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Persistant ammonia (9 months). I've tried everything.

This is a discussion on Persistant ammonia (9 months). I've tried everything. within the Beginner Freshwater Aquarium forums, part of the Freshwater Fish and Aquariums category; --> And that's the thing...I also used ammo chips at one point. I had about six filter socks full of white ammo chips and submerged ...

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Persistant ammonia (9 months). I've tried everything.
Old 06-08-2011, 01:18 PM   #21
And that's the thing...I also used ammo chips at one point. I had about six filter socks full of white ammo chips and submerged them all in the tank. They seemed to do...nothing. And its not like I'm using a ton of chemicals either. Aside from the AquaSafe water conditioner, I was only using AmmoLock to help control the ammonia and a buffer, both of which I am discontinuing for the time being. I wasn't kidding when I said I've tried just about everything.

As for that brown stuff, I'm still curious about that. It tends to appear in the more oxygenated areas of the tank (the air stone, the bubble column, etc.). It does adhere to surfaces, but not in sheets. It comes off like sludge. I don't know if this is the good bacteria or not. I got rid of it last time (this past weekend) because it was clogging the air supply, making the tank hypoxic. And the smell, it wasn't the pungent smell of lake slime or the sort of tank slime I'm used to. Its gag-inducing. I read a few posts that diatoms are a similar color and that they tend to appear early on in a new tank.

In the meantime I have another question. Its been a month since I've opened up my Fluval external canister filter (I don't want to toy with it too frequently and disturb its process). But it is now time for a monthly carbon change. I don't want to change too many things all at once however. There are five stages:

1. Mechanical stage (a giant sponge to trap particulates.
2. A carbon stage.
3. Ammo Chip stage
4. Ammo chip stage #2
5. porous ceramic stage to serve as a bio-filter substrate.

I anticipate that the sponge (first stage) will be coated in sludge as is usually the case. Should I run it under the tap to clean all of that away or should I leave it be?
I plan to change the carbon stage since its been a month. Should I also change the ammo chip stages as well (one or both), or should I leave them be? (not that they're doing much).
One of the benefits of this kind of filter with multiple stages is that you don't have to swap out everything at the same time, thereby avoiding any drastic changes.
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Old 06-08-2011, 02:34 PM   #22
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The low hardness explains the drop in pH. As I have already explained, this is natural and best left alone for the present. When the tank is otherwise back to what it should be, we can deal with slightly raising the hardness.

To your question on the filter. Never let the pad/floss get clogged with "sludge." I won't go into the details, but this starves the nitrifying bacteria of oxygen and the anaerobic bacteria multiply much faster, further killing off the aerobic nitrifying bacteria. Rinse the pad in tank water (tap water will kill the bacteria completely). Rise the other media in tank water to remove particles. The filter should always flow freely in tanks without plants. Heavily-planted tanks do not need biological filtration so this is less important, but without plants you are depending solely on all the bacteria to keep things balanced.

The "brown stuff" is likely diatoms, they frequently appear in filter tubes and such. Not an issue.

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Old 06-08-2011, 03:01 PM   #23
Okay, thanks for the info so far. I will clean the sponge and rinse the particles. I'll also let you know how the ceramic rings look (colonized, what color, etc.) when I open it up.

So...soft water is actually not good and results in lower pH. I wonder why. Less minerals in the water I suppose means less reactants for hydrogen to bind to, resulting in more free-floating H+ (lower pH). That's just a guess.
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Old 06-08-2011, 03:24 PM   #24
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Fish just like to live in water similiar to their native habitat, but stable ph is more important. They adjust their water content by osmosis... If you place a saltwater fish in a fresh tank, it will swell up and die. If you place a fresh fish in salt, it will dehydrate.
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Old 06-08-2011, 03:38 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by toxictank View Post
Okay, thanks for the info so far. I will clean the sponge and rinse the particles. I'll also let you know how the ceramic rings look (colonized, what color, etc.) when I open it up.

So...soft water is actually not good and results in lower pH. I wonder why. Less minerals in the water I suppose means less reactants for hydrogen to bind to, resulting in more free-floating H+ (lower pH). That's just a guess.
I don't consider soft water "not good," the vast majority of aquarium fish occur naturally in very soft water. There are many members here who can only dream of having the type of water that you and I have coming out of our taps.

To briefly explain the hard/soft issue: Water hardness is determined by the source of the water. It picks up substances over which it flows or comes into contact. Water flowing over limestone for example will pick up calcium and magnesium and be harder because of the dissolved minerals. Water such as rain that does not come into contact with mineral rock will be soft and acidic due to dissolved tannins and such.

When the water is placed in the aquarium with fish, reactions occur. Organics (fish waste, uneaten food, dead bacteria, dead plant and fish matter, etc) appear, as do various bacteria to break this organic matter down. CO2 is produced in considerable quantity, and also occurs from respiration of fish and plants. CO2 produces carbonic acid and this lowers the pH. It is at this point that the water's hardness may (or may not) affect this. The bicarbonates will bind to maintain a steady (usually higher) pH if the water is hard.
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Old 06-12-2011, 02:00 AM   #26
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The convict at eight years is approaching Senior age, and the fact that the fish has been reported to have spent much of this time in ten gallon tank,, I would wonder what factor has changed that would suddenly make new tank such a challenge.
Have you moved recently and have different source water than previous eight years? If not then as mentioned earlier,I would seek to replicate same care that was provided in ten gallon tank that fish previously resided in if at all possible.
I am stumped by what suddenly changed that would prevent me from attempting this were it me.
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Old 06-13-2011, 10:24 PM   #27
Okay, I did a 40% water change (added only prime) on Sunday and changed the carbon in my canister filter. Current total ammonia level 8+ ppm.

The inner walls of the filter were coated with a greenish-brown "mud", which I imagine is a combination of breakdown products and maybe good bacteria. Smelled like lake-bottom.

There was one small spot that had that orange-brown, horrible smelling crap (diatoms?).

The ceramic biofilter rings were only partially coated in a greenish-brown muck similar to what I find in the inside walls of the filter. That is surprising and disappointing, given the fact that I've had this filter for two months. Given a geometric bacterial growth rate, I'd have expected fuller colonization.

I only changed the carbon stage. I did not change out the ammo chips since its not good to change all the stages at once. I cleaned out the mechanical sponge filters for good water flow.

I do have one question for now. Given the high level of ammonia currently in the tank, should I limit my 40% water changes to once weekly as I am currently doing, or should I move to a more aggressive schedule?
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Old 06-13-2011, 11:48 PM   #28
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Back in sixteenth post in this thread ,I asked about an undergravel filter that you mentioned as Maybe possible source of organics that could be affecting ammonia readings.Have you cleaned under this filter plate or is it not in use? Even if not in use,,unless it was removed completely, then it could still be problem area Dirt,gunk,etc.
In any event, I would be tempted to put away ammonia test's and perform weekly water change of 50 percent while watching the fish.Trust me,, if ammonia levels were as high as recorded ,,the fish/fishes,would be darting about the tank,gasping at surface, flashing,twitching.It does not take near the amount in ppm of ammonia that you are reading to have negative/toxic affect on fishes.It ain't no other way. If nothing in the tank is contributing to ammonia levels (what about nitrites?),ammonia is not present in source water,fish are not reacting negatively,fishes aren't overfed or over stocked, then test result's cannot be relied on.
Clean water and lot's of it for adult convict in 30 gallons will provide the best benefits in my opinion ,expierience.

Last edited by 1077; 06-13-2011 at 11:51 PM..
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Old 06-14-2011, 04:50 PM   #29
The under-gravel filter is a new addition to the tank; the ammonia problems pre-date my introduction of the filter by 7 months, so I would rather not mess with it right now. It would involve gutting the entire tank, which would be yet another disturbance to the system. Even if I were to find material under there I would be hesitant to mess with it. If I understand correctly, the 'pond muck' found under the gravel is the bio-filter, the very substance I would not want to remove.

I'm inclined to believe the test results. It is the same brand of test kit that I've used for years with the previous tank without any spurious results. The fish has shown many symptoms of ammonia toxicity and stress: heavy breathing, spastic twitching and movements, opportunistic infections (likely due to a lowered immune system from stress). He's not currently twitching because levels are stable at the moment; when I let things go to long, things get bad again. When I say levels are "stable", the total ammonia levels are quite high (8+ ppm), however the toxic form of the ammonia (which is influenced by water temperature and pH) is relatively low. Therefore the majority of the ammonia I am detecting is in its non-toxic form. That's why he's still alive. Also because, up until recently, I have included ammo-lock along with my water changes, which converts ammonia to a non-toxic form, yet a water test will still detect this ammonia. I've also used an independent test to confirm that the levels of toxic ammonia are in the low range, at the moment.

Nitrate and nitrite levels are zero.

I will continue to do weekly, 50% water changes, adding only Prime water conditioner.
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Old 09-01-2011, 03:21 PM   #30
For those who don't want to read a whole, long narrative, my question is at the end, but I'll put it up here at the top as well. Question: will medicine for fin rot (Mardel Maracyn-two) compromise the beneficial bacteria? The relevant details are below...

First off, I want to thank you all for helping me fix this persistent problem. It worked. It took a while, but after doing 50% water changes once a week (sometimes 2x a week), and adding nothing but the Prime water conditioner, my tank is now cycling. Ammonia levels dropped to zero, followed and nitrate/nitrite levels rose afterward, indicating cycling. I don't have the nitrate/nitrite values in front of me at the moment, but suffice it to say all looks well.

Except for Little Fish (my convict cichlid). He has a pretty strong case of fin rot (this has been ongoing for the past few months, and I am sure it is due to stress-induced lowered immune system due to this whole ordeal). Yes, the water chemistry is now good, including pH. But I think his immune system has been compromised long enough for the fin rot to really take hold (plus he is senior in age, at 10 years). The water chemistry cleared up one month ago, so I decided to give him a month in hopes that his immune system would kick in and take care of the fin rot infection by itself.

Considering the ordeal he's been through, I did not want to add medication to the water right away (yet another chemical in the tank), particularly because I heard that some of the medications will kill the beneficial bacteria (in fact I had this happen six years ago when I treated him for something...the biofilter crashed, and ammonia levels skyrocketed). After an absurd 10-months, his biofilter is now established and getting the job done. I would hate to treat his fin rot, only to lose the biofilter and go right back to square-1. However, its been a little over a month now in a "clean", naturally-cycling tank and he still has fin rot. I have a box of Mardel Maracyn-Two. For a 30-gallon tank, they indicate six tablets on day 1, followed by three tablets each day on days 2 - 5. Will this harm my newly-established biofilter? If so, is there an alternative?

You guys did a great job solving the first unusual fish tank problem, so I wonder if you have any insight into this new problem as well. Thanks in advance.
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