Simple Language Tank Cycling

Discussion in 'User-Created Articles' started by fatman, Jan 28, 2008.

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  1. fatman


    Dec 24, 2007
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    Fairbanks, Alaska USA (The Last Frontier)
    Setting Up A Marine Aquarium
    By: Bob Fenner
    There are many paths to successfully setting up your marine aquarium. All involve certain elements… the tank, lighting, filtration. The last is especially important, in particular an aspect called biological filtration, also known as nutrient cycling. All aquatic animals produce a chemical compound called ammonia as their principal waste product, and this material is toxic, even in small concentrations. Thankfully, there exists certain microbes (bacteria) that readily convert, cycle or process this material into less noxious forms. Your success in keeping aquatic life depends on establishing and keeping these bacterial populations in sufficient numbers as your biological filtration.
    So, what are these magical microbe helpers and how can you get them going for you in your aquarium? They’re are a few approaches here, with variations therein, and all with their various endorsers and detractors. Again, don’t let these differences of opinion faze you. Bear in mind that the end result of all these different efforts is the same. This is to make a home for sufficient numbers of beneficial microbes to help keep your tank clean and healthy.
    Of the Many Ways to Establish Biological Filtration:
    First of All: About Time:
    Time is the essential ingredient to everything. It does take time, patience in waiting for your tank to "cycle". That is to firmly establish sturdy populations of needed bacteria. You can speed up cycling, shortening the time you’ll need to wait, but it’s important to keep in mind that there is no substitute for patience to assure your tank is ready for livestock.
    Live Rock, Sand:
    Are materials that you can buy or borrow from an established aquarium. These come with their own resident microbial populations that will quickly (days to a couple of weeks) populate surfaces in your starting, sterile system. After setting up the tank, adding water, testing your gear and allowing it to run for a few days, such live material can be added to it.
    "Old" Filter Media:
    Another "pre-seeded" possibility is placing filter sponge, ceramic media, carbon, polyester/wool et al. from an up-and-running system in your new set-up. Such media can be easily transported damp from one tank to another. One proviso: Make sure the "donor" system has no recent history of parasitic disease.
    "Old Water, Grunge"
    Some folks like to utilize water and sediment vacuumed from the gravel of an established system to inoculate a new tank. This works as well as the old filter media approach, but can be work to haul around. About ten percent of the volume of the new tanks water should be added from the old.
    Bacteria and Enzyme Products:
    There are liquid and solid commercial preparations that profess to "instantly" or at least more quickly establish nutrient cycling. These sometimes work as labeled, sometimes not. You are encouraged to "do" at least one of the above in addition to using this method if using bacteria "boosters" in a bottle.
    About Using Damsels, Other Life to Establish Cycling:
    There are still some authors that encourage new aquarists to place fishes and/or invertebrates in new systems (as a source of ammonia, food for the bacteria) to start cycling. Often this stressful condition results in these animals loss. This practice is actually unnecessary as there is sufficient "food" from other sources, or you may add it as suggested below.
    Adding Food For Your Microbes:
    A few companies make ammonia available as products to nutrify developing bacterial populations in new systems. These or fish foods of any sorts can be added in small quantities to speed along the establishment of nutrient cycling.
    What Happens in Your System:
    A new tank is essentially sterile, bereft of all life forms. By your making conditions of certain ranges, like temperature and salinity, you set the stage for what sorts of life will be favored. Furthermore, stocking the system with life forms by way of live rock, old filter media and such, you prime the system with its likely inhabitants. Over time, these dominant microbes become established, changing the environment in turn to their uses. This establishment heralds the time in which it is safe to place your livestock.
    At first filling up with new water and salt mix your system has little bacteria in it, but with time, whether you add them or not, microbial spores including bacteria, algae et al. will enter your system (mainly through the air). By using some, a mix, or all the methods mentioned above for introducing and boosting beneficial bacterial growth, you will realize a progression, growth of bacterial populations that will result in an increase at first of ammonia, then compounds called nitrites (made by bacteria converting, adding oxygen to ammonia), then in turn nitrates (made from further adding oxygen to the nitrites by another group of bacteria). This process of converting ammonia to nitrite to nitrate is termed nitrification. It is the principal way aquarists measure the establishment of biological filtration.
    Testing your water (see below) the first days will show no ammonia present, but due to life going on in the water this material will soon show up. At some point, opportunistic bacteria species will gain in sufficient numbers to utilize this food source and convert it to nitrite (as shown on chart). At some point days to a few weeks later, the nitrite will inspire the growth of populations of other bacteria that convert the nitrite to nitrate. This latter nutrient will fuel algal growth and can be controlled in turn by water changing, chemical filtrant use, culture of micro and macro-algae on your live rock.
    About Testing for Biological Filtration:
    You will need test kits for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate to measure the concentration of these materials as your system establishes its cycling. There is a large range in accuracy and precision of such kits. Good inexpensive ones are available from such companies as Salifert and Aquarium Systems. For folks who desire deluxe models, look to Hach or LaMotte brands. Further, you would be wise to develop a permanent notebook or pages in a journal to record these measures and other important observations you make.
    Biological filtration and its establishment is one of the many "controversial" aspects of marine aquarium keeping that needn’t be confusing. There are many ways to get your system cycled and ready for livestock. All the above can/do work and all take time and testing.
    fatman, Jan 28, 2008
    rbb302 and RyanG like this.
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  2. fatman

    Altohombre The Tennis Pro Reefer

    Jan 13, 2008
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    Highland Park, NJ
    thanks for this
    Altohombre, Jan 28, 2008
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