Sudden Multiple Deaths! Please Help! - Page 2 - Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources
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post #11 of 30 Old 03-28-2009, 02:15 PM
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as for you green hair algae, you wounldn't get that unless you had nitrates over 5ppm. how big of waterchanges are you doing?

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post #12 of 30 Old 03-28-2009, 05:41 PM Thread Starter
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Pasfur, Back in November my lionfish got caught in the rocks and expired. He was eight months old so a pretty good size. We were gone over the weekend and couldn't find him for two days after we came back. We think he was dead for about five days total. Anyway our nitrates were over 120ppm so we did a 50 gallon water change two days in a row and the nitrates came down to 30ppm. We had only been doing water changes once a month 10% or 15 gallons so at that point we increased to 30 gallons every two weeks. The last water change I did was March 8th, 30 gallons. We use RO water from our LFS and mix up our own saltwater with Instant Ocean salt. The only test I don't have right now is the alkalinity...the rest are ammonia 0, nitrite 0, nitrate 5, pH 8.6, copper 0, calcium 380, phosphate 0, specific gravity 1.023. We took out a piece of live rock to scrub off some of the algae and it smells king of "fishy" which is the same way it smelled before. We've already changed 45 gallons today. We were going to change 45 more gallons tomorrow but my husband wants to do it tonight. the water is not clearing up and until this incident yesterday it was crystal clear and always had been-even after my lionfish died. Incidentally, we added a small Poly Filter and it's alread changed color to either blue or green. According to the package the blue indicates copper and the green ammonia but both of the tests were 0-I don't understand where copper would come from anyway. I will try to post some pics but I don't know how much you'll be able to see.

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post #13 of 30 Old 03-28-2009, 06:07 PM Thread Starter
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Here are some current pics

Live Rock.jpg

live sand colors2.jpg

live sand colors3.jpg


Hair algae.jpg

hair algae2.jpg

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post #14 of 30 Old 03-28-2009, 06:15 PM Thread Starter
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The first picture is the main tank and shows some cloudiness. The second and third pics are color changes my live sand has attained for whatever reason. That started about four months ago (I thought maybe it was dissolved pellets the horseshoes and starfish missed). The fourth picture is what my mushroom looked like this afternoon. This morning it was standing up straight but I moved it and I thinks it's irritated with me. The fifth picture is of some hair algae? The tiny pink thing in front of it is what is left of my pulsing xenia. You could not see the algae behind it before it melted-it melted in the space of two hours yesterday. The sixth picture is a more accurate picture of the kind of algae that's been tring to take over my tank.

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post #15 of 30 Old 03-28-2009, 08:42 PM
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Your ammonia and nitrite are both zero, so we should be able to rule out a bacterial bloom. I'm still wondering why your water is cloudy.

Calcium can precipitate when alkalinity is high and pH spikes. This creates the illusion of cloudy water. The precipitation lowers phosphates, and you have a zero phosphate in an aquarium with algae growth. This is possible, but without an alkalinity test we can only guess. You absolutely need an alkalinity test kit to run a marine aquarium long term. It is honestly the most important test you should do every week to judge the overall stability of your system.

Another possibility is something that is rarely discussed anymore, but was a huge problem in the 1980's. Back then, the term "wipeout" was the biggest fear of the marine hobbyist. The fishkeeper would go to bed with a healthy take and wake up with everything dead. This fits your story as well, because most of the time these aquariums were over a year mature when this happens. Blame was generally given to a nutrient buildup which was suddenly released from the biomedia, and was most common in systems that needed frequent water changes to combate HIGH NITRATE levels. The problem almost disappeared completely because the modern marine aquarium almost never uses biomedia. Live rock, aragonite sand, and a protein skimmer are all that is necessary, provided you have enough live rock. ( In your case, from looking at the picture, you could stand to increase your live rock by about 50%.)

I still think we need an alkalinity test result.
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post #16 of 30 Old 03-29-2009, 08:14 AM Thread Starter
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Pasfur, I have another piece of the puzzle for you (although I'd really rather not at this point). Yesterday my banded serpent star was eating and moving about the quarantine tank. Before I went to bed I noticed that the very tips of all of his arms were missing which I thought was really bizarre. I wondered if maybe the horseshoe crabs or snails were somehow responsible but they hadn't bothered him all day. I also noticed that my purple serpent star's legs were breaking (he had been attacked by an orange crab months ago and was still regenerating), which I thought was really heartbreaking since he'd already been through so much. The pictures below will show you the devastation I woke up to this morning. The banded star has completely disintegrated into a pile of pieces and the purple serpent doesn't look all that great. Whatever was in the water appears to have destroyed them from the inside out?
Banded Star Disintegrated.jpg

Purple Star Damage.jpg

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post #17 of 30 Old 03-29-2009, 08:43 AM
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Ok, this is becoming a nightmare. At this point i really don't care what caused it, we have to take some quick steps to get this under control. Lets go into emergency mode and attack every possible problem.

First, we have to get your temperature down. We can run a marine tank at 84F long term. Are you still getting a reading of 84F?? If you are, buy a small fan, a "computer" fan, and clip it to the rim of your tank. Blow the fan across the light strip. This should help a lot. You may want to buy a 2nd fan and blow it on your sump. We need to get this temperature under 80F.

Next, you need to get a 2nd confirmation of your ammonia and pH. I do not believe your test kits are accurate, or perhaps it is a flaw in your testing technique.

Also, clean your hydrometer with vinegar or lemon juice. Rinse it well, and then retest your salinity.

Next, take a clean white coffee filter. Take a glass of water out of your aquarium, slowly dump it threw the filter. Does the filter change color or is there any accumulation of any kind in the filter?

Now, you need to aggressively run activated carbon for the next 12 hours of so. Buy a nice big bag, give it a good rinsing, and place it directly in the water flow. I like the Kent Marine brand.

Is the skimmer working well now? Has the sand bed been disturbed?

Keep posting pictures. We can see more in a single picture that you can type in a thread.
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post #18 of 30 Old 03-29-2009, 10:41 AM Thread Starter
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The temp is down to 77.1-due to the water changes I would assume. The heater we have is not capable of really heating 45 gallons of water to an optimal temp. I retested everything and got some very noticable differences this time:
Nitrate 30 (It's possible I didn't shake the last one because I was upset-I can't remember; or would stirring up the sand bed, which we've done quite a bit over the last two days, cause this to increase?)
Nitrite 0
pH 8.2 (a lot different than yesterday)
Ammonia 0.25
Copper 0
Phosphate 0
Calcium 360
Specific Gravity 1.022
Temp 77.1
The skimmer is working well now and my husband just increased the pressure so hopefully it will foam better. There was not any noticable accumulation on the coffee filter nor did it change color. We are cleaning the hydrometer with vinegar now and will retest the specific gravity. We have disturbed the sand bed a lot over the last two days. My husband created a kind of "Python" type device to clean the substrate-we don't normally clean the substrate but we aren't sure if that's where the baddies are coming from. We had a couple of emerald crabs turn belly up since yesterday but the horseshoe crabs are doing okay in the quarantine tank so far. When should we consider putting them back in the main display? There's no sand in the quarantine tank and I don't know how uncomfortable thay are or how much it stresses them out not to have sand. Please keep in mind that all of this testing was done on the water after we did the first water change but not after the second water change we did this morning, so I will have to retest in a couple of hours to tell you what everything is right now (except the temp and SG, which is real time.) My husband just shouted to me from the family room that the SG is still 1.022 (after the vinegar cleaning.)

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post #19 of 30 Old 03-29-2009, 11:05 AM
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The ammonia reading is your problem. The question is, where did it come from? It is possible that when your skimmer stopped working, and combined with the elevated temperature, it created a low oxygen environment that killed some nitrifying bacteria.

I have very little confidence in my answer, because you have disturbed the sand bed. You should NEVER stir up the sand bed in a marine aquarium. The marine environment is very different from freshwater. You have a wide variety of bacteria living at different depths within the sand bed. Different depths have different levels of oxygen and when you mix up the sand, it causes bacteria to die. We can be confident this has occurred. It is very possible that your ammonia reading of .25ppm today is a result of bacteria dieoff within the sand bed, and was not responsible for the initial problem.

By the way, the depth of your sand bed is exactly what you do not want. You want under 1'' or greater than 4''. Anything inbetween traps nutrients and is capable of releasing these nutrients back into the system, without the proper denitrification occuring. Your situation could easily be a result of incorrect sand depth, especially if your horseshoe crabs have been stirring the sand.

Given that you have already disturbed the sand bed, I would take this negative situation and turn it into a positive. I suggest taking steps to fix your issues long term. First, I would fix the depth of your sand bed. You can add additional sand or syphon out sand to LESS THAN 1'' depth. I often tell people less than 1/2'' because it is vital that you truely go under 1'' depth and i'd rather be safe than sorry.

I would also take the opportunity to fix your filtration. Given that you have an ASM skimmer, it is likely that the biomedia is causing your Nitrate spikes. The ASM is an awesome skimmer, but you have no way of forcing 100% of the water thru the skimmer prior to entering the biomedia. Your sump design can allow the water to flow thru the skimmer chamber first, but not force the water to enter the skimmer prior to entering the biomedia area. I love the ASM... I am using on on my new 180.... but the design of the skimmer is most effective when live rock is the only biomedia used. As i indicated earlier, you need more live rock for this method to be reliable. I would suggest increasing your live rock structure by 50% or more and sowly removing the biomedia. I would remove 25% of the biomedia per week for the next 4 weeks.

At this point i am seeking a permanent strategy to keep this problem from reoccuring. If you follow the above advice you should see a HUGE reduction in your nitrates. This will allow the fish to develop stronger immunity to disease and should small problems occur in the future, this will help prevent them from becoming big problems.

Finally, the testing of alkalinity is vital. I keep coming back to this because i believe alkalinity to be the biggest overall measure of the systems stability. By testing alkalinity you can see into the future and prevent issues before they occur.

Oh yes, I would continue water changes to bring down the ammonia.
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post #20 of 30 Old 03-29-2009, 11:08 AM
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This thread will explain a lot more detail about alkalinity and calcium and how to adjust properly.
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