Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources

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gagemarshall 05-16-2008 07:19 PM

Please Help..Something's slowly killing everything off
Hello all,

I've got a bit of a problem in my saltwater setup, and I need some help to determine why this is happening. Firstly I'll explain my problem, then I'll go into detail about my setup.
My setup is approx 7 months old. When I first setup I cycled for 6 weeks allowing the bio. filter to establish itself. I slowly added live rock, then over the last 7 months I've added both fish and coral. About 2 months ago my first casualty was my mandarine fish, then all was good for a while. After that my Helio Fungia Coral started to die off, it's now completely dead, and skeleton removed from the tank. In the last 2 months I've now lost a puffer fish, a purple urchant, a dottyback, an anemone, and a small feather coral.
My setup is as follows;
Still in my tank I have 2 orange and white clowns, a sand gobby, 1 anemone, a hard coral I believe is a form of trumpet coral, a large algie eating snail, and another hard coral I believe is a form of frogspawn coral.
My tank is a 90 litre (approx 24 gallon)
approx 3-4 kilo (7-8 lbs) of live rock
2 inches of crushed shell grit as base
Canister Filter, 440 litres per hr (97 imp. gal/h)
(I have an algie eliminator sache in the canister to keep algie blooms to a minimum)
Small protein skimmer
Tank is kept at a constant temp of 25 deg. c (approx 70-73 deg. f)
Amonia level is constantly 0 ppm
pH level is constantly 8.0 to 8.2
Nitrite level is constantly 0ppm
Nitrate level fluctuates between 20 to 40 ppm
Salinity level is constantly between 1.020 and 1.030
Twin globe marine light, turned on for approx 8 hrs per day (I dont actually know the make, but it was supplied with the tank and is fitted to the top of the tank by mounts on each side as my tank is open lid)
Natural light can reach the tank, but only a small portion of light as the tank is on the opposite side of the room to the lounge window, and the light only shines in as the sun is setting
I test every weekend, using an API Master Saltwater Test Kit
My fish are fed daily on New Life Spectrum Marine Formula, and every couple of weekends I also feed them live brine shrimp
My anemones (only one now) are fed white bait, approx once a fortnight, thawed from the freezer
I was generally doing a 25% water change every second week, but since things started dying I've been doing a 5-10% water change almost every night for a week or so.

I hope I've given you all enough info, and I hope someone can tell me if I'm doing anything wrong, or what my tank issue is and what I can do to stop everything from dying off.


Cody 05-16-2008 10:50 PM

Ok. I see a few things that look suspicious.

Nitrates are way too high for a reef setup like that. You should have no more than 5ppm if you want to keep your corals thriving.

Hard Corals need a good amount of light with t5 being the least. That may be another problem.

That is a big range for salinity. I usually hear of it being with .001 of each other, not .01. You should have it around 1.023-.1025. Your temperature is also a bit low ( should be around 78-79f constant).

Feeding daily may be a cause of the high 'trates. You should feed every other day, or once every three days.

The canister filter also isnt much of use here. It can be modded in a way for SW, but if not, it doesn't help much.

Are you running any other powerheads?

gagemarshall 05-17-2008 12:35 AM

Hi there Cody,

Ok, if I keep doing partial water changes every day (say 5-10%) and reduce feeding to every 3 days, is that the best way to reduce the Nitrate?

In regards to the lighting, my overhead light has 2 twin globes, both brand new, and are 7100K - 36W. I've also just measured from the bottom of the light to the top of my lowest coral, and that distance is 40cms, should I try and raise my corals?

Salinity, I run a floating hydrometer, and there's a little green bar between the 1.020 and 1.030, and that bar is approx 4mm high. When I'm checking my salinity it usually floats almost dead in the middle of that green bar, so I would assume a more accurate reading would be around the 1.024 mark, which is spot on with what you have said.

Temp., I will raise my temp slightly. I'm in Australia and we're just heading into Winter, so that may be a reason for a slight temp drop.

Feeding, as above, I'll curve that down to once every 3 days.

In regards to my canister filter, this was the filter that the SW shop recommended to me. It has a sucking tube that runs vertically down the back right side of the tank, and it has a horizontal outlet bar that runs along the top of the tank, (I have it on a slight diagonal) just under the water line, with 9 hole outlets feeding the water back into the tank. I'm not currently running any other powerheads as I was told by the FS that there was no need for me to. I do have spare powerheads that I was using in my smaller SW setup, and they are now in my reserve tank. Do I need to put one of them back into this newer setup?


gagemarshall 05-17-2008 01:55 AM

I've included a pic I've just taken of my setup so u can see how everything is, and tell me if I need to change anything.

DJOstrichHead 05-17-2008 11:27 AM

the mandarin more than likely died of starvation

Cody 05-17-2008 11:58 PM

Thanks for clearing everything up.

Two things I would do here.

1) Add more live rock. This is your main source of filtration and helps so much (looks good too). I curretly have 18lbs of rock in my 10G, and am gonig back to the LFS to get 5 or so more pounds soon.

2) Upgrade lighting. Your lights are only at 7100k. For corals, you should have at least 10000k. I would look for a nice t5 fixture for the benfit of your LPS's. Check into for lights. I have seen good reviews from them. Your corals/anems probably died from lack of light. My 10G has 96W on it.

Also, I think adding a powerhead would help here if there looks like there is only a small amount of flow.

gagemarshall 05-18-2008 12:21 AM

Thanks for your reply Cody, I'll look into those 2 things right away.

Should I be testing calcium levels? When I originally set up, my FS said if I used 2 inches of crushed shell grit then I should be right for all my calcium needs.

Pasfur 05-20-2008 07:43 PM

From looking at your rock, i am guessing that you bought your rock on 2 separate visits to the LFS? It looks like you have a couple branches of Fiji rock (front) and 2 other pieces of "base" rock. If you can, continue to purchase the Fiji rock because the quality is much higher and the density much less. Less density = larger rock for less price.

You can't judge by pounds of rock. It is a useless figure that makes me bang my head into the wall, similar to "inches" of fish. Pounds are only relevant if you know the density and porosity of the rock; inches are only relevant if you know the mass of the fish.

A more appropriate measure is the visual appearance of the aquarium. From looking at your picture, you need to add enough rock to double or triple the height of the display. Also, your rock needs to be more centered in the aquarium, not touching the back glass. Good water flow around all sides of the rock is very important. Water flow appears to be a potential problem.

Now, prepare yourself because this next part is the hard truth. Somebody has to say it, so here goes...
If my eyes are really good, it looks like you have an Internal Air-driven protein skimmer which is attached to the back of your aquarium with suction cups. Your current filtration simply is not going to work, as indicated by your Nitrate levels. This is the biggest issue you have in your aquarium. I can not say this loudly enough. Your filtration is extremely inadequate for a reef environment. If your LFS recommended this setup, then you need to find another LFS. If this is how they recommend setting up a reef, then they are certainly not experienced enough to make coral recommendations, or to even properly handle and acclimate their specimens. (Please notice that i used the word "if".)

As to your lighting. How old are your bulbs?

If this was my aquarium i would:
1) Return the corals or ask the LFS to hold them for you.
2) Temporarily move the fish and inverts to a 10 gallon storage tote, using the current water and the live rock as a filter, with your air pump for circulation.
3) Do a 90% water change. (what is your water source and how is it treated?)
4) Purchase a correct protein skimmer model. You can probably buy an adequate skimmer on ebay for about $50. Look for the Red Sea Prism, SeaClone, or CPR BacPak. These are all acceptable on a small tank.
5) Add new live rock to establish the base of your setup, including flat areas to place corals and caves for fish to escape to.
6) Continue to use the canister filter using activated carbon ONLY. Remove the spray bar and use the directional output for increase water turbulence.
7) After the new rock has completely cured, i would add the old rock and clownfish back to the display.

This should get you on track. Lots of work to do.

gagemarshall 05-20-2008 09:46 PM

Ok, this is what I've done so far;
Purchased more live rock (all rock here in South Australia comes from local reefs)
I've re-arranged my live rock, centreing and building up
Re-positioned my 2 corals, so they are now getting maximum light
Added my large powerhead filter

The bulbs in my light are less than 6 months old, but I'm going to update them to T5 bulbs.

Tonight I'll remove the spraybar as you have noted. In regards to the protein skimmer, this is the model the LFS recommended, is this model not going to do anything for my tank?

I'll take a new pic tonight and post it up.

Pasfur 05-21-2008 05:32 AM

Remember the old freshwater aquariums, long before the undergravel filter, when the only option was a small corner box filter with charcoal and filter floss? These filters worked ok provided the fishkeeper only kept a couple small fish in a 10 gallon aquarium. Additionally, the fish selected were usually the very hardiest fish.

Your current skimmer was one of the first ever models to be sold retail. The design is co-current water flow, which is virtually unheard of today. The intake is at the bottom of the unit, drawing in water from near the bottom of the aquarium. This is also inefficient because proteins are attracted to the water surface, not the bottom of the aquarium. Will you get some benefits? Sure. However, like the example i gave with a FW aquarium, given your current setup you should only be keeping extremely easy fish and very very few of them. Corals are not an option in this type of setup. If your plans were to keep only the pair of Clownfish, or only a couple of small Damselfish, then i'd say you are fine. But if you want to venture into the reef environment, you need a much more efficient skimmer.

The models I listed are all counter-current water flow with a large enough reaction time to accommodate your aquarium size. They are, however, limited to small aquariums.

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