crushed coral/ nitrates and nitrites - Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources
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post #1 of 5 Old 04-06-2011, 08:05 PM Thread Starter
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crushed coral/ nitrates and nitrites

i set up my 26 gal FW tank about 4 months ago and everything had been going awesome. i have 4 mollies, 6 tetras, a pleco and a snail. i'm running a marineland hang on tank canister filter rated for a 55. i've also got 6 live plants- 4 amazon swords, an umbrella plant, and some kind of shrub thing.

for some reason, i was talked into going with crushed coral. Even with the (slight) ph boost i noticed, everything was great up until about 2 weeks ago. i perform weekly water changes of about 20%. a add aquarium salt after each w/c. i also replace my carbon media every 4 water changes. last water change, i noticed when i tested the water the very next day, the nitrates and nitrites were still high. then i did a water change 2 days ago and yesterday the nitrates and nitrites still tested towards the unsafe region!

now, when i do my w/c, i am getting in there with the gravel vac. with the pleco and mollies, there is so much poo. i have to be diligent. so i'm fairly certain i am being thorough with the vaccing.

i talked to my friend and he said it probably has something to do with the crushed coral. apparently it is particularly good at harboring nitrates and nitrites. and he was saying giving my time frame (set it up 4 months ago), now would be the time i would start to notice the increase.

so, is it in fact the cc? should i change it with gravel? i dont really like chemicals, and they never made sense to me anyways. is there something i can add or change that would solve this problem thats natural and enviro friendly? i lost a fish this morning (a rummynose) for the first time in like 3 or 4 weeks. please help!!!
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post #2 of 5 Old 04-06-2011, 08:32 PM
I'm thinking that if you had not been using a gravel siphon, you created a little nitrate factory. I'll admit that I do not know whether coral affects this, but I suspect not. Do another couple of water changes using the gravel vacuum to get as much of the crud outta there and see where yer at.
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post #3 of 5 Old 04-06-2011, 08:42 PM Thread Starter
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shoot, i added that in the edit but forgot to update. im not trying to directly contradict you, but i seriously go to town with the gravel vac every water change (1x per week). i have a colosseum thing in there, but i take that sucker out and vacuum everything (save for the places too close to the plants). but were still talking about 90% is getting moved and cleaned each wc.

which is why this is particularly annoying. i feel like i'm doing (more than) adequate maintenance, but i dono what's going wrong.
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post #4 of 5 Old 04-06-2011, 08:52 PM
I'd do a couple of things.... 1st, have you tested your tab water using the same chems and test procedure (gotta question the test results so you aren't chasing shadows). Since your questioning the coral, get it outta there and answer the question.
You make no mention of ammonia levels. What do you have for a filter (wondering if you have sufficient bio-filtration (although we would expect to see trouble before 4 months.).
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post #5 of 5 Old 04-07-2011, 11:12 AM
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There are several problem issues in your first post. First let me say that I have not heard of nitrite or nitrate being problematic with crushed coral so I would discount that.

Do you have the test numbers? Nitrates being "high" can mean different things. Nitrite too, although nitrite should always be zero in an established tank, same as ammonia. But please give us the numbers, and what is the test kit?

Have you tested your tap water for ammonia, nitrite and nitrate? You should, as any of these can be present and this is worth knowing so they can be dealt with at water changes.

When I have answers to the above, we can consider that issue. Now to the other problems.

Your mix of fish is not compatible in terms of water requirements (pH and hardness). Mollies are livebearers and must have hard basic water; the coral is fine for them. Some tetra can manage in this, many cannot. And rummynose is one that absolutely will not live long in hard water. Please check our profile of this fish, second tab from the left in the blue bar across the top of the page, or click on names when they are shaded in posts, example: Brilliant Rummy Nose Tetra. The info in the profile will explain this.

Pleco. If this is the common pleco, it attains over 12 inches, produces an enormous amount of waste, and is not suitable for such a (relatively) small tank, even if small now. Again, check the profile (click on shaded name).

Salt. This would be OK if only Mollies were in the tank, but not for pleco and tetra. To explain, I will copy my comments from another post:
Salt is detrimental to freshwater fish and plants in varying degrees. To understand why, we must understand what salt does in water.

Salt makes the water more dense than the same water without salt. The aquarium contains water. The bodies of fish and plant leaves also contain water [just as we do--we are, what is it, 70-some percent water?]. The water in the aquarium and the water in the fish/plant are separated by a semi-permeable layer which is the cell. Water can pass through this cell. When either body of water is more dense, the other less-dense body of water will pass through the membrane to equalize the water on both sides.

Water is constantly passing through the cells of fish by osmosis in an attempt to equate the water inside the fish (which is more dense) with the water in the aquarium. Put another way, the aquarium water is diluting the fish's body water until they are equal. Freshwater fish regularly excrete this water through respiration and urination. This is the issue behind pH differences as well as salt and other substances. It increases the fish's work--the kidney is used in the case of salt--which also increases the fish's stress in order to maintain their internal stability. Also, the fish tends to produce more mucus especially in the gills; the reason now seems to be due to the irritant property of salt--the fish is trying to get away from it.

I have an interesting measurement for fish. Dr. Stanley Weitzman, who is Emeritus Research Scientist at the Department of Ichthyology of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington and an acknowledged authority on characoid fishes, writes that 100 ppm of salt is the maximum for characins, and there are several species that show considerable stress leading to death at 60 ppm. 100 ppm is equal to .38 of one gram of salt per gallon of water. One level teaspoon holds six grams of salt, so 1 tsp of salt per gallon equates to more than 15 times the tolerable amount. Livebearers have a higher tolerance (mollies sometimes exist in brackish water) so the salt may be safe for them.

Plants: when salt is added to the aquarium water, the water inside the plant cells is less dense so it escapes through the cells. The result is that the plant literally dries out, and will wilt. I've so far been unable to find a measurement of how much salt will be detrimental to plants; all authorities I have found do note that some species are more sensitive than others, and all recommend no salt in planted aquaria.
I will provide what advice I can when I know the numbers previously requested. I would also suggest you consider how you want this tank to be in terms of fish.


Byron Hosking, BMus, MA
Vancouver, BC, Canada

The aquarist is one who must learn the ways of the biologist, the chemist, and the veterinarian. [unknown source]

Something we all need to remember: The fish you've acquired was quite happy not being owned by you, minding its own business. If you’re going to take it under your wing then you’re responsible for it. Every aspect of its life is under your control, from water quality and temperature to swimming space. [Nathan Hill in PFK]
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