that are clearly specified and
    that you can interpret, is more important than you may think. The latter can be illustrated in several ways that are quite common in the hobby:

    Nitrates: does your test measure in nitrate nitrogen or nitrogen nitrate, or in total nitrate? If your test measures in N-NO3 you need to multiply the test result by 4.4 to arrive at the total nitrates. That is the number we are really interested in. Recommendations for correct levels vary. As a starting point keep your TOTAL nitrate level below 10 ppm, and below 5 if you can achieve that number. It is not necessary to have zero nitrates as some may imply. All you need is a low level.

    Calcium: do you get the result in calcium carbonate or in another form. It is important to know what you are measuring and how to convert to calcium ion concentration (which is the measurement you rely on to determine whether or not your tank contains enough calcium). Again recommendations will vary from 350 to 480 ppm. Levels between 450 and 480 ppm at all times is a good place to start. 420 being the lower acceptable level. The key is to keep it consistent.

    Silicates and silicic acid: does your test measure silicates only or does it measures silicic acid as well. Most tests only measure in silicate. This is really of no use to us. In fact, I do not even recommend that you buy a silicate/silicic acid test. The need to change silicate/silicic acid removing compounds can be determined visually! If no short brown hairy algae grow on the tank panes your levels are low enough.

    If you cannot find a test that measures both that is in your price range, use the silicate one and keep the levels below 0.5 ppm. If need be use silicate removing compounds to do so.

    Alkalinity: are you measuring in dKH, in milliequivalents per liter or in parts per million. Do you know how to convert from one to the other (for those who do not: 1 meq/L = 2.8 dKH = 50 ppm). Recommended levels are around 8 to 11 dKH depending on who's recommendations you follow. A good level to strive for is around 9 to 10 to start. If you are a bit higher say several points not to worry. (CONT. PT-2)
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2005
    jhnrb, Sep 25, 2005
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