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Nitrite, Nitrate, Ammonia Problems (Mini Cycle)

2303 Views 10 Replies 2 Participants Last post by  jccaclimber2
So, I added some new fish to my tank recently and apparently added them too quickly. I had an established 20 long for about 2 years, had about 10 fish in it. Got a 55 gallon, and made the mistake of getting about 10 more fish (doubling the bioload) and immediately adding them to the new tank.

Honestly, I don't know what I was thinking. I have learned ALOT over the past 2 years of having my aquarium running and just had a lapse of judgement when I got these new fish. I was just thinking that the tank has been established for well over 2 years and that I'll be fine.

So, 2 weeks later and a few dead fish later I decided to check the water parameters. Everything was SPIKED. I did a 50% water change and my levels are still too high. I'm going to continue doing 50% changes every day until the mini cycle is through.

My levels are as follows. Ammonia 1.5 PPM, Nitrites 3 PPM and Nitrates 40 PPM. I'm just happy that I found out what was going on before it got any worse. I'm hoping that they're all tough enough to make it through until tomorrow when I do another 50% water change. After tomorrow the levels will stay relatively low until the mini cycle is complete.

All of the fish look spectacular though, that's why I didn't bother to check anything. I just assumed the few that died did so because they were weak and didn't adapt to the new tank. I mean, my Blue Rams are VIVID, BEAUTIFUL. No red flags were thrown up because of how beautiful and healthy all the fish look. Luckily I checked and caught this before they all wound up dead.

If it's OK to do another 50% water change today, I will. I've already changed out 30 gallons of the 55 gallon tank. I'm just not sure if it's safe to continue to do water changes today. I would assume that it's not and that I should wait until tomorrow to do another 50%. What do you guys suggest?
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This morning I just did an 80% water change on a system that at the moment has a volume around 380 gallons (water + substrate). It has discus, various cichlids, tetras, cyprinids, etc. All is fine. As long as your temperature is close and you are dechlorinated properly there is no downside to doing large or frequent water changes.

I would:
1) Keep up the water changes, possibly increasing them.
2) Cut whatever you are feeding in at least half until this is over, then ramp up slowly.
3) Use something like Prime or Amquel that lists bonding ammonia on its label. This is not a substitute for water changes.
4) Be sure you are not exposing your filter media to chlorinated water. An ammonia level that high on a tank of that age makes it sound like something else is off. A large increase in feeding or die-off of the BB come to mind. The nitrates lean me in the direction of long term over-feeding if you really have been doing 50% water changes.
Yeah, since I got the new fish I have increased feeding and even feed twice a day to make sure everyone gets fed. What would you suggest as to how often to feed. Before I got more fish I fed once every other day.
So, now I'm absolutely lost... I checked the levels today. Ammonia was at .25 PPM, Nitrites are somewhere b/w 3.0 and 5.0 PPM and Nitrates went through the roof somewhere around 160 PPM. I changed roughly 60% of the water yesterday and 90% today. Even at 90% that still leaves the Nitrates somewhere around 16 PPM.

So, I'm assuming that such a low Ammonia level means that this mini cycle is almost over? I hope so, because it seems like every day I wake up and there's one less fish alive.
Almost over is relative. You still need to survive the nitrite spike. For short term (days or weeks rather than months) issues I am very concerned about the ammonia and nitrite, but not really concerned about the nitrAtes, even at those levels. Nitrate levels are a concern because they imply poor tank cleaning, overfeeding (usually), or a huge reservoir of organic matter waiting to decay. They are much less a *direct* concern to the fish themselves.

Also, if your nitrates really are that high:
1) Make sure you REALLY shook the #1 and #2 nitrate bottles. It's easy to get a bad reading.
2) Do your large WC 2x daily.

Can you give us a photo of the tank?

What is your substrate? Filtration? Average maintenance schedule over the last two years?
Normal gravel from LFS, 2 Marineland 350B Penguins, WC and Gravel cleaning one time a week at 30%. Trust me, this is the first time in 2 years anything like this has happened. As stated earlier in this thread, I realize that I have been overfeeding and have corrected that. I used to feed once every other day, and since getting this new 55 gallon and more fish I decided to feed every day. Definitely too much at once, and thus... Nitrate spike.

It'll sort itself out, I'm not too worried about it. It's just frustrating to know that the fish are going to continue to die until this works itself out. I changed 90% of the water today, so it's not like I'm not putting forth the effort to keep them alive.

Also, I tested the Nitrates 2 times because I thought "No way is this possible".
What I REALLY don't understand is how the Nitrate levels could go from 40PPM yesterday, to 160PPM today after I did a WC yesterday and obviously brought the levels down from 40PPM.
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I'm not accusing you of not trying to save your fish, I'm just trying to put together the picture of the past two years that will explain the current situation. Gravel has a way of gunking up, but it sounds like you are cleaning it. Make sure there is still flow through the pads in the penguins and that it isn't just flowing over and around the pads. That is in issue with those when they start to load up.

I would look at not just the frequency of what you feed your fish but the quantity. I can feed 2x daily if I want to, but I have a lot of plant and more importantly each feeding is very light.

Good on retesting the nitrate test. If you weren't shaking the reagent bottles well enough in the past you may have been getting an erroneous reading that made things look better than accurate, ie it may not have been 40 yesterday. I'm assuming the API kit as I don't know if that issue applies to others. It is also possible that organic matter was trapped somewhere in the system and is now able to break down. It came from somewhere, we just don't know where.

I assume when you siphon the gravel you get all the way to the bottom of the tank (except near plant roots)?
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Yeah, I dig the siphon in as far as I can possibly go. I do one half of the tank each week, alternating, so that every other week the entire thing has been cleaned. Keep in mind, this all happened because I went from a 20 gallon long to a 55 gallon and added more fish than I should have at once because of a momentary lapse of judgement. Completely forgot everything I had learned and here I am, fish dying, levels spiked, trying to figure it all out.

Thanks for the help. I'll continue to do the water changes every day and see where that gets me. I'm hoping that it'll stop relatively soon. Luckily I've had the past 5 days off as I'm starting a new job Tuesday and wanted to take some time off to relax before starting. The new job, I'm going to be working 5 10 hour shifts a week, and although the last thing I'm gonna want to do is change 40 gallons of water after busting my *** at work, I'm going to have to in order to keep these guys alive and get this tank situated.
I missed the part about the tank swap, did you swap the gravel over too? Was it well rinsed (in dechlorinated water) during the move? A direct gravel swap without a good rinse would be enough to cause these issues on its own. Doesn't change the path forward, but might explain things.
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