Facts, Questions and Answers
Cookie Rankin writes...
I've had saltwater tanks for over 30 years and once I understood the process, which consisted of a canister filter, undergravel filters with power heads and no live rocks, I enjoyed many years of a basic trouble free hobby. I even had some fish lasting for many years! Unfortunately, due to work demands had to give up the hobby about 10 years ago.
About a year ago decided to start again and set up a 72 gallon bowfront reef tank with an Aqua Pro 200 wet/dry with an in sump protein skimmer, T-5 lamps, and 2 Koralia #4 pumps. It has about 125 lbs of live rock and my substrate is not sand, nor coral, but something my aquarium store uses. It's about 3" thick, and also use Tropic Marin salt and RO/DI water.
As to livestock, have 4 small damsels, 1 fire-fish, 2 cleaner shrimp, about 10 snails, 2 green crabs, a very small colony of polyps, and 2 other small corals. I do a 25 gallon water change every month and complete the change by running a diatom pump for about 3 hours.
My problem (finally) is that in the last 3 months have developed red and green algae problems and any new fish I put in will do well for about a week then without any sign of any kind they die. All my chemical tests (done weekly) come up fine. No phosphates, ammonia, nitrate, and nitrites, with pH 8.1 and salinity maintained at 1.024. I've shortened the light duration to 7 hours a day, and still have the algae problem. I'm at my wits end trying to figure out what's wrong. What am I missing?
Thanks for the email and welcome back into the hobby, but as you can see, it doesn't always go smoothly! As to your equipment, it looks to be fine, but I do need further information and then can formulate some ideas as to where corrections can be made.
I must know 'exactly' what that substrate is, not a local common name, but exactly what it is. What brand test kits do you use, what are exactly their results. 'Comes up fine' is not good enough when having this type problem. Do you test for copper? Is it only 'new' fish dying, or are all fish dying, even the first ones in the aquarium? What type/species damselfish do you have? What species fishes have died? What did they look like when dead/were they swollen/bruised/damaged in any way? Also, what is fed, how often, and how much? Once I have that info, we can go from there.
Cookie Rankin writes...
Thanks for responding so quickly. Here's the additional information:
The substrate is called Red Sea Reef Base. According to Absolutely Fish, which has been my source for my aquarium needs for over 25 years, it's a Platonic alga that is rock hard and then crushed into a near sand consistency. They use this in 90% of their tanks.
The test kits are an Aquarium System SeaTest pH, Nitrate, Nitrite, and Ammonia. The refills are still very fresh and are from Instant Ocean. For phosphate I use a Salifert PO4 kit. I haven't tested for copper, but the store does and it comes back clear. All of my tests come out at the very bottom of the chart (no color) except for the pH, which is at 8.1
Maybe this might help, as the tank and everything in it were doing great until we had to replace the floor in the room were the tank is. I took advantage of this time and since the tank was already 10 months old, I cleaned the substrate of all loose waste laying on its top surface. Even though I took every precaution and had everything back in-operation within 22 hours, I lost all of my fish before they went back in the tank. I believe this was due to the water temperature dropping down, but I can't swear to it. The crabs, urchin, majority of snails, polyps, and live rock made it, and they're still around.
Since then, I have the algae problem and keep losing fish. They're acclimated slowly; they all ate and swam around. I looked for any bulling, but none seen. No sign of anything being wrong. Color and appearance are excellent, no torn or damaged fins. Then within a week or two I loose 3 or 4 fish. It's almost as if they were poisoned.
The ones I currently have are the survivors of my last batch which are: 2 Blue Damsel's, 1 Fire-fish, 2 Black Damsels, - I don't know their actual names and 2 cleaner shrimp.
I've lost the following: Fox-face, 2 Yellow Tangs, a Niger trigger, tank raised clowns, Coral Beauty, Pygmy Angel, Scooter Blenny, Dominoes, Yellow tails, Blue damsels, and Flame Hawk. I select smaller fish, and the most that's been in the tank at the same time is around 10.
As for food, I use a variety of frozen, flake, and algae sheets. The frozen foods are in cubes, which I cut into 2 pieces and feed a half a cube a day. They are Spirulina, Marine Cuisine, Formula One, and Reef Plankton. The flake is Omega One, Marine flakes with garlic. And the seaweed is by Sally's (Seaweed Salad). I rotate the food and the only one they don't like much is the plankton, which I don't give them any longer.
I also have 2 corals both are from the same species, forgive my ignorance for not knowing their name, as reef stuff is still very new to me, anyway they are in a hard coral type tube and look like some type of anemone that comes out the top in the tube and their tips are iridescent pink. Both are not opening like they used too.
Hopefully this will help determine what my problem is.
Thanks for all of your help.
Thanks for the detailed follow up, as that was quite helpful! As of now I think there are two issues/problems, one that is killing fish, and the other simply causing a fairly common problem in many aquariums, i.e., unwanted algae/cyano bacteria.
As to fish deaths, there are certain chemicals used in some products or the application of them (including their odors) that are quite toxic to wildlife, and humans in fact, when their levels are high enough. I've even had a reader situation where the home owner was cleaning their home surfaces with an ammoniated spray cleaner and actually killed their aquarium fish, simply because they did not realize the aquarium water absorbed the ammonia in the air when they sprayed various surfaces to wipe them clean, including the aquarium side panels! As of right now I find the timing of the main problem to coincide with the floor remodeling, which indicates some sort of product was used to complete the remodeling that was toxic, probably odor-wise, to the animals in the aquarium/their holding container, and that it is remaining in the aquarium water to some degree and continues to be toxic enough to affect incoming fish. I recommend going back to that installation timeframe and carefully reviewing the various products used in that flooring installation, as that 'seems, as of right now, the catalyst for this problem. And if I'm right, would suggest major water changes over the coming days/weeks until newly introduced specimens thrive. And also activated carbon be used and changed frequently, e.g., weekly. Furthermore, if that room has any kind of odor/odd smell, would power-ventilate it until it dissipates.
The unwanted algae/cyano is a situation that simply comes about because bulk water nutrients have risen to a level that encourages them. You may think certain water parameters, such as nitrate and phosphate are low, but are they really? Phosphate should be below 0.015mg/l. Is it? Probably not and would suggest acquiring a Merck Phosphate test kit and comparing its reading to the Salifert reading. Both kits are good and have used both, and find the Salifert kit OK for general readings, but the Merck kit to render extremely accurate readings. And since excessive phosphate is one of the reasons red algae/cyano bacteria becomes a maintenance chore, its necessary to install a phosphate reactor utilizing one on the better brand phosphate media's, such as ROWAphos. And depending upon the amount of cyano, you might want to try the Boyds product Chemi-clean, which I've found to quickly eliminate it. Nevertheless, phosphate and nitrates will still need to be monitored and kept low or it will return. And furthermore, any foods that are fed and not consumed quickly go to waste and result in nitrate and phosphate increases. Therefore, it's wise to feed foods that are quickly consumed. If necessary, feed small amounts several times daily, but do not overfeed.
There are many types of green algae, and depending upon the species we can go from there if necessary. But I would first concentrate on water quality issues as noted above.
Hope this is helpful,
Cookie Rankin writes...
I can't thank you enough for your valued input. I believe your suspicion of some sort of chemical exposure has a lot of merit. It's odd you mentioned Boyd's, as I've been using their Chemi-Pure filter media for over 20 years, and it's currently in the filter.
Once again, I have the timer set for a total of 7 hours (reduced from 10 hours) to combat the algae. Is that helpful? Thanks again
Chemi-Pure and Chemi-Clean are two different products. One is activated carbon (Chemi-Pure) and the other is designed for combating cyano bacteria. Each is an excellent product. Furthermore, as to water changes, my suggestion would be 50% every week for four weeks. Keep in mind far smaller changes would only prolong a chemical problem. Then move to smaller changes every few weeks thereafter. Once newly introduced fish remain healthy, then move back to normal 10% water changes per month, and replace the carbon every 6 - 8 weeks.
As to reducing light, that is an ineffective way to combat unwanted algae. It is the amount of nutrients going into the aquarium, such as food, then waste, either from the fish themselves or uneaten foods, that provide algae the food and energy they need to flourish. And cyano is one of the first indications that excessive nutrients exist. Without rectifying what promotes these unwanted bacteria/alga, they will continue as their light requirements become quite minimal because their energy (phosphate) and food supply (ammonium) (NOT ammonia) are in plentiful supply.
Hopefully this info is helpful,
Thanks for all of your help,