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Discussion Starter #1
Greetings. Newly registered member with a problem. This isn't my first tank, but it's the first in almost 20 years. Tank (20H) has been in place for 8 weeks, 25% water changes every 3 days. Ammonia spiked, then fell to near 0 (0.25ppm). Nitrite "spiked", then fell to zero. Nitrates are zero, but algae has begun growing. Filtration is done with an external Whisper filter, one of the BioBag types. Two air stones provide additional water circulation. Temp is kept constant at 75 degrees.

Contents of the tank:
- broken slate backdrop, secured with 100% aquarium-safe silicon
- sand substrate (playground sand, washed repeatedly)
- large chunk of driftwood (initially turned the water brown, cleared up with water changes)
- assorted pieces of broken slate for ledges, caves, etc.
- 10 live plants which seem to be thriving

I have added (and subsequently killed) the following fish, added in groups as listed:

- 2 goldfish (comets, died in 24 hours)
- 1 betta (died after 3 days)
- 3 cory cats (died after 2 days)
- 2 snails and 1 "algae eater" (died after 2 days)
- 2 zebra danios (pet store suggested, died tonight after 2 days)

Water test tonight showed .25ppm ammonia, 0 nitrite, 0 nitrate. I'm stumped. Pet store suggested that maybe the sand is contaminated with some metal or other toxin. Acting on that suggestion, tonight I drained the tank and removed everything. Tank is running now with nothing but water (dechlorinated) and the heater. I kept the filter media so that I don't have to recycle from scratch.

*H2

What am I missing?
 

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Aspiring Aquarist
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I am still pretty new to this whole thing, but have you checked th pH of the water? Maybe the plants have some sort of contamination or problem that is in the water? I know that if driftwood isn't presoaked it can release tannins, I think if too much is released it could be bad for your fish. Do you have accurate test kits?

Like I said I am still new to this, but those are just different things that I thought of. I hope this helps you at all and somebody please correct me if I am wrong on anything. The last thing I want to do is give somebody bunk information. Good Luck!
 

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Can you post up your other water parms, namely the pH?

How did you aclimate the fish to their new environment? How many did you add at once?

One thing that is standing out at this time by your description is your 25% wc every (3) days. That's a bit much. Check the water parms out of the tap as well.

And...are you treating the water first prior to adding it to the tank? (I.e. using Prime or other conditioner)

Let's start here and go from there.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Responding to both Jame and Logansmomma:

The test kit is one of the "master" test kits (don't remember the brand offhand), uses test tubes and dropper bottles, no paper strips. My understanding is that this is the best test kit to use.

I have tested the pH level once, early on, it was at the top of the scale that my test kit can measure. I was concerned about this, but after reading some online content (including stuff here), it seems that the consensus is that fish will generally adapt to pH fairly well, and controlling it is not worth the effort unless keeping specific types of fish. Perhaps I misunderstood that?

I am treating the water with a conditioner that removes chlorine, chloramine, ammonia, and nitrite, but I'm adding that conditioner to the tank itself AFTER each water change, not adding it to the incoming water itself.

I'll do all of the water tests, including tap, when I get home tonight, and post all of the results.
 

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I think it depends on how tough the fish are as far as how they can handle the pH, and I think if there is a significant difference in the pH as opposed to what they live in it could probably affect something. I know when I had the 55 gal I ended up killing my cats and some loaches because they need more towards the acidic water, and the pH was super high. Have you checked to make sure all your fish are compatible and can live in the same conditions? That was a big mistake that I made with the 55gal as well.


I would treat the water before putting it in the tank, especially when fish are in it again because I would assume that putting the tap water in and then adding all the chemicals so often could throw off the whole tank, and possibly affect your fish. I know I will be checking my tap water before putting it in to make sure the parameters do match up with the tank first. Just seems like it would be easier that way.

EDIT: I think the pH being significantly different could also stress your fish out a lot, and that is no good even if it doesn;t kill them. You want your fish to be happy :)

And one other thing is where did you get your driftwood from ? If you got it from a stream or something than it could have toxins in it that are killing stuff off as well.
 
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Discussion Starter #6
I'm back. James, you asked a couple of questions that I didn't answer yet:

1. I acclimate my fish by floating the pet store bags for 15 minutes, then I add some water from my tank, float for another 15 minutes, then transfer the fish into the tank using my net.

2. You asked how many fish I added at one time. In my original message, I had a bullet-list of the "casualties" thus far. The fish listed in each bullet were added together, no fish from different groups co-existed. In other words, the two goldfish were added together, both died. I then bought the betta, thinking by being a surface breather it might have a better chance. When it died, I bought the cory cats.

Last night I rebuilt the tank, using new sand, Quikrete's play sand (I've seen multiple posts online recommending it). I'm not putting the driftwood back in, I'm beginning to suspect it's not aquarium-friendly. It was purchased at Petco, but I'm wondering if it was maybe for reptiles and not fish.

I tested the water in the tank and from the tap, both show no ammonia, no nitrite, and a pH of 7.6 (possibly higher, kit only goes to 7.6). The only difference between tank and tap is the "high range pH" - tank is 7.4, tap is 8.8 (maybe higher). What's the difference between pH and "high range" pH?
 

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I'm back. James, you asked a couple of questions that I didn't answer yet:

1. I acclimate my fish by floating the pet store bags for 15 minutes, then I add some water from my tank, float for another 15 minutes, then transfer the fish into the tank using my net.

2. You asked how many fish I added at one time. In my original message, I had a bullet-list of the "casualties" thus far. The fish listed in each bullet were added together, no fish from different groups co-existed. In other words, the two goldfish were added together, both died. I then bought the betta, thinking by being a surface breather it might have a better chance. When it died, I bought the cory cats.

Last night I rebuilt the tank, using new sand, Quikrete's play sand (I've seen multiple posts online recommending it). I'm not putting the driftwood back in, I'm beginning to suspect it's not aquarium-friendly. It was purchased at Petco, but I'm wondering if it was maybe for reptiles and not fish.

I tested the water in the tank and from the tap, both show no ammonia, no nitrite, and a pH of 7.6 (possibly higher, kit only goes to 7.6). The only difference between tank and tap is the "high range pH" - tank is 7.4, tap is 8.8 (maybe higher). What's the difference between pH and "high range" pH?
Thanks, the acclimation process was fairly ok and I going by what you described, we can rule that out. Doesn't appear either that too many were added at once which could cause major swings so we can rule that out as well. However, depending on what that pH really is, you may need to alter that process to make it slower. (Open bag, place in tank and secure to the side. Wait 15 minutes and begin adding 1/4cup tank water every 15minutes. Do this for 2 hours. Catch and release.).

The play sand will be fine. As for the driftwood, any idea of what kind it is? I only ask in that most of the wood that Petco sells can be used for fish however, they do sell grape vine which will over time rot away. Not a major impact, but you can still use it. If you have any concerns on it, boil it in a big pot for a few hours.

The pH is rather interesting with those numbers you posted. Very high out of the tap. Do you have city water? I would be very interested in knowing what actual numbers are being that you mentioned it could be even higher. The only difference between the two pH is that one will enable you read the higher levels (> 7.4).

You mentioned that you are adding the water directly to the tank during your water changes with the addition of dechlorinator. Are you doing the by using a jug or bucket? The reason I ask that is to see if you can age your water for 24hrs prior to the wc. Fill the bucket, add your dechlor and let sit. Test the water again and see what you get.

Also, after cycling, unless you are keeping very sensitive fish like discs, rays, etc., scale back on the water changes. 25% / week is sufficient enough with that stocking you had.

Let's go from there and see where it gets you.

J.
 

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James knows better than me, but I'd say your PH is the top culprit. When I had a PH swing due to adding too much CO2 at once, my fish started acting lethargic.
 

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PH swing due to co2 injection doesn't affect the fish as an actual ph swing because the actual is also affecting gh and kh. Fish being lethargic due to co2 is most likely caused by to high of a concentration of co2.

OP can you take a glass of tap water and let it sit for 24 hours. This will give the actual reading of your tap water after it outgasses. Out gassing usually causes the ph to rise unless you have unstable kh and gh. and readings are low. Can you get readings of the gh and kh also your TDS? You can have any good lfs to test that for you. sometimes even a pool company will test it.

I wouldn't put anymore fish in the tank until we can figure out what is causing these problems.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
I think my problem may be solved. When I rebuilt the tank on Wednesday, I left the driftwood out, and I changed the sand. I think one of those was leaching something into the water. Why do I think that? I came home Thursday evening to a crystal clear, sparkling tank - the water hasn't been this clear since I first setup the tank. I kept the filter media that has been in the tank from day 1, kept it wet in water from the tank before it was cleaned, attempting to keep the bacteria alive. In addition, I added StressZyme. I wanted to get the cycling started as quickly as possible, so I went to Petsmart and got two zebra danios. Right away, I noticed a difference. Previously, every fish that I put in the tank would almost immediately become lethargic, sitting on the bottom except for the occasional rush to the surface to take a breath. These two fish didn't do that, in fact, I don't think they've stopped chasing each other since I put them in. They're also eating, ravenously - I couldn't get a single fish to eat before, they all ignored food. I just now fed the danios for the third time today, they ate everything within a few seconds.

They've been in the tank for 48 hours. Ammonia is showing 0.25ppm, no nitrite yet. Ammonia I can deal with, this "unknown" killer I cannot. I think that unknown has been removed.

Susankat, apologies if it seems like I ignored your suggestion to not put anymore fish in - I haven't been back on to check messages since Thursday.
 

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If I remember right, driftwood leaches humic acid(supposedly good) that can alter PH.. not sure if thatd be enough to kill your fish.
 

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I doubt that it was the wood, it won't lower ph that much. The only way I would think driftwood would do something like that is if it was gathered by you and may have been contaminated with pesticides but the wood was purchased.

I would still like to know the gh and kh of your tap water as it sounds more like an unstable ph. Also have you been getting any nitrate readings at all on this tank. If not the tank isn't cycled.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
No, I have never actually had a positive test for nitrates, but I'll also admit to not having tested for them since the algae growth started. I observed an ammonia spike, a nitrite spike, and the a sudden algae growth, which I assumed meant nitrates were present.

The two zebras are still alive today, still active, and still eating, nothing's changed. I just tested the water, and if I'm reading this correctly, ammonia is 0-0.25ppm, nitrite is 0, nitrates are slightly above zero. There is a tinge of orange that wasn't there the last time I tested for nitrates. I'll keep doing daily tests for the rest of this week.

 

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Some test kits want you to read looking downwards through the tubes instead through the side. So check your instructions carefully. If they don't say to take the cap off the tube, stand it up, and look downwards and compare THAT color with the chart, then you are reading it correctly. But kits differ. If they want it read downwards then you are likely getting false low readings and your readings would probably be higher than what those pictures depict.

As for play sand: I was always taught to NOT use play sand in an aquarium. It is inexpensive however it leaches silicates into the water. Play sand is usually silica based sand. This causes unnecessary bouts with algae as its a nutrient source for them. This causes unnecessary extra maintenance of your tank.
Also, silica sand isn't healthy for humans (California requires a cancer warning label) so it could have played a part with killing your fish.
A few other points based on what I read: pH is important. The slower you acclimate your fish (in other words, float, then drip them in when possible), the better. You float to get the temperature the same. You drip water from your tank into the fishes bag (in a bucket on the floor, using airline tubing to create a slow drip) to acclimate the fish to all the other params of the tank, pH being one of them.
pH is also important to watch because the higher your pH is in your tank, the more it "magnifies" the toxicity of any trace of ammonia. The same amount of ammonia in 7.2 is more toxic at 7.3 and still more at 7.4, so on and so forth. So any tiny amount is way more toxic the higher you go. So be aware of that. And make sure you are reading the kit properly. :)
Also, treat your incoming water before putting it in your tank (as was suggested already).

Lastly: don't give up. It's a great hobby and once you get your individual situation figured out, and you learn how to treat your particular water, how to keep your particular tank balanced, what is and what isnt safe for your tank, etc.. you will truly enjoy it.
 

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As for play sand: I was always taught to NOT use play sand in an aquarium. It is inexpensive however it leaches silicates into the water. Play sand is usually silica based sand. This causes unnecessary bouts with algae as its a nutrient source for them. This causes unnecessary extra maintenance of your tank.
Also, silica sand isn't healthy for humans (California requires a cancer warning label) so it could have played a part with killing your fish.
Actually....the only way the sand would have played a part in it is if it was contaminated with something. I know many people who use play sand in their tanks.

I question the silica part as well being that most pool filter sand is silica based (that's what I use). Most hobbyists that use sand use pool filter sand. If silica sand were bad for us, it wouldn't be approved for pool use either. *Glasses*

oh...and what doesn't California put a cancer warning label on? Seems like almost everything I see has that California disclaimer on it. *Glasses*
 

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Discussion Starter #18
No change from yesterday. Ammonia, nitrite, and nitrates look to be the same. Had a brief scare, when I got home one of the zebras was missing. One was swimming around normally, but I didn't see the second one. I finally found him, hiding under a shelf. I ground up two food flakes and that brought him out of hiding. Both ate normally, and are actively swimming now.

 

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I know I'm late to the party and you've already gotten some excellent advice, but I was just looking at your tank pictures. Those broad leaf white tipped plants, and the fern looking ones in the bottom right corner are non-aquatic. They will rot away and eventually pollute your tank (if they haven't started to already, which could be some of the ammonia you are seeing). Don't feel too bad lots of us (me included) have fallen for the bog plant scam propagated by major chain pet stores.

Here are some links to them, they are Dracena sanderiana and Trichomanes javanicum.
 

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If you're still running plants but no CO2, that may be your problem. Plants will use up available CO2 very quickly, then start using bicarbs from the water (KH). When this happens, pH swings will be broad and fast.

I had a similar setup where I was using a commercial CO2 yeast method, then stopped using it several months later. That's when my fish count went from 7 zebras, 3 cories, 1 otto, and 1 pleco to 2 zebras and 3 cories. Ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates were next to nil, and pH was about 7.6-7.8.

If the plants were using KH, there's no telling how far the pH dropped at night when they produce CO2.

(Source: Freshwater Planted Aquarium Care and Maintenance: CO2 in the Planted Aquarium)
 
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