Eliminating nitrates - water change frequency, bio balls, etc.
My nitrates have always been somewhat high, even when changing 5 gallons of water out of my 55 gallon tank each week and putting bags of API Nitra-Zorb that are supposed to reduce nitrates in the wet/dry filter. (Speaking of which, in examining the bag to get the exact name just now, I noticed that it's "For fresh water". I hadn't thought to look since I assumed that the LFS employee I explained my saltwater tank issue to would give me something for a saltwater tank. Do you think the fact that Nitra-Zorb says its for freshwater aquariums means it won't help in a saltwater aquarium or could somehow be harmful?)
Anyhow, we recently lost all of our fish because a tube came off of the pump that returns water from the wet/dry to the aquarium while we were away, and the oxygen in the water was depleted because there was no circulation. We had somebody checking on the fish, but they hadn't noticed there was an issue because the protein skimmer was still going, there was still water in the aquarium, and the fish were all still swimming and eating - until the day they weren't. :-( We were very attached to our fish, especially our large stars and stripes puffer fish, so it was a difficult thing to come home to.
Anyhow, we couldn't stand to continue staring at an empty tank when it was previously full of life and brought us so much joy, so after doing a water change and making sure the water was in reasonable shape (aside from the nitrates that are always present) we got some new fish. We also picked up some live rock since we'd never had any in the tank. We also got some type of red algae that looks like a plant because it supposedly helped absorb nitrates. Does anyone know it's name?
We got one piece of live rock from one LFS which was "90% cured" according to the employees who said it should be fine to put it in the tank in that quantity, and a few days later we picked up another piece from a different LFS that was fully cured. The employees at the "90% cured" LFS told us we should rinse the rock thoroughly under tap water to make sure it was ok which I did in addition to letting it sit in a bucket of tap water for a while to make "extra sure". The employees at the other LFS told me I likely killed off anything beneficial about the first piece of live rock that way. :-(
1) How long do you think it takes for live rock that's been submerged in freshwater to regrow beneficial bacteria?
2) How much live rock is necessary before it can make a significant difference when it comes to nitrates/how much should I add for this purpose?
I really want to kick this nitrate problem once and for all. I read that small weekly water changes were not enough to make any kind of a difference because the nitrates will have only returned to the same level by the next week, and this seems to be the case based on my experience.
3) How much water is it safe to change and how often without causing the tank to cycle again or some other issue?
Also, I've read some people say that bio balls are nitrate factories. I have never washed my bio balls because I've read that that would kill or remove the bacteria that makes them useful. However, I recently removed them from the wet/dry for a few minutes so I could clean some of the debris that's accumulated beneath them at the bottom of the wet/dry, and some of them had a lot of gunk attached to them. It looked like a really bad case of tartar/plaque.
4) Am I supposed to leave the bio balls alone no matter how much gunk is attached to them or am I supposed to wash them? Is this gunk somehow beneficial, or is it what's causing my nitrate issue? Should the bio balls be removed altogether? If so, what should they be replaced with? I had asked an employee at an LFS whether I should remove the bioballs altogether and he said that they were why the wet/dry worked and removing them would be a mistake.
Finally, there is a large sponge that sits between the chamber in the wet/dry that the water trickles down to through the bio balls and the chamber that contains the pump that returns the water to the aquarium. This sponge accumulates a good deal of debris relatively quickly. I have always assumed I was supposed to wash this sponge periodically and have used the powerful bathtub faucet to do it.
5) Is this sponge supposed to contain beneficial bacteria that breaks down nitrates as well, and if so am I destroying all of it by thoroughly washing it with tap water and then replacing it? Should I continue to wash it but use some water from the aquarium even if it couldn't be cleaned as well that way?
Thanks in advance for your help and I look forward to getting my nitrate issue under control once and for all,
that is a great sump... for a FRESHwater tank. if this was my tank i would have held off on fish and worked on raising the sand bed to a 4-6 inch level. i would then get more live rock, lots more. the tank should be about halfway filled with it, give or take. not only will this help with nitrates, but will make fish feel more secure which ultimately leads to a healthier life. i would also add hydor K powerheads on either sides of the tank walls so no dead spots are in the display. a dead spot ( of no flow ) is just as bad as the bioballs as its accumilating debris.
i would remove the sponge and half the bio balls. by this time i would have plenty of live rock. a few days to a week later i would remove the rest. bioballs sitting like that collect debis and detritus spiking nitrates and even phosphates because it allows them to break down ( you want a GOOD skimmer so it will catch them before this happens, and lots of tank movement to keep them suspended) even if you put a bunch of live rock in the sump, it would end up acting just like the bioballs. your best bet is to use that sump empty or even get some chaeto algae in there with a clamp on work light that has a 6500K full spectrum bulb. chaeto is my personal choice for a macro algae that removes nitrates. alot of others have chances of going sexual or if they die will release what they've absorbed back into the tank. i cannot tell you what your algae is, atleast in that picture. can a closer snap be taken? red usually means it requires high lighting.
i would search for a local reefing club. join it! these are great places to pick up live rock and equipment and usually get some better advice then a LFS because no one is trying to sell you anything ( and they have tanks too!! )
after i had the tank full of sand and rock i would wait patiently watching all tank levels.salinity (with a REFRACTOMETER, look on ebay) , temp, amm, nitrite, nitrate, cal, alk and ph, mag, at the minimum. keep a notebook and write them down every time you check with the time and date. this way you can go back and see what started to go wrong and where and hopefully how to fix it. cal, alk and mag are important for fish health in fish only setups too. they wont be depleted as fast as a reef, but they need to be there.. and stable.
this is ofcourse what i would do if it was my tank. before i left my reef behind it had a constant 0 ppm nitrate reading.
i would also spray paint a few light coats ( not 1 or 2 heavy ) of black spray paint on the back of the tank glass to make everything inside stand out. hope that helps some.
Thanks, onefish2fish. That wet/dry was sold to us specifically for a saltwater setup and we were under the impression that we were graduating to the big leagues when we upgraded to it from a fluval, so it's dismaying to hear that it isn't that good for saltwater after all.
So we should have 4 - 6 inches of sand? We have one or two and in some spots none at the moment (just because of the way it's been blown around). I can always lift the two pieces of live rock that are in the tank now and buy a few more bags of live sand if that would help. Does bacteria in the sand help reduce nitrates?
You think the tank should be halfway full of live rock even though it isn't going to be a reef? That's the amount required for the live rock to have a serious impact on the nitrates?
You think we ought to remove all of the bioballs (a bit at a time as you indicated) and the sponge from the wet/dry and ultimately replace it with cheato and a light? I don't know if you can see from the picture, but the water level in the wet/dry is supposed to be just a half inch or so above the bio balls at the bottom of the wet/dry. Would you keep the water at the same level in the wet/dry if the bioballs were gone and there were cheato in its place?
When I get home I will take a close up picture of the red algae we were sold and post it.
Does anyone else have any thoughts about my questions or onefish2fish's suggestions?
onefish2fish, changing the aquarium the way you've described would take a bit of time. In the meantime, how much water do you think I can change at a time and how frequently to reduce nitrates without disturbing our new fish?
the sump you have is a great freshwater filter and me personally, thats what i would use it for. as for a saltwater sump a 20 long tank would work good ( even better a used 55, as big as you can fit under the stand or afford ) then taking a few pieces of acrylic or glass sheets to make sections in the sump ( skimmer/heaters/ inlet, return pump.. whatever is needed) take a peek @ skaustins DIY sump thread in the member submitted articles.
the reason this type of sump isnt saltwater friendly because it is just as bad as a canister filter as the bioballs trap everything like the floss in the canister does. this is why it is not suggested to have hang on filters, canister filters, bioballs, filter floss, or anything that can build up debris ( un-eaten food, poop.. ) overtime allowing them the chance to turn into nitrates and even excess phosphates. these types of filters are freshwater based hence me saying your sumps great for a freshwater tank. in a saltwater setup you do NOT want to give things the chance to build up, break down, and pollute your water. a fish in the ocean ( and thats where most saltwater fish come from, not breeders like most freshwater fish ) never see any ammount of amm, nitrite or nitrate. to prevent this, we have lots of water circulation so there cannot be dead flow spots in the tank, this keeps the poop in suspension in the water, giving the skimmer time to skim it out. it is very important to have a good, quality brand skimmer as this is your heart of saltwater filtering. reading online reviews is a good idea, as some skimmers are just garbage while others are worth more then gold. dont take a fish store employees advice to seriously, atleast without doing your own homework. keep in mind at the end of the day ( or work week ) they just want to collect their pay check and not many people at the fish store care about your fish, which is a shame.
im not going to say your sump is complete garbage, but the bioballs def. are and shouldnt be there. your better off running it empty then having the bioballs and it looks like theres another sponge ( the black block ) under the bio balls? this is collecting debris just like that canister filter we discussed earlier. i personally would get a clump of chaeto in place of the bioballs, put a clamp on work light with a full spectrum compact flouresent bulb on a timer to turn on when your tank lights go out, and to turn off when your tank lights come back on. ( having the lights on a reverse schedule lowers any ph changes due to lighting )
im un-aware of how large your tank is, but yes even though it is not a reef you will want average pound to two pounds of rock per gallon. some rock is very porous while others can be dense. you want the most porous rock possible, which will weight less then the dense so it is hard to give an actual ammount. in the wild, not many of the fish we keep in tanks swim open seas. in other words, there is just sand beneath them. they stay close to reefs, rock structures, ship wrecks, and so on. mostly the larger fish take on the more open seas. this is another important reason to have a nice rock structure that your fish can swim in and out. a secure feeling with the fish will provide them with less stress, meaning healthier fish. ontop of all that, the rocks will be perfect breeding grounds for the pods i remember you attempted to culture earlier this year.
again i understand this is alot more work to put into your tank, not to mention the cost so please look into a reefing club in your area. im sure a member would be more then happy to donate a chunk of chaeto algae to you too. people break down their tanks because they are fed up with the work that must be put in, which they will sell their rock. setting up the tank right, practicing good feeding habbits, and some minimal water changes to replenish trace minerals should be all you need. ofcourse testing your levels, supplimenting cal, alk and mag and other maintnence practices shouldnt be neglected either.
Thanks, Jon. As I'm sure you gathered from my thread about the best lighting for coraline algae growth, you definitely got me thinking about stocking the tank with live rock and replacing the wet/dry's bio balls with cheato.
I don't know if it was due to our elevated nitrates or the lack of sufficient lighting, but the coraline algae on the piece of cured live rock I bought that had it began to die off. I decided not to purchase any more live rock until the nitrate issue was under control and I bought the light.
Anyhow, I just wanted to report that after a series three 50% water changes, each spaced several days apart, my nitrates are finally at 20ppm.
I am totally on board with OF2F on this. In my opinion, bioballs never have a place on a home marine aquarium. Live rock, live sand, and protein skimming are the keys to successfully keeping nitrates low. Proper sand depth is a must, and proper time for the system to mature before adding a lot of nutrient producing livestock is critical.
How would it help? I was under the impression that nitrates were the end product of waste being broken down. Would a deeper sand bed somehow facilitate breaking nitrates down further into something else? If not, then wouldn't a deeper sand bed only allow more waste to get trapped among the sand?
How much better off would I be buying "live sand" in bags from my LFS rather than much less expensive dry sand from, say, Home Depot? If sand from Home Depot would do the job because it would eventually become "live sand" anyway, what specific type of sand should I ask for there?
Currently I am able to vacuum it out periodically to remove it. If I removed all of the bioballs and the sponge, and replaced it with cheato macro algae instead, wouldn't all of that dust-looking detritus continue to settle at the bottom of the wet/dry and among the cheato where I could not remove it without removing and rinsing the cheato? Or would a copepod population in the cheato eat that dust-looking detritus so that it was gone for good? How do people avoid this?
I couldn't afford to add anymore because I have to buy it fully cured since I can't setup the apparatus to cure it at home and they charge $8.99 a pound for "fully" cured live rock at the place I have access to. :-(
I have a question about adding more live rock. I am in the process of letting my tank run fish-less so that whatever parasite killed off all of my fish runs its life cycle and is gone. I've been fish-less since August 7th, so almost 3 weeks now. I setup a 10 gallon quarantine tank where 4 damsels will spend the next 6 weeks, after which I will move them to the display tank that will have not had fish in it for a total of 9 weeks by then. I have treated the display tank with PraziPro several times now, so hopefully whatever killed my fish will be long gone by then. I plan on putting every fish I add to the tank through a 6 week quarantine period going forward.
My question is, if I later add more live rock to the tank, won't I be undermining this painfully tedious quarantine process by introducing who knows what to the system along with the rock?
first i want to say your tank looks to be the begining of a nice setup! IMO the sand bed is only for looks and can become a problem if too deep. It will and can accumulate detrius and cause phosphate problems if not maintained correctly with CUC and vacuuming. That being said i I keep mine shallow just for look. and IMO the depth of your sand bed is fine.
Live rocks will definitely lower nitrates, and keep your tank stable. If you bought cured LR you can add fish almost instantly as long as you don't add an overload of fish. you can add LR or Dead rock even if you have fish in the tank, assuming the LR is cured or if DR, you add slowly. I even have LR in my sump and nothing else.
I agree with the guys above, remove the bio balls slowly and remove the sponge. They are nitrate factories. keep your mechanical filtration clean. I've known reef keepers who don't even use mechanical filters, saying that i use one but will eventually remove mine one of these days.
Please don't put damsels in your tank unless that's all you want in the tank, as far as fish, and plan to keep them until they die. they are agressive and will kill anything new you put in the tank unless you remove them all. and catching a fish in a reef is a pain.
i can add to a couple of those questions.. for the sand you want Aggregate sand not the regular play sand or anything with silica in it as that will make algae grow out of control.... and only add a little at a time with like a piece of PVC or something to keep it where you want it and to avoid suffocating the sand bed yo have thriving now....
on one side yes you risk a little when adding live rock over time but generally speaking (depending on where you buy it) you largest risk is hitch hikers (which in it self can be a cool adventure)
a word of advise, when adding fish, keep in mind what type of reef you are going to keep eventually. some fish eat certain types of corals, clams, and shrimp. when i first started i had a hog fish in the tank and bought a ornimental shrimp. when i added he shrimp he didn't last a second! that was a really expensive fish food i threw into the tank. even more expensive than my personal seafood dinner! I've had angels picking and killing my clams too. so stay educated to what types of fish and live stock that can coexsist.
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