*Please see post #1 for additional details*
Originally Posted by candymancan
The problem is I have had 4-8PPM of ammonia in the tank for 4 going on 5 weeks now.. I haven't had a single fish die, nor any fish gasping for air or struggling or red gills and the reason why is because I put a capful of prime in the tank every 24 hours... But its getting expensive... I have gone through an entire 500ml bottle.. and I cant afford this... But then I cant afford replacing my fish either..
The first responder, Boredomb, suggested upping the water changes - and I agree with this. I'm not sure if you ever responded with your water change routine, except to state that you don’t vac, but if you are not doing frequent water changes on this tank, I think you may want to start.
I'm really not the best person to try to explain this, and a newbie tanker at that(!), but I’ll try. . . please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong - I'm terrible at chemistry!
To the best of my understanding, and based ONLY on what I have read. . .
The bacteria in our tanks, I think(?), uses carbon as fuel source, so you will find that the KH (carbonate hardness) in a cycling tank can drop rather quickly. This is especially true in situations where the water is soft, and has a low KH to begin with. A low KH will allow the pH to shift far more easily. Combined with that, as the bacteria converts ammonia into nitrItes, hydrogen ions are released. These hydrogen ions have a direct effect in lowering the pH in the tank, and if the KH is low enough to allow it, the change in pH can be fairly rapid. When the pH drops too
low, the bacteria goes dormant, and stops working, thus stalling the cycle.
This *USUALLY* applies to stalled cycles in which people are using bottled ammonia to cycle their tanks (we don't typically see ammonia levels this high otherwise), and why the usual recommendation for fishless cycling using ammonia is put somewhere between 2-4ppm. You stated in your OP that your ammonia levels are between 4-8PPM.
You have a fish-in cycle right now on a tank that is heavily stocked. I'm not positive about this, but my theory is that since the ammonia levels have started out so high to begin with - the bacterial colony needed to start the cycle may not have been able to form - thus stalling your cycle before it even began, essentially. When was the last time you checked the water hardness levels in your tank? Are you seeing any flux?
The happy side of this is that if your pH is too low, toxic ammonia is converted into ammonium, which doesn't harm the fish. My understanding is that Prime does the same thing - either way, it explains why your fish are okay - but have no idea what the long-term effects would be if this situation is allowed to continue. . .
So, again I recommend that you go back to the basics - water changes. You'll want to do these slowly, and test as you go - rapid flux in pH will hurt your fish (I think we all agree on that one?) I'd recommend several smaller water changes a day (using Prime) to get and keep the ammonia level down below the 3ppm mark, which I *think* should allow your cycle to progress.
It's going to be a lot of work, and I'm honestly not sure what will happen next. If the ammonia created by the bioload fish is high enough to keep the levels of ammonia this high. . . ?! That is why I initially recommended splitting the inhabitants of this tank with one of your others, or a new one, and slowly adding them back once the cycle is established, and conditions safe. I have no way of knowing how much of this ammonia is the 'normal' amount for your animals, and I also am unsure of the *exact* level needed to stall the cycle. As your tank had previously been running okay, I suspect that once this cycle is established, you *should* be okay, though will always have to battle high nitrAtes. . . just my theory.
Again, I'm TERRIBLE with chemistry, my understanding is shaky, at best. . . So please do your own research into this, and feel free to correct and/or clarify if I'm wrong. . . I'm pretty sure I just confused myself with that explanation!
Best of luck getting out of this tricky situation!
*runs back to the beginner section where she belongs and hides*